Sunday, November 28, 2010

The real deal

When the Gujarati grandmom, a fellow tourist on the Sunderban Tiger Reserve launch, the MV Chitrarekha which was both our Tiger Reserve hotel and Tiger Reserve vehicle, yelled a shrill "Tiger!" at 7:05 AM on the morning of the 14th of November, 2010, I had very good reasons not to feel excited. The previous day had already seen overexcited eyes identifying a herd of Chital deer and a sauntering, casual wild boar as the big sighting, a dream which I unfortunately had to puncture via the 10X optical zoom digital camera borrowed from a friend for this trip. The feeling of being inside a jungle was tremendous in itself but hallucinations were not to be encouraged. Nonetheless I moved quickly to the starboard (right) side of the vessel and looked in the direction her shaking finger was pointing to because like everyone else who was making this trip or had done so in the past, a question loomed large over my head. What if?
I was lucky not to be completely pessimistic on this occasion because what I saw was too far away to tell how big it was, but it doesn't take too much to tell the distinctive coat coloured in a combination of black and gold. At the edge of the water in one of the many narrow water channels that we had seen in this thick jungle leading off from the main channel through which our big launch was plowing, stood the top predator of the jungle casually looking at us. The top deck was nearly empty but for about 10 odd people as the few people who had groggily woken up for the sunrise had gone back down to their beds. The launch was well past the channel where the animal stood and I got only a 5 second look at it before we lost sight of it.
The launch was too big to brake to a sudden halt and turning it around would generate so much engine noise that the creature would be scared off anyway. So the pleas to the launch's Captain to turn around by those who had missed it fell on deaf ears and the vessel chugged on. That would be the only glimpse of the Royal Bengal tiger that we would get on this vessel in this trip, rare as it is to spot a tiger from a launch in the Sunderbans.
All of the mystery, all of the fear, all of the awe of being in a jungle stemmed out of the presence of this one creature and the fervent hope of seeing it in its full wild glory. I hardly saw it for those few seconds with concentration as my heart was working overtime and my eyes analyzed the possibilities before agreeing on the obvious. By the time my brain was ready to make a decision, the visual link was lost.
It was there. Like a ghost, like a myth, like a legend - its existence believable and valuable to only those who had set eyes on it and those young at heart. Everyone knows that the Sunderbans are teeming with tigers; everyone knows that the terrain is the most unsuitable for viewing a tiger and the chances of seeing one are close to nil yet so many are still willing to take that slimmest of chances. I took that chance and fate favoured me. I almost felt happy that I did not find time enough to take a picture to show the world and thankfully neither did the few who spotted it. Having all its mystique reduced to a piddly concrete JPEG image on my desktop is not how I would like to remember my first encounter with a tiger in the wild. It still stalks the jungles of my imagination, elusive, powerful and majestic. It was no coincidence that the date was the 14th of November, the day that India celebrates as Children's Day. Save the tiger not just for the environment, not just for the future generations and not just for the integral place it holds in our culture. Save the tiger because it keeps that child of adventure and wonder inside us all alive.
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Anonymous said...

Lucky You! Getting to see the tiger in wilderness of the Sunderbans!

Riti Roy said...

Loved your photographs! A lot like I had imagined it to be. I wanted to see a kumir pic though :P ...

Kunal said...

brilliant man...great post.

Roy said...

@Pratik: Sure was lucky to get that one glimpse!

@Riti: The place is almost unearthly in many ways. I really wanted to see a huge 'kumir'. But no luck! :(

@Kunnu: Thanks buddy! All set for ur Goan cycling trip?