Tuesday, 29 November 2011
The Tiger and the Trap
I sat in the hip restaurant-coffee shop catching up with friends on a visit home. The large screen TV and an even larger surround sound belted the top Bollywood hits.
“He’s muscular, He’s popular,
This bachelor is spectacular.
He’s a craze amongst girls. He’s the blued eyed boy. He’s got a fast car.
Handsome like an Englishman (ah... the gift of colonialism) he wears brands like Rado and Gucci (the gifts of neo-colonialism).
He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he’s filthy rich.
But ‘Pappoo’ (the lad) can’t dance ‘saala’ (damn it)”
“What a song”, said my friend ‘S’ moving to the groovy number. “Deserves to be on the countdown”.
I was following the video on the screen. ‘The lad’ (Pappoo) was actually a decent dancer. So looking at the miserable expression on Pappoo’s face, I believe the lyrics actually referred to the other meaning of dance: enjoying oneself, having a good time. (Look up urban dictionary online).
Shortly, my gaze was drawn towards a young man at the bar. He was young, handsome, athletic, looked rich, and judging by the number of greetings thrown his way, equally popular amongst girls and boys.
Wow, the song playing could have been written for him. And judging by his body language and the smile on his face, this Pappoo could sure dance, Damn it.
“Don’t you recognise him?” asked S. “He’s ........ (Well let’s just call him Pappoo, the lad)”
“You mean Pappoo, son of Mr. L and the grandson of Late Mr. M?”
“Yes the same. Weren’t your granddads friends?” said S. “Come I’ll introduce you”
“Hi shooter, I’m Pappoo. It’s so good to meet you. I’ve heard you write about big game hunts in old India. My grandfather was a very avid hunter. Shot more than xx tigers. Would you care to come home and have a look at his trophies?” said he, a charming man Indeed.
Pappoo lived close by. Everyone knew where his family mansion was. A one acre mansion in the heart of old-money-area of the capital city. Tall iron gates at the entrance, a fountain in the front yard, a porch leading to the main door, a massive reception hall; yes sir, this was old money all right.
We stepped into the huge and here they were: dozens of big game trophies of big cats in general, and tigers in particular. There were tiger heads, tiger rugs, half mounts and full body mounts. The walls were also adorned with the photographs of the hunts. Big beasts, lying on their side, their front paws crossed delicately, all head shots or engine room shots- 1 shot kills. “Grandpa was a fine shot”, said Pappoo proudly, looking adoringly at the gentleman posing over the tigers, a fine double rifle in his hands and foot placed victoriously over the dead beasts.
I was studying the old photographs and the trophies when Pappoo said, “Grandpa was very quiet when it came to shikar-(hunting) stories. He never talked much about his conquests nor bragged about his hunts. I’m sure there must be many exciting tales about his adventures in the Jungles. Hey shooter, you heard and remember hundreds of hunting tales and stories recounted to you by your grandfather. Did he ever tell you about grandpa? Mention him in his stories? Talk about grandpa’s shooting prowess? Did he?”
It was another Saturday evening and the family was sitting around the winter fire around the backyard. Kaka, our cook was preparing his speciality ‘safed maans’ literally white meat; meat cooked in yogurt, milk fudge, poppy seeds, cashew, saffron and other exotic spices. All the ingredients were chopped, prepared and ready to go into the pot. We were only waiting for fresh deer venison that my father had gone out to shoot. Waiting for him to return, we were snacking to ‘soola’ kababs; barbecued meat marinated in garlic, paprika and ‘kachri’- the dried powdered fruit of the cucumber family found only in the Indian desert- and tasty enough to be served to the Queen Elizabeth during her Tiger shoot in 1962.
“Bana-(respectful title given to young lords) has returned”, announced Shafi, my grandfather’s driver and assistant.
“Finally. We are famished. Send him here.” ordered granddad. “I wonder what he’s shot today”.
