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Tiger trail

When i was in school, which was really long ago, i’d read the book by Jim Corbett on the tigers. His description upon seeing a tiger was what i had kept in my mind always. To hope i too see a tiger in it’e eyes when IF & when do see one. June 3 -7, i was on way to Tadoba tiger reserve… forest in Chandrapur. It was sheer determination, I wanted to see real tigers yet again before they become extinct. Unlike other tiger reserves, Tadoba has NO forced sighting of tiger. It’s sheer luck, by chance….

I was determined to go under any circumstances. I was fed up on my job, my work profile & fed up of petty politics. Instead of whining & complaining i thought, yes let me see beyond humans. I’ve always loved a tiger & tried to trail wherever, like in Chitwan when i went way back in the early 90s. So here i was alone exploring, just with a gut feeling i WILL see a tiger.

My aai, (mother) was hell bent on not letting me go, just for the records the temperatures in this area were varying between 48-50 degs. Deaths of people, monkeys, other animals were reported from Vidarbha region. This was my chosen destination. I packed 8 bottles of nimbooz-ready made lemon juice available, electral, 20 bottles of water. My bag nearly bogged down my shoulders wt the sheer weight of these bottles. All for the tiger.

My start to the journey was hilarious. After a mix up of train timings my friend told me i had only 45 mins to reach the VT station. I hate uncertainities, i plan travel rather tediously, well in time before departure. This was rush, rush. Reached in time for Nagpur train. My friend & colleague Jaideep one fo the finest reporters in young Vidarbha region. He arranged everything for me…i took a car & left for chandrapur, however the forest officials had just left back for nagpur. It was merry go round for me going fm pillar to post to get inside. Finally i made it to the forest fm Kuthvanda gate. Now ONLY at Tadoba have they divided the number of vehicles across the 5 gates. But the problem is vehicles that need to be allowed should be only gypsies. However public use all their political clout, access to officials & ministers & then they all come in their own petrol/diesel vehicles.

The first eve was doomed. Everyday on every trip i spent Rs 1500/- nearly. I didn’t ask the officials to take me in their vehicles, because that would mean it wasn’t seeing by chance. Till then i saw NO tiger…but what a terrain! Parched, dry, pinching my insides. Skin felt torn, head splitting wt the heat. I kept sipping water. Thankfully visiting a forest is no mean task. It also means getting to see innumerable birds & animals that we otherwise can’t. So while the tiger was away the monkeys, bulls, deers of all varieties, birds were at play.

On 2nd day early morn was a monkey show ONLY for me. i told the official they have to let me in their vehicle. I saw 5 youth wt cameras. I smelt a rat. I too had professional cameras, not a single but 2 cameras. He was trying to postpone my visit, the field officer & i realised if i let go of that chance i’d never get it again. Unfortunately for that officer, he was calling out to those 5 youth, while the gypsy owner signalled me. He said the officer was calling me, i went ahead & finally my friend Jaideep called. I told him the whole story & he was like just go ahead.

The officer asked me to sit rt inside in the gypsy. I said no, im a lady i can’t get squashed between all the men. Honestly it wasn’t a excuse. When realised there were 5 men, i made immediate calculations & realised that i’d NOT get any chance to click a single pic. They trouped in & i shoved them inside in the back seat.

Finally we went to the water hole, where grandly sat a tigress wt her 2 cubs…she gave us ferocious looks for a few seconds, then when the jeep was turned off, she sat quietly keeping a watchful eye over her cubs. These were one & a half yrs old. They looked fully grown. They were awesome. By then, i’d forgotten all about my thirst, immense heat & blistering sun. It all got eclipsed in a fraction of a second. I recently told a friend that i was headed to the jungle to meet my 1st love, the tiger. Truly i think i love this animal more than anything else.

The cubs were happy soaked till their necks in the water. Believe me if we humans find 48 degs & humidity that day was over 65% hot, then it’s twice more for those animals. I was stunned by their beauty. We moved reverse, came closer when i got a better view & then one cub got up fm the water to give me that ‘tiger’ look. That cub was signalling me that ‘look don’t forget i’m a tiger!’ then he went towards the mother to climb over her & play wt her. The tigress was just too watchful keeping an eye over her other 2 cubs.

We came out i wanted to dance around like the bhalu to express my immense happiness. But more was to come, which i didn’t know. By then i was relaxed, i’d got something that most don’t easily get. Yet i felt the Jim Corbett experience had eluded me. By then I’d happily seen 8-10 varieties of deer species, bisons, plenty of birds, peacocks, bear that ran amok right up til the gate, monkeys, especially the black faced ones, the langoors. So on & so forth.

