Bikash dropped his daughter off in the estate primary school and hummed his favourite lines of ukali orali on his walk to the Okayti Shiva temple. Bikash Acharya has been the priest at the tea estate temple for the last ten years, taking over from his father who performed the daily rites there for sixty long years. But today was different. The birds seemed nervous and the temple was unusually silent.
As was his daily routine, Bikash rang the temple bell but there was something odd about the day. He felt a presence but saw no one. Solitude in the hills is well survived so there was definitely something there that was affecting Bikash’s banality. He put his mind back into his faith and began his worship of Lord Shiva.
An hour had past and Bikash began his customary meditation under the banyan tree behind the temple. Over his mantra chanting, he started hearing a faint but bloodcurdling sound. It was abrasive, as if someone was cutting wood with a giant saw. His hands turned cold in fear but he kept his eyes shut in meditation and kept on chanting.
The sound made its way through the woods behind him and kept getting louder. Bikash felt a little wet nose cuddle up against his already shivering hand. It was a leopard cub. She looked scared and hungry. Bikash reassured the cub of no fear by stroking her little head but how could he hold that thought for too long. That strange sound was only yards away.
The sound stopped and the cub feebly crawled towards two glowing eyes in the bush behind the banyan tree. The birds started chirping again. Bikash slowly packed his belongings from inside the temple and walked off towards his daughter’s school.
He hummed those lines of ukali orali and got to his knees as his daughter ran into her father’s embrace. She said, “Baa, I’m very hungry.”
Since Okayti is an organic tea estate, wildlife thrives in the area. Till today, there are no reports of poaching or human casualties.