Sick in the jungle
How Maoists came to the rescue in Chhattisgarh
In August-September 2010, during the peak of monsoon in the Deccan Plateau, my friend Rukmini Sen and I were invited by some Maoists to visit their military camps in south Chhattisgarh. The stay was initially planned for 60 days to enable us to cover as much of the massive area spread across 30,000 sq. km as we could.
It was around eight in the evening during the third week of our stay when we reached Takilore, a sleepy village by the Indravati river. Braving heavy rain, the villagers came to us with lists of their relatives who, they said, had been killed by the security forces. A woman in her late twenties, Jaymoti, gave a detailed account of her tragedy. The police came in the early hours of February 3 to “take” her “husband away”, she said, only to hand over his body later. Then came Bhima and Rukhmati, then Mangri, and they all said their husbands were “taken away alive but returned dead”. I slowly lost the narrative and stopped differentiating one tragedy from another as I started shivering and soon collapsed.
In the middle of the night, when I woke up, I saw pouring rain outside our plastic sheet tent. Inside, Maoist guerrillas were sleeping next to me with their AK-47s resting calmly next to us. I could concentrate enough to see through the darkness surrounding the camp the contours of trees swinging wildly in the middle of that alien forest. As I shivered and my body ached, I felt, for the first and only time in my reporting career, that I would not be returning home from the forest.
I imagined all the happy moments of my life and told Rukmini that I was “passing away”. She said that she had had a word with the top Maoist commander who had assured her that what I had was “simple malaria”.
“You will survive,” she said. More people die of malaria than conflict in Chhattisgarh, I replied.
Next morning, the Maoists gave me paracetamol and a very strong quinine tablet that made me sweat profusely. They suggested that I cut my trip short. In two days, we started moving towards the highway that was south of the Indravati river to leave the area. “Keep having this,” said a Maoist, handing over foils carrying Crocin and the green quinine tablets that were sapping my energy.
But I survived thanks to the commander who correctly diagnosed malaria without carrying out any tests. The commander later left Chhattisgarh to start a family in Telangana, while I joined this newspaper to report from the same alien forest in 2012.