Eye of the tiger

Illustrations: Satheesh Vellinezhi  

Uncle Dash was coming to dinner and our excitement knew no bounds. He was a great one for stories that took us on thrilling and terrifying adventures.

After dinner, he told us of his early days as an assistant manager in an estate in the Nilgiris. “It’s not like what you see today. Big houses, tarred roads and street lights. Those days, it was just a mud road that ran through thick, shola forests. If there was a full moon, the pathway would be lit up; otherwise, it was just you and your senses. This was one of the reasons people did not like to walk around at night.”

“What was the other reason?” asked my brother.

A smile played on Uncle Dash’s lips. “The eyes!”

“Eyes?” we echoed.

He whispered, “Yes. Eyes.” He sighed deeply and continued.

It was during the days of the Raj. A senior manager, McAllister, was visiting the estate and asked his assistant manager, Aindreas to “make the necessary arrangements” meaning, organise a hunt. As luck would have it, there had been reports of a man-eater in the area.

The day of the inspection arrived. Aindreas and McAllister were busy with estate work all day. The sun was setting when they got home. McAllister was now ready to go on his ‘shikar’.

Aindreas summoned the guide and porters. It was dark when they set out. The guide followed the scents and markings and whatever else. Quietly, without making a sound, they walked n single file. In the silence of the night, they could hear the forest breathe. A twig snapped; they jumped. So taut were their nerves.

An hour later, the guide raised his hand, calling a halt. They were in a dense part of the forest now and the foliage prevented even moonlight from coming through. They were to take cover and wait, as the man-eater would come by soon. The guide and porters melted into the darkness. Aindreas climbed a tree and made himself comfortable. He did not know where McAllister hid.

Bagged it

Aindreas must have dozed off for he was woken up by a low growl, quickly followed by grunting noises, rustling of leaves and a gunshot. In the silence that followed he heard a voice say, “By Jove! I’ve done it!”

He scrambled down and the guide and porters appeared. They lit torches and, to their utter amazement, they found themselves looking down at the carcass of a fine specimen of tiger.

McAllister insisted the carcass be placed in his room to ensure the safety of his trophy. He was taking the skin back with him, after having it cured and treated.

The next morning, Aindreas was at breakfast, when he heard heavy breathing. He turned around to see McAllister creeping up to the dining table. He noticed that McAllister’s eyes had a strange gleam and seemed discoloured. The man ate his breakfast with noisy relish, slurped his tea, and even rubbed his nose on the back of his hand. Finally, he smacked his lips and, with a low growl, got up.

Aindreas was puzzled. All through the day, McAllister leapt around, smacked his lips, rolled his eyes and grunted. Aindreas was worried and nervous.

In the night

Eye of the tiger

Heading back in the evening, he sensed an underlying excitement in McAllister. He hastened his steps and, when he reached the bungalow, excused himself and locked himself in his room. He couldn’t take any more of McAllister. When his bearer, Ramu called him for dinner, he made his excuses and send a note of apology to McAllister.

In bed, he tried to read a book but the day’s events filled his mind. He tossed and turned and every little sound startled him. He sighed and turned off the light.

It was a still night. Not a leaf stirred. Suddenly, an owl hooted nearby and a shrill scream pierced the darkness. Aindreas jumped out of bed, grabbed his gun and ran out. He heard another scream. He ran towards the voice almost colliding with Ramu.

“Run sir, run!” shouted Ramu. Aindreas stood, mesmerised at the sight of two glowing, amber eyes approaching them. Ramu tugged his hand and dragged him off. They got into the house, bolted the door and then peered through the window.

The yellow eyes were close now and, as it came into the circle of the porch light, they saw… McAllister. He was on all fours, growling and sniffing the night air. McAllister did not appear the next morning. His bed had not been slept in. The tiger carcass had disappeared.

The next day, Ramu told Aindreas that the estate supervisor was missing. They found shreds of his clothing at the periphery of the forest.

The following day, Aindreas heard that a tea plucker had disappeared. Reports of more missing people trickled in.

People did not step out after sunset. For, if they did, they said, the glowing amber eyes would get them.

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2021 5:35:03 AM |

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