Sangeeta expressed her surprise by an uproarious shout which made Prashant drop the plant he was holding.
“What a surprise!” She repeated that phrase until she reached near him and grabbed his hand shaking it wildly. “What are you doing here in this forest?”
Prashant took a while to overcome the shock of the encounter, its surprise as much as its boisterousness.
Sangeeta was his classmate during the undergraduate days when they both studied botany. Plants were his passion while they were a “time pass” for her. “Dad asked me to study something before I would be of marriageable age and I thought botany was the easiest to study.”
They were meeting now after a gap of over a decade. Prashant was now doing a post-doctoral research on some endangered species of plants.
“Those apartments you see over there,” he pointed to the array of skyscrapers that blocked the sun on the adjacent hillocks, “are not meant for people deprived of homes. They are meant for the people working abroad who will come with their dollars that need investment. Apartments have become the latest fad for investors. And they are killing off entire species of plants and animals.”
Sangeeta laughed as she used to do in her college days. But her laugh did not have the old sparkle, thought Prashant.
“Oh, I forgot to ask you,” he said, “What are you doing here?”
“Some of those investments belong to my husband,” she said.
Her husband belonged to the species known as builders and developers, she said. He had built, in addition to quite many apartment paradises, a resort at the edge of the forest. She loved to spend some time in the resort looking at the forest once in a while. “Time pass,” she laughed.
“Why not with the family?” asked Prashant.
“Hubby has neither the time nor the inclination for such time passes. Time is money, that’s his motto. Making money is his life’s mission. I don’t know how much money will satisfy him.”
“Yes, a son. He loves to watch horror movies on the TV when he’s not playing video games whose sounds are more horrifying than the movies.”
They sat down on a rock. “I was just taking a walk when I saw you,” she said. “You haven’t changed a bit, you know. The same old shabby hair and beard, jeans and kurta. Yes, the specs have acquired some style.”
“Still miserly with words? No change in that too?” she asked.
He smiled agaisn.
“I remember you speaking once about the symphony of the forests. How each sound in a forest adds together to create a harmonious symphony. I hope I’m not disturbing that symphony.”
“No. You’re a pleasant surprise.”
“Is there anything apart from the symphony that you’ve discovered about forests?”
Prashant looked into her eyes. Do you really wish to know that?
“Come on,” she cajoled him to speak. “I can be serious too.”
“There are forests in all of us,” he said.
“Go on. I’m all ears.”
“Some people harmonise their inner forests with the symphony of the real forests. Some others clear the forests under the delusion that the inner forests are being cleared.”
“Civilisations are conquests over forests,” she said hesitantly.
“Remember the social Darwinism of Spencer? Survival of the fittest. Civilisation is just that.”
She remembered one of their professors speak about Spencer who coined the phrase ‘Survival of the fittest’. Spencer had gone to the extent of saying that the weak people should be allowed to perish so that the future of humanity would be bright. That is survival of the fittest. Civilisation.
Civilisation with its various toxins had become an abhorrence for her. That’s why she used to take a break to stay in the room kept reserved for her in the Paradise Resort at the edge of the forest.
Her husband had encroached on the forest in order to construct the resort. He had the political clout to encroach on any land. Civilised people possess the lands and the rivers, the seas and the mountains. Civilisation is an endless hunger.
“Shall I tell you something funny, Prashant?” she asked.
He looked at her.
“I used to feel a strange attraction to you when we were in college.”
He didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look at her.
“You aren’t surprised, I know. Nothing surprised you even in those days. You had no human passions. You were a vegetable. A plant. That’s why.”
“Should I answer that?” She laughed. “Can you forget the symphony of the forest for a while and join me for a dinner tonight? Just for old time’s sake.”
“Thank you. You are not a vegetable altogether, are you?”
The sun had already set behind the skyscrapers. The cicadas had begun their orchestra in the forest.
“Your family?” She realised that she had not asked anything about him. They were walking towards the Paradise Resort.
“The forest is your soul.” She laughed.
He smiled faintly.
“The forest is in our souls.” She laughed again. More loudly this time.
Acknowledgement: The concept of “the symphony of the forest” is borrowed from a Malayalam movie, Ezhamathe Varavu (The Seventh Coming), whose script is written by one of the best writers in Malayalam, M T Vasudevan Nair.