by Donald Banerjee
It was the summer of 1988 when Tribune Photo Editor Yog Joy (now no more in our midst) and I set out from Chandigarh on the trail of a man-eating leopard, who had killed a young cyclist in Morni Hills.
We made the uphill drive to this Haryana hill resort, making our way through the narrow and dusty winding road. A not-so-happy Haryana Chief Conservator of Forests warned us about the non-motorable 2 km trek through the forests to reach the spot where the spotted big cat had made its kill.
I was reluctant as my senior colleague had suspected angina problem. But who could stop that great cameraman, whatever the odds. Before I could say Jack Robinson, Yogji had already marched 10 steps ahead. A forest guard offered to give a lift on his motor-cycle. With Yogji occupying the pillion seat, we began our journey. After a bumpy 10-minute ride, with me doing some brisk walking and jogging, we barely covered 500 metres.
Another 10 minutes and we came across a slope and in the bushes we spotted one of the slippers of the boy. The cycle could be seen a little ahead in the khud. We were in the man-eater’s territory. I could feel goosepimples all over imagining the big cat sizing me up as the next meal.
The forest guard broke my nightmarish imagination with the words: “The villagers have taken the half-eaten body to the village for cremation.” He then pointed towards the smoke billowing out from a cluster of houses in the valley ahead, indicating our destination another 1 km ahead.
It seemed to be an endless journey as we made our way towards the village.The receding sunrays were a clear indication that it was well past afternoon.
We finally trudged into the village and were greeted by villagers who were living under the fear of the big cat attacking their cattle.
“The ‘tendua’ killed a dog two days back. But now it has started killing humans. The cyclist was the second victim of the leopard, which the villagers said had now tasted human blood, and would not spare anyone.
Taking quotes from the villagers and with Yogji adding more pictures of the cremation to his snaps of the slipper and the cycle lying in the khud, we took leave of the villagers.
“Don’t go. It is too late. You can go tomorrow,” suggested a couple of village elders, who warned us about the dangerous trek back through leopard territory. As we talked, a patch of cloud blocked the sunrays. A couple of ‘bhotia’ dogs started barking with intermittent growls. The children were told to go indoors.
I did not show it, but the talk of the beast having tasted human blood was enough to stir my imagination about the dangers lurking on the return trek through leopard territory. But then, a couple of youngsters from the Morni side of the village agreed to accompany us. We grabbed the opportunity and began our return trek. As we walked back, three more joined us on the way. They clapped their hands and made loud noises with cymbals. Seeing the young men marching with confidence, the fear of the man-eater evaporated. Yes, I had read that even after becoming a man-eater a leopard does not lose fear of humans, unlike the tiger, who becomes bolder. We passed the khud where the boys had been attacked and were back at the Morni rest house before sunset.
Mission accomplished, we drove back, forgetting those moments when I imagined the big cat sizing me up as its next meal.
Source Link: http://www.tribuneindia.com