Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright

“ Aye, Cooper ! ” my mom screamed,” Don’t go near the road .You will fall into that coop again.”   I kept jumping over the branches till my mom got hold of my tail and dragged me to a safer place, away from the road.

She dreaded that place ,because humans were generally seen there ,sitting in the  barred coops/vans .These coops moved to and fro on the road several times every day.These people created weird sounds when they spotted any of the inmates of this forest.Sometimes people came in other vehicles also. Curious children shouted and laughed,when they saw us.

I always wondered why these funny animals having  all sorts of strange furs were kept in the coops.

A few of such creatures were  sometimes seen loitering aimlessly in the forest.Mom could tell them by their smell and knew that they were harmless.

Still she warned us, “ Some of these are monsters,they carry something that creates a loud sound and it can kill.Don’t go near humans. They are not dependable.”

I loved my home—-this dark, deep, mysterious forest—ever changing and still the same.

Mom jumped from branch to branch in search of fruits and shoots . I kept clinging to her all the time.No matter how high or how far she jumped,I never fell down.  Slowly I learnt to jump myself .

Every Sunrise brought new surprises— creepy caterpillars, slithering snakes ,fluttering butterflies,huge elephants and tiny rodents. Vast variety of trees and bushes and vines and shrubs. Mom would tell me what to eat and what not to,“No, no,don’t eat this bright looking fruit,” She would warn me,” it’s poisonous.” I wondered at her knowledge. There was no end to my curiosity and no end to the miracles that the forest unfolded.

The forest was full of all sorts of animals——deer, dholes, gaurs, wild boars, elephants, panthers and even tigers . Wemonkeys could wander any where in the forest.

(By the way, we are not  ordinary monkeys.We are Langurs ,descendants of lord Hanuman, with shiny grey bodies and black faces Our community stands out in beauty and grace. No other monkey can beat us in agility and grace)

Do you know how I got my name? Everyone called me little one previously and I hated it.

It so happened,one day while I was running away from the grip of my mom , I climbed the highest branch of the tree that stood near the road. It was a very delicate branch and mom feared that it could  break any time.Unable to come back ,I remained there grasping the branch tightly and trembling like a leaf. Other langurs came to my rescue,but could not help me. The branch would’ve broken if any one tried to reach me.

Exactly at that time, a caged van containing humans passed that way. In a confusion, I jumped on to it.

I landed on the head of a fat human, who panicked and screamed loudly.There was a commotion inside the van. I screeched, jumped from one corner to another. Humans in the van screamed louder than me, tried to run to the corners of the van. Their shrieks scared me. On top of it, some of the bolder ones tried to catch me.I clawed a few and bit one ,who was able to get hold of my tail.It was pandemonium.

One of the kids kept saying,”What a sweet monkey!Coop her, coop her.” He wanted to carry me home along with him.

Meanwhile,my mom and other langurs followed the van—screaming, hooting ,even howling to inform others .

One of the humans intervened and captured me in a net. Carefully, he opened the door of the van and placed me outside the van.I clung to my mom who had reached there by that time. But I wanted to go back and have a ride in the van.

From that day onwards, they started calling me Coop her ,Cooper, Cooper!

I had a few older siblings and a lot of cousins.  I was the naughtiest infant around. Mom always kept an eye on me.I would tease everyone around.

Another forbidden place for me was the loveliest nook near the ravine.Our troop went to drink water at this place.It  kept getting broader and shallower as it went down It was a favourite place of all the inhabitants of our verdant world. Sitting on top of the trees, I could watch herds of elephants, deer, gaurs coming there to drink water. Tigers and panthers also visited the same place for drinking water. But they all had an uncanny sense of one another’s presence.None of the animals clashed near the source of water.

The ravine flowed down a little hillock nearby. It got converted into a beautiful brook, an expanse of blue water showing every boulder, stone or pebble even at the bottom.An exact replica of the trees and vines on its border could be seen in its clear waters during the day . Little fish were seen jumping and falling down with a plop. Sometimes I was able to catch a fish by its tail and then throw it back.We enjoyed splashing water on each other. We jumped and giggled,baring our teeth.

