The tiger of Triplicane

September 23, 2016 06:39 pm | Updated November 01, 2016 08:29 pm IST

A view of the road leading to the bazaar PHOTO: K.V. SRINIVASAN

A view of the road leading to the bazaar PHOTO: K.V. SRINIVASAN

Bharati Salai (Pycrofts Road) is a thoroughfare that I often go by, as it is the shortest route from my office to the Madras Cricket Club. Traffic seldom moves here, and I like that, for it gives me ample time to study the quaint names of the various streets that branch away from this road. One of the many long-standing puzzles, at least till last week, was Puli Bone Street that leads to the eponymous bazaar.

Why Puli Bone, I wondered. I then chanced on the affidavit of William Randall, an adventurer who came to Madras in the 1770s, and like so many of his kind, entered the Nawab of Arcot’s service. Employed as aide de camp to Amir Ul Umrah, the Nawab’s son, he was often privy to his master ranting against the then Governor of Madras, George, Lord Pigot. The prince would also speculate on ways and means of doing away with the Governor and ask his aide for advice. Randall half in jest suggested that Amir Ul Umrah ought to make a present of the “large Tyger usually kept in the Bazar in Triplicane” to the Governor. It was his idea that Pigot would become familiar enough with the tiger to put his head inside the cage some day whereupon the animal would promptly bite it off.

Nothing came of this, as the prince was of the view that there were better and more practical methods. Circumstances so arranged themselves that Pigot fell out with his Council in 1776, was deposed and confined to St Thomas Mount, where he died suddenly. He now lies beneath an unmarked grave inside St Mary’s Church in the Fort.

Randall’s statement shows that there was a caged tiger in a market in Triplicane. Puli Bonu means Tiger Cage in Telugu, and so we now know where the animal was kept. There is another story involving Pigot and wild animals. He was Governor of Madras twice, his first term ending in 1764. He went home with several “wild beasts and curiosities”, among which were two “tygers” and their keeper, an Indian named Abdullah who, on arrival, changed his name to John Morgan and promptly ran into trouble in a house of ill repute.

The male “tyger cat” was gifted to King George III, who in turned passed it on to his uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, who maintained a menagerie in Windsor. Paintings reveal that this was no tiger but a cheetah. The Duke staged a hunt, wherein the animal was to kill a stag in the presence of an invited audience, but the poor creature, having never such a prey before, promptly ran away and killed a deer instead. The cheetah was later offered for sale and no record exists on what became of it. The female cheetah was transferred to the Tower of London menagerie, where visitors promptly named it Miss Jenny, after a British spy in the American War of Independence.

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.