The Universe…or…Providence?

By Monica Bakre

Young Vishwanath, a fresh post graduate in English had acquired his first job in a government school in a small village. The village nestled amidst extremely picturesque terrain in the Western Ghats that had undulating mountain ranges, from above which the sun, moon, and stars provided endlessly changing landscapes of beautiful hues day and night. A gift from heaven indeed, the configurations sprayed beauty, and quiet, undisturbed delight onto the crests and troughs designed by nature and added limitless value to the awe-struck delight of many a tourist out to discover the lesser known parts of the country. Parts of the mountain ranges were lush with coffee and tea estates, private or company owned. There also were thousands of acres of reserve forest land interspersed therein, believed to house glorious wildlife in its thick, dark interiors. Still prevailed like a cloak draped by the area, disturbed only occasionally by the muffled sound of a horn to warn lean traffic on the winding roads up the ghats.

Here had arrived Vishwanath one summer, with his educational certificates and a mind brimming with enthusiasm and unadulterated ideas on primary education! He had quite a good salary at his school and could afford a small rented house for himself. He had his meals provided through a small canteen run by one of the ladies in his neighbourhood.

Idealistic and full of noble ideas in moulding young, impressionable minds, Vishwanath was punctual, dedicated, and result oriented. So good a teacher was he, that he would often be chided by his older colleagues at school!
“Why are you wasting your time in this village school? In a city, you will earn four times this salary and also have a fun-filled life with the glamour of the city.”

“And? What about the grass root level of my country? Who will teach these children if all dedicated teachers work in cities? No, I will teach here and help these innocent children prosper” would be Vishwanath’s firm reply.

One afternoon, as Vishwanath was walking home from the school for lunch, he heard an ear shatteringly loud crash around the bend in the road that he was approaching. He was stunned for a few seconds and then could hear loud shouts and wails of people he could not see yet.

He raced around the bend, and found a tempo traveller having crashed against an electric pole, its windscreen shattered and half its body punctured by the impact. Passengers were badly injured and the driver had slumped on his steering wheel. Soon, many more local people gathered, ambulances were arranged for, and the injured were taken to the nearest district hospital over the next two hours.

Vishwanath was emotionally very upset with this tragedy, the likes of which he had only seen in movies before. He began visiting the hospital every day after his school hours. He found that of the twenty-five – odd passengers, two had succumbed to their injuries. One was the driver and the other, a young accountant on his way to a town close by with his wife and two-year-old son. At the time of the accident, the child had been completely protected by his mother’s crouching and buckling over herself. This had kept the child safe, but had fractured her arm and bruised her forehead which she had hit with a fierce jerk on the railing of the seat in front of her.

Most injured passengers recovered over time and the young wife of the accountant had her entire right arm in plaster. Her little son, Sohan, had been bewildered and had taken to continuously wailing for his deceased father. When the young mother, Arti, would try to pacify him, he would drag his mother to the other wards in the hospital hoping to find his father. Vishwanath would drop by, enquiring after the injured, and would carry Sohan out of the hospital to distract him and accord his mother some respite.

In time, Arti recovered and returned to her native village about seventy kilometres away from the accident site. Her brother had come to help her leave with two-year-old Sohan and while going, had thanked Vishwanath for his selfless help in keeping the crying child engaged with walks out of the hospital, when he visited daily in the evenings.
A couple of years passed and every time Vishwanath would pass that bend, he would recall the gruesome accident. His eyes would scan the area around as if reliving the mess that he had witnessed that day.

One day, Vishwanath received a letter. It was the invitation to a wedding! He was surprised that Arti’s brother had invited him for her second marriage!

Vishwanath attended the wedding and was touched to see Sohan, four by now, looking a bit desolate. It appeared that he had not been adequately prepared for this step that his mother was about to take– that of getting him a stepfather.

Just an onlooker at this stage, Vishwanath kept in touch with Arti’s brother. To his surprise, he found that Sohan had stayed on at Arti’s maternal home which had his grandparents as well. Vishwanath was told that since the child would not accept the stepfather, a decision had been taken that Arti be allowed to proceed to her new home, leaving her son behind. Sohan seemed satisfied with this arrangement as he continued to live with loving people familiar to him.

Vishwanath, for a reason unknown to himself, felt an emotional pull towards Sohan. On weekends, he would travel to their village and spend time with the growing boy. They would watch movies in the tiny, though ramshackle, cinema hall in the village and attend fairs that would be set up in the village square occasionally.

