There was once a deep dense jungle in the depths of the wild. Here lived chimpanzees, sparrows, twenty large families of wood swallows, bears, a skulk of menacing foxes and Kamrang the King, the father who kept all his children united and happy. This forest land was a delight to the eyes, filled with a large variety of colourful creatures- birds cackling, wild horses neighing and galloping about, Kamrang with his wife and three kids swimming and playing in the fresh Spring of Maratal, a large herd of elephants crossing the river bank in a single scene of symmetry; Homi the wise owl, spreading her words of wisdom and a cacophony of many more voices, high and happy in their peaceful land where everyone was a friend. There were no ill-feels, no rivalry, just a group of troublesome Hyenas who were soon gotten rid of by Kamrang and his family.
But soon there came a challenge which not even the great Kamrang could conquer. A major crisis often doesn’t come with a big blast. It creeps in slowly and gradually, one step at a time, like the seize of India, Africa and other places by the colonisers. They came in as friends, trying to establish trade. Eventually their real intention of colonizing came to light. But by then, their hold was so deeply trenched that a few sporadic revolts simply fell limp.
The annexation of this forest land was also gradual. It began with a small group of picnickers who arrived one day with their loud voices and noisy laughter. They littered the grounds, washed their dirty utensils in the spring and trampled a family of snails under their large heavy boots. The mother snail, who had gone in search of food, came back to find the mutilated bodies of her husband and five sons. She shed a pool of tears and left the forest ground forever shouting out loud, ‘Run, while you can! This land has been cursed.’ The numerous wood swallows heard her cries and though they said nothing, an eerie feeling cloaked their hearts as they realized things would never be the same again. Even the tree spirits foresaw an inexorable change that would call doom upon their homeland.
A few months later, a group of hunters with their high boots and sophisticated weapons appeared. Lali and her brother, two of Kamrang’s children, were out playing near the spring. Suddenly a loud thunderous thud and Lali was on the ground, her pretty eyes frozen in her last playful tone. Before he could react, the boy cub too fell prey to the hunters’ game. Kamrang was teaching his eldest son how to hunt when Tamlu, the leopard, reached panting with the terrible news. Kamrang ran to the spring, and in frantic despair picked up the two lifeless bodies of his children.
After the incident the tiger sent away his only remaining son and wife to his brother who lived in a faraway realm. He had to stay as there were too many lives at stake and he was the only protector of the land. The other tigers and a pride of lions had left after the unfortunate event.
Life was somber but peaceful for the next few years. A group of picnickers here and there, some unwanted Hyenas, but no hunters. Then came men they had never seen before. They cut down the oldest tree, Father Jagannath, with a murderous chainsaw, gnawing at his thick roots. Along with Father Jagannath, they destroyed many more trees and the rest of the tree-spirits escaped, leaving behind dead pieces of wood. In the now barren patch, Man erected a sprawling set of shapes and called it a Resort. And then more men came. They plagued the land, with their filth and noise and spat and stamped turning serene into confusion and chaos.
In a matter of ten years, the wild Forest of Hayarati decayed into Harati Forest Reserve- ‘a place for tourists’.
Kamrang and the remaining residents have some of their old tree friends. But they are not the same of course. Their souls have gone. The few remaining animals stay hidden in the deserted marshes of Chamala.
Kamrang is no more the strong effervescent creature that he used to be. He and Laakha, the rogue panther are now food for entertainment. They have been renamed as Kaar(Kamrang) and Raaka and people scramble through the crowds to catch a glimpse of them.
When the site office for the reserve extension was constructed, Kamrang was out of Hayarati on an official business of negotiation with Laakha. The troublemaker feline was taking advantage of the civil infiltration and alluring the lesser beings into traps. He was a good orator and he used his skill to allure deer, wild boars, jackals, wild cats, a mammoth section of birds and amphibians to a utopic land of peace complete with human filtration. What the innocents did not know was Laakha’s elementary nature of dominance. He liked to rule, to torture and to claim his mad position of power. He would terrorize this land of his grubby presence and turn the happy dwellers of Hayarati into his miserable underdogs. And the change was already evident. Kamrang, fearing the complete extinction of his clan went to the panther’s lair to make a deal. Laakha was a greedy one. Thus he found Kamrang’s offer of a part of his land in return for help in banishing the humans irresistible. The two rivals came to an understanding and decided to attack along with some of Laakha’s men in the dead of night. They set on their two days’ trip back to Kamrang’s land. On reaching, oblivious of the snare set by the humans, they were welcomed with a spearing pain on their backs, instant paralysis and then loss of consciousness.
When Kamrang woke up, a nagging pain in his head, he found himself in an enclosed park with rails all along the sides. He could hear the clash and thumps of metal and stone somewhere in a short distance along with the infuriated roars of the panther.
Kamrang’s attempt to negotiate with Laakha had coincided with the forest department’s sanctuary venture. The officials set up camp on the land that had been cut clean for the reserve project. Meanwhile, when Kamrang was on his way to Laakha, his son Romi returned from his uncle’s country after hearing of the situation. He, along with a few other loyals of his father, feared a terrible massacre and started gathering as many of the animals as possible. Romi led them through the deeper forest while collecting the other inhabitants of Hayarati. A long walk into the mossy waters and muddy marsh brought them to Chamala, where they immediately went into hiding. The others who could not be gathered were captured.
So now the tiger lives on in a tormenting life with his only remaining friend, Laakha the horrible.
© 2016 Tiyasha Maitra