“Sorry father”, apologised dad to Granddad. “No luck today. No deer in sight. However not all is lost. Seeing that by the time I’d get back into town, the butchers would shut down, I procured a goat in the jungle itself”, he said with a twinkle in his eye.
“Oh no. Not that goat you naughty man.” chided granddad playfully.
“The very same”, laughed father.
“What goat? I piped in, inquisitively.
“It belongs to Mr. M” explained father. “He is really into shooting tigers and he has this spot where his personal shikari ties a goat everyday as a tiger bait. As soon as the tiger eats it, another one is tied in its place. Gradually the tiger gets used to finding prey at the same place every day and sticks to that very place. This way, one is assured of finding the tiger at that particular spot whenever one desires”
“It also assures one of finding a goat in an emergency”, laughed uncle.
“Surely that many goats for decades must cost a small fortune. I’m sure you are not the only one who knows the location of the goats. Don’t the tribals steal them for food?” I asked.
“It’s Mr. M we are talking about son”, said father. “He’s a successful businessman with a head for numbers. He has taken into account goats lost to tigers, illness, thefts etc. And pays his gamekeeper accordingly. No sooner than a goat has gone missing, another one is tied to the spot. A tiger eats 15-20 kg meat a day so that at least goat a day and taking into account thefts, loss to other predators etc, Mr. M has paid for at least 8000-10000 goats during his life. But even that amount of money is like loose change for him. Also just for the record, I’m going to tell him tomorrow and pay for the goat.”
“But money is not the point father”, I Protested. “Where is the fun or the excitement in always finding a tiger in the same spot everyday whenever one wants? Where’s the sport, the fair chase, the thrill, the danger?”
“If he wanted to court danger, he wouldn’t have the trap there”, said uncle.
“What trap?” I asked, puzzled.
“You know the kind that is like a cage with bars and one side is actually the entrance that shuts down tight and no tiger can break through it. When concealed with leaves it can look like a giant bush and used by the circus and forest people to trap tigers.”
“Don’t tell me”, said I sickened to the core “that the goat is placed in the trap and the door shuts when the tiger enters the trap. And then it is shot!! This is literally a canned hunt. Disgusting.”
“Well yes and no. Actually the goat is tied outside the trap, a few metres away.”
“So what’s inside the trap?”
“A what? Did I hear you say a chair?”
“That’s right” said father. “A plush chair for Mr. M to sit on with, his riflr. The trapdoor would be then secured keeping Mr. M safe from the beast. He would wait patiently till the tiger came for his daily goat and while it was busy eating, he would pick up his fine English double rifle, and shoot the tiger from a few metres away. One shot kills with perfect bullet placements. Not that I agree with it, but not quite what you were thinking”.
“Can’t believe he does that” I blurted out.
“Why do you think he’s not a part of ‘the gang’ (read my other stories) or that a busy businessman like him has more tiger kills than many big game hunters.” Said father.
It’s all about scorekeeping. Back then it was about the number of tigers and now it is about the Boone and Crockett, Pope and young, SCI, CIC. Members of the gang, though big hunters themselves, could never match the trophy records of Mr. M.
With time, Mr. M’s trophy count climbed and so did his reputation as a hunter. Social standing, business deals, invitation to parties; big game hunting was the golf of the Georgian era. The big reception room I was standing in, with all its trophies and photographs bore testimony to the fact.
“Yes, he never spoke about his adventures. That’s why I thought I’d ask you if you knew of them” said Pappoo pulling me out of the memory lane.
I looked at the way Pappoo looked at his late grandpa’s photographs, admiration in his eyes. I thought about Mr. M, slayer of xx tigers looking down at his grandson from the happy hunting grounds above.
“My grandfather always said your grandpa was a great shot with that English double rifle of his. All tigers were indeed one shot kills with perfectly placed head or engine room shots” I said.
Pappoo’s smile widened and it seemed he was about to break into a dance.
“Why?” asked a voice inside me.
I didn’t want to be responsible for “Pappoo can’t dance damnit”
P.S. : the link to the song for those interested: