I tried to silence my heart but I couldn’t. It refused to slow down its beating, echoing in my ears like a twenty-one gun salute. I wasn’t trying to listen to my heart for a magical choice that could change my life. Though quite a good option in soppy stories, that wasn’t my aim, because I was trying to listen to the forest for a creature that could disappear. The Royal Bengal Tiger.
The undergrowth was far too thick. Why, oh why, did we have to come during the monsoon, when all the plants just grew thick and fast and beautiful, also very conveniently covering any creature that wanted to hide in it?
It was doing this on purpose to annoy us, I was convinced.
“Listen!” whispered Phillip. “Alarm calls!” My heart started its gun salute again as I strained my ears. Peew… peew… peew… Those were the chitol (Indian Spotted Deer). They made those sounds only, and only when they smelled a tiger, or a leopard.
“Look, Phillip!” whispered someone else, a touch too loudly, I thought. “Tiger pugmarks.” I leaned over the side of the jeep. There were, indeed, huge footprints, much akin to that of a dog’s enlarged tremendously. I took my camera out and the click of the shutter seemed to resound through the jungle, probably scaring off any big cat in a 10-mile radius.
|The mark of the elusive tiger...|
“Tiger pee,” came another perplexing remark. But with the next one, the murky depths of these strange words were all revealed, but the strangeness did not decrease to any extent whatsoever. “Tiger pee smells like cooking basmati rice.”
Curiosity got the better of me and keeping a wary eye on the surrounding forest, I drew in a huge sniff. And indeed, along with the smell of the fresh grass and the trees and the unavoidable whiff of some creature’s poop, came an undeniable scent of basmati rice. But this just wasn’t any basmati rice. This was basmati rice’s smell exaggerated to an extreme. You almost wanted to gag.
“It’s close by,” whispered Phillip, excitement growing in his voice. “It’s here, somewhere.”
My heart sped up despite all efforts on my part. My full attention as lavished on the trees and the ground. Come on… come on… come on… I tried to imagine how the tiger would appear. Would it come striding out of the undergrowth like it owned the world? Or would we catch a glimpse of its face in a bush? Would it cross the road majestically? Would it…
My stock of would its ran out and reprimanding myself at my lapse of attention I looked again at the unyielding bush. What if I’d missed it as I meditated on its appearance, missing the appearance, as it were, by thinking about it too much? You could have cut the air with a knife. The ‘peew, peew, peew’ of the deer continued on and on, like suspense music. Added to it were the hoots of langurs, repeated over and over with growing intensity. A tree rustled. What was that? My frantically searching eyes turned sticks into legs, grass into faces.
Suddenly, along with the deer and the langurs, came another sound. It was a hoot, but not really a hoot, a growl, almost, but a hootish growl, if that makes any sense. It probably doesn’t make any sense.
“That’s the tiger!” Phillip’s careful whisper rose a little. “It roared!” I was a little mystified. Tigers don’t roar like that. In movies, in books, in comics, everywhere, tigers have earsplitting roars that echo everywhere. Not that thing that we just heard. Phillip rapped on the driver’s cabin, a signal to move. The engine started again, and the sound resounded through the forest. Slowly the deer’s calls ceased with the langurs.
“It’s not here any more,” Phillip said loudly over the sound of the jeep splashing through puddles. “The roar was far away. The deer caught the scent of it, that’s why.”
Slowly my heart slowed down, overwhelmed with disappointment. We had missed the tiger. But, as I thought with a shiver of the sheer excitement of waiting and listening and watching and smelling basmati rice, I had gained an experience.
Have you ever seen a big cat? Or gotten close? Tell us about it in the comments, or, if you have a tale to tell, mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org!
The Glasswing Butterfly