I was lucky I didn’t die the first time I encountered a tiger. I was not alone and watched over by my father, the finest hunter of his times. I was a hunter’s son, destined to become a hunter. During my early years as a hunter, my father said a few words that I still carry with me in all my hunting sojourns like a talisman.
“To be a fine hunter, your mind must sail faster than the winds, your ears should be sharper than a dog’s senses, your eyes should be trained to observe the finest marks on the wild trails, you have to memorize the smell of varied animal secretions, the different variations in the tone of a bird’s call, your legs should know how to thread the slopes of the jungle even in the darkest of the nights. For the jungle is always speaking. Each part of the jungle has a breathing-voiceless presence and a claimed jurisdiction. The secret of a good hunter is sensitivity to the complexity of the wild, the seasonal patterns, the flow of rivers, the onset of rains and droughts. But the most crucial skill to outsmart the predator, “my father would point out with a smirk, “is how well versed a hunter is in using his weapons; how fast can you cock a gun, the accuracy of your arrows, the precision of your machete. A hunter’s weapons are an extension of his mind and body; and his only savior in the maze of the wilderness.”
I felt strangely dignified, when one summer, my father decided to take me along his hunting expedition. Mother was worried that I was too young for an expedition, but father insisted that, to bring out the hunting expertise in me I would have to start at an early age. Heavy-hearted my mother helped me adorn with my own set of a bow with six fine arrows smeared with a pinch of wild root poison at the sharp tip and a small machete encased in a bamboo case fixed to a small sling made out of dried leather of Asiatic bear with its thick black hairs still intact on it. Mother packed us rice, roasted chicken wings, and salt in green leaves which I carried in my narah. Father carried his famed Kartoos gun that had hunted down two Asiatic bears, twenty-three barking deers, seventeen wild boars, dozens of marbled cats and uncountable birds. “Be careful!” mother shouted as father and I threaded towards the north of our village with other village hunters, disappearing into the rich verdant mountains that smelt of wild berries and tropical flora.
On the first mountain, we came across bulbuls squabbling on a tree bursting with ripe wild berries. Father aimed at the birds with his gun and shot, thundering the sky with a loud blast, commemorating our hunting expedition. The bulbuls scattered away from the branches as a dead bulbul toppled down. I ran to collect it, putting our first hunt inside my narah. We ventured further, into the jungle stirring with insects and bird cries. I turned to look at our village Fengche, which slowly disappeared behind the tall trees as we descended further up, into the second mountain. The jungle grew darker and the forest floor felt wetter underneath my feet. Long faint golden rays of sun filtered through the branches nestling the skies. Father walked ahead of me, clearing the bushes with his long machete as we ventured further inside. In the distance, we heard squeaking cries- kuk, kuk, kuk.
“That’s a squirrel!” Father pointed out. He told me to take out my arrow as we sauntered forward. A squirrel was jumping from branch to branch wagging its bushy tail. I put my arrow across the bow aiming at the squirrel. “Not now,” my father whispered, putting his hand over my shoulder. “First thing you need to learn in archery is to figure out which is your dominant eye. And to figure that out, make a hole with your fingers across the target and close your left eye, and then close your right eye. Did the target appear and disappear?” He asked. “You see the target with your dominant eye and as you close your dominant eye, the target disappears. You have to aim with your dominant eye and shoot with the corresponding hand for more accuracy.” Listening to my father I took my position, aiming with my left eye and using my left hand to pull the bowstring. He whispered, “Stand upright; keep your muscles firm for maximum accuracy against the effect of wind and gravity. Now draw an imaginary line from the target, take a deep breath, and focus all your senses just on the target.”
I pulled my bowstring and released the arrow. The arrow leaped across, hitting the branch, and missed the squirrel. My father took my bow, pulled out an arrow, and aimed at the running squirrel. In a lightning snap, the squirrel fell. Father smiled and glanced over me, “When you are hitting a target; perform it as if your whole life depends on it.” I nodded, astounded by his accuracy and ran ahead to collect the squirrel.
