Monday, February 19, 2007

The origin of the Royal Bengal Tiger: An untrue story

Once upon a time, long long ago, there lived two tigers together, in a vast jungle in central India. Both the male, and the female tiger were big, strong and widely feared for their hunting prowess. Not surprisingly, they were proud of their reputations too.

And then they had a cub. To their shock, their cub was all white! Being smart hunters, both the parents realized that with his different colour, their baby would not stand a chance, when it came to hunting his prey. For, the white colour ensured that the cub would be visible to prospective prey, and not well camouflaged by the jungle vegetation as his parents were.

The female tiger was extremely sad, and despite the poor odds of her baby surviving, set about trying to do her best for him. Thus, for far longer than normal, she hunted for him too, ensuring that the tiger grew well. Thanks to the many streams criss-crossing their territory, she even tried to make her baby learn to wade, and lie low in water, if that could give him an advantage while hunting. However, it was a tough battle for her. The young tiger increasingly realized the limitations his colour had placed on his chances of long term survival in the jungle. He grew increasingly sad at his plight, a sadness that increased with every failed attempt to hunt a prey the way his parents could.

It was in this mood one day that the young tiger set off on his own, determined not to be a burden on his mother anymore. After a day’s journey, he grew very tired, and despite his best attempts, failed to catch any prey to eat. Thus, hungry, tired and too far away to call for help from his parents, the young tiger slept.

In the morning, it was the rumbling walk of an elephant, along with the tinkling of bells that woke him up. Surprised at the sound of bells, which was completely new to him, the young tiger walked towards the sound. Suddenly, the elephant burst through the clearing.

Surprised at seeing a white tiger in front, and perhaps it’s tired condition, the elephant did not rear up in fright as one would expect. Instead, it just looked at the white tiger.

Finally the white tiger asked ” And who are you my friend, making this new sound which I have never heard before on an elephant?”

To which, the elephant replied,” I suspect you have never heard this sound because you have not seen a domesticated elephant in your life. I stay with a Circus, and prefer the company of humans now to wild animals, as my human master takes good care of me. He has tied this bell, whose noise you find so appealing, around my neck, to warm wild animals such as you of the repurcussions of tangling with me”.

Surprised at this rather aggressive response, the tiger replied, “ But I have no plans to attack you, dear elephant. I am tired of the wild life myself, and almost wish I could have a life such as yours”..

At which, the elephant replied, “ Well, tiger, your wish could be more easily fulfilled than you imagine. My master is looking for a good tiger to add to his troupe, and your colour will certainly make you more attractive to him. Alas, you are too old perhaps to be domesticated, as we usually get our tigers as cubs”.

At which, the tiger replied, “ Now you have me interested. Just what does one have to do to be domesticated”.

The elephant replied” Not much. You just need to ensure that you never, ever attack anyone, humans or animals. Even if they tease you, touch you, or make noises around you”.

The tiger said, “ That sounds easy enough. I am willing to control myself thus. Tell me, can we go to your master right now?”

To which, the elephant said” Yes we can. But having never seen you, my master will assume you are wild and might even kill you before you have a chance to show your new manners. But I have an idea. Climb on my back, and behave yourself. When I carry you back to the circus on my back, and everyone can see you are not hurting me, they will not kill you. “

To this suggestion, the tiger agreed immediately, and soon, off he went with the elephant to the circus, riding gingerly on his back. The tiger had reached near the edge of the jungle in any case, and as he soon realized, the circus was not too far away at all. Soon, people spotted him on the elephant’s back, and ran in terror away from them. The news soon reached the Circus owner, who fearing for his elephant’s life quickly grabbed a big gun and rushed out. But before he could raise it and shoot, the sight of the white tiger and the elephant convinced him that the elephant was in no danger from the tiger. In fact, the elephant, on spotting him, came near him, and the white tiger jumped down and sat down at his legs, with no malice whatsoever. Shocked at his good luck and the miracle in front of him, the owner quickly called his men back, and bade them make a very nice and big cage for the tiger. While the cage was being made, his men also fed the tiger the choicest meat and water, which the tiger gratefully ate and purred in pleasure at the end of it all. Once the cage was ready, he dutifully went in too! The men were spellbound, and quickly realized that this must indeed be a lucky day for them and their owner.