But the real fun lay in teasing Raju and Mohan,two silly looking tiger cubs, whose mother left them alone in their lair, when she went for hunting.It was a small cave under the boulders, on one side of the brook .They invariably came out as soon as Molly, their mother went away l also waited for her to go away and bullied the cubs to no end. Dangling by my long tail ,I Slapped them, pulled  their tails and then jumped up the tree. They chased me round the trees but were not able to catch me.

Mom always feared that Molly would capture and consume me one day. Molly could climb trees.Even the cubs could have their revenge when they grow up.“ Why don’t you understand,Cooper?” she would say, “Play with rabbits, deer or some other less dangerous animals, but not with tiger cubs.”I always brushed aside her babbling and continued with my pranks.

Days were getting warmer.Forest  was now filled with new smells and sounds . Some strange creatures that I had never seen before were coming out of their hibernation.Birds chirped and sang . Peacocks danced and Song birds sang full throttled.New buds adorned the plants and soon the entire jungle changed from olive green to pink, red and yellow.

Season changed . It had become very hot now.The grass on the forest floor had almost dried .Herbivores were finding it difficult to get enough food, Herds were closing near the brook ,where the ground was green still.

The forest was invaded by more humans, especially the malevolent ones. They frequented my favourite brook. It was becoming broader each day because the snow had started melting on the higher ranges. Everyday, I heard loud sounds followed by painful cries of a cheetal , gaur or some other animal. Mom had warned us to hide ourselves in case we saw any of them.

That day I was playing with my friends near the brook, teasing Raju and Mohan as usual . There these were —- ominous dark clouds visible from a distant.Nay,these were not clouds .These were the thick billows of smoke folding over each other. They were coming towards us with each gush of strong wind. There was a suffocating smell of burning in the air. Mom and other Langurs started howling. A herd of pachyderms was soon visible running out of the smoke. They impeded the march of smaller animals. There was an exodus.They all were  running to our direction. Some were half burnt .A few could make progress, some collapsed there only. There were shrieking and howling and crying  all over.

Grey and black clouds soon changed into orange and red tongues of fire. They were rolling fast towards us, licking and devouring every tree ,plant, nest or lair.The sky turned brick red.  Trees crackled and hissed , Fire leapt ahead ,charring vegetation, consuming any bird or beast that came in its way.Hell had been let lose on our paradise.

Mom called out to me. We could feel the intense heat now. Everyone was running away. But what about Raju and Mohan?They hadn’t yet learnt to swim. How would they cross the brook ? Their mother hadn’t reached yet. Perhaps she would never come.

Mom tried to drag me, but I stood my ground. An instinct told me that I would not be able to play with Raju and Mohan if I left them behind.”What to do? “ I stood there bewildered. An idea struck my mind. I slapped Raju on the back and started running towards the brook and jumped into its water  He followed me by instinct and Mohan followed him.They had  entered water for the first time. Raju jumped and started swimming . Mohan was reluctant at first. He tarried. Watching  both of us swim he took the plunge. Soon we were on the other side of the brook, panting and exhausted.

Just then Molly, the tigress appeared on the other side. The cubs hesitated for a moment. They tried to run back to their mother. But were picked up by humans and put in a van with many more of us..Fire was now rolling towards us.

In that red glow, I could see Molly, the tigress burning all over running majestically towards us as fast as possible.

Author’s Note:-

Idea of the story was taken from Bandipur Tiger Reserve forest fire . It was a man made tragedy.

***

Photo By: Sarita Khullar

***

This is an entry for #InnsWoods, #Artales18, A Room8 writing event. Checkout the event guidelines here:  http://writers.artoonsinn.com/artales18
The event is sponsored by Manoj Paprikar, Author of Death at Midnight by ArtoonsInn room9 publications. Manoj Paprikar is a doctor by profession and a writer at heart. Through his latest venture with room9publications, he earnestly brings forth the plight of the medical profession that affects both the healthcare providers and patients at large.
Get your copy of Death at Midnight here:
www.artoonsinn.com/shop or
https://www.amazon.in/dp/8194132649

Room8 appreciates your rating of the story out of 10 in the comments.

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Sarita Khullar
Sarita Khullar is a retired associate professor in English from Hans Raj Mahila Mahavidyalaya, Jalandhar. She loves poetry and fiction. She also likes birds, flowers, animals, and humans.
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