Sshh…. Sushed Nongnang to Birsing, pointing his finger down to some shadowy pattern under a Lapsi tree. The shadow was elongated in shape and was moving out from the nearby bush to the grass that spread over a few yards surrounding the Lapsi tree. Nongnang and Birsing were sitting on a platform nearby that had been built in the morning of the same day on a huge tree.
Moments later another shadow emerged from the bush and followed the first one. Dark would have been the night but for the cold pale shimmering moonlight that lit the jungle where the trees were thin. More shadows followed. Bathed in the scanty light of the moon, it was now clear that the shadows were nothing but a herd of deer moving below the Lapsi tree. Lapsi seeds are attraction for deer and other wild animals, which is why Nongnang had chosen the spot for that night. When a quarry would feast on Lapsi seeds, he could hit the target with ease.
Birsing, a school science teacher, has been a friend of Nongnang for quite some time, but it was the first time the former had ventured out with the latter for hunting. Nongnang – the legendary hunter of the time was well known in the village and nearby. It is said that he had never missed a target and had never wasted even a single shell. Nongnang had a side-by-side double-barreled break action shotgun. Birsing was exhilarated to see the master in action, hitherto which he had heard in narrations only.
That late evening the herd of deer seemed to be restless, in hurry and appeared as if they won’t stop to feast on the Lapsi seeds which they usually would do on any other day. In the minimal moonlight, Birsing could see that Nongnang was frowning and lost in his own thoughts. Birsing was getting impatient to see the herd of deer gradually pass beneath the Lapsi tree, hardly eating the seeds.
Nongnang whispered, “The dangoria (meaning guardian) is with the herd tonight; we cannot get them.”
Birsingh looked at him quizzically, unable to comprehend what the master was saying.
“Yes,” said Nongnang, “See the dangoria is shepherding them tonight and so no hunter can touch them even, leave alone killing one. It is one of those rare occasions when the preserver is with a herd; we have to return.”
Birsing whispered back, “Why not try once?” There were many deer and one can definitely be hit from the distance they were from their target, thought Birsing.
“No point in doing so. When the dangoria is with them, none can harm them,” said Nongnang.
But Birsing was not convinced and said, “At least try once, if it doesn’t hit the target, I will presume, it is the dangoria.”
Nongang scowled at Birsing and then said with a wry smile on his face, “If you insist I will fire the shot, but it will be of no good.”
He slowly raised his double-barreled shotgun and pointed at the herd that were passing by. Birsing saw that the deer were moving as if some unseen force was goading them to go ahead. He felt his muscle tensed and felt the hair on his body bristle; he knew that dangoria is essentially a spirit - a supernatural entity.
“Bang” – the deafening sound of the shotgun echoed in the otherwise silent night. The deer jumped and started running in the direction towards which they seemed to have been goaded a few moment ago. “Bang” – another round from the shotgun of Nongnang and seconds later, no deer could be seen below the Lapsi tree… all had vanished into the nearby bushes. Nongnang muttered, “The dangoria has protected them.”
Birsing got an eerie feeling of fear imagining a spirit shepherding a herd of deer – It could be anywhere near them. The duo got down from the platform where they had taken shelter for the last about 4 hours for this deer hunt.
“We will come back some other time, Sing”, said Nongnang and they started to walk back slowly to their village. They waded out through the thickets of bushes for about 20 minutes and reached the bank of a river. The water in the river shimmered in the moonlight with occasional jumping of fish that can be seen as if somebody had thrown pebbles in it. They continued along the bank of the river along a narrow track through kohua bon (grass). Birsing felt exhausted due to the long hours in the jungle. Until the moment they got down from the platform, he had forgotten his tiredness, but now to be returning home empty handed, exhaustion got the better of him. The two were hardly talking except a few words every now and then. They began to walk down a slope, where during rainy season a lake forms which opens up to the river. Another half an hour walk and they would be back in the village, where probably most people would be deep in sleep. People in the village retire by 8.00 pm or so, and the village would be silent except for the occasional barking of dogs or peculiar hooting of owls and other night birds.
Suddenly, Nongnang stopped and raised his left hand without looking back signaling Birsing to stop. Birsing was about to ask Nongnang when he saw him lowering his hand and point ahead. Birsing, who was taller than him looked above the former’s shoulder in the direction. Just about a meter away in the grass, a tiger was sitting and looking in the opposite direction. Birsing’s exhaustion gave away to extreme fear and he could hardly feel his feet carrying his weight. If the tiger turned back and then pounced upon them…..? It was a big cat as it could be imagined – sitting on its rump, it was about 5 feet tall. Then, Birsing saw Nongnang raise his gun silently and point behind the head of the tiger. After about 45 seconds, the tiger stood up on its four legs and started moving ahead slowly. Nongnang started following it making the least of sound and Birsing tiptoed behind. They walked for about a minute with Nongnang aiming the muzzle of his gun at the tiger’s head; Birsing knew that the only hope of their survival in case the tiger decided to turn, was Nongnang’s gun and his impeccable marksmanship. The tiger suddenly stopped and looked sideways moving its ears. Then it crouched, flattened itself to the ground and leaped into the night. The two could not guess where it had landed in the surrounding kohua bon and so the danger of it pouncing back on them from any direction loomed large. Moments later, the roar of the tiger filled the night air sending small tremors that could be felt through their feet.
When the roaring ended, Nongnang signaled Birsing to follow him. They walked briskly with Nongnang holding the shotgun in position in case of any eventuality with Birsing at his heels. After a few minutes they came out into the hinterland with no thick bushes or tall grass and with hundred meters visibility due to the moonlight.
“Sing,” Called Nongnang, “I think the dangoria has taken the form of the tiger tonight.” It was believed in the village that the spirit could take any form while guarding his wild animals. However, Birsing did not believe in such superstitions.
Sometime later, they entered the village and reached Nongnang’s stilted hut. The dogs started to bark and Nongnang’s wife came out to the verandah holding a hurricane lamp. Within minutes, a few more from the neighboring houses joined them to know what they have brought back. They sat in the open space in front of the house and started talking about the hunting expedition. Nongnang’s wife brewed some black tea and served the members. He was seated away from the group with a cigar in his mouth and was inspecting his shotgun. Birsing saw him break open the action of the gun and he saw Nongnang narrowing his eye looking into the barrel of his shotgun. Birsing got up, went near him and then saw that both the chamber of barrels were empty except for the used up shells; Nongnang had already fired twice at the deer on Birsing’s insistence and Bir Sing now realized they had pointed an empty gun at the tiger! The cigar dropped from the lips of Nongnang!
(Kabang Morang is a senior engineering official of Doordarshan Kendra, Itanagar)