Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Alaskan Haze


I had run away.
No one knew it yet, of course. They thought I was in school, like the rest of the guys.
But here I was - in a truck on the Alaskan North Slope, running away from all the artificial horrors of modern civilization, and into the deathly-cold embrace of mother nature.

A smile spread slowly across my face before erupting into a full fledged grin.
I slid open the window, and felt the icy winds beat upon the glove of my outstretched arm.
"Son of a bitch!" the trucker yelled from the driver's seat, as I unfastened my seat-belt and thrust my torso out the open window in one swift movement.
And then I yelled.
I yelled for as long as I could, struggling against the cold thin air that was liberating my face of all physical sensation, and the meaty arm of the trucker trying to pull me back in.

"You mad, kid?" he said, after having parked the truck by the highway.
He started rummaging through a bag that he'd taken out of an overhead compartment, and procured a rough conical cigarette. After taking two puffs on it, he turned to me and said - "You'll be on your own if you try something like that again, you understand?"

But the smile just wouldn't leave my face. I was free, and more alive than I'd ever been.

The Barn

I'd never really hated school. It had been a strict private school with fancy customs and age-old traditions, and to be honest, I had loved it.
The fortress that now housed the school had once served as the country-home of an eccentric Frenchman, and was riddled with secret corridors, locked rooms, and Gothic imagery. I would often find myself lost in the intricate patterns that covered the library ceiling, while the other boys were busy passing around a poster of Maria Sharapova that someone had freshly torn off the latest issue of  the 'Sports Illustrated'.

I had a large group of friends even though I didn't talk much, and we were all kinds of crazy. We'd bunk every class we could, often not attending any class for weeks on an end. We'd be far from the classes - on the football field, or by the building that housed the swimming-pool. They would play football, while I would sit under a tree, pondering over something that Voltaire was trying to tell me from across the dimensions of space and time.

There are things, I thought, looking out the window of the barn that had been my home for the last two months, that have the power to hypnotize us. They lure us with promises that would soon be forgotten, and pleasures that would later be taken for granted.
The warmth of my parents' home, I realized, had smothered me.

My education had turned me away from urban life.
I would never follow a routine, and I would never follow orders that went against my conscience in any way.
I would prefer a truck to an office any day, if it didn't tie me up to one place.

The Spill

On my way back from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge the next summer, I overheard a man at the gas station talking about a tanker that had drowned somewhere in the Prudhoe Bay, spilling 'a crap-tonne' of oil.

Intrigued, I had reached the nearest shore within the next fortnight.
It was a mess.
Journalists and TV crew-persons were crawling all over the place, littering everywhere they possibly could.
'When will they fucking learn?', I remember mumbling to myself.

I took the ferry to the spill-site that noon, and realized that it was a bigger mess than I could have ever imagined.
A thick layer of slimy black liquid covered the water for miles in every direction.
Fish, birds, plants, and all kinds of animals lay covered in the goo - dying, if not already dead.
I had known humans to commit murder, but this was something demonic. The thought that human beings, were capable of something so ghastly had left me shaken.

On the way back, I was eyeing the reporters on the deck, cursing each and every one of them under my breath. As I moved further towards the bow, my eyes came to rest on a figure I hadn't seen earlier.
She was young, about my age, and was scurrying around a tall, middle-aged man, carrying some notes and shooting worried glances at the mess around us. She had deep black eyes, and I saw my worries reflected in them. But I looked away, too much hate clouding my senses.

"Smoke this, boy!" a familiar voice said, as I turned around. It was a sailor I had met earlier at the harbor. "You'll feel better."
"What is it?" I asked, inspecting the familiar-looking conical cigarette in my hand.
He just kept looking at me, urging me to go on.
I took a puff on it, and then another.
The man was grinning. "First time, eh?"
"What is it?" I asked him, much more softly. I was feeling strange - calm.
The sailor barked out a laugh. "This is Alaskan Haze."

I inhaled a little deeper, and that made me cough uncontrollably.
With tears welling up in my eyes, and my mind floating somewhere behind my body, I saw her through the smoke for the last time.

The Lake

I walked up to the lake after having built a small fire.
It had been two years.

I looked upon the beautiful snow covered mountains towering behind the huge lake as the sun slowly set behind them, and then gazed upon my own reflection in the lake for a while.

I then fished out a small box from my inner pocket, and boomed a joint of that fantastic substance - something that filled me with hope during moments of ultimate despair.

And there she was - sitting next to me, looking silently into the distance, contemplating the madness inherent in our small, insignificant world, her deep black eyes calming the air around us.

I had never felt closer to home.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Of Cats And Flies - 2

Note: This post is the second part of the full article. You can read the first part here.

Day 2 -

The cook woke me up at half past 6, and I took a quick bath in the river.
He then treated me to a breakfast of omelets and green tea.

I asked him how I could reach the stretch of the river that was visible from the watchtower, and headed off in that direction.
While walking along this stretch, I found a nice open place, put down my bag, and started roaming around taking pictures.
This next picture was especially interesting:
You see, this region is pretty rich in iron, and used to be mined for iron-ore until recently, before being marked as a natural reserve.
What can be seen in the picture above is essentially a thin layer of iron deposit on water reflecting some clouds as they pass overhead.

And while I was taking this very picture, I heard (or thought I heard) a muffled growl.
It had come from across the river, from within thick foliage.

I didn't know how to react.
I just stood there, stupefied, looking in the general direction the noise had come from, wondering if i had really heard it.

But then there it was again - loud and distinct this time.
I was sure it was a leopard!

Within seconds, I had stuffed my camera into my pocket, had my rucksack strapped to my back, and was walking at a steady pace towards the camp, looking back every few steps. Hoping for just a brief, distant glimpse...

I reached the kitchen (still twitching), and saw the cook talking to 2 gentlemen who had just arrived.
I went up to them, and said - "There's a leopard nearby."
Proved to be an effective icebreaker.

I told them what I'd heard, and this time, the 4 of us went together as a team. We went back to the same place, and waited for about 5 minutes. Without luck.

The cook had a theory that he told us about - the leopard had probably hunted one of the deer that had been roaming around the camp last night, and was eating it by the river.
If what he says is true, the beast had probably been warning me to back off.

Nothing else of much interest happened that day, apart from this little snake that I found out in the open:
Also, did I mention I saw a King Cobra? Couldn't take a picture because it was too dark.

Anyways, I left at around 1 pm this day, and that too in a very bollywood style.

I had been waiting for the bus by the highway, in the middle of nowhere. As soon as I saw a bus coming, I started jumping and signalling.
The bus started slowing down.
I ran back and picked up my bag.
The bus started moving.
I ran towards it, threw my bag on board, and climbed up after it.

I then spent 2 blissful hours eating fresh guavas, looking at the scenic meadows around me, and listening to some kickass music.

PS: A senior, Pranshu Sharma, went to Kudremukh the next day, and saw a leopard. With cubs. What if the leopard I'd went too close to had cubs with it? I wish I had gathered enough courage and stuck around a bit longer. No worries, though - the trip was insane.