The fearless tigress.
Suddenly all the events of yesterday and the night flashed before his eyes. He remembered that he had left his duty in wildlife reserve without informing his supervisor.
Last night’s storm was a terrible experience for Bakhtiar Singh but the showers which followed gave a much-desired relief to everybody in and around the tiger reserve, more so in the small villages around the reserve. With mercury touching more than 48o everybody in the village was almost panting to cool down their body temperature. A shower of rain which continued from late evening to almost midnight was an unexpected blessing from the rain god. Though every villager in Rajasthan is used to the scorching heat of summer, a respite for a brief was always welcome. Bakhtiar Singh had come on a furlough last evening to see his family in the village. He felt uncomfortable with the heat when he entered his house. It was too hot for him inside the room as compared to the open and cooler environment in the tiger reserve. The drop in temperature and the cold breeze coming from the open window helped him sleep comfortably once it started raining.
It was past midnight when the rain stopped. The temperature inside the room was still cool and Bakhtiar was in deep slumber when suddenly a strong bolt of lightning with a deafening sound woke him up. Startled, he opened his eyes and
looked around. A cool breeze naughtily touched his face and passed away as if reminding him of something. He got up from the bed and opened the door which he would have normally kept open to reduce the room temperature but he had closed it last night because of the storm.
When he opened the door he realised that the temperature outside had come down. But strong winds of cool air moved from one side to another giving a warning that the intensity may again increase and there may be another storm coming up. Suddenly all the events of yesterday and the night flashed before his eyes. He remembered that he had left his duty in wildlife reserve without informing his supervisor. During his long career as a warden in the forest reserve he had never behaved in such an irresponsible manner. Owing to unknown fear he was so overwhelmed by emotions that he just wanted to leave and go to his village. Somebody had informed him that his grandson was seriously ill. He got so perturbed with the news that he immediately rushed to his village and walked down a distance of more than 10 km on foot to see his grandson. He was relieved to see his grandson in a good condition and realised that he had unnecessarily panicked and in that state of mind neglected his official duty. He did hand over the responsibility to his junior who was new to the job but not experienced enough to notice any unusual happening in the tiger reserve.
Bakhtiar suddenly had a feeling of guilt that it was a mistake coming home like this on a furlough. Being too emotional, compromising with duty made him angry with himself. Though it was for the first time in his life that he was so negligent, he nevertheless did commit a mistake. He was unhappy with his behaviour and decided to leave soon after the rain stopped. Trekking a distance of 10 km at nighttime was not a sound proposition. Therefore, he had no option but to wait till dawn. It was painful for him just to wait in his room and waste time particularly when his mind was burdened with a vague fear which had started bothering him.
While trying to sleep for some more time before there was enough light to walk towards the tiger reserve, Bakhtiar was overpowered by another fear, about something catastrophic, something he didn’t want to happen. He suddenly felt a kind of vacuum in his chest. He tried to figure it out. Was it his unauthorised absence from duty ? Or was it his apprehension that his assistant may complain to his seniors. One of his supervisors may make a surprise visit and find him absent from duty or poachers may do some mischief in his absence. It could be anything but he pretty well knew it was not any of those fears. Now that he was relieved to see that his own grandson was fine, it was perhaps something else – pertaining to Raju!
Bakhtiar Singh knew a lot about wildlife, particularly about tigers, more than he knew about himself or his fellow human beings. Right from age 10 he lived with his father in this wildlife reserve and at the age of 60 when he looked back he had no doubt in his mind that this place was his home, school, place of work, temple, everything! His grandfather was appointed as an attendant in the tiger reserve on a regular salary during British rule more than a century ago. Getting a monthly salary from Angrez sarkar and also permission to look after his own farms in the village was a luxury in those days and his grandfather enjoyed doing both. When Bakhtiar Singh’s father started working in the reserve after his father’s death, he completely immersed himself in the job, abandoned his farming, rented his land out to his cousins and concentrated on his job in the tiger reserve. He was so fascinated by the wildlife in the tiger reserve that, instead of admitting Bakhtiar into a primary school in the village, he took him to the reserve and exposed him gave ‘hands on training’. Like his father, Bakhtiar was also fascinated by wildlife and really enjoyed working as a warden in the reserve.
Bakhtiar firmly believed that human behaved just like the tigers. It was the tiger instinct that humans expressed whenever warriors defeated their enemies. He had heard many such stories from Rajputana and elsewhere how powerful kings fought for more territory, more power and more dominance. With a desire to dominate they attacked their weaker neighbours, defeated them, and married or enslaved their wives and daughters and killed the rest of the clan. In the event of losing a battle women would either surrender or commit jowhar before invaders touched them.
Bakhtiar, in his limited world of the tiger reserve, compared the lust power of rajas and maharajas with the tigers. He was convinced that the territorial equations in the reserve were seen no different from rajwadas and kingdoms. He had several of these leadership changes in the section of forest he was associated with for many years. Stranger is the rule of the jungle that the dominant male tiger takes over the charge as soon as it succeeds in liquidating the weaker leader. As soon as the present leader is killed, a new leader takes over. Like the humans warriors the rest have either to surrender or perish. The females surrender and the male cubs are killed by the new leader. Soon after taking over the winning tiger marks his territory with strongsmelling urine and by shedding the bark of trees.
