A Tiger for Malgudi by R. K. Narayan

  ‘I won’t mind it, sir,’he said, habituated to breaking stones and chains for a living at all fairs. As a threat it misfired. While all this talk was going on, Madan hadn’t yet released him from the back seat. The giant did not know how to come out of it. He said, ‘Please, sir, let me out. My knees are paining, I can’t sit here ...’ When that had no effect, he said,‘I’ve got to . ‘..’indicating he had to relieve himself.

  Madan opened the door, pushed the seat forward, and hustled him out of the car. The giant got out and raced toward a bush. Madan shouted,‘If you try to trick me again, I’ll release the tiger out of the cage and set him on you.’He directed two men to follow him. When he returned with the two bodyguards, Madan said, ‘You must cooperate with me and I’ll make you rich — a famous man. Your photo will be on all walls and papers ... They will present their notebooks and beg you to sign ...’

  ‘No, sir, I was never taught how to read or write ... If they had only put me to school I would have been different. I don’t like tigers. Please save me ...’

  ‘You have signed or put your left thumb impression to an agreement in which you have agreed to act along with a tiger. But let me tell you, you will not be required to come close to the tiger. I will see that you are not hurt. Also remember the tiger is not all — it’s only a part. I have written a story in which you knock down the tiger, kill it, and then marry a beautiful girl ... I’m sure you will like it.’

  He was horrified.‘Oh, no, I’m married ... I’ll go back to the village to give her money, whatever I earn ...’

  ‘All right, all right, you can take a lot of money for her.’

  His bodyguards took him away at a signal from Madan and kept him company, enjoying a lot of jokes at his expense about bigamy. They led him away to a secluded spot on the location and said, ‘Our boss has a beautiful bride for you ... and yet you try to run away.’

  Jaggu was horrified.‘Oh! I can’t, my wife will — ’

  ‘Oh, your wife! Don’t mind what she says. She is a country girl, but our boss has reserved for you a princess — oh, you will have to go through with it whether you like it or not. You have signed an agreement ...’

  ‘Don’t you know that a film star should have at least two wives?’

  ‘It is a government order,’said another.

  ‘Our hut in the village is small ...’Jaggu pleaded.

  ‘You are going to be rich and can afford two houses for two wives.’

  ‘You can sleep with one half the night, get up and go in a car to the other the other half of the night ... Lucky fellow!’

  ‘My wife will not like it ... I don’t want two wives.’

  ‘Wait till you see the other one ... You will save her from the tiger, and she’ll call you her lord and saviour and darling for your trouble ...’

  Jaggu looked distressed and brooded over the terrible prospects that lay before him. He lit a beedi and thought over it.‘No, no,’he said to himself,‘I can’t accept a tiger ...’

  ‘It’s all written down like fate, nothing can be changed,’they taunted him.

  He was rehearsed endlessly and made to go through the motions of wrestling with an unseen tiger. Madan himself was fatigued demonstrating, out of the range of the camera, the gestures, which the giant had to copy while the camera was shooting. Though the hero was the only one in the cast for the present sequence, the film personnel of two units created quite a crowd, and were all over the place.

  At the other end of the lot Captain was handling Raja. He had extended the time for shooting by several weeks, since Madan had agreed to pay heavily for the extension, and Captain felt it was a sound way of making money during the interval between two camps. Although he was indifferent generally in money matters, now a certain degree of greed was overcoming him, a gradual corruption through contact with the film world. He began to think, ‘What a lot of money this film business turns over. Let me collect the loot, while this fool of a Madan is about it.’He told his wife, ‘Possibly after this, Madan may come up with an idea for making a full circus-picture, that’ll be a good break for us ...’

  She welcomed the idea.‘Don’t discourage him. “Cooperate” with that fellow, as he always says. If he wants more days for shooting, grant it ... We could always delay the opening of the next camp. Anyway I’m tired and bored with the circus. Let us try something new for a change. We lose nothing. We may be free from all this dust and noise and ticket-selling for some time.’

