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On tiger trail

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - My Big Adventure

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [133] | Scholarship Entry

They say if the tiger’s glare doesn’t kill you, his slap will. One swipe of the paw, a snap of the vertebrae, and you’re done. And now, by following these three sun-dried men into the heart of an island in the Sunderbans to treat a wounded tiger, I had proved that my father was right – I was an idiot.

I had asked to come along, gone right up to Nirmal’s door and asked the legendary ‘tiger man’ let me accompany his group. “He hypnotises the tiger,” the villagers say, “he was a tiger in his last life,” the village head replies, taking a pull at his bidi (hand-rolled cigarette). Nirmal carries a tranquilizer gun. He shows bristling alertness, but not fear.

I, on the other hand, have images flashing through my mind – the senile tiger pacing its cage in the zoo, the villagers in Rajasthan touching the feet of a tiger’s carcass, seeking blessings after they’d had it shot down, Tara bibi refusing to utter the word ‘bagh’ (tiger).

Sunderbans, which translates into ‘beautiful forest’ in Bengali, is the largest tidal mangrove forest in the world and the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger. The island we enter, one of the thousands in the areas, is a green cocoon. We pass a tiny temple built by a tribesman, one of those who enter these islands to collect timber or honey. All ask for the same thing – protection from the mighty striped being.

Of course the temple distracts me, which is why I bump into the man in front of me. They’re all looking intently at the impression of a paw in the mud. “Tatka achey (it’s fresh).” I wonder if I can outrun the animal, if it’ll slap or stare, if it would even like a city-bred fool for dinner. Of course I imagine it standing behind me, licking its chops.

We inch ahead (I don’t have an option, do I?) and again we spot the print in the mud, only this time Nirmal touches a dark spot on it and brings his finger to his nose. A villager had taken aim with his arrow when the tiger was spotted in the waters and the animal had left a trail of scarlet behind it. The tranquilizer is readied and I am placed between Nirmal and his aide – the second course, I suppose.

But when we spot the yellow hide, there is no need to use the shot. The animal is lying on its side, legs stretched, stomach caved in, perfectly still. It hasn’t been dead long, for its eyes haven’t glassed over. It stares at us, almost expectantly. And it is then, when the flood of relief, pity and shame rises from my stomach that I see one facet of this mangrove life, where a majestic creature is both dreaded and worshipped.

Tags: #2011Writing, Travel Writing Scholarship 2011

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