Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gorillaland: A Jungle Odyssey (excerpt #4)

“General Nehru, sir!” cried a soldier, standing rigidly to attention just inside the entrance to the base’s large white mess tent, dressed in an Indian Army uniform and pale blue UN beret, and holding a satellite phone in his hand. “I have a call from Kinshasa, sir!”
“OK, I’m coming,” said General Nehru, wiping his moustache with a napkin and excusing himself from the officer’s table, where he had been enjoying a breakfast of chapatis and tea. He strode purposefully over to the enlisted man and took the receiver from his hand, thanking him. ”Hello,” he said cheerily. “Yes, I am he. Fine, thank you. Pleasure, I’m sure… Sorry, who? No, I had no idea he was coming to town. I see…Well, rest assured he will be well looked after by my blue helmets. What’s that? Am I coming to the tribunal? What tribunal?” The general, struggling to hear the caller’s next point over the din of the mess tent, stepped outside for a bit more quiet, but as he did Lieutenant-Major Dasgupta, who was also eating his breakfast at the officer’s table, looked cagily over his shoulder and strained to hear what his commander was saying. “Yes, I am fully aware of those allegations. They’re simply a load of rubbish...I can tell you this much right now, my soldiers are not involved in any such nonsense.”
“Involved in what?” wondered Dasgupta, looking around to see if any of the other officers at his table were paying any attention to the general’s phone call. They weren’t.
“Please, madam. The 57th Battalion is an upstanding unit of Indian peacekeepers. As their commanding officer I can vouch for their honour. I’m telling you, I am one hundred per cent certain none of my soldiers are involved. Why don’t you ask the Pakistanis?” There was a long delay during which the general listened to what the caller was saying, while nodding every which way and frantically twisting his moustache. “Has UN command gone stark raving mad?” he bellowed. “How can I be subpoenaed? I’m in the middle of a bloody war here, madam. My mandate is to protect these people here in Walikale, not to fly off to the capital to sit in bloody bastard tribunals…So now you’re accusing me of being involved in trading weapons for diamonds?” Disgusted, General Nehru ended the call and stormed back into the mess hall, shaking his head in astonishment.
“Trouble in Kinshasa?” asked Dasgupta, standing as the general retuned to the table.
“They’ve subpoenaed me to attend a bloody tribunal,” said Nehru, sitting himself back down at the table in a huff. “As if I don’t have enough bloody bastard problems on my bastard plate already. I really don’t have time to play silly buggers! Why didn’t any of you useless people tell me the Bishop of Bukavu was coming to Walikale?” After he’d calmed down a little, he caught the attention of the communications officer seated across from him and, while tucking back in to his chapatis, asked him, “Is it done?” The officer gave him an Indian nod to confirm that it was. “Good.”
Dasgupta eyed them suspiciously. “That reminds me,” he said, “the Chief Warden called again. He wants to know about joint patrols. He said he already discussed this with you, and that you thought it was a jolly good idea.”
“What joint patrols?” demanded the general with a mouthful of food.
“Joint patrols with the park rangers,” said Dasgupta, “to protect the gorillas.”
“You see, chaps,” said General Nehru, hastily swallowing his chapati, wiping his moustache and addressing the other officers at the table, with his arm outstretched, “now, you understand what we’re up against. Cosmo Zomba wa Zomba is in the jungle making festive decorations of innocent civilians, but the only thing these people care about is tribunals and saving bloody gorillas. Has the whole damn world gone stark raving mad?”

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