This is the story of a cheetah whose name was Romeo. He was a very different sort of cheetah - the kind you will never meet in a circus or a zoo or even on National Geographic or Animal Planet Channels.
Now you may well ask what was so special about him? He was different - really different. He was a vegetarian - an absolutely pure one. Now I can almost see you sit up and take notice - a vegetarian cheetah now that’s a new one!
The story behind his being a vegetarian is also interesting. His great-grand father’s great-grandmother happened to hear our beloved father of the nation speaking on the virtues of vegetarianism. At that moment she took a vow to turn from a meat eater to a grass eater. That vegetarian gene got lost somewhere and surfaced in the being of our Romeo and made him a born grass-eater.
Well, apart from having a vegetarian taste he also had a vegetarian temperament. He was a gentle, kind and peace-loving fellow whose idea of an ideal life was munching fresh shoots and relaxing under the shade of a peepal tree or often playing hopscotch or kabaddi with other vegetarians of the jungle. The others of his ilk treated him with contempt - they considered him an insult to the brave breed of cheetahs. But the grass-eaters, who would otherwise have been his victims, loved him for his peace loving nature.
Now in that jungle there also lived a donkey whose name was Adnan Swami. He too was very special. Have you heard of a donkey who can sing melodiously? I am sure you have not. Well this one could and did sing beautifully. One of his ancestors had worked for the legendary singer Tansen and the maestro’s genius might have rubbed of on him. This genius had probably been passed on to Adnan Swami.
Of course looking at him no one could imagine he could even breathe normally let alone sing with such élan. He was terribly fat and roly-poly and could barely waddle. When he sang no one could quite make out where the sound was coming from. But when his lovely voice wafted across, the entire jungle stopped to listen.
Eery moonlight night Adnan Swami would have a hearty meal of fresh and tender grass and settle down in a clearing bang in the middle of the jungle. The music lovers of the jungle would gather around him eager to listen to his lovely voice. Adnan Swami would gaze at the full moon for seven minutes and then let go. He would sing to his hearts content raising his face to the sky and the animals would listen to their ears’ content, wagging their tails in rhythm. Many a time they would shout for an encore and depending upon his mood Adnan Swami would oblige. Though he looked like an over weight seal and sang like a nightingale, he was as proud as a peacock. All the attention and appreciation had gone to his head and made it as swollen as the rest of his body.
Our friend Romeo too was a great fan of Adnan Swami and would be the first to reach the clearing and the last to leave.
One day or rather one night when Adnan Swami was in full cry or rather full ‘sing’ the unthinkable happened. He started coughing and spluttering. It was clear that something, probably a tuft of grass, had got wedged in the layers of flesh in his throat and had surfaced at the most inopportune moment. The great singer lay spluttering and his half sung song lay incomplete. Now this kind of ‘accident’ or ‘incident’ had never ever happened before. The animals looked at each other too shocked to react. Adnan Swami had been singing a soulful love song (a favorite one of our Romeo) whose words seemed to hang in the air searching for a suitable voice.
Just then a lovely voice floated across the jungle. It started from where Adnan Swami had left off and sang the romantic song. The animals looked here and there desperately seeking the source of the melody. Even Adnan Swami stopped coughing and craned his neck, with all its folds, to locate the singer.
Romeo, showing a speed which he had not exhibited since the time when Pandu the elephant has stepped on his tail, sprang forward and ran towards the grove from where the voice seemed to be coming. In one corner of the grove was standing a female cheetah singing - her eyes closed, her head raised.
Romeo stared and froze. His mouth had gone dry, his eyes had almost popped out of their sockets and his heart was imitating langur the monkey’s antics the day he had sat, by mistake, sat on Poky the porcupine. That is to say Romeo had fallen completely and totally in love! He had never seen a cheetah so beautiful. Every spot on her graceful body vied for attention - surely she was the loveliest creature in the universe!
As he stood rooted to the spot she stopped singing and looked at him.
Romeo was a direct sort of fellow who believed in saying what he felt quite openly. ‘Oh! Melody queen! Oh! Beautiful enchantress, will you be my wife?”
“What!” she exclaimed?
“Yes my dear. I have fallen in love with you.”
“Are you some kind of a nutcase? I don’t know you. I haven’t seen you before and suddenly you appear from nowhere and start making declarations of love,” she snapped.
Romeo puffed up his chest and announced. “I am Romeo.”
His tone and manner indicated that after hearing this announcement the cheetah would clap her hands in glee and jump onto his lap.
“Wait, that name rings a bell,” the cheetah said.
“Does it, does it!” Romeo almost yelled, his inflated chest swelling up even more.
“You are the freak who is a vegetarian isn’t it?” she asked with a contemptuous toss of her head. “I am from Tirthak jungle. I came to visit my cousins. I heard about Adnan Swamiji’s talent and came to see the genius and hear him sing. My cousins also told me that there is a cheetah called Romeo who doesn’t eat meat, eats grass and spends his time not hunting but playing hopscotch with his other grass-eating friends. So you are that pathetic creature?” sneered the beautiful cheetah, whose name, by the way, was Ash.
“Don’t stand yammering. Get out of here. How dare you even imagine that I’ll marry a weirdo like you! My life partner should be someone talented like Adnanji. Oh! What a voice, what melody, what control......” she said closing her eyes as if in a trance.
