This Cummins powered Tata 1512c bus belonging to our Forest Research Institute has been the subject of much of my experimentation as a bus-fan since the time I joined FRI.

Right now, I must dwell on first things first. The title seemed apt to me because of the presence of leopard in our campus and this particular image of the beast which to me seemed to evoke a similar feeling. Next, my indulgence in bus-fanning despite being a forestry student can naturally appear abnormal to many considering how I should be lost among trees and the wilderness. But strangely enough, these mechanical beasts, the wild and heavy of the lot have kept me hooked since my undergraduate years. It started off as a fancy for my state transport buses (KSRTC ~ ആനവണ്ടി) eventually taking a diversion to brand specific fantasies at least for the time I was to be out of my home state. Multiple forums (ksrtcblog & Team Tata-TRAK) have helped me cultivate this crazy streak over time. My line despite these years has largely been similar to the awe and wonder of a child for them rather than the technicalities as such. Shivam & Dharani have been two buddies whom I’ve nagged constantly into shooting me whilst I’d be shooting the beast. And, they’ve always played along well in my pursuits more than what I could’ve possibly hoped for.

The earliest I remember having captured this leopard on camera is during the orientation visit of our own campus. The fascination with this beast has only seemed to grow ever since. Some of the girls studying with us might even remember me lurking near the reserve forest barrier and shining the camera flash as it approached after the fresher’s party. Come every study tour, excursion or field visit, more than learning something of academic value, I would always prioritize shooting the beast through the lens from all angles and poses that one could possibly dream of. Every portion, part and accessory of the bus seemed to catch hold of my attention.

More than anything, I know that it was indeed a sense of belonging to that same family called FRI that brought both of us closer. I would never have even in my wildest dreams imagined doing all of this had the bus not belonged to our institute.

We have by now gone on numerous outings in the same beast to multiple locations and with different drivers. We all had different portions earmarked to each, the row opposite to door for the faculty as usual, the last row for us ‘Mallu Gangstas’ and most of the rest fitting in between. Some time spent sitting on the front side row facing the driver or on the bonnet would usually for me make the entire trip worthwhile. It was no longer the driver’s area in front but the ‘cockpit’ where the ‘leopard tamer’ sat while ‘taming the beast’! 😀

This particular bus has even unintentionally figured up in other turning-points and adventures of my life (Chakrata & Dhanaulti, for instance). It has been witness to me confessing and then advising the same person on something totally different, all during the course of a single trip (The Bus-Bonnet Conversations). So, it was indeed an added joy when I got familiar with this particular Leopard Tamer (read Driver, Dummies!) who was also coincidentally my namesake and his companion on this recent tour to Chandigarh. His energy, behavior and openness (read, my lack of flesh!) were contagious and I knew instantly that we would bond well and that I’d trouble him for my whims and fancies! And you bet, I did just the same in that very trip itself. To blurt out the least, I can safely say that I did have my way around and that was only made possible because he concurred with my demands. 🙂 Whilst we were returning, the fact that he literally asked me sit cross-legged upon the steel frame on the bonnet and even went so far as to have his towel spread out on the frame (again obviously, to compensate for my मांस की कमी !) just so that I had a better view through the windshield and could go on clicking away was nothing short of a privilege. 🙂

One thing I know for certain is that as long as I remain in FRI, I will always be found looking up at this one where ever he be spotted, for he is my pet leopard!

PS: This started as a simple caption for the said image on Instagram, but all of you can very well see what it has finally turned out to be!