The Lens and the Lioness

My Heartbeat Simbu,

I write this diary from a place where it would seem death too enjoys a life cycle. This could be my final entry. The last time that I turn the lens inwards, as it were, rendering myself in sharp focus for you. Oh, did I write that yesterday too? Must be those sedatives they keep giving me. Pain management, it's called. Ha! As if the pain of watching my only child lose me, day by excruciating day, organ by faltering organ, can ever be managed. If you're old enough to read this, you'll also understand why I left you with Neha and went away. But let me flip back and see if I've missed anything...


I met Greg Miller today. Freelancer. Comes all the way from USA to shoot the Asiatic lions in Gir, my backyard. I'd driven my Gypsy straight to the office after a month in Ranthambhore, my soiled hair a veritable haystack, long stringy scabs running down my sun-burnt arms.

There he was, waiting for me at the reception, a vaguely intimidating stranger, standing in the largest shoes I'd ever seen, his Popeye arms folded solid over a rippled torso, his hair like Calangute sand, fire-blue eyes trying hard not to look at my breasts - oh, how I hate the way they diminish me.

I'm Amrita, I said taking his surprisingly gentle hand, suddenly worried my BO would offend him, relieved he couldn't see what grew under my arms. Amrita, with a soft -ta.

Too hard, he grinned. Can I just call you America?

Suit yourself, I replied just before I noticed the graffiti on his white shirt: I love America.So when do you want to move to Gir with me?


... and while I wasn't looking somebody had been naughty. No, Greg's alright. I'm talking about my old friend, Rani. Spotted her after a three-day stakeout in the woods. With three little angels following her everywhere now she's putting on airs you see. But as always she was generous with the photo ops, my Rani. My new camera paid for itself in my very first snaps of the cubs suckling, Rani's red tongue slathering each one with her love.


...but now here comes Lord Summer. How the forest capitulates, surrenders its decadent green before an unassuming brown. I see a lot more of Rani and her cubs at the shrinking water-hole these days. Greg's finally getting used to the heat. I've also begun to notice his blue eyes a lot. And his veined forearms. And...


...terrible terrible day. Saw Rani getting gored by a wild buffalo. Careless girl, didn't you even think of your young ones? You, the mistress of deadly maneuvers, felled by a meek herbivore? Pray, what made you so desperate?

The entire forest hears her agony now. Game of nature, says Greg. Let's just keep clicking. He's right, of course. Only, with Rani, it cannot be business as usual.


... a sight so incredible, we forgot to lift our cameras. Rani, braving her pain, brought down an adult sambar today. Didn't eat any of it herself. But it'll feed the cubs for days.


... are you? Where are you? Where are you? Rani! We haven't seen you for days. Your cubs are alright for now. But you need to be here, for them.


...and my worst fears came true. Today we found Rani's body under an acacia three miles from the den. She probably didn't want the cubs to see her die. Oh, the rot, the stench, those contemptuous flies. Why must all great creatures depart in such utter humiliation? Back in the blue tent I wept for the first time in years. Against Greg's chest...


... and he left. We shook hands, said goodbye. What had happened between us was left untouched. I think for a while there, in that remorseless forest, perhaps the two of us were animals too. Why diminish the purity of a beastly passion by talking about it, pretending to give it deeper meanings.


...a child of the wild. You weren't conceived to carry some pretentious surname, my dear. You were born out of life's fears, Her anxieties regarding her finitude, Her feeble pursuit of immortality through a system of rolling proxy. They say you were born under all the wrong circumstances. But for all the right reasons, I insist. Only Neha agrees but that's fine. I'll call you Narasimha, the man-lion. Love your crinkly blue eyes.


... felt a lump over my heart today while taking a shower. It's probably nothing. But for a moment I felt like someone had shot me in the chest, my arms falling away, my legs vibrating like guitar strings, the warm water over my body feeling like it'd freeze me to death. Stood there, just like that, for I don't know how long. Until I realized I was crying.

Still, it's probably nothing.


... went in for the mammogram finally. The picture that showed what was wrong with me while I was busy showing the world what was wrong with our planet. It's metastasized, pronounced the doc. Meaning lots of pain, little hope. What?s Mummy going to do now, Simbu? You're still an infant.


... isn't working, no the chemo isn't working. Instead it's sucking up everything I've got, everything I call living. And then there's Guilt. No escaping it. Guilt at having lived like Rani myself. At having immediately consumed everything I ever earned. At not having saved anything until I had you. And so I had to sell off the old Gypsy too. Still, I'm puking my soul away.


...had nothing left to sell but the second most precious thing I had after you: my cameras and lenses. Neha protested but I deposited the money in her savings account. For you, my Simbu. And no, you won't have to see Mummy die. There's this place I'll go to. It's called a hospice.




More by :  Sandeep Shete

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