A PHANTOM TIGER

  Author: Maalan

Translator: Dr. K.S.Subramaniam

 

The tiger wriggled and gently shook its body and looked at it with a grunt. Not quite a grunt. Possibly a clearing of the throat. It perhaps nursed a misgiving that during its time of captivity in the cage it might have lost its voice. When it was trapped in the cage, it had neither the time nor the need to roar and frighten any prey or to lunge forward and attack it. Skinned sheep or rabbit or an occasional slice of beef would be tossed into the cage. At the crack of the whip, it should jump into the ring, make a couple of half-rounds and climb on the tripod with its four legs. No other work beyond this. This may as well be done by a mere cat.

 

But, who is there to be afraid of cats? A tiger is required to impart dread in people, even to exhibit prowess. Those outside the ring should be in the grip of a fear if it would pounce on them. However large the tiger, it would bend before me — this pleasant pride should be the lot of the wielder of the whip. The logic of the man’s world is indeed bizarre. They don’t search for food only to satisfy their hunger.

 

The tiger was walking outside the tent, grazing the rope holding the tent tight. The tiger can display its strength even now. If it chose to swing its tail and  pull that rope, or pull out with its leg the peg holding the rope, the tent would come crashing down. Of what avail is this? May well get trapped again. Would get meat to drive away hunger but all for a relapse into the life of a cat?

 

The price of freedom is hunger!

***  ***

“I’m hungry. What can you give me at once?” Wiping his spectacles Arasanaayagam asked Aarumugam.

 

“I can bring you fried egg in just a couple of minutes.” Aarumugam bowed down respectfully and replied, hugging a large plate close to his chest.

 

A streak of surprise on his face. Surprise not just at the rich guys feeling the pangs of hunger. Experience has taught him that he could have his share of food only if these guys would at all feel hungry. There is no place for cooks in a house devoid of hunger. Arasanaayagam does not eat food without a swig of liquor. Even while eating alone by himself, he would savour some red wine or vodka. If there are friends, around the celebration would commence with eighteen year-old Chivas Regal.

 

That day some friends had come. Aarumugam was waiting with an ice-box containing water frozen into slabs of ice. When whisky goes in, interesting stories would start rolling out.

 

“We have been waiting for your arrival to start the concert. We were waiting for the invocatory Vaathaapi Ganapathim, but we seem to face the concluding strain of Mangalam!”

 

“Hmm…. Hereafter, instead of propitiating elephant, learn to worship tiger.”

 

“Arasu, have you had a swig somewhere else? You seem to be indulging in philosophical musings.”

 

“No philosophy this. Simple business, Man!”

 

The friends stared, not quite figuring out what he was saying.

 

“I am just now returning from a tiger hunt.”

 

“Hunt?”

The friends instinctively looked at the wall. A gun was hanging there at a 45-degree angle.

 

Aarumugam brought the fare — neatly skinned and sliced mangoes in a glass bowl, and fried eggs in silver plates.

 

“Have you killed the prey?”  One friend raised a naïve question in disbelief.

 

Clearing his throat Arasanaayagam quipped. “This is not a tiger to be killed. It is paper tiger. The agreement was signed only today. A franchise with a multi-national. Starting with a million dollars. My spider-like signature is worth a million dollars. Ha! Ha! Ha!”  He roared in laughter. The whisky has apparently started doing its job.

 

“Hey! What kind of a bloody signature is this! Esther teacher used to whack on my wrist for such scribbles. And now….its value is now a whopping million dollars! Teacher, may your soul rest in peace!” He downed one more peg.

 

“What are you going to sell? Arrack?”

“What a tubercular mind! Even in hunger tiger would not consume mere grass.”

 

“So?”

 

Arasanaayagam picked up a slice of mango with the fork. “Do you know where this mango is coming from?”

 

“India?”

 

“No. Bangladesh! Do you know the mango tree is the national tree of Bangladesh?”

 

“Oh!”

 

“In future our retail chain would distribute all over the country mangoes from Bangladesh, bananas fro Philippines or Hawaii, ladies finger from West Africa and tomato from Mexico. All for the citizens of the world.”