  ‘We have to depend upon Raja now too much, and beg him to “cooperate” but his act is rather difficult. He is required to stand on his hind legs and fall forward. Every day I’m trying to make him understand, but it’s proving difficult ...’

  ‘Why don’t you try the electrical gadget?’

  ‘I won’t hear of it. Impossible.’

  At this point their pleasantries came to an end and she castigated him for being impractical and sentimental.‘After all he’ll be limp for a few minutes, when you can manoeuvre him for the camera. I’m prepared to handle your Raja with the electric staff if you lack the guts. I am confident I can manage. Give me two men, Sam and the other fellow — what’s his name? Muniswami ...’

  ‘Very well,’Captain said,‘I’ll keep away tomorrow, you try...’

  ‘I mean it,’she said.

  ‘You mind your business,’he said.‘Tumble on your trapeze and read a novel if you can’t spend your time. If you feel dull without work, why don’t you spend a week at Lovedale, visiting the boys?’

  ‘So that you may breathe freely? You always find my presence irksome!’

  ‘Not always but sometimes. Whatever you want to do, keep off my animals. They won’t obey you because you are my wife.’

  ‘Ah, ah, you are modest, aren’t you?’

  I did not like it in the least. Day after day I had to do the same thing over and over again. Captain came up at the same hour. The whip and the chair were back in use. A motley crowd around, outside the enclosure, watching me perform acts which I never understood. In the circus ring also there would be many men, but they all helped the show, carried out Captain’s orders, brought in whatever was required for the show, and took it away after the act. They moved slowly and never spoke much. But here were men who were ordering each other all the time. A man at the camera was commanding everybody, shouting at the top of his voice all the time,‘More left, no not so much, go back, light ...’When he said ‘light’, a blinding radiance would appear. I missed all the good things I had got used to in the circus. There one performed one’s duties and quickly went back home. The band music, and the men and women seated around in chairs, and their voices and the lights were very welcome and became a part of one’s life. But here, outside the ring, they behaved as if they were seized with fever ...

  The cameraman ordered even Captain. He was constantly telling him to shift and move:‘Captain, if you want the tiger alone in the shot, you should step back, and manoeuvre the tiger from out of range.’Captain became submissive. It was unbelievable that he should be taking orders from others; I could not understand what had happened to him. He would crack his whip and get me out of the cage, and order,‘Up, up’every time and hit my legs till I lifted them; gradually he compelled me to tilt back and rise — a terrible trial for me and very painful, and I always fell back or forward, and went on bruising myself. And all the time the cameraman went on bawling out something or the other and shooting from his protected shelter. He was never satisfied and wanted me to repeat, improve, further improve and repeat, my Captain blindly carrying out his orders, whipping, hitting and yelling. This went on day after day. They neither gave me rest nor showed kindness — Captain was losing grip over himself and his self-respect. Often Madan came to watch, gave his own directions along with the cameraman. Between the two they seemed to have enslaved Captain. All the polished gentleness Madan had displayed till now was gone. He was gradually gaining the upper hand, often spoke of the money he had thrown away, and of his enterprise as a blunder. Capta
in was still calm. He said,‘Don’t talk nonsense. This is an extremely intelligent tiger, but you demand impossible actions from him.’

  ‘I only expect what you yourself suggested at our discussion. I never thought a man of your calibre would suggest impossible things ...’Thus went on their talks. Soon they devised a method to stand me on my hind legs. When Captain brought me out of the cage, I found dangled before me a lamb. As I reached out, the lamb rose in the air gradually. I was interested now, and tried to reach it; it went up so slowly that I had to stand up and try to keep my balance, and then it would go out of my reach up and up, and no amount of straining on my part would help — even though I stretched myself fully and stood up like a human being and fell forward. A creature needs the support of four legs for stability. Somehow human beings balance on two legs ... It’s not only difficult but a degradation for a quadruped — you are too exposed; no wonder humans have to cover their waists. While they tempted me with a bait to stand up, the camera followed my action, the act repeated till I was sick of it. Monotonous and tedious it was. Morning till night and sometimes with blinding lights at night.

