Book Review: The Untold Stories of Indian Tigers

The Untold Stories of Indian Tigers

by Nikhilesh Shrikhande

The Untold Stories of Indian Tigers is a collection of stories about the lives of some of the oft sighted and well-known tigers from a few premier national parks in India. The author has mixed facts with fiction and has imagined scenarios in the lives of a few tigers. On the surface these stories will prove to be popular with kids. However, the stories are also peppered with facts, management lessons and philosophy and if a person is in the right frame of mind then these can also act as stimuli for some self-introspection.

In the chapter titled hunt it right, the author writes talks about the story of the tiger nicknamed Ustad who subsequently hunted a forest guard and was later branded as maneater and captured. The author through this story tries to highlight the tough life of a tiger. It is not easy to be a tiger. It is never about brute force. If the tiger has got strength, then nature has given its prey the ability to outrun the tiger. The prey species have got great sense of smell unlike the tiger. However, the tiger has got acute sense of hearing. The tiger has to plan and replan its approach and even after such careful planning not every attempt results in a successful kill.

In the fictionalised conversation between the mother and child, the author imagines the mother to be telling her child not to take shortcuts. The tigress urges its young kid to live by the law and work hard has no substitute. If an animal, with a high level of intelligence like a tiger, which possess much superior strength than man needs to do the hard work, then can man be immune from it? This book is filled with such wise sayings disguised as teachings and learnings.

There was a time when we were taught morality and values through stories and fables told and retold by our elders to us. With the breakdown of joint families into nuclear families and with both the parents working, it has become difficult to transmit such values through stories. So this effort by the author Nikhilesh Shrikhande to create stories with wise sayings is going to solve a great purpose.

Fear of failure affects everyone at some point in his or her life’s journey. The author tells us that a tiger is also not immune from it. The author visualises the struggle that a tigress goes through to rear up her cubs. In the chapter The Lake Battle, the author imagines the famous tigress Machli (T-16), who earned lot of awe due to killing a mugger crocodile in the lake, to be relieving her most painful moments of her life when she lost her cubs. Only after facing her fear of failure could she become successful in rearing up her litter.

The tigress Macchli is telling her son “Every step in the jungle brings a new surprise and a new challenge. There should be challenges in life. Without challenges life becomes dull. Challenging situations will help you to learn and grow as a King of the Jungle. If your mind is strong, you can achieve anything. learn a lesson from every situation; adverse or favourable. Never give up hope my son…”. As they say you learn the best lessons in the biggest battles. And what is bigger than a life and death situation that a tiger faces everyday?

Tiger T25 nicknamed Dollar who reared two cubs Photo: Vipin Sharma

Tigers are generally solitary in nature with the male and female parting ways after mating. The female raises her cubs and then they move away from her and then she again mates with a male to raise another litter. However, not much is known about the secret life of tigers. During the days of British, when prey was numerous, our forests had many tigers in a single patch. They do know each other, however, their relation is not well known. In observations in Nepal and in Bandhavgarh in the 60s by George Schaller, a prey was observed to be shared by many tigers each waiting for their turn to eat.

In the chapter Scent of Hope, the author brings to light a fascinating story of a male tiger (T-25) rearing two cubs after their mother died. The male tiger has now taken the burden of rearing up the two cubs to adulthood, though that is not its natural role. This male tiger teaches us humans love, affection, responsibility, empathy. If at all we can imbibe some of these qualities than the world can be a better place.

There have been many wildlife books. Some are written by shikaris containing amazing natural history and have become world famous. There are also some hunting stories by some hunters where you find a lot of spice added to spruce up the adventure quotient. In the last fifty years or so, there have been books on tigers by researchers which contain cold facts and some are autobiographical as well. However, this book by Nikhilesh Shrikhande, where he imagines the hidden life of famous tigers, can appeal to multiple audiences. Kids can read it as bedtime stories and elders can draw some life lessons from it. The struggle of some of the individual tigers and their difficult journeys to establish a territory in view of the relentless anthropomorphic challenges in form of poachers, woodcutters, grazers etc will hopefully provide a perspective to people. The story of collarwali in the chapter “In Search of the last tiger” may remind people about Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. The worries of the jungle folk about man decimating their forests can leave a lasting impression on young impressionable minds. Hopefully these individualised stories will strike a chord with people so that more and more people can raise their voice to preserve our fast vanishing wilderness and wildlife. I would love to see more such work.

The book also contains a educational section with messages in bullet points related to man-animal conflict, about what individuals can do to protect tigers and wildlife, about the reason for vanishing tigers, the role of tiger as apex predator and the complex inter-relationships between species and hence the need to save an entire ecosystem and other key messages.

The Untold Stories of Indian Tigers is published by Punya Publishing. This book at 167 pages and with several colour photos of tigers and some facts about tigers at the end, is an easy read. The design is also attractive and immediately gives a good impression. Priced at 349 rupees this book can be considered as a good gift, especially for Kids. We have no hesitation in recommending this unique book wholeheartedly.

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