A Feeling Called Tiger

I’ve felt it far more often than I’ve seen it.

In the rustle of the leaves it’s resident, and the thunder over the distant hills brings its euphony. The inchoate buds issue its fragrance, and the sway of the windswept grass talks of its silent jaunt.

The frenetic calls of alarm evoke its presence, and the pauses between the interjections warn of its disappearance. It’s ever there, and ever here.

It’s got the boon to turn a wraith into a festoon, heal a thousand festooning wounds, but also the knack of setting a million hearts afire with raging desire.

On the loneliest of days has its gentle warmth enwrapped me, and on the longest of nights has it kept me awake wolfing on its moreish dreams or floating on its soothing waves towards the shores of passion.

In the exalted promenades of the secretive trees have I often sauntered after its footmarks in the wind, guided on by invisible stars in the sky azure and white. Often have the ragged rocks of the winding hills borne my weight in its winsome wake. Within the charged setting of its field, it has never once diminished.

It has come to me when I stood by the gurgling river on the banks of which a thousand epitaphs stand erect, and in the shadows where it creeps silently into the soul.

It has come to me in the wind that brings the adrift leaves in spring, on the shimmer of the shiny rocks that blaze in the summer sun, and the chill of the winter air that reaches the bones.

Sometimes the songbirds have brought it to my ears in their perky tweets from the unseen brooks. At others I have hosted it while gazing at the aureate dust on the high mesa before the sun vanished behind the shortest bamboo clumps leaving only its afterglow.

It has haunted me through the alleyways lined with jamun trees under which secrets breed and breeders brood, and in the precincts where fairies sing cryptic lullabies under the feeble starlight.

It has taken over me when advancing one step at a time on a path paved with a sandy carpet and leading to the clearings where fire dreads to tread and harmony reigns in the burrows.

I saw it once in my own reflection as I bent down to take a vivifying drink from the brook, and the greening meadows and the sparkling sun told me of its changing moods.

It reeks from the stygian caves where bats dwell in blackness, and the fig trees from which well-fed parakeets depart raucously.

I have carried it at the groggy dawn with the plaintive shout of the jungle fowl, the evening cackle of a peacock, when the jackals hatch their schemes under a full moon and even during an untimely monologue by a persistent lapwing.

Ravines are heavy with its touch, and it has caught my fancy where climbers abound and a fort towers over the tallest canopy, whence even gods watch on with cherubic zeal.

Valleys fondly cradle its being, and from the sun-kissed peaks it shines like a beacon. Tree hollows are full of it, while dry riverbeds overflow to keep its memory current.

And often with tearful eyes and many a tingle in my fingers have I beheld its enormous marvel, sometimes from the heights of the lofty cliffs where vultures soar, and the spiritous depths of Jacob’s Creek.

Its beauty has moved my throat to sing tortuous eulogies, wilfully inflict endless discourses and mournfully hum the deepest threnodies. At times it has brought prayer to my lips, and on occasion with its imponderable glory taken my tongue out of parliament in stunned exclamation.

I have stood beneath the long-leaved tree dropping her mahua and sought its meaning from the sands of time. When it has cleaved the abyss of my heart with brilliant rays of light even as shards of broken dreams lay scattered at my feet, I have asked questions in the boudoir of my mind.

I have asked the moss-covered lake and the banyan tree by the lonesome bight where the hushed swish of hornbills pips the fragile silence.

I have consulted the spider in her tunnel, solicited counsel from the wise owls in their nightly havens, questioned the flighty deer that fears for its life, and interviewed the old trees that bear scars from the changing times in the pitiless corridors of power.

Gripped by its fever, I have beaten the topic to the death with the vigour of a blacksmith fashioning a crowbar and then dissected it in a sanitised laboratory.

But it has never shed its silence while its taste lingers unabated.

Instead, it has weakened my knees and strengthened my resolve, humbled my pride and enhanced my esteem, made me live and made me die.

It overwhelms me when I see it and engulfs me even when I don’t. Embrace it I must, and eschew it I can’t. It is an incessant itch that doesn’t go away with a spirited scratch.

Blessed are the men who’ve escaped the throes of this inexorable charm. But also how cursed they are, for they know not the joy of the feeling that goes beyond the blight.

A feeling called ‘tiger’.

Mastigudi Male Tiger Kabini Nagarahole Santosh Saligram
The tiger – it’s not so much an animal as a feeling.

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