At a crossroads

Siddhesha loaded his belongings on a bullock cart and looked at his home.

A flood of memories flowed before his eyes.

He saw himself as a child running in the courtyard of their village home while his mother pleaded with him to finish the last ball of raagi .

He saw a rebellious and angry teenager determined to stop the moneylender from taking away their pair of cows as his debt-ridden parents watched helplessly.

He saw a grown-up man who welcomed Lakshmi into that home and within a year bade goodbyes, first to his father and then to his mother.

He saw a father beaming and happy on hearing the birth of his son, Swamy; dancing in joy, only to weep inconsolably later on, when he was told that Lakshmi had lost her fight.

His home meant everything to him. His memories, his roots and his hopes. Almost everything.

But today he was about to relinquish it.

As the cart moved slowly ahead, he turned back and fixed his eyes on the piece of land that was his security against a fickle world. Soon, it would be reclaimed by weeds, then shrubs and eventually a small jungle.

He arrived at a stream along the edge of the village where he used to revive himself after an exhausting day in the field. Soon, he thought, wild animals will pay the village a visit.

He came to a turn on the road where his eyes fell on the tall ficus tree and its numerous beehives. He remembered how much fun they had while harvesting honey from them. Now, the honeybees would remain without worry.

For today, the entire village was being relocated elsewhere.

They said his village is important for the tigers. Their presence will threaten the tiger’s existence. They must, therefore, go.

At first, he did not believe what he had heard; and when he did, he did not understand what it meant.

“How can one just leave everything and move somewhere else and that too for a few tigers?”

They said it would be good for the future of tigers, as they need lots of land: land free of humans.

In return, they said, he would be compensated. “There will be a new land to cultivate your crops, a new house you can call home. Everything will be better than this.”

Perplexed, he asked them, “Can you also relocate my love for this land?”

They had no answers.

Finally, he gave in when he felt the promise of a better life for his son awaited them in their new place.

By now, his cart had already left the village far behind and rumbled along the tar road.

He glanced at Swamy’s questioning eyes, and had to quickly look away.

Just yesterday he had asked why they had to give up their home for the tigers. Couldn’t tigers go and live somewhere else?

Siddhesha did not have any answers for the boy, as he was struggling to find them for himself.

The cart reached an intersection and he saw a truck coming from the opposite direction.

As it approached, Siddhesha saw an elephant and her calf, tied with thick ropes desperately trying to balance themselves as the truck came to a sudden halt in front of them on the other side of the road.

Curious, he asked a bystander, “What happened to these elephants and where are they taking them?”

The man replied, “They are captured from the villages beyond those hills, as they need to make room for the thousands of people who live there. They are being relocated in a jungle far away.”

Siddhesha looked at the mother elephant. Their eyes met. Questioning eyes. Looking for answers that they might – or might not – find some day.

“How can one just leave everything and move somewhere else and that too for a few tigers?”

This article appeared in the Hindu in School on 10 September 2014.

Illustration: Siddhesha and the mother elephant looked into each others’ eyes
Credit: Sartaj Ghuman