Fairy Tale Trek

I was just under ten. Father had bought his coffee estate on the Western Ghats and the family was split - with mother concentrating on our schooling at Mangalore, and father devoting his time and energy on the estate near Saklespur, a hundred miles from our house on the coast.

Commuting to and fro was not easy, the ghat roads being treacherous. Unlike today, when the distance can be covered in two hours, those days one had to depend on the uncertain rickety buses which needed the better part of a day to chug-chug along, with many a stop on the ascending and winding roads to cool the radiator water.

My elder sister had finished her studies and was spending time at home during that interlude between college and marriage. So she kept father company on the estate. I was called one day by mother and asked to take a few things to her at the estate. Two neatly packed bags were entrusted to my care and I was ensconced in the bus with numerous instructions to be careful. Someone would meet me to Saklespur, and walk me down the five miles of jungle, to the estate. I entertained no qualms or anxiety, content with the storybooks I had carried to kill time on the journey.

But when the bus reached our destination, dusk was falling, and no one was there to receive me. I waited …. And waited. The bus-stand was soon deserted. The first signs of panic were creeping in, as I tried to get a taxi but found one. I took care to carry the bags with me whenever and wherever I moved. The realization that they were like rocks was now sinking in. Undaunted, I decided to walk. But the bags were heavy.

With difficulty, I managed to persuade one of the porters to accompany me carrying my bags. He insisted on hiring a cycle or else…. I quickly agreed. Half way through, the porter suddenly wanted to go back and demand from me the two rupees agreed upon. His expression made me part with the money. And I watched his disappearing back with apprehension. Panic bells were ringing now. I was alone, stranded on a jungle path, with no one to help carrying the heavy load. As despair would be no use, determinedly I set off again, dragging the two heavy packages. Every fifty yards I stopped, to catch my breath and recoup energy to carry me over the next fifty yards. Throughout this arduous, never-ending walk, the tears were not too far.

Night came along as I trudged on the unfamiliar jungle path, expecting a wild animal or an undesirable stranger, to appear round every tree, stone or corner. The tears were held back and allowed to roll down only after I reached the estate bungalow - at what hour, I really cannot say.

Father and sister were alarmed when I had to wake them up to let me in. There had been some communication gap about my date of arrival and hence the misadventure.
My sister eagerly opened the bags to see if all her things had reached intact. That's the first time I saw what I had carried-her costly sarees and all her jewellery. These were needed because certain 'proposals' were expected to drop in to see the eligible bride!

The jewellery that I had carried cost a fortune - in today's terms may be over a couple of lakhs. Which makes me shudder. Had I not been careful, what would have happened to the wares?

When I asked my parents later on how they could rely on a ten-year-old to escort such a treasure to distant wilderness, their answer made my chest swell with pride. But really, where have all those good old days gone, when parents could send their little boys out on their own without fear or worry?

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Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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