To see her was to see all of nature in one look. Her blazing eyes, earthy pace, regal air and brave heart – all combined into the legend that she will be. Machli, or T-16, was made to be a superstar. Of course, she did not care for that.
Even as a four-year-old, it was hard not to see why people travelled from far and wide to see the empress of Ranthambore. I had been woken up early, dressed and placed – rather packed – between my parents atop a howdah on an elephant. I remember hearing the first roar from across the plateau even as we entered the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. I do not know if it was her voice but an instant hush fell over all the visitors, and mahouts guided the elephants that cold winter morning towards the sound.
The light of the morning sun was feeble despite a lighter fog, visibility was clearer than the previous morning. I had layers of woolens on under my jacket but I could feel the chill running down my spine.
There was no sign of Machli when we arrived around the spot. Just the tall elephant grass waving in the cold. We all knew that she was around, that she was watching. All the elephants huddled together and silence ensued. Apart from the mahouts signalling and the sound of the binoculars and camera lenses zooming, there was not much sound.
My father was looking across the stretch of tall grass where he thought he saw some movement when I started tugging at his jacket. He looked at me and then to the direction I was pointing. In the grass, less than 10 metres from where the elephant we were on was standing, was a pair of chillingly calm, green eyes.
As soon as my father got his first shot, the camera gave away our discovery and all the other elephants tried to provide their riders a view of the Queen Mother, while our elephant was immediately herded out of a possible lunge. Thankfully, there was not much of a ruckus and soon, Machli guided her three cubs out of the grass to grace us with their unveiled presence.
For the past week, reports have been coming in of her poor health. But that is not new. I know of a conservationist who had written out Machli’s obituary at least two years ago. Things like how much money she made for the Tourism Ministry, international filmmakers converging to capture her on camera and postage stamps being released in her name and image that made ‘mankind’ news.
For the last five days of her life, Machli remained as dignified as she has always been. She refused food offered to her by forest officials who had stayed by her side since she was reported missing last year. She managed to have some water but lay motionless, awaiting her end.
At the end, she struggled to breathe. Her last breath, if it could be translated, was a long sigh of relief.
She was the Queen Mother who taught all those who cared, to live a life driven by bravery in act and with complete devotion to her family. To me, Machli will remain my first encounter with a true member of the wild and a priceless memory of my father.
VIA : indiatimes
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