We named our first female leopard after Lakshai. I hear it is a different way of using the name Laxmi. She was a worker in the Forest Department nursery at Sugaon, Akole.
Her fair face was creased with lovely smile lines that only rural people seem to have. But she had a frightening effect on her male co-workers.
Lakshai, the Woman Friday at Akole, after whom the leopard was named. ©Vidya Athreya
The Sugaon nursery is an ideal workplace. Beautifully set on the banks of the river Pravara, a tributary of the Godavari, with a lot of water it had trees, honey bee boxes and many women and men "working". The women would be hunched over cutting some imaginary grass and the men mostly standing around discussing the ways of the world. If you went during lunch, you too would sit among them and eat the stuffed brinjal, potato and jowar bhakri while they all took turns making fun of each other.
Lakshai was a particularly good candidate. I heard she was the eighth wife of a man who was on the eternal quest to have children. Poor fellow thought he could keep trying till he died and died he did, but childless, leaving behind this lady who probably did not have anyone to take her back, nor any children who could support her as she got old.
She had worked for the local forest officer for a long time, raising his little kids but now was an elderly lady trying to fight her way in an extremely male dominated rural landscape.
In Akole, it was really hard to get a maid, as doing someone else’s household chores is looked down upon in this rural landscape. But we in our crazy quest for collaring leopards and setting up camera traps did not have time to cook or clean the house. So the ACF told us about her. I was the "madam" and I was the only one she respected. The others were verbally thrashed, more so if they were male, much to my amusement.
When we trapped our first female leopard for collaring, we were wondering what name to give her. There were a couple of suggestions and we asked the ACF to choose. He laughed and promptly chose Lakshai.
The collared female leopard - Lakshai. ©Vidya Athreya
I think the leopard was much more placid in temperament than the lady of the same name.
Written by Dr Vidya Athreya