By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar
A wood cutter used to go to a jungle near his village to fetch wood everyday in the afternoon. He would mostly be back home in the evening before sun down expect for some days when he would either get caught up with travellers who passed by the path through the jungle or would not be able to find sufficient wood within time. He loved to hear the traveller’s stories of faraway lands and strange places which he was sure actually didn’t exist. He in-turn would weave beautiful narratives and tell them to his mates at the bazaar where he went to sell his wood in the morning. They too didn’t believe a word he said but the stories were so intriguing that everyone would wait for him and be all ears when he started his story camp at lunch time.
“One day”, he started and sipped a little water, “I was unable to find the requisite amount of wood and lingered on longer than I usually do. It was only after sun down that I started for the journey back home. On the way I felt very hungry and could not go on further. I left the donkeys with the wood piles and went up a tree in search of fruits. There were none but I decided to rest for a while as I was feeling very tired. I just sat there staring into the branches and after a while I saw a very ripe and red round fruit which I guess had camouflaged itself in the red and orange leaves of the tree so well that I had missed it while searching. I pranced on it and ate it in a jiffy. I felt very sleepy and it must have happened then. Though I have no explanation for what I am going to tell you next.”
The wood cutter dug at his lunch while others were staring at him with a puzzled look on their face.
“As I woke up, I found myself in a completely different place. There was no jungle. I was not on the tree,” he stopped only take another gulp and continued, “Suddenly a man called me by my name.” “What is your name?” asked an innocent looking young boy hardly in his teens who had come to the market with his uncle. The woodcutter gave a sharp glance and continued, “Well I don’t know, everybody calls me ‘Woodda’; but this man was calling some name and I turned. He said I was summoned by the king. As I followed him I noticed the place was very beautiful, with gardens, springs and to my surprise I myself was dressed in a handsome robe and not my usual attire.”
“A king? Like Vikramaditya?” asked another little boy in shorts. Woodda thought for a while and said, ”Now that you mention his name, might be so. The king was sitting on a large throne and looked very kingly. He asked me who I was and what I was doing in his kingdom that was forbidden for strangers. I said I was myself wondering about the last part and told him the whole episode about the fruit that I had eaten. The king gave a hearty laugh and said, “Do you think you can make a fool out of me with this fruit story? How can anybody just drop into a place by eating a fruit and sleeping?” The King looked very angry but I had no answer to his legitimate question.”
Woodda finished his lunch, washed and sat with his hookah. His mates and their young associates were getting restless and asked, “Then what happened?” “Then a very funny thing happened. The king was very angry and said, ”This man must be a spy from another country and a very trained and learned one at that to have infiltrated our territory.” I had never felt so honoured and proud about myself in my entire life; only all that was being said was so not true that I also felt ashamed of being considered so great. The king continued, ”According to the peace pact we have with other nations no spy is supposed to enter the domain of another and the pact has been honoured for so many gazillion years that all punishments pertaining to such an offence have been forgotten.” I could not stop myself from laughing aloud at this but the king rather than getting further infuriated seemed pleased. He said, “We however do have a punishment for humiliating others and thus shall you be punished.” Later I came to know that more or less crime had been eliminated from that land and thus punishments were also a thing of a very distant past. My punishment for humiliating the court and the king was that I will not be allowed to stay at a place for more than six months. It was very funny for me but looking at the grave faces of the people at the court I thought it must be serious.”
Woodda looked at the mesmerised faces of his listeners and continued, “ I roamed the length and breadth of this strange land which I named fruit land as the real name was so difficult to pronounce that I gave up after the second try. I had finished touring only a part of it, so said the map, when one fine morning I was summoned again. The king looked very much at peace unlike our first meeting. He said, “We have decided that you are not a spy.” I giggled under my breath, they have decided. The king continued, “Since you are not a spy but have somehow entered our forbidden realm we present you with two choices. Either you can stay here forever and become one of us; for which you will be duly trained. The other option is to go back where you came from and though we cannot stop you from doing it, because we do not know how you did it, we will prefer if you don’t bring in more of your kind. It is rude to say do not come again but please come back alone only if you wish to stay here forever.”
