A Tiger for Malgudi by R. K. Narayan


  While this was going on a cry was heard from the other end of the field:‘Tiger has come!’On hearing it Jaggu without any warning spun round with a great cry and sprang forward with his arms upraised. A couple of members of the crew who were on duty jumped out of his way to avoid his stormy approach. Madan tore his hair in despair and demanded,‘Who cried that?’

  ‘The tiger carriage has come, sir, and they are now bringing the carriage down the field, sir,’explained one.

  Madan looked at the cameraman and said,‘Bloody mess ... Begin all over again.’He said to his assistant,‘Take that fool back to his position. Keep him within the circle. Let him not budge even a hair’s breadth ... Otherwise tell him he will be sacked. Touch him up all over again ...’At this moment, Captain arrived in his small car. Madan rose to receive him.

  From my cage I could watch the scene and also hear a great deal of their conversation after their mutual greetings. I felt happy to be able to stay in this wood. It reminded me of my jungle days and revived a craving for freedom. I couldn’t complain of anything now; I was protected and fed and looked after by Captain. But that seemed hardly to suffice. I’d enjoy being able to move about and exercise my limbs as I pleased. Though well kept, I was still a prisoner. If only they could trust me and open the door, I’d go out, run, and return to my cage. But my species has an unfortunate reputation, and one’s natural actions are misconstrued. People talk ill of us all the time. It’s our misfortune that neither the denizens of the jungle nor those of the towns would trust us or behave boldly — the exception being Captain, but he had his own limitations of understanding: he had a wrong philosophy of depending upon the whip and his terrible voice, not realizing that I could be made to go through all those meaningless motions even without all that violence, by just being told what to do. But how to make him or anyone understand that his style drives one into a panic, and that left alone a tiger could be as innocent and harmless as a cow or a chimp?

  I heard Madan say to Captain,‘This is what I want. It is up to you to arrange it. Raja must make one spring at Jaggu, who will ward it off with the back of his hand, and pound his face with such a cry that Raja will turn back with his tail between his legs.’

  ‘Tucking the tail between legs should be more a dog’s habit ... I’ve never seen any Felis species doing that.’

  ‘But I want it so, it’s in the script.’

  ‘Change the script,’said Captain crisply.‘However, what’s so important about the tail business?’

  ‘It enhances the prestige of the hero, if he can make a tiger lower his tail in deference and crawl ...’

  ‘Who wrote the script?’

  ‘Well, I did, who else could conceive it? I never allow anyone else to handle the basic script.’

  ‘Why don’t you talk to the tiger about it? He is over there. Take your script and read it to him and if he agrees I’ll have absolutely no objection.’

  Madan looked desperate and upset.‘Captain, you are kidding. This is not how I expect you to cooperate, I didn’t grudge the full cash payment in advance you wanted for four weeks of shooting ...’

  ‘Tut, tut, don’t talk like a moneylender. I’ve brought the tiger as agreed in our contract. I’ll open the cage and bring him out to wrestle with your hero ... I’ll release him any moment you say you are ready.’

  Their talk was interrupted by a plaintive appeal from the giant. ‘I can’t keep standing any longer. I want to rest. At least let me sit down on the floor.’

  ‘Hey, stop that. I won’t have you moan like this every minute, you are not a baby, not by any means, sir; I’ll sack and sue you for damages if you do not cooperate. It’s against the contract ...’

  ‘I’m tired,’wailed the giant.

  The cameraman came to his rescue.‘No harm, sir, if he sits down, we have marked the place; it’ll only take a few minutes to adjust again. Anyway we have been behind the camera since the morning, not a single shot. Light is changing — new measurements will be needed.’

  One from a high platform said,‘What are we all supposed to be doing here?’

  ‘Is this a protest meeting? Revolt, Rebellion, Rioting or what?’ asked Madan haughtily.‘If it is, tell me, and I know how to deal with mutineers. Don’t you see we are in a discussion, and I can’t proceed without a proper discussion. I won’t be coerced under any circumstance; remember that discussion is the most important part of film-making. I don’t have to explain to you all that ...’