And surely, news of the amazing white tiger spread far and wide, who had come riding on an elephant’s back, and behaved tamely with all. Soon, the circus also had an act for the tiger, where he would ride in precisely as he had done when they first saw him, on the back of his friend the elephant and proceed to sit in the middle of a group of dogs and sheep who would perform around him. As the crowd applauded, the tiger loved it.

Soon, the Circus moved to a new town and area, with the same results. The tiger was truly popular and couldn’t believe his luck at having met the elephant. So much so, that he forgot everything the elephant told him about being domesticated. Then one day it happened.

The tiger was sitting in his cage, eating a lovely piece of goat leg, when suddenly something hit his ear. Now, no tiger, white or yellow, small or large, likes being hit in the ear. So when the tiger looked around to see a young kid throwing stones, he growled, to warn him . The kid refused to budge. In fact, the tigers docile behaviour earlier had emboldened the kid so much that opened the cage and went inside. Soon he was standing near the tiger and touching him with a small stick, something the tiger bore quietly, even as he continued to eat his food. Finding the tiger unresponsive, the kid tried to go around the tiger and in doing so, stepped on his tail. Now this was an indignity no animal, much less, a tiger will suffer. In a trice, his wild instincts returned, and the tiger pounced on the kid and broke his neck. This obviously killed the kid. And with that realization dawned on the poor tiger. With no other option available to his mind, the tiger decided he would simply eat up the kid, to hide any proof of his mistake. But before he could finish, his minder suddenly dropped in to clean his cage, and was horrified with what he saw. Namely, the remains of the kid which had still to be eaten by the tiger. He rushed back, raising a commotion. The tiger quickly got out of the cage, and realized that he would have to run for his life now, as he had no doubt that he would be shot now. For he had seen how the ‘master’ had shot a wolf, who had bitten two visitors earlier.

Thus, the tiger ran again, not for the first time in his life, but this time to save his life. He ran and ran and ran, along the way, being sighted by the odd villager who quickly rushed out of his way. Soon, he came to a narrow river, and thanks to his mother’s earlier attempts to teach him to try and hunt from the water, managed to cross it with some difficulty. Once on the other side, he ran deep into a jungle, the likes of which he had never seen before in his life. For this was a jungle with not many really tall trees, where the ground seemed to be wet everywhere, and it was criss crossed with streams with slow moving water. The biggest surprise was that the water was salty, and not the sweet water of his childhood streams. For now, thought the tiger grimly, this would have to do. Our tiger didnot know it at the time, but he had reached the Sunderbans.

The Sunderbans, for those of you who don't know, are forests comprising one of the the world's largest delta/riverine systems, with a mesh of naturally occuring canals spread through out a vast area festooned with countless 'islands'... The water levels move up and down with the sea tide, frequently submerging some of the islands, while depositing soil on others.

And this is where our tiger found himself after all his travails. After resting a while, he naturally felt hungry. His heart sank as he looked around at the wetness around him, with nary an animal worth catching. Tired and dejected, he decided to look for some water to drink at least. As he moved from stream to stream, the tiger was surprised to see that some of the streams were rich with aquatic life, including some really big, and interestingly, slow moving fish. Having rarely tried fish before, the tiger decided to try his luck in the water. Call it beginners luck or whatever, soon, he had caught himself three big, fat fishes to eat. As he dug in, he realised that the fish didn't taste bad at all, and in fact, better than some of the animals he had eaten in his time. As luck would have it, the tiger soon learnt to identify sweet water sources by the trees that grew around them. He wasted no time in marking those as 'his' territory. Not being used to the wild anymore, he decided to do it by making paw marks on the bark of these trees.

