A CACHAR TIGER
In the province of Assam lies a fertile and picturesque valley called Cachar. Shut in on north, south and east by lofty hills, this valley remained hidden for centuries and was never conquered by any of the Mahommedan rulers of India.
Here a race of aboriginal kings held sway, and it was the East India Company who first became masters of this hilly corner of Bengal. In 1830, the last of the old Cachari kings died without heir, and "Company Bahadoor" took possession of the little kingdom.
In 1855, the discovery of the tea-plant, growing wild in the jungles, opened out a new industry, and soon the low-lying hills, knolls and undulating plains of the little valley became gradually clear of jungle, and covered instead with row after row of carefully-kept and trim tea bushes. To-day acres upon acres of tea are grown in Cachar; and the inland steamers, which ply all through the rainy season up and down the wide-rolling stream of the river Barak, bring down for export millions of pounds of tea for the "cheering cup".
Cachar is rich in forests, and tigers and other wild animals are there in plenty. During the monsoon the jungle animals retreat to the higher levels of the forest-clad hills. But when the rains abate they begin to gradually descend; and when the great "hoars" or fenlands dry up at the approach of the cold season, numerous tigers take up their winter haunts in the patches of jungle, which grow here and there in the marsh lands, and in the forests which often surround or separate the tea gardens.
It was cold-weather time about forty years ago, and four planters sat talking after dinner in the Manager's bungalow on a tea garden in Cachar. We will call them M., B., C. and H.
The bungalow, like many bungalows in tea districts, stood on a high hill, the steep sides of which had been terraced and planted with tea. On adjacent but lower hills stood the factory and coolie lines. Everything was quiet and lay wrapped in a heavy fog.
In the verandah near the steps sat the bungalow chowkidar (watchman). The charity of the Tea Company had provided him and his fellow-coolies with blankets. And he wore his in the usual pachim (North-West Provinces) style: one end of the blanket is pleated and tied closely with a piece of string, the short part above the cord forming a tuft. The wearer pulls the pleated end of the blanket over his head, the tuft resting on his crown. The sides of the blanket are drawn round the body, and thus the blanket is made to form both a hood and a cloak, in which the wearer hugs himself against the inclemeny of the weather.
The chowkidar sat on his mat huddled up in his blanket, droning one of the time-honoured bhajans (hymns) of India.
Presently he disappeared and, next, piercing yells rent the mist-laden atmosphere. The four Sahebs were in the verandah in a trice, and soon discovered the chowkidar returning to the verandah, visibly shaken and without his blanket.
"What is the matter, and who shouted?" asked the Manager.
"Saheb," the chowkidar replied in a quavering voice "a tiger sprang on me and caught the knot of my blanket."
"Here!" interrupted the four Englishmen incredulously.
"Yes, Huzoor (Your Honour), as I sat here against this post the tiger came, seized the knot of my blanket and began to pull. Like lightning I made my plan. I grasped with a strong tight hold the sides of the blanket and holding myself together like a ball I let Lord Tiger pull. He dragged me to the edge of the tila (hill). There I suddenly let go the blanket and shouted with all my might. The tiger fell over, down the hill, and is gone."
Sure enough, there were the foot-marks of the tiger, the mark of the drag, and the signs of where "Stripes" had slipped over and down the terrace.
The tiger had been harrying the coolies for some time and a rumour had got about that he was a man-eater. It was pretty certain that he would come again the next night; so the planters determined to sit up and shoot him.
On the following night after dinner M. B. C. and H. took their positions on the verandah. Each had his loaded gun and all waited patiently for the tiger. Time passed. It was weary work and they dozed.
M.'s dog had wandered off to the kitchen as usual after dinner. After some time it returned hurriedly and ran up the steps of the verandah, barking in a frightened manner. The dog's barking woke the four men. B. sat first near the steps and H. not far from him in a dining-room chair.
The dog ran into the dining-room and hid himself under the table and everything again became quiet, and the men waited. Suddenly a hoarse cry paralysed three of them. "He's on me. Shoot."
The tiger had come up on to the verandah and springing at B. caught him by the arm. Then, releasing the arm, he made a spring at his victim's throat. B. was instantly on his feet and, as the tiger essayed his throat, he rammed his clenched fist into the animal's mouth. The tiger shook the man's fist out of its mouth and made another attempt to reach his throat. B. repeated his manœuvre. This happened three or four times.
In the meantime the other three men dared not shoot for fear of missing the ferocious cat and killing their comrade. H. had the presence of mind to swiftly fix his bayonet, and, rushing towards the tiger, he thrust it in the animal's side, firing as he did so. The tiger fell backwards off the verandah mortally wounded, but to the amazement of the Sahebs struggled up and made another attempt to get at B. He was however too badly wounded and fell back dead.
B.'s hand and arm were terribly mauled, and after medical treatment he had to go home on long leave.