In Quest of the Celestial: Someeta Das (Life, Cognition and Creativity)

Someeta Das
Byron in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage says:
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes;
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,

 Bhittarkanika in Odisha, compliments this description of Lord Byron, for it is a deltaic region, a mangrove wetland, home to the Olive Ridley turtles, where they come to lay eggs, as well as home to the migratory birds and the saltwater crocodile. Formed by the alluvial deposits of the rivers Brahmani, Baitarini and Dharmara (Bhittarkanika) in the Mahanadi deltaic area, and not frequented by many tourists, is an ideal weekend get-away. A group of us- four friends and colleagues, retired from service, decided to escape here, away from the monotony of city life, in search of the intangible and ethereal. It was a five hour journey we chose to undertake, and in retrospect an awe-inspiring experience, trying to comprehend Nature’s many benedictions, mysteries, grandeur, relying on her magical powers, to soothe and infuse peace and harmony into our physique and souls. 
 Bhittarkanika, is an island, isolated, and off the beaten track. To reach the resort, we had to cross the Brahmani river, the pale yellow and green cottages at the retreat, making us spellbound with its beauty. All kinds of flowering plants, along with small and large ponds, surrounded by verdure, made one respect the sanctimonious nature of the place. Modern civilization had not yet laid her claims here, even the pandemic had not spread its tentacles; the meandering river had many stories to relate, the foliage in various shades of green, bespoke of Mother Nature’s bounty and pageantry. The simple village folks lived close by in mud thatched huts, retiring early to their homes after sunset. Electricity was at a premium, connected only to the few resorts along the river bank. We had been warned of little or no contact with the outside world, and knew that our mobile phones would be used only for clicking photographs, but then we had chosen this place willingly, the monotony of routine city life adding to our ennui.
Planning to relax in unadulterated joy for a couple of days in this idyllic place, and longing to relish the locally grown vegetables, organically produced, we had booked a two night three day package at this resort. The first afternoon and evening were spent luxuriating, taking in the stunning greenery, which outlined our resort, and the spectacular sunset, the sun disappearing into the horizon, and the hues of the sinking sun playing hide and seek with the enveloping darkness. We agreed that this place was a simulacrum to Paradise, the gentle ‘swish- swish’ of the waters of the river, lulling us off to sleep the first night, warm and secure in our beds. We had no itinerary, and were not interested in the local sight- seeing, our only desire was a launch ride deep into the mangrove forest, as we wanted to witness the crocodiles and migratory birds in their natural habitat. To be in the lap of nature, and search for divinity in her creations, soaking in the peace and tranquility, was a long cherished dream come true. 
The following day after breakfast, we started for the jetty, from where we would board the launch. In half an hour, we were well on our way, wonderstruck not only by the thick vegetation but the number of reptiles and the avian species that we could discern on the shores of the muddy waters of the Baitarini. We marveled at the sight of some of the estuarine crocodiles- the hypnotic glazed half open eyes peering above the water. Watching some alligators, I was suddenly distracted, as for a moment, it seemed as if someone was swimming alongside. Even before I could see properly, my vision cleared and I started doubting my eyes, for what appeared as a human being, may have been driftwood, or an illusion. Far away lumbering towards the shore, there seemed to be a few more reptiles who could hardly be distinguished from logs of wood, so silently sunbathing they lay, like Milton’s Fallen Angels, mouths wide open, showing giant rows of powerful and robust teeth, managing to retain that position, as if grinning at our puny selves. These wonderful creations, made us aware that we were just a dot in the vast cosmos, more so when we viewed an immense crocodile, closing its yawning open mouth with a snap, impressing us by its gargantuan size and agility of movement as it slid quietly into the water with hardly a splash. I remembered the Leviathan in ‘Paradise Lost’ where Milton states: 
 “God of all his works
Created hugest that swim th’ Ocean stream”
 
 Apart from these humongous reptiles, we caught glimpses of a variety of birds perched on the mangrove forest, as we looked astonishingly at their colorful plumage. The raucous cries of the birds to their own kind, along with the merry chirpings of the others as they conversed, sounded like music to our weary ears. How we wished we could learn their language and ways of communication. Watching silently, we were overcome with wonder and awe at the flora and fauna, and the mysteries of creation, the exalted existing with the natural, where might and flight survived side by side juxtaposed in form, structure and strength. It was nearly evening when we returned to our resort pleasantly tired but satisfied, our sojourn being truly exhilarating, the questionable human form adding to this spine-tingling adventure.
 A few hours later, we decided to venture out once again. It was a full moon night, the luminescence of the moon, bathing the entire resort with its radiance. We wanted to glimpse the exceptional effulgence of the moonlight shimmering in the nearby river, the water dazzling with an unearthly and spiritual beauty, though we had been warned not to saunter in the darkness. But who could listen to the mind as it delved into the alleys of the wooded forests, dived into the unknown chasms, as the soul wandered and plunged into unrevealed depths and could not be forced to return, for like Wordsworth we too wished to witness the “Strange fits of passion” and a kindred spirit. 
It was thus with a heavy heart we returned to the resort, for it was the last night of our stay and pleasantly tired, having spent the entire day out in the warm welcoming sunshine. After a dinner of simple vegetarian fare, we contemplated with mixed feelings, of retiring to our cottages, or remain a while longer, to enjoy the brilliant interplay of light and shadows. Replenished in body, the soul still craving for more, we sat around talking for a while in the open, discussing the day’s unusual adventure, when we had the feeling of being watched, but not seeing anyone, decided to get back to the comfort of our cottages. On hindsight, what struck me was the presentiment, a warning of danger. Nevertheless, we latched ourselves in the safety of our cottages, which exuded warmth, and our beds looked very inviting. 
It was nearly an hour later, when we awoke startled, by a tapping noise. ‘Tap- Tap’ went the sound, more like a woodpecker, pecking at a tree, at first gently, then a little loudly followed by an unusual grunt. Being groggy with sleep, we nearly jumped out of our skin at the strange sounds, and listened intently to the weird noises outside the door. Sharing a room with my friend, and instinctively distrusting noises which could not be identified, I looked at her, relieved when she nodded confirmation. It resonated for a while longer, before stopping altogether. The experience was eerie and we were petrified, waited eagerly for dawn to find out more about our midnight visitor. Next morning we opened the door cautiously, but not finding anyone in sight, went in search of the caretaker for breakfast and information.
Surprised to find that a small crowd gathered in front of the pond next to our cottage, we leaned over and saw a young boy pointing to something, and speaking excitedly. We hurried to see what the excitement was all about, and heard that the previous night, a large crocodile had hopped out of the river and came visiting the resort. We spoke of our night visitor, and then were told, at times, these predators frequented the cottages, and were gently warded off with sticks. This midnight adventure was thrilling, but nevertheless convinced us it was the Powers Above which saved us from being fodder to the angry and hungry jaws. Completing our meal, we packed and left for the city, refreshed in mind and rejuvenated in soul. 
Our midnight visitor had alarmed but did not deter us in any way from enjoying a relaxed and mesmerizing couple of days in the midst of natural surroundings, our only regret being we had not met our guardian angel, whose presence we had felt among the many creatures we had been blessed to visualize, and who I feel, had saved us from imminent danger. I have questioned myself several times, had we really perceived an unknown aura- or were we in a trance or slumber? 
“Was it a vision or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:- Do I wake or sleep?”

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