‘Big Cat Tales: Vintage Encounters and Stories’ review: Into the wild

In all, 22 ‘encounters’ and six ‘stories’ make up this anthology. The likes of F.W. Champion and EHA contribute to the ‘encounters’ while the lineup of the authors of the ‘stories’ include Saki and Alice Perrin. A majority of these writings are based in the Indian subcontinent; they talk of tigers and leopards. However, lions and the African wilderness also find space in a few writings.

The editors have put in laudable efforts to bring this high quality natural history writing to the readers. They succinctly talk about the book — in the introduction — thus, “Our attempt in the collection has been to find humanity in a context where its absence was not only justified, but even celebrated.” They also provide a brief introduction to the authors and here, not unlike some of the authors, they are brutally honest. James Inglis is referred to as “a man with a juvenile passion for murder and mayhem” while Hugh Allen is “a reluctant hunter”.

Old times

These ‘encounters’ and ‘stories’ take us to a world different from the one we see around us. A world where wild, open and empty landscapes reigned and the species were not under threat. A time when the large cats were shot and then — not long after — skinned and measured. On occasions tigers were also spotted “underneath the office table” and lions found “in a railway carriage”. A time when writing was an art, English was still basking in plenitude and the people in Myanmar were referred to as “Burmans”. These writings also tell us about the people then.

Some lines are stark and of the kind that will stay with the reader for long. David Wilson, for example, writes, “A truth which is often forgotten by us… The big beasts live from hand to mouth like improvident working men… Beyond the next meal they never look.”

Classics of the genre

This book warrants a mention together with classics of the genre like A.I.R. Glasfurd’s ‘Musings of an Old Shikari’ and E.P. Stebbing’s ‘Jungle By-Ways in India’. It also gives readers access to multiple writers of the time. Some of these writings may not be easy for many readers to access — like the one by Mrs E. Minshull where she writes about a lion in the jungles of Jhansi — a lion that had been imported from Africa by the Maharaja of Gwalior. One wonders though at the inclusion of four writings by Jim Corbett, writings that many a reader keen on wildlife and hunting may already be familiar with. Also, one wishes more thought and time had been invested on the cover design and the illustrations — these could have further enhanced the value of the collection.

Nature and good writing both leave an impact on us. This book has loads of both. It succeeds in touching us somewhere deep. Get it if you love forests or even if you love English.

Big Cat Tales: Vintage Encounters and Stories; Edited by The Civil Junglees Collective, Speaking Tiger Books, ₹399.

The reviewer enjoys walking and cycling. He blogs at

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 4:06:52 PM |

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