I am in Mukki Range of Kanha. It’s around 5.00 in the evening. We are driving around in the forest in an open Zypsy. Jasbir is sitting next to me while in the front of us sit Rajnish (SDO at Kanha).
We pass Baba Thenga Talab, as we did yesterday. As yesterday, today too a peacock is dancing. It’s typical peacock dance form most of you would know. The bird raises green-blue, massive and long tail feathers to form a grand colourful circle. This is meant to please a female, but none is here! It’s disappointing to find no other action. There is expectation of some excitement at a water body in middle of the forest. It is like ‘thenga’ to us.
Let me explain, for many of you may not know of this Hindi proverb – ‘Thenga Dikhana’ i.e. to show ‘thenga’. ‘Thenga’ means ‘to tease and shame a person for failure’. This is done by showing / waving a raised right hand thumb in the concerned person’s face! This pond in old days might have been the abode of a saintly old person, who might be in the habit of teasing people by showing ‘thenga’.
We go further down the forest and run into lot of India Bison (Gaurs), Spotted Deer (Cheetals) and a pair of Barking Deer as well. There is breeze blowing into our faces but we have to guard against the dust when a vehicle is going ahead or crosses. A layer of dust settles on everything. That’s the carry home stuff, when we are zooming around in forest on dust tracks.
Nobody says so, but all are waiting to see a tiger. ‘Dil Mange More’ (Heart keeps demanding more). As the time passes by, there is more and more anxiety. But in a place like Kanha there is always hope. But hope converts in actual ‘sighting of tiger’ only when you closely know about various tracks, the general and current pattern of movement and usage of forest by different animals, seasonal differences, differences as per the time of the day or night… and in the end your luck, in present case our collective luck! We are at some odds though. Rajnish is reported to have poor luck for sighting tiger.
It is time to start returning back. It’s around 6 pm. Soon, it would be twilight time. Jasbir asks Rajnish for return route. He suggests one but after a minute or two of brooding, Jasbir decides to return by the same route we came by.
Here, we again cross Baba Thenga Talab. Driver stops suddenly. Yes we have made it. A tiger is crouched dog style, is busy drinking water at the other end of the pool. It is not panicked or disturbed by our arrival on a dead silent scene. Immediately, the engine is switched off. We too keep quiet. On a closer look with a binocular we notice that it is eyeing us. We also find that it is tigress not tiger.
There are two peacocks feeding about 10-15 m from the tiger. They are not alarmed or nervous. Of course, they must be keeping an eye on the carnivore.
The tigress is in no hurry. I name it Baba Thenga Talab Tigress for myself. It is not concerned or bothered at all by our presence at the other end of pool. It rather walks towards us on the western side of the pool. One peacock takes to wings and settles on a nearby tree branch. The other one is bolder and keeps to its ground, literally. It’s strolling on the higher end of the slop of the pool on northern side.
The tigress coolly sits down. It’s sitting in open, no hiding as yet. We can see it clearly. And so can any animal in the pool view range. It seems to be happy, free from all worries and concerns.
The tigress then starts vocalising. We get excited, there may be more action. The vocalisation always have some reason – generally to get in touch with mate or cubs. Are we going to see a male tiger? Are we going to see three-four cubs running to mother to play? Sanctuary Asia describes different vocalisations as ‘when tiger call each other, they make a special ah-ah-ah sound. Loud roars (which can be heard over 4 km away) are used as a signal to keep other tigers away or as an invitation to bring another tiger closer. Loud moan are most often heard in combination with roars. Soft moans are used by mother tigers to gather cubs, or by individuals to announce their approach to other tigers. Prusten is a short, noisy, low-intensity sound made by releasing air through closed lips. It is used as a friendly greetings or a reassuring call between mother tiger and her cubs, or a courting pair. Growls, snarls, and hissing are used in aggressive and defensive encounters. Grunting, meowing, purring, and woofing are some other noised that tigers make when they are in close contact.’ To me the calls fit into none of these descriptions. And nothing happens.
The tigress just lies down. I wonder, has she been just exercising her vocal cord for more serious use later. It’s like, we used to hear at the final preparation of a function – ‘testing mike one, two, three’ repeated several times, while the mike sound is adjusted manually, during 30-40 years ago.
I realise, ‘After all tiger is king of the jungle, in this case queen and can do what it likes’.
We hang around. We wait for some action. All is quiet. A cormorant is perched on a stick in the middle of the pool but without any action. It seems as if it is part of the stick. And it remains like this for 35 odd minutes we were there!
Soon a wild boar arrives at the eastern end of the pool. Wild boar always seems to be of slow reflexes. The manner it arrives, disturbs a pond heron which noisily flies away. The bullish wild boar is taken aback by the flutter and it shivered back. ‘Oh no’ it thinks. ‘What a shame. I am afraid of a pond heron. What would jungle denizen think of me? It tries to regain its composure and look bold and confident. It drinks water and sits down to wallow in a pool. In the meanwhile, all the ho hulla makes the tigress raise its head to see, ‘What’s up?’ Now, it is the turn of the wild boar to get seriously nervous. He has not noticed the tigress at all and has been too carefree. He realises his carelessness and that he is ‘buying trouble’. In a flash, it dashes off the pool and disappear further away in the Sal forest.
In middle of all this, crow arrives from nowhere with its caw, caw, caw… and lands as close as possible, on a stem, just a metre away from the tigress! It drinks water and tries its best of disturb the tigress. Tigress did raise its head once to see what this naughty black bird is up to. Twice it flies over the tigress and tries to bite at the tail tip.
It is not clear whether two young sambar ‘does’ who arrive at the pool on the eastern end to drink water notice the tigress lying around on the western end. They are of course keeping an eye on us. They drink water in a strange manner – they are parallel of each other but facing opposite direction. Can it be that they are smelling a tiger and thus extra careful?
The Baba Thenga Talab Tigress lies there without a worry in the world. It does not seem to be in mood to rise and go into action. It is past twilight hour. It’s very rare that anybody would like to leave a tiger behind but we decide ‘let it be’ and leave. Leave satisfied.