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Man-Eaters of Kumaon - Jim Corbett

Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 5/5

This one is decidedly a classic, so there is little point in reviewing this book. It is a beautiful one, without doubt. 

Personally, I avoid any form of entertainment (books, movies, plays, anything) which features cruelty - either directly or tacitly - towards animals (I have not yet seen any of the Planet of the Apes movies, Ant Man was uncomfortable too). So deciding to read this book took a certain degree of convincing. 

Much credit goes to the beautiful cover of the book. This one is an Aleph Classics (co-founded by David Davidar of The House of Blue Mangoes fame, and Rupa Publication) edition. In terms of sheer elegance, the cover design is unmatched.

The palette concept of jungle green coupled with the late afternoon sun creates an ambiance even before you delve into the pages. I picked out the book from a thin pile on a shelf in the little HigginBothams book-store near Charing Cross in Ooty, one biting winter evening (more on that later), such was its lure. 

The next aspect that stands out is the illustration section. Every chapter is preceded by a surmising illustration, warmly reminiscent of my Macmillan English text-books at school. Drawn superbly by Anoop Bhat, each sketch is a testimony to the wilderness and elegance of the Indian forests. My favourite among them is the one accompanying The Bachelor of Powalgarh, which, in my untrained opinion, reflects the essence of wildlife in the thickets. 

The cover illustration is by Rose Corcoran, of a tiger's head in mid-roar, looking every bit ferocious and intimidating. Upon looking up, it comes to light that both illustrators have had an affinity for nature in great capacity, as their work aptly reflects. Their intimacy with the movements of the wild serves to accentuate the intensity of the adventures that Corbett has detailed in the ensuing chapters. A hat-doffing to the very thoughtful combination of words and pictures, so as to embolden the spirit of jungle lores !

The book begins with an introduction by Stephen Alter (who penned In The Jungles of the Night, centering on Jim Corbett himself). Fittingly, his background echoes that of Corbett, and his few pages set the background for the hunter's recollections and legacy.

By the time the book starts in earnest, you are already in the foothills of the Himalayas.

As mentioned over and over again by countless readers, Corbett's narration is as seamless as the wildlife he so enjoyed; while there is remarkably little with regard to his self, his retellings seem like an extension of his personality - which, as we progress through the pages, we realise - has been moulded by the pristine environs of his childhood. He is empathetic. He observes and understands and does not seem to judge overly (at least not in words). He does not dwell unnecessarily and he is practical. You have to be, in those circumstances. Above all, he is in love with his surroundings where he was brought up; he is in love in the ways of seasoned lovers, without pretention and overt adulations. 

The simplicity of narration is only spiced by his fond descriptions, not limited to the beasts he slays. There is the wry humour of a colonial British, sans the snobbery and snigger. His retellings concerned me of his sanity in following maneaters alone, but he had undisputable reasons, that only made logical sense, not emotional. Each story is a well-documented clinical journal.

Hunters are, fortunately, a rare breed now. Those that survive are not looked upon kindly. But this, here in the Man-eaters of Kumaon, is a different, long-forgotten society of humans, uniform in their oneness with nature. Geographical and racial differences are superseded by the more basal call of the wild, leading men to co-exist in a way which is unimaginable in these days of indiscriminate poaching and tree-felling.

Man-eaters of Kumaon is a tiny and genuine reflection of the Indian social structure as it was in a time long gone by. It was cruel and kind, and with a lot of heart. Corbett's Kumaon was a place with where both men and beasts had large personalities. 


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