Me and the Tiger: A Tale of Adventure
Where should I begin? The ingredient of this tale is the man-eating tiger, the Sundarban forest, me, and rifle. The tiger is the national animal of India. It is both royal and fierce in appearance and out of the species available in India, the Bengal Tiger ( Panthera Tigris) is the most ferocious of them all. The home of the Bengal tiger is the famous forest of the Sundarbans which are in the center of the delta of the river Ganga. Most of the forest area is waterlogged and the tiger which inhabits this region is also amphibious. My rifle was a .315 Winchester automatic which has been gifted to me by the Raja of Dewas who was a connoisseur of guns.
Two decades back I was posted at Calcutta which is close to the Sundarbans. Tiger hunting is banned in India but in case a tiger is declared a man-eater then the district magistrate will issue a notice to all registered shikaris or hunters to shoot the tiger dead.
As I am registered Shikari the DM 24 Parganas sent me a notice about a man-eating tiger in the Sundarbans and invited me to be one of the hunters to kill the beast.
The hunt begins
I took my Mahindra jeep which is something akin to the American version and drove towards the Sundarbans. I was able to hire a local named Akbar who was an expert in tracking tigers. Akbar agreed to be along with me on a fee of Rs.500 per day. He was a smiling young man of 26. My first meeting with him went down very well and both of us cottoned to each other.
"Sir," he said," are we only going to be two of us?"
'Yes," I replied, " we don't need a bigger party, why you feel this way"
" No sir, I was just wondering because you are aware that the Raja of Burdwan has also come for the hunt and he is carrying with him an entourage of 25 persons"
We set a course into the jungle. Akbar gave some directions and soon we pulled up before a very old temple. It was located in the heart of the forest. Akbar looked at me and said," sir we will begin our hunt from this place after paying obeisance to the lord of the jungle the god Dokkhin Rai."
" Who is Dokkhin Rai ?" I asked
" He is a God who takes the shape of a tiger and when the world is in peril he comes down on earth in this form, now so let's enter inside and pray"
I parked the jeep outside and both of us went into the temple. I was hearing of the Dokkhin Rai for the first time but later I came to know he is the patron diety of the jungle and the villagers of this area worship him. Inside the temple, a priest met us. After the rituals, he offered us a cup of tea.
"Do you stay here alone," I asked," there are so many tigers around and now there is a maneater prowling about also."
" Yes I stay here alone and I am not at all scared and none of the tigers harm me. Incidentally, there is no danger here at all. Sometimes the sage Dokkhin Rai transforms himself into a tiger to avenge upon the evildoers."
"But what about the maneater who has been notified by the district magistrate? he is reported to have eaten two men"
" Those two men had killed a 12-year-old girl after raping her and it was the God Dokkhin Rai back who came in the form of the tiger to dispense justice"
I learned that in his form of the tiger the God Dokkhin Rai killed without mercy calling his actions a punishment for the evil they had done. He was the Lord and Master of 370 million beings who lived in the forest. I listened to the tale of the priest with a pinch of salt and then decided to get on with the hunt.
Akbar looked at me and said, "sir, we will not go by the jeep but as the entire area is waterlogged we will go in a boat and I will lead you to the tiger."
The waterlogged area was close by and Akber had a boat there. We got into the boat with me in the front with my rifle cocked and ready while Akbar sat at the back paddling the boat forward. There was absolute silence all around and it appeared that the jungle had gone to sleep. I concentrated looking ahead my eyes and ears alert for the tiger. Akbar was conversant with the area and slowly paddled the boat forward.
As we moved through the cluster of trees I was reminded of a film. It was the narrative of a boy stranded on a raft with the Bengal Tiger in the middle of the ocean. I recollected that the film shows that the tiger is not interested in killing the boy and both of them help each other. The boy proved useful to the tiger as well getting him fresh water and keeping the raft heading in the right direction.
My thoughts were abruptly cut as I observed the boat was slowly veering towards the trees. Without looking back I asked softly," Akbar are you there?"
There was no reply so I asked again," Akbar, why are we going towards the trees and the dangerous part of the jungle."
Again I did not get any reply. I decided to look back and was in for a shock. There was no Akbar! He had vanished as if swallowed by the river. My heart beats quickened as I quickly realized that the dangerous tiger had followed the boat in the water and at the right time it had pounced on Akbar and vanished with him into the jungle. The entire action was so swift, with not a sound emanating.
The boat now got stuck in the waterlogged trees with the bank close by. I did not know where I was and without Akbar, I did not know where to go. I could not keep sitting in the boat and so waded through the water and entered the thick jungle. There was an eerie silence all around and I was wondering what to do when I heard a snarl and I knew the tiger was closeby.
Me and the tiger
I managed to get away from the bank and reached a small cluster of trees with a little bit of open space around. I stood under the tree contemplating my plan of action. The evening was setting in and I knew once night came I would be at a disadvantage. In the darkening gloom, I observed a figure about 20 or 30 feet away. I peered closely and could see it was a tiger.
My first instinct was to pull the trigger and kill the tiger. I could not have missed from such a short distance and my rifle was lethal enough to kill the beast. I refrained from pressing the trigger and to this day I do not know why I did not fire my gun. It could be that I was numbed with the loss of Akbar to the tiger and also influenced by the tale of the Dakkhin Rai the God who comes in the garb of a tiger. I just looked at the tiger and maybe he was watching me.
Something strange happened the Tiger took a few steps forward and give a roar. In the stillness of the jungle, it sounded like a bugle by an ancient warrior rousing the soldiers to battle. He turned and began to walk away from me. I was flabbergasted and ventured out behind the Tiger. I kept a safe distance with my rifle ready and followed the Tiger.
After about 15 minutes of walking the Tiger gave another roar and then sprinted away into the jungle. I looked around and saw that I reached that ancient temple in the heart of the jungle. The tiger had led me to this place. I walked to the temple and knocked on the door.
It was now dark and the door opened and the priest appeared with a lantern. He saw and recognized me. He led me inside and asked, "What happened? where is your companion?"
I related the entire incident to him and he commented, "as I told you, my friend, it is the God Dokkhin Rai who has guided you here."
"But why did he kill Akbar?"
"Akbar had been a tracker and instrumental in the killing of many tigers and he had to pay the price for it, now promise never to kill another tiger."
"But what about this man eater?"
The priest smiled, "there is no man eater, it was the God Dokkhin Rai and he killed those men who had raped and killed a young girl. He has guided you to safety man, be thankful for God's mercy."
We didn't hear about the man eater again and much later I met the Raja of Burdwan at a cocktail and related the incident to him. The Raja laughed boisterously and said, "look, Major, you are a good storyteller I don't believe a word of it but thank you for a wonderful story"