As we rode through the Sal forest in Sitavani, motoring slowly down the narrow path, Sal trees converged above me, each a mirror image of its equal on the other side.
The path ran straight and narrow, curving only just to breathe life into the silence that hung pensively about us. The forest held back from the jungle path even while playing the part of a kindly local happy to be of assistance if asked for help by strangers, us; our meandering trail had marked us out to be new to the area.
The Sal tapered, and towered over us, toothpicks stuck in the earth as it lay back open mouthed for respite from the skies over Uttarakhand. In the hills we had ridden through, the summer had grown fierce and streams and rivers ran dry for the most part.
In the silence that Sitavani enveloped us with I could breathe deeply of the fragrance the forest sprinkled about us as we inched down the jungle path, delighting in the isolation the quiet heightened and deepened as minutes ticked by.
It was as if the forest was hushed so we could be heard, characters who had meandered into the jungle to keep the trees company on their relentless vigil through the seasons. The quiet seemingly waited in anticipation of the moment we would break the silence and speak its language.
We did, and how.
When the jeep stalled and wouldn’t start, I got off to lend my shoulder with the others, crunching leaves as we heaved, and pushed. Leaves the Sal had shed through the summer, leaves that had lain untouched.
In the moment my feet sank in the crisp browns, the silence rang with melodies of crackling leaves and the strain of heaving shoulders vanished no sooner the forest echoed with the crunching, the sounds tapering away like the Sal as notes curved past trees, disappearing from ‘sight’, carrying our jungle-speak to trees hidden away.
The sounds that emerged marked our passing in ways only the tenuous nature of life can, seeking permanence in the transitory while ensuring the transitory is rarely, if ever, permanent.
In their moment of crumbling, the leaves bridged the silence that hung between us and the jungle. A moment etched in my mind and ensured a life as long, or short, as mine.