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Authors: R. K. Narayan

A Tiger for Malgudi

BOOK: A Tiger for Malgudi
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R. K. Narayan was born in Madras, South India, in 1906, and educated there and at Maharaja’s College in Mysore. His first novel,
Swami and Friends
(1935), and its successor,
The Bachelor of Arts
(1937), are both set in the enchanting fictional territory of Malgudi. Other ‘Malgudi’novels are
The Dark Room
The English Teacher
Mr Sampath
The Financial Expert
Waiting for the Mahatma
The Man-Eater of Malgudi
The Vendor of Sweets
The Painter of Signs
A Tiger for Malgudi
(1983) and
Talkative Man
(1986). His novel
The Guide
(1958) won him the National Prize of the Indian Literary Academy, his country’s highest literary honour. As well as five collections of short stories,
A Horse and Two Goats, An Astrologer’s Day, Lawley Road, Malgudi Days
Under the Banyan Tree,
he has published two travel books,
My Dateless Diary and The Emerald Route;
four volumes of essays,
Next Saturday, Reluctant
A Story-teller’s World and A Writer’s Nightmare;
the retold legends,
Gods, Demons and Others, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata;
a volume or memoirs,
My Days
; and, most recently, a collection of three novellas,
The Grandmother’s Tale.
In 1980 he was awarded the A. C. Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature and in 1982 he was made an Honorary Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Many of his books are published by Penguin.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England
Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England
First published in the United States of America by The Viking Press 1983
Published in Great Britain by William Heinemann Ltd 1983
Published in Penguin Books 1984
Copyright© R. K. Narayan, 1982, 1983
All rights reserved
A selection from this book appeared originally
The Missouri Review,
and the Introduction
appeared in the
Vassar Quarterly.
eISBN : 978-0-140-18545-4

