It was still so dark outside. The world was fast asleep but Bhimaiya was up and awake. He was ready to go out to work. As much as he tried to be quite and not disturb his sleeping family, his mother Gauriamma woke up.
“Bhima, you know you are much early for work, no? Why this restlessness? Will everything start just because you are ready Nunna Maghnu? (She addressed him affectionately in Kannada)”
Gauriamma got up and made a hot cup of coffee and handed over to Bhimaiya.
“Amma, I tell you everyday that we get tea, coffee, breakfast everything at work there. You don’t have to get up for me. You have such a long, hard-working day, but you just don’t listen,” Bhimaiya complained affectionately as he gulped down his coffee, hugged his mom and rushed out.
There was spring in his legs. It was the same everyday. Bhimaiya was passionate about his work. He was a driver cum spotter for the past five years , at the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. As usual he was the first one to reach. Shortly the camp sprang into action. The jeeps were ready. The guests were gathering near the jeeps. Bhimaiya always found the children to be the most excited and so he wished at least a few of them in his jeep for the jungle safari. To his joy, the family sitting that day in his jeep had two children; Vivan and Nysa. They appeared to be pretty excited and curious about the safari. The jeeps rolled out of the camp, one after the other, heading towards the forest. Making its way through a village that was still just about waking up, they entered the gates of the famous Nagarhole Tiger Reserve. The reserve had an electrifying effect on Bhimaiya. For the past five years that he had spent there, to everyone’s surprise, he seemed to have developed a very special bonding with the wildlife there. He could make different sounds of birds, animals and they were seen to respond to him. It was indeed a sight to see how the birds would come to perch on trees closer to the path that his jeep went. The land animals too would come closer to the clearing and subsequently, his jeep guests would have the maximum sightings. Vivan and Nysa had infinite questions that Bhimaiya was only too happy to answer. Vivan, with his family, had been to three other National Parks too but unfortunately could never get to sight a single tiger. So here when he sighted a tiger couple with its three cubs, herds of spotted deer, heard the call of the barking deer to alert the proximity of a tiger, huge bisons, the wild boars, the beautiful innocence personified sambars, herd of wild elephants with majestic tuskers and two leopards casually relaxing on a tree, he just couldn’t believe his luck. The best part was the commentary and expressions of Bhimaiya that accompanied it. The way he would seemingly talk to them really felt that it was reciprocated. Things like why the huge anthills were actually the house of termites instead of ants, following the pug marks of tigers, reading the scratches of the tiger claws on tree barks and so many more such informations left not only the children but the adults too awestruck.
The Yellow wood pecker, Brain fever bird, shining black Ravens, the beautiful peacocks, the wondrous owl to name a few land birds and the numerous water birds that one could view on water bodies, were amazing. The birds loving Nysa was ecstatic to see the Snake bird, the Brahmini kite, the White kingfisher, Open billed stork, Egrets, the black Cormorants, the majestic Eagles perching on the Bamboos jutting out of the water. They suddenly froze to see a few crocodiles near the bank of river Kabini. Bhimaiya spoke of the forest eco system too showing them how the huge dead trees were allowed to keep lying in the forest so that the birds could feed on the termites living inside them for years. Vivan and Nysa probably would never have to struggle to understand the concept of Eco System again.
Amidst so much of excitement, time flew off and it was time to return. The children wanted more of this experience and the parents promised them the next safari too. More than happy they all returned to their camp requesting Bhimaiya to be their guide for the afternoon as well. Bhimaiya had no choice in that, he informed them. Came afternoon, the jeeps were ready again. Vivan and Nysa were terribly disappointed to find themselves on some other jeep, this time. Nothing could be done and the fleet of jeeps again headed for the National Park. The fresh air, the thrill of the forest and the expectation of sighting wild life was a different experience altogether for the guests. Again, Bhimaiya’s guests had a wonderful sighting and it was time to return. The evening fell and as Bhimaiya’s jeep was on its way back, it took a few jerks and stopped. This had never happened before. A concerned Bhimaiya got down to check the engine but failed to find anything. It was getting dark so he called other jeep drivers for help. Rajaraman, his friend and one more driver came with their jeeps and the guests were adjusted into them. After dropping the guests at the camp, the jeeps would return to help Bhimaiya tow his jeep out of the forest. Bhimaiya had no problems staying alone; he was not scared.
After a while, Rajaraman returned and joined Bhimaiya’s jeep with a rope to his and started towing it at a very slow speed. As they reached near Kabini river, Rajaraman suddenly jumped down and threw a rope around Bhimaiya’s neck. Bhimaiya was caught unawares. Rajaraman pulled on to the noose fast till Bhimaiya started choking and after a struggle fell quite. Rajaraman quickly pulled him down with the rope, dragged him to Kabini and pushed him into the water. He then set off towards the gates of the National Park.
