Translated by-Cauvery Mukherjee
I had almost forgotten Arun. Arun Pathak, we had a very close relationship almost 30 years back. We used to joke about him for his active interest in dogs and cats. Then we lost touch and he vanished from our lives. Many of us have changed our residences over these years, however I remained in the same address in our South Calcutta house. I raised the topic of Arun now, as I was surprised to receive a letter from him after all these years. He wrote the letter from a place in Orissa, the place is called Daringbari, I have never heard of this place, when it comes to Orissa my knowledge is limited to Puri, Bhubaneswar or maximum Simlipal Reserve Forest.
Arun wrote, the place is like Kashmir, quite cold, it is surrounded by green hills, even there were snow fall last year on top of one of the hills. From the top of the hills from Hillview point, Daringbari looks heavenly. The place is full of heavenly and exotic birds. One can meet the tribal people and experience their lifestyle. There are a few Churches, since many of the tribal people are Christians.
Arun has been hiding himself for the last thirty years in this heavenly environment in the midst of greenery, hills, cottages and exotic birds. He stays alone as he has never married. He works as a field assistant in an NGO. He invited and requested me to visit him at Daringbari for a few days. He would book the Eco-Tourist Cottage for me, once I confirm the dates.
The place is quite far from Calcutta, from Howrah Station you have to take either Chennai Central Mail or Amrabati Express and get down at Brambhapur Station. From there one has to take a hired vehicle to Asiki, 40 kilometers from Brahmabhapur Station. From Asiki one has to turn left towards Baligudar for about 77 kilometers to reach Daringbari.
I thought that I am stuck in Calcutta for quite long and it will be a nice outing with the natures and the special attraction would be meeting Arun after thirty years. I tried to remember the face of Arun. However, it felt strange why Arun instead of putting me up with him at his cottage, why he had booked me in a hotel.
As my heart desired, I reached Daringbari in about 10 days. When my car stopped at the gate of Eco-Tourist Cottage a gentleman came forward and opened the door.
-Hi, can you recognize me? I am Arun. I have changed a lot is it not?
Really it was difficult for mt to recognize Arun. A very thin man totally bald a totally different man. Admitted if he didn’t tell me I would never have recognized him. He had really changed.
-Anyway, we will talk about it later, now you have travelled a long distance and very tired, you really need to take rest. Take a few hours rest, your meals have been arranged, in the evening we will take you to my place. I will show you an extra ordinary thing.
-Are you still passionate about animals like you were before, I enquired.
-I will tell you everything, don’t you hurry, there are many things to see in Daringbari. Now I have to complete some sundry work, we will have dinner together at my place, from here it is hardly 10 minutes’ walk.
A hotel boy came and picked my bags to my room, it had very nice arrangements, my room number was 7. In fact, 7 is my favorite number. It is told that god created Hebrew Old Testament in seven days. In ancient Japan there were seven renowned gods. Pythagoras gave importance of seven since it is a combination of a triangle and a square. And exactly at 7 pm. Arun came and rang the doorbell.
It looked like afternoon as there was ample light, we both walked through Tribal villages. He showed me a small house and said we have reached.
-Come inside, follow me.
A small picturesque house surrounded by well maintained gardens. It looked much better than the Eco-Tourist Cottage. Again, it was a surprise, instead of putting me up in this house why he booked me in a hotel. He does not have a family; he only has a helping hand whose name is Michael Mahato. He is in charge of the house when Arun is not there. I asked Arun what was his work in the NGO? Why he kept himself separated from everyone all these years?
-I am a Cat Spotter. I have to go to the forests, hills even during the night. We study and research the breeding of wild cats with the domestic cats. Even though Daringbari does not have Panthera Tigris or the common Tiger, it has a few almost extinct species of wild cats. We have also spotted Felis Marmota or Marble Cat and Felis Bengalese or Leopard Cat. Leopard Cats look like dwarf leopards. It is also seen in Kashmir region.
-Do you capture these animals? You may be prosecuted under wildlife conservation act.
-No, our research is different. Leopard Cats come to the villages and take away chicken and hens. They also mate with the domestic cats sometimes they have babies on such mating.
-Astonishing! I have heard of Tabicat, Bengal Cats also look like miniature tigers, but these cross breeding’s are performed by professionals, I never knew these also happen in natural habitats.
-We rescue them and give them a new shelter. Since these high breed cats cannot be domesticated like common cats. A few unscrupulous people are making crores of money by selling these high breed cats.
-It is quite natural that people may be interested in such high breed cats, looking like miniature tigers, since keeping tiger or lions as pets are not easy. They are satisfied with these miniature versions.
-We have rescued a similar high breed cat, for the time being I kept that in a small cage in my house. Come I will show you.
Then I was really stunned to see the “Cat” in a big cage.
-How do you manage to rescue it? Must be inside a dense forest?
-In a tribal village it was with a village black magician as a pet. See the stripes, it looks exactly like a tiger. It is a mystery how the man managed to get that “cat”. First I threatened him that I will call the police, the man still didn’t want to part with it, still he was adamant then I managed to get this by paying him Rs. 2,000.
-Really it does not look like a cat. The black and yellow stripes are exactly like a cheetah. Its movement, facial expression sitting position are exactly like a cheetah. Is it a tiger pub?