 

“Citizens of the world?”

 

“You simpleton! Now there is none left to be called a local citizen. The tiger called globalization first gobbles the local deer. Local food, local attire, local language, local music, local literature. Globalization starts by robbing the meaning of even your Jallikattu bullfight. Aren’t you happily wearing the jeans? In the Kentucky fried chicken shop, don’t you flirt with your Philippine girl friend in Thanglish? Why any reservation only on Mexico tomato?”

 

“It is really scary, my friend. You’ve grabbed the tiger’s tail. You cannot dismount the tiger hereafter.”

 

“The objective is not to dismount or to die. The aim is to hunt jointly. Don’t forget, I’m Moneykandan. A companion of tiger.”

 

The wandering tiger got into the river. When the cool of the water sent a thrill through its body, it raised its tail and joyously swam its way. Aahaa! What a delight! When a river is rustling past so closeby, why are these fools bathing the tiger with rubber tubes? Technology never succeeds in giving the pleasure offered by nature. Can machines produce and offer of the tenderness and aroma of rose?

 

However pleasant it is, one can’t keep swimming like this. River has no target. It simply wants to tread its path, not to reach any destination, but the tigers are born to hunt and to be hunted. By now they would have started the hunt.

 

The tiger swimming in the river returned to the banks. Walking in the slush, walking across shrubs, crossing a verandah of the palace rich with trees, it settled down under the Billiards table overlooking the river. Savouring the peace of freedom and the sheer joy of paddling in the wate, the tiger tried to close its eyelids and enjoy a wink.

 

The attempts ended in failure. Arasanaayagam did not greatly enjoy the food prepared by Aarumugam ploughing in all his talent. The intoxication had taken its toll. Not just the sway of liquor, but the stupor of tiger-hunt.

 

Aarumugam was out of any influence of stupor. There is not much of an opportunity for the local Tamil or the citizen of the world to seek out stupor beyond the bounds of his culture. While crossing the Billiards room with food plates poised in his hands, Aarumugam’s eyes landed on two pieces of cinder glowing under the table. He got goose-pimples when he realized that they were not pieces of cinder but glowing eyes. He switched on the light. There was a tiger.

 

Leaning its face on its left leg the tiger was sleeping like a mere cat, opened its eyes and looked at Aarumugam. As it was in no hunger it tried to sleep again in a mood of disinterest.

 

Aarumugam scampered, shouting “Aiyaa, tiger here.”

 

“Are you eavesdropping on all that we are talking?” Arasanaayagam fumed. “Paper tiger?” – He mocked. When Aarumugam stated that it was a tiger for real, he poked fun at him if he was also inebriated.

 

No time to reply. Aarumugam picked up the gun kept at a 45 degree angle on the wall. He tested the presence of bullets. He picked up the gun stuffed with gunpowder and loaded with bullets, and started walking.

 

The light in the Billiards Room was not switched on. Light might wake up the tiger. But the tiger was all the while very awake. Its eyes were glowing like pieces of cinder. It also realized that mansions were not its natural habitat.

 

Aarumugam aimed at the space between two eyes of the tiger. His hands were shaking out of sheer fright. The tiger moved its head on seeing the speeding bullet. The bullet pierced its way near its ear. Modern technology did not fail. The bullets had deeply hurt the tiger’s skull. The tiger cannot move hereafter.

 

The tiger slowly lifted its head and looked. As a man possessed, Aarumugam pressed the trigger once again. The screaming bullets pierced its eyes. The tiger’s tail rose 90 degrees and slumped dead. Aarumugam switched on the light.

 

On hearing the bullet sound, Arasanaayagam rose and came in. Other friends followed.

 

“What are you doing?” He asked.

 

“I had shot the tiger, boss.” Aarumugam said.

 

“My tiger cannot be shot. It is a paper tiger.” Arasanaayagam burst into a loud bout of laughter. Aarumugam dragged the dead tiger by its tail. Only he should dig the pit to bury it. Then, it would be tomorrow.

