A Unique Friendship
A Unique Friendship
Mumbai is a rapidly growing metropolitan city. This is a universal truth. New skyscrapers, office buildings and flyovers spring up every thirty seconds. The population continues to see a steep increase every year, making Mumbai the largest city in terms of population in India, and the fourth largest in the world. In the mornings, buses full of schoolchildren and cars carrying officegoers and CEOs in them clog up the roads. Shopkeepers pull up the shutters of their shops and ready themselves for the day ahead. In the midst of all this, Shilpa Devbarman, a youthful 50-year old was making her way to work.
She was the fifth generation in the illustrious Devbarman family, who had run the little restaurant across Pratap Street for ages now. It was world-famous for its meat dishes and sweets. It had always been a favourite with Mumbaikars for decades. But now, the little establishment was slowly fading into oblivion, having been one of the unfortunate shops that had failed to keep up with the times.
For Shilpa, this shop was more of a family heirloom than anything else. It filled her with a sense of nostalgia to see the blurred, grainy black-and-white photos of the previous owners with the yesteryear celebrities. The store hadn't changed in the past eighty years except for a rickety old AC in the left corner, which grated and creaked every time it moved.
Shilpa was an ardent animal lover and it certainly helped that she lived close to the park. If she leaned sufficiently far out from her window, she could spot one or two animals who had ventured into the outer reaches of the park. On a particularly good day, she could spot the occasional leopard paying a visit to the great metropolitan for dinner.
Evening had unveiled her dusky beauty to the whole of the city. Shilpa was just preparing to shut down the restaurant for the day. The customer turnouts hadn't even made a dent in the great numbers of the past. However, Shilpa constantly reminded herself that a true Devbarman always remained optimistic. She surveyed the dining area and then decided to pay a quick visit to the kitchen. She briskly walked over to it, nimbly weaving through the clutter of the ancient chintz chairs and tables and reached the kitchen door in no time. She gently shoved open the door and switched on the light. Everything seemed fine. Just as she was about to leave, she spotted something yellow behind one of the counters. As she made her way towards it, she heard a soft growl, more like a whimper. And in the next moment, a leopard's head rose up from behind the counter.
For a split second, Shilpa stood frozen in her place. Thoughts of the frightening leopard attacks which had plagued the city welled up in her mind. She vaguely wondered if she would be the next victim. But she quickly banished these thoughts and summoned up all her courage. The leopard didn't look ferocious or threatening. If anything, it looked scared and in pain. Shilpa had absolutely no inkling how it had ended up here, but she subconsciously knew that it wasn't going to harm her. The leopard gave another whimper. And then Shilpa knew that she had to shed her fear. She walked over to the leopard and immediately saw what was ailing it. A large, deep wound crossed the leopard's paw and it had gone septic. Shilpa sprang into action. She filled a mug with lukewarm water, put a little antiseptic into it and grabbed a roll of bandages off a counter and went towards the leopard. She did this slowly so as to not provoke the leopard. The leopard seemed fascinated by the smell of the bandages and the water. As Shilpa chuckled at the animal's curiosity, the leopard turned its attention to her, sniffing her thoroughly. She ran her hand through the velvet fur covering the top of the animal's head. The leopard seemed to like what she was doing. Then she started to wash the wound, doing so very gently, so as to not cause it any pain. The leopard eyed her actions, obviously feeling rather confused as to why she was not licking the wound. Shilpa gave vent to a suppressed smile and started bandaging the wound. As she did so, the leopard started to nuzzle her. She laughed, and then, all of a sudden, she found herself looking straight into the animal's deep brown eyes. They were beautiful, like two enigmatic pools, holding innumerable mysterious and untold secrets in them. And in those moments, Shilpa felt the first chains of friendship join between them both.
The next day, Shilpa called up the vet. He arrived within fifteen minutes and was not at all surprised or shocked when Shilpa told him about the situation, having dealt with quite a few similar cases before. The leopard was quite reluctant to go away from Shilpa. But she let it know through her actions that she would be with it soon. This calmed it down somewhat, and it morosely followed the vet into the van. A few days later, Shilpa got to know that the leopard would have to be operated upon as the wound had grown very serious. However, in the process the leopard would lose a significant amount of its paw. Shilpa was horrified and forbade the vet to perform the operation. But then she was told that this was the only way that they could stop the infection from spreading and therefore save the leopard's life. After a bit of coaxing and convincing, Shilpa finally gave in.
The leopard was duly operated upon and it recovered pretty fast. But its paw was one-eighth its normal size. This meant that it could no longer run at the speed needed to catch its prey and therefore would have to be fed by hand. Walking didn't seem to be a problem with it though. Shilpa converted its common noun into a proper noun by naming it Tiny Paw. Tiny Paw too started to form a close bond with Shilpa. Within the next two weeks, they were inseparable. Stories about their unique friendship spread through the newspapers and Shilpa became the poster woman of animal rights campaigns. After three weeks, it was time for Tiny Paw to be moved back to Sanjay Gandhi. It showed its canine nature when being led out of the garage by the park officials. But after a little coaxing and stroking from Shilpa, Tiny Paw meekly allowed himself to be led away by the officials. Shilpa too was heartbroken to see it go. After its relocation to Sanjay Gandhi, Shilpa visited Tiny Paw everyday. This became a sort of daily ritual for her, one without which her day was incomplete. The other visitors often took pictures of them both together. Shilpa became an international inspiration and started to spearhead animal rights campaigns soon after. The Maharashtra government recognised her efforts and they felicitated her.
Today, Shilpa's niece is the owner of the restaurant. And the first sight which regales your eyes on entering is the photo pf Shilpa Devbarman and Tiny Paw, the picture which made headlines and stole millions of hearts around the world.