Rani had nowhere to go. She was in her own home, but visitors outside were unruly and ill-behaved. She got as far away from the noise as she could and began pacing in one corner. But there was no escaping the nosy visitors. They catcalled and whistled and refused to let her rest. A stone was hurled her way by a particularly stubborn man, desperate to get her attention. She let out a warning, but it only got worse.
At 1.30 on a warm September afternoon, Rani decided that she would ignore the rowdies and went to her pool. She submerged herself and turned away from her tormentors. She sat still in the water even as a pebble fell next to her, splashing water on her. Her face was inscrutable. Perhaps, she was contemplating on the irony of it all. It was she who was trapped and they who were free. It was she who was wild and they who were supposed to be intelligent. She was the white tiger, they were the humans.
The noise from the other side of the fence was a usual occurrence. But last Tuesday, Rani had heard strange sounds. Sitting in her smaller enclosure away from the people, she had heard the thud — like that of a man falling over the wall onto their side. It had been 7-year-old Vijay’s turn to be in the larger enclosure that day. She had heard him pad up to the man, curious. For ten minutes, he had been amiable, even thought of leaving the man, Maqsood, alone. After all, his keeper Shyam Lal was calling out to him. But then someone threw a stone and Rani heard the rattle as it hit the cemented wall of the moat. She heard a muffled shout as Vijay pounced and it was all over. Since then, the visitors on the other side of the moat have only grown.
Among those raucously whistling from the other side are a few who wish Rani and Vijay well. Before last Tuesday, there was always a man in a blue uniform asking the others to stop the teasing and to keep their distance. Now there are two. As one parent lifts his young son over the fence to allow him a better view, he yells at Rani. The man in the blue uniform sternly tells them to stay away. “Do you not know what happened last Tuesday? Get away from the fence,” he said. Some agreed with the guard. Others glared at him, but they were in the minority and he didn’t seem to care.
Obstinate, the child remained on the fence, throwing a blue packet of chips into the enclosure. No admonishment came. Instead, the father asked, “Is this the same tiger that killed the boy?”
The guard shook his head and tells them to move ahead. But the man was unconvinced, “They look the same,” he said. Irritated, the guard snapped, “They all look the same. Her name in Rani. That one was called Vijay. Move ahead and don’t anger the animal by crowding around.”
His son climbed down the fence but the duo refused to move on. The guards did, for there were other fires to put out along the viewing area. A new group approached the white tiger enclosure. Man, woman and excited children all enquired if the tiger inside was Vijay. “Is this the one that misbehaved?” one of them said. No more than a hundred feet away, Rani asked that same question.