Bakhtiar, like his father, devoted most of his time working in the reserve. He entrusted to his children farming of his land when they grew up and spent most of his time in the reserve.
He had almost given up any hope of his progeny continuing when a ray of hope appeared with the birth of his second grandson after a gap of five long years.
This routine continued till he became a grandfather. As getting any transport from the reserve to his village was usually not easy and trekking 10 miles became increasingly difficult for a 60-year-old man, he preferred to visit his family once a month only, except for this unplanned emergency visit which he made because of deep concern for his grandson.
Bakhtiar was not always like this. Having lived and worked around the wildlife reserve all his life, he was fairly strong emotionally. He had dispassionate attitude to life. After the death of his 10year-old grandson a few years ago, he lost his inner strength and became too panicy. He had almost given up any hope of his progeny continuing when a ray of hope appeared with the birth of his second grandson after a gap of five long years. That is why when he heard that his year-old grandson was ill, he got unnerved and rushed to see him on foot without caring for his job. As soon as he was relieved of his anxiety he started worrying about his responsibility as a warden.
It was the recent incident in the tiger reserve which was the cause of Bakhtiar’s of worry. Though he regretted lapse of duty, it was Shera’s death which was a cause of concern. Shera was the king tiger in the south zone of the tiger reserve which Bakhtiar had been looking after for almost 50 years. Shera was the dominant tiger in the area for over four years. Padma, a year older than Shera, surrendered soon after Shera took over the territory. Padma delivered a male cub, Raju, four months ago.
Shera fell to the bullet of a poacher barely two weeks back and with that tragedy the territorial equations in the reserve changed. Shera was the strongest tiger in the area and even the ambitious tigers around the territory never dared to take a chance with him. Shera’s death was bound to lead to territorial fights in the reserve and it was a foregone conclusion that the male tiger that takes over would definitely kill Raju. After the death of his elder grandchild, Bakhtiar had become too sensitive about kids. He had the same tender feelings for the baby cub that he had for his own grandson. Therefore, his worst apprehension was that Raju’s life was in danger and the worry started the day Shera died. But his fears intensified soon after the area had a strong storm last night followed by incessant rain for several hours. Bakhtiar had a reason for this sudden apprehension
The reason for Bakhtiar’s worry was that as soon as the scent of Shera’s urine disappeared from its territory, the most dominant male in the reserve's hierarchy would try to take over. Last night’s fierce storm and rain wiped out scent-markings of Shera’s territory, thereby exposing Padma and Raju to the wrath of the invader. As is the rule of jungle, he anticipated that Padma would surrender herself to the new leader but Raju would be killed. That is why Bakhtiar was worried about Raju.
It was nine in the morning when Bakhtiar entered the premises of the tiger reserve. Everything was quiet, same as when he had left it the previous day. A strange odour entered his nostrils the moment he walked towards the interior of the reserve to reach the hut. An unknown fear overpowered him and he started walking with a faster pace to reach his hut. His long experience of dealing with tigers further deepened his apprehensions and this strange odour got him on his feet. He was now almost sure that a tiger from outside had breached into Shera’s territory. The moment he entered his hut he heard a loud roar coming from a corner of the reserve confirming his apprehension, and he prepared himself to face the worst.
His junior attendant was still sleeping comfortably and smelling of local booze when Bakhtiar pounced on the walkie-talkie to inform his supervisor.
After a spell of several roaring sounds echoing all across the reserve, a deadly silence followed which sounded an alarm of doom to Bakhtiar. He could visualise the mutilated body parts of Raju dispersed all over and Padma silently watching this massacre with pain in her eyes.
While sitting on the back of the rescue Jeep, Bakhtiar was preparing himself to mourn the death of fourmonth- old Raju, his heart deeply immersed in sorrow exactly like when he saw his elder grandson’s dead body. He saw some bloodstains on the grass and other vegetations of the reserve while the driver took them towards Shera’s den. Bakhtiar felt sick to look at those bloodstains which could be Raju’s. But he didn’t see Raju’s body which made him even more apprehensive about Raju’s fate.
When the rescue team came closer to Shera’s cave, they noticed that a big tree had fallen on the cave’s mouth as a result of last night’s storm, almost blocking the entry to the cave. On coming closer they saw Padma’s badly hurt body under the tree blocking the rest of the mouth of the cave. One could guess that Padma had struggled and fought the invader and prevented his entry into the cave.
While Padma was lifted onto the ambulance after injecting her with a dose of tranquilliser, Bakhtiar was relieved to see Raju peeping from inside the cave, safe and sound!
Bakhtiar looked up to the sky and bowed his head in front of Padma’s body who had neither surrendered nor committed jowhar but battled till the invader was repulsed, fought with the courage and strength of a mother at the cost of her life!
The moment he entered his hut he heard a loud roar coming from a corner of the reserve confirming his apprehension, and he prepared himself to face the worst.
Absences are a good influence in love and keep it bright and delicate.
Bakhtiar was relieved to see Raju peeping from inside the cave, safe and sound!