Aa ja, meri laado
We often come across images of terrified leopard cubs rescued by forest officials from a mob that lynched their mother. The unreported parallel to such a contingency is when a cow/buffalo is killed by a leopard and she leaves behind a calf that had not been weaned off her. On July 24, a leopard killed a cow in the jungles of Choti Nagal village, about 15 km from Chandigarh, and ate her udders before abandoning the carcass. The cow, of a foreign gene pool, left behind a six-week-old calf. The leopard had pounced on the cow when she was left unattended while grazing.
The calf is pining for his mother and has shrivelled up in just a few days of her loss. He does not eat anything. Every time someone comes into the village hovel, the calf gets up, eyes wide open and strains at its tether, expecting mother would be trailing behind. The cow’s owner, a humble peasant, Paramjit Singh, has resorted to force-feeding milk to the calf via an improvised plastic pipe. Unlike other farmers, Paramjit has not succumbed to an easy option: abandon the male calf.
It is not only the calf, which is missing the benign bovine. Paramjit’s kids, Reena, Dalvinder and Baljit, would stick a tumbler under her udders, extract milk and down it like fresh juice. Ever-patient and generous to a fault, the cow would never deliver a nasty kick to the kids. Paramjit, who was being offered Rs 40,000 for the cow, was emotionally attached to her having reared her for six years. She returned his devotion with an unspoken, unconditional love. Before her death, the cow was delivering 12 kg milk daily, a solid income for this family of the Harijan ghetto.
“Whenever I would call for her with the loving words, ‘Aa ja, meri laado’, she would come bounding to me,’’ recollects Paramjit. His eyes are stoic, the colour of ripening neem balls.
The late Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala possessed one of the finest collections of sporting weapons, reckoned as the top-three armouries of that era along with the royal houses of Alwar and Bhopal. One of his weapons, that “ticks all the boxes’’ while judging such pieces, is the .10-bore shotgun made by Charles W Lancaster of London in 1910. This exceptionally well-preserved gun weighing 11 pounds eight ounces, with 3.25-inch chambers, 36-inch barrels (both full choke) and side-lock ejectors was for water-fowling at Bhupinder Sagar that lay near Patran, 37 miles south-west of Patiala. The gun surfaced in public memory when Holt’s Auctioneers of Norfolk fetched 31,000 English pounds on its sale.
“That’s a very good sum,’’ exclaims the Maharaja’s grandson and Phulkian scion, Malvinder Singh, who first shot at the Sagar in 1953. “I was firing (in 1953) with a .410 shotgun by Westley Richards (WR) and dropped nine waterfowl with the 100 cartridges allotted to me. I was nine then,’’ Singh told this writer. Most of the Patiala armoury was sold to gun collectors from London like Paul Roberts, Malcolm Lyell and Walter Clode when privy purses were abolished in 1971.
The Sagar, which still exists on dusty government records, has since been drained for agriculture. It had originally been carved out of a vast swamp by erecting sand dunes and measured 1,280 hectares and was three miles long. “My grandfather allowed only one shoot a year at the Sagar and the Viceroy was a special invitee. The waterfowl bags at the Sagar matched those at Bharatpur. The species bagged in good number were Bar-headed geese, Teal and Mallards,’’ said Singh. The Maharaja’s hospitality revealed itself in the fact that each invitee to the Sagar shoot would be handed a pair of new, custom-made Holland & Holland (H&H) shotguns, which he/she would take back as a royal gift. The Maharaja’s legendary flamboyance also authored the royal rebuff he subsequently delivered to H&H. “My grandfather placed an order for one of the Sagar shoots with H&H. However, that consignment en route to India was torpedoed during World War I. An urgent cable was dispatched to H&H to repeat the order but H&H refused saying they were preoccupied with another order. My grandfather never went back to H&H and patronised WR after that,’’ recalls Singh. Singh has no such issues. He deploys a custom-fitted H&H shotgun with 30-inch barrels whenever he takes off for the Scottish moors to hunt Red grouse.
The mystique of risk
Most tiger hunters, including the late Maharaja of Sarguja who bagged 1,100-plus, fired from the safety of padded machans and Rolls Royces. The legendary Jim Corbett tracked most of them alone and on foot. Corbett, whose 141st birth anniversary was celebrated on July 25, pushed this risk to the extremities by pursuing the wounded man-eater of Talla Des on a moonlit night. At that time, half of Corbett’s head was full of pus and abscess due to a blasted eardrum. His eardrum had suffered grievous injury earlier when a hunter sitting next to him on elephant back discharged a heavy, high-velocity rifle next to Corbett’s ear while on a Terai shoot at Bindukhera. There can be few more pursuits more dangerous than the Talla Des hunt, with the exception of Spanish bull-fighting of yore.
The other wild quarry that comes close to presenting an ultra-risky challenge is pursuing Cape buffalo on foot in the African bush. Buffalo can get lions to run with the tails between their legs. Many a formidable hunter’s head adorns the trophy rooms of buffalo herds! The latest came on July 26 when Don English, the vastly-experienced regional ranger at the Kruger National Park, was undertaking a “routine buffalo sustainable offtake exercise’’ (a cull).
A wounded buffalo bull charged English at close quarters and hit him in the chest before throwing him repeatedly in the air. Using his presence of mind, English managed to grab onto the buffalo’s horns knowing that he must not allow the bull to gore him. English hung on for dear life till the bull succumbed to bullet injuries. English was air-lifted with broken ribs, bruising and bashing (no major internal injury) but has since stabilised in the ICU.