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My extreme moment: Professor V Subramanyan

india Updated: Jul 28, 2009 15:10 IST
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I was a young geologist with the Atomic Minerals Division at the time, looking for uranium in the hilly tracts of then Bihar, camping at a village off Ranchi. My daily job was to go over the hills, checking the rocks for the presence of uranium using an instrument called the Geiger-Muller counter that detects radioactivity. Being a government officer, I was decorated in a Khaki uniform and a khaki hat.

That day I had been hearing noises of people cutting wood on the other side of the hill all along the climb. When I reached on top, the sight that unfolded before my eyes froze me in fright. Small groups of men were standing at regular intervals with a heap of lethal weapons like crowbars, sickles and spears. On spotting me, a whistle went across the valley and the felling of trees abruptly stopped. The nearest group moved menacingly towards me, sizing me up all the while.

All of a sudden it occurred to me why they were approaching me threateningly. They had mistaken me for a forest officer who had come there to stop their wood cutting. And they were now gearing up to give me trouble. I started passing my instrument over the rocks more frenetically than before to distract them, and kept reiterating that I was trying to locate minerals in their hills so that mines could be opened up and all of them could get employment. By that time my local guide, a slow walker, had joined me. He explained to them that I was the 'engineer saab' camping in their village. Gradually the suspicious frown on their faces changed into a friendly grin and they moved away.

Those few minutes gave me the fright of my life. If my local guide had not shown up at the right moment, just about anything could have happened.