Cries; it was always those cries that seared his being. The warm breeze irked him too, but it was always the…
“Sriniwas! Wake up, you are scaring Amol,” cried Uma.
Sriniwas jolted back from a nightmare, cold sweat moistening his shirt. The forest of Kunjanur had revoked his memories.
“Appa! Are you fine?” Amol’s concerned eyes made Shriniwas realise, that he had finally made this journey to bury his past.
“I’m fine. Amol. Come, son, I want to show you my father’s special dwelling.” He scooped the eight-year-old Amol in his arms as the Jeep skidded to a halt on the rough terrain.
“Thatha lived in this forest? Did you too, Appa? And you didn’t have to go to school, you were so lucky!”
“This forest has taught me the most important lesson,” Sriniwas answered stoically. Uma eyed him, noticing that his pace slackened, as if dreading to go further. Amol struggled off his arms and ran towards the dilapidated wooden building. Amol’s excited chatter accompanied his silent gaze.
He couldn’t cross the threshold, Uma beckoned, but he retreated and instead made way towards the hedge circling the house. There it was, in all its splendour; a rickety staircase leading to the ultimate gift from his father; his treehouse!
“Amma, why is Appa crying? This treehouse is so beautiful, did Thatha make it? Is that it?”
It was time for Amol to know of his great Thatha. “Yes, my son. Your Thatha built it for me.” Sriniwas held on to his son as he climbed the once sturdy staircase to his childhood haven. A little wooden cubicle adorned with two chairs. That fateful night, he had witnessed the carnage from this window.
“Appa, why is the house in shambles while your treehouse still stands?”
Amol’s observation gnawed at his wounds. “Your Thatha was an acclaimed forest officer. He worked for the conservation of the forest resources and the Adivasis around. The tribals loved him and helped him built the treehouse. However, his deeds didn’t go down well with the forest dacoits smuggling the sandalwood. Soon, he started receiving threats. One day, he summoned me and said, ‘Sriniwas, promise me if any day you see many people in the house, then you shall take your baby sister and hide in the treehouse until I or the police come to fetch you. Give me your word.’ And, I did.”
Sriniwas continued painfully, “That evening when I was playing in the treehouse with my sister, dacoits attacked our house. I saw them kill my parents and then burn our house to cinders. I watched as a mute spectator, none suspected that we were hidden in the treehouse. I followed my Appa’s instructions. The stench of burning skin, still suffocates me and their cries rent my ears.” His sniffles disturbed the silence of the forest.
Amol hugged his father, and Uma caressed her husband’s brow and let him cry. It was time; his grief had to drain. The burning cinders may have cooled down, but the fire of grief and repentance still burned within him. He lived like an abandoned treehouse whose keepers were long gone.
Thatha: paternal grandfather in Telugu.
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