I had already heard many villagers talking about a leopard who keeps wandering about in the village during night. Some said to have spotted 2 leopards (probably a couple) next to the primary school where as someone said that the leopard halted whole night in his backyard and finished off a new born calf. Few school girls saw him resting next to the road at the distance and could not dare to go any further. Some told to have heard a roaring at Night. All the stories seemed to me nothing but an entertainment stock and I relished each and every lot of it being quite heedless of an existence of the leopard.
I was expecting my Guests at Maachli in the midnight. All the staff members finished the routine activities and went home. I grabbed 3 torches, one with a strong focus for me and the other two for the guests.I walked to the road and positioned myself at the point where I can wave my hand at the vehicle of the guest. The environment was enchanting and the glimmering starlit sky made it all the more glorious. I tried to identify some typical stuff like Milky Way, pole star, Saptarshi but failed miserably.
After some time, I saw one vehicle coming towards me. It was definitely not the one of the guest as it was coming from the opposite side. The vehicle slowed down and stopped when it was just 50 meters away from me. There was a catlike creature which suddenly drew my attention and was slowly moving across the road. I stood looking at it admiringly as it was marching with a great elegance. I was so much lost in the vision that I could hardly make out what it is. A driver of the vehicle set the focus of a light on high beam and I could clearly see the picture and caught a sight of this strikingly handsome animal. It was definitely a catlike creature but much bigger than that and Yes!!! It was a leopard.
A focus of a light caused a big discomfort to the leopard and it was driven away for a while. I saw him walking towards me. His wagging tail and his terrible eyes gleaming through the dark were visible against the light of the vehicle. As he drew closer I started stepping back. I was hurriedly looking for the stick but I did not get one. I cursed myself not to have listened to my grandfather who thousand times cautioned me to carry a stick in hand. Old villagers say that such wild animals are less afraid of human beings than they are of stick.
I was aware of the fact that human beings generally are not a prey of leopards (I hoped that this one belonged to that general category) and not even single person has been harmed by a leopard not only from my childhood but also from my grandfathers. This gave me an adequate courage to stand steady in front of this gracious and one of the most aggressive and strongest animals from the wild. Both of us equally horrified, surprised and stunned had an eye contact. He looked away. It was sure that he wanted to distance himself from me. Then he managed to disappear in the bushes.
Now the road was clear. A vehicle came close to me. A driver gave me a strange stare and instructed me to always have stick in hand while alone on the road in the night. Later I grabbed a strong stick and patiently waited for the guests.
Next day I shared the same incidence with one of the guests who was very adventurous officer from the police force. He told me how unlucky he was despite going for a tiger safari 15 times in the tiger reserve and not to have spotted one even once.
I would like to thank the leopard(from the distance of kilometers) for the marvelous sight and the driver of a vehicle for arriving there at the right time.