The Book, Chapter 10

Chapter 10

The market was a profusion of sights and sounds and smells. Ladies with faces covered with tattoos, wearing brilliantly coloured saris had their necks, arms and ankles festooned with chunky silver jewellery. The tribal population being mainly illiterate and living in rural areas had no knowledge of, or if they did, no belief in the banking system and so silver jewellery was bought and worn and then sold as required.  There were a couple of stalls set up, with mats on the ground and money lenders sitting cross legged with scales ,weighing the necklaces and anklets and then fiercely bartering with the sellers. Once the deal was agreed, the finer points were noted down in a book and the seller signed with a finger print.  Men and women dressed in traditional clothes, appeared from all directions. Some of the men were already showing signs of drunken behaviour, taking advantage of a day not working, whilst the women carried large bags and pots or baskets containing goods for sale on their heads as they walked along to their pitch, shouting out to friends as they meandered by with badly-cracked, bare feet; the concept of a pedicure was non-existent in their lives. They all seemed cheerful, despite some of them having walked for up to 30 kms to reach the market.

Plastic cloths were spread out on the street and displays were creatively arranged, presenting whatever vegetable they had come to sell, to its best advantage. There were peas and lauki, a white vegetable which looked like a carrot and tasted like radish, and carrots which were almost red in colour. There were bunches of spring onions the size of leeks selling for just 2Rs per kg, coconuts at 5Rs and cauliflowers at 8rs per kilo. There were baskets laden with mounds of a dried fruit which looked like prunes but I found out were the dried flower of the mahua tree, which were used to make the local hooch.  There was a small enclosure where a few bony cattle were huddled in a corner, being poked at with sticks by potential buyers.

The main market square had wooden stalls laden with countless other items. I sauntered around captivated by the people and items for sale. ‘That’s salt,’ Abishek pointed to huge chunks of white semi opaque rocks, ‘and over there they are selling limestone for building.’ We strolled on, ‘These terracotta pots are known as matkas and are used for storing water, they keep it as cool as being in a fridge, even in the summer months.’  There were mounds of tobacco and paan leaves, essentials for the men, and multi-coloured glass bangles for the women which were bought for special occasions such as weddings. Groups of women were sitting and picking over the brilliantly coloured fabrics at the sari stalls and boys were eyeing up the jeans and shirts. Unusually, due to the essential weekly trading, I didn’t become the centre of attention and was able to wander around watching the bartering and marvelling at the tattoos on the women’s faces.

An old lady, her face a mass of wrinkles with grey hair in a long braid reaching down her back was squatting by the roadside, tending a large iron pot, precariously balanced on a gas cylinder, containing boiling oil. In her calloused hands, she was rolling balls of lentils mixed with flour, spices and fresh coriander and dropping them into the fat to deep fry. Given that I figured that I had the constitution of an ox, hadn’t had lunch and that they were only two rupees each, I decided to try a couple.  Abishek was pre occupied chatting to someone and so I decided to brave it alone. I was soon surrounded by a group of scruffy, barefooted, snotty nosed kids, and, feeling generous even on my meagre salary, bought each of them one of the spicy treats. They giggled and jumped up and down with excitement when I asked if they would like some and then cautiously took one of the balls each and nibbled on them, wide eyed and bashful, before running off to show their friends. I grinned and watched them go, just as Abishek reappeared, ‘That was nice of you, they will talk about it for weeks to come.’

‘Oh, it’s nothing really is it, just a couple of lentil ball type things.’

‘Don’t underestimate it. They have probably never seen a white woman before and for you to buy them a snack will have made their year.  It’s a good job there were a few of them, if it had been just one and he told his parents they would never have believed him.’

‘They’re sweet, and I’m not even child friendly, cats are about as much as I can cope with, and I’m not sure I am responsible enough for that.’

Abishek shook his head, ‘You do put yourself down, you shouldn’t be so self-deprecatory.’

‘I speak only the truth. Ask my cats, they spent most of the time at my neighbours, it was the only way they could guarantee getting regular meals.’

‘Where are they now?’

‘With their grandparents.’

As I was answering, he looked past me, ‘Oh oh, your karma is about to change, it looks like you’ve started something.’

