Leopards were real and they were in Mussoorie. We heard one in our stairwell late one night and another one purring in the forest right next to our house. Walking along the path was interesting; especially when we got home after dark. We did a lot of loud talking and stomping in case they were nearby. The kids had to be in the courtyard at sunset; especially Jordan who might easily have been mistaken for a small animal; the cutest kind of course.
They only appeared in winter. Stray dogs weren’t safe. The Masih’s dog, Lightning was attacked one night. He was protecting one of his puppies. His chest was badly wounded but his baby had a hero.
The Dhobis had a huge black bull; which they dedicated to “Bhagwan”. It was quite aggressive and we always prayed we wouldn’t meet it on our narrow path. Fortunately we never did.
One night we heard it just below our balcony at the back of the house. We knew it was there because it had a big clanging bell around it’s neck. Tony dropped all kinds of things on it to chase it away but it didn’t budge. Tiffany went out just after dark to see it and came back to tell us to bring a torch. Tony shone it into a nearby bush, right into the eyes of a huge cat. Its eyes were really far apart which told us how big its head was. It stayed there for ages, looking into the torchlight. We knew it could only have been a leopard. Someone suggested it might have been a black one.
Aunty and Uncle, who lived in the small farmhouse next to us, had a big dog called “Johnny” He reminded us of the dog in “The Perisher’s” cartoon, except he wasn’t nice. They tied him up all day; which was probably the cause of his aggression. Whatever it was, we were glad he wasn’t off his chain during the day. We woke up one morning to find he wasn’t there. Uncle told us a leopard had taken him. There were signs of a struggle but no one had heard anything.
Sasha had a few more litters and a couple of her babies were taken. She loved wandering off into the bush but always came back late in the afternoon. There were times we were called to Woodstock School to pick her up; quite a few times actually. She would wander onto the grounds to play with the kids, hoping they would share their lunch with her.
One day we realised she hadn’t been home for while. She just disappeared. We looked everywhere. After a few days we had to tell the kids. “Sasha has been taken by a leopard.”