It’s an October evening in the forest. The rains have petered off and the woods are kind of settling in, preparing for winter. Evenings are getting quiet, chilly, a little soft. I head out on my walk before the misty evening turns to night.
The trees are still lush, after soaking in four months of a full monsoon. We are in the Western ghats, and our forest is one that is thick, vibrant, teeming with life. Every time I go, every season, I see a different colour. When I was younger, I never noticed these little shades, subtly changing. In my childhood memory, the forest is always green or brown, wet in the rains and dry in the summer. Two distinct shades, that was it. Now I see how wrong I was.
In this part of the world, we don’t really have obvious seasons – no fall, or snow or bare branches leading up to spring. But the forest does get less green and more brown as summer approaches. My father once said March is like a ‘Fall’ season for us because the trees are as bare as they can get, before spring arrives. He was right, as he often was.
Just like a city, the forest is full of life lessons. About looking after ourselves, nurturing new life, making a clean break when things aren’t working, and always looking to the sun, to a better tomorrow.
Every tree has its place in the nature of things, and although the trees may seem random to my untrained eye, I’m sure they have their own symmetry. Nature knows what she’s doing, and she’s rarely wrong. Along the way, I spot some fallen branches. The ones that were meant to go, making way for the new. Just like humans, like animals, plants, like all life. Most living things live a full life, and depart gracefully when their time is up. To us, the departure may seem hasty, or unpleasant, but in nature, this is probably the most efficient way of bidding goodbye.
In the quiet evening, somewhere I hear the short, sharp sound of barking deer. This forest is home to many species – deer, wild boar, sloth bear, elephant, tiger, panther, bison. It seems incredible that these animals are around here – everything is so silent, undisturbed, serene. But I know they are here, sometimes they could even be within watching distance.
I am glad I cannot tell if an animal is close. I would be constantly looking out for one and forget to enjoy the walk. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
I decide to follow a tiny track and see where it leads. Like all little walks, this path is full of many small tracks here and there, always tempting me to go down them and see where they lead. Usually to a field, or a small clearing with a hut. These huts are used by farmers during the harvest season, when they stay here with their families, each one lending a much needed hand in the harvest. The harvest season in the field hut is like an extended family picnic, and probably the only holiday a peasant family gets every year. Near and far relatives all come together to cut, thresh and bind the grain, and the days are full of food, work, cups of hot sweet tea. Nights are spent with stories or songs around a fire, and the entire family sleeps together in the hut or under an awning. After the crop is gathered, threshed and loaded onto the carts, the huts are abandoned again until the next season.
The path I’ve taken leads to a large clearing with a pond. These woods are full of tiny and not so tiny ponds, which dry out as summer approaches. This pond is quite a large one. There are a couple of white herons at the far edge of the pond, and then a big dark shape emerges out of the water. I have a terrified moment. Images of bison, elephant, wild boar, all kinds of large strange creatures from fantasy race across my mind. I’ve been watching too much Jurassic park. But it turns out to be only a buffalo, getting ready to go home after a long dip. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to spot a buffalo.
Gratefully, I turn around and head back.
The air is scented with the fine scent of Nigiri, sharp and rustic. Reminding me that winter is around the corner. Bringing to mind woodsmoke, short days, chilly nights, starry skies, warm fires, the welcome of home and hearth.
However far we may travel, however famous or rich or successful we become, all of us long for the simplicity of our childhood – those uncomplicated days when things were either white or black. When we knew a gentler, safer world. And we’re always in search of that lost childhood, of that solace. Mine is here, in this forest near home, in these old tracks, leading to forgotten little huts and ponds. I utter a silent prayer of thanks that I have this little corner in the world, and head home.

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