The stage was set. With mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension, we boarded the flight. Will they feel at home? Taking them away from their native land, habitat, and known environment tantamount to denying their right to live in their natural surroundings. Human displacement has been a debate across cultures and civilizations, but the same doesn’t seem to go well with other creatures that have roamed freely on their land and suddenly have been lifted off and transported to strange, unknown environments.

And all this for what? Years have passed since their extinction and out of the blue, a project surfaces out of nowhere – a prestigious one at that, the wild cat to inhabit our land. 

Do I sympathise with these wild ones who are forced to leave the land they belong to or empathise with them? The wild cats mewed as they were brought into the aircraft. The wooden cages held them with the utmost care, maybe they could sense the emotional turmoil that the cats were going through. The five female and the three male cubs were parting from their kith and kin to restart life on unfamiliar ground. 

Bidding adieu is not easy. They are being weaned away from their parents. As I stand with the other crew members at the entrance of the flight welcoming the cheetahs, I can feel their helplessness. Separating them from their mother’s care. So unfair! I shall carry the burden of this guilt forever. I know it. 

I pulled out a small piece of paper from my pocket and peered at it for the hundredth time. I found this in the lounge while waiting for the other crew members. The piece of paper fluttered in the gentle breeze. The words stared at my face. I couldn’t make out what those two words scribbled hastily meant for the life of me – Don’t leave. The who, what and why of it puzzled me.  I looked around to see if it was someone else’s message (I remembered the PK movie- the misplaced/ displaced note in the church and the aftermath). 

It must be from someone who was close to these cute little things and the anguish of parting must have compelled him/ her to implore the crew to take good care on the flight. I held the paper with a promise that I will stay close to them throughout the flight. Maybe my presence will give them hope and confidence, and maybe my positive vibes will see them through the hardships of the tiresome journey. 

The cubs were fed a day before and throughout the flight, they would be kept hungry. The thirteen veterinarians were prepared for any unforeseen happenings. 

For many in India it was homecoming, but for them? 

A landmark journey from Namibia to India……

The tiger-faced Boeing 747, whirred, rattled and thumped. I moved closer to the cages almost hugging as though assuring the wild yet helpless cats – won’t leave till the landing do us apart.
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