Ramnagar, a small town in Uttaranchal, is infatuated with the words Jim and Corbett. Everything from dhaba, to tailor shop, to saloons to costly resorts has to have one of these two words in their name. The town has probably nothing to do with Lord Ram, but with Jim Corbett. It owes its fame to the Corbett National Park which provide livelihood for a sizeable population of the area. Such is the importance of these names that the town should have been named Jimnagar, Jimpur or Corbett nagar.
Anyway, my renewed interest in Jim Corbett after my recent visit to the first national park of India, now named after the famous British hunter turned conservationist, had made me acquire a compilation of his famous books. His hunting stories have been translated into almost all languages in India. I had read few of his stories translated into Assamese as part of our curriculum, probably in class VI or VII, i.e. some 25 years back. Such powerful and engrossing were the stories in that book called Araonyar Moh (Lure of the Jungle) that they are still vivid in my mind, specially the one about the Man Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, the Man Eater of Mohan and the Prince of Powalgarh. Corbett’s translated stories had left indelible mark in our young minds. 25 years hence, I saw the original books written by the man Corbett himself in the souvenir shops around the park. These books are published by Oxford University Press, India. I wanted to get the one named ‘The Jim Corbett Omnibus Vol-I’ which is a compilation of his 3 famous books viz. Man eaters of Kumaon, Temple Tiger and More Man Eaters of Kumaon, and the Man Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag. However none of the shop were willing to give any discount on the MRP of 555.
On my return to Delhi, I had procured the book through the newly launched site A1Books India. I got the book for Rs.475 (against MRP of 555) with free delivery and delivered in 2 days of placing the order. It was quick service, may be because the vendor was from Darya Ganj, some 10 km from my address. But I was happy with the service. The reading started the night of the books’s arrival.
I was a voracious reader many years back. I was one of those kind who would finish a novel in one go. But that habit had died over the years. More so after getting married and having a kid. Every time I tried to pick up a book, the intervention in the form of my dear wife or kid would nip it in the bud. I had been trying to read Khuswant Singh's Delhi for more than a month without any success. This time I specially told them not to disturb me. My kid was happy to listen the hunting stories at bed time. Despite the occasional protest from my wife, I had finished the book containing 600 pages in about a month’s time. That is a big achievement.
After reading the book few things had dawned on me. The translated version was much easier to comprehend, specially the portions where Corbett tried to give vivid description of a location. It is difficult to conjure an image of the location from the descriptions. I had tried making a sketch on paper on few occasions to have a better understanding. The translator had probably left out those portions for better understanding of the readers.
The second thing that had dawned on me is that despite becoming a conservationist in his later life and calling the tiger a ‘Big Hearted Gentleman’, Corbett had killed many leopards and also the occasional tiger for hunting pleasure. He killed the tiger referred to as the Prince of Powalgarh apparently for no reason. It was not man eater. He had referred to hunting as sports and fellow hunters as sportsman. The skins are called as trophies. It appeared that that the tendency to kill a tiger or snake on sight is inborn in human. This human tendency has led these majestic animals to near extinction. Corbett was also no exception. However, he realised his mistakes and traded the gun for a camera. This change in Corbett was responsible for the efforts towards tiger conservation in India.
The third realisation was that Corbett was an exceptionally brave man. In simple words he was different from others. Man eater hunting on foot was thought to be suicidal. He would go into the jungle in search of a man eater and would come out after a couple of days. When night falls, he would climb a tree and sleep. He often stayed alone at deserted dak bungalows in remote hilly areas and go in search of a man eater alone. But even a brave man like Corbett, who had spent night after night in tree tops in jungle infested all kind of wild animals or sitting in dark with a partly eaten human body, had mentioned about few incidences which to him was not natural. He told that he had no explanations for these supernatural occurrences. Reporting of these incidences was from a man as courageous as Corbett makes one really ponder about supernatural occurrences.
Finally, I was almost in tears reading the story of a young Garhwali soldier who lost his legs in the World War-II in the last chapter of Man Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag. The young man, who could not see the Saheb that killed the infamous leopard because his father could not carry him the long distance from his village to Rudraprayag, was so happy that he could see and speak to that saheb after 18 years. He was happy because he can go back to his village and can tell his father and folks proudly that he had met and speak to that Saheb. Just meeting Corbett had made him forget his misery of losing his legs at war at such a young age. This respect from Indians, specially from the peoples of Kumaon and Garhwal to whom he was a saviour and who believed that he was bestowed with some supernatural power that had enabled him to kill so many notorious man eaters, had made Corbett love this country. This respect had also made him a legend for the people of the hills.