The other hunters had branched into different directions; father and I sat down on a small clearing on the forest floor to have our packed food. I mixed the salt with the rice and ate swallowing the sticky rice down my throat in dry hiccups. I finished the meal biting every bit of the roasted chicken wings. After food, we ventured further into the third mountain with a steeper pathway. My breathing became more labored as I scuttled behind my tall and athletic father, mirroring his quick gliding steps. The air became colder and the vegetation changed, with large bushy epiphytes clung to the trunks of bigger trees. We walked till we reached the edge of the third mountain bordered by a small mountain stream cascading down the ravine. Across the ravine, the land and the skies belonged to the next village, the Nachawa village. Thick groves of bamboo trees grew near the edge of the ravine habited by troops of Arunachal macaques that chattered incessantly, doing aerial acrobats, swinging on the thin tapering bamboo branches. I giggled watching the mother monkey scratch the head of the baby monkey and instinctively put the lice into her mouth. My grandfather used to narrate that monkeys are the sons of Abotani and his wind wife. That is the reason why monkeys look like humans but have the affinity to glide across the open skies. I carefully slid down the edge of the mountain towards the ravine. The mountain water was crystal clear. I knelt near the cascading waters, touched its coldness, and drank quenching my thirst. Small fishes swam towards me smelling my tired feet and nibbled my toes. Above in the air, the shrieking of the Arunachal macaques grew more frantic and shrilled in dramatic cacophonies.
A strange musky odor overpowered my senses. I looked up and spotted a bright yellow creature standing sharply across the white limestone background of the ravine. The moment my eyes saw the majestic beast, I knew what it was. A tiger sounded small and harmless in fables, but in reality, it was enormously sickening! I was clutched within the hypnotic gaze of the beast, the fearful symmetry of the vivid pattern of black stripes over the glossy yellow fur. The tiger sauntered towards me in silent, cautious movement. My brain stopped working and my body froze.
“Don’t move or turn your back to the tiger,” I heard my father’s voice from above the ravine. There was complete stillness. I was crouching on one end of the ravine, with stilled breath and the tiger was on the other end, staring at me contemptuously. It took its position and snarled, showing its canine fangs. My hopes for survival vanished when the tiger roared angrily and suddenly leaped towards me.
I still have sullen nightmares of seeing the tiger’s roaring fangs and outstretched paws leaping towards me; every time shuddering to the fact: how if my father’s 12 bore cartridge didn’t hit the point between the tiger’s eyes and instead landed one inch left or right, I would have been shredded into pieces by the tiger right there.
After the gunshot, the natural sounds reappeared- the waters cascading down the ravine, the birds singing from the safety of the skies, and the macaques jeering, swinging from branch to branch in sheer excitement. It was1961, a year before the Chinese armies marched into the snowy terrains of the western Kameng. In our eastern zone, the forests were still green and swarmed with warm bodies shrouded in precarious fates.
The news of the tiger’s killing shook the entire village, partly in terror and partly in excitement. Terror because in our folklores, it is believed that an elusive beast like a tiger possesses certain spiritual power that can bring untold misery, death, drought, and madness to the killer’s lineage. Excitement because it was the first time a tiger was heard of and hunted down in the hills of Fengche village. It took twenty able-bodied men to carry the tiger from the jungle. It was such an enormous beast, such a big cat! Women left their weeding undone and rushed down the jhum fields to have a glimpse of the majestic animal. Young girls babysitting their infant siblings tossed the babies in cloth hammocks and ran up the village hill where the tiger was laid down for public display. Young boys slid down the fruiting trees and shuffled between the crowds, restlessly peeking their heads.
“Oh! Sun-Moon God!” Women shrieked seeing the tiger and forbade their young restless kids from going near the tiger. Young girls gasped. A young man, stupefied with terror screamed at the top of his lungs. The whole crowd broke into nervous giggles at the young man who although terrified did not deter from standing near the beast. A restless man tried leaping across and exclaimed in astonishment, “I can’t even jump half the length of this beast!”
The villagers turned to look at my father with admiration and pestered him with queries. Young half-naked boys with shaved heads with little leftover fringes on the forehead listened to my father’s tale with gaping mouths. After hearing the story, the boys ran down the village slopes to knit the heroic tale of my father to other villagers. “Hunter Kada Taba killed the tiger in one single shot!” The boys retold, enacting the gunshot with their fingers and one eye closed, “Bam!”
