Colorful presence of mind


Scene: Forest ranges, Wayanad region, Kerala-Karnataka border

Hema had always loved wild animals. And the fact that she was the daughter of a Forest Officer meant that she always had the access to see them in their natural pristine glory untouched by the ravages of man. Although she didn’t differentiate between the various species, the grey elephants inhabiting the ranges in the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary were her favorites. In fact so much so, that during the winter holidays, she had decided that she would try and follow a herd of these wonderful pachyderms for a period of one week to understand and learn as much as she could about them.

Her father was extremely partial to her whims and fancies as she was an only child. He therefore applied for leave and they decided to rough it out in the wild for a week following the herd as closely as they could. The two of them equipped themselves with a pair of good binoculars and followed the herd from a safe distance using as little of her father’s Forest Department jeep as possible. The jeep driver was given instructions to follow their trail using known jeep paths through the forest without disturbing any of the other wildlife in the region, while the duo tracked the herd on foot.

Today, the herd was grazing very close to the highway which passed through the sanctuary.


Scene: Kozhikode Kollegal Mysore Highway, near the Forest Checkpost, Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary

The only solace that Soma had from his daily drudgery was his liquor. His job as a sweeper, cleaner and general odd jobs man at the Forest Checkpost barely paid him enough to feed him twice a day. And to add to his woes, his incessant drinking habit had ensured that he had taken loans from pretty much all his acquaintances in the region and most of his days were spent hiding from one lender after the other.

Today it was Bheemanna’s turn to be fooled by Soma. Although Bheemanna had seen Soma sweeping the leaves and other garbage from the Forest Office on to the small path in front from a distance, by the time he had reached the Forest Office, the garbage had all been stacked up neatly on the side of the road and Soma was missing.

Taking advantage of the natural camouflage provided by his green uniform, Soma, who had seen Bheemanna approaching had hidden himself in the woods adjoining the highway and decided to wait it out. When Bheemanna did not go away, he decided to take a nap given that his hands were aching after having to sweep that substantial stack of garbage in the morning.


Scene: Bus on Kozhikode Kollegal Mysore Highway approaching the Forest Checkpost

The driver Das was extremely sleepy considering that he had pretty much been driving for almost 30 hours non-stop now. The only break he had was between his earlier trip and this one for around 10 mins, when he barely got time to go to the rest room to relieve himself.

Although he was clad in his spotless white uniform and was driving a shiny new Neptune Blue bus, he wasn’t quite in his senses today. If he was, he would have realized that he was driving in the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary and wouldn’t have been speeding so much given the regulations about driving in this region. Added to this was the fact that this was a brand new Volvo Bus and he wasn’t quite used to all the additional controls that the company had fitted in this model. He was yet to come to terms with the excessive acceleration that the bus provided when he drove it, and was invariably speeding given his experiences with his earlier bus where had to push down on the accelerator pedal reasonably hard for it to move faster.


The huge stack of leaves and other organic garbage adjoining the side of the road was too tasty a treat for the herd of elephants to miss. While the elderly matriarch allowed the herd to approach to the leaves, it also ensured that it kept an eye out for any dangers, as it knew from past experiences that this stretch of land was inhabited by humans and thus was a natural threat to them.

One little elephant calf which was only 3 weeks old was in an unusually playful mood today and unmindful of the dangers was running back and forth from the herd to the woods across the highway. Although the matriarch grumbled and snorted her disagreement with this behavior, the young one was in too playful a mood to comply.

Hema and her father were at the back of their jeep, gazing at these elephants from a distance when she first noticed the bus speeding down slope on the highway. It was driving way beyond the allowed speed limit within the sanctuary and was headed straight for the herd. Hema’s father could make out it was a bus only because of its shiny xenon headlamps which were on.

Das was taking a small nap at the wheel, and given the relatively bad visibility on that day due to the incessant dew in the air, he could not see the elephant herd directly in his path. He was too sleepy even to notice the speed at which he was driving.

Hema immediately did the first thing that occurred to her. She took one of the red flares that were always kept in her father’s jeep to be used as a distress signal in case of any danger on a safari, and lit it up. The flare immediately lit up with a bright red flame which was visible for at least 45-50 feet away. She then asked the driver of the jeep to drive as fast as he possibly could towards the herd, and in the direction of the oncoming bus.

Her intention was two-fold, one, to try and scare away the herd whose natural reaction would be to retreat within the woods as soon as they can, and two, to try and slow down the bus as well. If either one of these worked, a disaster would be averted.

The jeep driver was an old hand at driving these jeeps, and he had vast experience in driving in this terrain. He immediately got the jeep off the highway and started driving on one side of the road in the dirt. He drove on the side opposite to which the elephants were grazing while honking, which ensured that the herd not only saw the flare but also heard the horn. Alarmed and dazed by this sudden commotion, the herd retreated into the woods in a hurry.

Jolted awake by the horn, Das also saw the red flare through the fog and immediately slowed down. When he saw that it was a Forest Ranger’s jeep, he brought the bus to a halt near them.

Thus, Hema’s presence of mind had averted an accident which although would have only made it to the local newspapers as a small news item which people would have anyway conveniently ignored, like these news articles [Link 1] [Link 2]


This post is written as part of the Write Over the Weekend initiative for Indian bloggers by Blogadda. This week’s theme was to use five colors which would form an integral part of the post and that is why the colors have been highlighted specifically in this post.


This post is one of Blogadda’s WoW Picks for the weekend of 15-Sep-2013.