"I am going in. If I don't come back within an hour, call my parents! Hope to see you soon."
"Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, it is illegal to trespass in this area of the forest. If the Forest Rangers or the Police catches you, you will be jailed for a very long time."
"I know Aakash, but this is my only chance to get a photograph of the Great Indian Rhinoceros. If I don't get it in by Monday, my boss will kill me!"
Before he could say anything, I was up and over the fence, into the deep, lush green forest. I inhaled the fresh air. It smelled like the smell of Earth after a good pour. A smile reigned my face.
I walked on, trying to figure out which way to turn and where to go. As I wandered through the lean walking trail before me, I sensed someone following me. Or was it someTHING?
I picked up my pace and continued walking faster and faster, into the forest. I soon came face to face with a giraffe. A giraffe! In India! That was strange. I was sure something was fishy. I decided to investigate further.
The fallen leaves creaked as I moved ahead. They made a weird noise, seeing that they weren't dry leaves, but green ones. I made sure that I proceeded with caution, so that no one or no animal hears me approaching.
A little further, I saw a car, in the midst of this jungle, that too in a restricted area. Who could gain access to this area?
Only one name ringed a bell in my mind - The Sarpanch (political head of a village in India). I kept walking towards the car, making sure that I hid in the bushes to not let the goons standing beside Radheshyam (the sarpanch) see me.
I saw some goons trying to unload what looked like a bunch of monkeys, gorillas to be exact. I pretty soon realized what was happening. Radheshyam was either importing or exporting these innocent animals in the black market.
I knew what I was about to do was wrong, very wrong, but I had no option left. I had to expose Radheshyam.
I took out my camera from the bag hanging for its life on my back and adjusted its lens. Fortunately, I had brought a green camera which camouflaged exactly with the forest surroundings. I made sure that the flash was turned off and then, Snap! I had done it. I had taken the photo. I was about to turn back and head straight for the nearby police station, when I realized one very important thing - I had taken a photo of Radheshyam smuggling animals in the forest IN THE RESTRICTED AREA. There was no chance that the police would spare me. Even if they would believe my photo, they would surely not let me just whizz by without any investigation as to why I was there.
So, I made up my mind to do go into the forest and do what I had initially come to do - take photos of the Great Indian Rhino. I would then avoid the passage where I came from and never think about it again. It was wrong, but, that was my plan.
Pretty soon, I found a water hole where I saw two Rhinos, quenching their thirst. I held my camera and clicked their photo. I checked it.
'A perfect shot!' I thought to myself.
I was about to head back when I saw a goon in front of me and made a rookie mistake from a sleuth movie - I yelled for help. All the goons who were in the nearby area heard and surrounded me. I was sure that I was going to die.
Radheshyam entered the scene. He said, "Oh my my! Let's see who this is, Jai Singh. What are you doing here?"
"I...I am here to click pictures of the Great Indian Rhino, for the magazine I work for."
"Well, Jai Singh, you chose the wrong day to click its photos. I have just brought these animals from Africa and now I am going to sell them to a potential buyer in South America. It is the most promising order I have ever received. Thanks to you, now I will have to cancel this order, and you will rot in the jail."
"What will you say to the authorities, when you turn me in?"
"Oh I have the PERFECT STORY. Just think, Jai Singh, what would everyone say when I tell this to them, 'I saw a figure in the forest, in the restricted area, while I was taking a walk. I asked my men to go in and search. They found a man, but when I saw him, I received a terrible shock. Jai Singh, the most disciplined and honorable man in the village turned out to be a trespasser AND an animal smuggler. Please, take this man away from my eyes. He deserves to be hanged for this offence.'"
"And what about these animals? The police will do a thorough investigation of the forest. and find these animals here. They will then surely turn them in to some zoo or their natural habitat. What will you do then?"
I had struck the right chord. Radheshyam appeared worried. He thought for a moment and then took out his phone. He kept on talking to someone for about half an hour, while I was tied by his goons to an enormous Banyan tree.
After putting the phone down, Radheshyam signaled his goons to let me free while he said, "I've talked to my companions, I will let you free, provided you don't talk about this with anyone."
"What's in it for me?"
"Is being a free man not enough?"
"The world doesn't work on freedom."
"Fine. The South American dealer will come here on Wednesday, at 4 p.m. Till then you keep quiet. I will pay you 10 lakh Rupees (about $13,660)."
After this conversation, I was respectably shown the 'secret' way out of the forest by the goons.
I went back home and emailed my Rhino photo to my boss. That night, I slept soundly, thinking that my job was safe.
Today was the day when the South American dealer would come to our village and buy the animals. At 3:30, some goons (disguised as normal villagers) came home to get me. After frisking me, they led the way to a van and I was soon transported to the trading site.
I was not allowed to leave the vehicle while the deal was going on. At the back of my mind, I was thinking, 'Why am I doing this? Probably to save myself. I don't know, isn't it wrong to be a part of this, an animal smuggling?' Well, nonetheless, the deal was done and I was asked to step out.
I was about to receive my payment, when we heard sirens. Police!
Everyone began to run hether-tether, trying to save themselves, but all in vain. The police had surrounded us. There was no way out. The policemen were intelligent enough to gather all the information by just looking at the scene. They started arresting everyone, starting with Radheshyam and the South American dealer. Soon, everyone was under arrest, including me.
I knew I had done a wrong deed, trying to be smart by making quick money instead of doing the right thing.
Then, a man stepped out of the police jeep, just as everyone was being rounded up. His face was hidden with the shadow of his cap. None of us could see him. He went over to the nearest police officer and pointed towards me, while saying something.
I smiled a triumphant smile. In a jiffy, an officer came towards me and took off my handcuffs. I was free. Seeing this, Radheshyam protested, "Why are you letting him go? He was also involved in this!"
I gave him a look. How can someone be so criminally inclined, yet so naïve!!
"Radheshyam, I had asked the police to come here to arrest you. I was working with them the whole while. I asked them to arrest you the day we met, but they insisted on waiting for the right moment and arresting the South American smuggler too, in one go. You see, I double crossed you." I gave him a sinister laugh.
~A MONTH LATER~
"Oh my God! I've been promoted! Aakash, I've now been promoted to the Head Editor of the Indian division of our magazine. I can't believe it. People liked my article on Radheshyam's misdeeds so much that they decided to promote me right up to the top!!! I can't believe it. Cheery on top, my Rhino photo article didn't attract as much attention, so I will not be going to the jail anytime in the future!"