“So what did you do?” Stayed back?” said an inquisitive mate. “But then how are you here?” he asked with a puzzled look.
“I had stayed in this strange land for what seemed like a decade but was never comfortable with the unanimity of the place,” said Woodda chuckling at the confused state of his mates. “To give you an example,” Woodda paused to look around and continued, “We see so many houses around the market, some small, some big, some freshly coloured, some in a dilapidated state but there, the houses were all so similar, they might look different from one another by design but the state was all the same. None was rich, none was poor. There was no money business. So you see there was no crime, no punishment, people just lived their lives and since I was not one of them I was kept out of the actual happenings of the place and was provided for everything. In a nutshell it was a boring and monotonous place although it might have been different after I became one of them.”
Woodda took a deep breath and said, “I decided to come back.” Everybody around gave out a loud sigh of disappointment. “Well! Look at the bright side, who would tell you the stories?” cried out an astonished Woodda. “But you could have stayed on and got their secrets and smuggled us in and think what a nice life we would all have” said an elderly fellow. “But they asked me not to do that,” Woodda said baffled. The elderly fellow zapped, “They have no punishments, what would they do if you didn’t listen to them.” The argument was getting heating when the little boy in shorts first mumbled and then screamed, “But how did you come back? If they could not find out how you went there in the first place then how did they send you back?”
“Ah! Now that is interesting and actually by chance I would say,” said Woodda, somewhat relieved to be out of the line of direct fire. He really didn’t think of the possibilities the elderly fellow was talking about. He just wanted to be back home in his familiar surroundings. Woodda continued, “I asked them how could they send me back if they didn’t know how I went there. The king said, “Our scientists have been studying you and have found the likely co-ordinates of your timeline. All we need to do is disintegrate you and send you across. However it is likely that a miniscule error might have happened in calculations and instead of your exact dwelling, as in your case, the tree and the time as stated by you when you fell asleep, it might be some other time and some other place where you find yourself again, like on one of the planets of your solar system, say Mars at a time when it was bustling with life. According to your perception we found there is no life on Mars.” I was too spellbound to say something and kept on looking at the king blankly just as all of you are looking at me now.”
Woodda looked satisfied with himself and also a little amused and said lightly, “It was just yesterday, that I came back and happy I am. I woke up on the forest path only to find that my donkeys have doubled and some boys were managing them. One of them was in fact quite surprised to see me and said, “Where did you come from Woodda? Were you not supposed to visit your relatives today?” It took me a while but then I said, I was coming back from the visit and thought would catch up with you guys. The boy smiled and went on with his work. I tactfully uncovered their names and all that had happened in my absence, which seemed like some 20 odd years. I seem to remember everything till that night and also all that happened in that ‘fruit land’ but can’t recall anything else. I know I have lost so many years of my life, must be calculation error; but given the odds it is not much, I could well have found myself by the side of an erupting volcano on Venus or among some strange creatures in Mars. Also I find myself wealthier and though so many years have passed I do not feel old.”
“You look old though,” chirped in the teenager. “Also we haven’t missed you for a day. You saw me on the day I was born and also named me, so says mother,” said the little boy in shorts. “Is it now?” said Woodda and smiled. “Lots to catch up with I guess,” he said almost to himself.
The story camp started dispersing with loads of thoughts in the air, was this another stunning stories of Woodda, heard from the travellers and rephrased? Or did he make this up on his own? Whatever the case may be this was indeed an extraordinary story.
Woodda got up slowly as an old man would but he could feel the good old strength in his knees. He has been wondering whether the ‘fruit land’ king had send his forty year old self back to his naturally aging body but things were too complicated for him to comprehend and he gave up. Walking towards home he started brooding over the idea of trying to find that tree and the fruit again, exploration of new lands is an addiction few can refrain from.