A volley of arrows streamed at them as they tried dodging them. A cacophonous chant of ‘ Kulamihi Kulamihi, fanshhok, fanshhok’ blared as a bunch of Dumashagja people emerged from among the foliage with bows and arrows in their hands , their nether regions covered with leaves.The sergeants hid among the foliage not allowing even their breath to escape from their mouths as the slightest error could be detrimental to their lives.
Bakhtiar and Girish peered through a slight open window available among the foliage and what they saw assuaged their fear.
” Ratnam sir is involved in animated discussion with them.” Bakhtiar observed.
“He is conversing in their language.” Girish added.
Dully who had been coiling an undergrowth to give an impression as if he were a climber, uncoiled and blathered, ” That means, he is one of the Dumashagjas. Will he sacrifice us to save himself ? What a traitor Ratnam !
Lalli and Daniel who had dunked in the pits where they had not built forts of pungy sticks, displayed their skulls from among the dried leaves that filled the pits.
” Will they sacrifice us to their goddess, Malakindi? I have heard they, first, mutilate you and then make offerings.” Daniel said with consternation.
” Look, that tribal woman is in a bikini made up of leaves.” Lalli sputtered.
” Lalli, you pervert. Your eyes are for those women. Go and marry one.” Rabia, muttered as she hung precariously from the branch of a tree. Taking few, cautious steps, she sprang to the ground.
” I see the tribals and Ratnam sir sharing a laugh.” Somya added , manifesting from another pit which was covered with dry leaves.
The group saw Ratnam cracking up as the tribals’ vocals reached a crescendo.” Kulamihi, Kulamihi, joba, hukulopa.”
” They are sharing the recipe of human soup with Ratnam.” Dully quipped.
After a few minutes, the tribals disappeared in the groves of deciduous trees while Ratnam bounded towards them.
” Sir, we thought they would kill us.” Rabia uttered an exasperated snort.
Ratnam’s gaze wandered through all of them as he shook his head in indignation.
” And you all got scared and were busy pissing in your pants. Sergeants, are you all scaredy-cats?” he hollered.
” No, sir.” they replied.
” Why were you all hiding? Nobody was forthcoming. You all lily-livered swines. Dumashagja people do not hurt the Boshir army. Danisha ma’am has ensured to develop cordial relations with them for years now. We do not come in their way and they do not harm the army. However, if they know that the persons loitering in the woods are not army people, they feast on them. They are anthropophagus – cannibals.” Ratnam remarked.
The sergeants had widened up their eyes in shock.
They all traversed further deeper in the woods learning the art of navigating through the treacherous forest from Ratnam. Years of experience had taught him to be alert and rely on his sixth sense- he had baled out many distressed army officers from unspeakable danger. The sergeants learnt how to continually look out for irregularities in the terrain. If they sighted an out of place broken twig or turned over leaf on the trail, they learnt that they should scrutinize deeper to find out if the enemy had been lurking to engage in an attack. They learnt to scrutinize every sound heard from the woods and to be braced to respond in micro-second if they spotted danger. Ratnam recounted about the many occassions, he had braved booby traps, punji sticks, and snipers during ambushes.He had been an exemplary map reader and used the compass regularly. The sergeants were highly impressed by the leader.
” How did you acquire such skills, sir?” they were inquisitive to ask.
” Danisha ma’am and Vikram sir have been our mentors and they ensured that we learnt the nuances of jungle warfare that would keep us in good stead while facing our adversaries.” Ratnam stated.
Rabia and Somya rolled their eyes. ” I thought she only excels in riding steeds.” Somya giggled.
” Or, does she excel in cowgirl riding position on her man?” Rabia chuckled.
” NO..WHISPERING. We have a lot to learn now.” Ratnam schreeched.
” Who’s Vikram sir? ” Bhaktiyar enquired.
” Later..later.” Ratnam said.
The whole day, the sergeants learnt about the varieties of snakes as Ratnam not only caught them but also elucidated them about the first aid one has to administer in case of a snake bite. “Snake venoms vary dramatically from species to species, but they have one thing in common: Every one of them is an extremely complex composition, made from sometimes thousands of different proteins and enzymes, and these are present in deadly dozes in their saliva.” he said.
Ratnam informed them to avoid the mangrove swamps which were situated in the ‘Kaamasa’ part of the woods that lay in the northern direction. From a distance he motioned his fingers at the gigantic 20 foot long, 1700 pounds crocodiles, manifesting from the swamps, hoisting sludge and slime high in the air, and then thumping and splashing in the waters. The sergeants were frozen to the spots. Seeing such mammoth creatures, who could shred you into pieces in no time, were swashing and dashing in the waters, like deranged beings slobbering for their victims waiting to be ensnared in their deathly jaws.