I followed the direction of his gaze and saw six of the grubby kids coming back down the street, the older ones, giggling running towards me, the smaller ones peering out from behind their friends, skipping along at a more sedate pace. The bravest one of the group reached out and took my hand and indicated that I should follow him.  When they realised that touching white skin wasn’t going to cause them any harm, two of the younger girls grabbed my other hand and they started to pull me along.  Just at that moment, Abishek was distracted by someone else he knew and I was led away into the unknown. They took me down the main street which led out of the village. It was lined on either side by houses made of mud, with tiled roofs, the walls were painted white and a brilliant indigo blue. Peering through archways, I was able to have a glimpse of village life in the courtyards beyond which contained cattle, bicycles, and charpois (Indian beds) which had been stacked away for the day. The children skipped along happily beside me, chattering among themselves and tittering with excitement, until we came to the last and largest house of the village. At this point, their excitement got the better of them and they started shrieking and jumping and pushing me through the entrance.

The children’s fervour was nothing when confronted with the excitement of the entire extended family. The women welcomed me into their home, whilst chattering to one another, pointing at me and laughing unselfconsciously. The man of the house appeared. Tall, cross-eyed and quite obviously a pork pie short of a picnic. He stared at me with astonishment, well, one of his eyes did, I think he was still pricing up mahua with the other. He indicated for one of the ladies, I wasn’t sure if she was his wife, or how many of them were his wives (!) to make me chai and off she went into the kitchen.  Meanwhile, the children showed me their chickens, goats and cows, the chickens were left to roam, the goats and cows were in an enclosure to the side of the kitchen.  Chai in hand, I was made to sit on the only plastic chair in the courtyard, the family sat on the floor around me and I was then assaulted with a barrage of questions, in Hindi.  The women couldn’t understand why I wasn’t  wearing jewellery, even the poorest of tribals had silver jewellery, nose rings, necklaces and anklets.  All I was wearing were the toe rings that I had put on eight years before and never bothered to take off again, they were virtually welded into my feet.

One of the ladies pointed to my feet, ‘Aap shadi shuda hain kya?’ This was beyond my Hindi and I just smiled and shrugged.  She tried again, ‘Pati? Husband?’

Ahh, now I understood.  In many different Indian cultures, toe rings are worn by women as a symbol of being married. Often the husband puts the toe rings on his wife’s second toe of both her feet, during the wedding ceremony. I shook my head, ‘No.’

They looked confused. Why on earth would I be wearing toe rings if I wasn’t married?   ‘Aur bache?’ At this they pointed to the children still jumping up and down ladki, ladka? At ‘ladki’ they made downward movements with their hands to indicate a skirt for a girl and for ‘ladka’ they put fingers horizontally under their noses to indicate the compulsory Indian moustache. They wanted to know if I had children, again I shook my head,

‘Ji Nahi, lekin do Billie hai.’ Which was a phrase I had got Puneeta to teach me, a rough translation of ‘No, but I have two cats’.  This caused much hilarity, especially in a culture where these girls could be married off in their mid-teens and invariably had several children by the time they were in their early twenties. A couple of the other ladies were feeling much braver by this time and came over and started stroking my hair. They had never seen hair that wasn’t jet black or grey and then one started rubbing at my freckles gently at first and then more vigorously. Children taking confidence from their mothers or elders approached and tentatively started doing the same. It seemed that they had never seen freckles before either as they looked at them quizzically and asked if they were ‘paining?’  It was a very bizarre moment, but sensing that I was being accepted I sat and tolerated the grooming though I wasn’t too happy with the way the man of the house was looking at me, and dancing around with his hand down his trousers.

Another lady then arrived back from the market. From the respect she seemed to get from the other family members, I deduced that she was the main wife, or the only wife, who knew? She was in her early thirties, wore more jewellery than the rest, had the most incredible beaming smile and was, quite simply, beautiful. The other ladies started chattering and telling her what they had gleaned about me.

She came over to where I was sitting, batted the children away, sat at my feet and we had a conversation in sign language and my very limited Hindi.  ‘Husband nahi?’ I shook my head, she looked around and with a laugh, indicated the guy with the eyes, pointed to herself, and said ‘My husband,’ and then when he wasn’t looking, did the universal sign of moving her index finger in a circular motion around the side of her head whilst pulling a face to indicate, ‘Crazy,’ and then burst out laughing. I had no idea how she could be so cheerful.

Some of the children then spotted my camera and presented themselves in front of me, shouting, ‘photo, photo, photo!’  I started to take pictures of them which they found hilarious and fought over each other to grab the camera to have a look at what may have been the first images of themselves they had ever seen. I was sitting amidst this gaggle of hilarity, being stroked, fought over and having had chai spilt all over me when Abishek appeared.

