Sep 23, 2018

A Tiger for Malgudi

by R.K. Narayan

I am not sure what to make of this book. Spoilers below, I relate in brief beginning to end so you may know my irritation. Ostensibly, this is a tale about a tiger's life, from his viewpoint. The tiger grows up in the jungle, testing his strength, delighting in his power and scorning other creatures- until man kills his mate and cubs. The tiger strikes out in revenge at villages, killing livestock. He is captured by poachers and sold to a circus owner. Here the story starts to get a little disjointed. The tiger describes his circus experience- starved into submission, bewildered by the actions of men trying to force him to do tricks, somehow comforted by the companionship of the other animals in cages around him. The animals communicate with each other silently, the tiger can relate to the reader what humans said even though he doesn't understand their speech. There are entire chapters about the circus owner's work in managing his affairs and handling his employees, things a tiger would have no knowledge of! It was hard to shrug that off. Bounces around between omniscient viewpoint and tiger being the first-person narrator. Reminiscent in a way of Memoirs of a Polar Bear.

Well, one day the tiger catches the eye of a filmmaker, who wants to feature him in a battle against a strong man he discovered performing in a village market. The part about the filming attempts and how they tried to make it look like the tiger and strong man were fighting- without them actually coming into contact with each other- because this huge muscular fellow was actually terrified of the tiger- that was fairly amusing. Tiger gets even more frustrated at attempts to teach him new tricks for the filming- the circus owner refuses to allow the filmmaker to pull out his claws or teeth or sew his mouth shut to make it safe. Instead they use an electric prod. Tiger goes crazy and finally attacks the circus man, startled to discover how weak man actually is- this person who had exerted control over him for so many years.

The tiger escapes and wanders a nearby village where he enters a schoolhouse to cool off on the stone floor, and takes a nap. He gets locked in, and then the villagers argue among themselves for pages and pages what to do. Who will shoot the tiger? Do they have permission to do so? is the rifle licensed? and on and on. (The style of this book, especially when the people talk in circles or have to deal with bureaucracy, reminded me of Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson). Meanwhile there is a hermit or holy man standing on the sidelines, offering advice, constantly rebuffed and scorned by the villagers. He is called Master by the tiger- and when they finally let him into the schoolhouse- because the man who was supposed to shoot the tiger drank too much to calm his nerves and fell down- the Master exerts such a mental influence on the tiger that it does whatever he says, follows him calmly out of the village and into the forest where they live peacefully in a cave having discussions about spirituality. Because really the tiger is just like a person inside, having only a different outer form. And when the tiger becomes old and weak, the Master gives him to a zoo so he can live out his days in peace, being admired by children! I found that upsetting. Of all the other ridiculous things I ignored to enjoy some other parts of this story- including times when the tiger's behavior was not feline at all- why couldn't the tiger die in peace in the jungle? Argh.

Rating: 2/5               176 pages, 1982


Thistle said...

Wow. That sounds so odd. Like a bunch of different stories tossed together into one.

And the idea of sewing the tiger's mouth closed is so disturbing!

Jeane said...

No kidding. I thought it was bad enough when they mentioned pulling claws and teeth. The man who suggested sewing said it would make filming safe, and the stitched could be removed afterwards! I hope that was never an actual practice.

Thistle said...

Usually I'm quick to google these things, so I can learn something new. In this case, I think I'll be happier not knowing...