Tirus was taking his afternoon nap when his red and black mobile phone with the red blinker beeped consistently waking him up from his reverie. It sounded like a distress signal, he thought. Someone was desperately trying to contact him. He swung himself off his little yellow bed and picked up his phone. At first, he thought it was some sort of argument over the phone and then suddenly he heard an old woman say, “Give the phone to me… let me explain what is happening.”
“Tirus, please come soon…we are in deep trouble.” And then the phone went blank.
And as usual, Tirus got dressed in his red tee-shirt, a pair of jeans and a khaki coloured half jacket, put his air-guns into the holster in his belt and his sword in an opening at the back of his tee, which his mother had specially stitched for him, put on his red helmet with a dark full mask visor and off he went.
It was a warm day and his red bike kicked off quite a lot of dust on the way. Tirus so wished there would be some rain. Little beads of sweat appeared on his forehead as he raced through the path leading into a small patch of thick forest.
At the end of the woods, the path opened to a clearing which overlooked a village. The little village with several thatched houses was actually in a valley surrounded by a low range of hills. Tirus raced down the hilly pathway trimmed with wild shrubs, leaving a trail of smoke behind him.
He was greeted by the flailing hands of an old woman in a mekhela-sador by the side of the road. She looked pretty breathless!
Tirus braked and got down from his bike. He put a hand around the old lady’s shoulder and asked, “Aita, what is wrong?”
“Tirus, we are being troubled by a huge winged monster. It just comes and swoops up everything it can get hold of. Its roar creates a lot of fear amongst the villagers. What do we do now? Please help us.” Aita spoke in one breath.
“Wait. Wait. Aita, you will have to tell me a lot of things. Where does this monster come from? When does it come? What does it look like? Please tell me everything.”
Aita looked quite stricken. “It is going to appear any moment now! It is grey in colour, with patches of brown. And some people from the village say it flies in from the hills, there!” She pointed a finger towards the undulating ranges to the west of the village. Tirus squinted and put up his left hand to shade his eyes from the hazy glare of the setting sun.
“Alright, I will take care now that I am here. You don’t worry, Aita. Where is Koka?” Asking this, he led her by the shoulder into her clean little compound which was surrounded by tall betel nut trees, coconut, banana and fruit trees of different varieties.
Koka is a lean short old man with chubby cheeks, wrinkled forehead, wearing a dhoti with mud marks on it and a fading vest with patches of ‘blue’ cloth whitener. Seeing Tirus, he got up from where he was cutting firewood, smiled from ear to ear and ran to him with open arms. “We are so happy to see you! Come, come, sit here!” He pushed a murra towards Tirus.
Koka started telling Tirus about how the winged thing has been scaring everyone in the village. He is now scared that one day it will be the turn of his family. He rested his chin in the crook of his right palm and looked at Tirus in despair. Tirus kept assuring Koka that he will take care of everything while Aita got him some narikol laru, til pitha and a steaming cup of tea.
The sun was slowly setting over the horizon and the sky was turning golden yellow. Suddenly, a breeze slightly stronger than usual blew from the west. Tirus noticed that the birds had stopped twittering and there was not a single person on the village streets. The sky loomed with dark clouds and Tirus could feel drops of rain on his forehead.
All of a sudden, with a loud clap of wings and a spine-chilling howl, a huge ‘thing’ appeared in the western sky. Tirus looked up and saw something greyish brown in colour. It flew over his head and disappeared over the trees near the hills.
The village became totally empty and there was a pall of gloom all around. Tirus took out his sword, which suddenly lit up a golden yellow and blinked red at the base of the handle. One look at the signal and Tirus knew the position of the ‘thing’ in the trees. He crouched and slowly moved to where he had last seen the ‘grey thing’ disappear. He tried to look through the foliage and was taken aback seeing a pair of round eyes looking back at him.
Suddenly, this huge ‘thing’ came right through the bushes, made a sweep at Tirus and toppled him. Tirus fell on his back. But he sprung back to his feet, steadied himself and picked up his sword once again.
