The knee of Pants had been playing up something rotten. Instead of opting to climb hills and walk across logs in search of one of forty tigers inhabiting a 600 square kilometre region in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, I chose to take a dawn boat ride around the hundred-year-old artificial lake in the vain hope that some wildlife would suddenly be stricken with thirst. Immediately I sat down by myself, I was befriended by a large family. Is this anyone else's experience? It's either a man with crossed eyes and a little pot belly, or a family. The minute I strike out alone, the world conspires to attach me to others again. This family came from Pushkar and were absolutely delighted when I informed them I'd be visiting their town soon. They proceeded to fill me with roti and Bombay mix.
Nice as they were, this family were also the loudest and most obnoxious on the boat. They played Hindi music on their mobile phones and danced around the deck, persistently earning themselves a telling off from the guides. Wildlife, it seems, are not particularly partial to Hindi music. Approximately every ten minutes, one of the three men would shout 'tiger' and the little boy would run to the side of the boat excitedly. His three tormentors would then collapse in fits of laughter. The little boy never lost his enthusiasm. Perhaps he'd read this message, one of many helpfully dotted around the park,
To take it all in, however transitory your visit, you have to be fully conscious, tuned into the symphony with loving expectancy and carrying yearning.
Despite the raucousness of the passengers, an antelope or two did slope into view. Then a family of otters popped up. They didn't seem best pleased at being followed by a boat full of gaping tourists, but hey, it wasn't their holiday now was it? A snake bird and a few wild boar offered themselves for display but there was no flash of orange to make the little boy's day. One of our guides said he'd seen four in ten years. Then again, the last sighting was from a boat, just two weeks ago. The Indians will tell you it's all down to karma.
In the spirit of be careful what you wish for (see previous post), I was blessed on a brief foray alone on the edge of the park with this sign, attached to a tree of exceptionally unimpressive stature,
Because of the suitable conditions for continuous plant growth, some patches of moist deciduousness and evergreen forests have the giants on earth, trees that they have been growing for centuries and reaching lofty heights. The ability of these plants to modulate the environmental conditions in their immmediate vicinity is such that they would be a fine-tuned microclimatic milieu in that area. We can also feel it as a "pressence" (sic). It is as though everything is stilled in expectancy, waiting for some signal to going to the next crescendo of evolutionary proliferation.
And how's this take on 'intelligent design' spiced up with a stiff helping of Professor Godbole?
We need these trees not for their wood or for some tangible benefits but to ponder about it all, the overall design, our position in it and also to see ourselves. In their prescence it is easy for us to realize with deep humility and also happiness that we are really puny, helpless beings taken care of by the collectivity of all the rest.
Food for thought, no? Although, I'd take issue with the 'being taken care of' bit. I find no evidence, and come to think of it, I'm not all that keen to be labelled 'puny' either. Feeble maybe, but puny? I don't think so.
Back at the cafe, where I was joined by a cross-eyed, pot-bellied bus driver for brunch, a circus of monkeys proceeded to blow 'intelligent design' out of the water. A particularly aggressive individual swooped down and plucked a paratha right off the plate of one startled diner. Then he hissed like a Batman villain and waved his trophy about before fleeing. Remarkably, this paratha bandit had only one hand. His right arm ended in a stump. Perhaps he'd stolen paratha in Saudi Arabia before settling in Thekkady. The cross-eyed, pot-bellied bus driver made a fine fist of keeping him and his less ferocious compatriots at bay until I finished my masala dosai.
Periyar is also famous for its herds of wild elephant but none chose to reveal themselves during my visit. I may have missed out on the wild elephants but there's plenty of the domestic variety to be getting on with. There's one in every Hindu temple, representing the living embodiment of Ganesh, aptly designated 'the remover of obstacles'. I received a blessing from the elephant above in the temple in Pondicherry. For a small consideration in the form of a coin which you drop down her trunk, she will give you a gentle bop on the head. Christian churches might be missing a trick here as the temple was full of people.
I did have a quiet word with the temple elephant and request the next 'crescendo of evolutionary proliferation', doesn't happen anywhere near me. I could do with some peace and quiet...