Journey by Night by Norah Burke
Getting to know the protagonists ….
Sher Singh Bahadur (the father) .. He is the quintessential jungle man — gritty, valiant, defiant, and adventurous. He knew the ways of the jungle animals well. The countless encounters he had with the beasts had left deep scars all over the body. None of these deterred him a bit. Instead, the injuries tended to make him bolder and more irrepressible than ever before. He knew the sights and sounds of the animals well. This enabled him to judge the presence or otherwise of an animal in the vicinity. From the trails and pug marks left by cat, he could tell who had killed what, and where the predator hid. He bore the scars as his badge of honour.
He was deft too in capturing the ferocious jungle animals in his camera. For the hunters who came looking for games, Sher Singh was an invaluable companion and a guide. His indomitable spirit instilled confidence in them, and his penchant to correctly spot a prey in the surroundings made their expedition a delightful experience. Sher Singh mixed with the flora and fauna of forests seamlessly, as if he was just one of the many species living there. No wonder, his services were much sought after by those who came a-hunting. For days, he could live inside the forests, braving the animals, and the many discomforts of jungle life.
In recognition of his courage and his defiance of the danger posed by the animals earned him the title ‘Bahadur’. He was called Sher Singh Bahadur.
Sher Singh (the son) .. He is a twelve-year-old boy, the elder of the two sons of Sher Singh Bahadur. His wife had borne him many more children, but only these two survived the vagaries of the primitive jungle life in the Lalwani village. The constant battle with poverty, and the many odds of life had made hardened his mind and body. During the long absences of his father from home, Sher Singh had to shoulder the responsibilities of the family. The gutsy Sher Singh, despite his young age, discharged his duties with remarkable aplomb.
Sher Singh’s mother .. Born and brought up in a village in the hills, she grew up weathering the many trauma and tribulations that bedevil a hill woman’s life. She was stoic and impassive in the face of adversity. Over the years, she has taught herself to live without her husband, with no option but to fend for herself.
Sher Singh Bahadur, the father, was away from home on some hunting trip. His younger son, Kunwar was seriously ill with high fever. Sher Singh, the elder of the two sons was the only male member his mother could look forward to for any assistance. Kunwar showed all signs of a fast slide towards death. The glimmer of home lay in his being transported to the nearest hospital at Kalaghat, quite a distance away. Separating Sher Singh’s jungle hut and the hospital at Kalaghat stood dense forests infested with wild animals, and two treacherous mountain streams. A mud track ran through most parts of the path. Motorised transport was unseen in this remote backward place. In the final part of the path to the hospital, a namesake road ran. Occasionally a bullock cart could be seen plying through this track.
It was getting dark. For Kunwar, his mother and Sher Singh, it was getting dark too. Kunwar was too sick to turn around without medical help. Very reluctantly, the mother decided that Sher Singh, the twelve-year-old would carry his younger brother to the hospital at Kalaghat. The task was too daunting for young Sher Singh. He stood no chance of reaching the hospital. He could not carry the weight of his ailing brother through the fraught treacherous road. But, Kunwar’s plight weighed heavily in both Sher Singh and his mother’s mind. With a heavy heart and a perplexed mind, she made a sling, put it around his forehead, with Kunwar wrapped inside a saree that hung by the sling.
Sher Singh set out on the long march. His mother looked on wryly convinced that Sher Singh would not be able to make it to the hospital.
Dusk was falling. It was getting darker. Sher Singh walked on leaving the dimly-lit huts of Lalwdani behind. It was a village perched inside a forest. Grasslands around the village were deliberately burnt to prevent forest fires creeping into the village.
Kalaghat was nearly fifty miles away. Sher Singh with his load of his sick brother had to contend with a track that had rocks, thorny bushes, and sal trees. Jungle beasts roamed freely in the area.
Sher Singh knew he had to cross the jungle and two rivers. Then he could get on to a passing truck or a bullock cart in the last lap of his journey to reach the hospital – his destination.