All of a sudden, a loud wail came from one of the village compounds. Tirus rushed to where this sound was coming from. A woman was flailing her hands upwards, pointing frantically towards the sky.
“What’s the matter?” Tirus asked.
The woman, in between her wails told Tirus that one of her goats has been taken away by the hoodoo.
In the meantime, Tirus heard the beating of drums and saw a huge crowd of people approaching him. They had fire brands in their hands and some of them were clapping their hands, while shouting incoherently at the top of their voices. They stopped near Tirus.
Kokai, a lean man in his early 40s was leading the group of villagers. “This hoodoo is creating havoc for all of us, day in and day out! We have to do something about it.”
“Are you sure it is a hoodoo? Are they this large? Hmmm! Anyway, what are your plans Kokai?” Tirus asked.
“This hoodoo is different. It is large enough to carry away small babies as well,” Kokai replied. “We will have to tackle it in a different way.”
“Well, let me handle this, Kokai. We shouldn’t create unrest in the village. The women and children will get scared.” Tirus said.
Soon after a bit of haggling with the other villagers, Kokai managed to finally persuade them to return to their homes so that Tirus could come up with a plan in peace.
There was an uneasy calm as darkness descended on the village. Tirus, Kokai and two other village elders decided to sit down and sketch out a plan as to how to deal with this hoodoo. So, all four of them sat down on the small wooden bench near the chowk and talked at length. Kokai suggested that they should all go up to the mountain recess and attack the hoodoo’s resting place. But that would mean that some of the villagers might get injured, one of the elders said. It wouldn’t be good to put anyone’s life in danger.
“I suggest that I go up there on my own and have a tete-a-tete with this Mr. Hoodoo. Let me ask why exactly he is creating all this menace.” Tirus said.
“But you shouldn’t go alone. It might try to harm you,” Kokai said, looking very concerned.
“Let me see how I do this. I am sure it’ll not attack me straightaway,” Tirus said and got up from where he was sitting.
Tirus started his red bike and bade Kokai and the village elders to go back to their homes while he took a ride into the hills. The three men watched as Tirus sped into the west in a cloud of dust. Deep within their hearts each of them prayed for his safe return.
In the meantime, Tirus had reached the bottom of the hill which led up to the hoodoo’s dwelling. He parked his bike and slowly went up the hill, crouching while holding his sword with him. The red light at the base of the sword glowed indicating that he was very close to where the hoodoo was now resting. He was careful not to make any noise lest he disturbs the huge bird.
However, as soon as he reached a tree a couple of yards away from the mouth of the cave, he heard a low spine-chilling ‘howl’. He slid behind a rock, peered at where the hoodoo was now picking into a piece of flesh with his sharp beak.
Tirus took out his sword and the hoodoo as if sensing the presence of an intruder, looked up sharply. It was at this moment that Tirus jumped in front of the huge bird and held on to his sword defensively.
The hoodoo’s eyes gleamed and it stepped back, flapping its wings wildly.
Tirus put up his left hand to gesture to the bird that he came in peace and not to kill it.
The hoodoo too seemed to understand that Tirus didn’t intend any harm. It seemed to calm down for a while. Tirus too put his sword down and slowly sat down on a small bald grey stone. Tirus still had his left hand raised as he slowly lowered himself.
The hoodoo’s eyes again gleamed and it shot a furtive look at Tirus. In the meantime, Tirus put his sword on the ground and had folded his hands.
“Why are you creating so much mayhem in the village?” Tirus asked.
“I have nothing to eat. When I am hungry, I need to eat something, don’t I?” the hoodoo shot back, its eyes hard now.
“Yes, I know that, but I am sure that you have enough in the forest to take care of your hunger pangs?”
“Yes, enough. There are moles, birds, snakes and the like. So, why do you need to pick up goats from the village? The villagers are facing a lot of problems for that.”
“Really? So who will take care of my problem?”
