The following incident took place in Polbattur Village within the Balaghat Tx2 site. Located in WWF-India’s Satpuda Maikal Landscape, Balaghat, a tiger heartland, is an extraordinary example of the cohabitation of humans and wildlife species outside of protected areas. Tigers, leopards, wild dogs and other wildlife species are regularly spotted around the village, both directly and through their signs. This particular incident took place near the end of summer this year.
It was the end of a hard day of field work. I had come inside and settled down on the khatiya (rope cot), ready for a night of undisturbed pristine village sleep, the most relaxing kind. The village rendered dark by the conspicuous absence of electricity, despite the presence of power lines and a transformer, I soon sank into a dreamless sleep listening to soft conversations around the fireside outside and the general tranquil noise of the forest.
Nearly an hour later, I was nudged awake. ‘Wake up bhai, if you want to listen to something truly amazing.’ It was Lalu Bhaiyya, his urgent whispers belying his excitement. “What is it?” I asked, intrigued but also exhausted in a way that makes each bed feel like home. “Come out fast and you’ll see.” he said as he tapped me once more on the shoulder, took three long stooping steps and resumed his place by the fireside. Adequately curious now, I dangled my legs down from the khatiya and fumbled for my phone. It was fifteen minutes past eleven, an odd hour to be awake in the village.
I was just stepping out of the cottage when I heard the first roar.
You didn’t so much hear the roar in your ears as you felt it in your chest. Low and rumbling, it could easily be mistaken for the rumbling of clouds in the monsoon. But the skies were clear that day, a crescent moon casting its faint light over the landscape. I made my way to the fireside as Ganesh and Eeshu Kaka shifted to make space for me. Even though the winters were quite some time away, there was a nip in the air and the fire a welcome comfort.
‘Did you hear that?’ Eeshu Kaka asked me once I had settled. I nodded, perking up my ears to ensure I caught the next roar as well. It wasn’t necessary, when it came, nearly a minute after the first, it reverberated within my ribcage even after it had ceased. “How far do you think it is from us?” I asked Eeshu Kaka. “Not very far. He’s crossing the nala (stream) into compartment number 41.”
I took this information for granted. Eeshu Kaka was a retired forest chowkidar, the frontline staff of the Forest Department. For more than 40 years he had traversed the area around his village on foot for a variety of tasks ranging from the official to the personal. Ganesh, who had inherited his position, nodded his head in agreement.Kaki however, with considerable experience of her own, disagreed with the old man’s prediction. She too had walked the forest at all hours of the day and night for a diverse set of goods available in the forest which she required to run her house. “He’ll walk along our fields on this side till the Saja tree. Then he’ll cross over, using the rocks there.”
“No mataramthat’s during the monsoons and the winters when there is more water in the nala. He’ll cross the nalainto 41 and then head downhill towards 39.” Says Ganesh, making his opinion known. As if to settle the matter the tiger roars again, indicating his position. “See?” says Eeshu Kaka, vindicated.
The author, Abhik Palit, is a Project Officer in the Satpuda Maikal Landscape, WWF-India