‘So this is where you’ve been hiding? Typical that I had to follow the noise to find you, in the noisiest country in the world and there you are in the midst of the most of it. I’ve been looking all over for you,’ and then sighting the man with his hand down his pants, his concern deepened, ‘Is everything ok?’

‘Yes, fine, I’ve been making friends.’ I beamed at him, delighting in my latest adventure, and indicated to the children and the ladies who looked up in awe and who became instantly shy, greeting Abishek with the standard ‘’Namaste.’’

Looking over at the guy he said, ‘Yes, I can see that and that’s what worries me, you have no sense of danger what so ever do you?’

‘What’s dangerous? I exclaimed and then following his gaze, ‘

What? Oh him, yeah, that’s a bit creepy but what’s going to happen with all these women and kids around, grooming me like a langur monkey.’

Almost despairingly he said ‘Come on, it’s time to head back,’ I stood up and one of the ladies came forward to take my cup, ‘What, you’ve been drinking their chai too?’

‘Yes, they’ve got their own cow. There look, so I know the milk is fresh.’

‘What about the water they mix with it?’

‘Oh, I didn’t think of that.’

‘Has anyone ever called you reckless before?’

‘Not over drinking a cup of tea, no. My escapades are usually far more hazardous.’

‘Tell me that when you are feeling the effects tomorrow.’

I pouted at him and then I started to say my goodbyes, the presence of Abishek had calmed the adults down though the children were still dancing around and wanting to see the photos again and again. Each time I gave in, they would take one look at themselves and jump up and down shrieking with laughter.  The beautiful lady with the smile looked from Abishek to me and smiled, waggling her head, seemingly joining in with the camp conspiracy to see us paired off.  I shook my head and whispered, ‘Doh billie,’ and she laughed.

Promising to return the following week, I followed Abishek back to the jeep where his driver and a boy from camp were waiting for us.

‘Do you always go into strangers houses?’

‘I don’t usually walk into people’s houses uninvited, no, but if I am invited, yes.’

‘I was looking all over for you.’

‘There was no need to worry, I am quite used to taking care of myself.’

‘Well, I was concerned.’

I wasn’t sure how to take this, I was used to traveling alone and fending for myself, having someone concerned over my well being wasn’t part of my usual script.  Ignoring him, I carried on,

‘They were lovely, and as you said, to have a white girl drinking tea with them and taking photos of the kids, well, they will be able to dine out on that story for weeks.’

Abishek, sensibly not pursuing the point, shook his head and chuckled, ‘They are not exactly into the practise of dining out.’

I sighed in mock patience, ‘Yes, well, I did mean metaphorically speaking, obviously.’ We jumped into the front seats of the jeep and started to bounce our way along the road, or what passed for a road, out of the village. If ever there was a reason for wearing a sports bra, the roads in Madhya Pradesh were it.  Some of the locals had started making their way back home either on foot or on rickety bikes. Dust flew, dogs chased the jeep, barking at the wheels.  I was still smiling inanely.

‘What’s got you all smiley?’ he asked.

‘Just being here, jungle living, new experiences, away from the rat race, I just love it. I had no idea before I came out, but it’s just well, just great. I am so happy I came.’ And I realised that today had been fun like most days here, but what had made this one special was having someone to share it with.

He smiled, ‘I am glad, it’s not easy to make such a drastic change to your life and not feel any regrets.’

‘Well, as of now, I don’t have a single one.’

‘Glad to hear it, he said, now, hold on, time to pick up some speed, I want to show you something on the way home.’

I pulled my hat down over my face, put sunglasses on and sunk as low down in the seat as I could to avoid the worst of the dust. Abishek was concentrating on the road and I was left alone with my thoughts. I really was happy, yes there were times when I did feel lonely but, generally speaking, I felt more alive than I had in years.

After forty minutes or so, we came to the crossing point of the Banjar River. No fancy bridges or ferries, just a section where it was possible to drive across the river bed. We put the jeep in four wheel drive and crashed through, spraying water up the sides and we emerged on the other side considerably drier than the guys in the back. At the far side, Abishek pulled over to one side and parked on a small section of beach.

‘Right, come on,’ we jumped out of the Jeep and I followed him upstream.

‘Where are we going?’

‘Impatient aren’t we? You will find out when we get there.’

