Man biter of Rajajinagar

Jim Corbett was an Indian-born British hunter, conservationist and naturalist, famous for slaying a large number of man-eating tigers and leopards in India. Between 1910 and 1938, Corbett shot much-feared man-eaters such as the Champawat Tiger, the Leopard of Rudraprayag, the Tigers of Chowgarh and the Panar Leopard, who had cumulatively killed over a thousand people. At the age of 10, I too considered myself no less a hunter, conservationist and naturalist in my own right. I had hunted not so-much-feared man-haters such as the 5th cross butterfly, the dragon fly of Gandhi Road and grasshoppers of Navrang park. I was also considered something of an expert on the mango, Guava and pomegranate trees in the neighborhood. Whereas Rajaji Nagar was definitely no Kumaon, one can not definitely rule out the presence of beasts of violent nature in the precincts either. There was one such animal right next door - the man biter of Rajaji Nagar.

The animal in question carried the innocuous name of Babloo that hardly reeked of any danger. He was some kind of a mixed breed. A perceptive observer could decipher traces of a Pomeranian and Alsatian ancestry. But there were probably others ancestors too all of who did not make themselves so evident on the surface. So much so as far as appearances go. Lets now dwell a little deeper and get into the realm of the psyche. As they say no man is born a criminal nor a tiger a man eater nor a dog a man biter. But it is circumstances that make them so. Probably that was the case with Babloo too. This poor animal was kept tied up day and night deprived of the most basic needs, chief among them being food and love. Nature took care of at least one of these needs for the place was infested with cockroaches and it was not too difficult to grab one and have a nice roach steak snack even within the confines of the chain that held him captive. But as far as the other need went, it was a different ball game. The only opportunity he got to satisfy this need was on the rare occasion when he was allowed to roam free in the presence of young boys or girls, for whom he had developed a special love. He would express his affection by placing his forelegs on their shoulders and sniffing all over the face and licking the face. But then being kissed by a mangy old dog was definitely not a typical pre-teen’s idea of fun. So most kids in the locality lived in dread of Babloo.

On the fateful day, I was at the Navrang park as usual with my friends. At that time we were practicing climbing trees. In those days, computers and video games were largely unheard of. Doordarshan used to be the only channel on TV and there used to be nothing there till 6'o clock in the evening. So children used to devote themselves to the pursuit of royal arts such as climbing trees, grappling, wall scaling etc. most of which have now been pushed to obscurity due to the onslaught of electronic media. I was still an initiate and had still not attained sufficient proficiency to climb a tree unaided. The fact that I was among the younger kids and not really tall for my age did not help either. But slowly I was learning the ropes . That day there were 5 of us -myself, Nagaraj the notorious the oldest of the lot, Deepak the dependable, my friend, philosopher and guide, my arch rival Pradeep alias Ragi and the baby of the group Nanjesh also know as Kulla (dwarf in Kannada.). Nagaraj and Deepak were the experts and they were giving us tips on tree climbing. Ragi was already up the tree having been hauled up by Nagaraj. From his vantage point, he was surveying the surrounding when he suddenly sighted danger and raised the alarm. Babloo had somehow managed to break free of his shackles. He had been sighted entering the park and fast approaching the tree.

As per the standard protocol in times of crisis, women and children had to be given the first chance for safety. So Nagaraj hauled Kullah up the tree. Next was supposed to be my turn when Babloo made his appearance. The sight of Babloo caused protocol to be thrown to wind and it was everyone for himself. Within seconds Nagaraj was up the tree. It was not long before Deepak was also up there and it was just me left all alone to face the monster. I was reminded of the story from Indian mythology where 2 friends had been in a similar situation, only that time it was a bear instead of a dog. One of them had managed to climb a tree and the other one had been left in a predicament similar to mine. So with a quick presence of mind he had lain flat on the floor. The bear has sniffed him and then thinking him to be dead left him and gone leaving him unhurt. Of course there was more to the story, a moral and all that. But then that is immaterial here. What is material is I did not wish to lie down on the ground and test the truth of the story. Even if it were true, what worked for a bear need not work for a dog.

Then I had not yet heard of the other story where a Japanese and an American had encountered a lion in the jungle. So the Japanese had begun to put on his running shoes. The American had looked at him skeptically and asked "Do you expect to out run the lion?" He had replied "No. But I do not have to outrun the lion. All I have to do is to outrun you" Babloo was not a lion and nor was there an American in the park for me to outrun. But as I said I had not yet heard the story. So I decided to run anyways. Of course I could not outrun Babloo, who had begun to enjoy the chase. I soon tripped and fell. I knew I was trapped. This situation reminded me of yet another of grandpa’s stories this time from real life. A hare has been cornered by a hound at the edge of a cliff and had nowhere to run. The situation had caused the hare to summon courage. In his last moments, he had turned back and 'faced the brute'. This sudden show a bravado had startled the hound. Of course Babloo was not a hound but at least a hound was a better approximation of Babloo than a bear or a lion. So I decided to try the hare’s tactic of turning and ‘facing the brute’. By the time I had reached this resolution, I was already feeling a sharp surge of pain in the back of my knee. The man biter had found its prey.

So it was that a man biter was born. Babloo subsequently managed to bite 2 or 3 more kids in the locality. Babloo's owner had managed to reach the spot with the legendary timing that was the special preserve of police in Indian movies: after everything is over and the movie is about to end. After seeing Babloo safely secured my friends had climbed down from their positions of safety and come down to check me out and take me home. I had to take anti rabies vaccine injections around my stomach for 5 successive days. But then I had learnt my lesson : “There are 2 kinds of people in this world – Those who can climb trees and those who get bitten by dogs.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces