One fine evening
THE TROUBLE BEGINS
The day had been sultry. There seemed to be no sign of mercy from the rain god. The sun shone brilliantly over the parched earth. I was hoping that at least the evening would be a little cooler. The whole morning I was busy at the construction site overseeing the operations of the cable being laid out for our new service building. The workers were sweating it out in the hot sun and they were the only source of inspiration for me to stand there along with them, in a much better dress of course.
As the work came to a close, I gave a sigh of relief. My boss had pressurized me the day before. The Engineering section head was to visit the site tomorrow and so, the work had to be completed today at any cost. It took not less than ten determined workers and eleven hours before the work seemed to be satisfactorily completed. At last, I thought, I could breathe easy in the post visit meeting. I started planning for the night out with Madhu and our little twin devils Shruti and Akhya.
It was about seven and the sun seemed to give up. The sky was full of cries of all the birds flying in various fleets and formations and was turning funny shades of blue and orange. The evening seemed to be perfectly poised for a peaceful end. But, it was not to be. The first signs of trouble were beginning to show. The cable, which was laid, was to be energized. The panel switches were operated and nothing happened. I thought, “This is it. He would be really pleased to pull me tight tonight. There goes my perfect evening”.
I took a good look at the panel wirings and along with the technicians I had checked all the switches. It took us slightly less than forty-five minutes to do that. Then we again tried to start the circuit. It did not. I was now getting worried. I called home and explained the situation. Madhu was furious at first. But, finally she agreed to the fact that anyhow I was going to be late by a few hours. We had a compromise that she would take kids to the shopping mall only if I promise to come back by eleven. I thanked god and then her for being so sympathetic and gracious. I had a tough job on hand. I dared not call my boss. He would love to give us a nice dressing down.
It was dark by now. Two workers were held back by our contractor to help find the fault. We had to work in the dark now. The area was notorious for snakes and bats. The other things that could bother us were the recent killings in the area not very far from the project site. We were only seven people at the site now including the three security men. It was going to be a long night.
WE HAD COMPANY
We started the work at about eight. The cable was to be inspected while the other cables had not to be disturbed. The workers were digging the earth and we were checking the cables as they came into light. Suddenly we heard some noise behind the bushes very near to our place. I directed the torch towards it and tried to call out “Who is there?” and thought how foolish of me to search for an answer even if there was somebody. The bushes moved again. Now, everybody on the site got tensed up. “Who is there?” I called again. “Get your arms ready” I said to the security team and took a rod in my hand. The workers were also ready with their tools. Every body was facing the bushes now. The thing is, the area we were working was a bit away from the mainstream public. It was on the outskirts of the nearest village, the lights of which were shining bright now at a distance. The nearby area was dense foliage with grass and bushes that could cover anything from a snake to a human being. During the day, it did not seem so remote but due to the killings the day before had put a question mark over the security in the area.
I whispered to my colleague “Yadav, come here. We will see what is there”. The bushes moved again. This time they moved as if something was trying to struggle out of them. The night was dark and the moonlight was weak. It added to the effect. We took a searchlight each and a rod “just in case” I thought.
The wind seemed to be colder by the second. My hand was sweating but I was unusually calm. We tiptoed to that bush. It had now stopped shaking. Some funny noise came from behind the bush. It sounded like a snort and a growl. We had stopped at about four feet and searchlights flooded the place with bright light.
Suddenly I saw two gleaming eyes in the bush. I pointed the light towards them and they shone green. It was a wolf for certain. Or, were there more? The area was near to a dense forest, well, actually a sanctuary and so, the sightings of wolves were commonplace. We all had frozen at our places. The wolf was also a determined animal. It stood its ground. It could have attacked, I thought, but it might have seen us outnumber him. We saw another bush had moved the same way now. We knew that it had company as wolves usually have. The moment was tense and only the stronger would survive, I thought. Amazingly, nobody was moving for about a couple of minutes. We kept the searchlights pointing towards those eyes. It was a stale mate. Nobody moved. We all knew that if we back up now, they would pounce.
We saw another pair of eyes emerging from the other side of the bush. This could be really serious now. But then, how to call for help? The security men had guns, I thought. But I had never seen them in use. I thought the security men were also afraid of the same thing. How can they trust on their guns if they had never used them? I could hear my heart thumping. The nerves were really tense. The blood was gushing fast. My mind showed me the worst it could, the gory images of attacked people the day before I had seen on the news. “I had to stay calm” I said to myself. The others might be thinking the same.
Just then, a strange thing happened. One of the wolves started retracting. It went deep in to the bushes and disappeared. The other two looked towards each other and almost agreed to back off. One of my colleagues moved his feet. CRUNCH…the crunching noise of a twig. It seemed so loud at that moment. My heart gave a skip. The wolves had gone the next second.
We stayed where we were for another minute or so. We were not sure if they had gone. I think we had all gone deaf for those moments and had not heard a vehicle approaching. Then, we saw that the company vehicle was coming. I could call it as the happiest moment of that evening. But, how come it came early?