‘Ahh, a man of mystery!’

He grinned at me and we set off clambering along the banks of the river until we came to a beautiful section which was scattered with huge boulders forming mini waterfalls and rock pools. A troop of langur monkeys had taken up residence on one boulder, and they were grooming each other, whilst soaking up the sun whose rays were dancing down between the branches of the overhanging trees. Birds were singing in the boughs and a hundred metres further down, two local men were trying their hand at fishing in one of the pools. It was breath-taking, beautiful and peaceful, the only sounds were those of the forest.

‘Wow, this is gorgeous, one of your best kept secrets?’

‘For now, but not for much longer, this is the land I have just bought. The river here forms its boundary, so I guess this is now officially the river at the bottom of my garden.’

‘Oh my God, you’re kidding? It’s stunning, lucky you.’

He smiled, ‘Isn’t it?’

‘No wonder you have been spending so much time over here, I would have wanted to hang around to make sure I secured this plot too.’

‘Well, I may have had other reasons for hanging around too.’

I looked at him quizzically but fortunately I was prevented from answering by the arrival of the boys from the Jeep who, finding a flat spot, in the sun, proceeded to spread a blanket, carefully placed a few bolster cushions around and laid out plates, cups with saucers, cutlery, snacks, pastries, tea and coffee and cloth napkins.

‘Come, let’s sit. Are you happy with tea or coffee, I did also bring cool box with beer if you would rather.’

‘Oh my God, you have just got to love India, you only have to think about having a picnic and the next minute you have a team of people preparing it all for you. Have you any idea how much more difficult it is to do this in England? I really could get used to this life.  Tea is fine, not much sugar though.’

We sat down on the rug and I leant back and luxuriated against the cushions, stretching out and looking up at the clear blue sky visible through the trees.

Abishek indicated to the staff to pour the tea. ‘It’s not a bad life, that’s for sure. So, you’re not missing England then?’

‘Nope, not even slightly. Look at all this, how could I?’

‘I love it here but I am from here, well, near enough, don’t you miss anything from London?’

I paused to take a cup which one of the boys was handing to me.

‘No, do you know, I really don’t. It’s not the first time I have lived overseas and I just seem to click with wherever I am.  But, if I had to really think about it, maybe parmesan cheese and prawn cocktail Walkers crisps, but other than that, no.  I’ve never really been a London girl anyway, I love the outdoors too much. Moving there was a needs-must scenario rather than a love of the Big City.’

‘So, do you think you will go back at the end of the season?’

‘That’s supposed to be the plan, but I have never been one for sticking to plans. Not sure what I’d do though. When does the season end here, June? I still have time to think about it. So, when do you think you will start work on this place?’

‘It’s never that easy here, paperwork and then designs and building, the logistics will not be easy and then there are the officials to deal with, who will all want their share.  It will take time, but this is India, no use trying to rush things.’

‘I’m beginning to see that, India seems to work at its own pace, if you try and push it, it seems to push back.’

‘You are absolutely right, you are certainly a quick learner.’

I smiled, ‘Thanks. But tell me, doesn’t your uncle mind you setting up in competition with him?’

‘Probably, but all’s fair in love and war. I believe competition is healthy.’

‘There is that, as long as he agrees, but don’t you think that there are too many lodges opening up here already? Seven new ones have opened just for this season and most of them with no thought for the environment or locals. Concrete monstrosities, blocking up streams, one guy has even bought a plot with the village pump in it and walled it off so the villagers have to walk an extra 2kms to get their water – bloody people cashing in on the tiger rather than considering the eco implications and giving no thought to the local population, it’s outrageous!’

I got to my feet and started to pace up and down, as I got into my stride. ‘There should be some control over land sales and planning.  Have you seen the overcrowding in the park? The numbers of jeeps, those poor poor tigers are hounded and don’t even get me onto the tiger shows, and what about the tribals trying to eke out a living in the buffer zone, what are they meant to do?’ I paused as he grinned up at me and then another thought occurred to me, ‘You aren’t going to put in a swimming pool are you? The amount of hotels here with pools is appalling! The water is running  in our low well already this year, and Puneeta says that has never happened before, even by the end of the season.’

‘Ok, ok, slow down!’ Abishek, still sitting, held his hands in supplication as I stood over him, ‘Turning into quite the eco warrior aren’t you? In terms of the tribals, they are not living on this land anyway, so it’s not like I am displacing them and I will look to employ as many as possible. No, I won’t be building a pool, in any case, apart from the ecological implications, it’s too cold for most of the season to use it; a waste of time, money and resources, unless you are aiming for the domestic market, and I am not.’

