Some cats are tigers. And some tigers are sages. But only one sage ever was B2.
It may seem a contradiction to associate sageness with the savagery of a predator. But with B2, oxymoron was nothing.
He was a hermitage in which brawn could share a bed with brain, and astuteness broke bread with affability. He was nothing if not everything.
He was the predecessor of time itself.
B2 was born in 1997 to Mohini and the legendary Charger in a litter he shared with two striking-looking brothers, B1 and B3.
Neither sibling lived very long after attaining the poisoned chalice of adulthood, leaving the precious lineage of Bandhavgarh’s first family in his paws. This he accepted ably by taking over from an ailing Charger sometime in 2000.
Like many people of my day and age, I first saw B2 on the tele, in a film about Bandhavgarh. In it, B2, all of a few months old, sneaks out of the intensive care of his mother, and ventures away from her protective eye to steal a few precious seconds with Charger.
For several weeks after seeing this, I was in a state of chronic dotery. I greedily lapped up any content on B2, and what with his being a toast of tourists and a coloured dream of photographers, there was plenty of it, from covers of coffee-table books to pictures from the cobwebs of cyberspace.
And in none of the media did I see a display of aggression, or even a modicum of mistrust. There was always only a cool self-assurance and an unhurried understanding.
It seemed like the world was his plot and he was in on the connivance.
This may seem trivial today, with the burgeoning of tourism and with it, a breed of intrepid tigers compatible with Instagram, but back at the turn of the millennium, it was rarer than the Koenigsegg Trevita.
Soon, B2 was to me no more a tiger, but the tiger I wanted to meet. For to meet a mere celebrity is to realise his mortality. To meet a prodigy, instead, is to encounter the divine.
B2 was as godlike as anything else I had found until then, and the numerous stories I heard added to my awe until it swelled to a medium-sized cloud.
One of these was about how, when confronted with a bumper-to-bumper traffic-jam near Ghodademon one day, B2 had sat down and waited for a space to be made for him to cross a track.
Any other tiger would’ve spat in distaste, bared finger-sized canines, made a dash for it in a contrary direction, or decamped quietly by an escape route. B2’s choice had been a radical none of the above.
Like most cats B2 wanted to have things precisely to his satisfaction, but unlike many of his ilk, he was willing to exercise patience and calmness to obtain it.
B2 was the founder of the league of extraordinary gentlecats.
Understandably, therefore, B2 very quickly achieved iconic status among both the local guides and drivers, as well as any visitor who had the good fortune of witnessing his equanimity.
But none of this cordiality meant that he was a pushover, wielding as he did a sizeable sphere of authority and the influence of at least a small meteor.
Presenting evidence was a video clip I saw in which with a single swipe of his tail, B2 sends bolting in unabated fright a herd of deer, which had been until then standing in dignified deference at his sight. And I remember thinking B2 was too small a name for him.
For his stature, he should’ve been named B44687352.
B2 showed that when self-assurance was freed from arrogance, vulgarity disappears from manner.
But B2’s controlled brawn was well matched by a sharp wit, as evident from a series of pictures that showed how uncanny he could be.
Having made or found a kill outside the park, B2 wants to haul the dinner in to his home for a risk-free dining experience, but what does he find? The fence. So he drags the cow to a point in the fence where a boar has made a hole under the grille, then jumps across it, and drags the cadaver in!
B2’s genius transcended his genus.
It was with all this prelude that I finally saw him in the April of 2008. I was still wet behind the ears and he was 11.
With my eyes nearly distended with expectation, and blood gushing through the veins like fuel from an injector, I saw him for the first time as he lay in a small puddle in the middle of Gopalpur.
His rectangular face had a fluffy beard for side-skirting. Some of the whiskers in his muzzle were black. Only small dabs of pink remained on his nose. On his right cheek I saw my favourite feature – an open heart-shaped stripe.
When he lifted his face from slumber, a strange calm descended on me, and I realised it was his eyes.
Unmistakably these were the eyes of a warrior, even fought as he had the previous day apparently with his great but shy rival, Bokha. But they had a strange depth to them, a blue sea of tranquility under the firewall of glowing amber. And they were strangely still, like they knew something more than a tiger ought to.
This gave B2 such presence, that looking into his eyes, I felt as though the air he breathed out was denser than the air he inhaled.
Over the years I came to be touched by his tolerance, wisdom and resilience, as rather incredibly, he held the reins for nearly a decade, until his son, Bamera, was strong and wise enough to succeed him, leaving him free to wander off to a horizon where the sun remains set.
In November 2011 he was found in a puddle some 70 kilometers from Tala, nursing serious injuries. Rescue efforts were undertaken, and a tranquilized B2 breathed his last en route to his natal home.
I was exiting the park that morning when his remains were brought in, to be cremated later that day inside the park with full honours, just as his father had been 11 years earlier.
And as I saw pictures of his funeral pyre, it struck me how real and how dignified he was when among us, obliterating the contradiction between cool and warm with tools of harmony, courage, wisdom and character.
In the flames that coughed smoke raising him to the sky, I saw his divine calm and brilliant mind, showing us that anybody can be a sage, but only some choose to be what we can. And that like the universe, if you’re not full of yourself, you always have space for a little more.
In all of the universe more cats will be tigers and more tigers sages, but only one sage will ever be B2. And that’s enough.