22
Dec
09

The Tera Tigress

“Do not blame God for having created the tiger, but thank him for not having given it wings” – Indian Proverb

There was a backlog of pending ‘kill reports’ that day. I had already logged-in three calls on Sunday, bringing our total to five from different areas – one, as far as Azamgarh. For the uninitiated, a ‘kill report’ here, stands for any incident of cattle being attacked and/or killed by the big cats (tiger and leopard). Based on the inspection and confirmation of a kill case by the team, an interim relief amount is made to the owner.

It would be a tough day for the staff and I wasn’t sure if we would be able to cover all locales.

Adding to my problems was the managements desire to turn serious conservation work into some kind of ‘tamasha’ for doddering, cowboy hat wielding, hung-over trustees – who wanted to be part of a team responding to any such report. We had unwarrantable instructions not to move out till the ‘venerated’ individuals dawdled down to our office.

So, there we were, on a Monday morning waiting for ‘six shooter’ and ‘jungle drums’ to arrive!

With one donated jeep taken away for the exclusive use of the ‘spawn’ and another on medical duty, we were left with only three field-worthy vehicles.

*

10.30 am – we are informed that ‘jungle drums’ wouldn’t make it and a vehicle be sent for ‘six shooter’.

I promptly release two teams and instruct the third to pick-up ‘six shooter’. This one is scheduled to respond to two kill-reports, involving a long drive and then walking to the sites. No way could they return before sunset.

*

11.15 am – ‘Six shooter’ stops by to make some irrational observation. He is wearing crotch-tight-butt-hugging designer jeans, the legs of which are shoved into Mexican style leather boots with heels.

My team hangs around with stoic faces and once the guest is seated, they all turn towards me and grin.

“Take good care of your visitor.” I tell them.

There are nods and added smiles full of anticipation. Somebody was going to return with aching feet and burning thighs!

*

Late afternoon and there is still one report from Tera village that remains to be addressed. A tigress has been active in that region. I decide to take my personal jeep, accompanied by KP and FR.

My vehicle – a 1961 Willys 4WD jeep has a snarl – the smoothness of which can not only warm the cockles of many but also have would-be collectors acquiring skin shades of pure green.

Just as I was about to manoeuvre around the bamboo grove, a car drove in and out popped Mitali and Yash – the research team from Delhi.

“Caught you!” laughed Mitali nervously and the serious Yash nodded in agreement.

“Sorry for coming in a day early,” he added, “but we wanted some spare time to sit and talk.”

*

I liked them. Even with Mitali’s at times bothersome habit of breaking into sudden bursts of unexplained nervous laughter, they had an enquiring tilt of mind that enhanced their research work.

“Want to come with me?” I asked, “Am on my way to Tera or we could meet later during the day.”

Mitali giggled as everybody squeezed into the jeep with FR frowning with displeasure. But, he always looked down upon research fellows and considered them to be pests living on other people’s time and facilities. Bit of a pretentious windbag was he!

02.45 pm – Outskirts of Tera and crossing the dry river bed I spotted pugmarks. At least 8 hours old but fairly clear and indicating a healthy adult female.

03.15 pm – Rambahadur, the owner of the dead buffalo was located and the overloaded jeep driven to the kill site. The buffalo had been attacked while it was grazing and then dragged into an unusually huge thicket of Lantana. This was in the middle of a fairly large patch of clear ground that then extended into cultivation.

The kill was old and we couldn’t find any drag or pug marks going into the thicket. None of the villagers had come this way since the tigress’s attack, and as such, Rambahadur could only guess the location of the carcass.

After carefully circling the coppice a few times we were able to pinpoint the remains of the dead animal purely by chance and stench. It was deep within the thicket but vital that we reach the spot to take photographs and fix the GPS location.

*

“Andar chalein Sir?” queried FR with great impatience.

I was not too keen about a blind charge just to satisfy FR’s misplaced sense of heroism. What if the tigress was still lurking within? It would be supremely foolish to move in without ascertaining the whereabouts of the big cat. What if the kill was still being guarded?