Poor Romeo couldn’t watch the disgusting scene any longer and slunk away nursing his battered heart.
Next day he went to his best friend, the good-natured Lajwanti- the hippo, and told her his sad tale of love.
“Romeo, it’s now too late for you to do anything.”
“What do you mean Lajwanti?”
“You haven’t heard then?”
“Adnan Swami and Ash are engaged to be married.”
“Yes. Soon after you met Ash, Adnan came looking for her. He fell promptly in love with her and proposed. She naturally accepted and the marriage is going to be three full-moons from today.”
Romeo turned and ran in search of Ash. He found her by the river having a leisurely bath and humming the latest Adnan Swami melody.
“What is this I hear Ash - you are planning to marry Adnan Swami.”
“Of course, I am.”
“But how can you marry him? You are a cheetah and he is a donkey.”
“So? Even the humans are now going in for inter-caste marriages so why should we lag behind?”
“But he too is a grass-eater.”
“A donkey being a vegetarian is quite natural but a cheetah eating grass is weird,” Ash replied.
“I...I’ll turn non-vegetarian for you. In fact I’ll learn the skills of hunting and get you the best meat,” Romeo declared.
“That really won’t be necessary Romeo, because keeping in mind Adnanji’s dietary habits I have already turned a vegetarian,” announced Ash daintily plucking a fresh shoot and nibbling it.
Three full moons later the entire jungle had gathered in the clearing to listen to the first live concert of Adnan Swami and Ash. The talented couple was to tie the knot soon after the concert. As the couple was singing the last and final duet there was suddenly a deafening sound. It was as if a volcano had erupted. Within seconds, before anyone could react, the sound was repeated and Gabbar the elephant appeared on the scene. He raised his trunk and trumpeted; sending shivers down many a spine. Gabbar had the habit of getting drunk on toddy and going on a rampage in the forest. When his trysts with toddy became a bit too frequent he was banished from the forest. This was his first appearance after almost ten full moons.
Now Adnan Swami had been the head of the high- power committee which had decided to ban Gabbar and naturally the latter was not too fond of the former.
Gabbar charged towards the stage and standing in front of Adnan Swami bellowed, “You fat slob. So you got me banished from the jungle is it? I heard your voice and came here to teach you a lesson. Someone told me you are getting married to this cheetah today. Well, well, I’ll perform the ceremonies for you. First I’ll yank your fat head off and then smash it down your throat. Then I’ll take your future wife’s tail and tying it around her neck strangle her. I’ll send both of you to hell so that the devil himself can be your best man.”
The entire jungle stared at the monster shell-shocked. No one dared to interfere. Huge and hefty with red eyes and long, thick tusks, Gabbar looked really scary. He wasn’t drunk and was in complete control of himself.
Adnan Swami looked at him and started quaking in fear. He looked like a huge blob of jelly doing a tango.
“A..A..Ali…sha…s......save...m...me...” he stammered trying to hide behind his future wife’s tail.
“Ha! Ha! Look at fatso tremble. I am going to make mince-meat of him,” thundered the pachyderm advancing towards the couple.
Suddenly there was a roar - a sound that had never been heard before in the jungle. A gold and brown shape hurtled across and landed right in between Gabbar and his quarry. It was our friend Romeo.
The entire jungle watched in amazement as Romeo faced Gabbar. No one had heard him roar before nor had anyone ever seen him adopt a combative posture.
“Hey, Romeo. Stay out of this. This does not concern you,” Gabbar said. He knew the cheetah and like most animals of the jungle, especially the vegetarians, was quite fond of him.
“It does concern me. This lovely cheetah, whom you are planning to send to hell, is the person who means more to me than life itself. You can touch her only over my dead body,” Romeo said with a roar that echoed far and wide in the jungle. With his eyes blazing, his body taut and his tail bristling, he looked a ferocious sight. To Gabbar, who had only seen the mild side of Romeo, the transformation was really startling. He stared uncertainly at the cheetah for a full minute and then turning lumbered off.
“Th...thank God.....the monster has gone,” Adnan Swami said wiping his brow. “Now we can get on with our marriage ceremony.”
“Yes, we are going to have a marriage ceremony, but with a slight difference,” declared Alisha, her gorgeous face firmly set.
“What do you mean?” demanded Adnan Swami, regaining his composure and with it his arrogance.
“Everything will remain the same only the bridegroom will change. Instead of you it will be Romeo.”
“What?” shouted Adnan Swami.
“What?” exclaimed the jungle folk.
“Wha...wha...” was all that the deliriously happy Romeo could manage.
“Yes, I have changed my mind. I have decided to marry my hero, my savior, my Romeo - not this jelly-belly coward, Adnan.”
There was a huge roar of approval from the jungle folk for the widely popular choice.
Adnan Swami cast a reproachful glance at Alisha and waddled away like a dejected seal.
“But my dear Alisha what about Adnan Swami’s talent, his melodious voice?” asked Romeo.
“Romeo dearest, do you know the most melodious sound I have heard in my life?” asked Alisha.
“Adnan Swami singing a pop kawalli?”
“Of course not. The sweetest sound I have ever heard is the one which made Gabbar run with his tail and trunk between his legs,” Alisha said and looking deep into Romeo’s eyes added, “Your roar, my dear Romeo, your roar.”
As Romeo turned a deep shade of pink all the animals clapped their paws, shook their heads and thumped their tails in agreement.