A Tiger for Malgudi by R. K. Narayan


  ‘How long should one wait?’

  ‘That I can’t say ... Sometimes he goes on for eight hours at a stretch. Unless the performer executes what he has in mind, he never lets go. It may take a whole day.’

  ‘So how long should I wait?’

  ‘That I can’t say ... In this season of training for the next camp, he is generally not available; even his wife can’t disturb him.’

  ‘Can I go and watch the tiger in the cage, please?’

  ‘Yes, of course, but we have to have the boss’s permission.’

  ‘But you can’t reach him.’

  ‘Yes, that’s true,’Anand said sadly, which was not helpful in any way.

  Madan sat every day at Anand’s office for four hours at a stretch, while Anand went about his business at his desk and also outside, leaving Madan alone. Madan soon tired of waiting, bored with the outdated newspapers and illustrated magazines on the table. He felt outraged. He told Anand one day,‘I’m a businessman too, sir. I have other things to do than just sit waiting for a darshan of the great man.’

  Anand said with a smile,‘You must not get discouraged. Many others have had to wait for weeks to see him. After all, in business matters, one should be calm ...’

  At which Madan lost his temper, stamped his foot, and started shouting. The uproar brought Captain on the scene. He asked, ‘What is going on?’Madan started a harangue, a long narrative full of indignation. Captain cut it short by saying, as if nothing had happened, neither apologetic nor explaining anything,‘Come, come, let us adjourn to my room.’

  Madan followed him sheepishly, grateful that he could at last have an audience. He opened his briefcase, sending out a whiff of sandalwood perfume from his special visiting cards. He took out a sheet of paper.‘Here is my proposal in writing. Please say what you want.’

  Captain glanced through the proposal and said,‘Not suitable. I’m only giving you my tiger for a set purpose, for a limited period, and not surrendering him to you. You will have to re-draft the whole thing.’

  Madan was aghast.‘Nowhere have I said -’

  Captain did not allow him to continue.‘That’s all right. Please listen to my advice, and all will be well ... It’s better we have it out at this stage, rather than later - possibly in a courtroom.’

  ‘Oh, I hate to have anything to do with lawyers or courts,’ Madan said nervously.

  But Captain said,‘I don’t mind such things. In my profession, all the time I have to think of lawyers and courts. Can’t help it, if I must survive.’

  Madan was slightly frightened and completely softened by this time. He took back his document and said,‘Captain-sab, give me a draft and I’ll sign it blindfold ... Only tell me when to come, so that -’

  ‘So that you don’t waste your time? Mr Madan, my time is not my own. My work lies in getting things done with the cooperation of all sorts of animals ... and I’ve to depend upon their time. Anyway, let us say next Friday, at ten o’clock. I’ll try to keep myself free, and keep away from the animals.’And he laughed as if it were a joke.

  Before leaving Madan pleaded,‘The technical unit are waiting for a word from us. I can’t hold them off indefinitely...’

  ‘Next Friday at ten o’clock,’said Captain repeatedly, and showed him the door.

  Several days had to pass before Madan could finalize the agreement. Captain would not be available, or if available would disagree with some clause and send the document back for re-drafting.

  ‘You see, the artiste [they were referring to Raja] should be present at the location when called.’

  ‘No, sir, you have to be specific about time and place. Suppose you have a location in Timbuctoo...’

  Madan looked desperate.‘If it was to be at Timbuctoo, why would I be here, sir?’

  ‘I don’t know, I want you to be specific. I don’t mean Timbuctoo literally, of course ...’

  ‘I have not yet fixed the location.’

  ‘Why don’t you do that first? From what I see you are ready only with the tiger ... Not adequate for the starting.’

  ‘I’ve Jaggu, the hero of the story; I’ve booked him and he is staying with me - won’t let him out of sight till the picture is completed. I’ll keep him for possible retakes too.’

  ‘Excellent, your actors are ready, but not your stage.’

  ‘Each day’s delay is costing -’

  ‘Don’t bother to tell me the figures or your calculations. I’ve enough calculations of my own, God knows ...’He glanced at his watch.‘Now I have to be off, my friend. Come again with practical ideas ...’