  I became desperate. Once at the start of the day, I refused to take note of the lamb dangling before me. I looked at him and looked away indifferently, but Captain would not let me be. If I had had the gift of speech, I’d have said,‘Please leave me out of it today, I’m worn out.’But I could only growl and roar. Not all his whipping and yelling could move me out of the cage. But now a thing happened which I had never experienced before. He tucked his whip under his arm and brought out a novel object, which shot out a tongue of metal; at its touch I felt blinded with a strange kind of pain and helplessness, and ran out of the cage. Anything to escape the touch of that vicious tongue. I just collapsed on the ground outside the cage, my legs aching with all that jumping to catch the dangling lamb of the previous day.

  But Captain would not let me lie down. The cameraman and Madan were shouting,‘Get him on his legs, the reel is running out. Come on ...’Captain lashed me in the face, and then quietened down;‘Come on, be a good boy. You can rest tomorrow,’in the gentlest tone as always between two lashings. When it didn’t move me, he assumed a third pitch of voice, which could reach the skies, and hit me on the nose, which would usually drive me to obedience. Today it only stirred my anger. I swished my tail and grunted. He knew what it meant, that I’d not be easy to handle. But he was not the one to care for my inclinations. It was his will that counted, he knew he could finally impose it on me. I shuddered at the idea of going after that elusive lamb again. If I could have spoken, I would have told him,‘Go away before any harm befalls you, my good man. After all you have fed me and protected me. I shall honour you for it. But please go away and leave me alone. I won’t be your slave any more, I’ll never go back to my cage; that’s all, I won’t do any of the meaningless turns these foolish men around want me to do. It was different at the circus, but the present activities appear to me senseless and degrading. I won’t go through them. I like this air and freedom. I’m not going to give it up now. Later perhaps, when you have regained your judgement, I’ll return to your circus, but please don’t drive me back to the cage now. Please understand and leave me alone. Please listen to my advice.’

  But he was a stubborn fellow with no doubt whatever about his own notions. He brought his whip down on my nose again, at a point where it hurt most. I let out a roar, involuntarily, stung by it. That made him more angry. He took it as a piece of impudence on my part. He brought his whip again in quick succession over my eyes indiscriminately. I wanted to scream loudly,‘Oh, Captain, don’t be foolhardy, your life is in danger, go away, leave me before any calamity befalls you.’But he was drunk with authority. I wished he could save himself, but he was not helping himself at all. He would not rest till he exacted total submission. I noticed him tucking the whip under his arm and slipping his free hand in his pocket to bring out the dreadful instrument which would shoot out a metal tongue. He’d only touch me, as with a feather, to make me dizzy and servile.

  I caught myself thinking,‘Why should I fear this creature no bigger than my tail?’First time in my life such an idea was occurring. So far I had never measured him. But today he looked puny to me in spite of all his yelling and angry gestures. In recognition of our relationship and as a final warning I growled and just raised my paw. He cried,‘Ah! ah! — you threaten me!’and forgetting himself enough to approach me beyond the margin of safety which he always maintained for an emergency retreat, he dashed forward with that vicious metal tongue shooting out of its sheath. As he stooped down to caress me with its tip, I just raised a forepaw, taking care to retract my claws, and knocked the thing out of his hand. The blow caught Captain under his chin, and tore off his head. It was surprising that such a flimsy creature, no better than a membrane stretched over some thin framework, with so little stuff inside, should have held me in fear so long.

  Much confusion and excitement and running. I got up to move freely for the first time. The crew at first tried to save their equipment in the pandemonium, but abandoned it and fled. I heard Madan say, ‘I’m ruined, mind the cables, don’t trip over. You’ll bring down the lights.’Lights or something did come crashing; the cameraman disappeared.

