IIT Powai’s lush campus cannot be compared to any other college in Mumbai. Squeezed between the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Vihar Lake on one side, and Powai Lake on the other, it is part of the huge green oasis in the middle of sprawling, urban Mumbai. Ask a few students about their campus, and they give instances of how they enjoy the company of crocodiles, snakes, and even leopards at night.
Chemical engineering student, Nikhil Lilaria tells me about a warning e-mail he received a week ago. “The instructions are clear: Flash a light when you see a leopard,” he says. But, are the city’s techies even concerned about the leopard that was killed nearby? “Of course! We are going to lose them all. I am disheartened because this happened just after a tigress was shot dead in Vidharbha,” an angry student, Puneet Singh replies.
Residents and a few on-campus staff tell me long and interesting tales about their encounters with the spotted beauties. “It had a nice, huge, sleek body. I saw it a few days ago, at night, near the hillside. I think it was here to eat the stray dogs,” recounts Mahendra Singh, a hostel mess worker. They go on to praise a security guard who defended himself with an umbrella after he was mauled by a leopard, a few years ago.
Closest to the spot where the leopard died is Hostel 4, which is separated from forest area by a fence, meant to keep wild animals away. The hall manager hadn’t heard of the death, and when asked about the safety of students, he says, “All the hostelites are secure. We send out warnings to them from time-to-time.”
In my quest to record campus sentiment, I interrupt a few to-be engineers while they sip chai and have a mid-afternoon chat.
“We were awake till early morning that day, but didn’t hear the leopard cry,” says Varun Jhawar. “We are sad, but this will never happen on our campus. We love animals far too much,” says Abishek Mittal.
There is a distinct sense that these collegians love their animals and genuinely care for their safety. But until man and beast learn to live in harmony, occurrences like that on Monday morning will be brutal reminders of the fine line we tread in our quest for environmental harmony.