The Death Walk

He was so big that he had his own gravitational field.

And the moment when he pressed purposefully forward with a quarry in his sights and the smell of a kill doing the death dance in his nostrils was a rear-loosening one.

There are times when tigers look cuddly. This is the majority of times. And so it’s natural that we tend to take them for creatures resembling rather big, huggable toys, which they indubitably are an impressively high percentage of their wakeful hours, and ours.

But when it appears as though a tiger is stalking the living daylights out of you from a pebble’s chuck away from the open vehicle in which you, but a hapless passenger, are frailly perched, the above conception seems gloriously flawed, as reality takes a strange turn that produces an unsavoury taste on your dry tongue.

How did it come to this?

It had gone all splendidly by the script. We had waited patiently for much of the morning in the blistering sun at the Nigah Nallah waterhole, the only source of water for a significant area of the Khitauli zone in Bandhavgarh, and like a god who manifests in answer to punctilious penance in those mythological TV series, the Mukunda Male had appeared and sat down on the vehicle track nearby.

Then came a water tanker, and finding his way blocked, its driver waited patiently for the insignificant period of five minutes, and then stepped out of the door, clambered onto the tank to reach the back, and opened the tap to let a jet free and flow towards the tiger, which made the latter leave the road on the account of an unsolicited wet posterior.

This is when we expected him to descend to the waterhole and assume the dignified position involving a half-immersed rump and fully visible face, for one and all to adore.

And this is also about when the story fell out with the script like a freshly derailed train.

Halfway in his stride to the puddle, the tiger spotted something more exciting than water – food! Trouble was, seeing how he was headed unequivocally towards where all the vehicles were parked, his meal seemed to be ‘crowd-sourced’, giving us therefore the distinctly unnerving impression that someone would become very badly dead in double-quick time.

Much to our gastric relief, we soon realised that his motive was more natural, with a far-less exotic chital deer featuring on his menu, with, ironically, the real meal having no idea of its imminent slaughter.

Using the vehicles as effective cover, the tiger shrunk the gap to his quarry with stunning ease, his bulk and size disappearing amidst the sinews of his effortless gait. Within seconds, the rather large cat had swooshed past us like the wind on a blustery day, descended into the nallah, crossed it in a giant step, and nailed the deer like one of Legolas’s infallible arrows.

And as the catch was carried off over the hill on the opposite side, the tiger had shown that he’s as much a gentleman of finesse while administering death, as he is while upholding life.

Only, he can be very fast and slightly frightening at lunchtime.

Mukunda Male Stalking near Nigah Nallah in Khitauli Bandhavgarh Santosh Saligram

The ‘Death Walk’ – not very different from Michael Jackson’s moonwalk except that this walk moves the being forward and usually results in another being’s sudden death.

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