Forest roads had become motorable in recent times, but Sher Singh had to trudge through rutted roads where only bullock carts plied. Sher Sigh was determined to carry on.
Soon, the danger that was lurking in his mind came to pass. He saw a huge cobra across his path hissing frighteningly. The snake’s hood carried the signature mark of a spectacle. For Sher Singh, it was a very awful encounter. He stood still, because running would have irked the animal. Happily for the boy, the snake just moved away showing no hostile intent.
Sher Singh pulled himself up, and began to walk. The sight of the cobra had unnerved him and sapped his muscles. Kunwar’s load was proving to be heavier. But, it was no time to take rest. He moved on.
The surrounding forest was dense with intense competition between the flora and fauna. The foliage was rich, and the bamboo bushes rose valiantly, pushing past the creepers around. From monkeys to deer to tiger to jackals, everyone competed for a space in the habitat. The deer population had been depleted through excessive poaching. This mad the jungle cats to kill the cattle and often humans for their food.
Soon darkness descended on the area. Visibility became dangerously low.Sher Singh was wary of the bears whose paw marks he could see on the dust tracks. Moon light aided his vision. Sher Singh hastened his steps.
But, he was too drained to move further. On a cliff along a river bed, he was to rest for a while. His whole body was wet with sweat. He hung the burden from a tree.
Kunwar was seething in pain. Sher Singh could do precious little to bring any succor to his grievously sick younger brother.
Just when Sher Singh had begun to relax, he heard the rustling sounds of an approaching herd of elephants.
The elephants were coming up the track of the mountain stream apparently in search of food. Sher Singh was lucky to be not in their way: he was on the cliff. He saw the heard walking over the pebbles and stone pieces virtually churning the bed of the ravine.
Sher Singh saw a herd of cows and their calves. His eyes fell on an awesome wild tusker.
The elephant herd seemed to quite enjoy their time in the river bed swaying their trunks and flapping their ears. The tusker too swayed his trunk, apparently to sense the wind direction. Quite intriguingly for Sher Singh, he turned his trunk in the direction of the place where the two brothers rested. Sher Singh was gripped by a chilling fear. He could neither scramble to safety, nor cry out for help. He began to say his prayers frantically.
To the great relief of Sher Singh the tusker hurried off along the river bed followed by the herd. Sher Singh thanked his God for saving him from being mauled. He turned to Kunwar to tie the band round his forehead again.
By this time, he was too tired even to stand up. He heard the collective roar of the elephants again at a distance. The sound of the trumpet jerked him so much that he stood up. He came down to the river bed.
Sher Singh had come here often. He was well acquainted with the terrain. He waded through the knee-deep water cautiously.
He could walk till he approached the second river. Luckily for him there was a makeshift bridge over it. It was made with bamboos. Sher Singh drew comfort from this fact.
As soon as he emerged from the water, he was aghast to see fresh footprints of tigers. He walked on knowing danger lurked at every step.
He rested after an hour or so of walk. Summoning enough energy to carry the load was a daunting task. Even carrying himself forward with his enfeebled legs needed enough will power. Sher Singh egged himself on nonetheless. He staggered on determinedly.
By midnight, he was within earshot of the second river’s roaring water. On reaching its banks, he knew it was brimming with water. The rushing water had inundated the ramshackle bridge. So strong was the torrent that boulders rolled forward pushed by the force. Right before his eyes, the bridge got uprooted from its base and got swept away with the tide of water.
The disappearance of the bridge left Sher Singh perplexed. He kept Kunwar down oin the ground and fetched him some water from the river in his palms. Kuwar drank it.
Sher Singh twined a rope from the grass around him, and tied Kunwar with his body with it. The idea was that they should not get detached. With very cautious steps, he stepped in to the torrent of the swelled river. The rushing water buffeted them hard against the broken bridge’s timber. He clung to the timber with all his force. The deafening roar of the tide and the spray of water raining down on him virtually deafened and blinded him. He didn’t guess if Kunwar was still alive. After a number of near slips, the gutsy Sher Singh felt the water’s force weakening. The danger was nearly gone.
