It was a fresh misty morning. I woke up and was going through my post. There was a letter from the Environment Ministry informing me about my promotion and transfer. I had been promoted as the Chief Conservator of Forests and transferred to Manas National Park in the north-eastern province of India.
My happiness on hearing this would have known no bounds if I had been in my senses. However, the night before I was so tense that the effects of it had lasted well beyond the night. I got the answer to the biggest question in my life last night. It had been with me ever since the question was conjured but I never knew of it. The world as we know is like a magic toy. It’s dust to us when we have it and like gold when we lose it. Maybe, that is the moral which a jungle-boy like me could not understand before.
Ever since my early childhood I was very interested in forest life. The reason being the environment I was born and brought up in. Although, I am not a very strong believer in destiny I am sometimes forced to feel its overpowering presence.
I was born in a small town in northern India, in the lap of the Himalayas. The village was surrounded by dense-green forests and enchanting valleys filled with flowers. At dawn, the sky spread its red carpet, to welcome the guiding star. The whole kingdom paid a standing ovation to the expected king. Slowly, the king arrived with his golden army. The king’s army engulfed the land and forest in a beautiful array of bright lights. It seemed that God has painted his canvas with vibrant colors. Cuckoos sang the welcome opera, the elephant played the trumpet, the bees played the percussion and the lovely flowers opened their arms to embrace their lover. The flowers stood on high heels and tried to touch the bright blue sky like the tough and tall mountains stood high wearing caps made of snow.
It’s here that I got my first definition of heaven. I was a normal boy except for the fact that destiny had deprived me the love of a family, I was an orphan. I lived in the town orphanage and my initial education was also taken care there. Being an orphan never concerned me much, but what I never understood was why all the boys had the same surname.
I used to spend long hours in the forests. The forests had already become my constant companions. School life passed very smoothly, in bliss and I never knew when the time came for me to enter college. I joined the College of Wildlife and Nature Conservation in a nearby city. I was really excited about me venturing out of my small town to pursue my dreams and what the future had in store for me.
The time came for the college to shut down for winter vacations. Unlike most other children who went home to their parents, my friends and I planned to go on an excursion to Kaziranga National Park in north-eastern province of India. Maybe that was my way of escaping from my solitude. I never knew that this would be the turn key trip in my life. Maybe, I was too young to apprehend.
The next day opened the gates of paradise for me. We decided to study the flora in the jungle and the rhinos. Our professor introduced me to a person who was the Zonal In-charge. He in turn, got me in touch with the man who was to become the most influential figure in my life. Whether this was the efforts of the Zonal In-charge or destiny’s game plan, I am still unsure.
His name was N!xau. Yes, believe me, that was his name. He was a dark and short man with an athletic body, in his mid-50s. He was fluent in English and Bengali and knew a bit Hindi as well. Although his speech was not clear, he had a magic in his eyes which would convey his message. He was our guide for forest rendezvous. We started talking and he started sharing his extreme knowledge about rhinos. I was quite inquisitive and inquired about him the whole day. Surely, he had cast his spell on me.
N!xau’s ancestors belonged to a tribal clan from South Africa. They were forced to migrate to Calcutta as slaves during the days of the East India Company. In the early 20th century Africans were forced to migrate to Indonesia and India to serve British colonies. They worked appalling conditions in various industries including forests. He was born in Calcutta many years after the dissolution of the Company. He spent his entire life in the jungles with his parents collecting timber, herbs, animal skin etc.
To me he was the Lord of the Jungle. He narrated many tales of animals I had never seen in real life or sometime never even heard of.
I had found my guiding star and saw my dream of becoming a Forest Officer gradually coming to life. I also had hope of being at least an environmentalist, if I did not pass the Indian Forest Service examination, the wilderness had brought a revolution in my life.
After his parents’ death N!xau was declared as a property and asset of the jungle owing to his in-depth knowledge of flora-fauna and extreme understanding of the rhinos. N!xau always recited a poem called TYA to me that was a song of their tribe. He would look down; close his eyes and say Ek is lief ver jou, Tya twice. I asked him the meaning of TYA, but he said he’ll explain it in detail sometime later.
Son, The wrinkles on my forehead tell my traveling stories.
It was a myth in his tribe that more the wrinkles on the forehead, the more a man has traveled.
N!xau had a very special baby rhino who he had named Sonar Gonda meaning golden rhino in Bengali. Sonar Gonda’s mother was killed by poachers when he was one month old. He had taken his care like a parent since then. The baby rhino was two years old when I first met him.
His love for the rhino child seemed extraordinary for me. I never thought that a man could love an animal so much. I was moved by his fatherhood towards the rhino. N!xau believed that all creations of God should be equally loved and respected. While he used to feed the baby rhino with his own hands, I used to stand nearby with tears in my eyes.
The last day our camp neared and soon the camp got over. We had to leave for the college. I wanted to thank N!xau for everything but I could not reach him. I went to his office and wrote WILL BE BACK SOON on a bookmark and kept it in the book he was reading.
Thereafter, I visited N!xau very often. Ten years had passed and he was a retired man now. We had developed a father-son kind of relationship by now. Sonar Gonda was 10 years old. He was the most handsome rhino in the forest. He had a big long horn which seemed like a medal on him. Life was beautiful.
One fine day there was a notice to transfer Sonar Gonda to another reserve forest in the country to find a suitable mate. This made N!xau very unhappy. He could not revoke the order because he was not in the commission anymore. The separation with his rhino son had a big impact on his health. He fell ill. His illness aggravated during the fag end of his life.
In our last meeting he presented me a book of stories which had a beautiful bookmark in it. One thing I had forgotten was to ask him the meaning of TYA. I thought I would ask him the next time we meet.
After my Master’s, I passed the UPSC examination to serve in the Indian Forest Service. I was very near to fulfilling my dream of serving mother nature, the only mother I had known. I finished my training and was designated as Assistant Conservator of Forests and posted in a tiger reserve in a western state of the country. I served the commission wholeheartedly and soon was to be promoted to a high rank in the service.
I looked up in the sky that day and told him that I have won a big challenge. N!xau always told me that a man is not big, big are the challenges. I wished he was alive to see me in all my glory. I was to get married soon and wanted to go to Kaziranga National Park and invite him. But the day before I was supposed to leave, I received a telegram which said N!XAU IS NO MORE. Time just stopped for me that moment.
I did not know how to react. I felt like a bastard again. For the first time in life I cried for the entire day. The next day I left for Kaziranga National Park immediately. His funeral rituals were over by the time I reached there. I had lost my father once again. Life played her sinister trick again.
I got married after some months but, the fire of separation and longing for the father was burning in me. I prayed from that day onward that the lord should make me the rhino-child in the next birth and make N!xau my father. I didn’t want to be a human in my next birth because the only love story I knew was of N!xau and the rhino child. It had left a deep mark in my heart. The trip to Kaziranga National Park changed my life, thoughts, dreams and prayers.
It was raining heavily that night and I was pacing all over the house restlessly. I regretted on not asking N!xau the meaning of TYA again. But what was the meaning of the poem he recited. This had become the biggest question of my life. I knew that I would never know the meaning of his poem. I was really upset by this thought when suddenly I remembered the book he gifted me.
I immediately rushed towards the bookshelf and took the book in my hand. My eyes were filled with tears while I was staring at the bookmark which suddenly looked familiar. I realized that it was the same bookmark on which I wrote WILL BE BACK SOON, when parting from him for the first time. I pulled it out and flipped it.
A loud thunder struck as I read on the bookmark—TYA means mother nature.