“What seems to be your problem? You are the one who is creating a lot of confusion amongst those…those poor hapless people down there. Every day, you pick up some domestic animal or the other and simply fly away!”
All this while, the hoodoo listened patiently, looking up at Tirus once in a while. All of a sudden, it got up and flapped his wings once again. Tirus stepped backed, anticipating an attack by the hoodoo.
Day was just breaking and the eastern sky faintly lighted up. The stars started disappearing one by one. The moon still hung low over the hills and small specks of clouds dissipated as quickly as they appeared. A light breeze moved the trees and made them dance in the half light, half dark ambience. The moment was just magical, Tirus thought, as he skimmed the horizon.
“Come with me,” the hoodoo said. The hoodoo hopped a few steps down hill so that Tirus could climb onto his back.
A few hops down the hill and the hoodoo took flight into the valley below. Tirus held on tight to the nape of the hoodoo, as it made diving sweeps, turning once to the right and once to the left. Tirus had never had such an experience. The wind whistled in his ears and swept his hair back. Though his glasses were clamped tight to his eyes with a rubber-band going round his head, he felt as if it would come off in the gush.
Hoodoo flew over the village and Tirus could see that the villagers were asleep, peacefully for a change. They were confident that Tirus would come up with a solution to this whole problem. He could hear the distant barking of dogs in the village down below.
Hoodoo slowly circled down to the forest nearby and perched on a tall tree. From where they hovered above the green foliage, they could see the entire valley right up to the river.
“Oh, this is beautiful!” Tirus admired as the wind played with his hair while he held on the nape of the hoodoo.
“Beautiful yes….but you cannot see the damage that has been done to the trees and the hills.”
“Look to the hills on the right and your left.”
Tirus turned to look at the undulating hills in the distance, cradling the village, which was still in deep slumber, save for a few early risers. The sun was slowly melting the remnants of clouds from the night before. The loud chirping of birds as What Tirus saw surprised him! Instead of the lush green hills, all he could see were barren slopes with no vegetation! Part of the slopes were cut in huge chunks and
“What happened to the trees?” he asked.
“Why don’t you ask the villagers? I am sure they’ll be able to answer all your questions. Anyway, let’s get back now.”
Tirus was confused. Where have the trees gone? Who’s made the hills bare of all those tall trees, shrubs, vegetation which he was so used to seeing whenever he visited Aita’s place? When hoodoo took flight again, Tirus was pondering; thinking who would be the right person in the village to help him get the answers. All the while, the one thing that crossed his mind was how people could become so cruel as to cut down such beautiful trees and make the hills barren, not to speak of the depleting hill area!
Hoodoo flew back to its crevice in the hill, while Tirus kept quiet all the time.
“What are you thinking?”
“I am just wondering how easy it is to blame someone else when the problem actually lies closer to home. The entire village including I was thinking that you were creating havoc all the while. Whereas, sadly in fact, we ourselves are slowly creating the imbalance in the environment.”
“Well, I think that you Tirus should go back to the village and talk to them about a solution. It is not only for us but for this entire village that we need to find an answer. Or else, soon enough there will no survivors- both man and animal.”
“Yes. You are right. Thank you so much for showing what otherwise I would have never known.”
“You are welcome and let me know if I can be of any help.”
Hoodoo wrapped its wings around Tirus and gave him a hug.
As Tirus sped back to the village, the sun was slowly spreading its warm glow over the village. The villagers were already halfway through working in their paddy fields, while some were returning.
Seeing Tirus, the villagers led by Kokai came rushing to the crossing, where the people usually gather for their morning and evening adda.
Tirus seated himself under a tree on a small patch of grass near the wooden bench.
“Did you manage to kill the hoodoo?”
“Tell us, tell us…what happened!”
The villagers spoke all at once. Tirus hung his head and rested his arms on his knees.
Kokai came close and sat down next to him.
“What happened, Tirus? Are u alright?”
Someone gave Tirus a glass of water and he gulped it down in a single breath. He crossed his legs and slowly looked up.
