A blue whistling thrush
swoops from behind Palavi’s kutir,
Hindi for cabin, anytime we step out.
We know of women from Kausani
who carry large baskets of rice shoots
on their heads, their bodies thin
and straight as pines spread
in these Himalayan foothills.
They wear saris vermillion, turquoise,
chartreuse or midnight blue as the thrush
and must appeal to the tigresses
that sometimes attack and kill the women
as they squat planting rice in watery fields.
So much for the legend of the man-eating tigers,
Palavi says, pulling her red shawl tighter.
On this western side of the range
it is the baghera, the leopards, we fear
and go nowhere at night without a flashlight,
its beam broad as a streetlamp. Even then,
we hold shivering hands and step quietly,
knowing soon the dogs will disappear.