Chp 14: Old Memories, Strengthened Bonds'
An excerpt from 'The Last Wave - An island novel',
"They walked up for a short while and reached a narrow stream of fresh water that descended rapidly down the incline they had just climbed. They walked along for a couple of minutes and now the stream opened out into a small, palm-fringed pool.
Uncle stood silently for a few moments, staring at the placid blue water. Harish felt like he was witnessing a deeply significant personal ritual. Uncle bent down, scooped up a handful of water and splashed it on his face. He cupped his palms again and scooped up some more, this time to drink. He then sat down on a small log of wood that had been smoothened through years of continued use. A few moments later, he smiled at Harish, a sad, resigned smile.
‘This, Harish,’ he started off in his regular deadpan manner, ‘is where the Jarawas killed my Abba and Amma many, many years ago.’
Harish’s jaw dropped. The simplicity and suddenness of the revelation left him stunned. He didn’t know how to react, what to say. His mouth opened, but no words came out.
‘Today, I am seventy-three,’ Uncle continued, ‘and that was about my father’s age then.’ He went back to staring at the water before them, withdrawing quickly into a quiet, private world.
Harish regained his composure and sat down on the other edge of the log. The story came out shortly – and slowly.
‘A group of four, Abba, Amma, a cousin and I had come to Louis Inlet for fishing. It was my third visit, and no one knew how many times Abba and Amma had been here. Even they didn’t remember. It had been a proud coming of age when Abba first asked me to join them on this trip. These are rich fishing grounds today. They were even richer then and the Karens came regularly. We occasionally dived here for shell and also went hunting for wild pigs and monitor lizards in the forests. We would row from Webi to here, fish for a couple of days and then row back for an entire day. It was hard work, but fun and worth the effort – one never went back empty-handed.
‘On that day, we had stopped at the mouth of the inlet, very close to where our dungi has been parked today. This stream was the best and most easily accessible source of water. It was Abba who decided that day that we’d come up and get some for ourselves. The two of them – Amma and Abba – came up this slope just the way we did today. I followed along with my cousin, but we had needed just that much more time to tie up the boat. It was just as we were hurrying up this slope after them, that we heard loud shouts. Jarawa sounds.’ Uncle paused and shut his eyes. He was silent for a very long time. ‘Then there were two screams,’ he opened his eyes and turned to Harish, ‘Abba and then Amma. The old man’s assumption, or was it a calculation, was all wrong.
‘It was a costly mistake. A very costly mistake. Abba knew these forests very well. People in the village used to say he could smell the Jarawas from a distance. It was always safe going to the forests with him. Maybe his time had come . . .’ Uncle’s words were twitching with emotion. ‘Luckily for us – or were we the unlucky ones? – the Jarawas had not seen me and my cousin. We were not very far, and I still don’t know how they missed us. We crouched by a small bush some distance down this slope, trembling. Even today, a chill runs down my spine when I think about that day. We waited for a while, terrified that any movement or sound would give us away. We heard a shuffling sound that went on for sometime. When it stopped, we turned around and raced down the slope, jumped into the dungi and rowed quickly away from land. In the middle of the creek, surrounded on all sides by water – I had never felt safer before. I don’t know what Abba was thinking that day. It was like the Jarawas were waiting for him, and yet he had no clue. The two of us waited till the late hours of the afternoon. Then, terribly anxious, we came back. We had to check, but what if we were also attacked? Slowly and quietly, we climbed back, wary of any movement or sound. We turned left and reached the stream, half expecting a Jarawa arrow to pierce our own hearts. We walked up to this log here,’ Uncle tapped the log the two of them were sitting on, ‘holding hands, still trembling with fear. On that stone over there,’ he now pointed to a largish boulder that was also smooth with many years of use, ‘we saw something that I will never forget – marks of blood that seemed to have just dried. What a way to die! Even their bodies were not found.’
Uncle nodded, his eyes moist.
‘Three months later, I came back all alone with Abba’s old gun. I came up to this pool and waited in the forests along the edge, on the other side there. It was on the afternoon of the second day that I saw a group of five Jarawas approach the pool. I steadied myself, took aim and blasted the man at the front with my first shot. The others scattered like feathers in a strong wind. That very moment, I also promised myself and the Jarawas that I would never come to their forests with a gun again. I never have.’
Harish was dumbfounded. Uncle seemed to him in this moment like a little child who needed assurance that all was okay. And what forbearance. So much had happened, yet Harish had only seen respect for the Jarawa in Uncle’s eyes and manner.
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