PADMA

The fear­less ti­gress.

Woman's Era - - Contents - Ashok Pat­wari

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!

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