“What is a lifetime adventure for you is a daily routine for us.”
~ Sign board on Leh-Ladakh highway (Indian Army)
"जो आपके लिए जीवनभर का असाधारण रोमांच है, वो हमारी रोजमर्रा की जिंदगी है।"
- लेह-लद्दाख राजमार्ग पर साइनबोर्ड (भारतीय सेना)
In today's highly competitive world of individual goals and individual achievers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find role models to inspire and remind us of the forgotten ideals & values of duty, loyalty, working without supervision, dedication to the assigned job & responsibilities. What we instead find tons of these new age social-media ‘influencers’ and ‘mentors’ who preach & lecture the young ones on cheap-tricks, life-hacks and crooked smartness. But as always stated in several earlier posts, and once again drawing from the legendary Bob Dylan…
“The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind”.
We don't really have to go too far seeking such inspirations as they might be just around us, within the family, neighbourhood and anywhere around - only if we slow down, make time, put phones and devices away for a while and just listen.
This post is about one such real life experience of a retired forest officer, Shri K S Saxena (IFS Retd.). A seasoned ‘forest & wildlife’ professional whose career spanned over 35 years working with the Govt of MP, he spent most of his active career in the field, that is jungles of Madhya Pradesh - popularly known as Satpura Tiger Reserve (STR), now a Unesco World Heritage site. The jungles normally become inaccessible with the onset of monsoon and therefore even the departmental staff is called back to their home location during the months of monsoon. Here he had earned this reputation over the years to be the last one to come out and first to go into the core jungles, and that had pretty much set the standard for everyone else in the department.
Among several such adventures and real life experiences narrated to us from his work life, this one came out as rather bizarre and extremely dangerous for even Bear Grylls (@beargrylls) of ‘Man Vs Wild’ fame. Hence decided to share it as a blogpost in a first person account and without any change in the actual content.
Sometime during the early-eighties, monsoons had just arrived and while I was returning back from the jungle, I was asked to visit a location to inspect & review a project, before I head back home. The staff was present at the location awaiting my arrival for the final inspection. The place was further deep inside the forests and only accessible by trek of about 18 KMs. Half way down the trek was a small forest village where we could stop over to rest for a while. My staff packed my bag for two days and the next morning along with a local guide-cum-porter, I started moving towards the location.
It was just the two of us, walking carefully along the difficult terrain and since it started drizzling we could not move fast and lost out on the time we had planned to reach the forest village half way. I stopped for some rest and by the time I started to get ready for next lap of the remaining trek, I found that the local guide accompanying me had disappeared and ran away, fearing the remaining trek. We had to cross a small hill that is locally known as ‘रीछ घाटी’ (Bear Hill) since this area is the abode of Bear. I was left with no other choice but to proceed all by myself, considering that the staff was awaiting my arrival. I gathered my bags and started moving towards the location. Cautiously but steadily trekking along, I somehow managed to survive ‘रीछ घाटी’ (Bear Hill) with few sightings & encounters with Bears and crossed over to the other side towards the location. By the time I finally arrived at the location, I was already exhausted. I then noticed a dilapidated check-post with absolutely no sight of any staff around. This was the least that I had expected having trekked these 18 KMs of absolutely punishing & dangerous jungles all alone.
I now have two choices - either trek 18 KMs all the way back or onwards the next 12 KMs to the Forest Rest House on the other side. And I decided on the latter as I had to meet the staff who I presume must be present there. By this time I was completely tired physically, mentally and very disappointed to have come all the way here only to find nobody. I started moving towards the Forest Rest House and by the time I arrived there it was already late evening. When I reached the Rest House, the staff were relaxing there and they were absolutely shocked and reacted as if they had seen a ghost. In the wildest of their dreams they had never expected me to take this trek and reach there in such weather. Only then did I realise that I have trekked almost 30 KMs through the most difficult terrain, dangerous forests and under inclement weather.
After the apologies and usual excuses they made me comfortable, prepared a nice dinner for me and then we sat down for a serious talk. I gave them a good dressing-down and started planning for the next day. We had to trek back 12 KMs next morning to the location for inspection, but this time I would be accompanied by the staff. We decided to leave early to be able to wrap up and return to the rest house the same evening.
We reached the location and got busy with our work. Soon we realised that it was already late afternoon and it would be dark within a couple of hours. We had to leave immediately to reach the Rest House in time but some work was yet to be completed. The staff was very keen to wrap up and head back. I insisted that having come this far, we should stay back, spend the night and finish the work next morning before heading back to the rest house. Nobody was comfortable with the idea and moreover the night stay was not even planned and hence the dinner would be a problem. But considering that the job had to be completed, it was finally decided that we will spend the night under that dilapidated check post and will figure out something to eat.
Everyone was asked to look up in their bags and bring out whatever eatables were available. Everyone had something or the other in their bags and all the items put together, they somehow managed to prepare something that we all considered as a precious meal for everyone to share a little, just enough to survive the night.
There was a small storm water flowing nearby, coming from the mountains and we managed to use that as our lifeline. We all spent the rest of the night under that broken structure and survived.
Next morning, I walk down to attend nature's call, closer to the water body. It sent shivers down my spine to see the water that we all had consumed last night. It was completely infested with all kinds of filth and bubbling with Aquatic Insects activity, arising out of the onset of monsoons and fresh flow of water that brings along all the dirt up there from the mountains. Anyhow, I was relieved that everyone was fine and nobody fell sick and we all returned to the base but only after completing the inspection.
The idea behind sharing the above story is not to glorify the people involved but just to bring about the fact that nobody was getting paid any hefty bonuses or a financial reward for what they did. They were not being supervised, monitored or controlled remotely. The whole team in the above story was self-motivated and they considered it as their basic job responsibility without any expectation.
Also to highlight here the fact that unlike today, when we have all the gadgets and performance gear at our disposal to protect us before undertaking such an assignment, this is the story from 40 years back (circa 1980) when no such gadgets or protection gear were available then and surely not with the department of Forest in Madhya Pradesh. That makes it an outstanding case study on the ideals of valour and bravery as demonstrated by these people.
Stories of such values and ideals are hidden in every other family and we just have to seek & identify them. We have unsung heroes & inspirations in our own backyard and we just have to have the sensitivity and an eye to identify and learn from them. It is time we drop the self-aggrandizing ‘influencers & mentors’ on social media and start looking inwards and around for real life heroes and ideals to get inspired.
Disclaimer: Images shared only for representation purpose and are from the personal archives of author.
What a wonderfully drafted and crafted real time experience narrated in such a nice form. Almost like a professional author cum blog writer. Hats off, I shall take this story in my upcoming issues of the magazine titled as "ME & MY EARTH". It is a bilingual quarterly being published since 2016.ReplyDelete
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Many thanks for your kind words of appreciation on the article. 🙏Delete
Compliments on your excellent initiative of running the journal “Me & My Earth” with such wonderful and insightful content. Will connect to subscribe the same. Thank you once again!
With Best Wishes / Ashish Jauhari