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.

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