How to Find Love in the Jungle – An Excerpt From Tiger Season by Gargi Rawat

If we see Mallika today, it’s a legit sign from the fates, and you will not get married just now.’



We were sitting in a jeep, in the middle of a very quiet jungle waiting for a tiger to show up. It was a sweltering hot day, and I could feel the sweat slowly trickling down my back. We could sense the deep drone of the jungle—the rhythmic hum of wilderness, the low buzzing of insects, birdsong near and far and a steady breeze that rustled the leaves and grasses—around us. The gentle gushing of a distant stream overrode these sporadic interludes.



Jaya, to whom my comment was addressed, was intently peering into her camera lens. She now turned around with an irritated expression. I had sprung these comments on her while we—a reporter and camera person news team—were waiting, yet again, in the middle of the jungle for a wild predator that had remained elusive for the last three days.



‘Just what is that supposed to mean, Sunaina?’ exclaimed Jaya.


‘What does one thing even have to do with another?’ I shrugged my shoulders, unable to rationalize why I felt a sighting of Chambalgarh’s most famous denizen should help decide her fate. In my own mind, I was simply looking for signs from the universe, to tell her something I didn’t want to. Sometimes, when faced with tough decisions, I sought signs and symbols, even unconnected, to give me an answer.


Usually, this was to do with a decision I was not inclined to make. All this made no sense to anyone else, and in this case it wasn’t even my decision. But what Jaya had told me had been bothering me from the moment I heard it. The long wait here had made me think about the news she had broken the night before.



She was considering a proposal for her marriage arranged by her parents, whose only justification to have their daughter wedded was that ‘it was the right thing to do’.


But why was I agitated? We had been colleagues for four years, friends for three and had gone on countless shoots together for NNTV, the news channel we both worked for. I knew this was a bad idea for her. We’d grown reasonably close and I had felt we were on the same wavelength. So I just could not understand why she was willing to throw away a promising career.



Over the years I had witnessed colleagues and friends, whose careers had been sacrificed on the altar of ‘getting hitched, bearing children, running households’. In my estimation, they had basically sold themselves short and it would catch up with them one day. I hated seeing it happen.



‘Look, I know you feel pressured to get married to someone in your community, especially since your elder sisters went their own way, but don’t do it! You’re not some sacrificial lamb who has to give up her future.’ I said this as forcefully as I could in that special ‘quiet’ voice that one adopts in a jungle. All this while, Jaya was fiddling with the camera and tripod set up at the back of the jeep, ignoring me.



We were stationed next to a patch of tall grass, with a river bed and the jungle beyond. There was a narrow stream trickling between the rocks, pooling in places. We had been informed by our guide that the most famous tiger in the park, Mallika, had last been seen resting on the river bed.



‘Take it as a sign from the heavens!’ I continued. ‘Do you know there are people who worship Mallika? They consider her a jungle goddess, a devi. If she appears now, I’m telling you, it is a sign you should not get married just now!’ For a moment, silence intervened. Jaya turned to me, irked. She rolled her and whispered, ‘I won’t have to give up everything, just this job, but then I can be more flexible, take projects, make documentaries like I’ve always wanted. And the family will be happy, especially my sisters.’ I was exasperated.



‘Seriously? You think you can become a documentary film-maker while married to some engineer in the Indian Railways? That’s not going to happen and you know it. You’ll be moving around from one small town to the other, managing the house, socializing with other wives. And then you will have little kids and it will be all over.’ I knew I was being harsh but couldn’t help it. Over the years, Jaya had come to be a friend I cherished and I didn’t want to see her making short-sighted choices, which I knew were going to leave her unhappy. This dusky, charming girl, full of life and zest, with her frizzy black hair and bright eyes, was destined to go places. Like me, she was driven, very passionate about work. She also had an infectious sense of humour that made her a fun companion.



