Can you see? I stress hard. Curse my eye sight for being poor. But I am wearing glasses. I know though, it’s no match to normal eyesight. The landscape is marshy with hardly few land marks. It is an expense of a broad nala (rivulet), with lush green grass, few small brush wood plants, one or two dry patches, four spots where water is visible. After about 150 metres, the nala turns left and there is forest beyond.
My friend, Jasbir (Mr J.S. Chauhan, the Field Director of Kanha) has seen it with a binocular. I also try with binocular but without luck. Jasbir tries to explain the location ‘look straight beyond the second small water patch behind a slightly dry bush.’ I try hard with full concentration. Jasbir again asks “have you located the place?” “Yes”, I say, just to avoid embarrassment, but slowly add “I cannot locate it.”
“Look, look now, it has moved its head a bit” Jasbir tells me.
“Oh! Yes, I can see.” I almost shout. A sensation passes through the body. I can see the top of the black ear with white solid circular patch and very small yellow of the head. Some movement of the animal, made it clear – yes, it’s a tiger, sitting behind the dry bush in a depression, probably pool, hidden from our view. I am excited. This is my first tiger, of the first ride, of this visit to the Kanha Tiger Reserve (in Madhya Pradesh State of India).
We now wait impatiently. There is a very good possibility of its rising and making a move for us to see it fully, and may be for a stretch of time.
It takes full 20 or so minutes since our detection that it gets up. The world of wildness is strange. Three-four spotted deer have been grazing, may be just a 25-30 odd metres further down from where we have been watching. They merely jump away to give way in case tiger decides to take that route. No alarm call and no panic. Likewise, a peacock has been feeding even at a lesser distance on the right. The tiger decides to take that direction. The peacock makes a call and flies away in haste and settles on a tree about 50 metre away.
It is clear that the tiger has been sitting in a small pool as rear and bottom parts are wet and appear dirty.
Jasbir and Khare (Mr Surendra Kare, SDO, Kanha) hold a rapid mini conference and conclude that this tiger should walk on Andha Kuan (Blind Well!) road. We cross the anicut and stop at about 100 m.
We spend anxious moments, for the tiger is nowhere. Khare spots it. The tiger is playing a trick. It set down just 10 m off the road. It is waiting for us to pass by and give us a slip.
Poor chap. But the good part is, it has a plan and it sticks to it. It soon decides, ‘OK, do whatever you want but I continue.’
Tiger comes to the road. Leisurely it walks in front of us. It’s past six. The light is quite low. I do some video. Jasbir takes some photos at 3200 ASA! In old days of ‘Negative’ and ‘Transparency’ films this was impossible. Such high speed films were just not made. I still do not like to go above 400 ASA on my SLR.
It is now very much clear that it’s huge male tiger – as they say, king of the forest.
I ask Jasbir, ‘What is the name of this tiger?’ It so happens that in tiger reserves, some popular and regularly sighted tigers are given name. Jasbir is not very happy with the naming and gaming culture. Scientists are now giving more clinical name like, T 7, T15 … Giving such numerical names, to me sounds like insulting tiger. They should carry lordly names. In good old days, there used to be tigers called Sultan, Raja, Dhitoo…
For the sake of convenience and not to let this tiger remain anonymous in my memory, I call it Meenpur Anicut Tiger.
In between, the tiger would stop, look around, kind of inspect its territory and if necessary mark it, by releasing a spray of urine backwards on the stem of a prominent tree. This, it repeats few times. This is a mystery – which trees to mark, how many trees to mark and more important to have enough store of urine!
Not to mention, but at one place we notice tiger crouches and lowers its back portion to relieve itself. The process seems to be somewhat painful as the animal quite visibly shakes its entire body violently to let the stuff pass out. Jasbir thinks loudly ‘Constipation?’
We have been watching the Meenpur Anicut Tiger close to twenty five minutes for about 500 metres.
Finally, at one place, it moves away from the road and goes tangent and we can see it cross a dry nala about 70-80 metre inside and disappears in the forest as well as approaching night.
I think, ‘Where is he going?’
‘Is it to some suitable place to hunt?’
But, spotted deer have been grazing just near where it has been sitting. Jasbir points out that it appears to be well fed from the look of the belly.
‘OK, water?’ But, that too was available where it has been sitting.
‘Is it out for a stroll?’
‘Is it out to look for a girl friend?’
‘Is it out to secure its territory?’
Many questions come to mind. It is difficult to answer all these unless one can read tiger’s mind. So said Rudyard Kipling
‘What of the hunting, hunter bold?
Brother, the watch was long and cold.
What of the quarry ye went to kill?
Brother, he crops in the jungle still.
Where is the power that made your pride?
Brother, it ebbs from my flank and side.
Where is the haste that ye hurry by?
Brother, I go to my lair to die!’