Tales of murder are always thrilling. More so when you’re dealing with a serial killer. And few tell tales of serial killing as well as the late great Jim Corbett does
Words Aninda Sardar
Photography Aninda Sardar
They stalk their unsuspecting victims as they go about their daily chores and as the cover of darkness falls the victims’ lives are snuffed out one at a time. Some are the result of careful selection while others pay the price of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Wily and canny, all efforts to ensnare the killers come apart and only at the very end of each story do we see our hero, in this case also the author, resolve the crisis and saves the people. I speak of course about the stories of tracking and hunting down man eating predators in the Kumaon and Garhwal regions, recounted by the late great Jim Corbett.
It is impossible to tell you anything about The Jim Corbett Omnibus without first telling you something about the man himself and my own relationship with him (rather his stories) even though his death and my birth are separated by a quarter of a century. My introduction to Corbett happened in the summer of ’85, about 30 years after the man had passed away. Those were the days of regular load shedding by the electricity distribution company in cosmopolitan Calcutta (it was still years from transforming into the more parochial Kolkata of today). In the absence of abundant power backup, it was common custom to spend the balmy evenings in the company of the family elders on mats laid out on breezy balconies or roof top terraces as they regaled us with stories. My late uncle, may his soul rest in peace, was a particular favourite among us children. Not only did he have the largest repertoire of stories to tell, he also had an ace up his sleeveless singlet that he wore on such occasions that others didn’t. Fabulous tales of man-eating tiger hunting by the great Jim Corbett. And he could really tell a story, with flair. It thrilled us half lings as he took us up and down the slopes of Kumaon and Garhwal on the heels of the rifle toting Jim. His words formed images that fired our childish imaginations with the fire of adventure.
As I reacquainted myself with Jim’s adventures as he tracked down the man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag or the Temple Tiger, his words took me on wild adventures. To a Kumaon that is unrecognisable today. A clean and peaceful haven inhabited by simple hill folk you couldn’t help falling in love with. Far removed from the tourist-heckling crowds lining up congested streets that you would find in today’s Rudraprayag or any of the places Jim mentions in his stories. Then of course there’s the thrill of the hunt itself, both the predator’s hunt for prey and the hunter’s tracking of the predator. You just feel the excitement building as the game of cat and mouse with its near hits and misses continues to the very end.
There are a few things that really begin to stand out as you progress through the 456 pages of the Omnibus. First, there is the liberal use of imagery – a literary technique that has nearly vanished from literature. The ability to create pictures of everything and not just actions using words. As you read the words you will realise that Jim is able to pick you up from your couch or sofa or recliner and transport you straight into the time and space he himself is operating in. You’ll be able to picture the little stone pilgrim shelter along the road that was part of the dreaded leopard’s hunting ground. You’ll be able to visualize the scantily clad temple in the Temple Tiger and even sketch the faces of Jim’s friend Ibbotson.
There’s another innate skill that he has that marks him out as extraordinary. His ability to separate the killer from its kind. So at no point do you feel hatred for or fear of all tigers and leopards. You just want that specific one killed. Jim is also able to make us empathise with the killer as he discovers the cause of why each time the predator had left its natural prey and targeted humans instead. Jim is also able to play hero with an incredible amount of humility. At no point is he braver than the poor souls that are the victims of the man-eaters. Quite the contrary. At no point in time is he unafraid or unaware of his own vulnerabilities. There are many reasons why you should pick this up at the airport when you’re travelling next. As for me, Jim and his stories are all too capable of transporting me back to those balmy evenings on the balconies and rooftop terraces with my late uncle. Bless his soul!