A drunken man staggered towards the tiger and sputtered boisterously, sliding his hand inside the tiger’s mouth, “I swear on a tiger biting me to death, I have not seen such fine fangs in my whole life!’ The tiger’s mouth hardened and his hand got stuck. “Oh, Sun-Moon God! Help me! This tiger is not dead yet!” The drunken man wailed in terror.
The villagers began to scream. My father pushed the crowd aside to see. He tried to open the tiger’s mouth but it was stiff. The drunken man wailed louder. The other hunters had to collectively stretch open the jammed jaws to let the drunken man’s hand out.
“Oh, blessed Sun-Moon God!’ The drunken man observed his unharmed hands appreciatively.
“What was that?” The crowd cried.
“It’s the third stage of death when the corpse becomes stiff,” My father said and suddenly observing the teats said, “it’s not a tiger, it is indeed a lactating tigress.”
That day in the fervor of victory, we didn’t realize that a tiger cub was weaned from his mother and was lurking in the woods setting out to find a safe and secret kingdom for survival…
Killing a tiger is forbidden in our Nyishi traditions, believing that man and tiger originated from the same spirit realm. But what was done could not be undone. That evening, the head priest was summoned and incantations were made for a special ritual called ‘burial of the eyes.’ The imagery of the tiger was created on a tree, with the paws nailed to the trunk. The priest chanted prayers holding a few strands of the tigress’s hair, “Aye, you mighty tigress! You belong to the other world now, your spirit is being buried under this tree and I forbid your eyes from following hunter Kada Taba, who had to kill you to save his son. So you accept this as a law of nature and don’t trespass the spirit realms.” The priest buried the strands of hairs beneath the tree, poured wine over it, and covered it with soil stamping hard with his feet.
Few years after that hunting expedition, my father’s health began to deteriorate. He aged quickly in those years, once the most prolific hunter, now he sat stooped in a corner, trying to chant the words of a priest. Some nights he woke up screaming, searching for his gun. Some nights he sleep-walked in our wooden corridors, swinging his machete to invisible dark spirits. Some nights he ran along the village terrains roaring like a wild cat. A certain kind of madness had seeped into him. The whole family responsibility had come upon me. My mother had to work harder tending our jhum fields in the mountain where we grew paddy, pumpkins, bananas, and some wild vegetables.
After my father’s death, I became the head of the family, the new hunter lineage. I never went to the third mountain again, although it had been many years and no one ever saw or heard of a tiger in our hills anymore. I trailed till the second mountain where I put out noose trappings for squirrels and wild boars, and sticky traps for birds. I had taught myself to swim in the fast and turbulent Kameng river that flowed in the south of our village. I went fishing most times, sometimes in groups and sometimes alone. Before the onset of winter, I decided to go fishing, to stock up fishes for the cold months.
In the dawn, I threaded towards the south of our village, down the slopes of jhum fields where women were reaping paddy. I hustled along the rocky foot trails bordering the banks of the Kameng river, looking for a perfect spot to build my bamboo fish trap. I picked some purple wild berries and relished its sweet taste, some mithuns foraging wild leaves on the slopes paused to look at me. The soft breeze felt nice on my warm skin. I jogged till I reached the last frontier of our Nyishi terrains; the mountains and the river that flowed beyond that point belonged to the Akas. That part of Kameng was a point of confluence of tributing rivers and streams. I stood, looking at the other side of the Kameng river bordered with lofty mountains. I had never been to that side. A gut feeling told me that it could be a good spot for fishing.
I tightened my narah and my machete case across my back and jumped into the emerald green waters of Kameng river. I swam in slow relaxed strokes so that I didn’t tire myself across the stretching breath of the river over a hundred meters. In the middle of the river, there was a large black rock; I halted and climbed over it, catching my breath. The skies looked fine. A lone eagle was gliding over the thick canopy of mountain forests. After feeling rested, I looked towards the remaining half and lunged forward.
After reaching the other side, I jumped start to work. First, I cut down a few bamboos, split them into long pieces to build three cylindrical bamboo traps called adar. I chose a part of the river, where the depth and movement of water were slower. I placed the adars in different spots in the river, securing them tightly between the rocks.
