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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Notes from India: Man-Eating Tigers


Author’s note: Can any visit to India be complete without paying a tribute to the magnificent Tigers?


‘You mean to say … man-eaters still exist!’, I mumbled, as a chill shot up my spine. I could not believe my ears!  But then, there were a lot of unbelievable things going on tonight.

‘Yes, you heard it right, they do exist’, came the reply in a deep baritone voice. Just across from where we were, the silvery outline of Nanda Devi and Panchchuli peaks towered over the landscape in the cold moonlit night.

 ***

'The deadliest man eating tiger in India prowled around in this region’

We sat around the campfire that lit up the entrances of small wooden cottages lined up along a ledge overlooking the Himalayas.  The ledge sloped steeply behind the cottages giving way to several ranges of small Kumaoni hills, framing the majestic snow-clad peaks perfectly.

'The man-eater of Champawat. She killed 436 people', The resort manager lowered his voice, as the crackling fire lit up is face, casting an eerie shadow over the small stretch of lawn behind him. We sat glued to our chairs as we listen with rapt attention.

'She was killed by Jim Corbett - the very first man-eater he shot. My great grandfather was with Corbett Saab during the hunt', Anil's serious face betrayed him by flickering a slight smile before it was dead serious again. A distant clap of thunder rang across, illuminating the valley spread out under us.

'It is not a good sign', he continued in an ominous tone as we all stared at the dark clouds in the horizon that had now hid the silvery Himalayan ranges.

****
We had reached our resort just after dusk, braving a tiring eight hour journey across the mountains of Uttrakhand. The resort was tucked in a village perched on the top of a hill overlooking the majestic Nanda Devi.  Our Innova was stopped at a forest check post just outside the village as the forest guard shone his torch inside the car illuminating its occupants - four adults and three kids. ‘Tourists?’, he had asked curtly. I had nodded my head. The check post gate was raised to let us through.

My twelve year old son was thrilled with the rustic setting of the cottage.' It's too bad that they have iron grills on the windows ...", he had complained.

A serious looking man, who checked us into the resort, had approached us as we sat around the bonfire lit in front of the cottage. 'What will you have for dinner, sir?', he asked with politeness frozen in sombre seriousness.

' What do you have ready?'I had asked. 'We make everything fresh', he had replied maintaining an expression as if he was giving us some seriously bad news.

' Can you get us something real fast - the kids are hungry,' the wife chipped in.

'It will take one hour to cook the dinner, madam', again the serious expression.

'Can't you do something? please request the cook ...'

'I am the cook' , he had replied, a slight smile flashed across his face before he became dead serious again, 'And also the resort manager’, he had hastily added.

****

'My great grand father was a very brave man. He was one of the folks who hauled the dead tiger back into the village after Corbett Saab killed it. It was a very khatnaak tiger sir.. she used to come inside the village in broad daylight and run off with a kill’

'Are there any man eating tigers alive?' , my twelve year old son asked hesitantly, trying his best to sound fearless.

' No, no more man eaters in these hills anymore', Anil finally smiled. The rain clouds that were building up in horizon had almost reached our cottages. A sprinkle of rain dissipated the bonfire party as we all scuttled towards our respective cottages.

' Do man eaters still exist?' , my eight year old daughter asked as we ran into our cottage.

 I thought about my daughter’s question as I dozed off for the night.

****
It must be just before dawn when I heard a faint sound on the door. It sounded as if someone was scratching the door. The scratching sound got louder and louder as I got up from the bed and made my way to the cottage door.

‘Open the door, please’, the voice had a warm baritone ring to it. 

It had stopped raining. The rain clouds gave way to a bright full moon.  I cautiously opened the door and my jaws dropped when I saw the visitor.  

It was Sher Khan! The animated cartoon version from the Disney movie Jungle Book that I had first seen when I was a kid. The animated tiger had given me a quite a few sleepless nights in those days.

Here he was - standing in front of me, complete with stripes, mean eyes and the extended claws of his front left paw which he had used to scratch the door.

‘We need to talk’, Sher Khan purred softly, ’It will be better if you come out – I don’t want to wake up the kids ..’

For some reason, the cartoon tiger did not look as threatening and mean as it used to when I was a kid. I guess my perception of meanness had changed over the years -in fact Sher Khan looked kind of cute. I grabbed my slippers and followed him around a thicket. Sher Khan sprawled out on a rocky ledge. ‘Sit’ he said pointing at stone boulder.

‘So … you have some questions regarding man eating tigers?’

‘How did you know?’

‘Tigers have their own sources ...’, he said shrugging his striped shoulders ‘ Just because these days we run around the national parks, posing for wild life photographers does not mean we do not keep a track of what is going on in this world’, he said tilting his huge head and looking at me with slightly squinted eyes.

‘So your question was whether or not man eaters still exist?’ He stared at me. I nodded my head briskly.

‘Well, they do exist’, Sher Khan’s eyes became cold and distant. ‘But these man eaters are not tigers anymore. They are of your species’

‘And even the most ferocious tigers appear as harmless cartoon characters in comparison’, his lips curled into a smile, ‘When in reality - we are not …’, That is when Sher Khan gave out a deafening roar, flung open his sharp claws, and pounced at me.

I woke up with a start.  

Or did I?

THE END

Author's Note  : Flipping through any news channel one could get the gruesome update of the new person eating species that we have become. Blasts in Boston. Blasts in Bangalore, Girls being molested ... the fierce man eating tigers indeed look like cartoon characters in comparison !

4 comments:

Bhaiya said...

These days man eaters or shud I say woman eaters are not found in India's Jungles. They wander in the urban India day and night so beware ......well narrated Banne

Varsha said...

Interesting as usual. Loved the roaring lion."Khuda ki kasam mazaa aa gaya, mujhe maar kar besharam kha gaya"!!
Love your stories.

rachna said...

Very lifelike descriptions of mist n hills, made me yearn for home. The bagh showing up at the doorstep was a nice surprise. U are right the four leggedman eaters can never match the two legged ones.

satyendra verma said...

Bhraman kahatam nahin hua ? Aur stories daal ke sulga aur raha hai ! Having fun...are you ? Waiting for some account from Ranchi now !

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