“It’s our fault!”
“What do you mean it’s our fault?”
The villagers were gaping at Tirus, wide-eyed.
“We are destroying the forests. The birds and animals in the forest no longer have any food to eat. We are destroying their natural habitat.”
There was a deep thoughtful silence. Then Kokai broke the silence with a deep-throated cough.
“So is that why the hoodoo is creating problems for us?”
“Yes, that is the reason. We are insensitively cutting down trees and the hill sides for our own selfish purpose. Have we ever thought about the animals that live there? Have we wondered why the monkeys come down to the village and raid the kitchens? Why has the hoodoo time and again taken away the helpless goats? That’s because there is nothing left for it to eat in the forest. All the animals of prey for these birds are either gone or have become extinct because of their lack of food.”
Tirus shook his head in despair. The villagers looked on at him. A few whispered amongst themselves. Some feigned desperation. They looked helpless; they had no answers to the situation. Tirus looked at each one of them and finally got up, hit the back of his trousers to get the grass off and put up his right hand to silence the murmur of the small gathering of villagers.
“Look Kokai. If you want to save your village from becoming extinct, then you have got to help yourself at any cost. Or else, you and the rest of the villagers will have to pay a heavy price for this.”
“What do you want us to do?”
“Just stop people from cutting down the hills. They are cutting down valuable trees in the process and destroying the forest. Trees which prevent soil erosion, help in the cycle of the monsoons. Unknowingly, we are disturbing the ecological balance. If we don’t think now, then in due course of time a store-house of medicinal plants and herbs and more importantly, food for the wild animals and birds, like the eagle, kite and also the hoodoo, will all be gone. The fig, a favourite fruit of the hornbill is also gone as most of the fig trees have been cut down. So, now can you see why the hoodoo has been taking away our domestic animals? It is because it has nothing left for it to eat in the hills and forests!”
Everyone looked at Tirus with deep concern. All the people were soaked deep in thought.
“It’s okay. We can still turn the picture around and hope for the best. Let’s think of planting trees in place of all the trees that have been felled. Ofcourse, nothing can be done about the earth, which has been cut and taken away. But we have to stop further earth-cutting.”
The faces of the villagers lit up and they all looked at Tirus with a sense of mixed emotions. They all shook their heads in disdain, thinking of all the wrongs they have been seeing and doing all this while.
Tirus got up and rubbed the back of his trousers. He went up to Kokai, who had a pretty helpless look on his face.
“It’s ok Kokai. Don’t worry. If there’s a problem, then there has to be a solution.”
That very same day, the village panchayat held a meeting and discussed at length about the impending problem. They decided that they will meet the forest department and ask them to give them saplings of big trees; so that for every tree felled, at least three can be planted in its place.
Soon, the village became a hub of activity. People from the forest department came and helped the villagers to identify the spots for tree plantation. The local MLA too decided to make good of the opportune moment and called for a meeting at the village. The villagers were only too happy because of the attention they were getting after such a long time. Local NGOs also came in and sensitized the people on keeping their village clean, so that the people fall less sick.
In next to no time, the people from this small yet very significantly located village transformed from a sleepy, insensitive community to one who decided that enough was enough. They put up human barricades for anyone coming to cut the hills in their area and if the need arose, then they would fight them back with their sticks, not stopping to shout at them to ‘go back and never come back, or else face the consequences.’
Tirus was more than happy with the transformation. It was time for him to go back home. He touched the feet of his Koka and Aita in respect and folded his hands in a nomoskar, while smiling at the people from the village, who had come to see him off. Kokai as usual had tears in his eyes as he bade Tirus goodbye.
Tirus had a heavy heart too as he started his bike. He waved his hands as he sped off. A whole bunch of children ran after him as he sped through the lane leading into the small forest through which he had come on the first day and disappeared amongst the trees.
The hoodoo circled over the forest and flew a small distance to accompany Tirus on his journey. It was its way of saying “Thank you Tirus.”