Me, the Tiger and Goddess Durga
Every story true or imaginary has a beginning and so does this. India is the blessed land as it is home to the largest number of tigers in the world. A tiger is an extremely ferocious animal. While the lion is the king of beasts the Tiger is the king of the jungle. The tiger is also venerated in India and in the Sundarbans a tiger God is worshipped. Hinduism also worships Goddess Durga whose image is always riding a tiger.
All this is just for information because the tiger is now a protected species in India and killing it can land you 10 years in jail as per the Wildlife act. The tiger is also a dangerous animal especially if it becomes old or injures himself. In such a situation the tiger will catch the most defenseless of the preys; the human being. The villages in the jungles of India will relate you hundreds of tales of tigers who became maneaters. The famous hunter Jim Corbett has recorded his exploits of killing maneaters in his books, the most famous of which is "Man-Eating Tiger of Rudraprayag."
Wildlife specialists have brought out that once a tiger becomes the maneater he will not eat anything else, except human flesh. In such circumstances, the local district magistrate will issue a notification to all registered hunters to try and kill the tiger.
It was one such notification that brought me to Bandhavgarh. As I am a registered Shikari, I had a meeting with the district magistrate a lady who informed me that I would have to make my own arrangements to kill the tiger. I made my arrangements and hired a local villager named Mohammed Iqbal who was the well-known tiger tracker of the area. Mohammed was a nice affable man and he told me that he had taken part in many hunts. He also told me that the Raja of Dewas had also accepted the challenge and come down to kill the Maneater. He told me the manager had killed four people so far from the local villages and the people were terrified of him. It appeared he said that the tiger had a sixth sense and located specific persons to kill. I listened to all this but dismissed his talk as of no meaning. As I sat in the Forest Rest House, Mohammad told me that there were many villagers who felt that the Goddess Durga was riding the Tiger.
"You are a Moslem," I said, "you can't believe this mumbo-jumbo"
The Goddess Durga is one of the most venerated gods in the Hindu pantheon and her image is always riding a tiger. I didn't believe what Iqbal had said and I made my plans in the evening to start the tracking of the tiger the next day. That evening I pulled out my Winchester .315 automatic rifle from its bag, cleaned it, oiled it, and assembled it for the shoot.
Tracking the beast
Mohammad came early morning and sat down in the. verandah. After a sumptuous breakfast by the cook, I came out and shook hands with Muhammad.
"let's go," I said.
" ÖK, sir, " he replied. We walked over to my SUV, the Fortuner, and headed towards the jungle. We were nearing the jungle and the vegetation was becoming thick all around. Mohammed pointed towards a temple and said, "that is the temple of the Goddess Kali."
"Ok, let's halt here," I replied, "no harm in paying obeisance to the goddess"
While Mohammed sat in the SUV, I went into the temple. Seeing me enter inside with my rifle the priest came up to me and said, "oye, shikari ( hunter), welcome to the abode of the Goddess Kali. You will need her blessings if you are going after the tiger."
The Goddess Kali is another manifestation of Durga and she forms the top pantheon of Hindu gods. The priest smiled at me and said, "ask for blessings from the Goddess because it is she who rides a tiger"
"yes, "I replied, "I know"
The priest again smiled," you know nothing, the tiger you are hunting is the one that the goddess rides. Has not your guide told you that this tiger is highly intelligent and selective in killing and searches out his prey. He only kills those people who deserve to die."
I felt the priest was being a little silly and after bowing to the deity, I went back to Mohammad. After driving a few miles further we came to a small clearing and Mohammed told me that we will leave the Fortuner here and proceed on foot into the jungle. He assured me he would track down the tiger from its pugmarks.
We proceeded into the jungle with Muhammad leading the way. He looked at me and said, " you stay here sir I will just relieve myself behind the trees and come. Incidentally from the pugmarks, I can make out that the tiger is not very far from us."
Mohammed was also carrying his shotgun and with it, he went behind a tree. I waited for some time and then realized that Mohammed has not come back. I had even not heard his gun being fired. After a few more minutes I decided to go and look for him. I entered the bushes but there was no sign of Mohammad. With my knowledge of the jungle and Tigers, I was almost sure that Mohammed had fallen prey to the tiger.