  ‘When? When?’Madan asked anxiously. There could be no specific answer to it; he was not even sure these days about the tiger - a fundamental doubt. Every time he suggested that he should be allowed to watch the tiger, he was put off with some objection or other, until Madan began to wonder if he was to get the real tiger or a stuffed one. In his feverish thinking, anything seemed possible. But it was too late to back out of the project. He had taken custody of the strong man Jaggu, who sat placidly in the front veranda of The Travellers’ Bungalow, swatting flies, which somehow were attracted to him in swarms. The technical crew awaiting his orders at Madras kept demanding action. He flourished letters and telegrams from them in the hope of impressing Captain. But Captain viewed them indifferently, only remarking,‘After all, technicians are there for our use, not the other way round. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. Be firm. They must realize who is the boss; they must not try to rule us. You are a good fellow, full of enterprise - don’t be weak in management. You must work on bases which are firm. You know, Dadhaji used to say ...’He would quote some significant aphorism concerning business management.

  Madan felt desperate; when he succeeded in securing an audience with the great man, it was difficult to keep him to the point. He could not make out what Captain was to gain by delaying like this. When he tried to be strict, Captain would just say,‘Madan, my friend, know this, I won’t be coerced whatever may happen. You bring the answers to my queries, and then you’ll have my green signal. It must go on at its own pace. Why should we hurry? I won’t be coerced or hustled; and I am quite prepared to drop the whole proposal, if you cannot satisfy my conditions. First fix your location, and then come to me.’

  ‘Can’t you help me?’

  ‘No,’said Captain with an air of finality.‘It should be your business and your technicians’,not mine.’

  This placed a big strain on the film producer. The greater the urgency he showed, the more Captain delayed, until he felt challenged and got into a fever of activity which did not cease night or day. When he reappeared before Captain a few days later, he was able to be specific about three locations. The first one was rejected because it was close to the jungle, and Captain explained, ‘Psychologically unsound, as the tiger may become homesick and behave queerly, if not desert us.’He rejected the second location, an open ground across river Sarayu, beyond Nallappa Grove, for the reason that it was too close to the town and might attract crowds. The third location, in the southern direction, a wooded area, where the highway passed within a couple of furlongs, was finally approved, and the contract was signed. Madan felt as triumphant as if he had produced a picture and received the Oscar.

  Madan worked night and day to transform the land he had taken on lease - a place which had somehow come to be known as the Ginger Field, possibly because at some remote period someone had cultivated ginger and sent up the crop in wagon-loads for extraction to a factory in Madras, and later sold the land to a pawnbroker at the Market Gate. Madan lost no time in preparing the location for shooting. He engaged men and women from a near-by village to remove stones and bumps, and sweep and smooth out the ground. He pressed Jaggu into service, a welcome diversion for him from swatting flies at The Travellers’ Bungalow. He uprooted boulders and tossed them off with ease. He lifted heavy articles in the construction of sets (a village street with a row of two-dimensional homes), stockades, and platforms for mounting
lights, reflectors, cameras.

  When all was ready, Madan could persuade Captain to come up and see it, and felt happy when Captain remarked after his inspection, ‘You are truly great to be able to transform Ginger Field into a film studio.’

  ‘All your blessing and cooperation,‘Madan replied.

  ‘More than mine, seems to be that giant’s cooperation,’said Captain.‘He is, I suppose, a substitute for power-lifts, steam hammers, cranes, and other stuff of that kind.’

  ‘He could carry down that generator as if it were a box of matches. Hauls up stacks of bamboos for the fencing, probably a ton at a time, he just picked them up and set them in place ... For all his appearance, he is mild and gentle.’

  Captain cast a special eye on the spot chosen for the tiger, and suggested a few changes:‘Get the enclosure close upon this spot, so that the cage is not hit by the evening sun, which is not good for the tiger. Give me twenty-four hours’ notice, and I’ll have him ready for your call. Your Jaggu is really a find,’he said, looking at him while he was unloading a truck-load of property and enjoying the task.‘What a mountain of a man! You are lucky. I could have used him in my circus too - for lifting and moving which goes on all the time with twenty hands at the job. After you have done with him, will you please let me try him?’

