Sanjit, the Binturong
by Channie Greenberg
In the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, Sanjit, a binturong, dreamed of breeding. Whereas the roofed turtles, rabbits, golden langurs, slow lorises, and sambar deer were interesting enough companions, and whereas the Bengal tigers, crested serpent eagles, and harriers infused his life with “exercise opportunities,” it remained the case that Sanjit felt less ecstasy, less fear, and even less hunger and thirst, than he felt a need to place his tab inside the slot of a female of his kind.
* * *
Trishna, the sanctuary’s education coordinator, the only woman on staff, felt similarly. She, too, needed closure for a tab and slot situation. Ajit had taken the habitat’s modified Maruti Gypsy King for a long drive, to Bangladesh, “to visit his mother,” who, allegedly, was terminally ailing. He had already been gone for two days. If all he did was spend three days “at the hospital,” it would be at least that same number of nights until he returned.
Sighing, Trishna looked out her window at Ajit’s workshop, which was nestled among the yard’s trees. Her lover was part of the environment management team. That crew was responsible for maintaining footpaths and larger roads, for culling enough of the dead Assam bison, axis deer, grey hornbills, and Bengal floricans to keep the predator populations in check, and for helping propagate the native plants.
Ajit also serviced the sanctuary’s small fleet of vehicles. Although his mechanical skills were the actual reason why the administration had awarded him, a man without a college degree, the job, that rationale was left off of the institute’s human resources records.
The doors to his workshop remained splayed open. From her sill, Trishna could see that empty casing. She supposed that neither the Gypsy King nor Ajit would be returning to the Himalayan foothills. Maybe, Ajit’s mother had died years ago. Maybe, his mother was healthy and was not in any hospital. Maybe, Ajit had never known his mother.
Trishna reached to toss Ajit’s clothes out of her window. She stopped herself; few staff members knew that he had shared her bed.
* * *
Sanjit searched earnestly for a female in estrous. His access to pristine forested plains failed to compensate him for his lack of satisfaction or for the inflammation that persisted in his loins. Repeatedly, he wailed. Over and again, he scaled trees only to climb back down.
When seeking an object for his passion, Sanjit never tried to provide evidence of his virtues or virility. Being a goodly beast, he cared nothing about equity or about thwarting iniquitous rhetoric. It made no difference to him whether his future included less deprecation of females, specifically, a reduction in the ostracizing of social undesirables, in general, or a waning of honest mating prose. Instead of measuring axiomatic concerns, the binturong relied on noisy yelping.
Such “chivalry” aside, except for windsong, there were no answers to his calls. Of the many binturongs in the sanctuary, none responded to him.
Sanjit began to lose his appetite. Carrion, strangler figs, and small invertebrates stopped quickening his hunting instincts. What’s more, he began to growl at every leaf not masticated, and to grunt, frequently, at the air. The span since he had last made chuckling sounds grew longer and longer.
Sometimes, the binturong walked on his hind feet, swaying as he moved through groundcover. Other times, he returned to climbing among branches. On no occasion did he make that “special purr.”
* * *
Throughout the tourist season, Trishna managed the elephant safari. She weighed each guest and then figured out the best combinations of family members or of friends for the backs of the game reserve’s gentle matrons. Trishna cared less about resulting squabbles among visitors than she did about overloading her precious peeresses.
Holidaymakers gave Manas Wildlife lots of revenue, but cared little that her elephants’ backs were weaker than were their necks or that by overbooking ride hours, they were insuring that those large ladies would have little rest. What’s more, few customers asked to ride bareback, that is, without heavy, hurtful platforms. Also, few agreed to ride for fewer than twenty minutes, the maximum amount of time judged to be safe for elephants that were rehabilitating.
After strapping all paying visitors into their teak chairs, and after watching her herd’s matriarch take her rightful place as the lead, Trishna would turn the grand dames’ care to the shoulder-sitting mahouts. It was then up to the trainers to deal with the nuisances and dangers that materialized while travelers from Denmark and Canada, Croatia and the United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia went elephant riding.
As troublesome as were those excursionists, Trishna and her colleagues would probably be unemployed if not for the tourists’ money. On balance, the elephants would live longer and would experience fewer wounds if sightseers were barred from the sanctuary. Each time that Trishna had to cover a tree-like leg in purple antiseptic spray, put an oversized bandage on a flank, or wrap bits of plastic around part of an ear, she cried. She lost years’ of sleep because of nightmares she was having about the elephant’s injuries.
* * *
In the meantime, Sanjit thought to investigate the humans’ kitchen waste. At dusk and at dawn, he prowled the two-footer’s camp in search of alternatives to the eggs, leaves, fish, fruit, and birds, which he no longer wanted to consume. In one trash can, he found, and ate, part of a dead ferret.
* * *
Trishna sighed. Maybe Ajit had cared as little about the sanctuary’s large, tusked beauties as he had about her. He had never offered solace when her night terrors woke up both of them. He certainly hadn’t returned to Assam to care for the gardens or the pachyderms.
Irrespective, Trishna continued to feed and to water the rescued elephants. Sometimes, when her chores were completed, she’d rest at the perimeter of the guardhouse’s fire pit, all the while methodically chewing a betel quid.
