Monday, May 18, 2020

Tribute to the Writer Jim Corbett !

“In that dense foliage of greens you may feel lost but that’s one sure way to find your own self”...

Indeed I only have wrote it, as these words I felt is the best way to write a tribute to my idol, guru, inspiration, mentor or whatever you call, none other than the Jim Corbett! Actually I have been writing as a passion or as an outlet to my emotions for many years now & yet I wonder how I never wrote for my guru of not just wildlife but life actually. But then it takes right time for everything to happen as they say in Jungle, so be it & thanks to Harshada Abhyankar of Nature Walk Katta as in responding her one post about Jim I referred about reading Man Eaters of Kumaun, a book by Jim & she replied why don’t you write about the book of his, you have read! That was the moment & when I thought of writing about his books, a boy in small town of Virdrabha came in front of my eyes, engrossed in Kumanunche Narbhakshak (Marathi Version) as English version was not available in my town & I am from Marathi medium so reading English books was out of imagination then! And that started my journey in forest even before I actually later visited Melghat forest & trust me its Jim’s word power through his all four books (by then its four books only, for me), which never ever made me feel that I am venturing in some alien lands when I visited actual forests. 

And then as the journey of wild life begin for me, its Jim’s words which were guide for me & are still doing that job.
To my knowledge Jim wrote nine books out of which eight are available as the first one was a private circulation & must be now preserved with few lucky ones as best of souvenir. I am fortunate to read all eight of them & though my first read was Man Eaters of Kumaun & then Leopard of Rudraprayag & then Temple Tiger & then Jungle Lore, all these in Marathi & much later the Tree Tops, My Kumaun, My India & Jim Corbett’s India followed, in English. Best part was with Jim is, language was never a problem as he wrote nature’s language, I am proud (many may say egoistic also) that I am a good reader & has read much more literature on every subject than many around me. And I am mentioning here not to display my wisdom but just to tell that I am certainly eligible to comment about level of Jim’s writing. That way in our Smart City (of course Pune) you are entitled to comment about any topic & judge any person’s calibre, its free license which came along with citizenship of Pune! Joke apart, what I wanted to say or share is Jim’s was not a writer in a conventional way & that’s why his language or style hits you strait in mind & that’s best part of it. He need not have to exaggerate things or paint some dream world when he is explaining forest or nights in forest or the thrill or even fear factor while chasing a man eater, yet you can feel all that happening around you! That’s why it made such a powerful impact on me that even when I was reading his books while I haven’t been to any major forest yet I could imagine very clearly how it must be & that’s not easy job, mind it. To explain someone who never had been to forests & never seen a tiger in actual or never knew what is an alarm call or how pitch black dark the forest nights can be, to make such person feel all of that, needs something more than just a writer & that was Jim!
Indeed he rose to fame as a writer by Man Eaters of Kumaun & Rudraprayag’s Leopard but by me the maximum impact which has made on me is Jungle Lore. Many won’t agree with me but then Jim was not just a Tiger or Leopard Hunter(man eater), he was in & out a wild lifer & only because of that he could become a successful  hunter as he has learnt language of jungle & that we come to know via Jungle Lore as well My Kumaun. Again many won’t like my this comment that Jungle Lore is ok for a moment why My Kumaun. This is why Jim was great  & is my guru as he was the first person (even being Firnagi) to understand forest doesn’t mean just tigers, deer & trees & mountains but forest means the people in & around it & the place i.e. habitat! 

Unless you understand the mindset of the people here, you won’t be able to understand the forest as well its these people living in hundreds of villages & tribes which has helped Jim to trace the man eaters he has killed! Imagine that was time way before independence, no cell phones, not even telephones, no electricity, no four wheel drive gypsy at your service & you are alone on your feet in the forest for days & nights chasing some man eater tiger! Do I need to remind,  even today with all modern equipments along with satellite mapping it took two months for forest dept to locate Avani (god bless her soul) tigress in open non forest area when she allegedly become man eater & to kill her. As well those who has been lucky to spend even one night in real forest surrounding will understand the situation, even a gun along how help less we are as the gun can’t make us see in darkness, neither makes us listen the smallest of the sounds nor can give us more ability to smell than tiger! All this Jim could do, only because he learnt to live in the forest like an animal & no animal makes humans enemy without reasons. In 2019 year itself, one tiger travelled nearly 1800 km from one forest to another crossing two States, many highways, towns & villages & nobody was hurt neither even can see it, it’s only because the tiger know to harm a human is unnecessary risk which he didn’t take. Same way Jim made friends with locals & it has helped him in many ways right from understanding topography of unknown terrains, ways & places used by the tiger or leopard, getting domestic animals as pray for luring the man eater & information of attacks by the man eater. In that time also information was the key & you don’t get information if you make people living around forest enemy & if you want to make them friends then you need to learn to know them, this Jim knew & did!

