It was early January 2022 humanity was grappling with an unprecedented contest against an unknown enemy. Oblivious to this virus far away an old King was busy fighting a life and death battle. He had fought several battles in his lifetimes and triumphed in all. But this time it was different, he was up against a formidable opponent, half his age. He not only had to protect himself, and his Kingdom, but also his generation next which was still in a cradle. The King knew that he could not match the blows of his young opponent, nonetheless this only he knew, not his adversary. But the King had the grit, shrewdness and memoirs of many a battle of the yore.
He was not heartless, his victories did not always spell losses for others, rather he usually corrected the trespasser to mend their ways. Capital punishment was not his favourite go-to method, rather used rarely only when after repeated warnings someone did not listen and wanted him to submit. Neither did he ever get into cannibalism which many other brethren of him were known to do. In fact, there were occasions he would behave like a strict teacher in a class scolding a brat to focus on his job. He defied the image of the almighty kings of being ruthless and killing the upcoming title holders. Rather he was known to spend time with them. It would not be wrong to call him a compassionate capitalist. He wanted it all, but with values and ethics.
The day of the battle arrived. This was a no muscle contest, as the King could not match the strength behind blows of his opponent. So, he decided to fight smart, conserve his energy and prolong the battle. The King knew when to avoid, and when to strike. He knew that he has to live today to die another day. So, he avoided exposing himself fully, and struck on the weakness of the enemy causing excruciating pain, and doubt in the mind of the opponent. The longer the battle continued the faster the patience of the young one wanted. He started to distrust himself if he would be able to pin down the King. The injuries were bilateral, and so was pain. The experienced one knew how to handle the agony and the fall, but the young one did not, and he retreated across the golden bridge that the King had built for him.
Handling grave injuries was nothing new for the Royal, for he had self-treated himself a number of times after every fight, but this time it was his immobility that was a bigger concern. He lay victorious as he had warded off the advances of the challenger, but paid a huge price with some agonising injuries. He could not hunt and began losing weight very fast. The weakness from the fight, the pain from the injuries, and no food made him frail, and he started looking like a pale shadow of himself. But mentally he was still strong and holding on the fort.
He lay at a place waiting for his wounds to heal, but something he had not imagined was in store for him. Another challenger, again half his age came into the area and smelled him out. He did not like the presence of the King in his area. Nor, was the King keen to stay back, but his immobility gave an impression to the new challenger that he wanted a fight. So, the young one gave one. The emperor lay on the ground, wreathing in pain. Why was nature being so cruel to the ruler of the Kingdom? He wasn’t averse to the fights, but don’t loathe him with duels without a break, without food, and without care. The clash of these titans was heard far and loud. Some spectators gathered to see what was the commotion all about. Few wanted to help in separating the two, but could not as the young one was not willing to back off. In normal condition one of them would have left, but this seemed to be a deadlock and it was presumed that the King is on the last leg of his journey, and would not survive the night. Spectators went away, some disturbed, some unconcerned.
The challenger tried everything in his armour to scare and chase the King away. But the crowned one could not move, but again that only he knew, not the inexperienced one. The young Turk fired verbal punches from a close distance, and the Monarch returned one for every dozen he received. This gave an impression that the senior was not getting perturbed by the unnecessary ruckus and provocation that the challenger was creating. As Sun Tzu writes, “the wise warrior avoids the battle”, so did the King.
Next day there was no action, silence ensued in the area as if nothing had transpired here just few hours back. Peace had returned in the area which had reverberated with loud thumping, exchange of blows, both verbal and physical. The logical conclusion for a sane mind was that the old King was decimated by the young challenger, and this was the end of the era.
Some last images of Umarpani male tiger taken on 11th January were floated on social media. People very callously pronounced the King dead; some even wrote his obituary. But I put my neck on the block and said that he will be fine and will return, for Kings like Umarpani tiger, do not die easily.
In my 32 years of seeing tigers in the wild, I am yet to come across a dominating tiger go down in a territorial fight, yes, they get injured, and seriously at times, but they do not end up in the belly of the young tigers. Examples are plenteous, but none connect the dots, and establish a pattern of what happens with dominating male tigers in any national park. Yes, they might leave the area, but dying in a territorial fight is not often heard of.
Almost six weeks later news came of images being captured of the King recuperating on the outskirts of his kingdom. I heard the good news and instantly mentioned to Naren that he will return to his erstwhile ring once he has gained sufficient physical strength to ward off more challengers in future. Everyone felt this was the end of the road for him. But he was not the one to go down in the abyss of darkness with no closure. He proved them all wrong. Umarpani male tiger conspired with the universe and made a second coming into his Kingdom on Sunday the 13th March, about a month before Easter. He came back from the dead. Some crises break and some crises make you a Champion. Umarpani male tiger is a Champion Tiger who has returned to his Kingdom.
The lucky souls like Naren, Shaurya and a few more who saw him back said, he looked good and confident. I was not present in my body to see him, but in spirit, I was in Kanha yesterday. I saw his video marking and reclaiming his territory. Enough seems enough for the nonsense that prevailed in his absence. His confidence when crossing a road by looking right first and then left still remains. The hurriedness in his walk is his sureness of where he is going.
Later in the evening, there was news of another male tiger entering the same area where Umarpani tiger was last seen at. Well, none can defy age, and eventually, the end will come, but the King has proved a point to all his fans, supporters, and distractors.
What is worth mentioning is that he recovered from a nearly fatal injury, limped out of the area where he was injured into the area where he knew he would get cattle to feed as he was not fit enough currently to feed on the deer. He limped back to normalcy, took him eight weeks to recover, and back he is with the swag we know he has.
There have been occasions when some tigers get treated by the forest department, in this case he did not get any treatment, defied death and is back. Only time will tell for how long will he continue to enthral the tourists, and protect his kingdom.
No one knows what happened to the young cubs of Dhawajhandi tigress which were sired by Umarpani tiger. They would be about four months now if they are around. If they come back, then this would be no less than divine intervention to a brave tiger of all times, the Umarpani male tiger. He was so far acknowledged as the biggest tiger of India, now I like to confer him with “The most Royal, Royal Bengal Tiger of all times”.
Born and brought up in New Delhi, it was Sharad’s childhood passion to play cricket for India. While on a holiday in 1990, he saw his first tiger. Little did he know that this one sighting would immerse him into a realm where forests and tigers were all that mattered.
Sharad’s experiences as a wildlife photographer have inspired him to observe the tiger’s behavior for over 30 years and motivated him on his own journey as an entrepreneur. He started Nature Safari India Pvt Ltd, with a focus on “Conservation through Tourism.” to align himself to the mission of saving the regal species and repopulating them in India’s forests. In 2006, he set up one of India’s premier jungle lodges in Kanha National Park.
Sharad believes that there are many lessons to be learned from a tiger that can be applied successfully to leadership—both in business and in life. Here’s a new book by Sharad Vats on management and leadership skills to learn from a Tiger.