Shishir 2018, Short Stories -Chandrashekhar Vaidya


Fire Forest

By Chandrashekhar Vaidya


I am a son of five star hotel owner and an only heir to my father’s business. My father always wanted me to take over the business responsibilities. I was interested in business. But I did not want to take the responsibility so soon because at this age, I wanted to know everything which is there under the sun. I know this will remind you of Marlow’s Dr. Faustus. But, no I did not surrender my soul to any devil. I surrendered my time to serious study--reading as many books as I could lay my hands on. By now, I know about literature, law, science, geography, medicine, sociology. And I have read some important and mysterious things about forests and forest tribes.


One day my father was cleaning his locker, while he was busy arranging the files. Suddenly, a diary caught my eye. I asked my father to give me that diary. Initially, he did not want to give it. But when I forced him to do that, he gave it to me. He told me, “It is my father’s diary, read it carefully.” That diary was a little bulky, the opening pages were about the family history. I came to know a lot about him (my grandfather), my grandmother, and also about my father’s childhood. The important information I got was about where we lived earlier, before we came to this place. When I read few more pages I came to know that even my grandfather was also running the hotel business. He apparently had a hotel on the highway. This means of that it was at an advantageous place for business—spot connecting two big states. However, there were not many of transportation because the highway wound through a forest called the “Fire Forest”. This was a very thick forest surround by mountains.


After giving these descriptions of his life and family, my grandfather wrote about his hotel and about his customers. Suddenly, he began talking about of the Fire Forest . I began to feel that my grandfather knew some writing, but not really the art of writing. I came to this conclusion because throughout the diary he shifted from one subject to the other like a butterfly without giving proper connections.

In the diary, the description of the Fire Forest went like this, “The forest which I have seen very closely is one of the thickest forests. When I came to know the name of the forest I was very young. From that day I tried to find out why this forest was known as the Fire Forest. But I was unable to find out the reason. Later, I came to know that there are some tribes living in this forest. But I have never tried to step into the forest. After some years, a strange incident happened. One night, at the back door of my hotel, a dark forest youth lay in a pool of blood. He was writhing and gasping for breath.


When I saw him in that condition, I got scared. But somehow, I managed to gather all my courage together and took him inside. I treated him with the local herbal medicine which I knew. It took two days for him to get back consciousness. When he opened his eyes finally, I asked how he was feeling. He replied that he was better. I was so surprised that I had already realized that he belonged to the forest tribe when I saw his clothes. B However, he was able to understand and speak our language.


Though I knew of his origins, I asked him , “Who are you?” He replied that he belonged to the tribe which lived in the Fire Forest.

When I heard the name Fire Forest I wanted to know the answer for my unanswered question—question which had been troubling me for a long time.

So I asked again “Why is this forest known as the Fire Forest?” Then he explained: the tribes that live in this forest are known as the “Sons of fire,” and they worship the Fire God. Many years ago this forest was burnt down by a forest fire, but some of the tribes were able to withstand that conflagration and escaped somehow. One of them was their First Person,” their saviour.


The youth continued, “He was a great devotee of the Fire god. He said to everybody, ’I prayed and prevailed upon the Fire God on behalf of you all to help us. The Fire God appeared before me in His full glory and asked what he could do for us?”


So, this “First Person” appealed to the god, “This forest should not be affected by forest fires anymore,” and he begged that his people should live happily in this forest. The Fire God consented to this, but on one condition. The condition was t: He showed the highest among the surrounding mountains and commanded, “Daily, at night, on the top of this mountain, you will see the flames of fire for some time. When you fail to see the fire, there is some danger waiting for you. Remember my words!


” “Ever since” , the boy narrated, “Till the last week, we used to see the fire on the top of the mountain as our First Person had said.


"But we did not see the fire for the past seven days. Then, the leader of our tribe disappeared., Then we remembered the warning given by the Fire God. We waited for the fire to reappear until yesterday. But even yesterday, we did not see the fire. So, we decided to leave the forest if we did not see the fire even the next day. We did not want to face any more danger. But even today we did not see the fire. So we were all walking away in the dark. I slipped and fell. When I woke up, I was at your house,” he ended. Before he left, he gave me the geographical map of their new settlement.”

When I read the story of the Fire Forest in my grandfather’s diary, I was thrilled. I kept thinking and analysing the story. Some questions came up before me: “Was there any relationship between the leader of the tribe and the fire which used to appear at night on the top of the mountain? How could the fire appear and disappear? So on and so forth. To get answers to these questions, I wanted to meet one of the tribes who lived in that forest even in my times. I found the geographical map given to my grandfather by that man mentioned in the diary. I found the exact place when I followed the instructions on the map. There, luckily for me, I got one of the tribesmen. He was very old. His speech was not distinct. But I asked him about the fire which used to appear on the top of the mountain.