It felt different to be on the other side of the river. The steep rocky mountains were a safe haven for jungle fowls, warblers, quails, hawks, eagles, falcons, and peafowls away from human settlements. I took out the fishing rod from my narah and fixed an earthworm bait on the hook. I lowered the bait into the teeming waters and waited, my eyes resting on the picturesque view of the different Nyishi villages -Fengche, Jayanti, Nachawa, Ramgang, Kaffa, Taamne settled upon the laps of the mystique green mountains in houses made of wood and bamboo, built high above the ground level for protection from animals and soil-borne diseases. We lived hard lives, threading the mountain paths like our own body parts with hardened soles, small eyes, and tanned skin, toiling ruthlessly in the terrains just to get by the four seasons- spring, summer, monsoon, and winter.
A catfish got hooked in my fishing rod. I pulled it out and put it inside my narah. I put another earthworm and fixed the bamboo fishing rod between the rocks and waded into the waters to check the adars. In the first adar, there were few shrimps and small fishes. In the others, hardly a catch. I had to wait longer.
In the distance, the clouds began to grumble with streaks of faint lightning. I hadn’t even had a day’s catch when big drops of rain started pelting down, slapping my face hard. I waded back to the bank and looked around for shelter. Catching hold of some hardy bushes growing in the crevices, I pulled myself up as my feet slipped against the slippery embankments. As I climbed upwards I was delighted to find a hollow cave in the rocky slopes of the mountain. Soggily I hobbled inside the cave examining its rugged surface. I sat down for a while, watching the torrential rain, and contemplated in my mind, if I return home, I go empty-handed, but if I spend the night here, I can catch a dozen fishes by tomorrow morning. It’s just about waiting a little longer. And the cave was a perfect shelter to spend the night. I swept the floor of the cave with my hand, shoving aside dried leaves and twigs in the corner. I climbed out of the cave carrying my dagger and cut a few bamboos and some branches and carried it back to the cave. The clouds grumbled louder and the sun began to depart behind the mountains of the Aka people.
A strong gust of wind picked up, blowing the rain in thin silvery curtains. The river grumbled in a hollow murmuring echo. The Kameng river always sounded angry; each year drowned and swallowed many lives beneath its belly. With the descent of dusk, worrying thoughts started accompanying me. If the river flooded, it would be impossible to swim back to the other side. The rain was incessant, making the water level rise. Faint retiring cries of wildlife resounded through the mountains: jackals howling, mithuns mowing, boars grunting, owls hooting, birds muttering, frogs croaking and crickets chorusing.
I squeezed the water out of my cotton parri, took off my hornbill beak headgear and untied the knot of my bun to dry my long hair. My body shivered in the dampness. I took out the flintstone from my narah and struck it against the dried leaves to build a fire. In the lambent fire, I spent the evening roasting the catfish and the shrimps I caught that day. After having the meal, I lied down on the floor of the cave listening to the night creatures intermingling with the howling wind and uproaring river. The flickers of flame kept the cave warm. I didn’t realize when my eyes closed; perhaps the aches and tiredness of wading and swimming against the viscosity of heavy waters had seeped into my muscles.
In the northern mountains of the Nyishi villages, a tiger mother discovered a ravine flowing with fresh mountain waters. The tiger mother decided that it was a perfect spot to provide and protect her cub. She sheltered her cub behind the rocky crevices hidden under thickets of bamboos habited by troops of Arunachal macaques. The tiger mother crouched over the rocks and waited to pounce on naive deers, staggering foxes, clueless hares when they came to drink water. She was successful on many occasions, but one day, the mother tiger saw a strange creature on the other side of the ravine. The creature that looks like monkeys, walks on two feet like bears but has smooth hides like lizards. The creature without sharp fangs or claws, busty built or speeds but considered the most dangerous one because it can think. The tiger mother knew what she had to do and leaped forward…
“Father, save me!!” I screamed and woke up breathless, seeing the dreaded nightmare again! My lips trembled and my heart hammered inside my chest as the memory and sensation of my first encounter with a tiger flooded back. The art of smelling is a part and parcel of a hunter’s life and we hunters memorize the smell of our every crime scene. And in that eerie darkness of the cave, I could identify that strange musky odor of a beast that eats everything, including a human. I could recognize that smell even in my dreams, a smell as close as the aura of death.
