I have heard of beginner’s luck being a thing, and I had never taken it seriously. But when things manifest before your very eyes and someone whose accounts sheet is spotless begins registering wins like the cha-chings of a cash register at their first shot at something, skepticism turns not to belief, but knowledge itself.
Last morning we traversed through route A taking the green with the brown. Although this route skirts multiple villages and much of its northwestern side is fenced, I love it as much as any other, because of the generous jamun groves, perennial streams, and of course one of my favourite parts of Bandhavgarh, Bheetri.
As we were negotiating its shaded fords and fig-roofed paths, Kamta ordered a halt and Wasim stood on the brakes. “Peeche kar,” said Kamta in a frenetic voice, and Wasim obeyed with quick hands and feet. “Leopard,” declared Kamta with a point of the finger and there, between the sal trees and hidden poorly in the sparse undergrowth, was a petite female.
As she sensed our volte face, which must have seemed to her curious coincidence, she started, and there was a twitch as from the snapping of a twig, and out from the left came bounding another cat!
For a split second both Kamta and I thought it a tiger chasing after its hapless smaller cousin — that’s how big the male leopard was! Together they sprinted and decamped up into the rocks of the hill in a second.
Sourabha, who had never seen a leopard in her life, had now seen two on just her fifth ever safari in Bandhavgarh!
Buoyed by this propitious start, we drove on to Kinarwah and then to Andhiyari to find nothing except a young Indian hare, also Sourabha’s first ever, bounding about in unbounded cuteness, the veins in its large leafy ears glowing red not from blood, but the back light of the burning sun.
At about 7 the Bheetri female crossed the high road below Vulture Nest and descended into the nallah that goes into Ghodademon, but of course we missed that because of the route. There was also news of a Chakradhara cub, probably the one who had refreshed my memories of Chorbehra the previous evening, sitting under the same jamun as the previous day.
By and by we reached Hardiha for breakfast and it was time for Sourabha’s first experience of our beloved and famous “centre point”. From the moment we landed there, she instantly fell in love with everything, including the warmth, humility and simplicity of the people, and the delicious fresh food made with organic care, “zero pretence and zero bullshit,” being the words in which she described her experience of it.
Post this, we elected to return via B, and reached Rajbehra to find T37 near Climber Point junction! He sat in a small ditch some 50 metres off the road and was visible upon a precipitous personal elevation, which yielded the sight of the big boy perched in cherubic elegance with his paws hooked on to the ground in front of him, as Sourabha described to me when she had espied him from a vantage point with a visage that had blossomed into unhindered glee upon the sight of her first ever adult male tiger. Say, what a tiger to open your account with!
As for me, although I had seen T37 as recently as in December, when it comes to the Bamera boy, especially, the law governing my heart is that nothing is even remotely enough. And so I fervently ached with the wish that he’d sat in a more accessible place.
It is at this point that Kamta and his genius gave me the sweet potion of hope, which nourishes a parched mind like an elixir does one dying of thirst.
“Ise agar jaana tha, to ab tak nikal jaata,” he opined with unmatched confidence but not a trace of complacency. “Yeh baitha hai kyonki isko Solo aur bachchon ke paas jaana hai, to yeh zaroor cross karega.”
With this piece of intelligence from our famously intuitive guide well established, we positioned ourselves allowing ample space for him to cross towards the nallah at Climber Point and waited.
And just as the sun sent beam after beam of heat earthwards, our prayers seeded the clouds of fortune and it rained luck.
Just as Kamta had predicted, T37 rose and walked straight towards Climber Point, crossing the road right before us, casting us a glance as he walked past, where Wasim’s quick and prompt work had put us in the grandstand for a ringside view of the carrier of an invaluable legacy.
After he had passed out of sight, I, with my pupils dilated and lips denuding my mouth to the gums, turned to Sourabha, and found her floating in an ocean of emotion. Her hand still clutching on to the gimbal, which I had entrusted to her grasp for a video, she seemed unaware of the present world. Next moment her eyes brimmed up and a single tear made its way down her right cheek.
I have said in the past that although distance is no barrier for a tiger to move a human, nothing moves a heart as much as the physical proximity of a tiger, particularly if the tiger in question is a big male and there’s a bagful of sentimental affection for him in the heart of the person next to you.
When Sourabha had recovered sufficiently to speak, she explained how when her eyes met Bamera’s, her brain had temporarily taken leave, and her muscle memory had abandoned her, with the endearing result that she had forgotten to pan the gimbal when the mega tiger had stepped onto the road.
And we drove out, with Kamta and I sharing the story of T37 with his brand-new admirer. In the joy of seeing him and my wife being touched by his magic, I had lived in two bodies and three timeframes in a single moment, humbled by the realisation that beginner’s luck was a very real thing, and that fortune favours not merely the brave, but those who shun vanity and elect to be beginners at heart.