How does it feel to see a wild tiger?

T19 Krishna at Rajbagh Ranthambhore © Santosh Saligram

So how does it feel to see a wild tiger?

I could tell you that waiting for a tiger to emerge feels like watching raindrops trickle off a roofline while awaiting your beloved – a wistful longing fanned by sweet anticipation.

But that wouldn’t let you know what it’s like to melt in your own fire, like a candle, to light what you wait to see.

I could tell you that the initial sight of a tiger feels like espying the sun break out over a valley of tulips, or hearing thunder on a parched land and smelling the rustic fragrance of rain alighting sharply on mud.

But that wouldn’t demonstrate the beat-skipping jig your heart does when a tiger first breaks cover.

I could tell you that watching a tiger feels like beholding a clear, moonless sky – overwhelming, and too fleeting to study the individual features that make up the starry night.

But that wouldn’t help you surrender to a beauty and power far greater than yourself for but a few moments.

I could tell you that watching a tiger’s gait feels like gazing at thick clouds riding the autumnal wind over a line of lofty trees while lying afloat in a gently bobbing boat.

But that wouldn’t reveal the thump in your heart that rhymes with the weighty steps.

I could tell you that watching a tiger sleeping feels like lying on the cool floor of a temple sanctum watching clumps of lemon grass rustle to a breeze at a crimson dusk to the background of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

But that wouldn’t reveal the harmony you feel inside at the sight of such meditative repose.

I could tell you that coming to face a tiger feels like the first touch of cold water on your skin – chilling, with the only way to comfort yourself being to have more of it.

But that wouldn’t show you what it’s like to be awakened suddenly to face an inner part of yourself that’s so mysterious that you’re drawn to it and yet so terrifying that you shudder to advance.

That wouldn’t help you unevolve, dissolve and disexist, as though you’re not, and only your object of admiration is.

For imagination is a poor substitute for experience, and thought is no substitute for life.

For tigers are like the truth of life itself: whimsical yet real. Unclenchable and untransmittable. And the only way to know the feeling is to feel the knowing.

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