It was in the month of December 1990, early at dawn we got down at Jharsugordha Rail Station and crossed over the railway track sat in front of the GSI camp, mainly to collect tents etc for children camp being organized by YHA of South Calcutta. We started our journey with 02 full loaded trucks and a jeep to our destination, Sonaridungri. This was the outskirts of a small village, beside the pond area of Mahanadi Barrage. Sonaridungri means the golden rocky hill in Oriya language. We reached at about 04 pm in the evening and while unloading the trucks, suddenly a man and a child of about 06 years of age ran towards us, and in their local language they enquired about our arrival at that site. While my friends were erecting the tents for our night stay, I Ranajit Mitra started talking with the kid and his father who said that he was a daily labour. I assured him a job from the next day morning @Rs.25/- per day plus food with us. He was overwhelmed with this and I could see his tear filled eyes. This was an unexpected reward for him.
He cautioned us about ourselves about 02 dangers in the area, lakra (wolf according to him, which we discovered to be the striped Hyna) and Bhhoot (ghost), which we could not find at all. The next day morning the kid joined us, and as we had language barrier, we could not communicate properly with him, but I found that his name was LUKU. Somehow I realised that Luku was my friend and we shared biscuits and other snacks with him. While we continued the survey, Luku helped us by folding the ropes and tapes, while his father started working under the instruction of Chorda (Bidyut Sarkar) and Raja Paul.
I returned to the tent to prepare lunch for all and found that Luku has followed me. I confirmed his that he should also have lunch with us. Suddenly, he disappeared in the forests and returned after half an hour with handful of wild spinach and he insisted that we have this for lunch. At lunch we discovered that this was one of the most tasteful of food that we have ever had. Luku now was a friend of everyone in the team and would disappear in the forests and would come back with wild berries. The days passed by and on 25th Dec ember morning the children participants and instructors joined the camp and we became busy with the camp.
We the advance team always looked forward to Luku, who shy fully, somewhat afraid of the city children with good clothing, stayed at the corner of our tent. We tried our best to involve Luku with the children of the camp, but after a long effort he found a few friends among the participating children. Many of the senior girl participants organized some good clothes from the little boy participants for Luku, which he refused. Luku and his father never stayed in the camp at night as they believed they would be attacked by Lakra and Bhoot. Inspite of the children insisting Luku to have food with them, he would always eat at the end with us, the advance team.
Finally on 31st December, when we were winding up and the campers were boarding their bus, the advance team were to leave the camp in the last vehicle. Luku was around us and we found out an almost new and very colourful woollen sweater left by a camper which we handed over to Luku. He put it on and ran to the forests. He came back with handful of berries and eyes full of tears for us. As our vehicle started, we waved to Luku, he was too sad even to wave back and stood weeping, the small boy in the colourful sweater with forests & the setting sun in the backdrop.
The next few days, I could not be a part of any of my friend or family programs. Every year, towards the beginning the memories of Luku return as waves of the sea. Luku, I still remember you.
This article has been contributed by Ranajit Mitra. He has recently been felicitated by Government of West Bengal for his contribution to Children Nature Camps