  ‘It is not in the contract, and so naturally you don’t have to explain to us why our time is being wasted!’ remarked the cameraman cynically.

  Madan ignored him for a moment, but said as if on an inspiration, ‘I’m buying your time. If there is talk of waste, it’s only my money.’

  Captain felt that it was time to end this squabble. He appealed to the cameraman.‘You are an experienced man and you know how difficult is the film medium; it’s where Art and Commerce are combined, as our friend here always says, and it suffers from the disadvantages of both. Once you are caught in it, you are finished. You can go neither back nor forward. That is the situation in which our friend finds himself now. So be patient. We will decide very soon how best to proceed, having come thus far ...’

  ‘But sir, we like to get on with the work ...’

  ‘That’s of course a good idea. But you know, as an ace cameraman, how difficult it is to get artistes to do right! Here we have no normal actors, but a tiger and one who understands less than a tiger ... Difficult work, but Madan has invested money and time. You must do your best for him and leave it to him to work it out.’

  ‘But, sir, we have positioning and rehearsing again and again. Is there no limit? No wonder the artiste is half-dead. Actually we started at ...’

  A man from the top platform added,‘Before seven — and nothing done for four hours, while I’m perched here ...’

  ‘What can I do? Some fool gave the “Tiger” cue at a wrong moment.’

  ‘You had asked me to keep a look-out for the arrival of the animal, sir, and I did it, that’s all. I don’t like to be called a fool.’

  ‘Silence, no back-talk,’ordered Madan.‘I don’t appreciate it.’

  Captain continued his good offices, and announced,‘Coffee break.’

  Immediately the atmosphere cleared and relaxed. The crew left their posts happily and swarmed around the canteen, Jaggu foremost among them. Madan watched them all helplessly, and protested, ‘Too early for a break. They have not done an iota of work ...’

  ‘Not their fault really, but let us not go into all that now. One has to be flexible when dealing with workers. I know, because I have to contend with three hundred workers and animals of various sorts ...’

  While the crew were away refreshing themselves, Madan and Captain engaged in a discussion.‘Madan, I wish to help you, understand that. Stop all that nonsense about Raja’s tail. Raja’s face should be more important.’

  ‘But at some point we must follow the script ...’

  ‘You mention it as if it were your scripture rather than your script. We will come to that later. Be clear as to what you want Raja to do before he tucks his tail.’

  ‘He must stand up on his hind legs and place his forelegs on the giant’s shoulder first. Then the giant will knock him off ...’

  ‘Marvellous conception!’commented Captain.‘In all my years of association with wild creatures -’He began his sentence and stopped short.‘Does it occur to you at all — that even granting that it’s possible, the flesh on that poor fellow’s shoulders is likely to be torn out, if nothing worse happens?’

  ‘I depend on you ... Can’t you pull out his nails?’

  ‘Horrible idea! Never.’

  ‘But they will grow again ... that’s what they do in Hollywood.’

  ‘Why don’t you go to Hollywood then?’

  ‘I want to make a hundred-per-cent Indian film. I have taken it as a challenge.’

  ‘Who is challenging you?’asked Captain.?
??Leaving the nail-pulling alone, that’s not the worst to happen. Raja may decapitate your giant as he did that goat, an act which you so much admired.’ Madan was lost in thought. Captain continued,‘I’ll tell you right now, I won’t have his teeth pulled out either. I can’t think of it. Let me tell you even if everything is pulled out, Raja could still deliver a concussion with a pat. I want Raja to be restored to me in his original condition after the film shooting. If you look closely, you will find it in our contract. If there is a scar or mutilation on Raja, I’ll sue for damages up to ten million dollars in your Hollywood terms.’

  vThen, in some jungle pictures, what they do is to sew up the lips temporarily — the sutures are easily removed later. That’s what they do in Hollywood.’

  vTo hell with Hollywood and stitches and sutures. The tiger must be returned intact.’

