I could bury my legs till my knees in the fall leaves then. The leaves had so many colors. Some golden, some brown, some deep green. They would settle on one another to form a deep leafy bed covering the whole of hill trough. When night settled, the rustle of the leaves would keep me awake. In the morning, the wet, musky smell would tickle my nostrils, my mind absorbing the earthen rot. I could tell who's coming by the sound of the footsteps they made on the leaves. The tribal cook at his regular visits with tea, breakfast, cigarettes. His dog in search of the remnants. Sharp at 8, my father's surveyor would come and wait in front of our tent; All decked up in his field boots, hat and with the sandpaper colored bag on his back. My dad will immediately pick up two of his treasured possessions: the hammer and the torch and off they'll go to delve into the bottom of the earth. To look into the cracks an crevices, faults and mineral beds, walking endlessly through the virgin forests.
Sometimes he would take me along, mostly I was left behind. The moment I'll see their jeep disappearing around the corner, I'll jump into the wild terrain, starting my own geological excavations. I'll dig out a piece of glistening mica or find a perfectly round shaped basalt. Once I found a beautiful piece of rock all engraved in golden stripes which later I found out were copper striations. They all went to my collection. The stones- all shapes and sizes, the pine cones, the rustic leaves and the most exquisite of all, the wild flowers.
As night would descend, the sounds start reverberating with great elan. The tiny living beings which were hiding most of the day, comes out in open. A lone mammal would heave a big sigh, some other a lingering shriek that would mess up with the monotony of the jungle. Every forest has its sounds. The constant humming that keeps it alive, murmuring of the cricket, stems tweaking, winds hushing the just awakened inhabitants.
The sounds, the smells, the feel of its vast entity, the calm of the moonlit night serenading the ancient Eucalyptus trees, the not knowing and discovering - there's so much to a forest and living in it. Kuchai, in the lap of Chhotanagpur plateau called me time and again. But I could never go back. I had to go pursue another way of life while some other people started inhabiting there in ways that are considered un-social by many now.
That was 18 years back. I could relive my childhood memories, however. Just last week. After all these years and crossing all those miles, I felt the same calling, the smell of earth, the sound of dropping leaves in another piece of untamed nature. Awakening to another wishful wood. Or was it the same? We change but the forest don't.