The officials had booked me in the director’s room at the rest house. It overlooked the lake at Kolsa. It was truly beautiful but everything was hot. Even the ground was hot that day, it was immensely sultry as there had been few showers inside Moharli gate & village. Next day early morn i reached Kolsa gate & the guide Rajesh took me around. Around 10.15am there was a buzz among drivers & vehicles that a tigress had sat in numb 2 water hole when she heard a vehicle & had gone inside the jungle. We waited there. Thankfully one professional group of wildlife specialists were there. They were keen enthusiasts who could shut up loud public, noisy vehicles and abso listless public that had no idea about dos & don’ts of a jungle.

We stuck behind their vehicle. We sat watching as every minute in that heat seemed as if i was in the middle of a lava, or crater. The heat was killing. On top of that i had climbed out & sat on the window after rolling down the glass. I kept both the cameras handy the manual & digital. That tigress was a treat to the eyes! to say the least. She walked stealthily popped her head out, looked around & went right back. She must’ve really got pissed off by the human beings. But its summer time, the tigers & bisons can’t stay out of the water for long.

It was then i recollected Jim Corbett’s words. All that i had read came to my mind. Jungle & especially tiger trail teaches one a lot. Mainly being patience. I had all the time in my life I’d come for this purpose ONLY. The public in other vehicles was getting impatient. I tell you we city people should be disallowed from jungles if we can’t behave ourselves. Then the professional foursome hushed everyone. They told me, ‘These are sarcastic bastards who want to tease the tigers.’ it’s true to a large extent. Then madam tigress came halfway out. I was dumbfounded, absolutely silenced. I only wanted to see her. My first instinctive action was not to rush for the camera, instead i remember saying, “Wow! she’s gorgeous.” If the US army has a weapon called stealth bomber, its a name abso apt for the tigress. She moved with such conviction, majestically she commanded attention & yet so agile, silent, its amaZing.

She went around from behind the water hole she moved in, keeping an eye on us all. Then the profnals requested all cars to wait for at least 10 m
ins silently. Just then one jerk’s car wt automatic lock made some sound. His defense was, “what can i do?” He drove right behind us disturbing the tigress. She was losing patience. Predators are of cat family & they like their space. They need to be left alone, i believe in it & follow the same attitude. My mother always says ‘Neeta you must’ve been a cat in your previous birth.” she thinks i’m vv cat like.

Then the jerk behind us honked & that was it, another impatient bimbo put his gypsy in motion. They tried to blame my driver for the noise, but all knew it wasn’t us. The tigress had had enough of us humans & went inside the jungle. By the time we went to th rest house in a huff the guard told me he had taken action on the guide & fined the vehicle for breaching the rules. Those tourists left in i give a shit.

Our guide was one great human. He knew his jungle well. He told me “Madam you come by 2.45pm sharp at the gate, we will go inside. I guarantee you the tigress will be at the water hole.” We saw many birds & animals, including mountain rat, Ghorpad. Yes, same one fm Shivaji’s story days. We went on water hole trail & there she sat inside the pond. She sensed us, in few secs got up quietly & went inside. I got her pics. Then she looked harassed by humans, sounds & more so the heat. She was thirsty & wanted to cool off. So we waited patiently at a distance. This was abso EXCLUSIVE. Tigress sat wt her head down abt to sleep. Then came trail of pvt vehicles. Their car nearly fell on one side as the elders, kids squealed loudly…look tiger tiger..kuthe…toh bagh..tithe…it was like a zoo. The tigress surely must’ve thought we are all from some zoo. stupid, ridiculous the whole atmosphere was.

Then word spread around that we were the only ones to see the tigress. suddenly all & sundry came to ask when next will we see a tiger, was it male, female. blah blah. We had our show. We were fed up & we had had our fill. Meanwhile Anil driver & rajesh guide got into a competition to tell me whose luck had rubbed off on me. I was like i’m really lucky to have 2 people’s luck rub off on me!

I know one thing for sure, this is one majestic animal, tiger/tigress & i had a dream that i’d see it walk past me. It happened. It was magical, i have no words to describe that ultimate pleasure.

Billimora trip

There are many memories when one is growing that are pleasant & many more that are worth forgetting. Most often as we grow older we forget the bad ones & try & hold onto dear ones…I’ve tried to clear my memory of most experiences- good or bad…however some stand etched permanently.

I went to Surat & then to Bilimora on this weekend. For most Bilimora is the station after Valsad on way to Delhi. Bilimora is a far off suburb for the richie rich Navsari Parsis & Gujjus. There were industries & remaining were farmlands; it was a weekend getaways for the Navsariwalas.

