The Girl and the Tiger
I found this to be engaging, informative, and so dispiriting. It was nigh impossible to pause reading it. Smoothly immersive, communicative of a world generally unfamiliar to western readers without being preachy or talking down, this is an adventure nudging at the classics level of writing.
A mini-synopsis: Isha is bright, inquisitive, and absolutely stifled in her Indian school. An autodidact, she finds adhering to the school’s limited curricula and establishment difficult. Hoping to ameliorate this, her father determines to send her to “the jungle” to be with her grandparents. That “jungle” proves to be thousands of acres of areca nut palms. In the middle of that boring (though towering) monoculture, Isha discovers a great banyan grove, preserved by quasi-religious veneration.
Repairing to that grove daily to meditate, read, and explore, she finds peacefulness and a refuge. However, another denizen of the grove, a pregnant tigress, subsisting clandestinely on street dog, peacocks, and monkeys, is awaiting her birthing time and remaining undiscovered, though the grove is in an area highly populated by humans. The tigress watches, and even approaches Isha during naps, to perform thorough olfactory examinations.
Bearing two cubs, the tigress depletes the local prey, due to the necessities of lactation. In the process of moving one cub, grown too large for simple carry, she is set upon by dog and human packs. Her male cub is lost and subsequently torn apart by the dogs. That pack attacks Isha, and the tigress, under the impression that it is assaulting her as-yet-unmoved cub, attacks, killing several and intimidating the rest. She herself is killed by gunfire as Isha clings to her rescuer’s flank.
Realizing during treatment for her dog-imposed wounds why the tigress saved her, Isha runs to seek the surviving cub. Still bearing the tigress’s scent, she is able to bond with the youngster, a female Isha names Kala. Isha embarks on a journey to take Kala to some place of refuge. They live hidden from mankind; Kala is sustained first by purchased milk, then some purchased or simply stolen goats. Isha is stressed to the point of collapse. Arun, a departed priest, saves her from unconsciousness and then meeting Timma, the mahout of blind elephant Hathi, Isha gains allies. Their struggles to insert Kala into a preserve area reveal the stultifying horror of Indian bureaucracy and the terrifying status of shrinking environments for India’s creatures.
I found that all-too-real obstacles of terrain, legalities, and hostile humans made the denouement heart-stopping. There is an element of realism regarding body functions, the urgencies of hunger, and the realities of life in a compressing world that make this worth your reading even beyond the attraction of the tale itself. Gripping, well written.
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