It was a short but exciting period.
Batra was a humdrum contractor who made his money by employing a bunch of scruffy young men and taking orders from small companies to repair windows and paint houses. But on weekends he was a different man: he went regularly on hunting expeditions in the dense forests twelve miles from the central Indian city where he lived.
He was my aunt’s neighbor and regularly gifted her the fruits of his expeditions, such as venison and wild boar meat. But that summer he did something quite different.
It was my summer vacation and, since I was ten, I had won permission from my parents to visit my aunt alone and stay with her for three weeks. That Saturday I saw Batra packing his truck with his tent and guns early in the morning and ran out to ask if I could join him. As always, he declined my company, but did so gently, offering the persuasive argument that the forest was dangerous for unarmed persons. He added that he doubted my aunt would endorse my venture. I returned deflated but still hopeful that perhaps the next time I could induce my aunt to agree and Batra would condescend to take me along.
Batra would normally return Sunday evening, but this time his truck came roaring in Sunday morning. My aunt had gone to see a friend and I was sitting in the porch reading Arthur Conan Doyle. I jumped up and went to see what the hunter had come home with. Batra raised my curiosity by asking me to be careful, then opened the back of his truck.
At first I thought he had brought back two puppies. Then I looked closer: they were splendidly beautiful tiger cubs.
He was wondering what to do about the dead animal when he heard a curious sound inside the cave nearby. He went in with a flashlight and found the two tiger cubs. That explained the ferocious protectiveness of the mother tiger. Batra felt sorry and picked up the cubs. Now, he said, he had to decide what to do about them.
I had a simple solution. We had a small corner room in our house which nobody used; I alone occasionally sat there and read books. That would be a perfect room for the cubs. I wanted them. I would take the best care of them, I told Batra.
Batra hesitated. He had no place for the cubs, and he had to find one quickly. I had offered a ready solution, though he had doubts it was a good one. But I was so earnest, even so importunate, that he eventually ceded. He agreed I could keep them for the moment. I was thrilled.
Together we carried the cubs in a box into the corner room and released them. Then we went to fetch some milk from the kitchen and try to spoonfeed the cubs. It worked. I got them a small ball and discarded pieces of wool to play with, but they did not seem greatly interested. They kept going all over the room, apparently smelling and searching, probably for their mother.
When my aunt returned hours later, she was aghast. She was amazed at my enthusiasm, but questioned my notion of having tigers as pets. She was more adept at feeding the cubs however. Clearly they preferred protein.
I had a glorious time with the cubs. Feeding them was an exercise in itself. Offering them odds and ends to play with. Cleaning them, without getting scratched by their claws. Just watching them gambol and roughhouse with each other. I could barely leave them for a moment.
Two days later Batra had a long conference with my aunt and told me that he had been in touch with the government specialists at the Maharajbagh zoo in Nagpur city, several miles away. The specialists had insisted that the cubs needed special diet and medical attention, which could be provided only by veterinarians at the zoo.
The next morning Batra came in his truck and took the cubs to Nagpur, to my complete mortification. I had thought of beautiful names for them, but nobody cared and the christening never took place.