  By this time the sun was going down. And the crew, who had returned to their posts and were watching, asked through their spokesman,‘Shall we pack up?’

  ‘Yes, pack up,’cried Madan commandingly. He turned to Captain and said,‘You must cooperate with me, sir.’

  ‘Yes, of course, you have lost a full day, and you will have one day less and I want you to do something worthwhile within the stipulated time.’

  ‘Won’t you give a little extension?’

  ‘No, our circus is on the move, you know that. I have to send Raja off in advance ... I’ll tell you what we might do. You must utilize the flexibility of the film medium. On my side I’ll make Raja stand on his hind legs and place his forepaws on a wrestler who is not there, and you will ask your giant to imagine himself to wrestle with a tiger which is not there. After all he was a wrestler and it must not be difficult for him to imagine an adversary and pound him ... Shoot them separately and join them through an optical printer. That way it should be easy to show them hugging ...’

  ‘Marvellous idea,’cried Madan.‘Next four days, we’ll shoot the maximum footage. I’ll get a second unit from Madras immediately ...’

  ‘Better you give your hero a close view of the tiger, so that he may flail and hug and tackle realistically. Has he seen the tiger?’

  ‘Yes, from a distance — always from a distance, that’s my problem. I notice that he shuts his eyes and trembles when he has to pass that cage! I was afraid how he would react to the tiger at close quarters...’

  ‘How soon will your second unit arrive?’

  ‘Within twenty-four hours.’

  ‘No need to hurry,’said Captain.‘They may take three days. Meanwhile it is important that your giant and the tiger are introduced to each other; your artiste has to know what he is doing. As for Raja, as a general rule, it’ll be good to give him a glimpse of his adversary.’

  Madan was too preoccupied to question the logic of it or the need. It was one of the many routine remarks and suggestions that floated in the air during a film shooting and vanished. Madan summoned his assistant and instructed,‘Send a telegram to XL at Madras to dispatch the second unit within two days, one cameraman and a sound unit, and light unit...’

  ‘Where is the need, sir,’asked the cameraman, overhearing the instruction while packing up,‘while you are not utilizing the first unit? What have we achieved the whole day?’

  ‘None of your business to question. Be ready when you are asked,’Captain said sternly. Captain felt it was time to support Madan and establish his authority, and said,‘Shut your ears to our talk, understand? Open only when you are being addressed. In any event keep your mouth always shut, that’ll help us all.’The cameraman was cowed by Captain’s ringside manner and left, others trooping behind them.

  From within his circle, where he had returned after the canteen visit, Jaggu cried,‘May I come out too?’

  ‘Oh, poor fellow, they have forgotten you ... Come.’

  With a sigh of relief like a released animal Jaggu stepped out of his confinement of the Magic Circle. He was led into the make-up shed, and after a while came out without his costume, clad in a lungi and shirt with the paint off his face. There was relief in his face as he sat down on a bench to rest his legs after hours of standing. He lit a beedi and smoked it with contentment; he had eaten well at the canteen. One of Captain’s circus hands who had escorted the tiger cage came up to him and said,‘Chief wants you to come ...’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘To present you a cat ...’

  ‘Why a cat?’he asked with extreme innocence. The men who had come to summon him made a few merry jokes about a birthday gift and so forth. They led him through a gate into a stockade built for the cameraman, with platforms for taking top shots and enough gaps between the railings for the camera to follow the action in a larger enclosure. He saw a man with a whip in one hand and a chair in the other standing and commanding,‘Raja, come out.’ The whip cracked and a tiger jumped out of its cage.‘Race round,’ commanded the man. The tiger ran around, while Jaggu stood petrified, unable to believe his eyes.

  Madan was watching him with attention and said,‘Fellow looks nervous but must get used to the idea even if we are faking the shot ...’He watched the giant’s discomfiture with glee. At one point the tiger lunged forward with a roar in Jaggu’s direction and dashed against the stockade. Jaggu let out a howl, ’Amma! Save me!’ calling on his long-dead mother, and blindly smashed his way out.

