The Great White Hunt : Sahdev ‘Dodi’ Bansal

The Great Brown Hunt would be more appropriate. One Saturday evening the graceful ladies of Kharagpur were not available for wining and dining due to some religious commitments. Tota Sidhu, Tidda Sawhney, Ravi Bedi and myself landed up at the Mess bar for some serious drinking. Ravi was the Sqn armt offr while the rest were Bulls Sqn jockeys. Handsome Ravi , a BE from BHU , an artist and an instrumentalist par excellence, I always wondered what he was doing with ruffians like us. But there we were.Tota who had hardly anything to contribute while discussions were on between Tidda and the graceful ladies of Kharagpur regarding latest fashion trends in Oxford Street, London, was a different man that evening. With wide gesturing of his hands and big rotating eyes he started telling us about some of his  hunting trips. He had shot wild animals of all size, big and small, felines, wild boars, deers and all sorts of game birds. He even apologised for near extinction of the Monal , a very graceful pheasant from the Sub Himalayan region, the Kalgi of this bird adorns the caps of the high and mighty in Himachal. Always expect the unexpected in a shoot, he said . Once when he shot a pair of Brahmini ducks, our winter visitors from Siberia, his friend went to retrieve the birds and was almost killed by a wild boar who was doing his own bird watching and did not appreciate any interference. Junglee murgee is maha badmash, he said. It is extremely wary and very difficult to shoot. I asked if the junglee murgee was more badmash than the murga unlike the other species. Ha ha ha ha guffawed, Tidda and Ravi echoed. Shooters are normally not gender biased. When he said murgee, he meant both murga and murgee.

 Beak nosed Tota who became Panchi when he shifted to a better ac (the Marut of course!) had a habit of continuously twirling his moustache  and also throwing air from his lower lip toward, it making a pleasant phur phur sound . Since no proper word could be found to describe this, we called it phurphuring. Now with all this blood and gore and phurphuring, the atmosphere became electric . Even my bania blood started boiling. It was decided to go for a shoot next morning. Logistics problems arose. Ravi would get the gun and the ammo out of the armoury. A jeep was the major hassle. You could send a Dakota to fetch fish from Jamnagar but to get a jeep was like CAS having to personally ask the Supreme Commander . Roly poly, dark and paan-chewing civ GE, Mr Srivastava, was spotted having rum pani in a quiet corner of the bar. Tota asked him to come over for a drink. The GE almost choked on his drink and came on all four . Such was the aura of Tota. Rum pani was ordered. Tota told GE that we are going for a bird shoot next morning. All other arrangements had been made. He would be required to procure a jeep. GE immediately ordered a jeep with two extra jerry cans of fuel, serviceable spare tyre, covers removed, wind shield lowered, to be positioned at 0430h, driver not required.
We were picked up at 0440 from the mess. I noticed a tiffin box. Remember to thank Mrs Srivastava on return. It turned out that the tiffin contained 25 paans for the GE. No need for thanks on return. Seating plan: GE on the wheel, Tota in the left front seat with the gun, Tidda in between on the gear lever, jerry cans, spare tyre, Ravi and self at the back. Weather in Chota Nagpur Pathar in March with high temp and high humidity is cauldronish. Early morning it is a warm cauldron and after 0800 it becomes a hot cauldron. Till 0900 nothing was spotted. Maybe the birds were also busy in some religious commitments of their own. Tota started blaming the tribals for complete deforestation of Chota Nagpur Pathar. All trees had been cut to satisfy their greedy needs of cooking food. I almost told him that WB govt had made no serious efforts to provide piped gas to these fellas but kept it to myself since Tota had the gun. Suddenly Bang! A jungle crow who was having late breakfast on a jungle rat got it in the neck at an unbelievably far off range. I almost jumped out to retrieve the bird but Tota told me to forget it. Seating plan changed. Ravi on the wheel, Mr Srivastava in the left front with the gun,Tota and Tidda joining the jerrycans, spare tyre and me at the back. We started back.
Suddenly there was a massive Shhhhhhhhhhhhh from  Mr Srivastava. That startled us all since we were already dead silent. Ravi stalled the engine and stopped the jeep quickly. A small petite Bengali dove was spotted 10 yards away. Mr Srivastava got out of the jeep and started making cochee cochee sounds simultaneously clicking his thumb and forefinger. Lots of love talk took place between them and the dove finally squatted to enjoy a peaceful morning love session. But Mr Srivastava was in no mood. He raised the gun and Bang  Bang or rather bangbang. Both barrels fired simultaneously. Then I saw Mr Srivastava running back towards the jeep. Oh! Had the unexpected happened? No ferocious animals were spotted. Turned out that it was merely an action – reaction jig .  Still nothing for me to retrieve. Nobody cares to use dove feathers in their cap. Journey continued homewards.
At a distance I observed a mound of mud directly in our path, the type of mound that builds up when the track is used by trucks and the ground is wet. I tapped Ravi to slow down and detour. What Ravi did was to press the accelerator and next we found ourself on top of the mound with all four wheels in the air, freewheeling. Mr Srivastava jumped out with gun pointing downwards to see the damage to the jeep. Bangbang! Both barrels fired simultaneously. Tota jumped out to see if the tyre was shot. I jumped out to see if Mr Srivastava had shot his toes. Ravi jumped out to snatch the gun from Mr Srivastava, dismantle it and hide the parts in the jeep. All five of us managed to physically lift the jeep off the mound. No damage. There was a stampede for seats at the back but Tota firmly told Tidda to give company to Mr Srivastava in front. I never knew that a gun could be broken up in so many  parts and I complimented Ravi . He lifted his tongue and showed me the firing pin hidden there.
Enroute it emerged that Mr Srivastava had never fired a gun in his life .He didn’t even know that it had two barrels , leave alone anything about two triggers. Ravi had never driven anything faster than a cycle .  By the time we hit the Guardroom,we were as dark as Mr Srivastava. It was THE GREAT BLACK SHOOT OF KALAIKUNDA . I was longing for our evening with the graceful ladies of Kharagpur .

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