Kampung tales – tiger season

July 5, 2017

Every year without fail, usually just before the onset of the dry season. There will be sightings of the dreaded man eating tiger. Whenever this menace makes it’s appearance. 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 as I often have to catch falling timber. 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 makes the Ramayana look like a Sesame Street – usually the whole pretense takes about a whole week to be played out. It begains with getting all the villagers to sit quietly beneath the shade of tree – while they recount their respective encounters with the dreaded beast….every year the tiger seems to get bigger…last year it was the size of a horse. This year it is closer to a bufollo. Then there will be some who 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. And there is always one…always who will insist that it’s out to settle old score. 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 and tracker dogs.

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 asking the hunter who looks very much beloved Tamil actor MGR with his hairline moustache….Look I am eating the tiger’s heart. Or maybe it’s his 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 around restlessly – there is never any sign of such a mythical beast…every year.

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‘When I first watched Ang Lee’s movie – the life of Pi. I never had any reason to doubt the Indian boy spent 227 days marooned 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. So there is no reason to question beyond what’s actually represented.

It was only in the last segment of the movie when the two Japanese insurers who interviewed Pi expressed disbelief that there was actually a tiger onboard – that was when It occurred to me. Coupled to the fact, there were after all no witnesses beside Pi who could collaborate his version of what transpired…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 is subjective but the question is intended to serve as a moment of reflection on what we consider real or make belief. Are you a person that prefers to believe in things that you can only touch and feel? Or are you a person who prefers to believe in the unbelievable.

There are no right or wrong answers – just 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 narrative….that to me is one of the most interesting dimension of this movie.

But I digress. Do allow me to continue. The mystery of the man eating tiger in Pi account is further heightened when the main protagonist openly admits, he much prefers the story with the tiger, and when one juxtaposes this flippant statement with the Japanese investigators, who in their closing report remarked on the feat of “surviving 227 days at sea……especially with a tiger,” with a obvious tone of sarcasm – then what happens is suddenly, we the audience are compelled to choose which version of the story, we prefer to believe in. If we sit on the fence. Then, we would have to settle for a Bo Kum Buan open ended conclusion. Here once again not are we recruited into the narrative as the final scriptwriter as I mentioned earlier. But there is an additional gloss that suggest, we may even have the creative license to see the man eating tiger as an indelible aspect of who we are.

It’s a perceptive leap of faith. A long shot you might even say. I don’t think it’s that curious a matter for the perceptive reader of this entry to 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. 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 have the malevolent power to maul and in certain cases even chew us up like man eating tigers……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.

In the final scene when Pi reaches the shore of safety after his 227 days of ordeal. There is the intense speculation – why did the tiger no look back at Pi before it disappeared into the jungle?

For me, the not-looking-back scene confirms Richard Parker did not exist at all. It made me think of how to thrive and survive at times. We all subconsciously summon the primal instinct of the cool indifference of the man eating tiger. As this is a form of super power that allows us to do the things we need to do when we are usually pushed against a corner. So when the tiger walked into the jungle without ever once looking back, it simply a metaphor for moving on for Pi himself.

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

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

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