The Gir

Moonlit treesBack during high school days, Jim Corbett was a favorite author. The other day I was going through my notebooks and came across this bit. I don’t recall which book it is from but I have read it so many times that I know this bit by heart. Read slowly and deliberately, it transports you to the Gir at night.

But there are quieter moments in Gir — when the village is silent and the wind searches across your face like blind fingers. When a full moon silvers the sleeping forest — and a voice in the night touches a chord in your heart and your companions who know will whisper, “That’s the blind singer of Sasan.” And the forest listens as a song drifts lyrically like a ribbon of smoke.

Perhaps it is from The Man Eaters of Kumaon. Published in 1944, it’s an excellent read.

The Internet Archive has the etext of the book. Here’s the pdf (13 MB download.) There are many reviews of the book at that site. I quote one here in its entirety.

Reviewer: Caledonian – 5.00 out of 5 stars – December 15, 2011

Subject: A forgotten type of Indian

This is the story of the sort of British imperialist in India who is seldom now remembered. Jim Corbett came of an undistinguished family who had lived in India for generations, and although British in his race, dress, speech and habits, simply was an Indian in his own country, as much as anyone of Indian descent can be British or American. He started work as a minor official of an Indian railway, but his greatest interest was in the wildlife of the northern Indian jungles, which he frequented alone since early childhood. He always claimed that for someone who knows enough not to give provocation, the jungle was extremely safe.

Man-eaters, however, are another thing entirely, and he always emphasized that even the man-eater, almost invariably prevented by injury or age from hunting his natural prey, is neither guilty nor cruel. But it learns its business, sometimes fearfully well. Corbett never apologised for enjoying shooting as a sport in his early years, but he eventually turned to hunt exclusively man-eaters, for the protection of the people to whom he dedicated one of his books: “My friends, the poor of India.”

To this task he brought consummate skill and knowledge. The easy ways of killing an animal rarely work with man-eaters, and Corbett frequently spent weeks, nights after night sitting out alone, after a man-eater which knew of his presence, and was just as interested in stalking him. Perhaps the majority of his man-eaters, in dense and rocky jungle, were killed at a range of feet rather than yards. There are no heroics in this extraordinarily brave man’s work. He admits his mistakes freely and with humour, and was often in a state of real, well-informed fear. His friends ranged from the highest in the government to the peasants he loved, and he brought them together in a way few have done. A constant theme is that the tiger is great-hearted gentleman, and doomed by the progress of civilization, in ways that have nothing to do with hunting, unless something is done. The Jim Corbett National Park exists today because he wanted it so.

Jim Corbett would have been a great man if he had never written a word. But he writes extremely well, with humour and economy of language on a subject which would provoke many to hyperbole. The work is not slowed down by a meticulous attention to detail, and explaining the pros and cons of the decisions he made, which might one day save a reader’s life. Books on big-game hunting rank high among those of people who have seen and done, as well as theorized. But Jim Corbett’s are undoubtedly the finest I know.

Wiki on the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat.

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