Shivering in biting cold, with his whole body wet, Sher Singh lurched forward.
Sher Singh’s eyes spotted some dogs and pigs. Perhaps, a village was nearby, thought Sher Singh. Luckily for him, he spotted a bullock card. He managed to board it. To the bewildered cart man, he told that he was from Lalwani, and had braved the tortuous track and the two rivers to reach the hospital. Kunwar was under medical care, finally.
Sher Singh worked in the nearby rail yard to earn a little amount as wage. He bought some ration, and cooked a mean in a makeshift chullah. The flour roti, mustard oil and chilli made a good meal.
The doctor knew Sher Singh Bahadur, his father, and came out looking for him. Sher Singh said, he was his son.
The doctor was taken aback to learn that Sher Singh had brought the sick Kunwar traversing such a perilous track, alone on his tiny frame. His face glowed with amazement and appreciation. He declared that Kunwar had pulled it through. He would survive.
Questions and answers …
Describe the state of mind of Sher Singh(Junior)’s mother when she asked him to carry the ailing Kunwar to Kalaghat.
Answer .. Her husband was away, and Kunwar, her younger son was battling for life. He had to be carried to the hospital at Lalaghat if he had to have some chance to pull through. Between her hut, and the hospital stood miles and miles of forest and two treacherous streams. Beasts roamed the forests. She had no money, and no resources, except her grit, hope, and the tenacious instincts of a jungle woman. She couldn’t see Kunwar perish, nor could she push Sher Singh to undertake the journey through the foreboding forest carrying Kunwar’s load. She was distraught, but determined. Fighting off despair, and refusing to cower before adversity, she asked Sher Singh to take Kunwar to the hospital, so far away on that fateful evening.
No mother on earth would dare to confront the danger that stared her in her eyes, but with remarkable fortitude, she took her decision and let her two siblings go. Fear ceded to fortitude, and despair to hope. Her defiance won her the day.
Question 2 .. Describe the character of Sher Singh Jr.
Question 3 .. Summarize the story in 350 to 400 words.
Question 4 …Write a short note on the difficulties faced by Sher Singh on his way.
Answer .. Sher Sinh Jr. had one of the most harrowing times of his life when he set out for Kalighat hospital. With the ailing Kunwar weighing him down, and dusk descendg fast, he had to negotiate his way through the torturous forest with danger of the beasts stalking him at every step. Not much into his 50-mile journey, he saw a deadly cobra in front f him. He knew runing away would provoke the snake. So, he stood still. The cobra slithered away disintrestedly. Sher Singh heaved a sigh of relief and began his walk.
It got really dark. The moon shone in the sky. From deep inside the dense foliage of the trees, Sher Singh saw a herd of elephants. The elephants swayed their trunks and flapped their ear flaps. To his hoor, Sher Singh saw an elephant turning ts head towards the direction where he was seated. Sher Singh sat still in great fear. Again, luck sided with Sher Singh. The herd walked off takin no notice of Sher Singh and his brother. But, the respite was short-lived. By then, he was too tired. He heard the collective roar of the elephants again at a distance. The sound mae him spring to s feet. He had no way, but to come down to the river bed. He waded through the knee-deep water cautiously. He knew e had to cross another river en route.
By midnight, he could hear the sounds of he second river. It was full of water. The rushing water had inundated the ramshackle bridge. Huge boulders rolled on propelled by the water’s strong current.
Sher Singh was puzzuled by not seeing the bridge. He twined a rope from the grass around him, and tied Kunwar with his body with it. The rushing water buffeted them hard against the broken bridge’s timber. He clung to the timber with all his force. The deafening roar of the tide and the spray of water raining down on him virtually deafened and blinded him. He didn’t guess if Kunwar was still alive. After a number of near slips, the gutsy Sher Singh felt the water’s force weakening. The danger was nearly gone.
Shivering in biting cold, with his whole body wet, Sher Singh lurched forward. Not soon after, he spotted a cart that teached him in the Kalaghat hospital. He reache is desitination, at last.