‘And the overcrowding of the jeeps in the park?’

‘That is something I can’t do anything about.  Maybe the forest department will wise up and implement compulsory zoning like in Bandhavgarh.’

‘Well it’s a shame it has to come to that.’ I harrumphed.

‘It is, but it is a fact of life here.  There are zoning regulations and building regulations but this is India and so there are always ways around things. There are people who have devoted their lives to wildlife and its conservation who have lodges, and run them with good eco practises and they should be the ones which are promoted. But, we can’t stop the other guys, they are the ones with the money and they can bribe whoever they want and have bigger budgets for marketing. It’s sad but true.’

‘But there has to be something that can be done! Everything suffers as a result.’

‘I love your passion and it is great that you have seen first-hand what happens here.  But, it is a fact that the healthiest tiger populations are within the parks, and you seem to forget that you are also here running a lodge.’

‘Yes, but it is the most eco-friendly lodge in the whole park and we don’t promote tiger shows and we limit our impact whilst doing what we can to save the tiger and work with the locals.’

‘Now that’s a bold statement!’

‘But one I believe in. It’s the numbers of new lodges coming up and lack of planning that bothers me.’

‘To be fair, you’re right, Puneeta and Krishnan are probably the best around at the moment and they really do care.’

‘There you go, you see. I tell you, after what I have seen here this season, there are a lot of lodges that I most certainly will not be promoting when I go back to London, if I go back.’

‘Well that’s great, good to know you are on our side.  So will you be promoting mine?’

I glanced around me, ‘Well, with a location like this, it does stand a chance, but it very much depends on your building practices and the rest before I will pass it for approval.’ I shook my finger at him, a hint of a smirk in place.

‘No favouritism with you eh?’

‘Absolutely not, why should there be? You either have a good eco-friendly product with a high standard of accommodation or you don’t, simple as.’

‘Well, hopefully it will pass your exacting standards and if not, I will try to persuade you in other ways.’

I deliberately ignored his innuendo, ‘I’ll have you know I am a very tough customer.’

‘I know. You forget that you’re reputation precedes you, my dear. Now sit back down and drink your chai.’

I laughed, ‘Am I known as that much of an ogre?’

‘No, not an ogre at all, everyone respects you, but they know that you do have very high standards, and aren’t afraid to speak your mind.’

‘Well, good, you don’t get to have a reputation and the type of clients we had at Indian Experiences without having exacting standards. I have always preferred to tell a hotelier if something is wrong so that they have the chance to put it right, rather than walk away and never use the property.’

‘Quite right. Now stop pacing around like a startled deer and come and have some chai.’  I took a seat and the chai but was not prepared to give up on my rant.

‘Just being here and spending time to see how things operate, I’ve seen a very different view on tourism from how I thought things worked when I was in the UK. I had always been in favour of tiger shows, I mean, people come here and want to see tigers, but now that I have seen just how appalling they are, I certainly won’t be encouraging them.  At the camp we try and encourage to see tigers naturally for their first couple of days and only rely on the tiger show as a last resort. I can’t believe that certain companies get away with selling holidays with guaranteed tiger sightings.  I mean if people go to Africa to see the Big 5 and don’t manage it, they have to go back again. These poor tigers just get hounded, it’s criminal.’

‘You’re right, they are bad. It’s all born out of greed with no thought as to the impact on the actual wildlife. The companies in the UK want the business so sell tiger sightings as guaranteed. You can’t blame the mahouts, they earn very little and so can really boost their income by taking clients on the elephants up close to get their photograph. As you know, many of the new lodges are run by businessmen who just cash in on the tigers rather than trying to also be conservationists. They are happy to promote the tiger shows and have their clients going back having seen tigers, it brings them in more business.’

‘Well, it’s a crime.  I had clients last week who insisted on doing a tiger show on day one of their stay and it happened to be a weekend and the park was heaving. It was a narrow track and it was packed with jeeps all full of people waiting for their elephant ride, making so much noise, the drivers and guides weren’t doing anything to make them be quiet.  The tiger was the mother with cubs and she had a kill but the elephants were blocking her in, she had obviously hidden the cubs away somewhere, but couldn’t get back to them and was getting distressed. It was so sad to see, all because people insist on having a close up photo of the tiger.  My clients ended up in tears and we left without the tiger show.’

