Far from the Bay, along the foothills of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a few trees still stand tall and have witnessed hundreds of winters, summers and monsoons. Still they propel water with love to the village surrounded by their green turf, they provide shade while we chop them down into pieces; the trees offer us fruits to eat or give blossoms that add colour and fragrance to our horizons.
While searching for peace from the uncompassionate, unsafe, unyielding, unfair and urban means of city life, I wandered through the thin vegetation and empty hilltops. A few hours of constant ascends and descends later, I reached a lonesome village where a few families were living in harmony with nature.
After asking several questions and being gratified with our interest, the village headman accepted us with a hug. We sat under the shade of a tall Tamron tree, which spread its roots across the village compound like the piled up sliced-skin of a primal dinosaur.
As the day slipped by, the scarlet sun sank behind the wooded hills leaving a faded blue tone at the horizon. A Crested-serpent eagle perched on the top branch of a skeleton tree, forming an eccentric pattern against the fading light.
When the nocturnal owlets and nightjars were actively preying on hovering insects, the headman lit up the campfire under the Tamron tree. With his rookie Bangla, he wholeheartedly shared all the untold tales of his colourful childhood when elephants only passed through his village, paying a visit and not harming a soul.
It was only recently when the elephant herds had killed five of his villagers. He didn’t blame them; his thoughtful judgments were rather critical of our actions leading to the destruction of the hills by cutting and burning trees.
As I stepped out of the hut at dawn, it felt like the morning mist was mildly wiping my face with a holy grace. The Spangled Drongo flock flew towards the distant Red Silk Cotton tree to taste its honey hidden behind the soft-lipped flowers wearing red lipstick.
The sun rose above the hills, filtering the golden light through the leaves and the twigs. The villagers were already busy plugging winter crops and the children were slothfully gathering in the foreground to find warmth in the ascending sun.
As I walked towards the dark patch between two hills, a Red Junglefowl flushed from an abandoned paddy field and a gibbon called from the green hill. By then, the forest was wide awake; a flock of foraging Asian Fairy Blue bird captured my attention and as I looked through my binoculars, I was absolutely stunned to see a Binturong basking in the early morning sun!
My trip-mate Foysal was in tremors with sheer excitement at being able to catch a glimpse of the esoteric Binturong in such close proximity. I have always wanted to see a tiger in the wild but never thought that I would see the secretive Binturong in our land!
Although Bangladesh has been largely converted into a wasteland to gratify our greedy souls and hateful hearts, yet there are hidden pockets of surprise in every corner of the country. The sight of the vulnerable Binturong in a tiny patch in the hill tracts was magical for us and it was a great gift to us on Victory Day!
I headed back to the village with a delighted heart and told the headman about the hidden treasures of his jungle. While people in the cities were celebrating Victory Day, it was just another day in the village. They say they are still fighting to survive and freedom is not a known notion to them. There was nothing fake in their words like most of our cultured city-dwellers, but a different love for our land; a love that promises not to inflict pain on nature and rather thrives on mutual compassion for each other.
Photo: Binturong or Bear-cat, Eidgor, Chittagong Hill Tract.