Friday, 26 August 2011

Tryst with a Lion in Kaziranga National Park

It was 1981 autumn. I was just expelled from my family business due to frequent arguments with my dad. I was handed over a paltry sum as my share in the family business. I gave the money back to my dad and asked him to keep it in his custody and let me see what I can do without his money. I contacted my old friends and managed to get some agencies for textiles to procure business in northeast India. I planned to cover upper Assam. I had no clue where to start. Fortunately I had two friends S N Dutta and Raj Kapoor (no kidding) whom I had helped in their initial days and they were happy and willing to take me along on tour of Assam.

We left Shillong for Guwahati and my friends introduced me to some shopkeepers, who happily provided me with my first business outside Shillong. We decided to take a video coach to Jorhat. I took a window seat to see the new area and get acquainted with the region. We had an early dinner and didn’t get down at Jagiroad, the schedule stop for dinner. After Jagiroad the bus left for Jakhlabandh in Nawgong district. I knew Jakhlabandha was famous for coconut water, dhab in local language. I am an avid coconut lover and never miss a chance to savor good coconut water. Dutta and Kapoor were fast asleep. I quietly got down went to the loo. After finishing I went around the market looking for a real good coconut. Finally I picked the biggest coconut available about four glasses of sweet water, absolute nectar! I had greedily picked up that Titanic of a coconut and was really struggling with it. I discarded it after finishing 3/4 of it. I was completely sated and satisfied with my drink. Lazily I walked towards my bus. To my utter mortification I realized that my bus was not there. It had left without me. This happened despite my two dear friends Dutta and Rajkapoor (blooming joker) present in the bus. What a stupid conductor, didn’t count passengers before leaving. It was small hours of morning, alien place, no one to help. Even the next bus in that direction refused to help me despite an offer of generous tip (how unenterprising). I was standing helpless laughing at my carefree attitude, looking for a savior. Suddenly a decent looking gentleman approached me and asked me if I had a problem. I said ya, I have a slight problem, my bus left without me. He looked at me in disbelief and asked are you sure? I asked what makes you think otherwise. He looked at me intently and said your expression! You are so cool as if nothing has gone wrong. As if missing a bus is a routine rather than a rare exception. I just laughed and said you are right, I am sporting a wrong expression. Actually it is a manufacturing defect. He asked what manufacturing defect. I said I am born with a handicap! I am totally incapable of panicking! I am born without a panic button. Even when my house was on fire and everybody was in panic I coolly switched off the gas cylinder and removed it from the house. Is there a remedy for this disability? The gentleman laughed and asked me where I was heading. I said Jorhat. He said very well! Come with me. I am going the same way. He asked his driver to take the back seat, asked me to come on the front seat, himself taking charge of his white diesel Ambassador. We were passing through the Kaziranga National Park, famous for one horn Rhino. The car was running full blast and we hardly exchanged a word. I could see deer’s and some predators crossing the road. If one is not careful one can easily hit a large animal and go off road. It just started raining making the bus chase even more exciting and challenging. After about an hour of relentless chase we reached Bokakhat and there we saw our bus resting for a tea break. The gentleman beamed with satisfaction, looked at me and said, there sir, is your bus. I thanked him profusely and before bidding him good bye asked him what made you help me? I am a Rotarian (pointing at my lapel pin which I never missed to wear) and would have done what he did for me. Are you a Rotarian by any chance? Wearing his broadest smile ever he laughed paused and whispered I am a Lion! 

After thirty years of this incident I am still as keen a coconut lover as ever, I still have my coconut when ever available. But now I am a bit wiser. I drink it in front of the bus or inside my train compartment, as the case may be.