The afternoon of 14 May 2010 remains one of the red-letter days in my diaries, not only because of the utterly spellbinding time we had with Auntie and her cubs, but also because we were beneficiaries of one of the greatest humanitarian acts that must ever have taken place in a tiger forest.
We were watching one of the Chorbehra cubs in the dark alley of Jamuniha when the incessantly affable face of Dhingraji (the photographer Mr Nanak Singh Dhingra) approached from yonder. Sighting us, Pushpnarayan decelerated before coming to a halt and Dhingraji at once tipped us off that Auntie with her cubs was being seen right at that moment at Jhorjhora and since he had had enough of such sightings earlier, he said he had come round to alert us to it, so we don’t miss it!
Fifteen minutes later we turned off the Jhorjhora road. There was one vehicle stationed at the mouth of the waterhole and the guide gestured to Vikas to be very slow in taking position, which he did by gently reversing to park alongside the other vehicle.
A head painted orange, white and black came into view at the bottom of the hydro-pit.
A second later a pair of fiery eyes looked up at us. They seemed deep enough to encompass the entire universe, and between them they had enough fire to burn a planet to ash. But the look was tranquil, in perfect equilibrium with the situation and to her complete satisfaction of affairs. With Jhorjhora, nothing less would do.
Someone once said that she was a truly wild spirit, and they were right, for she was like the image in a mirror – that which can be seen but not touched or held – very real, but not reducible, beautiful but ephemeral and simple but as deep as you’d care to dig. She was a discovery.
But Jhorjhora was a tigress never merely seen, but always to be felt, for her presence had a great intensity and magnetism to it, to sense which the only apparatus needed was a heart. A lady of few words, she never had to say anything at all because a sharp look was enough to penetrate the message deep in and rivet it down on an etched plate. Au contraire to her sister, Chorbehra – a come-hither pretty woman gifted with painfully good looks – Auntie was a fearsomely finished tower that struck awe and brought humility to the mind and you to your knees. In your mind you could talk to Chorbehra, play with her and perhaps even flirt, but Jhorjhora you could only worship. You could love and you could worship, and nothing else. She wasn’t one to be trifled with.
She was always in command of your feelings.
Presently, a tiny bundle emerged into view from the right. She came to the edge of the ‘well’ in great enthusiasm with well-laid out plans to dive into the water in spectacular fashion, landing by her mother’s side with precision, and two steps taken in the direction seemed conclusive that she would take the quick short cut to Olympic glory. Her wide, 5-month-old paws were a few feet down the nearly vertical slope, which was stained by the water dripping from her legs and the deal seemed sealed, for she looked like she would slip in any moment even if she didn’t dive. But deciding rightly that she was embarking on an imprudent move that may entail an orthopaedic backlash, she backed off and took the safer, gentler slope down to unite with the subject of interest in good health.
Then a second cub popped up and then a third. They took turns to frolic and play and alternately wade up to their mother in the water and snuggle up to her. Each time she welcomed them with much patience and showed love and assurance by licking. It was all hunky dory, as good and happy as a family of tigers could probably get – sun shining, birds chirping and all that sort of thing. But the sinister twist in the script was not known.
In the least the look of the scene betrayed nothing of the swansong that was playing somewhere quietly as an elegiac background score, and that the Aunt in her euphoniously husky baritone, which sounded like the rumble in a thunderous sky, was voicing the last hurrah.
|Aunt Jhorjhora nursing her male cub four days before her shocking death|