” The Allies launched an attack to retake Ramree from the Japanese on January 26,1945 in the Battle of Ramree island. The soldiers had to escape through the swamps which were infested with these ruthless giants who tore the soldiers before devouring them; out of 1000, only 20 survived.” Ratnam shook his head in despair.
Horror was written large on the faces of the sergeants.
” These arsewipes crocs look like logs of wood. I would tear them in halves.” Bhaktiyar thundered.
” Do you have an anger box in your nutty brain? It is in the activation mode always.” Suleman lugged Bakhtiar’s brawny body towards himself.
” I cannot tolerate injustice.” Bhaktiyar uttered.
” So, are you planning to set up an under water court to question the crocs for the massacre they indulged in?” Girish derided him.
” Why not? But, not before throwing you in the waters for them to have you, as a treat.” Bakhtiyar blathered.
” Look Dully has shitted in his pants.” Lalli said in a jest.
” Uhh…Look at their size? Humoungous. Lord!! Think how they rip, gingerly, your flesh by drawing their cannon shaped teeth into you. How I shudder?” Dully said poppingly moving his arms like the jaws of the crocs.
” But, Dully, your flesh will make their sharp teeth blunt as a club. They would not be able to cut through your thick rubber flesh.” Suleman guffawed.
” Shut up.” he retorted.
” Ratnam sir, could we leave this place? The horrendous crocs are repelling. It is repulsive to see such beasts.” Rabia said shaking his head as she felt jitters in her body.
” I feel the strong gust of wind would carry me and plonk me in one of the crocodiles’ inviting jaws.Let’s go.” Lalli said.
” We will travel for another 30 kilometers and halt for the day.” Ratnam said.
” 30 kilometers. We are expended.”the sergeants grunted.
All trudged along, humming folklore,pulling each other’s legs but supporting each other. The sergeants had forged new ties of friendship and camraderie in these few days. At night, they reached a clearing suitable enough for them to occupy and lay their tents. After erecting their bastion, they lit a campfire, cooked a rabbit and a wild chicken which was gifted them by another group of Dumshagja tribals whom they met on their way. Ratnam ate his fill and ordered the sergeants to sleep. The sergeants ate the scrumptious meal and engaged in some idle banter before dozing off.
” Do you love anyone?” Suleman quizzed Bhaktiyar as he lay on the moist ground gaping at the vast expanse of the sky.
” I did fall in love with someone but failed to gather courage to propose. She never got an inkling about it and married someone else.” Bakhtihar let out a heaved sigh.
” Bakhtihar, do you have an emotional side too ? You come across as a dispassionate person who gets infuriated at the drop of a hat.” Dully uttered, smearing mosquito repellant lotion onto his body. ” I also loved someone. We hit it off instantly, however, after a few months, she told me that I possess all the qualities that she was looking for…in..in..a brother. She tied rakhi on my wrist. Bitch.
” Oh..Dully. Maybe you were mistaken. She actually saw you as a brother.” Lalli muttered, gulping his anti-malaria pills with water.
” Yeah..after a dashing hunk came to reside in her locality, her perspective changed. These young girls, I tell you. They can never be loyal.” Dully complained.
” Shut up. We are very loyal to our significant other whom we dote on. At least, my affection will never change.” Rabia said with a drawl as her eyes flickered affectionately all over Girish’s face taking in his rugged look.
Girish looked at her and smiled.
Somya puckered,” Don’t dare to say anything about girls.Your experience has been bad, that doesn’t mean girls are disloyal. I would give my life for Shekhar. “
” Ooo..Shekhar. Who is Shekhar? ” Dully chuckled.
” A childhood friend. We will be tying the knot soon.” Somya said coyly.
” I’m happily single.” Daniel said. ” What about you Girish?”
” Oh..never thought about it. As of now, I want to serve the country.” Girish added, secretly glancing at Rabia.
” What about you Lalli?”Daniel enquired.
” There was this girl, beautiful as she was, with tresses that bounced over her shoulders, her gait as sensuous as a mermaid, who would come on the terrrace everyday. There was something divine in the way she would hoist each strand of her hair in the air, rippling, creating waves ; my heart would miss a beat. Everyday, secrectly, I would cast my eyes on her, taking in her beauty. But,…” Lalli bit his lips.
” What..but?” Daniel asked inquisitively.
” One day, I employed the service of my 128 55. Vortex binoculars. I peered, as my heart raced, through my newly acquired binoculars at the mesmerizing goddess, only to realize that she was a MAN…A man with long hair.” Lalli blathered.
The sergeants roared with laughter-deep belly laughs. They hugged each other with moist eyes as they revelled in the newly struck friendship, paying gratitude to the heavens for bestowing such friends in their lives.
” Now, sleep BASTARDS.You hooligans need a good sleep, including me.” Bakhtiar uttered in his poker voice.