|Auntie with Dhitti (left; now called The Rajbehra Female) and Chhoti (top; now called Kankati)|
Although her presence was regular, Auntie herself never once stole the show. She’d always be in control but never in the limelight. Vastly different from her sister from the same litter, the late Siddhbaba female, she was far removed from what you’d call a showgirl. On any day, she’d rather occupy a quiet corner and watch dispassionately, soliciting no mischief and harbouring no nonsense and allowing her two mercurial daughters to hog all the attention.
Now why anyone would want to disturb the originality of such an idyllic setup is beyond any rational being, but the authorities quite inexplicably did just that by building a tedious “watch-tower” on the rocky outcrop to the southwest of the dam wall. This structure, which stands as a singular eyesore to date, is a cottage-shaped structure with a gap in the wall for viewing and ‘protected’ by an unsightly grille on all sides and located perilously close to where the tigers would settle down for cooling on hot summer days.
One afternoon, a family of tourists that included two children took position in the watch-tower on the afternoon ride. Now this was a very bad idea because when tigers were being seen regularly from vehicle, it was hard to understand why anyone would want to sneak into that ghastly enclosure and risk spooking a tiger off but that’s what they did anyhow.
Sure enough at a little past five, one of the cubs made her way to the edge of the water right at the far corner on the east and sat inside. A short while later Auntie emerged behind the rocks, descended gradually, walked up to the corner going past her daughter and sat in the water, lapping up some of it. All the while, the family sat in the hideout, so far undetected, but with a cat’s senses in the equation, that status wasn’t to last long and inevitably, there must have been a whisper, a footfall, maybe the slightest brushing of clothes or probably even a slight movement of the head and sensing someone spying on her, Auntie instantly broadcast her profound displeasure at such unauthorized intrusion with a categorical snarl. Seconds later, in two bounds, she was out of the water, off the rocks and into the obscurity of the thick bushes beyond, leaving behind a disappointed audience imparting hostile looks to the occupants of the watch-tower, who sheepishly crawled out of their bunker and melted away from sight in an instant. After the grumbling guides and drivers left in a trickle, a deep silence fell in our hearts in light of what could have been.
Many feared that Auntie and her cubs would not return after this experience for some time at least during the day but just two days later she was back as though nothing had ever happened and gave me and many others some of the most memorable tiger-watching times of our lives, proving that like most cats, Auntie was gifted with the ‘forgive and forget’ spirit much more than an average human is!