Water problem solved, the tiger set to work, to improve his skills at catching fish. Maybe it was knowing that this was his best chance of survival, or maybe it was simply easier in the Sunderbans, but the tiger learnt fast, and soon acquired quite a proficiency in catching fish. While doing so, he naturally became a good swimmer too, in the process mastering another art skill that tigers normally donot take to. Thus, the white tiger had become truly different now, and not just in colour.

The only time the tiger really had a tough time was when the tides would rise high, with storms to go with it. At these times, even the tiger didnot dare swim too far off from the coast from fear of drowning, and then, he had seen some large crocodiles in the water sometimes. It was on one such stormy night that he made his most joyous discovery in the jungle. The jungle had deer!
Indeed, the deer had always existed in the Sunderbans, but they were just quiter, and smaller groups than the typical deer hers in drier areas. By a stroke of luck for them, they had not really been seen by the new predator in their midst. Thus, on a stormy night, the tiger literally stumbled on a group of 5 deer, resting in the shade of a few straggly trees. Both the deer and the tiger were surprised, but the tiger, by now well used to his new found strength and abilities, recovered faster, and pounced on one of the deers.

A hearty meal of deer later, the tiger realised that he had been truly blessed. Not only was he the biggest predator in the Sunderbans, but he also had plentiful supply of food and water. And so began his reign in the jungle. But the tiger's tale is not over yet. As time went by, more and more people started living near the Sunderbans, and eventually, some of them spotted the tiger too. The tiger too, didnot miss the new visitors in his territory. For now, he was truly wild, and unlike most wild tigers had already tasted humans as food. Thus it was, that one day, on a whim or a warning to humans, depending on the point of view you take, the tiger decided to treat himself to a human again.

In the end, its wasn't so difficult for him. Humans had been getting incresingly desperate to catch thr big fish inside the sunderbans, and one day, the tiger spotted a man and his net, gradually moving in a stream. In no time, the tiger was stalking him, as he remembered his mother doing. The man, perhaps not used to being stalked, didnot realise the tiger was on him until he was virtually on top of him. It was a quick meal for the tiger, one that was going to make his reputation in the Sunderbans. Soon, the hamlets around the jungle were rife with stories of the giant white tiger who could swim, catch fish, as well as hunt down humans for food.

