Thrice I was very near to Tiger, the King of Jungle. Twice, the King was visible and only once invisible to me and I narrowly escaped a fatal danger.
Our first meet was on the way to drilling camp from the Base camp. That was an orientation programme for myself before beginning my first assignment.
The year crossed just Mid of November. Due to many unforeseen series of delays, instead of broad day light of noon, we could depart from the Base camp almost at the Sunset.
Senior geologist asked me to meet Nair babu, the drilling camp- in- charge of Hilltop who came down from drilling camp at hilltop to Base camp for weekly meetings.
The meetings, briefings, and issue of materials from stores each pushed the scheduled departure one by one from noon to afternoon. But at the end, Nair babu's driver, and two other juniors added further delays.
Seeing the delay he was fuming and the reasons for his fuming were unfurled within an hour one by one. (I shall talk about Nair Babu, my guru for all round development of mine, later on).
Keeping us waiting for more than half an hour, Nair babu’s juniors came back in irregular steps. To avoid Nairbabu's glaring eyes and flows of volcano from the vents of his throat, they preferred to hide in the back seats.
He said nothing and but started the Jeep. That was an old model willy’s jeep of Mahindra (Willy’s), open on all sides except the tarpaulin top. Just after crossing the Main gate of base
an ace driver deliberately overlooked the speed breaker to shake the intoxicated back
seat passengers with a rough jerk. camp,
Just after the bridge on the hilly river, the twenty-one Km long hilly road piercing the foothill forests on both side with several hairpin bends dew my attention. That was the only motor-able and excellent access to the hill top drilling camp.
Joseph, the regular driver of this jeep then seating just behind him told something to Nair babu but he shook his head and replied something.
Fortunately, both spoke in their mother tongue Malayalam, otherwise I would have made my trousers wet.
I could only understand few English words spoken by both in between their Malayalam, like evening and cat. I learnt later on, that although they preferred to call a spade a spade but “cat” was a code word for Tiger.
However, only minutes later, the apprehension of his driver proved true.
At the end of first hairpin bend of the hilly road, there was a long flat stretch and darkness began to appear. Nair babu switched on the headlights and was about to shift the gear from second to third.
Except me, all the other occupants spotted something simultaneously and the jeep screeched to halt.
A man with frowned forehead just at my back suddenly used his hand to press hard on my lips and whispered, “Buddy, if you do not want any trouble for yourself and us, then just watch the shaking bushes just by your side but without any screams.”
My immediate reaction was something else. This guy, Mathias, from the very first meet, disliked me possibly because a newcomer suddenly became officially his senior. The side he was pointing was valley side. Was this drunken man planning to throw me down the valley?
I immediately looked at Nair babu but he too was also pointing to the valley side. However, following his signals, I first saw a big striped protruding head and glistening pair of eyes marked by red circular outlines.
Within seconds, the King of the Jungle came out from the bush and stepped in the hilly road. The width of the road was not sufficient for this fearsome animal but he decided to lie there.
I was a timid man but it seemed that my fear evaporated within seconds.
I was a timid man but it seemed that my fear evaporated within seconds.
In the following years of my stay in the
Forest, I learnt through my
experiences the truth of a popular jungle saying, “When the object of fear appears
before your eyes, the sense of fear disappears”.
Nair Babu looked at me and signaled Mathias to remove his smelly hand from my mouth. Nair babu and other occupants of the jeep did not loose their nerves. He kept both his feet engaged on the clutch and brake pedals keeping the vehicle ready to leap at any moment.
Nair Babu in a hushed voice asked Joseph, the regular driver of the jeep, “Did the base camp garage crew changed the fan Belt and replaced the dynamo?”
Joseph replied, “Yes sir”
“I told you to get it done with all your serious attention but surely you were busy elsewhere. The dynamo is not charging the battery.”
Another person said “Sir, the head beams are becoming yellowish, in another few min…”
Nair babu looked at me and snarled at the man even in whispering, “Mind your business now; check the weapons under the seat.”
“ Ji (Yes sir)”
“Get four-five of them ready and before diesel soaking check the tightness of jute packs on each of them. It should not be like the last time.”
