Fruits of a Sign Survey

Finding signs of wild animals in sandy stream beds, wide riverbanks, in dense forest understorey, often riddled with those of the domestic kind – the livestock – is like going on a treasure hunt. Every afternoon when we returned we sat under the warm winter sun listening to each other’s finds. I found a pile of scat on a boulder, full of hair, fluffed up because it was old and dry, and while I discussed my contemplation on the field to assign it to its rightful owner, my companions yelled their opinion at once: jackal hai re! Well, jackals do love relieving themselves on boulders, unlike cats that prefer to do so away from a pugdundee, or antelopes that have specific latrine sites.
There was an undeclared competition among us; if I said I found tiger’s pugmarks, one of my colleagues found water trailing another’s by the river, and another found a tigress with adolescent cubs! You could never win. This treasure hunt kept us engaged for the whole two months we were conducting occupancy…

The Migrating Spirit

Her aangan is a reverie of astral flowers  Spiral, elliptic, of mystical shapes and hues, cryptic
The haze of winter morning acts as multi-level drapes to nature’s opera, unfurling a new act fronted by trees every short distance I traverse. Wood smoke wraps around villages like blankets around our shoulders. A tiger calls, and a tigress returns his call, their duet resonating in the cold morning air for miles and miles. 

A universe at her doorstep, constellations on her sleeve  She tiptoes under star-clothed trees
 The rustle of van tulsi reminds me of a Kathak dancer, her ghungroo chiming with every step I take. Tiny, dark, heart-shaped seeds once contained inside the cup of the mature flower are sprinkled on the pugdundee like confetti. Odd, cold December rains swell them up like little puffy snow balls scattered on bare sandstone substrate.

The fluttering sky blue beings rabble ‘round her  Whispering the secrets of the universe
I pick a few sepals, pour a few seeds on my palm, and toss…

By the Banks of the Tahan

The Bumbun hide overlooks a small man-made meadow with two trees at its centre, encircled by a wall of tropical wood and foliage. This brown moss-and-fallen-leaves-covered hideout is a window to this little opening in the rainforest. The two central trees contain rope-tied salt bricks to attract animals into the meadow.

At six o’clock in the morning everything is pitch dark. I peer into the darkness, my mind stuck on my colleague’s narration of a rendezvous with a lone elephant the morning before. He saw the tusker emerge from the wall, gripping at the tender grass blades as he made his way to the salt lick, took a few large chunks out of them, and disappeared into the wall. It has been nearly a decade since an elephant ventured by the Bumbun hide, we’re told. The sky gradually turned a soft blue. If there were a scale to measure the seamless and smooth transition between night and day, it would have to be called by a new name. The scale is fine, immaculate, and works at at-least two …