Was it a part of my hallucination or a dreamed up trauma, I wondered, as I hastened to blow over the faint embers grabbing the branch twigs. My doubt was ascertained when I heard movement and scratching outside the cave. And then the smell grew closer and I heard the snarl that has haunted me, in all my nightmares. I shifted the fire towards the entrance of the cave, blowing furiously to build it stronger. The tiger roared and I fell down, my knees buckling in terror. I felt like a young boy again, seeking protection from my father. Will I survive this second encounter with a tiger?
Before his death, my father summoned me to his sickbed and said, “Son, my life has been marred by the undying spirit of the tigress. She has devoured my soul. You are in the next line to carry forward our hunter lineage. The tiger is the jungle’s mightiest beast; if you ever encounter a tiger, be calm and hold your ground. Never run because you cannot outrun a tiger. Never initiate the first assault because a tiger is a beast born to kill. The only thing that has the probability to win over the tiger’s prowess is your wit and skills. And if you can help, never kill a tiger, because the spirit of the tiger is insidious and unforgiving. It always hunts back a hunter.”
Father’s words kept playing in my head as I tended the flames vigilantly to outdistance myself from the tiger; the fire was the only thing shielding me against the tiger. A tiny hope of victory surged inside me. I wore my headgear and put the machete across my arms. The fire could scald the tiger’s fur in running seconds. The snarling stopped. I took a breath of relief. Holding a burning firewood, I stepped cautiously towards the hollow entrance squeezing my sweaty body to peek. In the distance, an owl hooted after my every third breath. Terror filled my eyes to see the tiger crouched over in a hunting stance. The tiger snarled and pounced its paw at the firewood. The firewood slipped from my hand and fell down, extinguishing in the darkness of the grumbling river.
I fell backward in the cave, my brain pounding loudly… how was I supposed to outwit and out skill the beast??? The reverberations of my survival odds conflicted with the resulting disastrous ramifications. The tiger walking in and devouring me after the fire died down. The tiger pouncing on me if I tried to slide down to the river. The tiger swimming behind me and grabbing me between its fangs. The tiger snarled, seemingly laughing at my parallel incoherencies, “I have come to avenge my mother’s death, you puny human!”
All the firewood was getting burnt. I undressed my cotton parri, my bamboo machete case, my bamboo narah, my headgear, and tossed them into the fire to keep it growing. And finally, I held my long hair and chopped it off with the machete to add more fuel to the fire. My hairs burnt rapidly and emitted a smell of human conflictions. I held my machete in the right hand and the last burning firewood in the left hand and inched towards the cave entrance. That was my last chance to fight and I had to perform it well because my whole life depended on it. Father was very close to me that night with his words of advice, if you ever encounter a tiger, be calm and hold your ground.
The tiger snarled sensing my approach. I decided to give it a fight, whether I lived or died.
I poked the flames at the tiger, the tiger roared in angst. I stood ready with my machete. The tiger pounced on me and I jumped back and hit him with my machete. He snarled back angrier and pawed me, scratching my chest. I hit back multiple times roaring like a beast, staring at the luminescent eyes of the tiger. I threw the firewood at the tiger, he paced backward in defense. Whispering the name of our Sun-Moon God, I hurled the machete at the tiger with all the strength in my arms and leaped into the darkness of the Kameng river. I plopped into the deep bottom with incredible force and it took quite a struggle to rise back to the surface. The river was more turbulent than the morning because of the rain. I was running out of breath but I swam swiftly dreading the thought of the tiger swimming after me. The clouds above me thundered as I reached the rock in the middle of the river and paused to look back. In the darkness, each ripple and each sound felt like the tiger. I leaped forward and swam frantically. On reaching the bank of the other side, I ran up the foot trails, hitting rocks and trees in the dark, shuffling past the thorny climbers scratching my face, up and up the reaped terrains of jhum fields, over the sloppy paths, and finally, I reached the dark, silent mountain lap where our village was murmuring in deep sleep. I rushed up the wooden steps of our bamboo house, rushed inside, and fell, catching my breath, my chest hammering in million pieces stirring in fear, an extreme level of fear. For I have seen the eyes of the tiger. My mother woke up from her sleep, alarmed.
