An Aural Journey through Nagarahole: The Sound of Tardiness

Published on: 08/04/2024

male tiger kabini © santosh saligram

Photo title: Tiger


Photo Credits: Santosh Saligram

In the jungles of Kabini, if light is a fair-weather friend, sound is an unreliable acquaintance. At times it takes you places to which light cannot escort your attention, but at others, often when it truly matters, its insigni1cance at the hands of those who have mastered it abandons you to a protracted ignorance.

It is late afternoon. As you potter on in the aftermath of the theatrics over which you presided in the morning, the scrumptious lunch from earlier lulling your senses into a pre-somnolence, a silence awakens you, for often while motoring as a passenger, it is the sudden cessation of an otherwise constancy of sound that terminates our stupor.

Your naturalist has brought you to a salt lick (a patch of earth dug up and infused with salt to both attract as well as supplement the dietary requirements of wildlife), where she now pauses to look for birds to show you, for yellow-footed and imperial green pigeons are known to frequent this saline spring.

But there is none today; and with it, no chirps, tweets or trumpets. There’s just a very deep silence. It’s so quiet that you feel, for once, as if you could hear your inner voice, which begs to know why you didn’t discover this place earlier.

But before you can slip into any profound ruminations about your life, a movement catches the eye of your aquiline naturalist – just a streak of broken-up amber – and she turns around to whisper frantically, “Tiger, tiger! Look, here!”

You spiral around in the direction you’re bidden to see by her raised eyebrows (she deliberately avoids pointing her 1nger, for many animals perceive that as a threat) and what happens next is burnt on your grey cells like a moving wax imprint, vivid as a Van Gogh, that you can summon to the present at will.

A massive cat nearly 10 feet from nose to tail, clad in an oriental striped raiment, stands spanning nearly the width of the track on which you’re stationed, his ears pointed fully forward and tail extended like a handle for the family banner. Initially startled by your movement, his attentive amber eyes are trained straight at you, appearing to see through your very bones, and for a moment you think you may be under arrest – by a spell. So close is he, that you can see the marble-white whiskers on his rotund snout almost distinctly, and notice that they are the length of your hands.


Photo title: Malabar Giant Squirrel


Photo Credits: Vikram Nanjappa

So large is he that his presence has as though displaced the spacetime you inhabit, wherefrom you wobble. His eyes are two large circular whirlpools into which your attention slips inextricably, via an irresistible magnetic force that instantly dissolves your self-awareness. For a moment your brain seems released from the viscous Ruid in which it is suspended and left free instead in an oxygen tank, so that you glide in de1ance of gravity, full of life; dizzy, zestful, and yet, seemingly cast in ice, hotly cold, and unable to move, think and act to your bidding.

As the top cat saunters coolly across the road with soft, inaudible paws – just like a shadow on a silver screen – you realise how caught out you were, how even a seasoned naturalist couldn’t see him coming until he was so close, and are wondering how, most of all, such a large animal could be so noiseless, just when a detonation of sound occurs on a tree branch near you, startling you out of your reflective reverie.

A peacock, disturbed by the sight of the tiger, is calling in alarm, simultaneously conveying his heavy train to a branch of safety (for this being his breeding season, his tail feathers are in full bloom) via a laboured but stunning Right that betrays his magni1cent plumes. The call is more like a complaint, expressed in a tirade of strident crowing, “Co co co co co co co co co…” as against his peacetime and heavily nasal “Aeeeeaaaawwwww!”, an archetypal emblem of an Indian tiger forest.

But this bothers the tiger not to the least, continue as he does his march to perhaps a nearby waterhole, to beat the soaring heat.

Once he’s out of sight, you let out a gasp, and your 1rst feeling is one of release from a fevered grip, then an inexplicable, uncontainable elation. You turn to your naturalist, and exclaim, “Wow, I wasn’t prepared for that!”

“You never are,” returns your naturalist, smiling. “You can never prepare for an experience that forever remains new.”

Just then, from amid the canopy and the branches of an unseen tree, there comes another sound, this time of an alt-rock artist burping marbles into a microphone. “A Malabar giant squirrel,” chimes in your naturalist. Otherwise using its gullet to ingest a range of fruit, nuts, Rowers and tree bark, this stunning rodent, with dual-toned livery and a long, bottlebrush tail that waves like an enticing beacon, voices out its concern on occasion when alarmed by a predator at a volume that belies its size, in a distinctly electronic timbre.

You smile to yourself, that for once, you knew of a tiger’s presence before the peacock and the squirrel did, and you realise that like the thunder that comes as a redundant postscript to lightning, sound can at times be tardy and superfluous, for all that moves makes not necessarily a sound you can hear, no matter how much closer objects in the mirror are than they appear.


Santosh Saligram

Santosh Saligram is a writer, editor, photographer, designer and content-and-communications strategist from Bengaluru, who is enamoured with ‘all things sentient' and the tragically futile effort of capturing their magic through creative media. Santosh describes himself as a 'pen-and-camera-wielding raconteur', for his style involves narrating a story in partnership with images, films and graphics to sing paeans of the mystery and joy that are inherent in Nature. He's been a photography mentor, leading tours to various wildernesses for nearly a decade, authored at least two known books partly or fully, and been awarded both nationally and internationally for his pictorial work.


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