BACK TO THE OFFICE
The driver Nathu shouted “Saab, what are you looking at in the bushes there?” We all came to normal state.
“Nathu! Would you believe it? We were facing three ferocious beasts for more than a few minutes” I said.
“Saab! That is why Boss sent the vehicle early. The forest authorities had told that there are a few man-eaters roaming loose. You might have seen news last night” Nathu said, “You were lucky that those beasts did not do anything. How many were they in all?”
“Three I suppose” said Kirti, who was our company guard, “and I think they were the same man eaters”.
We went silent for a few minutes. The phone rang. It sounded the loudest ring I might have ever heard. It was my boss Mr.Rajaram.
“Hello! I am Rajaram here. Who is there?” he called.
“Good evening sir! I am Tyagi sir.”
“Hey man! Are you mad! Don’t you hear the news daily! There are man-eaters on the loose. Let the forest department take care of them and then you dare to work in the night. Your wife had called and told that you were staying late for work. What are you doing there?”
“Sir! Actually the cable had a fault and I was just testing it” I spoke, thinking of what had come over him.
“Oh! My mistake! My mistake! You fear the inspection isn’t it? Well let me tell you that it is still scheduled for tomorrow only but it was not urgent! I do not want any accidents or something bad. Come to the office now.”
“Yes sir” I said as I hanged the telephone.
“The boss was caring for us! God knows what has changed him so suddenly”, said Kishore who was the other engineer at site.
“Well! Let us wrap up then,” I said and as quickly as we could, we arranged all tools, as they should be. Wished the security men a good night and boarded the bus. The ride back to our office was an hour’s journey but it passed in complete silence. Nobody spoke a word. Everybody might be thinking of the great escape we had tonight. Those eyes. I could see them clearly in my mind. But, as soon as we entered the city borders, the horizon was a bit comforting: the people, the streetlights and the society as a whole. For a second, I forgot what had happened an hour ago. Slowly I came back to senses. I was normal again. “Funny, isn’t it” I thought. Man feels safe only in the vicinity of other people. We are essentially social animals.
We reached the office and the boss and others were waiting for us. They were looking a bit worried.
“What happened to you guys? Be careful next time. The man-eaters were spotted not very far from our site this evening. Mr. Kale from our forest department called a few times and I got worried” My boss was talking.
“Well sir! If I tell you we confronted three of them for more than a few minutes, what would you say?” I heard Kishore saying with that mischievous look on his face.
“Serious Kishore. You are adventurous I know” said Mr. Rajaram. He was of course taken aback.
“No sir. We did face three wolves at our site. We still cannot believe that we are all unhurt” I said.
“Hmm. So, you people might be the first ones to escape those. Lucky guys. I hate you when you get lucky but not this time. I thank god that you all are safe.” He said.
Mr. Rajaram’s voice was a bit shaky. He got over it very quickly and said, “ So, after the jungle safari, now who would volunteer to work on it tomorrow night?” He was almost pulling our legs. There was uproar of some sort as so many of us suddenly started talking. He raised his hands “Just joking. I am not that mad. OK! I am a bit mad, of course, but not that much. I do like to pull your legs though. Otherwise you won’t work” we shared the laugh. It was a jolly mood in the office.
“Pleases do not tell this to Madhu, sir. She will really get worried. I think I will tell her after a few years only let us say when I would turn forty or so. What do you say?” I said to Mr. Rajaram as I took his leave.
“ Oh boy! I won’t. But you know, as I see of her, she is a tough girl and smart also. And cooks fantastically too” He said almost smacking his lips. He had become a fan of her cooking ever since last year’s Diwali dinner. I must admit that she does cook well.
“Right sir. I would leave and see you tomorrow” I said and I came out of his office as he spoke “The inspection is tomorrow at ten. Don’t be late. You could be noticed. You may never know and no more wolves OK!”
I was not thinking of the wolves while traveling back home. I was just thoughtless. I thought of Shruti and Akhya though, after some time. They might be asleep by now. It was about ten-thirty. Madhu might have fallen asleep on the sofa. Oh! Wasn’t I lucky tonight?
I reached home at about ten-forty five. I found the house and everybody nearly as I had thought. Madhu was asleep, but on the dining table instead.
“Hi dear” I whispered in her ears.
“Oh! You have come” she yawned as she woke up. “Well as always, the dinner is ready. I bet you have no eaten since, let me guess, five right!” she said triumphantly, “my dear baby, why do you do like this?” I couldn’t help as I shrugged and she was right. We had the food as I told her the story. I couldn’t wait till I would turn forty. She listened with a look of incredibility mixed with fear, I might add. But, she took it nicely.
“So, my boy has grown up to face a wolf. Hmm, that is interesting. But, please don’t go hunting them tomorrow OK!” she said and I knew she was relieved. I went to see our two little angels. They were fast asleep, moving a little bit on their beds. Bliss. I still couldn’t believe that I was back at home and could see those two. I took Madhu in my arms, pecked her on the cheeks “lets sleep dear. I have an important day tomorrow” she smiled and for a moment I forgot all my worries.