As the news spread, it reached the original circus too, where the tiger had begun his journey with humans. Of course, the circus owner guessed, that this was indeed the tiger he had kept. But he kept quite, for he was fearful that he would be punished for the new terror in the Sunderbans. Plus, he was not really unhappy about the tiger's crime, as, he justified, any child who refuses to listen to his parents and enter a tiger cage AND disturb the tiger was asking for trouble. But his experience told him that the male tiger, much like the human male, might become a little better if only it had female company. But like I said, he kept his thoughts to himself.
But his animals certainly heard, and wished the tiger the best of luck from their hearts. Because all of them were fond of the tiger actually, especially as he had been so nice to all of them, and told them such amazing stories of his own childhood, when he was wild, something none of them had ever been. Among these was a new tigress, with stripes like a normal tiger, who really began to wonder what life would be with the Sunderbans white tiger. She had been separated from her parents when she was just a cub, and she really felt that the Sunderbans life would be the right place for her to set up a family. After all, not only were the other tigers in the circus too old for her, most of them also had very bad breath and worse, some of them even liked cooked food! Cooked food! Our tigress may have been domesticated, but she had enough sense to realise that cooked food was not meant for tigers!
So she lived, ever watchful of amy news of the exploits of the Sunderbans tiger. And then one day, her wildest dream came true. The circus owner announced to his team that they would be performing in a town, very close to the Sunderbans. The tigress decided she would not miss this opportunity to escape, and join the white tiger in the Sunderbans. To do this, she decided to enlist the help of the elephant, who had originally brought the white tiger to the circus. The elephant readily agreed, because he had not been treated well by the owner after the 'accident' of the white tiger, and felt he was unfairly blamed for it. IN fact, he decided, if possible, even he would escape to the jungle, as he was sure that the white tiger would not hurt him if they met.
So it was, on a day when it was raining lightly, the elephant went across to the tigress's cage, and opened the latch from outside with his long trunk. And together in the dead of night, they set off towards the distant jungles. However, despite the darkness and the rain, the owner's son, who was searching for grass snakes outside, did see them. He ran to tell his father about what he had seen. Luckily for the animals, the oener's son was a big liar, and because of that, his father would not believe him initially, wsting precious minutes. Finally, the son had to threaten to rush into the tigress's cage to convince him that he was telling the truth. Shocked, the owner quickly grabbed a gun, and they ran off into the night, following the big footmarks of the elephant. Meanwhile the elephant and the tigress had reached the edge of the Sunderbans, and were confronted with a fast flowing stream, to enter the jungle proper. The elephant of course could handle it, but the tigress couldn't. And then, in the distance, they saw the owner and his son, coming at them with a gun. The tigress howled in despair and frustration, roaring loudly in the process. The elephant, being a quite animal and unable to bear the noise, decided to do the obvious thing for the tigress. He asked her to hop on to his back, and he wuld carry them both across the river. The tigress didn't think twice, and just jumped on his back. The elephant waded into the water, and started swimming slowly to the other side. Halfway in, three things happened. The owner and his son, reached the water's edge, and he started to take aim at the elephant, deparate to stop them from crossing. The white tiger, who had somehow heard the tigress's roars, appeared out of the jungle. And horrors, a crocodile in the river grabbed the elephants foot, to try and drown him, so he would have food to last him for a month.

As he bit into the foot, the elephant howled in pain, making the owner stop from pulling the trigger of his gun. The white tiger also roared in frustration, for he dared not enter the water with the crocodile in it. The owner guessed the situation very quickly, and then, he did something remarkable. He changed his aim, and fired instead at the crocodile. The bullet hit the crocodile, but didnot pierce his thick hide, doing just enough to make him lose his grip momentarily on the elephant's foot, enabling the elephant to make an attempot to speed up. In fact, he got cloe enough to the shore to enable the tigress, who was by now thoroughly terrified for her life, to jump across to the shore and be with the white tiger. But the poor elephant, before he could make it himself, was bitten badly by the angry crocodile again. As he floundered in the water, the owner, who knew he could never recover from his wounds now, took one last look at the tigers together, and shot the elephant, hoping to cut short the pain for him. Thankfully, he hit him on the head, and soon, the elephant was dead, and ready to make the crocodile's family very happy, as they would not have to bother with looking for food for a whole month now...
The tiger and tigress looked at the circus owner one last time, and went into the deep jungle, where noone would dare follow them. The owner knew that now there was no way he could tell people about what had happened, as he would be blamed for the whole thing. He decided that he would get out of the circus business altogether, and sell security equipment instead, to protect people from wildlife. Because he knew, that in the Sunderbans, people were going to very worried about their security in times to come.
The tigers duly had cubs, two white and two yellow, and like their father and to a small extent, their mother now, these cubs also learnt to hunt by fishing etc...
Soon, the population grew further, and their territory further. Word of the Elephant's sacrifice also spread, and to this day, Elephant's never roam in the Sunderban's, with all elephant's hating the crocodiles with their heart too. And the crocodiles? They live on too, in the vain hope that someday one of them will also bring home an elephant to eat, like their ancestor, who became so famous for a deed which he truly didnot accomplish on his own. And the circus owner's son? He reformed after the whole experience, and now sells masks to the people in the Sunderbans, which they wear at the back of the heads, so a tiger will not attack them from behind....


Tarana said...

What happens next???

Sulbha said...

I want the end!!!!!!!