A pale parabola of joy
Are you trying to figure out where you read it? Well it was in a book by the great man himself – Wodehouse. The phrase confounded PSmith (The p is silent) and suffice to say it bamboozled my eager, young mind when I first read the book in a time and era long long long in the past.
And it had bugged me ever since.
But not anymore, not anymore good people because I have seen the light.
You see, I went on a trip to the Sunderbans.
Why, you ask?
Well, apart from my humongous affinity towards all species of animals – except the Commies and Bong tourists – Sunderbans also happens to be an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You know why Sunderbans is called Sunderbans?
In Bengali, ‘bon’ means forest or jungle.
And the word ‘Sundor’ means beautiful.
So literally its beautiful jungle.
However, the name actually comes from a type of tree called Sundari .
So its actually a ‘jungle of Sundari trees’
Its a massive jungle full of mangrove trees and islands. The whole geographic area is a result of Ganga and Brahmaputra flowing into the Bay of Bengal with all its silt forming numerous deltas and small rivers and rivulets.
Not only is it vital for oxygen, its also an abode for numerous birds, insects, reptiles, fish and animals – including the Gangetic crocodile and the Royal Bengal Tiger.
Now, there are various way of going there, but if you have the doubloons, go by motor launch, and stay at the West Bengal govt’s bungalows at Sajnekhali.
About Sajnekhali, you have to remember that this is West Bengal, so don’t expect great service, we Bongs do not believe in amenities are basic….you get a double bed room with attached western toilet. That’s pretty much it – no tv, no ac etc. But, what you get is the chance/opportunity to stay right in the middle of the core area of the forest.
There are many private hotels and resorts, but none of them inside the core area. That’s why Sajnekhali trumps them all. It also has a watch tower, so you can just climb up and enjoy the jungle. And because it is in the middle of the jungle, your neighbours are monkeys, birds, turtles, an alligator, a monitor lizard etc.
And each morning, villagers come by ferry to sell you honey from the forest and date juice, which, slowly turns into hooch.
The Sajnekhali complex also contains a small museum and an animal hospital. People staying in other places have to buy tickets to access the area, but if you stay there, you can go there anytime you want.
There is a kitchen which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is neither too good, nor too bad.
But the best part is that when you wake up in the morning and come out on the balcony, you will be greeted with this
However, awesome as they are, they all pale into insignificance when it comes to the river cruise.
As I said, if you have the doubloons, just book a motorboat of your own – else you will end up sharing it with that most toxic of all species – the Bong tourist.
The boat will go through a number of canals and rivers – all distributaries of the Ganges – and on both sides will be dense jungle with overhanging mangrove tress.
Its all very Amazonesque (instead of tribals with blowpipes, you will see Bangladeshis trying to illegally enter India)
You will get to see a whole host of birds, and if you are lucky and its low tide, then crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks and flocks of deer eating grass.
You just keep on travelling like that, with no destination in mind, with just the wind and the water for your company. You won’t see anybody else (apart from the boatmen of course…who will cook lunch for you as well) for minutes and hours until you come across a couple of old world fishing boats, straight from the pages of history.
Though it may feel like you are in the middle of nowhere on a journey to nowhere, you are actually going to different camps kept by the forest department.
These camps are near watering holes of animals. Each camp has watchtowers from where you can see these animals when they come out to have their drinks.
The camps also have temples dedicated to Bonbibi and Dakshin Ray.
Who is Dakshin Ray?
The goddamn Royal Bengal Tiger. In the forests of North Bengal he is Sona Ray, in Sunderabans Dakshin Ray.
That’s right, the forest people worship the tiger and Bonbibi – the goddess of the forest – before venturing into the forest to collect honey or fish or wood. They believe that if they perform a good puja then the tiger won’t attack them.
But the time spent at the camps are not too much – hardly hal an hour or so.
And its back to the boat and the river.
And the journey with nary a person in sight, just water stretching to the horizon and dense forests and the wind flowing through your hair (and beard).
And just like that, all of a sudden you will realise that you have somehow managed to lose all the tension and stress and worries of civilisation……and if that’s now what joy is all about, then nothing is (apart from taking the piss out of Arsenal fans of course)
And soon the day will pass, and it will be dusk, and the whole world will change in front of your eyes…..and then you will see a huge ass ball of fire somewhere above the horizon – something you will never see in a city – and then it will be dark.
Picture it if you can – there is no light anywhere apart from those from the stars (electric lights can’t be used as they mess up the pilot’s vision), no sound apart from the gentle throb of the engines and the lapping of the water.
Its certainly one of the most evocative experiences of your life (don’t ask me what it’s going to evoke – just general evokiness I guess)
And just when my cup of joy overfloweth, my spine decided that enough is enough and went on a strike, leaving me a motionless pile of crap.
A true parabola indeed.