The Old Man and the Tiger
THE OLD MAN AND THE TIGER
The Tiger Spot inside the Philibhit Tiger Reserve suddenly became dead silent. The Tiger stared at the frail looking Old Man standing just a few meters away from him. He is not much of a kill, the Tiger thought. He has less meat on him than a large hare. But there is something strange about this old man. Tiger’s nostrils flared as he tried to smell. The Old Man is shivering slightly and gripped his long walking stick tightly to support himself, but his wrinkled face showed no traces of fear. The Old Man stared back at the enormous Royal Bengal Tiger. The Tiger showed his large fangs and roared in a deep baritone voice to instill fear.
But the Old Man didn’t move. In fact, he is paralyzed and praying silently for the Tiger to kill him quickly and not to eat him alive part by part. He knew he has not much to offer though, like the chicken legs he ate that morning. He thought of the chicken he ate that morning.
“Eat some more chicken,” said the Old Man’s daughter-in-law putting the last spoon of curry in his dented plate. They were sitting on the floor of an almost empty thatched hut. Old Man looked at the tiny chicken leg with just a little skin around it.
“Is this chicken or pigeon?” asked the Old Man.
“It was just one-month-old. That was the only one left,” she said.
“Give it to the kids. It’s been a long time since they ate chicken.”
“It is too little for even one person. You eat.”
“I want one more glass of toddy.”
She pushed a small earthen pot filled with milk like palm toddy towards him.
“Take the pot with you. But don’t drink all at once and sleep before you reach the jungle. Otherwise, all this will go waste,” she said.
“You are right. I can’t take chances,” he took a sip from the pot and pushed it aside. He ate silently while she watched. She wanted to ask something, but waited until he finished eating. He washed his hands and she gave him a towel to wipe.
“How much you think they will pay us?” she asked without looking at him.
“When the Tiger killed Bhima, his family got seventy thousand rupees compensation, after paying all the bribes,”
“That’s all? That will be just enough to pay the debts.”
“At least your husband will be free and you will have the land to work on,” the Old Man said. “The moneylender tied my son to a tree like a dog and he will not release him until we pay. If we don’t pay him within a week he said he will take you away too.”
“He is a filthy bastard. I will kill myself if he ever touches me,” she started crying.
“Don’t worry, everything will be alright. In the evening, you go to the money lender and tell him that I went into the jungle to the Tiger Spot. He knows what to do to get the compensation from the government. He will take his money and will give you whatever is left.”
They came out from the hut and she yelled, calling her kids. Three kids of ages 6, 8, and 10 unwillingly stopped playing and came running to their mother.
“Say good-bye to your grandpa,” she told her kids.
“Where are you going?” asked the eldest boy.
“I am going on a long voyage,” said the Old Man hugging the boy.
“When will you be back?” asked the girl.
“It will take a long time,” said the Old Man hugging her.
He hugged the youngest girl and kissed her. Then he looked at his daughter-in-law. She couldn’t contain herself anymore and hugged him tightly and cried loudly.
“Please don’t go. We will find some other way to pay the debt. I can’t live with this,” she cried badly. The children were confused and the youngest one started crying, hugging the legs of her mother.
“Then bring some poison and let us all die,” the Old Man shouted angrily. She, burdened with the heavy emotion, slumped to the ground and cried hugging her kids. The Old Man softened and tried to convince her, “We tried everything. This is the only way out. I am old and I will die soon anyway. I am happy that I am of some use to my son and his family. So, don’t cry and make me go with a heavy heart.”
She wiped her tears and stood up slowly. The old man fetched his long walking stick and left while the kids waved to him.
“Don’t take the stick with you, you may scare the Tiger,” the daughter-in-law shouted. The Old Man looked back and smiled at her.
Involuntarily the Old Man smiled, staring at the Tiger and suddenly he reckoned why the Tiger is not charging at him. His daughter-in-law was right. He slowly dropped the stick in his hand. The Tiger slowly moved a couple of steps towards him. The Old Man’s heart is pounding heavily, but he stepped forward decisively. He is now within the charging distance from the Tiger. The Tiger’s nostrils flared as he tried to smell. The Old Man’s lips automatically started mumbling something, mostly prayers.
But then the Tiger sluggishly turned around and walked away with his bloated belly swinging from side to side. The Old Man was first confused and then he was angry and yelled at the Tiger. But the Tiger showed no interest in him and kept walking away. The Old Man quickly grabbed his walking stick and ran to the Tiger and hit him hard on his back with the stick. The enraged Tiger turned around and roared. The Old Man kept shouting and beating the Tiger hysterically. The Tiger stood on his hind legs ready to charge at the Old Man. The Old Man closed his eyes.
“BANG!!!”. The loud sound of a shotgun echoed in the forest and the Old Man dropped to the floor. The Tiger quickly jumped behind the bush and disappeared. The Old Man slowly opened his eyes. There is something burning in his chest. He thought the Tiger ripped his chest apart, but the blood was oozing from a small hole in his chest, instead. He heard people coming. His heart stopped, finally, when he heard a man saying
“Sir, we shot a poacher trying to kill a Tiger.”