Monday, 19 May 2014

My favourite leopard

The Leopard I loved

Have you ever wondered what the opposite of fear is? You may say it is bravery. But it depends on the circumstances. Don’t you fear things and circumstances you are not familiar with?. But familiar ones…. yes, familiarity breeds contempt.

It was possible in one's young days to love the unknown, but fear remained as years passed by. A paradox?
I will try to explain.

We were afraid to go out for a few days after the leopard appeared in the tea estate. The women  picking tea spotted it one afternoon. Though leopards are said to roam free at night in the dark, they are typically not seen during the day. So its appearance during the afternoon was taken as a violation of normal conduct and the menfolk  promptly started their hunt for the intruder.

They did not find any trace of the animal, so they followed the marks which they thought were its foot prints to a cave beneath a large rock, in the field near the shola forest. They did not dare enter the cave. So they closed the entrance with boulders and driving in piles in front of it.

Some not satisfied with the arrangements to prevent the animal from coming out of the cave, made a fire in front of the cave to suffocate it to death.  To me it seemed cruel. After all what it did was to venture out a bit earlier, may be due to some compelling reason, surely not to attack anyone

The rock was not very far from our house. The narrow  estate road to Devikulam passed very near it. The road was meant only for the tractor which carried manure and products once or twice a month. The estate workers  used the road to go to Devikulam to get provisions which were not available in the estate store. It included booze.

The tea picking in the field near the rock was suspended for over a week for the women to regain their courage. But the men  who could not resist the call of the booze used the road, they advanced the timings of their journey though. So in the evenings the then popular  MGR Movie song “Naan Anai ittal athu nadanthuvittal……” ( If I swear and if it happens……) could be heard earlier than usual and louder.

Murugan, my friend,  had told me the secret behind the singing. It is very effective to ward off fear in lonely places and to an extend to drive away the wild animals. There is nothing like MGR’s songs for that purpose.

Gradually tea picking restarted and the MGR songs in the evenings grew fainter and fainter and later died out. So we, my brothers and me decided to have a look at the cave. My mother was not in favor of my going with them. But my eldest brother assured my safety.

Some body had  already moved away the smaller stones in front of the cave. There was no sign of any animals inside.  We waited for any sound or smell from inside. Nothing came.  We peeped into the cave. Booze bottles inside showed the contempt boozers had towards the leopard.

We finally came to the conclusion that the leopard might not have entered the cave at all. Even if it had, it was sure the leopard  escaped unhurt. I was glad. Though I knew very little about the animal I had a soft corner for it . The picture on the Match box named Cheetah fight was the only reference I had on the big cat. Cheetah and leopard have the same name in Malayalam and Tamil  and no one could tell the difference.

In my collection of Matchbox pictures I had many  Cheetah fights. The Dog and a man armed with a sickle were  fighting the big cat that had almost surrendered. May be the picture was a little while before they killed it.

Though I was glad that it escaped I  remained afraid to go out alone for a long time after that.

After a few years, the incident was totally forgotten by most. I started going to the Devikulam school. In the morning I had the company of the milkman but on my return I was alone mostly. In such circumstances the urge to sing ‘ Naan anai ittal ‘ was high but I could not as I was running the entire distance.
One afternoon on my return from school there were women picking tea in the field near the rock. I ran in to the field unaware of their presence.The women were silent, and then  the younger one among them giggled, “Are you afraid?” the others laughed, but  the older ones just smiled. I tried to put up a brave face  though I knew it was of no use. There after I was careful to observe  from afar if the women were there picking tea and  stop running from a  hearing distance from them. I still had no idea how those women could tell I was scared.

After a month or so I got a new boy to go to school with. In the mornings we went along with the milk man. In the afternoon on the way back we sang the MGR movie songs together but not very loud.

One day he was late, so I went to school with the milkman thinking that he may not come to school that day. It seems he came late to the school with his father. Without knowing it I started home alone. The women were in the field. So I covered the initial distance running and walked the rest to the field.
It was then that I heard the quick steps from a distance behind me, the ladies too stopped talking listened. I saw fear in their eyes and wanted to run for my life. But the boy appeared just in time.

“u r afraid” I said smiling, and saw the ‘ how you knew’ look in his eyes. Looking around I saw the women too were relieved and smiling.

As I told you, if not familiar, you must fear, but still you can love it.

I know you too would have loved the leopard.

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