The Tiger that never walked this earth

January 7, 2017

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It’s Tiger season….in the kampung the man eating tiger is like the UFO to city folk. Though no one has actually seen the tiger, but everyone is convinced, it must be on the prowl for human flesh.

Every year without fail. Just around this period when the clove scented winds blow hard from the East presaging the advent of the dry season.

There will be plenty of sightings of the dreaded man eating tiger.

Anything and everything it seems can be the tiger. A striped rock in weak light..Tiger. A bronzed cow bronzed ribboned by the shadows of the evening sun…Tiger. A distant bark of a dog…Tiger. Even people who may just be walking around minding their own business in faded tiger beer T shirts…Tiger.

Whenever this menace real or imagined seemingly appears. Usually the entire village is paralyzed by fear. Since fainting is still very fashionable with the kampung ladies, it’s not uncommon for two metric tons internal beauties to suddenly crash like timber without warning whenever the subject of the man eating tiger is mentioned.

Every year without fail. During this period of strife, I suffer from chronic backache. Either that or I have to be mindful to remain nimble so as not to be flattened like roti prata.

Every year without fail. The Tamil rubber tapers will be so anxious and fearful nothing ever gets done in the estate. The chickens will stop laying eggs and the cows will refuse to come out from their pens to graze. Even the womenfolk will shut the shutters and all the kids will be kept indoors.

Every year without fail. Life in the kampung is turned upside down. Work comes to a complete halt and all the villagers are popping Panadol like candy.

Every year without fail. The villagers will make the long journey to seek out the great hunter. Thereafter, the hunter will go through a long ritual that usually takes a whole day and a bit to step forward and say his piece. During the investigation when all the villagers are sitting quietly beneath the shade of tree – some will recount the tiger is as big as a horse. Others will insist, the man eating tiger is tracking then. Then there will always be some who will insist there is more than one man eating tiger. The accounts vary every year, but on every single occasion everyone is vehement they have seen the man eating tiger.

Every year without fail. After the lengthy interrogation of the villagers comes to a close. The great hunter will venture into the jungle with a couple of stout men with handle bar mustaches armed with shot guns.

Every year without fail just before night closes in. Two shots will rent out in the hour of hesitation. The period when the cows return to their pens and the first tongue of light in the village temple is lighted to signify good triumphing over the forces of darkness.

Every year without fail. After all the villagers are convinced the man eating tiger has been slained by the great hunter. The village Brahmin will ring the temple village bells, offer alms to the deities, bless a sacrificial goat and very relieved villagers will whip up a hot curry dish with lashing of imaginary tiger meat and kampung moonshine called ‘tuak’ to celebrate thru the night.

Every year without fail. Though no one has ever seen the carcass of the dead tiger – it’s not unusual to come across kids holding up a piece of curry meat and boasting. This is the man eating tiger’s heart. That is it’s liver and so on and so forth.

Every year without fail kampung tradition demands that I go thru this convoluted ritual and every single year without fail it begins and ends exactly like the last year. And finally every year without fail, despite all the claims of man eating tigers prowling restlessly in search of human flesh – there is never any sign of such a mythical beast….it seems to only exist somewhere in that vast frightening geography of the human mind.

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‘When I first watched Ang Lee’s movie – the life of Pi. I never had any reason to doubt the recount of the Indian boy’s ordeal at sea with a tiger called Richard Parker.

That’s really how it is when a story is narrated in the medium of film. It’s linear with very little room for improvisation. So there is no reason to question beyond what’s actually presented.

It was only in the last segment of the movie when two Japanese insurers interviewed Pi and expressed disbelief that there was actually a tiger onboard – that was when It occurred to me… maybe I was watching a depiction of what was played out in Pi’s mind during his 227 days ordeal….could it be the tiger was actually a figment of the boy’s imagination.

There was no Richard Parker on board was there?

In truth it’s impossible to answer definitively whether Pi actually spent 227 days with a tiger. The real question is – which story do you prefer? Interpretation may well be subjective but the question is intended to serve as a moment of reflection on what we consider real or make belief.

Don’t sweat it. This is not a Mensa test. They are no right or wrong answers – just perhaps an opportunity to find out more about yourself. The key word here is ‘yourself’ as in this very special narrative, you the spectator have the prerogative to wordsmith the final narrative….that to me is one of the most interesting dimensions of this movie – consider the philosophical question: do we all have the ability to summon a primal force within us? Are we really civilized when pushed to one corner where our mortality is imperiled?

To be quite honest. I don’t believe most viewers or readers ever experienced such depths of cognitive dissonance while watching this movie. Why should they. To some extent this attitude stems from our prejudice that the movie context can at best only supply a very kitsch version of spirituality when compared to the sobriety of books. Besides the perceptive shift was executed in such a subtle manner that there were virtually no cues to prompt us to question whether the man eating really existed at all.

And that I suspect may well be the reason that accounts for the persistence of the metaphor of the invisible man eating tiger along with how it is able to root itself so strongly into the folds of human psyche.

As when we reflect on the many challenges in our own lives – some of them like the imaginary have the malevolent power to maul and in certain cases even chew us up like candy…..hence thru our many layered unexplained fears, trepidation and anxieties concerning our jobs, health, ability to craft a better tomorrow for ourselves or even whether it would all end happily….with the sheer power of fear, we conjure…the terror of the man eating tiger.

I guess what I am trying to convey here is – reality is not written in stone. There is plenty of room for improvisation : reality is after all is simply interpretation. In a sense we co-create our reality. And we do that all the time, every day. One day we wake up and we’re in a great mood, the city we live in is a beautiful place filled with wondrous sights and sounds. The next day it’s an ugly city. Then there are days when it’s just shades of grey between beautiful and ugly. And of course there might also be days when a man eating tiger prowls the city. Though we may be shackled to the facts of life, but there is certainly an element of freedom in how we interpret those facts.

That I imagine is why everyone has a man eating tiger prowling in some darkened corner of their heads….waiting and watching with hungry eyes.

Perhaps one day, when and if we ever get the opportunity to met…..perhaps you will tell me the story of your own invisible man eating tiger.

Or maybe you have not given the matter much thought at all?

You really must! I insist. After all, I am the great hunter who regularly shoots invisible man eating tigers.’

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