Sunday, April 3, 2011

The ring of fire

It was a special day for Reverend Mike. The sun was setting behind the green hills of Jharkhand and the western sky was covered with shades of red and magenta. As the sun was disappearing, the colors were vanishing as well, behind a solid curtain of black, leaving a slight aura around the edge of the mountains. And, there was a noticeable cloud of smoke covering one of the mountains. The reverend sat down on a single chair on the terrace of the small church which doubled as his residence. He had an old guitar with him and he started plucking the strings. Suddenly, the quiet of the forest was broken by the sound of the guitar, and the baritone voice of the reverend, singing a famous old country song by Johnny Cash, "I went down, down, down and the flames went higher. And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire. The ring of fire."

And suddenly, as if by magic, a ring of fire appeared on the tall mountain in front of him. The reverend looked up and smiled. He kept singing his favorite song, since this was a special day for him.

No one in the mission knew Reverend Mike's full name, and it didn't look like anyone wanted to know. The reverend was no biblical scholar, and nor did he have any control over the worldly temptations. In fact, most people in the mission had a tough time believing that the reverend was a missionary at all, about which, they were right. But, few knew that the reverend was actually a favor. A big favor owed to the big boss of a government agency in Langley, by the head of their evangelical church, based in a mid-western town in the United States. A favor, that required reverend Mike to be provided with a new name and occupation for a few years for saving several missionary lives in a nasty rescue operation in a little known country in south America.

Reverend Mike was hiding in the jungles of Jharkhand. He was doing it in full public glare, as a missionary, trying to win converts. And, he seemed to be enjoying the entire experience of hiding like this.

The reverend had not won any converts in the last year. But, he had quickly converted to the local brew of the tribals, since he did have a weakness for the spirits of the other kind, the ones he was not trying to save. The brew, made from the flowers of the Mahua tree, was extremely potent and was quite popular in the mountains of Jharkhand. In the months of spring, as the trees would drop their fleshy flowers on the ground, the sloth bears in the mountains would get joyously drunk by chewing on them. And the tribals would try and protect their share of the heavenly brew, by taking groups of Mahua trees in the mountains, and lighting up overnight fires around them. Every spring, when seen from miles away, these controlled fires in the forest would look like little rings of fire. And this spring, the reverend had decided to welcome the arrival of the potent brew with his favorite Johnny Cash song. The ring of fire.


Damru Kalandar was almost done with his search. He had heard from the villagers that a large female sloth bear was in the vicinity, and she had a small cub with her. Damru belonged to the Kalandar tribe in north India, which tamed bears, and used them to entertain people on the streets. This involved taking bear cubs from their mothers while they were still too young to remember anything and then, subjecting them to inhuman acts of training, which started with the piercing of a hole in the nose, where a rope would be inserted for life. Many organizations were trying to phase out this practice by encouraging the Kalandars to adopt alternative occupations. Many had already made the switch. But Damru was an exception and he wanted to die in the profession of his ancestors. And today, he was in search of a bear cub in the mountains. He knew that a sloth bear was bound to be where the Mahua trees were flowering.  The bears loved to chew on the Mahua flowers and get drunk. And when that happened, a fierce and protective mother would not be in her senses to protect her cub any more.

And Damru, would be in business.


Commander Raju was on a slow and steady trek through the hills. He got down at a small railway station and kept a very low profile till he reached a village where a contact was waiting for him with supplies in a backpack. Then, he had to make the lonely trek through the forest for two days till he would reach the stronghold of his comrades. Commander Raju was a newly appointed leader of the Maoist guerrillas  in the forests of Jharkhand. And, he was on this long trek to deliver a very important message to his battalion in the mountains. A message, that was from the top leadership.

While he paused to catch a breath, he saw the beautiful sunset through a gap between the hills. It was getting dark, and he saw that the distant mountains were lighting up with rings of fire. He had heard stories of the legendary Mahua flower and the bears getting drunk on them. It was the first time he was actually witnessing how the fires would look. They were beautiful.

(To be continued)


  1. Owh no Desi Babu!!! It's like cutting orgasm short!!! I anxiously await the continuation....

  2. Dear Hdaran: I will try my best to get you the rest of the story soon. Things have been too busy for me lately.