‘I know Jo, we all know about this but what can be done?’

‘Something surely! Have you heard of the new charity TOfT?  I did some stuff with them in their initial stages in the UK.  They have an amazing vision to really improve the wildlife experience.  They have started programs to educate lodge owners, inbound ground handlers and overseas tour operators on good eco tourism practises, let’s hope that it starts to have some impact soon.’

‘Yes, they are doing great work which will hopefully start to have an impact. It’s good that they are trying to work with all the lodges too, not just the ones who are already doing most things right. Anyway, enough about work. Will any of your friends or family visit whilst you are here?’

‘Family no, they aren’t really India type people. I’m not sure about friends, the Yank sent an email a few days ago to say he was on his way but didn’t give any dates.’

‘Who is the Yank?

‘The guy I was seeing back home.’

‘He can’t have been happy about you coming out here? Didn’t he want to come with you?

‘Yes, no, well, kind of.’

‘That sounds like you aren’t really very sure. Did his job prevent him from coming?’

‘No, not really, he has just retired, not that he’s ancient, but fancied a change after twenty years in the airforce, so….. well, but, well, let’s just say it’s been a bit complicated.  One of the reasons I am here is to get away from it all for a while and think about things. Anyway he has sent an email saying he is thinking about coming out for a couple of weeks; I’m not sure whether or not I am ready for that.’

‘Well I am not surprised he is on his way, he must be an idiot to let you out of his sight for six months.’

I smiled sadly, ‘I am not sure he shares your opinion.’

‘Well that settles it, he is definitely an idiot.  Is he coming because he thinks you may not go back and so is coming to collect you?’

I ignored the complement, not being used to them.

‘No, he doesn’t know yet, we haven’t really been in touch since I got here. Like I said, it’s a bit complicated.  Anyway, enough about me.’

This was my time to fish and I decided to play dumb, ‘Aren’t you married?’

‘Wow, that was direct.’

‘It’s a standard Indian question, I get it daily.’

‘Fair point, but in answer to your question, no, not yet.’

‘Oh, how come? Shouldn’t your parents have had you married off by now?’

‘Yes, I won’t introduce you to them if you are of that opinion, you will get on like a house on fire. Believe me, they have been trying for years to find me a suitable bride, but I don’t think I am the arranged marriage kind and they don’t seem to like the girls I choose for myself. The last time I was home, they tried to spring another match on me, I had to climb out of the bedroom window and run off up the street.’

‘You’re kidding?’ Visions of him sprinting up the street as the aunties watched horrified from the living room window had me laughing out loud. ‘I didn’t think that respect for your elders or parents or the system or whatever it is that governs such things here would allow for such behaviour. How old are you anyway?’

‘Another direct hit. Thirty six, yes I know, old enough to have been married for at least ten years and have had a couple of kids. But, I would rather find my own match, and my parents are slowly starting to accept that. I believe in love.’

‘How terribly romantic of you.’

‘I am, very much so, aren’t you?’

‘I have had a few too many bad experiences to believe in love, I am turning, or rather have been turned into a bit of a cynic I am afraid.’

‘That’s a shame.’

‘Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, being here is far too exciting and throwing up far too many adventures for me to worry about all that. I intend to enjoy every minute of it and I will worry about Yank if and when he gets here.’

‘That sounds like a good idea.’

‘So, are you still planning on heading back to Bandhavgarh tomorrow?’

‘Yes, I‘ve done as much here as I can for the moment,’

Despite myself, I felt a pang of disappointment.

‘I have work to do in Bandhavgarh, an existing lodge to manage. We’re full next week and lots to start arranging for this place.  I have to meet with some architects I’ve invited, and then there are some VIP guests arriving from Delhi who I need to be there for.’

‘VIP’s eh, how very swanky,’ I joked and tried not to look too despondent.

‘Listen, why don’t you come over for a couple of days?’

‘Nice idea, but I am meant to be working you know, life can’t all be about safaris, and picnic jaunts and drinking with your uncle. Apart from anything else, I would feel a bit cheeky asking Puneeta for time off.’

‘Well, see if you can make it. It would be good for you to see the lodges over there for your report for John wouldn’t it? I’m sure Puneeta won’t mind sparing you for a couple of days over the next week or so. It’s a very different park and I would love to show you around.’

 

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