Rajaraman had grown very jealous of Bhimaiya. They were childhood friends and both worked at the same place. But to his disappointment, Bhimaiya was always appreciated for his work and had been winning medals as the best spotter for the past three years. The last straw was Gauri, who he loved but Bhimaiya and Gauri fell in love with each other and were to get married in a few months time. Rajaraman could not accept this and he planned to get Bhimaiya out of his way. He only had tampered with his jeep’s engine and had come rushing back after leaving the guests, before the other jeep could arrive.
The other jeep had still not arrived and it was pitch dark now. Rajaraman could wait no more and disengaging his jeep from Bhimaiya’s, he set out towards the gate. He had gone barely a few yards when he saw shining green eyes on the path in front of him. He froze. It was a leopard. He looked around and tried to run and climb a tree, forgetting that climbing trees comes naturally to leopards. The leopard let him run to the tree and as he was climbing it, it ran and sprang upon him, making him his food for the next three days.
At Bhimaiya’s home, his mother Gauriamma returned late evening from a day of hard work as a house-help in a few houses to the usual sight of finding her drunkard husband rolling and ranting on the floor. She would often wonder if this was the same loving man with whom she had eloped to get married, some twenty five years back. After fifteen years of marital bliss and two children, Bhimaiya and Gayatri, her husband lost his job as a result of a shut down of the factory that he worked in. This marked the beginning of Gauriamma’s woes. Her husband turned to alcohol and Gauriamma had to turn to work to run the family. Her children were her joy. Bhimaiya grew up and started working at the forest and Gayatri took to tailoring and earned a decent amount by stitching clothes for others . Everyday a tired Gauri would return home to find her children waiting for her at dinner. That day not finding Bhimaiya back, got her worried but she believed in the affinity between her son and the wildlife and knew that he would never be harmed by them. Then where had her son gone, she thought. She waited the whole night. Morning brought news of Rajaraman’s disappearance and the two jeeps in the forest too. Announcement of both the boys being killed by the wild life was made. Gauriamma refused to believe that about her son.
Bhimaiya was pushed into Kabini river by Rajaraman. This was witnessed by Kuniamma, who was returning home on her boat after the day’s fishing. She came close and pulled Bhimaiya on to her boat.
“Nunna Maghnu!Nunna Maghnu! (My son!My son!)” she kept repeating as she rowed her boat fast towards the other side of the river where she lived. Kunamma lived all alone on a hill top in a small village near Bandipur National Park. She had lost her only son when he was barely two, accidentally to Kabini river, some twenty years back. One day a Sadhu had made a prophecy that she will get back her son after many years.. Now for Kunamma, Bhimaiya had to be her long lost son. All excited, she took him to the shore. By that time, Bhimaiya had gained some consciousness. Holding him tightly, she brought him to her house.
“Nunna Maghnu! Nanna Maghnu!” she would keep gushing as she hugged him again and again.
“I am Bhimaiya, amma. Thank you so much for rescuing me and giving me shelter. In the morning I will go home,”groaned a grateful Bhimaiya in pain and he passed out.
Kunamma got alarmed. Her son spoke of going away! She could never let that happen. She hurriedly went and brought a chain with which she tied her boat and tied it to Bhimaiya’s legs and her window and put a lock in it. Now he could go nowhere, sighed a relieved Kunamma.
In the morning Bhimaiya found out about his new problem. Kunamma would come to him, feed him, hug him, caress him and shower all her motherly love upon him but would totally ignore all his attempts to tell her the reality. He could not scream for help either for the house was quite away from the village. Realizing his limitations, he thought of a plan. He stopped his struggle to leave. Kunamma would chant some spells day and night on him to change his mind. Bhimaiya’s calm was taken by her as the result of her spells and chants. She was very happy with her efforts and increased her chants even more. Bhimaiya took all this pretty calmly. One night when a more trusting Kunamma was sleeping a bit closer to Bhimaiya, Bhimaiya managed to open the key from her saree end and unlocking himself, he ran out in the night, leaving the sleeping Kunamma behind in her dreams.
Bhimaiya ran and ran and reached the shores of Kabini. Dawn was just breaking in. Looking around he guessed to be at Bandipur National Park, that was on the other side of Kabini river. Without giving a second thought, he jumped into the river and swam across to the shore of the other side. The forest was all coming alive with the rising Sun and the nocturnals were going off to their hides. He saw a herd of elephants that had come to drink water. A huge tusker from the herd came up to him, picked him up with his trunk and put him on his back. An overjoyed Bhimaiya kept rambling with the tusker in his own language, caressing his back. He was back in his forest amongst the wildlife that he loved. He was calling out to the monkeys, langurs, birds, peacocks and everyone that he could lay his eyes on. The forest suddenly got filled with the chatter of the monkeys, chirping of the birds, trumpet of the elephants and the roar of the tigers! The tusker dropped him very close to the main gate of the reserve, where the guards watched them with gaping mouths. Bhimaiya was back home.