Sense and Sensibility

Supriya Newar is a Kolkata-based author, poet, music aficionado and communications consultant

Sense and Sensibility

About 10 years ago, I ventured into the forests of Madhya Pradesh for the first time. Into Bandhavgarh, to be precise. And by myself, to be even more so. It turned out to be an outing that exceeded expectations and nullified notions that I have found myself going back to the forests again and again since then. And returning with the most rewarding experiences each time that have left my senses and sensibilities heightened and alive.

No words can really describe the apparent stillness of a forest. A soundless energy that is at once full and primordial. A stillness that, at first, camouflages itself as lifelessness, barring the clank created by vehicles crisscrossing the forest paths. Nothing much really seems to be going on. The spotted deer graze peacefully in herds; the primates animatedly jump from branch to branch while openly tending to their little ones; peacocks screech and light up brown, dusty pathways with their fiery blues and the jeep continues to go around in elusive circles.

But the stillness is an illusion. That seeming stillness actually throbs with life of every imaginable size, shape and form, where every single creature, from an ant to a majestic beast, plays its part in making the ecosystem harmonious and whole. Each of the creatures is endowed with its own survival kit. Some have great speed. Some have extraordinary olfactory abilities. Some can change colour. Some can group effectively. Some can hide well and some can go underground. Yet, life hangs by a thread and every moment of survival is a moment of victory.

Everything changes the minute a sambar deer barks. It is believed that a sambar’s call is quite an accurate warning of a big cat lurking around. The air in the forest instantly goes from relaxed to tense. My naturalist looks out closely for other indications. Were the sambar’s ears cocked? Was he stomping his foot? Was his call repeated? Each of these is taken to be a clear sign of imminent danger.

Without wasting a single second, the driver swivels into action and chases the call. His guide and companion, the naturalist, listens keenly, observing every sight and sound with utterly trained senses. His task is to try and get his tourists to go back with a sighting. A sighting in an Indian forest means only one kind of sighting. A tiger sighting. As my first naturalist said to me the minute, he shook my hand and welcomed me into the jeep, “Madam, we will try for a tiger.”

The network within the jeeps encircling the forest is a bewildering one. With each of the vehicles looking out for clues keenly, there is a sudden heap of vehicles that appear from nowhere, each having caught on to the sound signals in hot pursuit of a tiger sighting.

But the tiger is no ordinary creature. He earns his kill with the utmost skill and tact, patiently waiting and lurking in the shadows for his victim’s pronounced vulnerability before he strikes. Nothing can really prepare you for your first tiger sighting, particularly if the beast is head-on. The tiger’s gaze is direct, piercing and deeply honest.

Though my seasoned naturalist was clicking furiously with his massive lens, all I could do was gawk in disbelief at the sheer beauty and majesty of the beast. So taken over were my senses that I even forgot to be frightened!

As I said, the thrill of the chase juxtaposed with the calm and harmony of the forests has taken me back into the thick of the jungle countless times since then. Some outings and safaris have been cherry-topped with tiger sightings. Others have not. But not a single one has been short of a riot of sensibilities and a candid peek into the vastness and vulnerability of life.

As a naturalist once wonderfully summed it up for me, “Madam, let us seek the tiger. In doing so, we will find the jungle.”

Author Supriya Newar may be reached at, Instagram: @supriyanewar and Facebook: supriya.newar

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