The word Corbett immediately brings back to mind visits to the tiger sanctuary that is closest to Delhi. Memories of thickly forested hills and deep, disconcerting silences that accentuate the tiniest sounds of insects, birds and animals.
Last week I revisited my notions about Corbett. While walking down the main road in Nainital, I picked a book from Narain's Book Shop - Jim Corbett's 'certifiable classic', Man-Eater's of Kumaon. While packing the book, the shopkeeper proudly mentioned that during his grandfather's time, Corbett used to drop by to the very same shop to buy his books and periodicals.
What strikes me when I read the book after a gap of three decades or so, is not only the man's deep respect for nature; his iron will to do better than his peers in the art of hunting, but also his matter-of-fact references to the cowardice of local villagers. In almost all stories, there are references to locals who
run away; making no attempt - despite having the advantage of numbers - to go after a man-eater which has attacked and carried away one of their own.
There are only three exceptions - the story of the girl who ran after a tiger that attacked and carried away her sister, screaming, "Take me instead of her!" (The Champawat Man-eater); A young mother is given for dead after being mauled, recovers after first aid (The Chowgadh maneaters); and one old villager, an ex-soldier of the Royal Garhwal Rifles and veteran of WW-I, who spends a whole night searching for his son. The old man who 'did not ask anyone to accompany him and none offered to do so', came within ten feet of where the tiger was lying eating his son but could not find him in the dark (The Kanda Maneater).
The tales make you wonder: To what extent were the Shikar stories, a deliberate PR tool for a colonial government? The villagers were nowhere as well armed as the sahibs. Their Buckshot's are not a patch on the high powered rifles. The most they can do is tremble and create a racket so as to drive the tigers from thickets into the gun-sights of sahibs perched on treetops...
Interesting Terms and Assorted Curiosities:
- Ghooral (Himalayan Thar)
- Karphal trees, 'found at an elevation of 6000 ft, produces a sweet berry fancied both by humans and bears'?
- Where exactly is the Kala Agar Ridge which is 'forty miles in length, rising to a height of 8500ft and is thickly wooded along the crest'? (The Chowgadh Maneaters)
- And a place called Dalkhania...a valley starting from the watershed of three rivers Ladhya, Nandhour and Eastern Goula
- Who is Atrophos, who snips the thread of life?
- What do Ringals (dense patches) look like?