I have been nursing this plan in my head for quite a while. Now, that the time has come, nobody believes that it can actually happen. I wanted to meet one of the last Bengal tigers face to face. I was told Banthy is a dangerous beast. That he had eaten four Indian peasants just last week and then an American journalist for dessert. Arranging a meeting with Banthy may be far fetched as he is one of the fiercest Bengal tigers around, but I will remain persistent with my plan.
My recent trip to India this month was overlapping President Obama’s visit there. Fortunately, all eyes were focused on him, so I had the time and ability to prepare my plan of action. The Indians know quite well how to play the game with both world presidents and the real tigers. They gave the US president an impressive reception. They treated him like he was the king of all animals, and not just a paper tiger.
I looked at Mr. Obama while he paraded around, and to be honest, he didn’t really impress me. He might be mighty and powerful, but he doesn’t have teeth like Banthy. The Indian government still treated him like he is a famous actor from Hollywood. I couldn’t figure out if he resembled Denzel Washington or Eddie Murphy.
Just parallel to Mr. Obama’s parade reception, was the foreign office who prepared the base for a triaxis between China, Russia, and India.
I was undeterred with my plan and made my secret arrangement with Banthy.
Banthy did not want to disclose his exact location to me. He preferred to be represented by an agent, and only show up for the meeting. Since the movie Life OF Pi, tigers became important personalities in India. Over the years, a lot of money was spent, so to speak, in order to preserve these magnificent creatures. Roads are built, and tiger habitats are protected. Obviously, politicians and activist get most of the money, and the tigers hardly benefit. But a real tiger knows the business of survival. In India, they know that you don't get a free lunch, even when you are a Bengal Tiger.
I received the message that I have a date to meet with Banthy. I was allotted a full hour, which I would have the opportunity to spend with just him. I am now in my 30th year in the diamond business. Working in the trade, I have managed to learn the language of animals. The song of the birds, the call of the monkeys, and the purr of the tiger.
I put my hearing aid on high so I wouldn’t miss Banthy’s arrival. It was late afternoon, nearing sunset. As I got closer to the location, I heard the music of the rain forest. First it was the song of the Canary birds, and then it was the call of the surrounding monkeys.
At the time of my meeting, my wife was enjoying our vacation in Goa. She was was dozing off under the canopy back at the hotel. I thought it best not to share with her to exactly where I was headed.
As we grew closer I could see in the eyes of both the driver and the tiger’s agent that they were petrified. Once we could no longer drive, I snuck out and disappeared under the moist trees of the rain forest. I forgot I had a problem with a slipped disk in my back, but wasn’t about to give up on such an opportunity. I pushed forward, following the noise of the monkeys which got alarmingly stronger. When I reached the river point, I knew that was the location we shall meet. I was standing quietly, in the water, and the birds began an unusually high pitched song. From out of nowhere, he appeared, and our eyes met. Banthy, this magnificent Bengal tiger, was standing there facing Papa Leibish face to face in the river.
I couldn’t move or utter a word until Banthy broke the silence. “What's up?” he asked in an accented Indian English, similar to my diamond brokers dialect. “Sir, it is nice to see you face to face,” I uttered. “You look great” I said, gaining some of my confidence back. “Shall we do something together?” answered Banthy with an open smile. “I am fed up living as a protected specimen. Everyone is trying to make money on my back.” “Tell me, what is your name?” he asked with a keen interest.
“I am Leibish - a lion,” I answered proudly. Assuming he knew some Yiddish terms, he understood that I was telling him that the name Leibish means lion.
“You don't look like a lion to me.”
I went to fidget with my hearing aid as the piping drives me crazy. My hand was shaking and I accidentally dropped the hearing aid in the river. “Never mind,” he said. “Which country do you come from?”
“Israel” I answered.
“Israel, never heard of it. Do they have tigers there?” asked Banthy. “Is there a jungle there?”
“The whole country is a sort of jungle, a little drier, with many animals. But, no rain forest like you have here, in India. Perhaps I could invite you to visit with us, in the Holy Land? You could stay with us in my home.” I was not sure what my wife would say, or what I could do with Elvis, my son's Pekinese dog who is living with us at the moment, but I figured in adventures you have to take a chance here and there!
“How would I get there?” asked Banthy skeptically.
“On EL AL I presume? It shouldn’t be such a problem. Perhaps we could make a movie together and show it on my website?"
“Movies don't really interest me. Last time, Richard Parker nearly drowned in the Ocean during the filming of Life of Pi.”
I started to see the problem of arriving in Israel on a 767 of EL AL, a week before the national elections, with a Bengal tiger. Every party would be fighting one another to use his image in their campaign. Not to mention, my wife would likely kick us out of the house.
I tried to find a graceful end to our meeting. “Let's take a selfie,” I asked. “We can post it Facebook, and get hundreds of likes.” My imagination ran wild. Just think how many visitors we will get on our website when people see Banthy, the Bengal Tiger, is my friend! But Banthy was less impressed with the idea. He opened his mouth with a wide, scary smile, and my blood froze. Tigers and lions can’t really be friends - reality is quite different from Facebook. "You are good guy, but stick to color diamonds." were his parting words to me.
Then he jumped out of the river. He gave me a final look of approval and respect, and disappeared into the depths of the rain forest of Coorg Madikeri.