The Sky Men
There are many forests in this world. But Naga forest is very different from all of them. In this forest, there is a mystic tree which is believed to be created by the three main deities in hindu mythology: Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. It is known as ‘Tryambaka’.
For the childless if the couples worshipped ‘Tryambaka’ earnestly it granted their wish without fail. At times it acted as a physician by driving away illness and some other times as a rescuer from all types worldly problems for the tribals .Thus the tree was highly revered and worshipped by the tribals living in the Naga forest.
The tribals have built a fence with wood and coir around the tree with a small opening with enough space to allow the entry of only one person at a time. They applied turmeric and Sindoor all over its trunk and worshipped it with devotion. They were even afraid to step on the tree’s shadow. That much was their belief ,trust and devotion towards the tree. They considered it as the daughter of the trimurti.
Naga Forest Government Guest House!
Forest officer Jacob was standing a little tensed rubbing his hands together now and then in front of the jeep belonging to the Forest Department which was parked in front of the office.
He could see Neelan and his wife Neeli coming towards him. It was noon ... but the rain clouds were slowly gathering in the sky, and it was drizzling intermittently. The impact of the chillness was quite unbearable.
Although Jacob was wearing a woolen sweater he could not bear the severe cold and was rubbing his hands together to feel a little the warmthness.
He wanted to light a cigarette. But some unknown fear prevented him from doing so. Only the thought of leaving that forest at the earliest prevailed in his mind.
He has served in the Naga forest only for a few months as the forest officer but all of a sudden he started pleading with his higher officials for a transfer sending request after request and at last he got it!
Another officer Sasi was on the way to take charge from him that is why Jacob was waiting there with much tension.
Neelan and his wife Neeli, the tribal couple from the forest came in front of him carrying a jar of honey, Jack fruits and some of the forest products.
They greeted Jacob in their traditional way.
"What’s all this?"
"Ji, Thomas Bro, told us that you’re leaving this forest, that's why we have come to pay our respect to you."
"That's right, what is all this?"
"Nothing, Ji, just some Jackfruits, honey, nutmeg and a leaf from the ‘Tryambaka’ tree.."
As Neelan finished saying this Jacob looked at them as if they were some small worms lying before his gumboots ready to be trodden on…
"Ji, can we place this in your Jeep?"
'Hmm ... It’s not Gold or diamond right? ” a frustrated Jacob reacted.
"Please don’t say like that Ji, this leaf alone is worth more than any gold or diamond. It very rarely fall from the tree. You know well how long our people used to wait for this leaf to fall from the tree. They even used to fight between themselves for this leaf. Many people are coming from the town for this and Siddha doctors are ready to give in thousands for this…"
“Hey, Neela,an experience of all these ‘believe it or not’ stuffs… that is my only gain from this forest. I will never forget the six months service, I had here in my whole life.
"Ji, Why are you talking like this? Many people don’t want to leave this forest, once they come here. Only you’re saying like this. "
"Enough, I’m not able to earn even a single penny from this forest! I can't even smoke a cigarette at ease here... Wherever I turn, I can see only mysteries, for god’s sake please leave me alone. "
“What you are saying is true! Even we who were born and brought up in this forest are not able to understand ,What is going on here? But one thing is there we are happy here.”
"What happiness Neela, There is no radio, no TV, no internet! You do not have even electricity! Politicians somehow set a booth here during the last election to collect your votes and not to serve you. You people do not know how to fight for your rights?”
“Ji, we do not need all those stuff ! We cultivate almost everything here from rice to guava, cucumber, mango, banana, jackfruit and all kinds of fruits. We follow organic farming using the compost from the cattle in our village... that is why we’re strong as teak trees. ”
Neelan’s face glowed with pride when he said this.
"Okay, enough of your bragging, now leave me alone."
"Ji, now you are going to which forest?"
"I am going to take charge as the forest officer in the Marayoor forest. There is enough sandalwood there to build a posh bungalow for me. No one will frighten me there by saying’ if you pluck a leaf from that tree you’ll get sick’. There is also a lot of teak and redwood there. Three years more than enough for me to earn and settle in life forever.”
