Leopard in my Dream

Sometime back a dog in his playfulness scratched my arm with his tooth. It made a slight crack in the skin, so I was advised to take full course of five anti-rabies injections. After the course was over, a friend told me that now I am safe for next five years of any dog bites. In a humor I asked him, will the injections work if a lion bit me? Laughing aloud he said of course it will.

In Mumbai’s National Park there is supposedly a good leopard population, who keep venturing into their ‘No Entry’ areas quite often, in search of food. Generally small children and dogs get killed by the beasts; but most grownups who are attacked generally escape with some bites or missing pieces of flesh from their body. But of course attack by a leopard does shake anybody badly.

So, armed with the anti-rabies shots, I thought that meeting a leopard would not be a bad idea. If the animal attacked me, my name will definitely appear in newspapers and personally for me it would be a rare honor too… doesn’t matter if I survive to tell the story or not.

I can see, not many people are in agreement with me. Well, traveling thousands of miles at a great expense to climb the Everest is such an honor that is fraught with worse dangers. Quite a few climbers have not come back home to show the pictures of the summit and tell the story. I think it will be proportionately honorable and dangerous to meet a leopard nearer home and click his pictures leaping towards me. If I stay in my senses, ward off the leopard somehow and run away like a gazelle; I will be able to tell my story punctuated with related real pictures. Just like everybody whoever has climbed or even tried to climb that peak has gone into the record books. But then even leopard attacks are well covered by news channels that send each such encounter into record books and the person also gets frozen into the ocean of internet data for ever…

One day (night actually) with all this unrealistic rubbish in my mind, I went to sleep and dreamt of an ‘encounter of the real kind’ – with a leopard. Location is Mumbai’s ‘film city’ studios, night shift. I am shooting for a television program. It is raining. The scenes are being shot inside a running taxi. I am in the back seat recording sound. I have my headphones with a Beta-recorder by my side. The girl actor sitting on the other side of the seat is enacting her part. In a while due to change in camera position, there is a short break. I get out of the cramped space to stretch my legs and move a bit away to pee by the side of the road. As I am about to unzip for the act, a light-boy shouted from the back, ‘sir be careful, don’t go far. It is not safe at this time.’ It was past 2.00 am. I took the advice seriously and wanted to get back in a hurry. A light drizzle started. Rain drops were creating very soothing soft sounds hitting the soggy leafs. Instead of sharp clicks of ‘tup tup’, the drops fell with soft ‘dhub, dhub’. There is a thick cover of leafs in that dense forest. It is pitch dark ahead and I have no intention of straining my eyes. As I am about to zip up, I notice two small dots of faint light in the dark. In a moment they both vanished and then lit up again, together. Then they moved sideways, but together, retaining the distance between them. A shiver went through my spine. I kept my movements very slow and small and started retreating back keeping my eyes at those lights. The light dots simultaneously lowered towards the ground and moved forward. Now I was able to see the figure of a small leopard in the ‘service light’ provided for the shooting crew. In fright I turned back and ran towards the taxi. But I didn’t know that the taxi had been pushed back by a few meters. I took a swift turn and ran with long paces and grabbed the taxi handle. Silence of the night got shattered by an animal’s roar. Taxi door opened, I rushed in and as I was about to shut the door, the animal too managed to push its roaring face inside. I knew I had to hold the door tight and keep it pulled in with all my strength to keep the leopard out. It was a spotted leopard! His bare teeth and foul smell were inches away from my own face. I did not have enough time to slide further away on the seat as the girl and the recorder were there too. His roar in surround sound had scared the hell out of everyone. I could hear the girl’s squeak too in between. I was holding the door tight to keep the hungry leopard away from me. After a while for some reason, leopard started pulling away to release himself from this unfamiliar tangle. May be he was tired or his neck may have started hurting…

Gradually all the his sounds ceased and a faint regular breathing faded in. His face was not as ferocious now. Feeling easy and safer, I decided to do the most unthinkable. I touched leopard’s nose with my left hand. His ferocious face squirmed and rotated aggressively to bite my hand. But he was getting tired. So in a few moments again, very carefully, I touched him between his eyes as if it was a dog. He protested less this time. Encouraged, I started moving my hand on his face. His shut his mouth and looked at me with wonder in his eyes. Obviously he had never met a human so up close. I remembered there were some omelet sandwiches on the seat. I fumbled behind my back and found them. Slowly I took one near his mouth and released the pressure on his neck, just a little. He smelled it, looked away and then suddenly snapped and gobbled it up. It was the best thing that happened in my life. Seeing this scene, the girl passed some more which also were eaten up in no time. Everyone was quiet and stayed locked up in various vehicles. I gestured for more edible stuff, which was placed behind me by our adventurous spot boy named, Kutti from the half open window on the other side. Soon all the sandwiches were over, although I was sure my esteemed guest could have eaten a hundred more.
Now I was getting restless due to lack of distraction and entertainment for the leopard. I had made the grip on leopard’s neck quite loose so that he could eat comfortably. Now was the time to let him go. It was also the time that was full of risk, apprehension and perhaps loads of sadness. Just as final moments were approaching, I felt leopard’s face one last time. This time his head pushed my hand with affection to increase its pressure.

Meeting a leopard was the most valuable incidence of my entire life. I rolled my fingers on his head, between his eyes and on his ears. He was quiet. I released the pressure on the door. He pulled away a little and finally he was out. Now was the time to do the next right thing. There was enough space for the door to shut. And I did shut it. The animal was confused. I rolled my window down a bit and looked at him. He put his front legs on the door and stood on his hind legs. As I was about to put my hand out of the window, the girl screamed and pulled my hand away. The scream shocked the leopard and he sprinted off with a jerk. Somewhere an ignition key turned and a vehicle started with a rickety sound. I turned to see who this was. It was the camera van. I turned back swiftly, but the leopard had vanished. I could see no trace of him anywhere. There was darkness all around. I got off from the car and tried to search for those two dots of light, but could not…

I felt very sad that I could not go further in this relationship for so many reasons; but was extremely happy for whatever I achieved. We had to restart the shooting. Continuous sound of all the vehicles that scared the leopard was irritating me now…

A school bus was idling and revving outside my bedroom window. Kids were boarding the bus. I left my bed feeling fresh and happy and went out for a walk.

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