Years passed and in due course, Vishwanath got married to Rohini, whose proposal had come through relatives. The wedding was simple and the couple served delicious food to all the children of the school that Vishwanath still taught at. It was no longer possible for Vishwanath to visit Sohan regularly, but he retained the memory as one of a sweet encounter that was as surprising as it was touching.

In time, he had saved enough money to purchase a small plot of land atop a hill, one side of which had a sprawling coffee estate. Vishwanath planned to grow some coffee on his plot as well as seasonal fruits. He would grow pepper vines, if possible too, he had decided.

Rohini, who had some experience in farming had cooperated with this intended project and the couple set about nurturing their tiny piece of land, she during the day, and he, in the pre-dusk hours after his work in the school. They had moved their residence close to the plot and were content in their occupation and simple living.

One Sunday morning, the coffee plants had to be sprayed with pesticide. Vishwanath packed the pesticide and water in his back pack after breakfast, and along with a hand sprayer, set out up the hill to his plot. On reaching there, he drank some water and began filling the sprayer in his back pack with the pesticide, sitting on his haunches. The air around was still with the coffee leaves as though waiting patiently for their dose of prophylactic medicine.

All of a sudden, Vishwanath happened to hear a swift, sharp rustle behind him. Up he sprang! He turned around in an instant, only to find himself facing directly, a leaping leopard that had already taken flight from a height in the air to pounce on him! Instant horror brought the ‘flight’ instinct out in him and Vishwanath fled.

He did not know which direction he should be going in. He just knew that he had to flee. He could sense the leopard behind him. The chase, however, was brief. The leopard was just inches away from Vishwanath when the creature abruptly stopped for a split second and suddenly changed track. It bolted into the shallow bushes to the right.
Vishwanath did not know this and continued racing, his heart thudding, beating against the wall of his chest, his breath coming short, and his legs struggling to keep pace with the fear hormone that his brain was pumping furiously into every inch of his frame.

On finding a tin shed on a levelled piece of ground, he swiftly scampered his way up, slipping repeatedly all the way, and perched himself on the slippery tiles of the roof, just about managing to hold on to the sharp, rough rafters of wood that supported it.

Still stiff with fear, he cast a look around the area which he had just mindlessly traversed. The leopard was nowhere to be seen! Holding his breath, Vishwanath peered all around… till he spotted a darkish area in a green, bushy segment of the terrain.

“Oh, there he is!” thought Vishwanath with a fresh lease of terror infusing his body. He grappled with the inside of the pocket of his trousers and managed to take his cell phone out.

“I need help…I do…I do…now, I do…” he hissed to himself, insanely stumbling thoughts crowding his mind. The leopard was still in the vicinity and could leap at him any moment.

As Vishwanath was punching his brother’s phone number with trembling hands, he never took his eyes off the brown spot in the bushy terrain. At this point, pretty much ‘out of the blue’, his subconscious mind threw up the distinct memory of a medium pitched, growly wail that he had heard as he was running! The wail was that of an animal. It seemed a cry for help. But, Vishwanath had barely paid attention and then had sensed that the wind behind him did not seem to be swishing with movement behind him anymore. It was then, at that precise moment that the leopard could have changed track and abandoned the chase, Vishwanath concluded! There was something there in the bushes that had made the leopard abandon its chase. Very slowly, logic began to surface and crystallize in Vishwanath’s muddled mind, and then, all of a sudden, realization hit him!

“Cub! Oh, a cub! The leopard’s cub! That was it!” Vishwanath found himself thinking as he felt something akin to a thousand watt bulb come glowing in his head! His head swam with excitement for a bit.

“The leopard has got to be a ‘she’! Her cub had cried out for its mother, just at that strategic point in time, which had made the leopard abruptly abandon the chase, change track, and race to attend to her precious offspring, who appeared in distress!” The penny dropped in Vishwanath’s mind! He allowed his muscles to relax a little and spoke to his brother in hushed tones into the cell phone.

Not long after, Vishwanath’s brother arrived with forest officials, the leopard was driven away, and the pug marks in the slightly wet soil showed—a neat pair of adult leopard pug marks. Running parallel to them were tiny ones too!
The tiny pug marks were those of the leopard’s cub…the one whose cry for its mother had saved Vishwanath’s life…
Was it surprising then that the first thing Rohini said when she raced to embrace Vishwanath as he finally came home that morning?

“Because you cared for Sohan…” she sobbed in relief and Thanksgiving…

About the Author: Monica Bakre is a qualified counselor/psychologist, with interest in reading, writing, cooking, music, and pets. She describes herself as an observant, absorbing, thinking, speculating, and sensitive individual.

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