  Madan was saying to the Captain,‘This is a thing which you might use in an emergency, but generally to tame any wild thing ...’He produced a gadget, which when pressed shot out a thin metal rod, and at a touch delivered a shock, working on a battery. Madan explained,‘Only fifteen volts, but enough to keep any animal well behaved ... You can try it if you like.’

  ‘On Raja? Never, sir. My whip is enough.’He would not touch the gadget. He shook his head.‘I’d be ashamed to employ this on any animal. No trainer worth his name can be proud of it if his animal is coerced and beaten down with such a contraption. It’s no training. It’s stampeding an animal into obedience with electric shock ...’

  ‘Well, I don’t know what you mean: you are doing it all the time.’

  ‘If you don’t see the difference, it’s no use explaining further. I don’t want short-cuts and hope that I do not destroy the natural pride an animal possesses ... I’ll take care of it.’

  Although Madan could not admit that Captain actually practised all this theory, but was only letting his eloquence flow on, he just put away the gadget with,‘All I need is your cooperation.’

  Of that word, he was very fond, as Captain noted with amusement ; he repeated,‘Cooperation! Cooperation! That you can have in plenty, but not the tiger bullied and stunned with electric shocks ...’

  ‘Oh, come, come — it’s not worse than the whip. In Hollywood they are using it all the time.’

  ‘Probably even on the human stars, who may need to be kept awake!’

  ‘I was for a moment lost in the fun of hearing “Amma” from this mountain of a baby. Where is he gone? Don’t let him get away. Stun him if necessary,’said Madan, sending his men after Jaggu.

  Captain could not help laughing at the huge character running away in panic, shouting for his mother’s help.‘That fellow didn’t even notice that he was in a different enclosure from the tiger — didn’t notice the bars intervening. Didn’t trust them, I suppose ...’

  Madan began to look concerned when his men did not turn up. ‘Where could he have gone? Gone only five minutes ... Where are the fellows who ran after him? They are also gone! Everyone seems to be too ready to desert us today ...’He was rambling on irrelevantly in his anxiety and trying to put the blame on everyone.

  Captain was apparently getting a lot of enjoyment out of it.‘If you had kept the camera on and shot this sequence of a giant running away at the sight of the tiger, it’d have been the greatest hit...’

  ‘While all the time I want him to be heroic and tackle a tiger in keeping with his size!’Madan said ruefully.

  Presently the searching party returned and reported: ‘Nowhere.??
?

  ‘What do you mean by it?’Madan asked angrily.‘He is not a tot to be lost sight of ... can’t be hiding behind a blade of grass.’

  ‘We beat about every bush, every ditch and crag. We went up over a mile in three directions.’

  ‘He must be found, otherwise I’ll be ruined,’lamented Madan.

  ‘Just take your car and try,’suggested Captain.

  Madan started his car and drove down the road recklessly.‘If he is not found, I’ll be ruined,’he kept saying to himself.

  Madan was back within an hour with the giant stuffed like a baggage in the narrow back seat of his car, which had only two doors and could release a back-seat passenger only by folding down the front seat. It was like locking up a prisoner. Madan looked happy and relieved.‘I found him in old Mari shrine. Some instinct told me he must be there; other places could not conceal him.’He addressed Jaggu:‘The Goddess would not protect you. You know why? Because you tried to cheat me. Goddess doesn’t like persons who try to cheat.’

  ‘I don’t like tigers,’Jaggu said.

  ‘We don’t care what you like or dislike,’Madan said.‘You are under contract with me. I told you the story before signing the agreement. If you act like a coward now, I will hand you over to the police.’

  ‘But I didn’t know it’d be a big tiger, it tried to kill me.’

  ‘Didn’t you see the bars between you and the tiger? We will see it doesn’t touch you. You will be safe.’

  Jaggu was on the point of tears.‘Leave me, sir, I am no good for this. Let me go back to my village. I’ll display my strength and make my living.’

  Madan was unmoved by all this pleading.‘They will have you in chains and put you to break stones ...’

 
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