October, 2015. We got a tip from the watch tower that a tiger has been spotted. Apparently, the tiger has crossed the observation line and moved into the forest. Anticipating its movement, we started to scan a particular area with our binoculars.
Now, the area I’m talking about is an island, and many small creeks enter this island and forms swampy areas called “Morani”. There are also some high river banks with relatively hard soil and less shrubs, known as “Tenk” in the local language. Now, swamp tigers are known for spending considerable amount of time on the bank before getting into the water. They scan the entire area, the opposite bank, wind direction and the tide for possible threats and challenges before getting into the water to cross, a place where the tiger is extremely vulnerable. Keeping these particulars in mind, we started scanning the area. We did not spot any fresh pug marks on the mudflat of the tiger of coming down to the water which confirmed the fact that the he/she is still in that island.
And suddenly, we spotted the tiger. No prelude, just a sharp jump cut. And something strange happened. Though I was seeing the tiger, sitting on the bank in perfect golden light, my mind was not registering the fact that I’m seeing a swamp tiger. Given the elusiveness of these cats and the folklores and myths that shroud these magical creatures in a veil of mystery, I. was completely taken aback by the sighting. Our guide, sensing something is seriously wrong with me, started shouting in my ears “Oi to, oi to, boshe ache, tolo!!” (There it is, there it is, sitting over there, shoot) along with a few hardcore Bengali curse words. That helped. I picked up the camera, looked through the viewfinder, focused and pressed the shutter button. The rest, is a glorious blur. After a few minutes the tiger went into the forest, leaving pug marks behind to testify this was no dream. I reviewed the images I just took. Everything, that evening, fell into place. The light, the ambience, the composition – just everything. And that started my love affair with the swampland and the big cats that rule these tidal forests. That evening, I felt my life is about to change, forever.