Startled at the sight of another human,
I growl, I roar, I pounce in defence,
My paws hit the bars of the cell where I now live,
Perhaps till my death it seems.
On a fateful day of February, I was captured; the bagaan ka bagh was caught at last.
If you ask me what was my crime, I’d never be able to answer,
Was it my enviable adaptability?
The land dotted with tea bushes and shrubs was a haven,
Elusively I lived, disappearing into the undergrowth.
Perfect space to birth a litter,
Food was aplenty with pigs, poultry, cows, dogs— I was a versatile eater.
Humans came to pluck and prune tea leaves, to irrigate this land, to walk their cattle.
What choice did I have but to defend myself from intruders to my territory?
Or, to know that humans are a forbidden species?
The mob screamed, threw sticks, till I ran to disappear again.
Another set of humans came and laid the trap,
Waiting with bated breaths,
Alas! I was walked into this curious object to eat the sacrificed goat,
And the door closed upon me,
Now not a wild problem but a captive leopard.
Another dawn breaks, another day to survive,
Brought to this land and cycle of poverty centuries ago,
I sometimes dream of a different life,
It is a tale in my family that this tea estate is our universe.
I often wonder- is dignity the kachcha walls and the dilapidated tin roof?
But I must shake off these thoughts, for
At home sits my family- frail, malnourished,
Life barely exists in their bony bodies.
As I pluck these leaves, prune these shrubs, irrigate this land,
To earn a wage that I hear is below what they pay elsewhere,
I often wish to run away- but this is my only ‘skill'.
I hear that education makes you a rich, booted sahab,
But the promised school on the estate are ghost rooms,
More so my children are needed to herd our cattle,
We survive when all hands are on deck,
Our aspirations bogged down.
This creature of the wild brings another terror to our life,
Why cannot it stay put inside the forest patch next door?
Stealthily it comes at dark, kills our cows, pigs and poultry,
But nowadays it attacks us,
Taking away our children, leaving us maimed.
Another sahab with thick files said the compensation would come—
A price for the taken life and limb,
We wait and wait till our tears run dry.
Finally one chita bagh is caged today,
But enough for now, I must get back to work—for
This captivity was written into my fate.
Buried in mounting files and permits,
Lies their collective fate:
A dysfunctional cycle of capture, translocation, death and compensation,
A tug-of-war of whose ‘problem’,
Till both leopards and humans become mere stats,
Prisoners of disowned numbers.
– Gargi Sharma