Hide and Seek
“What happened today, Babu?” asked the young forest ranger as he entered into the Dandeli National Park canteen with his friends for breakfast.
“Don’t know, Sir. Cops arrested Ranger Vishal,” I said.
“Why?” he asked.
I shook my head in ignorance.
“It’s the tiger poaching case. Cops found that the lakeside gates were kept open for poachers to enter at night,” said another ranger sipping his tea. I tried to listen in, but his friend instructed, “Get busy outside, will you? Us rangers need to talk.”
I nodded and limped outside.
I cleaned their jeeps—took out the floor-mats and hosed them down. Inside the jeep, forest radio kept blaring news mixed with heavy static— tigress has been spotted in south zone, tourist elephants routed there. Elephant Bharti has given birth to a healthy calf, he stood on his feet in record 6 seconds.
That news called for a celebration. I limped to the cook.
“Do you have any sweets?” I asked. “Bharti delivered another tusker.”
The cook smiled and opened refrigerator. He took out a tin of Gulab-jamun, the costly sweet, an exception. We enjoyed two pieces each.
“What did you tell the cops?” the cook asked.
“I replied honestly to their questions. Told them that the lake sector was assigned to Ranger Vishal. Per Policy FR006 each ranger was given one gate key and no one else in the forest had those keys. I told them that when I took dinner for Vishal Sir that night, he was alone in his quarters. His jeep dropped me back to my quarters. Next day early morning I saw the cops conduct a surprise raid and nab few poachers. When they mentioned the lakeside gate key number 12, I knew Vishal Sir’s goose was cooked.”
“If you don’t care for the environ, you get the branding iron, eh?” the cook with a smirk.
“Off you go to work now,” said the cook, half my age, dismissing me. I didn’t mind that. In my experience being special gets you killed. Hiding is the key to survival. All forest predators lurk in shadows and charge with precision.
I didn’t tell the cook of the money bag found by the cops in Vishal Sir’s jeep.
Back in my quarters, I patted my leg mask—the braces. No one ever opened it to see if it had specially crafted slots inside for, say, the 17 forest gate keys.