The Picture uploaded above was the Pamphlet being distributed by the Government to help manage the fire. Helpful, huh?
Anyway, my big firsthand lesson was that you fight fire with fire.
We had set the forest below the road on fire in an attempt to control the oncoming flames. In just minutes the entire forest downhill from the road was burnt or ablaze – and the fire had been cut-off at the road. It seemed to have stopped its forward movement.
Since this front seemed well manned (apologies to all feminists but “personned” just doesn’t work for me) and under control, I headed to Sushil’s house. A bunch of volunteers and visitors had all come together and were fighting the fire together. They had the advantage of access to a natural spring: water. I joined in the efforts and we were able to put out the fire all along a jungle path. Except a small section of the fire that had spread into a forest down from the path which was a sheer drop – too steep to go down and fight. Powerless, we saw it spreading slowly, steadily into the valley below. We threw a few mugs of water at it. If a fire could’ve laughed at us, it would’ve. Across on the other side of the same valley was another house. We could see that the fire would eventually find its way there. (It did later in the night, but was contained by Sushil & co). That was when I realized how difficult it actually was to put a fire out. You have to put it out in all directions. Even if you could not see the end of the fire, you had to find it, and then put both ends out. Otherwise it just circles back around the fire line and catches up.
Hungry and tired, I headed to Sonapani hoping to find some food. Vandita – my wife – had already left to be with the kids. At Sonapani a remarkably non-chalant Deepa was discussing handicrafts and showing her hand-painted T-shirts (which are pretty awesome) to some guests. Naïve, I didn’t realize she was – rightly – trying to keep the guests mind off the fires. I could see two fires in the distance, and now in the dark they looked particularly ominous. I knew her crew was out fighting one fire but wasn’t sure they knew of the other one, which was off to a side. I jumped on the parapet and started pointing to them and talking about them. Through gritted teeth Deepa told me to tone down my non-stop gibberish about fighting the fire (while she quietly called her team and told them to head to the second fire).
I finally got a bite to eat, and called Sushil to check how things were going. Predictably, he said the fire was back on. I was dog tired – it had been a long day. A non-smoker, I felt like I had smoked a thousand cigarettes in one evening. But I figured one last visit was okay so headed to Sushil’s. The fire we thought we had put out was back on and closer to the house. We had a pipe with running water and buckets, and one by one doused the two fronts on which we were fighting the fire. The shell-shocked volunteers were city folk who had come to holiday or to volunteer at Aarohi. Some looked decidedly at-risk as they teetered up scrubby, pathless slopes lugging buckets in the darkness in their delicate city shoes. They had come expecting to have a relaxed holiday or some easy travel, and instead were pitted against forest fires in the dark with torches, headlamps and buckets of water to lug.
No frying pans and, suddenly, fire.
Later one of them was to tell me how impressed they were that I turned up in the night and was carting buckets up and down. I had blushed right through my unfair & lovely cheeks.
Afterthought : I don’t think my effort actually made much of a difference to any of the fires. As a first timer I was learning on the job and making mistakes as I went. The bravado in the above article is largely to make myself feel important. One of the benefits of writing first-hand is that it is always your version. Ha.
Afterthought2 : They just released a podcast about me talking about writing. It’s always fun to hear people who know very little talk with much authority about something – just like this blog. Check it out at https://soundcloud.com/firstbookpodcast/chetan-mahajan-advice-on-how .