Now Bilimora is a town which is unique – gets hot in summer & really cold in winters. It has a some river side area …small compared to even any stream in the western ghats. The drinking water tastes awful. Its salty, terribly hard for Bombayites like me. It was traumatic to say the least. I’d get Nightmares & was always ill. My aai’s (mother’s) maternal home wc was actually a palatial villa. See, there are few secrets of the family which I can’t reveal..some I may just let out…but believe me when I say palatial its NO exaggeration. It was 52 rooms like old palace…No rickety stairs but many swings..remember ayega…ayega?? (Old Hindi film).

Ok so on the Gandevi road to the left was this Sardesai villa –Lokesh Bhuvan. On Monday morn it was a mission for my cousin Milind & me to make our trip come true! Our maternal uncle’s daughter made contact wt me. She & her crafty, schizo husband called me one night persuading me to come to visit them. Now my last memories of this house, nearly 28 yrs ago, was what I remember… a beautiful memory that was, till I saw the eventual reality. I NEVER wanted to go there after the 50th wedding anniv of my grandparents. By which time I had got the power to say NO! Didn’t want to re-visit a place where I had memories of being abused. Physically and sexually.

Yet, my cousin, my mother’s younger sister’s son was my support. He & i have been buddies since childhood and he convinced me to go. We made a plan & I informed Sonali & her husband…they were all gungho, till they realised I wont be coming alone…they informed me –after I had made all the train bookings that “pl don’t come, We won’t be in Bilimora, we have to go to Ahmedabad for an unlimited period of time.” I called Milind & he said I shld come to Surat, only to prove a point we should go to Bilimora.

Yes, both our instincts told us that this was all a BIG lie, no one was going anywhere…they did NOT want us to come. We both wanted to make a point. But you know what, NO one can deny us the right to visit our maternal grandparents home. Bcoz of our mothers, all cousins, till I was born, were born either in Surat or Bilimora, bcoz cousin’s father was a fine gynac. I was the first to be born in Bombay.

Now before i had left i had heard of ghostly stories about the place – it was in shambles, NOTHING of the past was around. The villa had become a shanty, the gardens, lawns were sold out since the maternal uncle was in heavy debts; Lot was taken away due to those debts and most of all, most was eaten away by white ants. It wasn’t the place of my childhood, yet I wanted to see it with my own eyes…Surat was fun as usual. I realised Sonali & husband helped me save my money….I didn’t take them any brownies from Theobrama – the place which would make Bombay’s best brownies – that I had taken for cousin’s family.

On Monday morn, we embarked on our journey. First we met the bhaiyaji who had worked at my cousin’s house since we all were small….an old man now has cataract but was his old self…who recognised my voice and name! we took photos with him & saw the cloudy skies clearing. We both looked at each other & said let’s go & ruin the plans of our relatives.
We crossed Navsari, the sister city of Surat & postponed out sweet shopping trip…we discussed how we would be welcomed or not. As we hit Gandevi road, we were puzzled, we drove past trying to identify the structures. To our right few metres down the road, was the 3 and a half room shanty, that which once was a 52- room mansion! The entrance was no more muddy, there was NO playground. Alas!
The blue Ganesha temple is now re-painted in beige, but closed with a huge lock. Although exclusive Sardesai family temple, it looked like NOBODY’s ever gone there…the trees around were chopped or had simply died. All plants around the bungalow too seemed to have died. The shock for me was that the garden was barren land! It was all naked and exposed for the world to see, like the lives of my surviving maternal uncle and aunty.
Some part has been leased out by my good-for-nothing uncle, so that he can sit on the arm chair & get money in his lap. The garden, thick lawn, trees are reduced to some green & muddy spot. The house still has the old grills and design, but as we approached, I saw that after 28 yrs this is a concrete shanty wc is worse than the slums of Bombay. The board which said “Trespassers will be prosecuted,” too had disappeared. How do I explain this place, which once was straight out of a fairyland!

A fleet of 11 cars,  lined this entrance, greenery that would make environmentalists proud! A variety of flowering plants, trees that bloomed as my dada ajoba would talk to his plants. Board which said, ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted, beware of the dogs” fascinated us always. In addition, a mini maidan, huge compound, open space ahead and behind, a compound for dogs plus cattleshed…it was absolutely unbelievable, the amount of land owned by my grand parents. And ofcourse the mango wadi, which was near some river.