Lately, she’d been chewing a lot of betel. She had become nervous after hearing about the poachers that had broken into the big cat preserve in Limpopo, South Africa.
Those criminals had decapitated a pair of lions that had been shipped to the Limpopo preserve to be restored after years of circus-induced agony. Just as the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary was supposed to be a haven for elephants, that other preserve was supposed to be a haven for big cats.
In reality, no forever home was safe from marauders People existed who would readily kill adult elephants in order to steal their young and to butcher them. Elephant flesh had its own black market.
More exactly, baby elephants were worth more than thirty thousand US dollars and elephant ivory was worth nearly two thousand US dollars per pound. Bush meat, although less valuable than live calves or intact tusks, too, was profitable.
Rustlers, purportedly, could sell even less-than-choice bits to Britain’s Gurkha community, a neighborhood that bought such goods despite that meat’s haram status. There seemed to be plenty of “infidels” willing to pay vast sums to procure novelty comestibles.
Trishna shuddered every time she thought about people hankering after streaks cut from the muscles of her mammoths. Those savages ought to stick to caviar or Kobe beef. Trishna wished for extra money to send to Animal Defenders International, or to hire more guards for her sanctuary.
The keeper loved her elephants, but she likewise loved her binturongs. It had not escaped her notice that a large male had taken up the mating cry for an overlong time. Trishna couldn’t figure out why none of the numerous, local females would answer him.
* * *
Sanjit’s life focused more and more on eating dead ferret and on being rejected by his kind.
* * *
Trishna regarded the toilet paper, again. No blood. It had been three months since Ajit had stolen Manas’ vehicle on route to “visiting his sick mother.” It had been three and one half months since Trishna had had a cycle.
It was increasingly improbable that her continuously upset stomach was due to the camp’s poorly refrigerated food or to the distemper, which was, allegedly, making its way through the region. Trishna lacked the accompanying telltale fever and diarrhea of food poisoning. She wasn’t sneezing or coughing, and had no chest pain. Likely, her daily bouts of nauseous were due to her former congresses with Ajit.
Ironically, just before Ajit had fled, Trishna had been reexamining the wisdom of their intimacy. Too many times, sipping Mansion House French Brandy with Ajit had cause Trishna to be indiscrete. She had never questioned how he had come by that delicious, expensive drink, and never had questioned its oft repeated, ill-effects on her. Rather, it had been her observations of the refuge’s binturongs that had made Trishna think about propriety, or the lack thereof, in her and Ajit’s relationship.
Among bearcats, the female is dominant. She rules family structure, overall, and decides when mating will take place, more precisely. The wrong way round, it had been Ajit who had always initiated their sexual relations and it had been him who had deserted both her and the sanctuary’s faunae.
Trishna had no idea how to find him save for traveling all of the way to Bangladesh and then, once there, seeking “his mother.” She lacked the funds for hiring a Bangladeshi investigator and figured that enough time had elapsed since Ajit had left that he could have sold the sanctuary’s jeep on the underground market and then immigrated to North America. That latter possibility was not entirely far-fetched; Ajit had often boasted of aunties living in Toronto and in Central New Jersey.
Furthermore, if Trishna left to search for Ajit, she would quickly become insolvent and her beloved elephants would immediately be left to the devices of employees less concerned with dressing wounds than with scheduling a superfluity of visitors. So, Trishna obliged herself to stay with the gentle giants as long as possible; they had had no part in her foolishness.
Meanwhile, she surreptitiously took responsibility for finding her replacement. It was against the rules to have family on site, so Trishna would soon have to move off of the lands. At that point, she could track down Ajit or choose, altogether, to leave him out of their child’s life.
Apparently, the binturongs were not unique in their need to rut irresponsibly. Trishna was beginning to surmise that Ajit, who had seemed incapable of grasping that endangered species, too, possessed karma, and that a lackadaisical regard for abused mammals would bring him bad luck, had had no lingering thoughts about abandoning Trishna.
As her stomach burgeoned, it became increasingly difficult for Trishna to tend to her sweet brutes. Concurrently, the male employees began to take verbal liberties with her. Trishna’s coworkers make rude remarks about her expanding belly and about the identity of her baby’s father. None of them suspected Ajit.
* * *
Just before Jasoda came into the world, Trishna again saw the howling binturong. That the omnivorous quadruped could rotate his hind legs backwards to forage had done nothing to help him in his quest for a paramour.
That he had eaten several ferrets in the intervening period, too, had provided no respite to his bhoot-like screams. In fact, some time before Trishna gave birth, Sanjit was found, next to the kitchen dumpsters, dead from distemper. Two maintenance men, wearing their best approximation of hazard suits, buried the binturong downstream of the elephant crèche.
* * *
In between contractions, Trishna wondered if she would have suffered less had she been the unrequited binturong. According to what the elder, who had agreed to assist her during childbirth, was saying, Trishna’s labor pains were as nothing relative to the pains she would feel during the decades of raising her child.
When Trishna at last held Jasoda in her arms, she reflected. It was fatuous to worry about the operation of the universe. She would try to enjoy whatever happiness befell her and would try to endure whatever challenges came her way.
In some cases, desired mating fails to occur. On other occasions, unwarranted coupling takes place. Only when providence favors a person are copulation and its consequences delightful.
Copyright © 2018 by Channie Greenberg