To marry for the wrong reasons would destroy her. Jaya Deogam belonged to a tiny and fast shrinking tribal community, the Kols, who belonged to Jharkhand. Her two older sisters, like many others of their generation, had chosen to marry outside the cycle of endogamic pressures. Her brother, however, had followed tradition and married one of their own. Sadly for him, the marriage did not work out, and he found himself divorced within two years. For Jaya’s parents, therefore, it became a matter of clan pride to ensure their youngest child married within the fold.



For all her bravado, I knew she would be miserable if she sacrificed her dreams for the sake of a good match. And let’s face it, the ‘good match’ was only theoretical. Who knew what would happen once she was married? I also knew Jaya’s own guilt of not meeting family expectations was what was propelling her decision. Her family was well regarded in the community. Her ancestors had played a significant role against their British overlords in 1857. They had staunchly supported the rebellion led by their hereditary liege-lord, the raja of Porahat, and it had taken the British two years to quell. This family history was something that generated much pride within the family. The same pride was now pushing my friend to step up where her other siblings had seemingly failed. I was simply unable to stand by and watch this happen to someone I really cared about.



But whatever Jaya may have responded with was cut short by the booming distress call of a sambar deer close by. The sound, a sharp, loud bark of this antlered beast, resounded against the rocks in our vicinity. These large species seldom call except when they are gravely threatened. We could see the sambar standing at a slight distance, in the grass, its head up, its front leg raised in the air. The first ‘alarm’ was followed by a sharper, more nasal shriek that reverberated through the jungle canopy. The sambar stamped its front legs, turned around and ran. Within seconds, a langur monkey in a tree nearby also gave its distinct warning call, a loud sharp yelp, which they make when they have sighted a predator.



I was no longer thinking about Jaya, her marriage, siblings and tribe. I was frantically scanning the grasses and treeline around us to detect some movement that could signify that a tiger was on the prowl. The jeep lunged forward to reposition itself and my breathing accentuated with the change in gears. Jaya too was desperately checking her camera settings as our guide and driver moved the jeep for a more panoramic view.



I felt on edge and the constant shift of the gearbox, the braking of pedals and the sound of an ageing chassis was adding to my stress. The monkeys continued their chattering and occasional hooting, but they had stopped the alarm call. The sambar had stopped calling as well. Maybe the tiger had settled down? Not a good sign as I couldn’t spot it! The vines on the banyan tree to our left suddenly moved and I jerked my head around for a closer look. It was only a peacock dislocating a broken shoot that dropped on its way down to those grey thick roots. Everything was silent again and my heart sank. Time was running out. We had been filming for three days in this vast expanse of green with not so much as a sighting of even a sliver of tiger stripes. I looked back to see Jaya scowl at me, her mouth pursed forlornly. In any case, we would have to be out of the park soon, and our team of driver and guide were becoming restless. ‘We have to leave soon,’ said the driver, Lakhan Singh. ‘I don’t want to lose my driving permit.’ I wish you would, I thought to myself unkindly but did not say it aloud. I was irritated and stressed. It also wasn’t the best-kept jeep in the world, and he hadn’t done much to help us in our quest anyway.


Excerpted with permission from Tiger Season by Gargi Rawat

Publishing/ Penguin Random House India (2023)

You can buy your copy here.




Gargi Rawat is a senior news anchor and environment reporter who has worked with NDTV 24×7 for the last two decades. She was educated at the Welham Girls’ School, Dehradun, and St. Stephen’s College of Delhi University. For many years she has been a regular face on the channel and has filmed several documentaries and environment-related programmes. She worked on the first-ever news show on wildlife in India, Born Wild, and anchored its Hindi version, Safari India, for the Hindi channel NDTV India. Gargi has also been editorial head for some of the best-known environmental campaigns carried out by NDTV, including ‘The Greenathon’, ‘Save Our Tigers’, ‘Protecting India’s Coastline’ and the ‘Banega Swachh India’ campaign. She received widespread acclaim for her award-winning documentary series on the state of the river Ganga. This is her first book.