Knight of the night

From my position I could get a clear view of the rib cage and the insides of the stomach, the sight of which churned up my own insides. I tried to move away but the rudimentary wooden floor beneath my feet began to creak and sway, threatening to give away. I immediately stopped and stood perfectly still, my heart pounding wildly. Already oscillations induced by external forces had taken a toll on the strength of the flimsy structure and I dreaded challenging it any further.

Marooned for the night in a machan in the heart of an Indian Jungle, I was held hostage by a suffocating stench - just a few feet away from where I stood lay a freshly-killed deer, blood still oozing from the tears.

Summers in India are strong and scorching with the inhabitants of the jungle congregating near the few water holes that have still not dried up. The machan, a raised wooden platform anchored to the branch of a banyan tree, where I had voluntarily holed myself up for the night with the ambition of viewing wildlife at close quarters, faced a lake. An array of activities was going on at the water front- it was fascinating to observe how beautifully the animals were adapting themselves in a bid to beat the heat. A handful of wild boars were busy with a slush-bath ritual, generously coating themselves with wet clay while a herd of herons using their long pointed beaks as natural sprayers were engaged in soaking their plumes.

Tired out by the languorous late afternoon heat, I had unknowingly surrendered into the seductive arms of Morpheus only to be woken by the sudden appearance of a summer storm. The sky in the meantime had changed colour -grown growly and appeared cinereous as daylight swiftly disappeared and a premature darkness descended upon the jungle.

The wind grew increasingly violent. The horizontally-constructed machan, assuming a 45 degree tilt, began to groan and sway dangerously. Razor-sharp rain pelted the earth and simultaneously, I became aware of a stealthy padding sound accompanied by a gory stench emanating from underneath the machan. I was still figuring out the answer when a large boom followed by a burst of lightning enlightened me that the king of the jungle for a darshan (view) of whom I had been eagerly waiting all this while was right under me, relishing his freshly procured dinner.

A peculiar tearing sound punctuated with occasional grunts soon surfaced about the howling of the wind and the hurried rustle of the leaves. I was shivering furtively with fright and due to the sudden flight of temperature induced by the sudden shower, my only ray of hope being that tigers are not blessed with a strong sense of smell as other predators.

A little later, still shaking but choked with curiosity to catch a glimpse of the beast, I cautiously peered through the crack in the floor and stumbled upon a strange sight which sent a shiver down my spine. The tiger was nowhere to be seen, but the dead half-eaten deer was shuddering and shaking furtively as if it was trying to get up. My hands shook and the torch dropped to the floor with a big thud. Immediately, a striped golden apparition emerged from the carcass and with a deafening roar vanished into the darkness. The tiger had been feeding inside the deer!

The rest of the night passed off without any further event. The next day dawned bright and sunny. I descended from the machan and was about to set off in the jeep sent by the tour operator, when the driver pointed to a bush a handful of yards from the tree. The tiger, carefully camouflaged amongst the fallen leaves with only the tip of the tail visible was basking in the sun, in all probability recovering like me, from the previous night's adventure.

P Saha

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