It definitely didn't feel like a forest in November.
The smell, the colour, the sound, the moisture – nothing fit. For a November morning, it was wetter and more verdant.
The last rain should have been over weeks ago, and the earth should have turned dry by now. The soil much more loose. And the leaves should have started looking paler and also a lot of them should be drifting down.
It was the time of year when the forest floor should start forming a carpet of yellow and red leaves that are no more wanted on the branches. The signs of life's longing for change.
The streams were strangely alive at this time and meandering through the forest. If you stopped for a moment and cocked your ears, you could definitely hear that unmistakable trickling sound of the stream flowing in some part of the forest.
You sat down and watched the streams closely. The shadowy heaven of rustling Chambal leaves had cast strange and iridescent reflections on the thin sheet of water, sometimes blue and green and yet sometimes as bright as pure gold. The water looked smooth like a pane of glass.. You dip your finger and the stillness is broken. Clouds of mud slowly mix with the water, turning it dark brown, where vision gets lost.
And there, wriggling around, were small dun-coloured fish. So small that you might miss them for tadpoles. You try to touch them and then the real tadpoles scamper around from under the rocks. Small golden adult frogs float still on the water and skitter who knows where when your shadow falls on the water.
You trek along the stream, crossing and re-crossing it over and over again. There are pebbles and small rocks that you can step on and hop across the water if you do not want to get your shoes soaked. A pale leaf might get stuck to the sole of your shoe that by now must be looking darker with moisture.
For a November forest, it was strangely quiet today. No susurration of the cicadas; their loud, piercing trills can sometimes drive you crazy. But not this time. No ticks to sting you to painful swellings. And no leeches too. And that is really strange.
The moist earth should have given the leeches more time to suck blood before going underground for the winter. Blood makes them fertile and ready to breed.
Some leeches forget that the earth's moisture has vanished before they can satisfy their appetite. These greedy leeches definitely get stuck on the ground and die as the winter chill descends.
But this year it seems they have had enough of food and have gone underground, satisfied.
As you walk along, the emerald light seeping through the leafy canopy submerges you. You find a shaded clearing where you sit on a fallen trunk.
The difference you can notice immediately.
Here hundreds of birds are chirping. Here the forest is a humming symphony of bird songs. The leaf-birds, the flower-peckers, the warblers, all the small birds, dancing from leaf to leaf, branch to branch.
This is how the forest is. For a long stretch you see nothing and then you find the partying. And literally they hold hunting parties.
It is a strange and beautiful experience to see birds in hunting parties. Birds of various species cooperate with each other and prey on insects. One kind prey on the upper canopy, another at mid level and yet some more at the bottom. One group eats and drives the insects to the other group, and together they help each other and hold the feast.
The fallen trunk I was sitting on felt fluffy. I knocked on it, and it sounded hollow.
I picked at the bark and softly peeled a part. The inside looked like a chocolate brownie – deep brown and covered with fine white tentacles like icing sugar. Fungus was growing there, taking root in the rotting branch soaked with moisture.
Then one day, the trunk will disintegrate and fall to the ground, mixing the earth with rich biomass, the elixir of life. That's how the forest gets rejuvenated. Over and over.
Plants were growing on the trunk. Birds must have transported the seeds from some high trees. Life being created on the dead.
I walked along and looked up. The gigantic ferns spread their green branches with all glory and love. They looked verdant against the light.
Have we not stood in absorbed quietness under such a fern on a monsoon evening, listening to the big raindrops splashing around us? Have we not seen ants running up and down the stems of the plants, collecting leaves for their future? Have we not felt nothing but our presence in the universe under the gathering gloom of the evening? Have we not heard the sudden flapping of a large bird going somewhere inside the thicket?
But on this day, there was no rain as I stood still, just as I did on other days, watching the same ants with the same raptness. I could still hear the sudden flurry of the wings.
It was then that the frogs started croaking.