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Chapter 57
It was Richard Parker who calmed me down. It is the ironyof this story that the one who scared me witless to start withwas the very same who brought me peace, purpose, I daresay even wholeness.
He was looking at me intently. After a time I recognized thegaze. I had grown up with it. It was the gaze of a contentedanimal looking out from its cage or pit the way you or I wouldlook out from a restaurant table after a good meal, when thetime has come for conversation and people-watching. Clearly,Richard Parker had eaten his fill of hyena and drunk all therainwater he wanted. No lips were rising and falling, no teethwere showing, no growling or snarling was coming from him.
He was simply taking me in, observing me, in a manner thatwas sober but not menacing. He kept twitching his ears andvarying the sideways turn of his head. It was all so, well,catlike. He looked like a nice, big, fat domestic cat, a450-pound tabby.
He made a sound, a snort from his nostrils. I pricked upmy ears. He did it a second time. I was astonished. Prusfen?
Tigers make a variety of sounds. They include a number ofroars and growls, the loudest of these being most likely thefull-throated aaonh, usually made during the mating season bymales and oestrous females. It's a cry that travels far and wide,and is absolutely petrifying when heard close up. Tigers gowoof when they are caught unawares, a short, sharpdetonation of fury that would instantly make your legs jump upand run away if they weren't frozen to the spot. When theycharge, tigers put out throaty, coughing roars. The growl theyuse for purposes of threatening has yet another guttural quality.
And tigers hiss and snarl, which, depending on the emotionbehind it, sounds either like autumn leaves rustling on theground, but a little more resonant, or, when it's an infuriatedsnarl, like a giant door with rusty hinges slowly opening – inboth cases, utterly spine-chilling. Tigers make other sounds too.
They grunt and they moan. They purr, though not asmelodiously or as frequently as small cats, and only as theybreathe out. (Only small cats purr breathing both ways. It isone of the characteristics that distinguishes big cats from smallcats. Another is that only big cats can roar. A good thing thatis. I'm afraid the popularity of the domestic cat would dropvery quickly if little kitty could roar its displeasure.) Tigers evengo meow, with an inflection similar to that of domestic cats,but louder and in a deeper range, not as encouraging to oneto bend down and pick them up. And tigers can be utterly,majestically silent, that too.
I had heard all these sounds growing up. Except forprusten. If I knew of it, it was because Father had told meabout it. He had read descriptions of it in the literature. But hehad heard it only once, while on a working visit to the MysoreZoo, in their animal hospital, from a young male being treatedfor pneumonia. Prusten is the quietest of tiger calls, a puffthrough the nose to express friendliness and harmlessintentions.
Richard Parker did it again, this time with a rolling of thehead. He looked exactly as if he were asking me a question.
I looked at him, full of fearful wonder. There being noimmediate threat, my breath slowed down, my heart stoppedknocking about in my chest, and I began to regain my senses.
I had to tame him. It was at that moment that I realizedthis necessity. It was not a question of him or me, but of himand me. We were, literally and figuratively, in the same boat.
We would live – or we would die – together. He might bekilled in an accident, or he could di............
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