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tiger wriggled and gently shook its body and looked at it with a grunt. Not quite a grunt. Possibly a clearing of the throat. It perhaps nursed a misgiving that during its time of captivity in the cage it might have lost its voice. When it was trapped in the cage, it had neither the time nor the need to roar and frighten any prey or to lunge forward and attack it. Skinned sheep or rabbit or an occasional slice of beef would be tossed into the cage. At the crack of the whip, it should jump into the ring, make a couple of half-rounds and climb on the tripod with its four legs. No other work beyond this. This may as well be done by a mere cat.

But, who is there to be afraid of cats? A tiger is required to impart dread in people, even to exhibit prowess. Those outside the ring should be in the grip of a fear if it would pounce on them. However large the tiger, it would bend before me — this pleasant pride should be the lot of the wielder of the whip. The logic of the man’s world is indeed bizarre. They don’t search for food only to satisfy their hunger.

 

The tiger was walking outside the tent, grazing the rope holding the tent tight. The tiger can display its strength even now. If it chose to swing its tail and  pull that rope, or pull out with its leg the peg holding the rope, the tent would come crashing down. Of what avail is this? May well get trapped again. Would get meat to drive away hunger but all for a relapse into the life of a cat?

The price of freedom is hunger!

***  ***

“I’m hungry. What can you give me at once?” Wiping his spectacles Arasanaayagam asked Aarumugam.

“I can bring you fried egg in just a couple of minutes.” Aarumugam bowed down respectfully and replied, hugging a large plate close to his chest.

A streak of surprise on his face. Surprise not just at the rich guys feeling the pangs of hunger. Experience has taught him that he could have his share of food only if these guys would at all feel hungry. There is no place for cooks in a house devoid of hunger. Arasanaayagam does not eat food without a swig of liquor. Even while eating alone by himself, he would savour some red wine or vodka. If there are friends, around the celebration would commence with eighteen year-old Chivas Regal.

That day some friends had come. Aarumugam was waiting with an ice-box containing water frozen into slabs of ice. When whisky goes in, interesting stories would start rolling out.

“We have been waiting for your arrival to start the concert. We were waiting for the invocatory Vaathaapi Ganapathim, but we seem to face the concluding strain of Mangalam!”

“Hmm…. Hereafter, instead of propitiating elephant, learn to worship tiger.”

“Arasu, have you had a swig somewhere else? You seem to be indulging in philosophical musings.”

“No philosophy this. Simple business, Man!”

The friends stared, not quite figuring out what he was saying.

“I am just now returning from a tiger hunt.”

“Hunt?”

The friends instinctively looked at the wall. A gun was hanging there at a 45-degree angle.

Aarumugam brought the fare — neatly skinned and sliced mangoes in a glass bowl, and fried eggs in silver plates.

“Have you killed the prey?”  One friend raised a naïve question in disbelief.

Clearing his throat Arasanaayagam quipped. “This is not a tiger to be killed. It is paper tiger. The agreement was signed only today. A franchise with a multi-national. Starting with a million dollars. My spider-like signature is worth a million dollars. Ha! Ha! Ha!”  He roared in laughter. The whisky has apparently started doing its job.

“Hey! What kind of a bloody signature is this! Esther teacher used to whack on my wrist for such scribbles. And now….its value is now a whopping million dollars! Teacher, may your soul rest in peace!” He downed one more peg.

“What are you going to sell? Arrack?”

“What a tubercular mind! Even in hunger tiger would not consume mere grass.”

“So?”

Arasanaayagam picked up a slice of mango with the fork. “Do you know where this mango is coming from?”

“India?”

“No. Bangladesh! Do you know the mango tree is the national tree of Bangladesh?”

“Oh!”

“In future our retail chain would distribute all over the country mangoes from Bangladesh, bananas fro Philippines or Hawaii, ladies finger from West Africa and tomato from Mexico. All for the citizens of the world.”

“Citizens of the world?”

