A Tiger’s Way

The wheels rolled into Rajbehra one searing afternoon, and we learned that one of the Jhurjhura cubs had taken throne on a rocky outcrop behind the dam. As I sat in brief contemplation, the following advisement from an eminent photographer cracked the silence at its seams: “Kaunsa lens hai tere paas, bhai? 300 hai, na? Toh converter lagalo, ISO 800 par dalo aur jaldi us taraf jake ek shot leke aajao” (in those days the Climber Point road was open to tourists).

While this suggestion was prudent, equivocation is not one of Mukesh’s weaknesses. This I know for I’ve seen him dourly refusing to vacillate at the most febrile of times. So offering a respectful smile to the aged shutterbug, he whispered to me “Hum kahee nahee jayenge, sir; yahee rukenge.” He was naturally wary of losing prime position when the cub would undertake a journey to the lake, and being fully cognizant of which location offered better photo opportunities, I readily concurred with this pronouncement. So we waited there in all the immoderate swelter, while trying our hardiest to defy the sun’s lively attempts to leave us charred.

I must have been watching a pair of drongos bathing when I first heard hushed voices enunciating “Yeh loh; baghava aagaya.” Now, one does not continue to watch drongos when one hears those words said any time of the day, and I am not known to be an exception to this precept, they say. Thus my hand wrapped around the grip and my brow pressed against the eye-cup, I scanned the far side of the lake through the lens for a bunch of stripes to fill my world.

First seen behind the bushes, she swiftly and fluidly emerged into the open, in the manner that a full moon rises from behind a hillock, or as though riding on a wave, a surfing penguin had glided ashore. She came without a hint of trepidation, not a step out of place, gaze fixed on us but mind firmly on hydration. She drank her fill, sat up, turned and left brusquely. We drank our fill (with the eyes), stood up, stared and gaped. And when all was left was but her afterglow, I thought I saw the following lines penned with her pugs in the wet sand:

“The wait of the day was well worth watching my minute’s stay.  To take your breath away and yet make you feel alive is the tiger’s way.”

Kankati tigress at Rajbehra in May 2009 © Santosh Saligram
Kankati at Rajbehra in May 2009, showing a tiger’s way

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