As a filmmaker and author, Nidhie Sharma has made a career in writing and producing works of fiction. And now, she has come up with a memoir Invictus (Pan Macmillan India, Rs 399) recounting one of the most significant real-life episodes from her childhood – when she along with five other children got lost in a treacherous jungle in Arunachal Pradesh – an experience that she says made her who she is today.
Raised in a gender-balanced Armed Forces background, Nidhie learnt martial arts as a young adult and is passionate about sports and action storytelling. She is the author of Dancing with Demons, India’s first fiction on boxing, and has directed documentaries for climate-change activist Al Gore’s Current TV; co-directed on the second season of the Anil Kapoor action-thriller 24; and written on the third season of the Emmy Award-nominated cricket drama Inside Edge, which releases soon.
Nidhie, who studied filmmaking and screenwriting at New York University and New York Film Academy, is a fierce advocate of gender equality, wildlife conservation, climate change and sports education, especially combat sports training for women.
Her memoir, which released earlier this week, is a first-person account of Nidhie who, as a teenager, got lost along with five other Army children in Tawang, 10,000 feet above sea level and home to a remote Indian military base at the Indo-China border. They had until sundown to find their way out, or perish in the wild, unreachable by their loved ones.
Here is an excerpt from Invictus: The Jungle That Made Me reproduced with permission from Pan Macmillan India:
By Nidhie Sharma
We thought we were trained to survive the Jungle, except the Jungle hadn’t found us yet.
The Jungle was alive. A throbbing entity with its own rules of engagement. And the rules were fairly simple. That you did not try to engage with it and had to let it own you. The Jungle had eyes and ears. It found your fears faster than you found your strength. And word travelled fast. Really fast. Especially if raging waters criss-crossed through its heart. If you did not square off with your fears, the Jungle would square off with you.
But nothing, almost nothing can prepare you for a jungle that doesn’t welcome you. I discovered that pretty early, and on a Sunday of all days.
At the time, I was 13. Fearless, reckless and raring to take on the world. I believed I could beat all odds and come out on top. One could blame my gender-neutral upbringing or Stan Lee’s comics or perhaps both. I was the superhero of my life. I was invincible. Till that Sunday arrived. A day etched so deep in my memory I can summon it at will, teleporting into the heart of Tawang’s jungle by simply shutting my eyes.
Tawang was unique in so many ways, as was its jungle – you could not hold your own there. You could not trust it to hold you, either. Literally. They called it ‘false vegetation’. It could be discovered only if someone had the misfortune of skidding off the treacherous roads and into the many bottomless valleys, hurtling through layers of clouds.
Nothing would break that fall. Not shrubs, not rocks, not even trees. I suppose the Jungle did not allow anyone to intrude and get away with it. Trespassing had consequences.
Rocks moved, shrubs were uprooted and trees bent like willows. I know this because nobody I knew had lived to tell the tale. And many a Northeasterner had borne witness to the plummeting ends of both man and his machines.
Worse, quite often, the recovery of whatever remained of the dead could not be attempted. The Jungle didn’t allow that either.
This is a true account of the day I brazenly led five other children into that Jungle. My 13-year-old self simply did not know better, and maybe fortune favours the brave and foolish sometimes. And sometimes … just sometimes, the Jungle that is designed to kill you decides to make you instead.