Amrita Sharma reviews for India’s Endangered, The Lonely Tiger by Hugh Allen
The Lonely Tiger, an anthology of 14 spine-tingling shikaar stories written by Hugh Allen was originally published in 1960. Now half a century later, this reprint of the true life adventure classic gives an entire new generation of Indians a window to glimpse into the bygone era through the eyes of Hugh Allen, a retired British Army Officer, who was also an avid hunter and amateur naturalist.
The blurb of the book describes it as “account of a life lived with tigers, leopards and other wildlife at the edge of Satpura Mountains.”
A head injury suffered during the Second World War had left him ‘extremely absent-minded like the old professor with a memory not much better than that of an inattentive child.’ At the time of India’s independence, Hugh found himself ill at ease in the organized office environment. ‘I wasn’t prepared to take the risk of what might and could happen to a well-organized office if I were part of it.’ As against this, he found that he could breathe easy in the fastness of Indian jungles and the simple villagers just let him be. “Here any little oddities of dress and behavior would not mater, for most sahibs were crazy anyway and scarcely more predictable than the mad dogs about the village.”
He refused to join the exodus of the British Officers back to England and, much to the chagrin of their well-wishers and friends, bought an estate in Mandikhera in Shivpuri district, Madhya Pradesh, which proved to be ‘something of a port in a storm’ for Hugh as well as his sister, Babs. “Here was the answer, at least to my own troubles. A quiet life, room to roam with a gun, the only neighbors the simple people.”
This book is a chronicle of the numerous sorties that Allen carried out during his farming years (1950-60) in Mandikhera to protect his crops from marauding animals. Initially, Hugh Allen, too, was an avid big game hunter but later he laid aside the rifle and took to watching animals instead of shooting them.
“The thrill of hunting vanished the second after I had pulled the trigger…After that, when I look down at the lifeless body, there comes a pang of remorse and the guilty thought that there, but for me, goes a magnificent animal. But if there’s a good and sufficient reason to go out and kill, my conscience is clear and gives the hunting urge full reign. There are no qualms about pulling a trigger then: a wounded animal, be it dangerous or not, is one of the most pathetic sights I know and I would rather see it dead.”
These true life adventure stories are written in a polished and shining prose infused with such remarkable visual and auditory stimuli that the book will surely serve as a delightful read for all wildlife enthusiasts.
Sample this: The nights now were filled with alarm-the belling of frightened sambur hinds; the WOW-ou! WOW-ou! of the dainty spotted deer; the sudden galloping stampede of scared pigs. But the jungle was not warning of men perched above the fields: far more dangerous enemies were stalking through the dark…..tiger and leopards.
David Davidar, in his foreword, proclaims Allen as a master of the genre, and places him at par with Corbett and Patterson in the select band of shikaar writers. “Allen, who died in 1968, brings to his hunting stories the pacing and ability to build narrative tension that only the best thriller writers are able to manage.”
He utilized his decade long stay in the forests of central India in observing the flora and fauna of the region so closely that he accumulated an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural environment of the region. He became so familiar with the animals of the region that he could even identify some of them individually, like in the story “The Lonely Tiger” I so envy his observation post which he describes thus: “I saw….from my wooden armchair above the pool in the nullah. This chair is built permanently into the fork of a giant tree and has been there nearly ten years. It is thirty feet above the pool and commands wide sweeps of the jungle beyond both banks. I use it a lot throughout the year and often spend whole nights in it watching the animals coming down to drink.”
Unfortunately, his lament at the depletion of tiger fell on deaf years.
“Towards the closing years of British rule in India, there was real concern for the game. A lot of animals now were scarce and some kinds of them already well along the road to extinction….A tightening of forest rules and stricter enforcement, a low limit to any individual’s bag, more and larger game sanctuaries and -above else- much more plain common sense”
Hugh Allen was poised at the cusp in history and through the eponymous story “The Lonely Tiger” chronicles the transition from abundance in wildlife to the verge of extinction. The precipitate of a lifetime of learning and experience as gleamed from this book is that there is no valour or bravery in hunting down any animal with a gun. We can ignore this only at the peril of “India’s finest fauna.”
Author – Hugh Allen
Publisher – Rupa Publications India
Price – Rs. 395
Available at online stores at discounted rates,
The views expressed on this page are solely the reviewers’ and do not reflect those of various publishers, authors, publicists or agents. The book featured here was purchased by India’s Endangered for honest and independent review purpose only and is not part of any association with the author or publisher.
More Related Stories,