"Come over to my place quickly," said Ramesh mysteriously, and cut the connection.
I found Ramesh on the front lawn of his house, lying sprawled in a deck-chair and reading a book on hypnotism.
"Well?" I asked. "What's up?"
Ramesh looked up. "Oh, you've come. Come on, let's go."
"Here, hold on for a moment!" I exclaimed, halting him in mid-stride. "How about telling me what the matter is?"
Ramesh looked surprised. "Didn't you hear the news on the radio this morning? The man said that a tiger had escaped from the zoo! Just think," he said excitedly. "What an opportunity!"
My eyes boggled. "Opportunity? What opportunity?"
"Why, to catch this tiger, of course. They've offered a reward of five thousand rupees!"
I stared at him dumbfounded.
Ramesh smiled and continued: "You won't have much to do. I'll hypnotise the tiger to sleep."
"Yes," he said, smugly pointing to the book he was holding. "The tiger won't know what hit him. You won't have anything to do at all. And, besides, I'll give you half the five thousand rupees reward!"
Now, that was a very tempting offer. Nevertheless, there was still a flaw. I assumed the air of one pointing out the obvious. "But won't it be dangerous?"
"Dangerous?" Ramesh made a strange choking sound, much like a toad with a stomach upset, but which I assumed he meant to be a sarcastic laugh. "Of course not! This is a zoo tiger - not a man-eating one! And anyway, the newsreader mentioned that it's a very old tiger. There's nothing to be afraid of. Now, be a sport - and come with me!"
What else could I do but agree?
Ramesh told me to wait for him while he rushed into the house and came out a few minute later carrying something in a basket. before I could ask him what he had brought along, Ramesh hurried off in the direction of the zoo.
There was nothing left for me to do but just follow him.
Ramesh did not head for the main entrance of the zoo. Instead, he led me down a small path that veered away from the main road. Finally, we came to an obscure corner of the zoo where the boundary wall had fallen down. We entered through the gap.
Inside, all that met our eyes was a dense forest area. We wandered about aimlessly for some time and finally came to the main part of the zoo. But the sight of a couple of policemen hanging about sent us back into the foliage. We continued our search, but there was no sign of the absconding tiger.
Finally, Ramesh turned to me. "This is getting us nowhere," he said unnecessarily. "We must conduct our search more systematically." He pointed his forefinger at me. "Now what," he asked in his schoolteacherish manner, "do you think will be the first concern of an animal?"
I knit my brows together. "Food?" I hazarded.
Ramesh shook his head. "No. It's water. If the tiger is in this area it must be hiding near a water-hole. And there's a big pond in the centre of this forest area. Let's go there!"
We soon reached the pond. Peering from behind two trees, we tried to spot the elusive tiger.
Instead, we saw two policemen hanging about near the pond's edge.
"Blast!" exclaimed Ramesh. "I should have realised that the police would have had the same idea as I did!" he paused for a few seconds and then continued. "Anyway," he said, assuming his 'I can think better than others' manner, "the tiger will obviously stay away from this pond. At least, until it can go elsewhere."
"But can it go elsewhere?" I asked, puzzled.
Ramesh's eyes began to glint excitedly behind his spectacles. "Yes," he answered, "it can. There's a small, secluded pond not far from here, which I stumbled on a few months ago while exploring. I think nobody knows of it..."
Perhaps Ramesh was right. For when we reached the second pond there were no other people in sight - policemen, or otherwise. A dense wood surrounded the pond, with trees reaching to the edge of the water.
"Well," I asked Ramesh, "what do we do now?"
"Just watch." My friend raised the lid of the basket which he had brought along with him. He reached into the basket - and took out a large chunk of raw minced meat! He placed the meat carefully on the ground a couple of feet away from the water and stepped back to survey his handiwork.
"What-what-what-?" was all I could stutter.
