Arjun Sen is working to Stop any kind of Safari hunting in Africa

Arjun Sen

There are a lot of people who hunt wild animals and kill them just for the pleasure of killing them. This barbarity is part of humanity's savage past but still lives on as a legal activity! Lions and other charismatic animals are actually being bred on wildlife farms so that people can go up to them, shoot them in the head and then pose with the trophy. This practice is called a "sport." This "sport" ensures that cruelty, murder and treating animals as though they are products and not feeling beings ('sentient beings', as described in Europe's Lisbon Treaty of 2007) remains part of our culture. The daily mass murder of animals by hunters ensures that hurting other beings remains a legitimate activity. This affects humans who may have no opinion about hunting because psychological studies support common sense observation which shows that cruelty to animals breeds generalised callousness and consequently there is a lesser regard for human life as well. Acts of violence against people are frequently committed by people who have a history of hurting or killing animals. Therefore it is important that we all support this campaign, even if we are not all concerned about hunting as a cruel blood sport.

My father was of the last generation of big game hunters in India. When he killed a tigress who had cubs, he had an epiphany which converted him. I wrote what I remembered he told me in my recollection of my childhood which I call 'Season of Crows.' Perhaps if you read the following extract, you will see why I am personally concerned:

Of course the tiger skin on the wall of Baba's large flat in Calcutta was never forgotten. Coming back from London this was one of the most dramatic reminders that I was in a country where such things were possible, and not merely tales in story books. Baba had a tigress skin, duly cured and the head magnificently treated in an open snarl, glass eyes cold, yellow and opened wide in a fierce glare. The canine teeth were three inches long. The hide, stretched open, made a giant orange and black decoration across the whole wall.

I was reminded of that after the buffalo story. "Tell us about the tiger skin, Baba! The one you had back in Calcutta" said I. "What happened to it?"

"Oh, that remained on the wall," said Baba, "When your thapuna (grandmother) sold the house to that Marwari business family and moved to stay with your Chhoto Pishi (father's youngest sister but older than he was, he being the youngest of five) while I had moved to Delhi by then. " He laughed. "We have no space for something like that in this little house!"

"Did you feel sad about losing the tige1r skin?" asked Younger Brother. "No," said Baba. "I think it was better for the Marwari family to have it. I had looked at it for years and I felt I had finally done my penance."

"What do you mean?"

"Well," said Baba, "That tigress which I shot was the last time I ever hunted. You see, it was that hunt that made me realise that we should have been preserving Indian wildlife and not killing them. Look, when Queen Victoria was still the Empress of India, the jungle land in India was far, far greater than it is today, or even in the 1950s when I was still hunting. There were probably 100,000* tigers in those days and now there are less than 2000 tigers. The Maharajas and the British sahebs shot most of them. The Rajput kings and the Turks and Mughuls before them regularly killed tiger but they did it with spears and they couldn't kill that many. But the English sahibs; they had guns and so, of course, did the rajahs of modern times.

“In a hundred years the guns nearly wiped out a million years of evolution. Look at the whales, and the American bison. Nearly gone. I was a tiny part of that process of destruction, the last generation that still thought it could enjoy hunting as though it wasn't a crime. But it was already over and I came to that end, abruptly within myself, and a tiger died so that I could learn what was necessary. A tigress, actually, with cubs. A mother and babies.

He paused. "Nature is pitiless," said Father. "But most pitiless is Man. And Man is the only part of Nature that Knows. To Know and to fail to Think and act correctly is a crime. This is Indian religion, our dhormo. We betray it every day"

He scratched his head and looked at us. "I think that's what Evil means" he said simply.

"By the 1950s, India's wildlife parks and game reserves had lost a lot of forest cover, human populations had crept in and eaten away at the wild territory, and poachers had taken most of the tigers. India is a poor country and very large and it is hard to find resources. Really, Pradeep and I were the last generation of hunters in India who felt that it was still okay to do it. But even then, we knew those days were coming to a close. You know, Jim Corbett- you boys have read his books from my bookshelf - was already a conservationist as well as a famous hunter of man-eaters back in King Edward’s day before the First World War. He picked up on ideas from 'White Hunters' like Selous in South Africa who was a conservationist in the 1890s and helped set up Kruger National Park."

He paused and his face went a bit solemn and a bit sad as he remembered. He blinked, took his glasses off and wiped them with a white handkerchief. Outside, as he told the tale, the evening street had disappeared, and the darkness smeared by the off-white of fluorescent street lighting was replaced by an impression of vague wilderness, of bush and tree, the humming of crickets and crackle of small mammals scurrying through undergrowth. The vague intimation of a quiet suburban street in Delhi whose features were unclear from the interior of a house became a canvas for the imagination. We imagined jackals sniffing round the french windows, as once they indeed did do in South Delhi, when most of it was still wasteland and wildlife scratched around the ruins of crumbling monuments from the medieval past.

"Anyway, it was back in Kanha in the spring of 1953, the year of Queen Elizabeth's coronation and of the conquest of Everest by Hillary and Tenzing, and I was with Mahua on my own this time, not with Pradeep, and we came to an area of low hills generously covered with dense forest of sal and hardwoods. It was very beautiful. You could smell resin from aromatic woods, and a fresh tang of wild herbs and as we moved through this cover, once I heard scuffling, a heavy scuffling in the vegetation, which may have been wild hog.

