It was the first week of August 1978 and Bombay, with all the surrounding towns was flooded when we returned from Bhimashankar. We had gone three days prior to the flood. I was 7 year old and everything was beautiful. It all started on a pleasant Friday evening when Father came back from his practice at Priyadarshani grounds. Father, Mother and I lived in the outskirts of Bombay in the old town of Kalyan. We had a cozy little 1 BHK in the heart of the town and three of us lived quite contentedly. In the day, father worked as an accountant with a company that made glass and by evening, he was a state level athlete performing acrobatics at his club. Mother worked for the government and registered people’s properties 9 to 5 each day.
On Friday evening, Father came back home with a raincoat, umbrella and a small backpack for me. I happily accepted the gifts and ran to sit on his lap and hugged him tightly. He returned the gesture while announcing to mother some sort of a trek he had planned with other members of his club and their coach. They were to leave the next day late evening and come back by Monday. Mother looked a bit worried with the news, the jungle apparently in which the hill stood wasn’t too safe. Father assured her that their coach was a hunter once upon a time and would be getting his rifle to save themselves from the beasts of the jungle. At the top of the mountain was a small Shiva temple near which they had planned to spend the night after the trek. Bhimashankar is a tourist place today, but back then it was a cold, scary jungle!
The first thought that crossed my mind while all of the above was happening was how wonderful would it be to see the jungle in real. I wondered if it is like the one I read in ‘The Jungle Book’ and I marveled at how incredible it will be if I find my own Bagheera and Baloo. The decision was made in my mind and I couldn’t stop but reveal it to my parents. Mother denied the idea completely, though Father looked a bit interested in what I had just demanded. With much convincing, it was decided that I would go with him too. That night I killed Shere Khan with a wooden boomerang in my dream.
Saturday morning I was jumping in joy and mother had to calm me down. Of course, how could I control my excitement! She packed a little backpack with some biscuits, towel and few clothes for me. By evening, she got me ready in my maroon jumpsuit and a white t-shirt. I hung on to my dad’s shoulder and give Mother a goodbye kiss as we left on our adventure Saturday evening. The club members were excited to see a kid and I got all the possible love from them. The coach got me a toffee and said, “Kid, get ready for the adventure of your life”; and it surely was!
We took a train and got off at a village few miles close to our destination. The plan was to stay back in the village for the night. We ate whatever we got our hands on and slept in a villager’s hut, all cramped together. It was windy and by midnight, it started to rain. My dreams of Shere Khan were only getting better. Early morning we took a lift from a local tempo truck and set out towards the jungle. On our way, we passed few Adivasi settlements and all of them were clearing out their front yards, for it was predicted that it is going to rain heavily in the coming days. We reached the base of the mountain few hours later and started climbing soon after. Narendra Uncle was leading us, followed by Father and I and then Raju Uncle, David Uncle and the others; the line ended with the coach who had a massive rifle with him.
We started climbing by 9 am and it started raining heavily. We all pulled up our raincoats and my blue raincoat above my denim shorts and white t-shirt made me look like the perfect mini-adventurer. As we climbed further, the way was getting difficult. We walked on the edges and hung on the creepers, we crossed the waterfall and we jumped through the cracks, we got drenched in the rain but we also laughed our hearts out. As we went on, I ended up tearing off my shoe on the way. Like the hero that he was, Father used a piece of wood to fix it as a platform inside my shoe and I was good to go. With much climbing, we reached the top of the mountain at 6 pm and the rains had calmed down. Father made our tent and removed our soaked sheets from the bag. We made bonfire and sat around it as Narendra Uncle served us Khichadi in a paper plate. There were thunders and lightning around and we sat just there under the vast sky, being a tiny part of the universe. As all of them kept talking, I calmly drifted into sleep on Father’s lap.
Monday morning was calm and beautiful. It was a Shravani Somvar and we got ready and went to the Shiva temple early in the day. We all sat there for quite some time I must say, because I remember Father telling me how Shivji was pleased with Goddess Parvati’s pooja that she did for an entire month for him and how they got married soon after. He is a great storyteller, but there are only few stories that he told me as a kid and this was one of them. We soon packed our things and started walking down hill. It was steep but we finished the walk in 4 hours only! I was extremely happy about my first trek and couldn’t wait to go back to school and tell other girls how I saw Leopards and Tigers in the jungle.
But as we started looking for a bus, an old man approached us informing about the cancellation of the bus. He told us the plains are flooded and there is no way of getting out of the place. The coach decided to still go further and the army marched with him! As we reached the next village, there was no road. It had been completely taken over by the flood waters and the bridge couldn’t be seen. The conductor advised us to sleep in the bus and he would take us to the town at 5 am. It was still raining and there was not a single seat that had not gotten wet with the cries of the sky. I don’t remember sleeping but when I woke up, it was morning and I was curled up in the back seat in Father’s navy blue jacket and a handkerchief around my head.
We reached home by 10 am on Tuesday morning and mother took a sigh of relief. She bathed me and got me into a fresh lemon yellow frock. Father was all dried up too and was reciting the tale to mother as he tied his shoelaces. Amazed, mother asked him where he was heading now! “Hey, I am going to the old fort to see how our town looks when flooded”, he said and off he went on his bicycle humming Aap ki aankhon mein kuchh meheke hue se raaz hain.
Image source: wallconvert.com