The Man-eater

Photo credit Uriel Soberanes on Unsplash

Debashish was hearing the unbelievable! Jhakia Master, his Dadu, was sitting across his desk and was narrating how the island where Dadu still lived with Debashish’s mother, Munia, was presently almost under the siege of a man-eater tigress. The tigress had landed on the island because of heavy flooding of Kaziranga National Park. Every other day a battered body of some tribal would be found, and no one knew what to do.

Debashish had made innumerable though unsuccessful attempts to persuade his Dadu and mother to leave the island and come stay with him. Dadu was ready to do so but for some reasons unknown, Munia simply refused to relocate herself. By general standards Munia was of unsound mind, but Debashish and Jhakia never felt so. She was just happy and content in her own little world, and fiercely guarded herself from any trespassing. One day they had taken her along with them to visit the town, when they went there on some errands, but her face showed so much of fear on seeing the crowd, that they did not have the heart to take her out again. Munia seemed to be content on her own, in that isolated island, where they had been living for so many years. Jhakia too had to stay back, for her.

Like every year, there were heavy rains that year too. The whole of Kaziranga was flooded. Water forced the animals out of their homes, and sent them running around for shelter. Many came out of the park, and a pair of tigers were washed away to that island. Spotting the tigers the tribals tried to hunt them down, and managed to kill one of them, the male tiger. The tigress escaped and, seeing her partner killed, she became furious. Now, every other day, she would attack someone from the tribe and she had soon become a man-eater. Bodies were found here and there, mutilated and chewed up. The cattle would go missing. There was terror everywhere. Jhakia Master too got fearful and went to the town to meet Debashish, and update him about the matter.

Jhakia Master had left in his boat, in the morning itself. Munia was free for the day. She went to her favourite spot near the river and settled down to sing. She would many a time compose her own songs, and sing. Few hours flew by and Munia was in her own beautiful world, when she heard some groaning. She listened to it carefully; yes, it was a painful groan. She sprang up and looked around. She followed the sound and soon she reached a thicket. There she saw a tigress lying and groaning in pain. One look at the obvious pain in the eyes of the tigress, and Munia felt no fear whatsoever. In a moment she saw that the beast had been hit by an arrow, which was stuck in her lower back. There was profuse bleeding. Munia ran to the river and carried back some water in her bottle. She poured some water into the mouth of the tigress. She gently patted the beast. She could feel the unbearable pain it was in. Munia started talking to the animal in a soothing voice, reassuring it, and that seemed to be working. Then slowly, with her hand, she reached up to the arrow and in one strong pull she took it out of the body. The tigress gave out a big, thunderous cry and then fell back, exhausted. Munia washed the wound gently and put some herbal paste on it. The tigress was visibly relieved. It then took her head up a bit, and started licking Munia’s hand. Munia too kept patting her and reassuring her. The whole thing took over an hour. After that the tigress got up and limped away into the jungle.

The tigress now had calmed down. She stopped killing people. This magical transformation in the tigress was viewed by the tribals, with great awe. They now felt even more indebted towards Munia. Their offerings increased substantially. The tigress too would come out of the jungle quite often to meet Munia, who would pat her, and would talk to her. Munia named her Machhli. They both became great friends. What clicked between the two, no one knows. But now Munia was so much happier. She would keep conversing with Machhli and they would be seen wandering on the island, together. There were times when Debashish would have gone to meet his mother, and found her with Machhli. On seeing her son, Munia would call out to him and Debashish also would go and join them, though not as fearlessly as his mother. But, with time, his fear too slowly faded away.

Meanwhile, during his posting as the District Magistrate, Debashish had been extremely focused and determined to implement effective measures for floods management in Goalpara district. He saw to it that there was construction of enough embankments and flood walls. He arranged for good training, and river bank protection activities. Widespread afforestation, and discouraging the cutting and felling of trees, helped a lot towards anti-erosion of the soil that led to town protection. He also worked on river channelisation with pro-siltation device. The drainage improvement too led to a significant control over the extensive damage caused by floods.

Debashish had to face a lot of undercurrents from the corrupt contractors’ lobby who were responsible for siphoning off of the substantial grants that were allotted every year to the area, for taking adequate measures for flood control. Things got so nasty that there were threats to his life too. Debashish did not budge at all though, and kept up his good and honest work. He soon became very popular among the people, as the most honest government officer so far. The contractors’ lobby saw him as a grave threat that was getting bigger and bigger. Suddenly one night, when it was raining heavily, Debashish got information that some miscreants had planned to damage the base pillars of the new embankment that had just been completed. Debashish took out his jeep and drove alone to the site. The information was correct. He saw Ram Swaroop, the contractor who was allegedly the kingpin of the corruption scandal, sitting in his jeep; and some of his henchmen were in the process of blowing away the base of the embankment. Debashish screamed and ordered them to stop. Unfortunately he was overpowered in no time and the miscreants thrashed him badly and, hitting him hard on the head, threw him into the overflowing river.

The whole government machinery was set in motion to look for Debashish. Meanwhile, on getting the news, Jhakia master was devastated. After losing his own family, Debashish was his sole purpose for living, for all these years. Now what would he do? Who would he live for? Munia was singing at her usual spot. She could not even grasp or understand the disastrous news.

A week had passed since that fateful night. Destiny had its own designs. Debashish was tossed around by the huge angry waves of the river, and he got carried downstream. He had lost consciousness. When he regained his senses, he found himself in a hospital. The doctors told him that he was stuck in some thick bushes along the river, in some part of the Kaziranga National Park. He was discovered by a tigress and was miraculously saved by her. Apparently she had dragged him out and then had sought out a forest guard of the park. The forest guard could make out that she was trying to say something and, following her, he had reached Debashish. The forest guard then brought him to the hospital. That was a week ago, and everybody was amazed at this miracle of a tigress saving a man!

It took another seven weeks for Debashish to recover completely. He would often think of the beast who had saved his life. After being discharged from the hospital, he requested the Park authorities if he could get to see the tigress, who had saved him. They were a bit apprehensive, but they agreed nonetheless. The forest guard took Debashish in his jeep to the interior of the park. It was a clearing on the bank of the river. The forest guard said that, this was generally the spot where this particular tigress was seen. Both of them sat in the jeep for more than an hour. Suddenly the guard silently pointed to a direction. A tigress was walking towards them. It was on the other side of the river. It came to the bank of the river and looked towards them. Debashish felt a shiver go down his spine. Then he looked carefully and gave out a shout,

“ Machhli!”

Now the tigress stepped into the river and swam to the shore where they were standing. She came out of the water and stood looking at Debashish for some time. Then, giving out a muffled cry, she turned back and swam across the river to the other side. So it was Machhli who had saved Debashish, he was thinking. He felt so overwhelmed. Tears streamed down his eyes. The forest guard was witnessing something that he had never seen before.

One day, very soon, the police came and arrested Ram Swaroop on charges of attempted murder of Debashish. Goalpara got back its honest and hardworking magistrate and Jhakia Master got back his purpose for living.

Author of the book “The Heart Speaks”, Medium writer since 2018, top writer in fiction, short stories. Loves writing, dance, music, children. Learner for life..