Amble Like A Leopard
I saw flying fish and dolphins in their natural habitats much earlier than I could see a leopard in a jungle. It does not mean I am more into the sea than into jungle. It only shows one thing: our experiences are, to an extent, determined by the chances that come our way.
There has to be a first time for everything-and to be memorable, it should be unexpected and delightful. Not like the fear of a jab that comes upon you when the nurse proceeds to inject your unscathed deltoid muscle for the first time in life, with a lot of gesticulation and a plethora of frightening paraphernalia. To be delightful, it should be something different, very much like bumping into a leopard on your way, unbelievingly and delightfully.
And it happened with me today.
As a child I had heard many stories of tigers and leopards; read the related literature, prominent among them were the stories of Jim Corbett and Ruskin Bond that made me fear the wild prowess of the animal; and now with conservation ethos taking root in my day-to-day consciousness, that wonderful animal has become an object of my adoration.
Till yesterday, nay until the moment before that revealing experience of today, seeing them physically had not been possible for me, except observing occasionally those emaciated caged animals that restlessly pace up and down in the zoo, shooed, teased and pelted day in, day out by the uncouth visitors. In a way, observing them as such used to foment my inner sense of human sadism: tiger is no more powerful than man; tiger is as meek an animal as our house cat; tiger is tamable, and so on.
But today for the first time in my life I saw a leopard crossing my road. The road was of smooth tarmac, meandering across the jungle, and I was inside my vehicle, a safe one of Tata make, Tata Turin to be precise. The time was evening; say evening six-thirty to be exact. My driver and another two of my colleagues were seated on the front seat and I was at the rear seat enjoying an ultra-smooth drive in that sylvan ambience. Winter evening had brought plenty of darkness quite early and the driver had already turned the headlight on. The road was almost empty and everything was visible, from the roadside vegetation to the insignificant unevenness on the road.
It was a little more than seventeen kilometers from the nearest town Berhampur, which is where we were heading for, and by that time we had run past a temple named Ghatakeshwar. It is a Siva temple and I was then trying to commit the name of the temple to my memory, for I really felt the spot was nice enough for a revisit, at least once more during day time.
'Aha! A dog on the road,' instantly I could know that it was a special kind of dog, a lazy mongrel or something of the sort. It was a hundred meters ahead of us at the maximum, trying to cross from left to right. Then it changed its mind. All drivers know them well, the creatures that change their mind in the middle of the road are quite nightmarish, unpredictable. It swerved a U-turn and began to return to the left. We had by then come nearer the animal. Now I had to revise my opinion: 'It is not a dog, a creature bigger than dog, maybe a jackal-a fat jackal. Oh no, it's not a jackal even, it's something more than that.' Two things struck me-one, it had a log tail, longer than its body sans head; and then, it was moving majestically. Seconds gone, I had known what I was seeing; it was a majestic leopard with a spotted body.
We were very close, almost at the clicking distance. Alas! My mobile didn't have a camera in it. The leopard did not show any hurriedness, though, as it swerved and took a turn towards our left. It just ambled its way to go out of our way.
I thought, 'We are in hurry, not the leopard'.
A. N. Nanda