Jacob did not had any hesitation or moral value to express himself like this unethically!
“Ji, if you are allowing to cut trees like this, One day God will punish you for sure!”
By this time Neeli who was keenly listening to their conversation asked innocently,
"Ji, what is a TV, I have never seen it?"
"Oh,God! Poor girl so you have never seen a TV all these days ?I believe this is the only place in the whole world which doesn't have all these. Neeli ,you just go out of this forest for a day and see, then only you will understand how much the mankind has developed."
"Ji, will that TV sing songs all the day?"
"Yes, of course, why you ask?"
"Once an officer showed us a box-like thing… Woah! Do you know, what he has done a magic! He pressed here and there in that box and then showed us inside that box!”
"Yes, that may be a laptop Neeli. Now a days people use a book size 'tab'. If we have it, we can even send a letter to our Modi Ji, talk to Joe Biden you can do anything and everything with it..."
Neeli could not understand what Jacob was saying, but the desire to see and use it reflected in her eyes.
"Neela, can you please take me out of this forest at least once so that I can see all these..?" She pleaded with Neelan.
Suddenly the very strict tribal rules prevailing in the forest flashed in Neelan’s mind.
'You fool, don’t you remember that we should not cross the borders of this forest? And if we cross that will be the end ,the Moopan will never permit us to come back! ”
Neelan forcibly suppressed all her desires and dreams with his words. Her face went dark and she went to the edge of crying.
At the same time, a car was seen coming towards them. Jacob also noticed it. Neelan and Neeli went behind the jeep and stood there, the car parked in front of that office.
From inside, Sasi stepped out to take charge as the new forest officer with his wife Sheela. They were followed by Thoma office watchman. A freight truck also came and just stopped behind the car.
Jacob stepped forward and greeted Sasi with a handshake.
"Welcome to Naga forest."
"How Are You, Jacob?"
“Fine, just waiting for you only, Thank god you came at the right time.”
"Are you in that much hurry to leave this place?"
"No, Bro, it's not like that. It's a little difficult to get out of this jungle if it gets dark. You know ... there's no electricity for the twenty miles around our office in this jungle."
"Yes, that's true. By the way I am very happy to meet you."
"Thoma, you go to our quarters with madam and unload all those luggage. I will go to the office with sir and hand over the charge and do not forget to drop me at the foot of the hill in the jeep.”
"Yes, sir..." saying this Thoma walked towards the truck, Sasi's wife moved from there to go with Thoma.
Noticing Neelan and Neeli she stopped for a moment, Jacob introduced them to her by saying,
"Madam... They are tribal people of this mysterious Naga forest. He is Neelan. She is Neeli .A tribal couple !The only advantage I got from this forest service is their friendship and support."
"Oh, I am so happy to meet them." Sheela looked at the coral necklace around Neeli's neck. She also noticed that there was a chain tattooed around her neck.
When Neeli noticed that Sheela is closely observing her necklace ,she came a little closer to her and showed her neck.
"I thought this was a necklace."
"No, this is a tattoo. In our tribe, once a girl attains puberty, they do like this.”
"You look very beautiful."
"You too.” When Neeli said this Sheela blushed.
Thomas called out, "Neela, please come with me and help me to unload this luggage."
The truck started its journey and went down through a steep path towards the direction of the officer’s quarters.
Forest Department Office.
Sasi signed the books and took charge of the office and Jacob signed to get himself relieved from the duties .Jacob handed over the keys to Sasi with a smile and relief.
Sasi smiled when Jacob said, "So all the best ,I am taking leave ..."
"Be calm and at ease Sir, our department has no work here. Nobody can touch a single tree in this forest. So no problems and disturbances from the higher ups or from the smugglers.You can just sit here and enjoy without any worries!."
Sasi stopped him for a moment when he was about to leave and asked,
"One question, then why did you want to leave such a wonderful place like this?" Sasi asked with a smile.
Jacob stood there silently for a minute without any answer.
"Bro, Let me be frank, I know that there is no extra income here, that is the first reason. Next is the ‘The Sky Men’. Am I correct?"
The moment he said ‘The Sky Men’, Jacob's face darkened!