“Shut the door, shut the door!” I cried out. My mother ran and shut the door and seeing the warm blood flowing from my chest, she called for the local herbalist immediately. I lay on the wooden floor, breathless and sweating profusely. My eyes were terrified as I stared into the vacant darkness hovering over the thatched roof.
I smelled the musky odor again. I screamed out in horror. My mother shook me, waking me up from sinking into a dark cave. I felt myself disappearing into darkness, a tiger sauntering behind me, smiling with a golden glint in the eyes and snarling near my ears, getting inside my human flesh.
I could not augur whether I was lucky or cursed that I didn’t die in my second encounter with a tiger…
I woke up after days with a sour mouth and stiff back. My injury was plastered with a green paste of crushed medicinal leaves. The wound on my chest was healing but my mind was still in a stupor. Like the villagers, I was amazed at my survival. After that incident, a fatigue had seeped into me. During daytime I was tired and slept; and during nighttime, I was in a dark spirit realm, hearing footsteps rustling against the wind, the echoing wail of Kameng river beckoning lives to jump into him, faint odour of burnt paws, the territorial markings of stenchy cat urine, and the putrefying smell of decaying fangs followed me in my dreams. My nights were disturbing and I dared not to recall the dreary things I saw at night.
“A half-eaten goat was discovered on the pathway to the jhum fields today and tiger pugmarks were observed near the crime scene!” My mother informed me as she reached home in the afternoon from the fields. She put down her basket and began sorting out the wild vegetables. Hearing the news, my bile lurched up to my throat and I ran towards the chicken coop to throw up. “How are you feeling?” She followed me.
“I am good, I am good,” I lied, to ease her worry. I limped back to my bed, my head feeling groggy.
“The head priest has prophesied that every night after the last embers in the fireplace died down; an enraged and injured tiger appears, roaming in the peripheries of the village,” My mother said, with a dread settling on her face. “Do you think the tiger has followed you to our village?”
My body began to convulse violently. My mother brought the warm quilt and put it over me.
Soon, the villagers stopped going out of their houses after the evening dongs clanked. For reaping harvests, women and men went out to the terrains in groups. Some able-bodied youths were assigned for patrolling duties on a treehouse during nighttime who clanked the warning dongs if they sensed danger.
One crescent moon night, the youths heard a male scream in the distance. “Help! Help!” The youths climbed down the treehouse, with their bows, daggers, and sticks and carefully sauntered towards the whimpering voice. A dark cloud swept across the crescent moon and the landscape turned dark. In the dark, a pair of golden yellow eyes gleamed. “The tiger is playing with our minds!” The youths screamed and barged into the nearest house and bolted the door. The next few days no one ventured out of their houses in our village out of fear.
Realizing the seriousness of the situation, the head priest and the village head decided to call for the Aka people, the strong spiritual warriors with sophisticated hunting skills from the Bana village. Five men arrived with different looking guns, longer machetes, and specially designed spears. They were taller than our men with smaller eyes and a nasal accent. The whole day they patrolled around the village, tracking for pugmarks and hair strands. They observed that the pugmarks circled inside the village perimeters and didn’t show signs of exit. “The tiger is hiding within the village,” they concluded. At night, they moved about in small groups combat-ready with their armaments, hunting for signs of the insidious tiger. They were secretive, cautious, and silent, whispering in nasal Aka dialects within their small circle.
I sensed a certain detrimental aura with the arrival of the Akas. I felt stifled in their presence and my health began to deteriorate as I was losing my appetite and felt nauseous most times.
“It’s been seven days and there have been no sightings of the tiger. The Akas are indeed affecting the tiger’s psyche!” My mother said as she scooped stewed taros on my rice plate.
My ego felt tested. I didn’t reply.
“You should eat, you are becoming weak.”
I could not eat the taros that my mother cooked every night. I had the urge to eat some good fresh meat.
The evening dong rang. My mother grew silent, fearful of the foreboding night. She bolted the door close and ate her food in silence beside the dancing flames of the hearth. I looked at the outlines of my mother’s face so tender and human.
I could not sleep. I crept out of my bed and sneaked out of the door. The village was dark and silent. It looked perfect to saunter into hunting. I climbed down the wooden steps, camouflaging myself into the thin blanket of darkness.
Someone rang the village dongs repeatedly. There were running shrieks heard in the distance. I rushed back home, leaping through the darkness.
