Down in jungleland: In the madding crowd

The city is no place for a big cat to burn bright.

Written by Ranjit Lal | Published:March 5, 2017 12:00 am

World Press Photo

We have seen on television how deadly nature can be by dropping military-trained survival experts and ex-Special Forces commandos into the wilderness, equipped with very little survival gear (except decades of hard training and experience); and, letting them fend for themselves till they find “civilisation”. Today, let’s look at a reverse scenario. Let’s imagine that we have dropped an ordinary leopardess (let’s call her Rani) and her adolescent cub (Shona) in the middle of Connaught Place, New Delhi, to see how they fare in their attempt to get back to the wild. (Reader discretion is advised as the killing of pet/stray animals may be involved.)

Rani: So here’s the situation, beta: we’ve been dumped in the middle of this place, in the middle of the night, and have to find our way back to the banks of Yamuna, after which we follow the river back to our usual jungle habitat. Now, the first order of business is to do an inventory of what survival equipment we have, the second, to find a vantage point and figure out the lay of the land. So, beta jaan, what do you have?

Shona: Teeth and claws. Ma, I’m already hungry.

Rani: I have teeth and claws, too. You can’t just eat the first thing you find here — nearly everything (and everyone) has plastic in them. Remember, we have to remain unseen and undetected at all times. If we’re spotted, we’re done for. Now, stay close.

Shona: Ma, there are all kinds of delicious smells coming from that restaurant. Let’s go! We need to stock up on the calories and hydrate ourselves!

Rani: Be quiet and stop drooling! Can’t you see it’s full of people? We just lie low here amongst these pots and pans, and, for heaven’s sake, don’t upset them! Come on, let’s slink out of this window, it’s not safe here.

[They slink out of an open window and leap lithely on to the terrace. They make their way to the edge and Rani stands still, sniffing the air and looking towards the east]

Rani: That way, we head east. Right now, we get down…

Shona: When do we eat? I’m starving.

Rani: There’s sure to be garbage lying around. Once we get to the ground, we’ll hunt for some.

[Unseen, they leap down from parapet to parapet and land in an empty parking lot. They slink towards a large pile of garbage in a corner of the Outer Circle.]

Shona: [Sniffing rapturously] Is this dead bandicoot safe to eat?

Rani: Roadkill! Ideally, we ought to have killed it and eaten it fresh, but wait! Look, that dog’s coming this way.

[A Pomeranian out for a late pee and midnight snack, saunters towards the garbage heap. There is a flash of gold, a stifled yelp and the Pomeranian vanishes]

Rani [Licking her chops]: It’s not much, but it’ll keep us going for a bit.

Shona: [Spitting out fur] Ugh! I’m going to get a hairball! And it smells of shampoo! These city dogs!

[At that moment, they are spotted by a man waiting in a corner to snatch someone’s smartphone. “Bagh, bagh, bagh!” he yells. People pour out of restaurants and bars, shouting and waving beer bottles threateningly.]

Rani: Oh crap, we’re rumbled! Run, beta, run! They’ll be on us like a swarm
of locusts!

[The drunken mob roars recklessly after them and chases them into a cul-de- sac]
Shona: Ma, we’re surrounded! There’s no way out of here!

[The mob heaves back and forth, yelling and shrieking. Sticks and rods are waved and stones start showering down on the leopards. Police sirens draw close.]

Rani: [Snarling] Beta, we’re going to have to make a break for it. I’m going to charge them, they’ll probably scatter like rats. Then, we just run! Stay right behind me!

Shona: I’m scared!

[The mob moves in menacingly, led by macho young studs fuelled on Gorilla Rum and Tarzan beer. Rani crouches, ready to pounce and emits a blood-curdling snarl. The heroes lurch backwards into the pressing mob. The mob falls all over itself. The leopards leap over the falling bodies and streak down the road. Police jeeps scream after them. They are chased all the way to Lodi Gardens where, unseen, they find refuge in one of the great, calm monuments.]

Rani [Panting]: You okay? Whew! That was close!

Shona: I’m good. Ma, why did they come after us like that?

Rani: [Shrugging and licking herself.] It’s the nature of the beast, beta. They say they worship nature and animals, but then this!

Shona: What do they taste like?

Rani [Grimaces]: What do you think creatures like that would taste like?

Shona: What now? It’s beginning to get light.

Rani: They’ll be searching for us everywhere, setting up traps and whatnot. We stay here until nightfall. Then we try and make our way back to the river.

Shona: I’m hungry.

Rani: Don’t worry beta. A lot of fat dogs come here for walks. We’ll see what we can pick up.

[The following night the two leopards find their way to the banks of the Yamuna near ITO.]

Shona: [Wrinkling up his nose] Ma, are you sure this is the river? It stinks.

Rani: Oh yes, it has smelt like a vat for a long, long time now. We head north from here.

[Eventually they pass by the Yamuna Biodiversity Park]

Shona: Ma, this looks like a nice place to hang out. Why don’t we stay here?

Rani: Yes. It used to be a wasteland, now it’s the perfect habitat for us; must say they did a wonderful job. One of your uncles even came here. Then he was trapped and sent away. Humans just don’t think things through. As you’ve seen beta, civilisation is no place for us, but tragically, soon there’s going to be nowhere else for us to live because they’ll have destroyed every single wild place.

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and birdwatcher.

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