-No how can it be a tiger pub, it is a “Tiger-Cat”. I don’t have confusion in this, even that man from whom I got this told the same thing. He also said it is a harbinger of good fortune.
-Have you taken it out of the cage? Is it ferocious?
-It does not come out even when the door of the cage is open. It will simple sit in the
corner and leisurely yawn.
-Maybe it has not been able to adapt itself in the new environment. Or it is still missing
its old master.
The cage is about 3 feet height and 4 feet wide. It is not sufficient for “Tiger-Cat” for free movement. I closely watched; more than it’s looks, it’s movements and expressions resemble like a tiger. I have seen such tiger cubs in Animal Planet shows.
-What do you feed him? I asked him curiously, ‘mouse flavored Cat food’?
-Don’t joke, I forgot to ask that tribal magician about its food habit. Of course, I know cats are fond of fish, so I got fish from the market, but it didn’t even touch. Same with milk, did not take the milk only sipped some water that I have given. I am very worried
about his food.
-Let’s go to another room, a strong tiger like smell is coming here. I am also hungry let
us have our dinner.
From a distant we could hear the beating of drums and the tribal people dancing to its tune. With the dusk setting in, chirping of birds no longer could be heard. The dusk had blurred the views of tall Sal, Simul and Mohua Trees. It had also blurred the vision of many unnamed hills. It appeared that the creatures of the night would be out on their prowl now. The night had set in at Daringbari.
After dinner I told Arun please accompany me to the hotel otherwise, I will be lost in the forest. Arun told me that he had night duty, so he advised Michael to accompany me, not to worry at all.
Till late at night I was searching the internet to know more about various cross breeding’s like Savannah, Tiger, Ocicat, Cheetah, Serengeti or Pixi bob like these are various versions of Tiger or Cheetah. But there was no similarity with Arun’s Cat which I had seen. Those were all high breed domestic cats. However, Arun’s Cat had more similarities with cross breed between leopard and domestic cat.
I didn’t realize when I fell into deep sleep thinking about all these things. I wanted to see the sunrise at Daringbari hill point. But in the early morning I got a call from Arun and he urgently asked me to come to his place. He only said it is very important.
I could guess that Arun was very worried about that cat. I had no problem in reaching his place alone. Arun immediately opened the door after I pressed the doorbell. He looked very exhausted and totally soaked in sweat. I asked what happened? Has anything happened to the cat?
-See with your own eyes, come near the cage. It is unbelievable.
A strong tiger like smell greeted me. I looked towards the cage. A huge full-size cheetah stared at me; it was breathing heavily. It suddenly gave a loud roar which shook me to the core. It rattled the doors and windows. Arun said he cannot fathom anything, how within the night the cat could grow to such a huge size.
-See how it is staring at us with its deep blue eyes. It is miraculous, does the black magician has any hand in it?
-Really it is something very strange and mysterious. If it grows any further, you will have real problem. I cannot find any reason to this strange occurrence. How it is possible, I cannot find any reason to this. Is it a magical cat having heavenly powers?
Arun was extremely shaken up. He could not utter anything. I took him to another room and made him sit in a chair. Both of us were sweating profusely. I wanted to give him strength, and said,
-You immediately get rid of this beast. Either set it free in the jungle or return it to its previous owner the black magician.
-You are right. There is no other way. Will you go with me to the Tribal village? In the meanwhile, Michael may stand guard here. The cage is too fragile for this huge creature, hope it does not break open the cage.
By that time the early morning sun had come out and it was bright everywhere. The distant hills were being gradually visible. We walked towards the tribal village experiencing the heavenly change of colours among the forest and hills with the early rising of sun. Even after long search we could not find the man, from whom Arun bought this strange cat. The villagers said the man was missing for the last several days. Arun almost surrendered and said.
-Now what will happen? We have to think of something.
-For the present we have to find a strong large cage. I am sure your NGO will definitely
have one. Then we have to contact the authorities of the local zoo “Nandan Kanan” and arrange for shifting of the beast there at the earliest.
Arun agreed with me. There was no other way. I was also very exhausted. I told Arun that I was going to the hotel and would return in the evening after taking some rest. In the meantime, Arun would coordinate with the NGO and the zoo to take necessary action.
Normally I did not sleep during the day, but that day due to exhaustion I fell into sleep after lunch. I got up in the late afternoon, called Arun to find out if everything was fine.
Arun’s landline was ringing no one picked up. I was worried what could happen, was no one at home? Was everything alright, naturally in that situation I was thinking of all the bad things that could happen. I decided to go to Arun’s place.
On reaching Arun’s place I saw the door was wide open. It was very strange. Was he sleeping? I shouted Arun’s name a number of times but there was no response. Even there was no trace of Michael. I was shocked on entering the house. A blood-stained corpse was lying there in a pool of blood. It appeared that some one or some beast had mauled him and eaten the flesh from that corpse. It was the corpse of Michael Mahato. Who did this to him? I was sure this was done by that beast Tiger-Cat. I entered the room where the beast was kept in the cage, praying for my life. On entering I could not believe my eyes! A small cat was sitting inside the cage licking its feet. I rubbed my eyes was I seeing the right thing? Suddenly my mobile rang.
-Arun calling. When did you come? There is good news, the zoo authorities of Nandan Kanan has agreed to take possession of the Tiger-Cat. Our NGO has made all the arrangements. I am coming shortly. You tell Michael to make black coffee for us.