Sundari was my cousins’ immediate neighbour. She lived with Lalit Kapoor and his German wife, Hazel, in their beautiful bunglow in Nizammudin East. This goes back many, many years, when I used to come to Delhi from Indore for my holidays. I must have been six or seven years old then. I saw her for the first time from my cousins’ balcony. She was lazing in the garden enjoying the sun on that wintry afternoon.
“That’s a strange looking dog.” I remember telling my cousin Ajay. He and his sister, Anjali, both laughed. “That’s a tiger cub, not a dog!” Ajay had said. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Anjali explained that Hazel Aunty, a great animal lover, had got herself a cub. The cub, called Sundari, was two months old.
I found the name Sundari quite strange for a tiger cub, but was very
curious to see her. And I told Ajay so. Ajay promised to take me there.
We reached the Kapoor house that evening. I was very, very excited. My eyes searched the garden for Sundari as we stood at the gate. Ajay rang the bell. Suddenly the door swung open and out lept Sundari with a growl.
Before I could blink, she was at the gate! I was really taken aback and
let out a loud cry. I stared at Sundari and was too scared to even twitch. A lot of cajoling from Ajay and Anjali, and a reassurance from Aunty Hazel, and finally I agreed to step into the house.
Aunty Hazel was a tough looking lady, but very warm. She introduced me to all her pets personally. Imagine having four dogs, two cats, a turtle, an aquarium full of fishes with the strangest of names, and of course, a tiger cub too now! Quite a zoo! She hugged each one of them and spoke in a strange mixture of German, English and Hindi. She made me touch them and explained all about their habits, likes and dislikes. This was getting to be fun and I was slowly beginning to relax.
We visited Aunty Hazel everyday. I began to enjoy all her animals and
all the goodies she made too. Ultra soft butter cakes, lemon tarts and
One day we found Aunty in a foul mood. Sundari had sneeked into the
drawing room and decided to stretch her limbs. She jumped from the sofa
at one end of the drawing room onto the diwan on the other and back.
This went on till Bhola, the gardener, discovered her in the drawing
room. By then enough damage had been done to the two pieces of
furniture. The upholstry was ripped apart because of the claws and
the springs had come out ! Obviously Aunty was livid. She let it all out at Sundari, this time wholly in German!
Sundari would always land herself in some mess or the other. She
spoilt innumerable flower beds, ripped off plenty of clothes and
would eat up all the dog food, leaving the four canines furious! But
what she did once really took the cake.
Sundari was fascinated the way Mao and Terry, the two cats, would
climb trees. And so she decided to climb the Gulmohar tree which was
on the far end of the garden. And she did. She managed to perch herself
on a rather high branch, but then couldn’t make her way down. Sundari
Bhola got the cook and the watchman to help him get her down,
but to no avail. Aunty and Uncle were called from their respective
offices. They tried to get her down, but no, Sundari wouldn’t
budge. Finally the fire brigade was called. The fireman climbed up the
ladder to help the lady in distress, but she was so upset by then,
that she began snarling. Finally, Aunty Hazel climbed up, pacified her
and finally got her down. We all clapped and cheered the two ladies.
The holidays came to an end and I went back to Indore. At
school, I told my friends about the various adventures of Sundari, and
they were quite fascinated.
Next year when I visited my cousins again, I inquired about Sundari.
And learnt that, she was gone. She was getting to be too big and tough to handle, and so Aunty Hazel had sent her to the zoo.
We went to the zoo in the weekend. There was indeed a cage with
Sundari’s name on it. And in there was a full grown tigress. We called
out her name, but to my utter disappointment there was no response from
her. My father clicked a snap of my cousins and me, with Sundari in the
background, in her cage.
I still have that photograph. It is one of my favourites. Recently, when I showed it to my six year old and told him all about Sundari, he
asked me why Sundari had been sent to the zoo, when she belonged
to the jungle.