Today, atthe entrance of the bungalow, a stuffed Bear’s face juts out – just like the olden days, yet the lamp is broken, walls are discoloured, with patches & black spots. The rest wc used to be a guest room with bath tub, my dada’s room & the hall, all of it is destroyed. The god’s room stands closed. Don’t know what’s hidden inside. Then a 30 -40 ft verandah is now reduced to 5ft where 2 Labradors are tied…the dogs’ kennels, playing ground and a compound is no more. It looks as if this shanty is an encroachment on a huge mass of land which once belonged to Sardesai family. A lady forced to expose herself due to compelling circumstances.

The servant’s quarters, the 3 extra rooms of the kitchen, the store rooms, other rooms…all gone. We looked to our right & the entrance is still dark & dingy. Sudha maushi’s room & aaji-dada’s room wt their toilet is there, rest, NOTHING.

It is NO surprise we were NOT welcomed. What I noticed was the uncle’s lordly fascinations of keeping dogs, sitting with his legs up still continues. The 2 Labradors barked their lungs out…the hall has the same black & white checkered design tiles that my grandfather had built, are a proof of the quality of olden days. The blackboard of my cousins, too was intact, but not the rest. So was a lot of wooden furniture. I was told, most of the furniture and entire villa was destroyed by white ants. The 2 beds & cupboards and the desks of kids is there…one bed is turned up against the wall & there sat Aditya in his wheel chair. A grown up son, rather an attempted abortion gone wrong. Sad, he is a challenged man.
The maternal uncle was sprawled on the grand arm chair that belonged to aai aji-dada. The dining area, where the entire family of over a dozen sat together for meals here, once is barren. One gas range in the old place & the kitchen is now shifted outside. Behind the table the wash basin & grills remain . Rest is all a vacant land! NO factory, but a new bungalow and few houses are seen 1000 of metres away.

Milind told me aai’s & his mother’s rooms were intact…but it was out of bounds for us. My maternal uncle seemed terribly upset upon seeing us. Me especially 🙂 Mami who I feel sad for, yes despite her silent support to that crafty b@#%&*@$d who is actually her brother-in-law, but left my older abusive uncle for this monster, seems resigned to her fate- consequences for NOT making a change for herself & letting herself live in this strange house….I feel bad for her, though she seems happy, even with the actions she has taken. Guess she has resigned to her fate. Ok, he has been a monster with me, but has loved her always, so I guess she will have a soft corner. We both spoke after like 28 yrs??? It was my uncle’s b’day a few days ago and she made sweets & offered us. We both ate reluctantly…that man refused to look in our direction. He has NO idea that the most eccentric nephew & niece were on his doorstep, especially the niece…I can IGNORE people wt such elan, he will be surprised. Later some sense dawned on him & he stood up to talk to us.. he had worn a shirt wt 6-7 holes…his teeth discoloured & mouth filled beetle nut, as usual.

My picture of this mama has been one, where he would be standing facing the windows at the end of the hall, cutting the beetle nut with the nutcracker. His fingers stained, dark red-black like his teeth. Milind & I took pics and I played wt the dogs for a while. The dogs were besotted by me, seemed rather lonely. Milind smartly took sonali’s numb & called her in front of them. The colour on aunty’s face turned ashen, the first rains washing the dirt on the leaves! She tried to tell us the same story, they were to go somewhere and she realised the contact was made. Sonali answered the call. We gave her no time to react and simply said we are on our way. Meanwhile mami said we could meet Bondre kaku (the cook of yesteryear’s) & her daughters as we left…the call from Mapara household rang instantly as we were leaving.
It was a visit that churned so many emotions and memories for all. What struck me the most was, this family has simply NOT come to terms wt the FACT that what goes up can come down. There are NO more landed rich and feudal lords. One has to work hard for one’s living..simple rule of life wc the men in this family NEVER understood. They wanted it all easy, as if privileged and their birthright. To the extent, they would have even got us to sleep wt other men for fulfilling their own goals. Thankfully the women had more brains. Especially my aai who got out from there rather early-college days. The interesting part is, the current rate for property in Bilimora is Rs 110 per sq ft, (under 3$ per square feet!!). From 52-rooms, the villa is down to 3 and a half room shanty. What more evidence do these relatives need to learn their party is OVER. Who would want to come & live here? acres and acres of barren land.

The Mapara household was funnier, as Manish the husband, my so-called brother in law, a crafty man, ran away. We were only offered tea but we never saw anything at the table served for us. We then headed to Nandan Math, an ashram that once was promoted by my dada ajoba… there we were treated better than our own ‘relatives.’ The former cook and her daughters recognised Milind & me. They gave us tea & sweets!! Mostly they made us feel at home in their 2 room cozy chawl room. Despite living in an ashram, they were warm & down to earth. They related to us as if they were our real family. They know the family’s secrets & truths far better than the ‘players’ themselves.