  ‘Of course, if you like. After all the possible retakes, when the negatives are cut, I’ll set him free and you may have him. Perhaps if you include an all-in wrestling show, he’ll excel in that ...’

  ‘Oh, that may not fit into my general programming, but I’ll take him on and see what I can do.’

  Madan explained,‘I first saw him at a village market fair. I was travelling from Trichy to Madras, and owing to a tyre-burst and a radiator leak the car stalled at an awkward place, and had to be taken to a wayside mechanic. The nearest village smithy was over a mile away, but everyone was at the weekly market fair when I went along to seek help. At the fair I noticed this fellow standing on a little platform and challenging the people around to come up and wrestle, even four at a time, if they chose. When his challenge was accepted, and a batch of four fell on him, he just brushed them off with the back of his hand. His admirers applauded and cheered, while his challengers picked themselves up from the dust and paid down the wager. That seemed to be his main source of income. The money was collected by a woman; I learned from the crowd that she was his wife. Bouts of wrestling were followed by feats of strength: he snapped chains, bent and twisted iron rods, split a slab of granite with the edge of his palm, and even offered to run a road engine over his chest if someone could arrange it. The puny wife went round collecting money. Now, after his performance, I took him along to the spot where my car had stopped, and he just pushed it down the road like a perambulator. I paid ten rupees to his wife and they were overwhelmed. Before he returned to his place at the fair, I noted down his address. He lived in a hut and made money at the market fairs in the countryside. While I was brooding on a subject for a film, the sight of this man gave me an idea for a “strong-man” story of a giant who could not be contained. When I went back that way again, I visited his hut and offered him five hundred rupees a month for one year with food (that was most important) to join me and do whatever role I gave him. His puny wife was delighted to let him go, having never seen so much money in her life. Her condition was that he’d send her money every month and get back to her at the end of it all. After I saw the tiger act in your circus, I wanted to combine them in my story - and there we are.’

  They were seated on folding chairs in the shade of a large banyan tree. Captain looked happy and relaxed, much to Madan’s relief - very different from what he seemed at the circus ground. Madan asked,‘Would you like a cup of coffee, tea, or fruit juice?’

  ‘You have all that here too?’Captain exclaimed patronizingly.

  ‘First thing I arranged to have was the canteen over there, where you see the smoke - otherwise no work would go on here; they’ll be going out all the time for a refreshing drink ... For stronger refreshments too they have a tavern - fortunately for us a mile out of here - where I believe they gather at the end of the day. I don’t let them leave this spot during their working hours ... though sometimes I notice some transaction going on across the barrier at the back of the lot ...’

  ‘Don’t notice too much. You must know when not to be too observant. I have a team of about three hundred at work, I find all sorts of problems. I can’t be too strict or rigid as long as they do their work, I try not to look too closely ...’

  Captain was relaxed; Madan felt expansive and said,‘You will be welcome to come and spend as much time as you like here ... You look more happy here.’

  The make-up and costume section was in one of the huts, and it could hardly hold the make-up man and his assistants as Jaggu stood in the centre. He was fitted with a leopard-skin covering, which was strapped across his shoulder; his hair was tousled so that it stood like an aura, and they had given him a moustachio, which curved up to his ears. There had been a controversy among the make-up men whether the ends should curve down in pirate fashion or up like a colonel’s. They went on arguing about it so hotly that Madan heard their wrangling from under the shade of his banyan tree and came over to ask what the matter was; he stood at the entrance, impressed with the mighty figure, while the make-up men were going round him like pygmies. They went on touching him up here and there as if he were inanimate. Except for a little shifting of his legs, and letting out a deep sigh, he gave no sign of being alive. Madan studied him and cried,‘Here, pull off those moustaches. He is all right plain-faced. He is like Tarzan and not like a pirate or Bhima.’

