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The call of the Wild

When birds and blue bulls reclaim their land, one can only lurk in fear

The air is heavy with the scent of jacarandas, amaltas and gulmohars. Birds flutter and bees buzz about lazily welcoming the warm sun after a freezing winter. I dare to go out into my garden for a walk, a harrowing task owing to the ferocity of the early-morning intimidating Simian visitors that frequent the Panjab University campus; and they come in troops.

Striding along, the cane in my hand goads my stream of consciousness to those carefree days of abandon when we would go for punting on the Cam to the Orchard Tea pub in the quaint, tranquil village of Grantchester, near Cambridge, famous for the unabashedly flamboyant, pompous and unpatriotic Bloomsbury Group, the pioneers of the frenzy of modernism in England. I often imagine them lazing in the sun, engaged in their common love of the written word, their worship of fine art, indulging in free conversation, while coffee, tea and wine with anchovies on toast were passed around, dousing other forms of hunger and thirst.

Well on the bright morning, as my friend loosened the knot, the rope slipped out of his hand and the punt (a long, narrow flat-bottomed boat resembling a Venetian gondola, but flat on the front and the rear) began to move away with us still on the shore. With no desire to get into the water and swim to retrieve the boat, I took a leap without a thought. I had participated in long jump at school, but 20 years later, I thing I might have truly broken my record. My success in landing right onto the punt invited a thunderous applause from a number of passers-by. I guess it was more of a mental leap than physical, an act of doing or dying. Never thought I would make it.

In the excitement of the leap I overlooked the slight knock on my knee as I landed. The minor injury which I ignored for a considerable time finally had to be operated upon a few years later at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. The nurse was kind enough to give me an assistive cane to avoid putting weight on the operated knee while it healed.

Armed to the teeth

I carry the cane now on my daily walks, a defence whenever the monkeys turn hostile. Having seen people being attacked and personally being surprised a couple of times by the hooligan commander-in-chief of the army, almost the size of a mandrill, snarling at me and ready to leap, I venture out fully equipped. I have a few more sticks placed at various strategic points convenient enough to reach out for whenever assaulted. A full armoury of an air rifle, an air pistol and a catapult are some additional arsenal that I keep handy to frighten, but not injure. Going by my assortment of arms, you can well understand my plight and my fear, god forbid, of being gnawed by the sharp canines.

Interestingly, ever since the lockdown we have often had the company of peacocks, blue bulls and the paradise bird, a species I had never seen before. But surprisingly, the visits of monkeys to the campus are considerably reduced. I am certain that now when the messes are closed and no kitchen refuse lures them, they prefer to stay back in the forest rather than come to the campus. But I am convinced as soon as the university reopens and we begin to mess up the areas around the hostels with leftovers, they will return. Maybe, the COVID fear will set the alarm bells buzzing calling to attention our lack of sensitivity to sanitation and cleaner surroundings. I wait for the return of sanity and care for the outside world. I wait for the wardens and the establishment to wake up.

It’s strange that in these times of social distancing, I remain awash not only in this virtual sea of panic of the COVID peril, but also of my formidable guests ready to surprise the morning walkers. It seems ridiculous to compare the two, but these early-morning foes are as invisible as the virus menace, and yet lurking silently. If you are not on your guard of the life-threatening, while the other ready to tear you up, you might as well stay indoors.

Every day the threat is more alarming. No one knows what will happen next.

shelleywalia@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 1:56:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-call-of-the-wild/article31542426.ece

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