by Nisarg Prakash
The river cut across the heart of the landscape, flowing past rich green paddy fields and ancient forests. Her blue-green waters looked inviting in the dry heat. Scattered hills in the landscape resembled slumbering giants. The school was an old, tiled building close to the river. A grove of large trees hid the river from the longing glances of the students. There was one child who had a secret even his closest friends did not know. Dhurva spent a lot of time by the river; an unusual amount of time. Sheltered by Arjuna and Mango trees was a large sand bank and boulders. Dhurva often fished here. But he often did not need his hook and line, for a pack of otters frequently brought him freshly caught fish! A year ago, Dhurva had come to his favourite place and found an otter struggling in a fisherman’s net. Mustering up enough courage he had waded into the water and cut the net loose helping free the otter. He had named the otter Gabbar, after his favourite hero. He hid this incident from his parents fearing that he would be reprimanded for damaging a valuable net to help an otter. He had heard people say that otters sometimes took fish from nets, and they were not pleased about it. But then, fishing was good and they did not take this loss seriously.
Gabbar tries to communicate
A week later, while perched on the rock by the river Dhurva saw a pack of otters swimming in his direction. They swam to the sand bank and chased each other playfully, and then stood up on their hind legs to look at Dhurva curiously. After a while, they disappeared, swimming towards an island. One large otter remained behind and then it occurred to Dhurva that this could be Gabbar whom he had rescued earlier. Gabbar trotted closer, whistling and greeting him like dogs do. He wondered if Gabbar was trying to communicate with him. Dhurva had never been this close to a wild animal. He was tempted to touch the otter but desisted for he did not want Gabbar getting too used to humans. So, he sat on the rock while Gabbar continued to whistle and run around. An act of kindness had sparked a wonderful bond between a little boy and a wild inhabitant of the river.
Gabbar became a regular visitor. He turned up only when Dhurva was alone. Fishermen in the village had started talking about one particular otter that watched them fish and did not seem scared. Dhurva knew immediately who they were referring to. He was worried for his friend, that Gabbar might be hurt if he got too close to humans. He had seen people treat their dogs badly, let alone an otter. With time, their friendship grew to include Gabbar’s pack. Gabbar was their leader, and Dhurva noticed that he was never aggressive with the others. He was gentle with the pups, and always led the pack to safety when he sensed danger.
Time to say good-bye
As the monsoon approached, Gabbar had to find a safe place for his pack. When it started raining, the river rose and became turbulent and the otters had to find a new home high above the water level. Gabbar knew an old den up in the hills and he led everybody there. Dhurva would not see Gabbar for the next few months, but he often dreamt of the otter and his pack playing and gambolling on the slopes.
All about otters
Otters are semi-aquatic. They find most of their food in and near water, but make their dens where it is dry.
They are carnivores, eating mostly fish and crabs.
They are called “Neer nai” in some south Indian languages, which translates to “water dog”.
They have webbed feet and a rudder like tail, which helps them swim very fast.
Otters are highly social, and have a close knit family group.
Worldwide, there are 13 kinds (species) of otters; three of which make India their home.
Illustration: Maya Ramaswamy