This all is mentioned in Jungle Lore & then he learnt the language of trees, birds, and other animals like different species of deer as well reptiles & use all of them to track the man eater. This is what makes Jim special, in Jungle Lore he says, “The time I spent in the jungles held unalloyed happiness for me, and that happiness I would now gladly share. My happiness, I believe, resulted from the fact that all wildlife is happy in its natural surroundings. In nature there is no sorrow, and no repining. A bird from a flock, or an animal from a herd, is taken by hawk or carnivorous beast and those that are left rejoice that their time had not come today, and have no thought of tomorrow.”  If you understand even basic English, do I need to write anything more here after about Jim & his fusion with jungles but as this is my tribute, I will decide where to stop, lol! Jungle Lore is in a way like text book language of not just Himalayan forests but any piece of nature as right from butterflies to various creepers to fragrance of jungle flowers to finding your way in forest, it tells you how to become part of the forest, in simplest of words & in small pieces. As many people don’t like (read as no patience) to read novels or long paras & chapters, but Jim as wasn’t a writer in first place never needed that, he write thousand of words in one small set of lines & that’s enough for reader. It’s in Jungle Lore, Jim actually tells us many of his adventure he was able to dealt with in future & the book if you read after his popular ones, will make you smile by remembering the incidences in his adventures. Like Marvel movies script spread over numbers of episodes & characters, the story keeps on turning & twisting in past& future, making entire eight (actually nine) books as one saga!

Most important aspect of Jim’s writing is penning down his observations about the jungle & things happening, even smallest of the details he doesn’t miss, just the way Sherlock Holms does while solving a murder mystery! And it’s these observation made nearly hundred years ago are still helping wild lifers (even researchers) know the language of the jungle! He is the one who noted that every animal & bird makes a peculiar sound when they saw a tiger or a predator which we now know as Alarm Calls!  Merely by observing pug marks of a tiger he can follow its movement as well could predict age, size; gender of the tiger, is one more art Jim has gifted to us. It’s because of the Jim we now know the behaviour pattern of a tiger & how smart this wonderful animal is when it’s hunting the prey! And for Jim he not only taught us about language of animals & birds but even the grass as in one of his chase of a tiger, he mentions tracking the tiger with the help of grass! Confused, it’s a grass lawn patch of land, so pug marks was impossible to read & no wind, so he couldn’t smell nor there were any deer or monkeys around for alarm calls but he was sure tiger has passed from this part, so he keenly observes the grass & he has wrote, “and then I saw, grass on a particular track has been pressed & slowly the grass leaf were rising again to their original position, this was the sign that the tiger has walked over it just before me!”  For me, this is the biggest gift Jim has given to me as a guru, that in Jungle be extremely observant & don’t miss anything, as even the smallest & most irrelevant thing counts here. As in jungle nothing happens without a purpose, a lesson which has helped me in my daily concrete jungle life also!

And then his study about human psychology was equally great & it reflects in many of his encounters with hundreds of characters which keeps meeting us along with the main story of tracking a man eater. One of the best I remember is in last chapter of Rudraprayg’s Leopard, where Jim was sure that his bullet has hit the leopard & injured it. But the leopard lay hidden behind a small bund on the boundary of a farm. It already dark so he ask villagers to burn torches (mashal) so in that light he can see what has happened to the leopard & some fifty odd villagers marched towards the bund with torches lit & held above their head. Jim has admired their courage, as walking towards a wounded leopard in night which has been a threat for entire Kumaun region for more than ten years with just a torch in hand & one gun man to protect, is no small job! As soon the parade reached the bund, suddenly the leopard roared & charged with vengeance & Jim shot him in chest to end his life in the torch light & when he looked back every person from the group has fled throwing the torch way! After seeing Jim has shot the leopard & its dead sheepishly all the villagers emerged from the hiding & said sorry to Jim for running away leaving him alone to face the leopard. Well, till here all is fine but what Jim concluded shows the greatness of that man & it still brings tears of emotions in my eyes, Jim says to those villagers, “don’t be ashamed of what you did, had I not been the man holding the gun & instead would have a torch in my hand, I could have been the first to ran away, hearing the roar of the leopard”!  What an humble attitude, words coming from a man who spend nearly  twenty years alone in most fearful places living by day & night on edge & yet has survived, well that’s what makes you a legend!

To conclude my tribute, when some fifteen years back, first time I went to Corbett Park, I took out time to go to Nainital at Jim’s residence ( Gurney House) which is now a monument. I sat on the steps of that house, silently telling him, man, this may be your physical monument but your real monument is in my heart as well in every that person’s heart too who has understood what being wild lifer means & till there will be roars of a tiger in the open jungles around us, Jim you will live within us, ever! 
Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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