The Mist Moves In...

The Mist Moves In...

The Mist Moves In...

The tip of Arvind’s nose was turning blue and his fingers were beginning to freeze. If he exhaled, a cloud formed before his very eyes. He was all alone at the edge of the stream where it entered the lake, waiting patiently. At 6 o’clock in the morning, high up in the Nilgiri Hills surrounding Mukurti, it was still dark. Not like at night, but dark nevertheless. He’d never felt this happy in a long, long time.

He silently cast his fishing line into the water and was reeling it in. Just as his grandfather had taught him to years ago. Soon he was able to get the bait to land further and further away; all he’d learnt as a 6 year old, coming back to him as he imagined grandpapa nodding with approval.

Getting on to the list of the school’s adventure club had been a nightmare. The club was run by the P.T master, who’d just assumed that only those on the athletic team would be interested in the outdoors. “What will you do there? We’ll be trekking for miles,” he said, rudely looking Arvind up and down. Arvind cringed. He wished the earth would open up and swallow him because he’d often encountered that look on P.T sir’s face as people took in his overweight body.

He knew it was no point telling the man that he, Arvind walked 5 kms every morning.

That his weight had nothing to do with lack of exercise, but a disorder that half his family suffered from. Instead he said, firmly, “Sir, I’ve trekked in Mukurti as a child, and I’m dying to go back there.”

Looking sceptical, P.T sir grudgingly said, “If there are any dropouts, I’ll put your name in.” Arvind fumed. So fat people were entitled to trek only if thin ones dropped out? . Sure enough, P.T sir’s noisy athletes dropped off one by one. The thought of a trip with no shops or restaurants horrified them.  

This morning as they were woken up at 4.30 to get ready for the fishing trip, everybody had groaned under their blankets. Except Arvind who’d eagerly gotten ready, rushed down to the kitchen of the youth hostel, woken up the cook to pack their sandwiches and flasks of coffee…all at such high speed, that P.T sir’s doubts were dispelled.  

Now, by the stream as Arvind patiently waited for a ‘bite’ on his line; a tug, or something to suggest a fish had been snared, he remembered other things his grandpa had said to him. First on the list, was never to stray too far from the rest of the crowd. Arvind felt a little guilty, because that’s just what he’d done. His school mates were more interested in the sandwiches than in the quietly gurgling stream. But he stayed shouting distance from them. On and off the wind carried their voices over.

Didn’t they know that if you wanted to catch a fish, you had to keep quiet?

After a while, he realised that he couldn’t hear their voices. He looked around, across the valley and saw the beautiful mist moving in. Ah, just like in the old days with his grandpa. Then he remembered another of grandpa’s warnings. The mist muffled sounds, so no one could hear you if you shouted. And no one could see you once it had settled! There were also the herds of Toda male buffaloes that roamed these slopes. The Toda tribe looked after only the females, and let the bulls out to run wild.

Arvind turned to where his schoolmate were, but they were gone. He looked up hill, where the mist was already making things look a little hazy, and he could see some children walking away. He cursed under his breathe. Though this was when he’d surely be able to catch some fish, he knew these city kids had no idea about the rules of the hills. Once the mist settled, they’d never find their way back to the bus.

Within 5 minutes, Arvind caught up with his friends. Without letting them know about what his worries were, he managed to get them to return to the bus. “Hey, the coffee will get cold,” he suggested. That was incentive enough on a cold morning like this.  

In another 15 minutes, with everybody seated safely in the warm bus, with hot paper cups of coffee in their hands, they looked out. The mist had moved in so swiftly, every bit of the hillside had vanished. The lake, just 10 feet away, was invisible. If Arvind hadn’t stopped his friends from wandering off, they’d have been lost on the hills. Now, seated at the back, he looked back. Shocked, he saw shadows move beneath the trees. They came closer and stopped… the silhouettes of 100s of wild buffalo, barely visible through the fog. Phew, that was close!  Since everybody else was busy chattering, Arvind could admire these creatures in silence. Grandpa’s warning, given years ago, had saved them!

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