Long, long ago, once my father asked me to come with him for Shikar (hunt). It was a special event. As a senior government officer responsible for the safety of the people, he had been asked to kill a tiger. This tiger must have been a menace to some village, and the tiger had to be killed. It may have been the jungle surrounding Alwar or may be Jhalawar. I was barely old enough to go with Daddy, and do not remember the exact year, but it was in the early 1950s.
Before we went for Shikar, Daddy’s gun (a two barrel 0.12 bore gun) had to be cleaned. It was a regular activity at our home; an unclean gun can kill the shikari (hunter) rather than the Shikar. There were special tools for doing that; I remember a rod and a flannel cloth. The gun also needed oiling, as all joints of the gun must function perfectly.
Two shots could be fired in quick succession, one from each barrel. If they failed to hit the target and there was a chance for further shots, then the gun had to be opened quickly, the empty casing (hot) removed, a new cartridges inserted, all before the tiger (or deer, or nilgai, or rabbit) disappeared behind the bushes, trees or horizon.
Oiling and cleaning of the gun is a job for an expert. Daddy taught me this and relied on me. Of course he checked my work. I think, my Ashok, younger brother, called Shammi by the family, also did this job many times.
Then, the cartridges had to be selected. There were separate cartridges for small game (a big number of pallets in a cartridge, used for shooting ducks, partridge, etc.) and for big game (just a few pieces of lead in a cartridge). Depending upon the type of hunt, you had to take a different number and types of cartridges with you. If you could not find the correct cartridge quickly, when for example a deer showed up suddenly as you were driving in a jeep, you missed the shoot. You could not keep the gun loaded all the time, as the gun could go off accidentally.
The job of selecting and taking the correct amount of cartridges was also given to me at some occasions.
The cartridges must have been costly and not easy to get, as Daddy had only a few of them. They were handled like a treasure.
When we went for the said tiger, it was a long ride in a jeep. I found out that our destination was a hunter’s lodge in the jungle. Not far from the lodge, a cot had been fastened to the branches of a big tree, some 5 meters above the ground. An ordinary ladder was used for reaching the cot. The cot was small. Even one person could not properly sleep on it. It was meant for sitting with feet hanging down, not for sleeping.
A goat had been fastened to a tree with a rope, some 3 meters long. Some food was placed there for the goat to eat. The goat could not run away. As the goat was not used to it, it protested. Its cry and its smell was supposed to guide the tiger to its prey. Smell of human beings serves as a warning to the tiger. I think some goat’s blood was sprayed around to cover the scent of the men who had prepared the scene.
The tiger goes for hunting in twilight - that means in the evening and early morning. Daddy’s plan was that the tiger would come in the evening.
Daddy did not have very good eyesight. He needed help – someone had to point out the wild animal to him. He was very good at holding the gun firmly in place. He was famous for his shooting but not for spotting the Shikar.
You have to let the tiger come near you when you are hunting. Otherwise, the bullet’s trajectory is uncertain. The tiger may only get hurt but not die, and that is worse than before. A hurt tiger attacks human beings, as human beings are soft targets because they cannot run fast or climb up a tree quickly.
So father and son sat on this cot till late in the night looking in all directions for any movement, without talking to each other. In the jungle, it gets dark very quickly after sunset, and you hear all sorts of noises and voices due to insects, birds, animals and wind. Each noise is a cause for excitement, as it could be from the tiger. The eyes get used to darkness, but slowly the fear creeps up.
Normally, I would not even dare to sit in a jungle at daytime, let alone night. Just think of snakes and they come without making any noise. I do not remember if there was any moonlight or not. It was only the naivety of the childhood, which helped me not cry for home.
We sat there for many hours but the tiger did not come. Dejected, we climbed down and went to bed in the nearby hunter’s lodge.
When we woke up in the morning the tiger had already killed the goat, eaten parts of it and gone away.
We drove homewards. In India of those days, daily life was so full of excitements and adventures. This story was soon forgotten – but it has stuck in my mind.
© Kailash Mathur 2016
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