Monday 13 August 2012

The nature lovers

Their sons were whooping in delight. Before them stretched a lovely green carpet of forest, laid out on undulating plains at the foot of the great Himalayas. Deep down, sun rays bounced off the tin roofs of huts sitting among golden wheat fields. Far to their left shone snowclad peaks.
Dhanu and Surilee grinned as they unloaded the car. Ruffie, now 10, and Rudra, 8, adored the guessing game every vacation: Where were they headed for this time … the hills, the seaside, the desert? They would not be told till they started. The journey was spent filling them in on the details.
The parents liked to book cottages with attached kitchens. That way, whatever they did on the trip – dig edible roots or pluck fruit, catch a fish, pick up a local recipe – they could experiment with its outcome right away, with the kids pitching in and learning along the way.
Dhanu went off to look up the manager.
“Mom, will we climb the snow mountains?” Rudra cooed at her beguilingly.
“Not so fast, my dear,” she said as she handed him some camping gear from the car boot. “This time it is all jungle, no rock climbing.”
Rudra and Ruffie with little Charit.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
“Are you going to climb rocks?” a little voice spoke up behind them.
Rudra and Ruffie spun around to look at the owner of the voice.
A small boy, some 5 years old, had sidled up behind them.
“No, little one, we are not.” Surilee had an athletic build, and seemed to tower over him. “Why are you here alone?” she asked him anxiously.
“We are living in that nice red house with a white hat,” the child replied.
The brothers laughed. “Oh-ho! Hut with a hat!” they teased him.
Surilee shushed them. “It’s rude to make fun of little children.”
She looked enquiringly at their visitor again.
“My Mama does not want me to climb rocks, but I can go with you,” he parried. “She will let me.”
A woman emerged from a cottage down the row. “Charit! Come back, son,” she called out. Scrambling up the slope, his mother Saroja began apologizing profusely to Surilee.
“It’s all right. He’s just curious.” Surilee introduced herself and her sons.
“Why not step in? How long have you been around? Your son could show my boys the works. The cottages are all the same inside, aren’t they?” she tried to put Saroja at ease.
“Well, thank you. Seeing that you have just arrived, it wouldn’t be fair. Maybe we’ll come over in the evening,” Saroja said, and led her son away. Surilee decided she liked the sensible mother.
Dhanu returned soon after. He had confirmed that there was a good camping site about two kilometres to the north. The family set about sorting climbing shoes, staffs, ropes, flasks, medicine kits and so on. Then they trooped into the kitchen for coffee.
“Who’s that?” Dhanu asked sharply.
It was Charit peering into the window.
Surilee made for the door. “A young acquaintance we have made,” she told her husband.
Charit was not alone. His parents were there too. “Hi. I am Yudhir,” said Charit’s father. “We did not want to intrude, but our son won’t wait any more. He has so many questions for you,” he apologized.
Dhanu glanced at his wife. Luckily they had not unpacked in the living room.
The threesome was shown in.
The hosts could see that Charit was beside himself with excitement, but admirably restrained. Surilee offered them juice and freshly baked cookies she had brought along.
Dhanu picked up Charit and put him in a large chair next to himself. “Shoot,” he invited him.
“Shoot? You are going shooting too?” asked Charit, wide-eyed.
“Shoot your questions, young man, Dhanu began to smile.
Yudhir spoke up. “You see, this is our first mountain trip. We are completely at sea about what to do here, apart from walking up and down the hill a little. But the child is getting fidgety. He thinks you people are planning fun things.”
Dhanu had not exactly appreciated their uninvited presence, but now he unbent.
They began when Rudra was only 2 years old, he and Surilee explained in turns. They wanted to teach their children by example, to be sturdy and tough, to be good nature lovers, perhaps conservationists even.
They both had long office hours, and the children spent most of their time with their grandparents. But at least twice a year the four of them left home, usually when school was closed: once every summer, and then in winter.
How did they plan it out? Two or three months ahead of each vacation they decided whether it would be the mountains or the backwaters, a cross-country drive or an animal sanctuary. They read up all they could on internet, such as good places to stay, infrastructure, connectivity, reviews, things to do and much more. Having finalized the destination, they launched into hotel and train or flight reservations, and if it was a drive into the hills, checked out if there were enough places nearby to fuel up.
“You are really thorough,” Saroja remarked, overawed.
It was trial and error at first, Dhanu admitted, but over the years they had done boating, canoeing, rafting, rappelling, skiing, sailing, crab hunting and much more. The boys were good rock climbers already. 
“Yes, we can swim also, and we are going scuba diving soon,” Rudra interrupted them, wanting to brag.
“That is some years away, Surilee glowered him into silence.
Ruffie could not hold back any more, either: “This time we will study animal tracks, trail slugs and snails, and click birds and their nests. And cook outdoors as well.” 
“But we always return to base before nightfall,” Surilee told the guests. “We take no chance with the kids.”
Yudhir stood up. “We shall detain you no more, but it’s been an eye-opener. Thanks. We’ll make a beginning right away.” He turned to his wife: “Shall we go into town tomorrow for some walking shoes? Good that we brought a laptop along. Tonight let’s read up about this place too.”
Ruffie was old enough to size up Charit: not shy, but certainly lonely. He could also sense that Charit was disappointed, and not ready to leave right then.
“Dad, are we going out right now? Otherwise Charit could help us with our room. And can they come to our camp one day, please?” he asked. Yudhir hesitated. 
“Yes, Dad,” Rudra chipped in, seeing that big brother had no objection to more company. “I won’t mind, seriously.” His parents laughingly agreed.
It was a bubbly Charit who took the bus home four days later. He had learnt why he must use water carefully, how to light and put out a fire, and how to climb a tree. He had also visited those huts below that looked like toys from his cottage. He had had the best holiday any boy could ask for. And Mama and Papa had promised a better one soon.
Ruffie and Rudra’s parents were proud of their sons for being so caring of Charit. The adults too had bonded well. The result: The three children had been promised a joint winter trip.
Dhanu and Surilee felt the little child had unknowingly launched them on a mission. Maybe they would run into more Charits and their families who one day become nature lovers like them.

1 comment:

  1. superb!!reminded me of our summer trips that were as special...if not more :)