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Char Kukri Mukri: Of tube-wells, kindling, and lights in the dark

  • Published at 05:46 pm March 6th, 2021
Dakaitar Khaal
Canal enroute to Dakaitar Khaal. Photo : Alfred C. D'Silva

"We are gifted creatures in this world. Gifted, with this planet, with this environment and humanity in general. Stargazing out here at this star filled sky, made me wonder, made me ask questions" ~ Wakeef Aan Rawad

The first thing you notice when you step into the remote is the difference in the condition of the water. You notice how it flows from its source, to the way it glistens in the sunlight. Then you begin to notice the difference in the way it tastes. There is a saltiness mingled with a mild iron-like flavor. You notice the smell. Not being use to such characteristics in the water, you say a prayer and hope that the water is good. As you begin to take sips from your cupped palms, you slowly find yourself getting use to the flavor of the water. Your body communicates with you through this growing comfort, telling you that the water is good. A traveler’s note for those going to use a tube well: The best times to get water from a tubewell would be early in the morning, or late at night. You are bound to find the water clearer at these times as the resting well would have the sediment settle more than at times when the well is more frequently used. 

You then take note of the smell of the air. The breeze blows with a cool sort of warmth. A hint of salt, mingled with muddiness, a weedy sort of woodiness, and sand. You take note of the wild water-buffalo grazing, and they take note of you. From a distance that they consider respectable, they watch you trundling along with your heavy laden back-pack and gear, all the while their mouths moving in circular rotations as they process the cud. 

Water Buffalo. Photo: Alfred Christopher D’Silva

You notice a distinct absence. A lightening form of emptiness. The absence of jarring vibrations and the blaring of horns. There is a singular absence of human chatter and noise. Your eyes begin to swallow whole the absence of tall, lifeless structures that block out the air and light. Flat, open and watery horizons as far as the eye can see lie toward one’s right. On one’s left, lies the dense and deep mangrove forest. The periphery are marked by fallen and uprooted trees that continue to tower over anyone who stands beside them. Looking at the intricately contorted root systems that now stand bare against the salty air, one cannot help but imagine how strongly and firmly like a clenched fist, these roots held firm to the ground. They now lie like stony fallen sentinels. A jackal scout notices you and looks at you approaching. A few more yards and it too disappears into the forest. The birds congregate on the mud-flats replenished by the receding tide. This place is alive.

To find the perfect clearing for a campsite, you would ideally want a site that provides you with enough shade to provide respite from the noontime sun. You want enough exposure to the sea breeze. This will allow for good ventilation. You must inspect the ground for levelness of surface. You must designate areas for collection, for fire and cooking and for setting up the tents. The space you choose must provide ample horizontal field of vision.  It is now time to build a fire. Fire requires tinder. Look around you and you will find plenty of wood, but do not chop at the trees that are living or even at the ones that are uprooted. One should note that it is illegal to cut the trees. In addition, there are plenty of dry leaves that may be collected for kindling. Brew a cup of tea or cook a basic meal for yourself and your team-mates. Breathe a sigh of relief. You have made it into the lap of meditative tranquility.

Photo: Alfred Christopher D’Silva

Nighttime brings a sense of heightened excitement and activity. As soon as the sun dips deep into the western horizon, the jackals begin to call. Their calls are so regular that one is able to keep time to it. The forest immediately behind the campsite will be quiet except for a few birds being disturbed in their slumber. But one cannot shake off the feeling of being watched. The black shroud of the sky is bedazzled by an uncountable number of stars. They make the night so bright that, given time, your eyes get fully accustomed to the dark and you are able to discern paths in the darkness. But still, carry a torch. 

The tide slowly rolls in, creeping toward the shore in the darkness and you can tell because, the sound of the wavelets steadily becomes louder and louder as they roll in closer. The waves too begin to glow an iridescent blue. This is most fascinating to see. Step into the water and the disturbance of your steps cause the plankton to light up. One is able to see the paths that fish take through the water because of these haunting lights. Reach in with your hand and when you withdraw your hand, some of these plankton glowing like rice-lights on a Christmas tree, linger bright but transiently on your palms. 

Fallen but mighty. Photo: Alfred Christopher D’Silva

When sleep comes, do not be alarmed by the sound of sudden rustling, or sniffing, or if you feel a faint nudge on the walls of the tent. The residents have come to visit. It is best to lay perfectly still and let them pass through without causing them alarm. When morning comes, fill your lungs with the cool fresh air and let the warmth of the sun’s light embrace you. You feel like you have returned home.