  ‘But, sir, there must be some break-up or offset for his face. It’s too plain for the large area ...’

  ‘It’s sticky, sir, and scratching, sir,’mumbled Jaggu through the gum on his lips.

  ‘Where did you get the idea to give him whiskers? Take them off immediately,’Madan ordered while Jaggu looked on gratefully. ‘Also loosen his robe a bit - it should come down to his knees, even covering his knees. Otherwise, it will look as if he wore a loincloth, and will cut a sorry figure on the screen - enough material in that cloak, loosen all the pleats ...’It took them over two hours before achieving the results visualized by Madan. Pulling out the moustache was ticklish, literally, and Jaggu moaned and wriggled and was reprimanded by Madan’s assistant supervising the operations.

  Finally at about nine o’clock the hero was ready: properly painted and costumed, his hair done up in proper style. Madan and his assistant stood around gazing and commenting.

  Madan looked satisfied.‘An hour or more wasted because of the moustache. I don’t know where they got the idea from - our mythology, I suppose! Jaggu is not a demon ... We must establish him as a normal human being. Any character with whiskers repels - particularly women and children. Polanski has explained somewhere [’Who is Polanski?’the assistant wanted to ask, but checked himself] the audience’s sympathy must be established first - and he has statistics to show that between a character with hair on his lip and one clean-shaven, the latter gains more sympathy ...’His assistants stood around nodding appreciatively at his knowledge of the shastras of cinematography. Madan looked with admiration while Jaggu was brought out. He said, ‘Go up to that hut. Let us see how you do it. Walk naturally ... don’t swing your arms ... be natural. Camera rehearsal,’he shouted suddenly and a cameraman suddenly sprang into action.‘O.K., boss, a little more to the left, please ... more left ...’

  They made Jaggu return to the starting point, marked it with white paint, and told him to walk up again to the steps of the first cottage. They measured the distance with a tape and marked a circle on the cottage step, and directed him to stand in that circle with his back to the camera. The director ordered,‘Don’t turn until you hear a cry, “Tiger, Tiger!” Till that cry is heard don’t move even an inch ...’He was made to walk back and forth repeatedly. He began to perspire and pant, and tried to wipe his forehead, at w
hich a great cry went up,‘Oh, no, don’t wipe!’and a make-up man dashed up to him and dabbed his face with a towel, and touched it up. Then he was made to stand within the circle with his back to them.‘Don’t turn. Stare ahead until you hear the shout, “Tiger! Tiger!” Do you follow me?’

  ‘Yes, sir.’

  The director allowed a pause and suddenly screamed,‘Tiger! Tiger!’

  ‘Where?’Jaggu asked involuntarily in a stentorian voice, looking around in panic: he made a move to spring forward.

  The director cried,‘Idiot! I told you not to move out of this mark. Get back and stay there ...’This slight exercise disrupted all the original arrangement. Once again they brought all the measuring tape and stretched it between the starting point and the circle. The cameraman kept saying,‘More left, more left, your feet in the circle ... Now come forward just one foot ...’Someone came up and held a meter close to his cheek again and went back, and the make-up man was again patting his cheeks with a cotton swab. Jaggu felt tired and confused. Madan said to his assistant, ‘He must be told the sequence of this scene.’

  He approached Jaggu as he stood with his back to them, and went round to face him.‘Now don’t move, only listen. They will now take a shot standing as you are now. Following it, you will hear the cry “Tiger! Tiger!” When that’s heard, you will only say, “Ah!” as loudly as you can, spin round like this, raise your arm and spring forward with a war-cry and run up to that starting point over there marked white, demolish the tiger and walk back casually ...’Madan demonstrated every detail of his advice, spinning round with upraised arm and falling forward. He showed the action repeatedly till Jaggu could understand, and then withdrew to his chair marked‘Director’, called for a glass of water, and sipping it said,‘Handling this idiot is proving more difficult than I had expected. However, I’m determined ... Tell them to be ready to shoot in five minutes. Is the clap ready, “Shot One Take One”? Check it. Sound and camera ... ready ... sequence number ...’

 
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