In the forest of Ranthambhore, not a leaf stirred. The long branches of the trees formed a canopy above the forest floor. Summer’s end was approaching and, going by the dark, heavy, menacing clouds that covered the sky, the monsoons seemed prepared to make a dramatic entrance. The occupants of the forest seemed to be asleep, lost in the care free world of dreams where there was no danger- from beast, or man.
Subah hid behind the long grass. The forest was asleep and she knew it. The conditions were perfect today- no moon, no competitors and no langurs to give her away. She scanned the herd of sambar deer grazing peacefully just a few feet away from her. The victim today had to be slow, small and inexperienced. She had injured her front paw the previous day in a fight for territory with a tiger and though the injury seemed, then, of little importance, it had become increasingly troublesome as time passed. She was slow, incompetent.
After several minutes, she decided upon her prey- an adventurous fawn that had strayed a little away from the rest of the herd, closer to Subah. She took a deep breath, preparing herself for the kill. It was time.
The procedure had to be followed slowly, carefully and most importantly, noiselessly. Subah moved closer to the unsuspecting fawn, making each move softly, delicately. She crawled towards it, her body low, her stomach skimming the ground, her beautiful orange fur hidden by the black stripes that adorned her majestic body.
The fawn, meanwhile, continued to graze, looking up periodically for his parents and, reassured, returning to satisfy his hunger. He was a child, a baby, unaware of the approaching ‘dangers’ threatening his life.
When Subah was close enough, she took a deep breath, stiffening her body, readying herself for the pounce that would decide her failure or success. She was about to leap when the silence of the night was broken- broken by a sound that pierced through the hearts of all who heard it.
The fawn returned to his mother, terrified, not knowing he had escaped one danger only to enter into another.
It was only when the second gunshot was heard that the animals pulled themselves out of the state of shock and, having registered what they had heard, responded. The deer scattered, fleeing, desperate to get as far away from the two legged monsters and their merciless weapons as they could.
Subah, meanwhile, hardly noticed the disappearance of her meal. The gunshot brought back terrible memories to her mind and the tragedy she had been struggling to cope with for the past two years returned to her and formed like a picture before her eyes, as if from a projector. She remembered the fateful day when, leaving her three cubs in the shelter of some bushes, she had left to hunt, only to find them gone when she returned- taken. The gunshots had made her run like the wind, to reassure her cubs and protect them, to fight for them and defend them against the approaching hunters. But it was all in vain. She was too late.
Now, she dismissed those memories from her mind and headed towards the cave where her present litter awaited her arrival, needed her help. Determined not to allow history to repeat itself, she ran.
With the hunters came also the rain. Heavy drops of water hit Subah’s face as she ran but they did not hinder her, it seemed nothing would. But the obstacle was waiting.
As she ran, her paw found the snare and she fell. Her foot was stuck, she was stuck. It was over, or so it seemed.
Subah lay on the ground, tired, injured, hopeless, until another shot rang through the air, this time followed by the roar of the victim, a harbinger of pain, of destruction, of death.
Subah knew what she had to do. Her babies could not die. She would not allow it. She pulled at her paw, hoping to force it out of the snare but it was useless. She knew that now she was in as much danger as her defenceless cubs, if not more. But she could not, would not, give up. Her cubs needed her, she had to get to them.
Mustering all her courage and strength, Subah decided to give it another try. She took a deep breath and pulled as hard as she could and finally, she was free!
But she had not come out of the danger unhurt. Now, as she ran, she left behind her a trail, a trail of blood, the trail of the injured tigress.
It had now been a while since the last shot was heard. This gave Subah hope for it could mean that the culprits had left the forest and the damage had been done, at least for that night. She was approaching the cave- just a few feet away her cubs awaited her arrival. All she had to do was make that turn and she would be back, the family would be together again.
But when Subah turned the corner, the sight she saw drained her of hope, of energy and eventually, of life.
She saw it come. She watched as the man pulled the trigger, his face blank, expressionless, as if he was shooting at a dart board, not taking a life. She watched the bullet come, she felt it pierce into her heart. A searing pain shot through her whole body and before she could cry out, she was dead.