It takes a day and a night to get there—and most forms of transport. The early morning flight to Bhubneswar, a frantic dive (we are getting late) into a car to reach Gupti, which is the harbour for the boat (incredible, incredible ride in the dark over waters where live salties–the world’s largest crocodiles, but that’s another story), that will take us to Dangmahal, base camp for Bhitarkanika National Park. We halt there for the night. Have to. This is tide country, hence it is the ebb and flow of tide that rules—choosing to take us forth, or imprison. The boatman’s advice is to set sail a little before noon when the tide is on the upswing. The waters are placid initially as we glide past the odd village, pristine mangroves and crocs snoozing in the sun. Human habitation diminishes, disappears, the sea gets choppy, and it is well into the afternoon when we reach Nasi—a perfect lonely little island, its pristine beach visited only by rare turtles, lucky people like me…
…And the Hutch signal.
My illusions of wilderness are shattered. You couldn’t blame me-here I was miles away from civilisation (or so I thought), surrounded by water as far as the eye could see, very basic accommodation, no electricity, no running water. It was going back in time-except for the network, that followed-or rather, preceded you everywhere.
I was on another aquatic voyage-this time to the Nicobar islands. If I thought the above was remote, this one was desolate. I was armed with special permits, signifying hours of impatient waiting, and wrestling, with the bureaucracy and on my way to an island where lived primitive tribes. The hunter-gatherer type, unsullied by the hand of modern man. I imagined them in their dense jungle beating drums or waving red flags to communicate among groups spread out in the wilderness. More fool me. Not when they had the network. No sooner had I hit the shores, my cell sprang to life-it was Airtel, expressing itself. I understand it’s the in thing, expressing yourself, giving vent to your emotions, catharsis in today’s stressful world, but couldn’t Airtel have chosen a better time and place.
Another time, another place. Another network.
I was trekking in the rainforests of the Karian shola in the Western Ghats. It’s near impossible to describe the miracle of the evergreen forest. Trees that stood tall and straight bursting into canopy at the top, vines entangled and embraced, leaves carpeted the floor. I was accompanied by a guide, a local tribal. My specific purpose was to hunt for a frog, a nondescript purple blob that goes by the impressive scientific name of Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, a recent discovery to science. I was enjoying the forest, bonding with nature, my ears attuned to a croak which would indicate the presence the frog, even as I revelled in the true music of nature—the whisper of leaves, the ripple of waters, the wail of wind… the song of the birds. Rising above this cacophony was the call of one particular bird. A particular note that’s well, different. Which bird? It was a sweet, plaintive song, if rather high-pitched, one that I hadn’t head before, and I lent an attentive ear, concentrating on picking up the nuances even as the mind raced ticking off the probable birds. I came up with naught, and I felt the first prick of excitement imagining that maybe it was a rare, rare creature. This was far out, but maybe, just maybe, even a new one. I look enquiringly, hopefully toward the guide for help, but he was busy. The ‘bird’ had stopped singing—in fact he was in animated conversation with the ‘bird’. It was the call of the cell, the Idea that connects everywhere…the one species which I fervently hope would go extinct.
I mean it.
If I sound lighthearted about this entire affair, I am not. Seriously speaking, the menace of the mobile goes beyond being a mere irritant. For starters, and this one’s a bit selfish, no longer can I delude myself that I am this great explorer, Brave Single Woman venturing in the land of the beasts. Now, I have a constant companion that stalks..err follows me everywhere. Always ready to help. Selling credit cards and home loans as I trail tigers, or hunt for elusive bustards in the Thar desert, or on the trail of the Black-necked Cranes in the Himalayas. It has taken the drama out of the tiger hunt. You need not bother looking for clues: pugmarks, scats, scratch marks, alarm calls that may lead you to the elusive King of the jungle. You need only await the call of the guide lucky enough to spot the big cat-and make you that all important call giving information about the location of the tiger-for a fee, of course.
I think too, that the mobile has diluted, if not negated, the mystery of going into the forests, that sense of being away from the trappings of civilisation, of exploring-of going where no man-or woman-has gone before. The network has reached before you have.
Simply put, the mobile it has taken the wilderness out of the wild.