I voiced my concern and was rewarded with a grunt from FR; a nod from KP; a short nervous laugh from Mitali and audible gulping sounds from Yash.

“Sir!” exclaimed FR, “There is nothing left for the tigress to eat. I know the signs, Sir. Darna nahin,mein jaata hoon na aage.”

Ignoring FR’s annoying junglee wildlife theories and over confidant proclamations, I ordered all to bombard the thicket with stones, pebbles and noise.

03.45 pm – We have been shouting and pelting stones for over twenty minutes now. FR is sulking and exhibiting his tacit disapproval by standing aside and not participating in the exercise. His censure also stemmed from the fact that Mitali had done an impromptu jig whilst shouting and pelting stones.

Nothing had come out of the Lantana thicket except some really startled birds and satiated flies that buzzed groggily and went straight back on various putrefying buffalo leftovers.

*

I am sure that if there had been observers watching our antics – we would have been acknowledged as lunatics.

“I told you!” declared FR, with a smirk.

“Sir!” he gloatingly informed me (keeping the others at a convenient listening distance), “I am from these parts and know how tigers behave. Ab nahin aanewala. Let’s go and finish our job.”

There was, at the moment, nothing I could do or say to neuter FR’s growing insubordination except make a mental note to deal with him later.

Slowly, we chopped-in a path through the thorny bushes. I carefully followed Rambahadur and KP with FR and the duo behind me.

Only the head of the dead calf was left. KP quickly recorded the co-ordinates and asked Rambahadur to squat near the remains so that a photograph could be taken. I turned around to ask the duo something when a soft growl emanated from within.

Time, as it were, froze…and in the ensuing silence only FR’s muttering could be heard – like a brass band playing in the rain.

*

“Aapne suna, sir?” whispered KP.

I nodded.

Rambahadur looked paralyzed; Mitali’s eyes were bulging and Yash had developed a muscular twitching of the right cheek. I am sure I looked wonderful too!

“Arre! It is not a tiger” declared FR, “More like a bad engine.”

I did not even have time to throw a pitying look at this man because another growl – louder this time – filled the air.

Never have a group of humans moved so fast!

*

In retrospect, it all seems incongruous and the images left in the mind are hilarious – out of a Walt Disney ‘Road Runner’ cartoon.

The sight of Yash’s rapidly retreating backside with Mitali all but perched on his shoulders; KP and Rambahadur propelling their way out; FR back-paddling in the air frantically and I, moving so fast and hastily that my cajones were left hanging in the space I vacated!

“That was close,” I gasped, now out of the Lantana but still in motion.

“Fuck!” panted Yash as he tried to dislodge Mitali, “Did you hear the second one!”

“I may have peed in my pants.” was Mitali’s general announcement from an elevation.

“Get off! Get off!” yelped Yash.

“Nahin, aap upar se dekhte raho,” rasped KP, even as Mitali took the ground at a run.

Rambahadur was seen sprinting towards the village and streaking past us was the blurred shape of FR – tiger behaviour expert, who pumped his petrified way through.

“Bhagte rahiye, Sir!” was the terror stricken advice he gave, “Saali chup-chap dekh rahi thi sab!”

*

The absurdity of the situation hit me.

Where did we hope to run and hide? The jeep did not even have a hardtop and was totally susceptible to any wild animal attack.

That we had not been attacked was providential and nothing more could be said. A new lesson was learnt and yet another tale to be narrated in hushed tones around the campfire.

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6 Responses to “The Tera Tigress”


  1. December 23, 2009 at 5:58 am

    Loved the story and narration! More please.

  2. 2 Arjun
    December 23, 2009 at 8:16 am

    Write a book Pitta.

  3. 4 sacredfig
    December 23, 2009 at 9:20 am

    This was funny …. but not nearly as hilarious as hearing you narrate it 🙂 Listening to this story straight from the horse’s mouth over a cup of coffee, easily ranks among the funniest and favorite Arun moments for us.

    Btw, we also vote a resounding “yea” for the “write a book” proposition ! 🙂

  4. 5 dr
    December 29, 2009 at 7:29 am

    Any stories about Gir? And yes, bichhubooti, it would be interesting to read your book.


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