  When I had moved off some distance from the cage, the giant, who had been in action, suddenly made a dash into the cage I had vacated and pulled down the door. A number of others battered on the door, but filling all the space he would not take anyone in. Madan’s voice could be heard over the uproar:‘Who has the gun? Where is the fellow in charge of it? Absurd situation ...’No one had the calmness to answer any question: each was looking to his own safety and escape, while I calmly walked off the lot. The cameraman had abandoned his camera on its stand; while moving away, I brushed against it and sent it toppling down with a bang. Some unseen man was crying,‘The zoom is gone. Ruined, ruined ...’

  It was still a busy hour in the city when I entered Market Road. People ran for their lives at the sight of me. As I progressed through, shutters were pulled down, and people hid themselves under culverts, on trees, behind pillars. The population was melting out of sight. At the circus I had had no chance to study human behaviour. Outside the circus ring they sat in their seats placidly while I cowered before Captain’s whip. I got a totally wrong notion of human beings at that angle. I had thought that they were sturdy and fearless. But now I found them fleeing before me like a herd of deer, although I had no intention of attacking them. When I paused in front of a tailor’s shop, he abandoned his machine and shut himself in a cupboard, wailing,‘Alas, I am undone, won’t someone shoot that tiger?’A prisoner between two constables, who had been caught for murder and was just emerging from the Court House, got his chance to escape when the constables fled, abandoning him with his handcuffs. I tore a horse from its jutka and enjoyed the sight of the passengers spilling out of it and running for their lives. A couple of street dogs invited destruction when they barked madly, instead of minding their business.

  Later, I learnt from my Master of the chaos that befell the city when it became known that Captain had been destroyed and that I was somewhere in the city. Sheer hopelessness seems to have seized the townspeople. They withdrew to their homes and even there remained nervous. All doors and windows everywhere were shut, bolted, and sealed. Some even thought that I was some extraordinary creature who might pass through the walls and lie in wait on the roof or in the loft or basement. Poor people living in huts had real cause to worry: I could have taken any of their homes apart. But why should I? One could understand their fears, but why should those living in brick and cement feel nervous? It was due to their general lack of a sense of security and an irrational dread of losing their assets. Why should an ordinary simple tiger have any interest in them either to destroy or to safeguard?

  I rested for a moment at the door of Anand Bhavan, on Market Road, where coffee drinkers and tiffin eaters at their tables sat transfixed, uttering low moans on seeing
me. I wanted to assure them,‘Don’t fear, I am not out to trouble you. Eat your tiffin in peace, don’t mind me ... You, nearest to me, hugging the cash box, you are craven with fear, afraid even to breathe. Go on, count the cash, if that’s your pleasure. I just want to watch, that’s all ... If my tail trails down to the street, if I am blocking your threshold, it is because, I’m told, I’m eleven feet tip to tail. I can’t help it. I’m not out to kill ... I’m too full — found a green pasture teeming with food on the way. Won’t need any for several days to come, won’t stir, not until I feel hungry again. Tigers attack only when they feel hungry, unlike human beings who slaughter one another without purpose or hunger ...’

  To the great delight of children, schools were being hurriedly closed. Children of all ages and sizes were running helter-skelter, screaming joyously,‘No school, no school. Tiger, tiger!’They were shouting and laughing and even enjoyed being scared. They seemed to welcome me. I felt like joining them, and bounded away from the restaurant door and trotted along with them, at which they gleefully cried,‘The tiger is coming to eat us; let us get back to the school!’

  I followed them through their school gate while they ran up and shut themselves in the school hall securely. I ascended the steps of the school, saw an open door at the far end of a veranda, and walked in. It happened to be the headmaster’s room, I believed, as I noticed a very dignified man jumping on his table and heaving himself up into an attic. I walked in and flung myself on the cool floor, having a partiality for cool stone floor, with my head under the large desk — which gave me the feeling of being back in the Mempi cave ... As I drowsed, I was aware of cautious steps and hushed voices all around. I was in no mood to bother about anything. All I wanted was a little moment of sleep; the daylight was dazzling. In half sleep I heard the doors of the room being shut and bolted and locked. I didn’t care. I slept.

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