On the bridge at the stream at Siddhbaba, Vikas halted our hauler, guided by the belief that Chorbehra Female slept in the damp, cool marsh of the meadow. The sambar, who seem to love standing in the cool current here and chomp their way through the succulent botanical victuals, were scarce in attendance. Only the sun shimmered off the serene surface like it would off the mirror in a shaded room, and the water flowed unhurriedly as the rocks and trees stood as ceaseless observers of the time lapse. Like a dais in readiness for the performer, all was quiet, and in perfect equilibrium. It seemed that Choru’s calm disposition was so strong and influential that it had lulled the environs into ultimate tranquility.

Completing the picture mentally with the expected protagonist crossing the stream gave me an excited tingle but also a wistful sigh. For many fantasies remain in the realm of the imagination until the mind tires of them and in its peripatetic quest moves on to other fancies, and there was little to suggest this to be destined to a better fate.

But Vikas was not so uncertain. Quandaries and doubts were not for him the order of the day; but rather, focus and patience handsomely were his guiding principles. And so even under duress from impatient parties whose way he was blocking, he dourly held his ground, not unlike an indolent bull who unabashedly insists on ruminating by the median of the busiest road in town. His conviction was that if she was sleeping where she was said to be, the tigress would cross through the water to get to her cubs, who were nestled in the Jamunia kindergarten on the opposite side of the road.

Barely five minutes later, some obscure chital announced the end of her siesta and the perfectly visible guides, who are always vocal when stripes come round, publicized her advance towards the stream. After the initial flutter in my ribcage, which is a usual accompaniment of the breaking news of a tiger’s entry into the general scheme of things, she first appeared in the way that a pleasant dream gently interrupts your sleep and you brace it warmly, welcome it to your mind and like it to linger awhile.

Her composure unaltered, she ingressed the water forthwith as though there wasn’t any change in the topography at all, and once in, she waded slowly with assurance, like a nimble serpent, as adept and elegant in water as on terra firma. The all-terrain native of paradise then moved towards the main jeep track cutting the stream, where, directed by Vikas’s emphatically vindicated obduracy, we were parked ideally, and with her steady advance through the colourless sparking a dizzying hush and the serene gaze almost unwavering, the sensual captivation was total because on show was the product of Nature’s finest hour. The possibility of slipping into a deep trance in this eternal moment of supreme peace and joy was very bright, but my camera kept me up and down to the task of trying futilely to record this celestial magnificence. The involved viewer unburdened by a photographic device was certain to have so much as forgotten themselves, and I mean even they who shone with a gold medal at University and are fed regularly on a diet rich in choline and DMAE.

For, it wasn’t just a scene of a tiger in her home, nor merely a sight unrivalled to the death. She whom we so beheld in thrall was not merely an artist’s muse or a poet’s inspiration and certainly not confined to the subject of a portrait of the most beautiful tigress I had ever seen.

It was the living, breathing image of sangfroid. And it is only in the recent days that I have fully understood what that means.

Why, it’s true that I knew the word long before I learnt the imports of the words ‘encomium’ and ‘umbrage’, but the difference between knowing the lexical connotation of a word and learning the practical one through lessons in life is a bit like knowing that the food at The Nanny Bar is poor through notices from friends and actually dining there and experiencing for oneself how perfectly appalling it really is. Besides, it is wonderfully empowering when you make a transition from possessing knowledge to becoming the knowledge itself, and you realize that a strong streak of positivity is not a way but the only way forward, strength is never taken from others but exercised from the innate spirit, and when the dark night looms large, it isn’t about seeing the glimmer of the beam at the end of the tunnel but the glowing light within yourself.

So we must salute all, like the great Choru Girl, who’ve navigated through hell, ridden roughshod over storms, weathered the times and emerged stronger every time holding firmly in a determined grasp that great gift called life which is above all and whose précis is not a perdurable battle with circumstances but an incessant truce with the self.

Chorbehra female at Sidhbaba, Bandhavgarh © Santosh Saligram

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