My BP rose and I told my mind to remain calm. I was alone in the jungle and the stillness all around created an eerie atmosphere. I walked a few more furlongs into the jungle and then realized that I was lost. I saw a large tree and I decided to climb up the tree into the branches knowing that tigers do not climb trees.
I slung my rifle on my shoulder and climbed up the tree which was a large banyan tree and made myself comfortable in one of the branches. I thought I will wait for the tiger because if what the priest had said was correct he would definitely come after me. I sat on the tree and time passed and darkness was setting in. I realized I had done a foolish thing by climbing up the tree and my best bet should have been to go back and try to reach my SUV and try my luck the next day. With darkness setting in there was now no choice for me but to spend the night on the Tree Top. Darkness set in and with my rifle ready I closed my eyes.
I was tired and slowly went to sleep. While sleeping I had a terrible dream I saw the tiger a few feet away from me. His eyes shining in the coal-black night. I dreamt that I saw a beautiful lady just behind the Tiger. I began to sweat and suddenly woke up. I wondered what I had dreamt; was it a hallucination? I wiped the sweat from my forehead and looked around and then surprises of surprises I saw two burning eyes in the night staring at me from just a few feet. The tiger has proved me wrong, he could climb the tree.
My throat was dry as I realized that either it was me or the tiger. I took aim with my rifle and then the figure jumped down from the tree. The branch on which I was resting shook wildly and the gun fell from my hands. There was a soft sound as it hit the earth below. I was now defenseless and wondered if the tiger could come again up the tree and catch me.
I rued my luck. I realized I could not go down the tree to retrieve the rifle and perforce would have to keep sitting on the tree hoping the tiger doesn't come back. In the stillness of the night, I heard a snarl of the tiger. My god! He was just a few feet away from the trunk of the tree. I wondered if he would come after me. Now he gave a roar that resounded in the still forest. To my surprise, I saw him walking away and soon I had lost sight of the animal. It appeared as if the forest had eaten him. Instinct told me the tiger was not going to come back and that intrigued me. I wondered why he had not attacked me when he was just a few feet from me. There was no doubt in my mind that the tiger was not going to attack me and I slowly climbed down from the tree.
I picked up my rifle and in the darkness began to walk towards where I thought I had left the SUV. As if on cue the moon appeared and the moonshine made my task easier. I reached my SUV and drove back to the temple of the goddess Kali. The temple was open and I went inside after removing my shoes. I saw the priest was still awake and praying. Seeing me he got up and came towards me.
" Hunter I am glad you are safe because the Goddess Kali has spared you."
I kept quiet wondering what to say. Finally, I said, "Priest I have had the encounter with the tiger but he did not attack me but I fear that Mohammed is no more"
"It is possible what you say is true because Mohammed has got many tigers killed some of them who were not even maneaters. The Goddess Kali has punished him"
"but what about all the other men who were killed by the tiger?"I asked.
The priest again smiled," Hunter! who does not know the mystery of the world? Go to the police station and check up the cases of the four men who have been killed by the Tiger. They were hardened criminals who had carried out rape and murder and were out on bail. The tiger specifically selected them and the goddess decided to mete out justice. I am also afraid for the Raja of Dewas..."
I just stared blankly at the priest my mind in the whirl.
" You better sleep now and get some rest and then you can leave early morning and don't come back because there will be no maneater now."
Early morning I reached the Forest rest house and I found a few people gathered there. Seeing me they rushed towards me and almost in a chorus said," thank God, you are safe; Mohammed is no more and even the Raja of Dewas is missing"
"How come?"I asked.
" It was the goddess Durga riding the tiger," one of them said, " now there will be no maneater."
I didn't know whether I could believe this tale or not. Later I came to know that the Raja of Dewas was safe but he had a spiritual experience also. Maybe someday when I meet him I will ask him about it. In the meantime, I live with this incident in my mind and I just cannot appreciate and realize the true meaning of all that happened. After some time the notification was withdrawn and nobody had seen any tiger and the maneater had vanished. However, I did confirm the information of the priest from the police station. Believe it or not.