Man eater leopards and tigresses
My Kumaon-Uncollected Writings, Jim Corbett, OUP, Pp 142, Rs 225.00
For the people of the Kumaon region, Jim Corbett needs little introduction. Between 1907 and 1938, ‘Carpet Sahib’, as he came to be fondly known, tracked down and shot 19 tigers and 14 leopards—all certified man-eaters-in and around the Kumaon region. These included the dreaded Champawat tigress, which had claimed 436 victims, the Thak man-eater, the Chowgarh tigress, and the notoriously elusive man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag, which proved to be his toughest assignment and nearly cost him his life.
He is well-known for his bestselling books regarding these exploits, such as Maneaters of Kumaon, The Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, The Temple Tiger, etc. Some of his other works, such as My India and Jungle Lore are celebrations of the simple life of the Kumaon villagers, their small triumphs and tragedies, interspersed with essays about life in the jungle and the importance of preserving India’s fauna.
In his later years, inspired by FW Champion, the British wildlife photographer and conservationist in India, he turned his sights from the gun to the camera, becoming perhaps India’s first conservationist, after whom the famous national park in Kumaon came to be named. He spent the last few years of his life in Nyeri, Kenya.
Jim Corbett was a man of many parts. My Kumaon celebrates his varied facets—the hunter, the conservationist, the trans-shipment goods inspector in Mokameh Ghat, Bihar, and the lieutenant colonel who saw service in World War II. Culled from the OUP archives, this volume contains Corbett’s unpublished essays, personal diary entries, letters exchanged between him and his editors (especially Roy Hawkins), and articles written for newspapers. It brings to life the man whom many people in Kumaon still consider a saint, for his simple lifestyle and the succour he brought them by ridding the region of the dreaded man-eaters. Reading the book, one begins to understand the empathy he had for the simple people of Kumaon, their hardships and sufferings; his deep and abiding interest in the wildlife of the region; his relationship with his devoted sister Maggie, and in his later years, his profound disquiet at the alarming disappearance of the tiger from the Indian jungles. The book also contains letters describing his experiences in Nyeri, Kenya, where he is buried. The man was also known for his boundless generosity. In the foothills of the hill station of Nainital, was a village called Choti Haldwani. It was deserted, but Jim Corbett bought it, cleared it and cut out of the village forty holdings. There he built new houses, planted fruit trees, gave the villagers vegetable seeds for their plots, and paid all taxes even after he had left India.
A paean to a big-hearted gentleman, whose books on hunting man-eaters and the importance of wildlife conservation has influenced a generation of environmentalists and field biologists in India, this book is also about the Englishman who came to be accepted by the Kumaonis as one of their own, and whose exploits will resound among the Kumaon region for all times to come.
(Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, 1, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110 001)