Ignoring me, Ramesh walked a few paces into the foliage and proceeded to place another chunk of raw minced meat on the ground. The air began to smell faintly of meat.
An idea struck me. "Are-are you setting a trail for the tiger to follow?" I asked.
Ramesh gave me a pitying smile. "Of course!" he exclaimed. "Why should we hunt for the tiger? Let the tiger find us!"
Ramesh's meat trail led to the foot of a large tree. "We'll climb this tree and wait for the tiger," said Ramesh - and proceeded to do just that.
With a weary sigh, I followed.
How long we sat atop that tree I do not care to remember. The day was warm and soon, being bored by just sitting and doing nothing, I dozed off. I dreamt I was being chased by a tiger inside a cage in a zoo. Finally the tiger caught me and began shaking my arm. I awoke with a start to find that somebody was actually shaking my arm - only it was Ramesh.
"What's up?" I asked, still only half awake.
Ramesh's eyes were glinting queerly behind his spectacles. He dropped his voice to a whisper and hissed: "There's a tiger below us!"
I sat up with a jerk. Slowly I lowered my head. Standing at the foot of our tree and gobbling down the meat Ramesh had placed there was the tiger we had been searching for for so long!
For a moment the world stood still. Then I stared at Ramesh. "Wh-what now?"
As if in answer, Ramesh reached into his basket and drew out another chunk of raw minced meat. Then, with great deliberation, he dropped the meat to the ground. It landed a few feet away from the tiger with a 'plop' sound.
The tiger immediately raised its eyes and stared straight at Ramesh. To my feverish imagination it seemed to be eying my crazy friend as a starving man might eye a piece of succulent roasted chicken that has suddenly appeared from nowhere. Then the aroma of the raw meat reached the tiger. It sniffed.
For a few seconds, the tiger seemed to be deliberating with itself. Like Hamlet, it appeared to be in throes of a dilemma. To eat or not to eat - that was the question. Finally, it came to a decision. In one gulp, the tiger gobbled up the meat. Then, raising it eyes to Ramesh, it resumed its 'starving man eyeing succulent roasted chicken' act.
Ramesh threw down another meatball to the tiger, repeating the words, "You are feeling sleepy," a number of times.
The tiger gobbled up the second ball of meat and looked expectantly up towards Ramesh for a third.
Ramesh threw some more meat, all the time murmuring: "You are feeling sleepy...Your eyelids are heavy...You can barely keep them open...Let sleep drown out your consciousness...Sleep...Sleep...
Let your eyelids close...Sleep..." He continued in this vein until, under my startled gaze, the tiger's head drooped, it slowly sank to the ground - and then fell asleep with its head between its paws!
It took me some time to recover from the shock. Ramesh had already scrambled down from the tree and was watching the sleeping tiger with a
I turned to Ramesh, highly awed. "You've done it!" I exclaimed, impressed out of my wits. "You've hypnotised the tiger!"
Ramesh merely smiled and looked down at the sleeping tiger.
Needless to say, we got the reward, though the authorities could still not understand how the amazing feat was achieved. To questions put by journalists, Ramesh, acting surprisingly modest for a change, merely said: "Oh, it was nothing really!" It was left to me to tell the story of how Ramesh had hypnotised the tiger. The journalists found it difficult to believe my account of Ramesh's feat. But I assured them that I had actually seen Ramesh hypnotise the tiger.
After having had our photographs taken by the newspapermen and spoken into TV cameras (Ramesh magnificently gave me some credit for the capture also), we returned to Ramesh's house.
Ramesh's mother opened the front door. "Back so soon?" she asked.
I stepped forward, anxious to tell her of our adventure. Before I could start, however, Ramesh's mother continued:
"By the way, Ramesh, have you, by any chance, seen the bottle of sleeping pills I had kept on the kitchen shelf?"
My eyes boggling, I involuntarily stepped back. I turned my head and stared at Ramesh, my whole face one big question-mark.