Grin and “Bear” it

People called him “Karadi Mathai”, the native variant for “Sloth Bear Mathew”. Mathai was a giant of a man towering well over the average man. With a booming voice and in his khaki uniform of a forest guard, he felt invincible and guarded the jungle check post jealously. Everyday, as usual, he would walk through the narrow roads of the Nilgiri hills, heading home after a laborious day of doing nothing but sitting on a wooden bench at the check post to open the barrier gate for the vehicles passing by.  Routinely, after the shift, he put on his thick coat and went to the local wine shop and got roaring drunk and whenever he was sober enough, he walked back to his hut in a small settlement on a hillock.

On this eventful day, he was staggering back to his village way past midnight, tapping his bamboo cane on the road, while walking through the foggy road that bordered the jungles of Wayanad, he was cursing and swearing at no one in particular, he felt the need to do so since he was a responsible forest guard and he had to show his authority to anything that moved. As he passed a particular bend, he noticed someone smoking, sitting on a stone a few feet away from the jungle trail. “Who goes there” he roared. On second thoughts, he thought it might be a good idea to chat up with someone on his otherwise lonely journey. He felt his pockets for a matchbox to light his beedi, but couldn’t find one. So he asked the person sitting a little away, “Hey! You got a match box, brother?”  Getting no reply from the stranger, Mathai’s temper shot up. How dare someone ignore the forest guard! He stormed up to the figure sitting on the stone and slapped him hard.

Now, the apparition that Mathai saw was not a man smoking a Beedi, but a sloth bear enjoying a ripe jack fruit. The bear, irritated at being disturbed during his favorite meal, pounced on Mathai biting and clawing him. Though he fought back furiously with his cane, perhaps due to the alcohol or the shock, Mathai passed out and the Bear left him for dead after a while. At dawn, battered and bruised, he was found unconscious, by the driver of the truck that carries milk to the neighboring town, who promptly admitted him to the local government hospital.

Mathai was more shaken than injured. He suffered a few gashes and bites, but regained consciousness and recovered quickly.  In his personal effects, they found a bottle of Rum tucked in the pocket of his coat. The doctor out of curiosity asked why didn’t Mathai defended himself with the bottle instead of the bamboo cane, since a broken bottle has sharp jarred edges, and is more effective than a cane. Mathai was annoyed at the doctor and refused to get treated at the hospital anymore, declaring the doctor was a quack. As he limped out of the hospital gate, he was heard swearing out loud “What blasphemy!  The incompetent doctor talks about breaking a bottle full of Rum”.

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