The story is set in a sparsely populated tract of the heavily forested foothills of the Himalayas: an area that lies roughly between India and Nepal and in places is virtually untouched. The ‘Forest People’ of this area have minimal contact with the outside world and dwell all their lives in the forest living off its produce. These are the ‘Wild Honey Gatherers’ – a race almost extinct – they have strange ways and are rumored to possess the ability to communicate with birds and beasts. When encountered they fade into the forest shadows. Village people give them a wide berth fearing the strange occult or shaman powers they possess. ‘The forest Spirits protect them’ is a widely held belief.
This story is about one such family … its secrets, its mystical powers, and its accord with nature.
Sometimes, rather exceptionally – nature allows a forest meadow to exist amidst an otherwise thick, teeming, stand of tall trees and dense undergrowth. In just such a natural clearing lived a family of Wild Honey Gatherers.
A bamboo and grass hut stood next to a tall, white-barked Simul (Indian cotton) tree - a tree that produces bright-red, large, attractive flowers which once set, give forth pods of cotton that burst in the baking sun releasing wispy cotton that floats far and wide. Wild honeybees inexplicably find the capacious leafless boughs of the simul tree an irresistible attraction to mould their large, pendulous hives high above the forest floor; safe from ground animals, but exposed to attacks from the air.
Hawks often attacked these hives that are bursting with sweet nectar; tearing chunks of honeycomb oozing with honey that they eat on the wing. The aggrieved bees angry and in retaliation, swarm and sweep through the forest buzzing with red hot wrath looking for the enemy that has raided their bastion and spilt their precious honey wastefully to the forest floor. Innocent rodents or small deer unable to out run the swarm die painfully; bloated with poison from myriad stings.
Experience and instinct taught the young honey gathering couple when to milk the hives: left too late, the bee larvae would consume the honey; too early, and the harvest would be poor.
Peri: petite, fine brown skin, bright eyes, observant, lively, agile, and strong (from all the tree climbing), went bare chested with a girdle of leaves around her waist. Ramu, her husband, muscled and strong, too went bare bodied.
Ramu’s parents did not return at the close of day one late afternoon. He waited for them for three agonizing and lonely days, sitting under a Ficus peepul watching the sun traverse the sky until hunger drove him to forage for wild berries. He was reluctant to venture far in case he missed their return.
Seasons changed – the hot period blowing sultry winds rustling through the trees merged with moisture laden heavier winds bringing drenching rains and relief. Cold crisp winters laid mists carpeting the ground that only lifted with the burst of spring that ignited the forest with flowers and fat juicy berries – yet his parents did not return. He doggedly searched for them, now venturing afar… to distant unfamiliar regions.