Set Pieces

Like all other villages in Kumaon, Thak during its hundreds of years of existence has passed through many vicissitudes, but never before in its long history had it been deserted as it now was. On my previous visits I had found it a hive of industry, but when I went up to it this afternoon, taking the young buffalo with me, silence reigned over it. Every of the hundred or more inhabitants had fled taking their livestock with them — the only animal I saw in the village was a cat, which gave me a warm welcome; so hurried had the evacuation been that many of the doors of the houses had been left wide open. On every path in the village, in the courtyards of the houses and in the dust before all the doors, I found the tigress’s pugmarks. The open doorways were a menace, for the path as it wound through the village passed close to them, and in any of the houses the tigress might have been lurking.

The Man-Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett was a sensation when it was published in 1945, and it’s not hard to see why. The climax of the book is Corbett’s story of hunting a murderous tiger through the jungle, a race against time at the age of 62. In the failing light of his last hour as a hunter, he calls to the tigress and she comes to him. The whole story is cinematic, and the scene where he enters the abandoned village is a high point.