Then, the Old man began narrating: When they left the forest, he was a young boy of fifteen or sixteen years of age. He said, “I was an adventurous boy. I always wanted to know new and mysterious things. I know many things which are not known by other fellows of my tribe. All through my childhood, I used to see the fire on the top of the mountain. It always disappeared after burning for some time. This fire was the sign of good luck. It gave them the feeling of safety.. I became curious about it. I wanted to know why it appeared and disappeared So I tried many times to go to the top of the mountain to see what actually was happening there. But somehow I failed in all my attempts. One night I saw our tribe leader going towards that mountain.


I followed him stealthily. We both reached the top, but he was unaware of my presence. Then, he took out a bundle of cotton which was stored in one of the corners of the cave there and poured a handful of white powder which he had brought with him on it. The bundle of cotton began to burn brightly. There was the fire which was very important for my people. When the fire started I was frightened and tried run away from that place. But before I could move, my leader saw me. He asked me why I was there and how could reach the top. Then I told him explained everything about my curiosity. I thought he would be angry. Instead, he liked and appreciated my adventurous nature!”


I was listening to the old man’s narration with rapt attention. The old man continued: “Both of us came down. While we were coming back to our place, I asked the leader why he did what he did, and how that white powder caused fire. He explained it all to me. He said that he belonged to the family of the First Person and the boon which his forefathers got from the Fire God was a myth. Over many years, things had changed. But the family kept up the tradition. He was of a new generation. He knew some science. He experimented with things. He discovered that you could get fire with the help of that white powder.


He made the fire burn for some time on the top of the mountain to keep the people of his tribe together in the forest without any fear. Every night he went to the top of the mountain and would light the fire there. He showed his son where he could get that white powder and taught him the art of getting fire with the help of that powder and cotton. And this knowledge was passed from generation to generation and finally, it reached me. But now the problem is I don’t have sons to continue this tradition. I am worried about the future. But your interest in our story has given me some hope. I will choose you as my successor.”


He commanded me “ You must come and meet me at night tomorrow. I will show you where you can get that white powder.” I was excited by the whole thing. I went to meet him the next evening after sun set. By the time I reached the place, there had been disaster. My tribal friend was abducted by some city people. Apparently, they took him away for something. Nobody among the tribal people knew what had happened. I waited for his return. He didn’t come for the next six days. As a result, there was no fire for the six days. So, the members of my tribe were frightened, and they decided to leave the forest.


They were all so scared that they did not come out of their houses at night. On the seventh night, I came out of the house and started walking towards that mountain where we saw the fire. When I was going there, I saw the group of people who were carrying some sort of big carton like thing., I came to know that some illegal activities were going on in that place. They couldn’t carry on these activities in the vicinity of the highway. So they had somehow found their way through the forest to this place. Soon, they found out about our fear, the story of the fire. They wanted to exploit out weakness. So, they has kidnapped our leader. Without the leader, there was no fire. Without the fire, we would not step out of our huts.


When all this became clear to me, I decided go and tell everything to my people. But by that time, they were already moving away. Some had already left the forest”.

After hearing this from an old man I came to know everything. I even came to know about the power and the art of getting a fire going. That white powder is phosphorus which is naturally available and highly flammable when it comes in contact with the air. This was the technique used by the leaders of the tribe who knew a bit of science. I explained all these things to the old man and to the tribes. But they were not ready to go back without seeing the fire at the top of the mountain.


So I asked that old man to send a promising youth along with me to show me the way. I set off to reach the top of the mountain. I took enough phosphorus and cotton with me. When we both reached the summit, I demonstrated to that boy the whole trick of making the fire with cotton and phosphorus. After seeing the fire on the top of the mountain, the tribes poured back into the forest. They started living like before. Their old courage was back. The same fire, which gave this courage to the tribe, caused fear in the people who were doing the illegal activities in the forest. The tribal people who lived in the forest regarded protecting their forest as their prime duty. When they came back, automatically all the illegal activities that were being carried out in that forest vanished.


For the First Man the fire was a tool for making his people live together in the forest. For the tribal people it was the source of courage. For the people involved in illegal business the same fire was the cause of concern. . For my grandfather, this fire was a curious phenomenon. But for me, it seemed to a simple scientific matter. After all, science is not the property of the so-called modern, urban class. Our tribals too know how to make use of it to help mankind. And what an effective use they made of a simple thing like phosphorus-induced reaction to create a fire that symbolized hope and safety to a whole tribe!


Now, I ruminate on all this still. Life has changed for me. I have fulfilled my father’s wish and become a successful business magnet in the hotel industry, just like my grandfather, and my father too! But I realize that life beyond this city and its consumerist attractions is much more fascinating. Sometimes, I go to the forest alone and wander around, sit with the forest people and listen to their innumerable stories—stories of love, hate, pain, joy of humanity, and what is more, stories full of knowledge and wisdom of life. That is when I feel peace and oneness with Nature, away from the city, its businesses and its empty bustle.



Chandrashekhar Vaidya is studying for his Masters at the Karnatak University, Dharwad, India. He has written two books in Kannada, has published two articles in reputed journals, and has written more than 30 poems. He is intrested in translation studies, American literature, Anglo Indian literature, philosophy, music and folk arts.


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