“Where were you?” My mother cried in nervousness, sensing the door creak in our dark house.
I was on my fours like an animal, panting, and catching my breath.
“Is your wound still sore?” My mother asked and said, “Because I can smell blood.”
The next morning, there was murmuring in the village that one man from the plains, a government surveyor, who had come on foot assisted by a local boy from a nearby Jayanti village to survey lands for construction of government school was killed by the tiger when he went out to piss in a thicket of bush in the middle of the night. The organs devoured and strewn over the village gate while the upper body part unharmed with his shocked eyes wide open.
The Akas grew more vigilant. Perhaps by then, they had calculated that the tiger was clever and came out for hunts only after a week of hunger. After the sixth day passed, they were ready for their attack.
As the last glow of the embers died, there was complete silence in the village, not a hooting owl nor a barking dog.
I slipped out of my bed. I unbolted the door and stared into the darkness and darkness, my oldest companion welcomed me into its open arms. I looked up at the full moon and I knew that it was impossible to stop me because I was a born hunter. I leaped into the night, stealthily sauntering along the periphery of the village, pausing to hear for movement of life. After a long time prowling around, I saw a movement. A white goat was standing in the dark. I enlarged my eyes to ascertain whether it was a goat. It was! I sauntered forward, slowly. When I reached near the goat, I observed that it was tied to a small buried peg. It was a bait! I snarled, “These puny humans!” I felt a sharp pain throbbing through my chest. And then another jab. “I have hit him!” I heard one of the Akas scream. Feeling the sheering pain, I ran back, leaping through the darkness. Our hunter’s life is uncertain like this, some days we kill and other days we get killed.
I barged into the door of our house.
“Oh Sun-Moon God! What on earth is this?” My mother screamed seeing me bored with two spears. I fell on the wooden floor, throbbing with a pain that was slowly spreading throughout my body. The spear tip was infused with potent wild poison. I knew that I was collapsing this time for sure.
The Akas reached our house, chasing me. “This is the house! This is the house!” They barged in through the door, pointing their guns at me.
“What have you people done to my son?” My mother wailed, tears falling down her cheeks.
The Akas were silent, their eyes shocked to see me. I was a man after all.
“We jabbed our spears into the body of a tiger and followed the tiger here!” They chorused and then cried out of shock, “This is not your son…this is a spirit tiger!Your son is the tiger we were hunting all this time!”
I thought I had hunted down the tiger but that night I realized that I was actually hunted down by the tiger and the spirit of the tiger seeped into me, turning me into a spirit tiger. That night my flesh died, but my spirit still lives on, it exists like the fiery spirit of an enraged tiger. I like to prey on lonely men passing through the dark jungle trails who would be dragged and disappeared into the woods and no one will ever know how? Or men taking refuge inside a cave who would identify the smell of death and stare at my golden eyes as I lower my nose leisurely to smell their already dead flesh. Maybe you have survived your fate all these times but how far can you elude me? I am watching your back, just turn back and see for yourself if your legs can outrun me and your brains can outwit me? Snarls.
Abotani: Abotani is considered progenitor of Tani tribes of Arunachal Pradesh in India
Adar: A local made cylindrical bamboo fishing equipment
Aka: A tribe residing in East and West Kameng districts of Arunachal Pradesh
Kameng: A river that flows in the East and West Kameng districts of Arunachal Pradesh based on which the district zones are named
Narah: A bamboo woven rucksack
Nyishi: Largest tribes of state of Arunachal Pradesh in India
Parri: A cotton wear worn by Nyishi men
Author’s Bio: Subi Taba is a civil servant by profession and a writer by passion. She writes poetry and prose. She is a Nyishi girl born in Arunachal Pradesh, India. She was awarded ‘100 Inspiring Authors of India Award’ in 2018 for her debut poetry book, Dear Bohemian Man. She has performed her poetry in many literary and poetry festivals. Her short story, Spirit of the Forest is selected for a short story anthology to be published by Zubaan publishers, Delhi. She was also one of the winners of Sunsilk Mega Miss Northeast, 2013. She attended Nagaland University, where she pursued M.Sc. (Agriculture). She loves time travel movies, exotic cuisines, wandering in the woods and being goofy with her little sister.