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When the Tiger Came

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By Savitri Narayanan

‘This forest is so kind,’ thought Bholu as he headed home with a headload of firewood. Bholu with his family lived on the outskirts of the Kalia Woods. Years ago, his grandparents had come here from some faraway village. With the help of a few tribal families who also had settled down there, they had built a small shed for themselves. Ever since, Chikripur was home. Bholu’s father was born and grew up there, got married and had children there too. Bholu had an elder brother and sister who passed away young due to some mysterious illness. Bholu grew up into a strong, hardworking young man who at present looked after his grandparents and parents.

Chikripur was on the outskirts of Kalia Woods. The Poorva River flowed past so they were never short of water. A few more families lived in the neighbourhood. They never ventured deep into the forest. Whatever they needed were available not too far. Firewood, wild berries, palm sugar and honey, they never lacked anything! Years of hard work ensured that they lacked nothing, the seasonal fruits and vegetables were available throughout the year. Thanks to Poorva River, they had no shortage of water either. Life was good.

“This forest is our mother!” Bholu’s grandparents often said, pointing towards Kalia Woods. “It has looked after three generations of us!”

Both dadaji and dadiji were more or less bed-ridden. Pitaji and maji too were not as strong as before. They preferred to work around the house tending to the milch cows and the seasonal crops of vegetables or grains.

So, it fell upon Bholu to collect firewood. Sometimes he also caught a rabbit or two, did some fishing or brought home some honey. Right from childhood he had started escorting his grandfather and then his father so that Bholu knew the Kalia Woods like his own backyard. The trees and creepers along the route were like his friends. It seemed like they exchanged greetings as Bholu passed by! Birds like the parrots, peacocks and partridges would also chat with Bholu as he passed by. The deer, the bulldog or the bison, who occasionally crossed his path, would also pause to chat with Bholu. Some of the monkeys on the branches followed Bholu.

At the same time, the animals and birds followed their food protocol and kept to their own designated areas. They lived in harmony.

Once in a long while a tiger or a leopard was sighted and the forest department officers came along tracking them but, generally, the wild animals kept to the interiors. They were rarely seen near Chikripur till that evening.

The sun was slanting westwards. Bholu grew hungrier as he walked back home. He also had caught a rabbit which meant an additional dish for dinner to look forward to!

‘This forest is like our mother,’ grandfather’s words came to Bholu’s mind as he walked along.

Out of the blue appeared a tiger!

There it was, ambling along leisurely from the opposite direction! In all these years in Chikripur, Bholu had never faced a tiger!

‘Would he pounce on me? How to escape? Where to escape? What to do?’ thought Bholu in panic.

The monkeys on the trees chattered away in sympathy.

Bholu instantly dropped the bundle of firewood and took shelter on the nearest tree. It was a peepal tree with many branches spreading away. Bholu climbed up, gripping the branch tightly with his whole body – hands, arms, palms, legs and feet!

The tiger approached, paused near the bundle of firewood and looked up.

‘Tigers are normally not climbers,’ Bholu consoled himself, holding on tightly to the branch. ‘I’m safe here!’

Instead of moving on, the tiger stood his ground, looked up and growled.

Bholu followed the gaze of the tiger and was shocked to see a bear on the branch above!

‘Most bears are herbivorous,’ Bholu remembered his father’s words, ‘some are omnivorous and some are carnivorous too!’

‘I trust you will leave me alone! You’ve so many other things to eat!’ Bholu pleaded with his eyes.

The bear made no attempt to attack Bholu, seemed to ignore him. Instead it growled back at the tiger.

The tiger looked up and continued to roar at the bear.

‘He’s my supper, push him down,’ he seemed to command the bear, ‘you’ve other things to eat!’

The bear growled – and ignored the tiger.

Could the bear be saying, ‘I don’t let down those who seek shelter! Go hunt for food elsewhere!’ wondered Bholu.

The tiger waited a while and ambled away. The monkeys chattered and the mynahs chirped again.

Bholu bowed to the bear, slid down the tree and ran home with the bundle of firewood.

As the family sat around and ate dinner, Bholu narrated the incident.

‘Animals too have their own codes of conduct,’ said a voice from the room within. It was Bholu’s bedridden grandfather who was apparently listening!

The family stopped eating to listen to the feeble voice. “Like us humans, in a moment of crisis, they too show their true nature. The bear could have easily pushed you down to please the tiger but he chose to protect you! God helps in different ways!”

‘This forest truly protects us like a mother!’ thought Bholu as he helped himself to more rabbit stew.

(The author is a retired educationist at present in Bengaluru. A mother and a grandmother, loves reading, writing and travellinng.)