To Charles Pick, who, to my great joy, brought me to the windmill again
During the Kumbh Mela festival, which recurs every twelve years at the confluence of the three rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati in Allahabad, a vast crowd gathers for a holy bath in the rivers. Amidst that ocean of humanity also arrives a hermit with his companion, a tiger. He does not hold the animal on a leash since he claims they were brothers in previous lives. The tiger freely moves about without hurting or scaring anyone.
Such a combination seemed incredible when I read reports of it and saw the photographs. But as I got used to the idea, I began to speculate on its possibilities for a novel. Also I came across a few other instances of enduring friendship between tigers and human beings. This theme was on my mind in a general way, but it narrowed down to a specific issue about a year ago, when I came upon a bookmark, a four-inch-long strip of cardboard with the picture of a young tiger pleading, ‘I’d love to get into a good book.’ That sounded like a hint from the Muses (if they care for novelists too). I said to the young tiger, ‘Surely you will get into my book, but the goodness of the book itself I can’t guarantee.’
It also occurred to me that with a few exceptions here and there, humans have monopolized the attention of fiction writers. Man in his smugness never imagines for a moment that other creatures may also possess ego, values, outlook, and the ability to communicate, though they may be incapable of audible speech. Man assumes he is all-important, that all else in creation exists only for his sport, amusement, comfort, or nourishment. Valmiki, the greatest of poets, who composed the Ramayana, cried out when he noticed the agony of a bird whose mate was shot down by a hunter, ‘Man, the destroyer, who’ll not let innocent creatures mate in peace ...’I wished to examine what the result would be if I made a tiger the central character in a novel.
‘Why tiger? Why not a mouse?’asked a smart journalist who had come to interview me, when I mentioned the subject of my novel. I could only reply, ‘So that the chief character may not be trampled upon or lost sight of in a hole.’
My story begins with an aged tiger lying in its cage ruminating on its past, beginning with its cubhood and wild days in the jungle, and later life in captivity as a circus star. It attains freedom when it breaks loose from a film-shooting camp and wanders into the town. The terror-stricken public attempts to get it shot but an ascetic who appears on the scene protects and adopts it as a companion.
‘Who is he? Where is he from?’are naturally the questions that occur to everyone. But whenever he is asked ‘Who are you?’he just says, ‘What I am trying to find out.’This sounds like a mere metaphysical quibble, but it is a plain, literal answer to the question. When one is seized with a passion to understand one’s self, one has to leave behind all normal life and habitual modes of thought. One becomes an ascetic; the terms
sannyasi, sadhu, yogi,
indicate more or less the same state.
is one who renounces everything and undergoes a complete change of personality. Why one would become a
is not easily answered - a personal tragedy or frustration, a deeply compelling philosophy of life, or a flash of illumination may drive one to seek a change. Whatever the cause, when one becomes a
one obliterates one’s past. A
is to be taken as he is at the moment. You can never ask a
about his earlier life. He will never refer to it. It would be a crass, inconsiderate act even to ask a
his name. He assumes a new name, bearing no mark of his ancestry or class, but indicative of some general beatitude. He has freed himself from all possessions and human ties. Among certain sects, the man will even perform his own funeral ritualistically before becoming a
is a wanderer living on alms, never rooted to any place except when he seeks the seclusion of a cave or forest at some stage for prolonged meditation.
Apart from the genuine types, there are also fakes who adopt this life for its sheer vagrancy, or to exploit the public in the garb of holy men. During certain yogic practices, eight kinds of supernatural powers may be roused; one could become invisible, levitate, transmute metals, travel in space, control animals and men, live on air, and so on and so forth. But such magical powers are considered to be stages in one’s evolution, incidental powers acquired on the way, to be ignored and not exercised for profit or self-promotion, except to mitigate pain or suffering in others.
Now, in my story the ‘Tiger Hermit’employs his powers to save the tiger and transform it inwardly - working on the basis that, deep within, the core of personality is the same in spite of differing appearances and categories, and with the right approach you could expect the same response from a tiger as from any normal human being.
R. K. N. 
October 1982.
I have no idea of the extent of this zoo. I know only my corner and whatever passes before me. On the day I was wheeled in, I only noticed two gates opening to admit me. When I stood up I caught a glimpse of some cages ahead and also heard the voice of a lion. The man who had transferred me from the forest stepped out of his jeep and said, after a glance in my direction, ‘He is all right. Now run up and see if the end cage is ready. This animal is used to human company and a lot of free movement. We must keep him where people will be passing. The open-air enclosure must also be available to him, when the wild ones are not let out. See to it.’
They have shown me special consideration, by the grace of my Master, whom I may not see again. All the same, lying here on the cool floor, I madly hope that my Master might suddenly appear out of a crowd, open the door of my cage, and command, ‘Come out, let us go.’Such is my dream. I keep scrutinizing faces, but all faces look dull and monotonous, none radiant like my Master’s. Men, women, and children peer through the bars, and sometimes cry aloud, ‘Ah, see this tiger. What a ferocious beast!’and make crude noises to rouse me, fling a stone if the keeper is not looking, and move on to appreciate similarly the occupant of the next cage. You are not likely to understand that I am different from the tiger next door, that I possess a soul within this forbidding exterior. I can think, analyse, judge, remember and do everything that you can do, perhaps with greater subtlety and sense. I lack only the faculty of speech.
But if you could read my thoughts, you would be welcome to come in and listen to the story of my life. At least, you could slip your arm through the bars and touch me and I will hold out my forepaw to greet you, after retracting my claws, of course. You are carried away by appearances - my claws and fangs and the glowing eyes frighten you no doubt. I don’t blame you. I don’t know why God has chosen to give us this fierce make-up, the same God who has created the parrot, the peacock, and the deer, which inspire poets and painters. I would not blame you for keeping your distance - I myself shuddered at my own reflection on the still surface of a pond while crouching for a drink of water, not when I was really a wild beast, but after I came under the influence of my Master and learnt to question, ‘Who am I?’Don’t laugh within yourself to hear me speak thus. I’ll tell you about my Master presently.
I recollect my early days as a cave-dweller and jungle beast (however much my Master might have disliked the term) with a mixture of pleasure and shame. At the far end of Mempi range, which trails off into the plains, I lived in my cave on the edge of a little rivulet, which swelled and roared along when it rained in the hills but was fordable in dry season, with the jungle stretching away on the other side. I remember my cubhood when I frolicked on the sandy bank and in the cool stream, protected and fed by a mother. I had no doubt whatever that she would live for ever to look after me: a natural delusion which afflicts all creatures, including human beings. However, she just vanished from my world one evening. I was seized with panic and hid myself in the cave. When I ventured out, I was chased, knocked down and hurt by bigger animals and menaced by lesser ones. I starved except when I could catch miserable creatures such as rabbits, foxcubs and squirrels, and survived somehow. Not only survived, but in course of time considered myself the Supreme Lord of the Jungle, afraid of no one, striking terror in others. It was, naturally, a time of utter wildness, violence, and unthinking cruelty inflicted on weaker creatures. Everyone I encountered proved weaker and submissive, but that submissiveness did not count - I delivered the fatal blow in any case when I wished and strode about as the King of the Forest. By the way, who crowned the lion King of the Forest? Probably a fable writer, carried away by the pompous mane and beard, I suppose! A more slothful creature was never created. All his energy is conserved for hunting food, and once that is accomplished he lies down for days on end, so reluctant to move a muscle that he could be used by any other jungle creature as a mattress; it would make no difference to him if birds nested in his beard and laid eggs. As for his supreme strength I had a chance to test it in the circus ring once, when we were let out to fight and he fled into a waiting cage thanking the Creator for the damage of only one ear, which came off when I tried to comb his royal mane. I got a pat on my back from the ringmaster himself.
BOOK: A Tiger for Malgudi
10.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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