“You simpleton! Now there is none left to be called a local citizen. The tiger called globalization first gobbles the local deer. Local food, local attire, local language, local music, local literature. Globalization starts by robbing the meaning of even your Jallikattu bullfight. Aren’t you happily wearing the jeans? In the Kentucky fried chicken shop, don’t you flirt with your Philippine girl friend in Thanglish? Why any reservation only on Mexico tomato?”

“It is really scary, my friend. You’ve grabbed the tiger’s tail. You cannot dismount the tiger hereafter.”

“The objective is not to dismount or to die. The aim is to hunt jointly. Don’t forget, I’m Moneykandan. A companion of tiger.”

The wandering tiger got into the river. When the cool of the water sent a thrill through its body, it raised its tail and joyously swam its way. Aahaa! What a delight! When a river is rustling past so closeby, why are these fools bathing the tiger with rubber tubes? Technology never succeeds in giving the pleasure offered by nature. Can machines produce and offer of the tenderness and aroma of rose?

However pleasant it is, one can’t keep swimming like this. River has no target. It simply wants to tread its path, not to reach any destination, but the tigers are born to hunt and to be hunted. By now they would have started the hunt.

The tiger swimming in the river returned to the banks. Walking in the slush, walking across shrubs, crossing a verandah of the palace rich with trees, it settled down under the Billiards table overlooking the river. Savouring the peace of freedom and the sheer joy of paddling in the wate, the tiger tried to close its eyelids and enjoy a wink.

The attempts ended in failure. Arasanaayagam did not greatly enjoy the food prepared by Aarumugam ploughing in all his talent. The intoxication had taken its toll. Not just the sway of liquor, but the stupor of tiger-hunt.

Aarumugam was out of any influence of stupor. There is not much of an opportunity for the local Tamil or the citizen of the world to seek out stupor beyond the bounds of his culture. While crossing the Billiards room with food plates poised in his hands, Aarumugam’s eyes landed on two pieces of cinder glowing under the table. He got goose-pimples when he realized that they were not pieces of cinder but glowing eyes. He switched on the light. There was a tiger.

Leaning its face on its left leg the tiger was sleeping like a mere cat, opened its eyes and looked at Aarumugam. As it was in no hunger it tried to sleep again in a mood of disinterest.

Aarumugam scampered, shouting “Aiyaa, tiger here.”

“Are you eavesdropping on all that we are talking?” Arasanaayagam fumed. “Paper tiger?” – He mocked. When Aarumugam stated that it was a tiger for real, he poked fun at him if he was also inebriated.

No time to reply. Aarumugam picked up the gun kept at a 45 degree angle on the wall. He tested the presence of bullets. He picked up the gun stuffed with gunpowder and loaded with bullets, and started walking.

The light in the Billiards Room was not switched on. Light might wake up the tiger. But the tiger was all the while very awake. Its eyes were glowing like pieces of cinder. It also realized that mansions were not its natural habitat.

Aarumugam aimed at the space between two eyes of the tiger. His hands were shaking out of sheer fright. The tiger moved its head on seeing the speeding bullet. The bullet pierced its way near its ear. Modern technology did not fail. The bullets had deeply hurt the tiger’s skull. The tiger cannot move hereafter.

The tiger slowly lifted its head and looked. As a man possessed, Aarumugam pressed the trigger once again. The screaming bullets pierced its eyes. The tiger’s tail rose 90 degrees and slumped dead. Aarumugam switched on the light.

On hearing the bullet sound, Arasanaayagam rose and came in. Other friends followed.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“I had shot the tiger, boss.” Aarumugam said.

“My tiger cannot be shot. It is a paper tiger.” Arasanaayagam burst into a loud bout of laughter. Aarumugam dragged the dead tiger by its tail. Only he should dig the pit to bury it. Then, it would be tomorrow.

***

To read the story in  Tamil : http://www.akshra.org/%e0%ae%aa%e0%af%81%e0%ae%b2%e0%ae%bf-%e0%ae%b5%e0%af%87%e0%ae%9f%e0%af%8d%e0%ae%9f%e0%af%88/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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