I felt secured then. Whether illegal or legal, they were getting the self-defense ready. The smell of diesel from the backseat compelled me to have a look at those “weapons” which were getting ready after a diesel bath.
All I could see in the darkness were few one and half-meter bamboo sticks with thick thread like things at the end. Actually these were “Massals”( torches) and then I had no idea about their use.
At that time, I thought these sticks might be good for driving away street dogs and naughty boys could use them for coaxing or patting a lazy tiger dozing inside the cage of the zoo.
However, a wild tiger, which was lying just fifty meters ahead of tasty soft human flesh and blocking the road, this kind of patting might be an invitation to roar and jump at us.
Right then, the King from his lying position looked at the Jeep and possibly disliked yellowish timid headlights of the Jeep. He yawned at us exposing the rows of deadly glistening canine teeth on his jaw but soon turned his head away from us.
The engine did not dare to continue further, coughed and stopped. However, the weak battery stood by us keeping the dim headlights on for few minutes. Except the sound of falling waters from nearby small hilly waterfalls, there was absolute silence.
Nair babu shoved me and signaled to pick up one of the sticks “This is torch and here is lighter. Keep both of them handy and remain alert. The moment we sense anything wrong I shall pat on your shoulder.”
“What happens then?” I whispered that too with a very feeble timid voice possibly avoiding the tiger to overhear.
With a deep furrow in his forehead, he stared at me but said dryly “We all jump out from the jeep and like all of us within seconds you must strike the lighter to light your torch. But do not do anything on your own, that type of thing shall invite danger only.”
The Headlights became feeble and switched off. Even in feeble moonlights, then partly covered by floating cloud, I could see the outline of the tiger.
Nair babu said, “Nobody moves. Wait”
I tried to remember the faces of my nearest and dearest ones. In the following second we all heard a roar.
However, this roar was from another tiger possibly from the deep foothill forest down the valley. Shouting and screaming was prohibited but I could not control the shivers along with a chill flow from my foot to head through the spine. It reminded me of the recent attack of Malaria.
I needed water badly to moisten my dry tongue but soon the saliva and boldness in me appeared. This was the successful result of self-scolding by seeing the fearless reactions of other companions in the Jeep.
They also heard the same roar but rather seemed to be relieved. There was a big “Aha” from everybody.
Nair Babu told me,” Possibly in few moments there is a chance of road clearance”
I could not suppress anymore and quipped “By clearing us?”. I meant it seriously but Nair babu took as if a joke of the week, and whispered, “That’s the spirit. Keep on smiling, your worst troubles get greased and pass on smoothly.”
As soon as he finished, the king of the forest got up, raised his neck to the sky and either from the sky or from his throat, I heard a thunder and nothing else.
A jerk helped me to regain my sense and this jerk was due to restart of jeep by pushing by my fearless companions. Nair babu had no chance to know that I was possibly senseless for a minute or so. At that time, he concentrated straight to the movement of the Tiger.
We were on our way up to the Drilling camp of Hilltop. Nair babu was driving the jeep even with dim headlights and smartly negotiating the curves smoothly. The people seating at the backseats were still discussing about the counter roar from down the valley.
Joseph said , “Biswas Sir, this is the mating season of the Tigers and that roar from down the valley was the last call from his fiance. When we heard the roar from another tiger down the valley, we knew that this tiger cannot ignore and soon the road would be cleared.”
Joseph was sure that this roar was soft and it must be from the tigress.
Nair babu laughed and said, “So our tiger could not ignore this call.”
“our tiger!” Well! I learnt that brave people like Nair babu might have a friendly tiger to be received by diesel soaked torches if so required.
Later on Nair babu told me if you could see a tiger there remained a bright chance that the tiger was not a Man-eater and might spare you.
Just before reaching the
babu looked at my face and said , “Our camp is well protected with trenches and
tall barbed wire fencing. You may pitch your tent anywhere inside the camp.
Valley side is cool and well ventilated.” camp, Nair
Joseph said” Biswas sir, in valley side, wolfs, Hyenas and jackals shout loudly after midnight and disturb your sleep.”
I said dryly, “I am not bothered.” Who else is bothered after the wolf’s call where you might hear the roar of tigers?
(The Pic. of the tiger is a real one and was taken by me)