"And then the forest suddenly cleared and we were in an open spot about fifty yards in diameter, and trees all around. It was late afternoon, again, a time when wildlife stirs after the heat of the day and seeks food and water. The sun was gentling, and poured soft yellow on the dirt ground. And as we approached this clearing, Mahua grabbed my hand in a strong grasp and went CHHUTT! - meaning stop and be quiet!

"We stopped and stood perfectly still. I heard nothing. Silence. Then a very a very slight lift of breeze. A monkey screamed in a distant tree.

"A tigress walked calmly out of a dense thicket and straight into the clearing. I thought we were hidden but we were not; only still. She was slim and lithe and her fine muscles rolled under her skin. She was russet-orange and had deep brown and black stripes. She looked straight at me. She seemed to be enquiring. What are you doing here? Why are you in my forest?

"I felt no fear; only wonder and amazement. A moment like this comes few times in a hunter's life in this very last age of the big wild mammals. We are near the end of a great extinction and even in the 1950s, we knew it was coming to a close.

"Without thinking, I lifted my rifle and fired."

Baba paused and looked at us. I'm sure his eyes were moist.

"The tigress - for that is what she was - stood just as she was, with what seemed a look of enquiry on her face. Her eyes were locked on mine. They were not fierce, actually quite calm and gentle, curious eyes. For a moment she looked as a domestic cat might look, when it sees someone who loves it and feeds it. Then her face seemed to crumple and her eyes closed. I had hit her in the chest but I couldn't see the hole where the bullet would have gone in.

"Her head leaned to one side and slowly, ever so slowly, she slid to the ground. And then she lay there perfectly still. But her eyes stayed open as she lay down and she looked straight at me. They stayed open, just like that, and on my face.

"I felt a chill of horror. I did not feel like a hunter but like a murderer. I felt that this tigress KNEW me before she died. Not me personally, but me as a Man, her inevitable murderer. As though she had been waiting for this moment all of her life and faced it squarely when it finally came.

"She could have turned away and run in a flash, faster than I could have reacted to kill her. If she was really upset, she could have killed me. But she just stood there and looked at me as if she was saying - you have a choice. One day, I know you will kill me. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, it may be the day after. But you will. But you'll look me in the face and acknowledge me when you do it. That's all I ask. Don't shoot me from a car, dazzle me with headlights, bring me down with poisoned bait, maim me in a trap. Shoot me on the ground; face me when you do it. I will die but I will live on in your heart. You will remember me when I am gone. You will remember that I saw you and I let you do it."

Father told us that he had never shot a tiger before. Deer, yes. Hog, yes. Tiger, no. They were secretive, splendid beasts of the night and lords of the hidden places of the day. He had never expected to kill a tiger. He knew, in his heart of hearts, those days were really over. The tiger was really a deity, not an animal. The tiger was the last ark, the final redoubt, the incarnation of perfection of a million years of evolution, the most elegant flourish of the poetry of the Ice Age transplanted sleek and flame-coloured to the green heart of the tropical forest. It was our destiny to destroy it and he was a direct instrument of that destiny.

Baba looked us hard in the eye. "That tigress had three cubs. Mahua found them in the bush. We bundled them into a canvas sack and took them back to camp. At camp we got more helpers and the tigress was brought back to the village on poles. The cubs, I don't know what happened to them. I think they went to a circus. The tigress went on my wall."

He looked sad. "I was young" he said. "I was not used to reflecting on anything. Such is the joy of being young. Pure and thoughtless action and adventure. But killing the tigress, literally thoughtlessly, filled me with the purest horror I had ever felt for anything I had ever done in my life.

"It was at that point that I realised that I was really a conservationist, at heart, not a hunter. And that's how it sometimes goes; you realise a thing AFTER you have done something wrong and that's when you know what it RIGHT. So something good can come of an evil thing but it is no comfort to the conscience.

"I put that tiger skin on my wall," my father said, "to remind me every day of the crime I had done, so that I might suffer for it. The only way I could atone for my crime of murder - for that is what it was, I realised, too late - was to suffer for it through perpetual remembrance."

It was the closest my father ever got, as far as I could see, to a religious state of conscience, in someone who was naturally ebullient and not inclined much to reflection. But this story showed a side to my father, a complexity, a possibility, that made him very much more interesting as well as sympathetic to me. It doesn't matter that he attributed human feelings and thoughts to a 'dumb animal', but rather, that his myth about the tiger's relationship with him before he killed it is of a separate interest, apart from any objective facts about what tigers are like or what hunters are like.

In his relationship with the wildlife of his beloved India, I think my father showed something of both his weaknesses and his strength of character : self-indulgence and concern, pure and thoughtless joy in life and also a capacity to learn from it and suffer for his actions.

Father packed up his rifle and his shot-gun and put it away in store with Manton & Co. in Calcutta, forever. He never brought out his guns again, even to look at. He didn’t sell them, either. It is as though he wanted to forget them, as one might a shameful act, a sin.

I don't know where those guns are now. If Manton & Co are still around, I presume they still have them. Or perhaps they have disposed of them. I don't want to see them either.

I wonder if that old tiger skin is still on someone's wall somewhere. Or has it mouldered away, like so many countless thousands of others, to satisfy a momentary triumph? " (Season of Crows by Arjun L. Sen)

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