Truth is stranger than fiction

“I have an interesting thing to tell” said Sashi. He always had something interesting. Nobody bothered if it was fact or a story he made up. People liked Sashi for his ability to make up stories from mundane events.  Sashi flicked the ash from his cigarette to the ashtray and took another deep drag.

 “Everything is interesting to you.” I said. Sashi smiled. He knew that wouldn’t stop him from saying what he was about to say. He travelled to many places. Took the jobs which we thought never existed and sometimes stayed in places where there was no human inhabitation. He just got back from Kaziranga Tiger Reserve after volunteering for tiger census.  I often wondered how they differentiate between the tigers.  What if they had counted the same tiger over and over again? I would think.

“It was in the reserve” We sat in rapt attention. Nothing beats a good story teller, few friends and strong rum. Balaji and I worked in a MNC while our friend started volunteering to save the world. “You should come there once. You will see lots and lots of hornbills. You should be there particularly” He pointed his finger towards me; “You would get some great shots”. I smiled. Though I had different interests such as photography and writing, my life is in front of a computer. I had accepted the fact long ago.

“I met some interesting people there. Forest officials and local guides knew the reserve like back of their hand. It was electrifying to be in a team where we shared same passion. We used to walk in the reserve in the day break going about our duties and most of the time spell bound by what nature had to offer to us.” Balaji was already yawning because of thousand such lines Sashi had said to us whenever he was back from his volunteering work. “We knew that we were surrounded by poachers. There was a sudden increase in number of wounded rhinos and murdered locals. The forest guards asked us to be careful and the late night strolls were banned completely”

“We were having drinks one night when one of the forest guards came to our camp. I was alone with our watchman” Sashi continued.  He started to tell us what happened that night.  The story unfolded before our eyes as if we were there with him.

“There are complications in the rhino killings. We have lost at least 24 rhinos this year.” The forest guard  said.

“But these rhinos, they were just wounded. I heard that few of them are recovering quickly”

“That is not the point. Usually the poachers kill rhinos with AK47 rifles. The wounds on the rhinos don’t point that. It was of local bullets.”

“Is it someone inside the reserve?” We were shocked. But why would someone hurt the rhinos here. I can’t imagine anyone in the reserve to do that. Nature has its way on people and even if you are in mountains for two days, you wouldn’t tolerate litter.

The forest guard took a swig directly from the bottle “But the locals are murdered with AK47”.

“But why?”

“I fear, we would never know. Few weeks back dead bodies of few poachers were found. Somebody had stolen their bullet magazines. The case is handed over to local police. Some kid might have stolen a gun and using it. We would never know” Usage of guns is not unusual for the tribes living there but kids using AK47, I could not imagine.

“Also people who died are rich according to their neighbors. They don’t know how the deceased got new TVs or money to build an additional room. This is very confusing” The forest guard looked perplexed as though his job was dependent on this.

Right at the moment, we heard few shots fired and people screaming. We took our torch lights and rushed to the spot. It was extremely slippery and dark. The forest guards rushed from nowhere. We found a local breathing his last breath and a rhino with a bullet wound in it neck folds.

The forest guard asked us to be silent. I thought it was a bad idea to move forward and stayed there. The forest guards slowly inched forward knowing that the perpetrator should be somewhere near. I was left with our assamese watchman. There was a sudden movement behind us. Somebody was running in the opposite direction with something heavy. I thought it was the rhino horn. I ran behind him and fell over him. The weight of the object he was carrying didn’t let him run fast. “Xohoy! Xohoy! I shouted. Our watchman came running and started beating the man with the cane he carried. The AK47 he was carrying was heavy. We kicked it away from him. He made sure the man was unconscious before the forest guard arrived. People celebrated me as a hero.

Sashi rolled up his sleeves. He showed the back of his forearm. There was a deep gash. “This is what I got for my heroic act” he said smiling. I looked at Balaji. He was high with the rum and was ready to sleep any moment. But he walked up to Sashi and gave him a hug “I read about poachers and have felt my blood boil inside for the things they do. But you are a real hero man. You caught a bloody poacher” he was blabbering away. “What did they do to him anyway?”

“He was taken by the police. That’s all I know”. Sashi sat back, signaling the story was over. We were talking some more about the local poaching while Balaji drifted away to his dreamland. Sashi was in no mood to sleep and so was I. We decided to take a small walk. I lit up a cigarette and we stepped out.

“Tell me what exactly happened” I asked. “I knew you were lying. But this is your so called passion and I don’t know why you would lie about it”

Sashi was smiling. “You wouldn’t believe” he said.

“Try me”

“Well! Most of it was true. We caught him. He started telling something to our watchman which I didn’t understand. He stopped hitting him for a moment. They talked for a while and the poacher got unconscious. We were waiting for the forest guards while our watchman squatted near him and started to sob.”

“Let me guess. The poacher was his son or relative right?”

“No. He was a poacher alright. Few weeks before when he came with his group he was asked to remove the horn of the rhino. When he approached the rhino, it was not dead. It was not in a position to harm him too. But something in its eyes made him feel pity for it. Incidentally he was the one who fired that shot which would eventually kill the rhino. Seeing the death of someone he caused had deeply wounded him. He argued with his gang. But they threatened to kill him. He killed most of them and two of them survived. They took the magazines of bullets and patrolling the area. They knew the locals who sided with poachers for money. They waited for the locals and the poachers to come in search for rhinos and killed them. His friend went to village to collect food while he got caught.”

“But why did the watchman cry?” I asked.

“He inquired about the rhino. He was worried if it would survive. He is a poacher, who got caught with an AK47 rifle in his hand and is sure to be prosecuted. Even at that time, he asked about the rhino. It was too much for our watchman to take”

I had finished my cigarette and threw the butt away. Sashi picked it up and put it in an empty cigarette packet he had with him.

“I can’t believe it”

“I know”

“But why?”

“Humanity, may be” we started walking back to the room.

“Yeah! May be”


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