Stripes and checks

Last Saturday night, shortly after the news had broken out that a tiger had escaped from its enclosure in Vandalur zoo, I checked in to my twitter feed, and the social media platform, sustained as it is by the wisdom of many, manfully rose to the occasion with an emergency supply of jokes and puns.

Someone said (to the effect) that the tiger would return to its enclosure once it gets to know of the Chennai auto fares. Another suggested that the tiger could have gotten beyond its cage, but the carnivore, for the life of it, cannot even dream of getting past the Vandalur-Kelambakkum traffic bottleneck. And so it went on.

On twitter, no matter what the crisis is, howsoever severe it may be, someone somewhere, in the true spirit of crowd-delivered information, will be responding irresponsibly. Which is why I fit in there pretty easily.

But before you start thinking that twitter mostly peddles puerility, there is also a sensitive and sensible side to it which gets reflected during critical moments, like it did recently during the Hudhud cyclone that battered the Andhra coast.

On the day, when the cyclone had unleashed its havoc on Vizag, where the electricity lines had collapsed, where the telephones links were disrupted, where heavy wooden doors were coming unhinged in the face of ferocious winds, someone sitting in America, which regularly sees several hurricanes and cyclones of this nature, putting to use the knowledge that he had gained through practical experience, tweeted out a piece of simple information that was, however, most relevant and helpful in the circumstance. It was: ‘Stay safe, Vizag’.

I could imagine Vizag residents, if they had the basic sense to somehow log into their twitter timeline amidst all the catastrophe unfolding around them, smacking their foreheads after reading the above message and going, ‘gee whiz! This is so correct. We should indeed stay safe,’ and proceeding to cancel the plans for a night out in that beachfront restaurant and instead ordering home-delivery pizza and settling down to watch Arnab Goswami who could be counted to be heard over the wailing winds of over 180 km intensity.

Anyway, back to the tiger that had wandered out of its enclosure in Vandalur, the zoo authorities asserted that it had returned to the enclosure, even though they had not actually sighted the animal. If they had not seen it, how could they confirm that the tiger had come back? Well, the name board on the cage door read ‘Tiger: In’.

Okay, not really. The zoo guys went by the tiger’s pugmarks.

I myself learnt the importance of animal footprints during a trip to Bandhipur forest sometime back.

You will be zooming along a dirt road, and suddenly your safari vehicle would stop and the guide will stealthily point to a small patch of dirt that to you will appear exactly similar to all the other dirt you had seen on the trip. You will look quizzically at the guide.

‘Can’t you see it?’ he will say in an exasperated hush.

‘See what?’ you will respond in hushed exasperation

‘See the footprint there’, he will say pointing in the general direction of the aforesaid dirt.

You can now identify some impressions on the ground, but you will still not able to figure out that it is a footprint, leave alone to which animal it belongs. But to your guide it will be a veritable Aadhaar card, based on which he will be able to say not only the animal, but also its gender, age, its facebook profile, its credit rating etc.

Another thing that forest hands steadfastly rely on to figure out what kind of animal had crossed the area and around which time is — pardon if it gets a bit technical here — its shit. They call it spoor. But that won’t help to mask its odour.

Back to Vandalur, it was later revealed that it was not a tiger, but tigress (named Nethra) that had escaped. Thankfully, nothing untoward occurred during its brief escape. But I shudder merely thinking about the whole scenario and what could have happened: Vandalur zoo is surrounded by many engineering colleges. It was a dark and rainy Saturday night. A lonely animal was on the prowl. It was a female. You know what it was up against? Yes, engineering college hostelites on a Saturday night.

As a regular on twitter, my helpful message could only have been: ‘Stay safe, tigress’.