Read A Tiger for Malgudi Online

Authors: R. K. Narayan

A Tiger for Malgudi (9 page)

Meanwhile I must say I had become unpopular with Captain. He shunned me for a few days and dropped my acts completely from his announcements, explaining to the audience in one of his speeches, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to say that Raja’s acts have to be suspended for a few days as he has distemper and needs rest and isolation.’
‘Rest and isolation’meant starving to me. They gave me neither food nor water for three days on end, Captain’s usual method of chastening one’s temper. I wished I could have explained that what I had done was due to robust health and hunger and in no way to be described as distemper. Distemper indeed! If they had left me alone, I could have helped them forget the existence of the goat completely. At least they should have let me finish off my prize; I had thought I would take it to my cage ... What right did he have to starve me? I felt enraged at the thought of Captain and his allies and wished the iron bars could yield, and then I could show them another way to celebrate the Jubilee. The isolation hurt me most. I had got used to the company of that wonderful chimp and all the good fellows, gossiping among ourselves from our confinements or tether posts. However, the chimp sneaked in beside my cage unobserved when Captain was away on some business in the town and the keepers were relaxing. He said, ‘What had come over you?’
‘I was hungry, that’s all,’I said.
‘How can you eat a friend with whom you had been on milk-drinking terms, however hungry you might be! Though I am sorry for the poor goat, for he was mild and inoffensive, I’m glad to say that it’s done us some good. Captain is talking of closing the Jubilee shows and resting for a few days. I was there when he was talking to his wife at breakfast and she said, “The first wise act in your life ... We are all at breaking point, I’m sure.” He didn’t dispute her remark as he normally would, but remained moody and gave me a cup of tea to wash down a buttered toast. It was so good. Why can’t you also eat these things, so much better than your normal preferences ... You’ll be a good fellow if you learn to eat things that don’t move or breathe, and then people will not blame you, but accept you in society and have you around without these iron bars. Then you will be popular, not feared. If you are hungry, I can bring you a banana and some nuts sometimes. Many visitors bring me a lot - I can’t eat all of it ...’
Listening to him made me feel worse. I said, ‘Don’t talk about food, unless you can get me what I can eat. It’s no use talking about it. Your talk makes my hunger worse ...’And the chimp went away with a leer. I was in no mood for jokes.
I suffered hunger another day. When I was lying half-dead Captain came up, peered in through the bars, and said to his companion, ‘Take a look at him now. Not at his best. He is under treatment for his misconduct. I hope he has learnt a lesson ...’
‘Put up another goat before him and see what he can do. That was a magnificent shot I took in sixteen-millimetre. I was lucky to be there in time to take it. I don’t think you could ever repeat it. One-in-a-million situation ... As I watched, he was so quick no one could have noticed his action. His head shot up like a cobra’s and he just pecked at that goat ... but it was like a — it was snap-action, neat, precise like a surgeon’s ...’That man was so full of enthusiasm and praise for me that he became incoherent and could hardly complete a sentence.
Captain said, ‘So what?’
‘You don’t seem to appreciate it ... It’d be an impossible, unbelievably perfect shot - the kind of thing that a film director would be dreaming about. I shall treasure the shot I’ve taken and use it somewhere, and if it gets an award in any international film show, don’t be surprised ...’
‘Raja is my tiger, and I want a royalty for a show by him...’
The other laughed as if he had heard a humorous statement, and then said, ‘Captain, ever since I saw Raja’s surgical performance on the goat, I have been thinking of a story in which I could put him to proper use ...’
‘I have to think it over,’said the Captain. ‘I can’t give an instant yes or no. I want two days.’
‘But I can’t force you to give a reply. Think it over, and understand that I can give you a handsome offer ... but don’t starve him further. Feed him. He is magnificent; don’t spoil him. You have no idea how he will look in colour.’He took another long look at me and said,‘Raja the Great. I am sure you will cooperate with us ...’
Both of them went away. I heard the tinkling of the bucket handle and stood expectantly. My food was come. An attendant placed meat and water in the other half of the cage, locked it, and pulled open the partition. I gave a roar of pleasure, and attained a feeling of well-being very soon. I was able to pace up and down the entire length of the cage in a happy state of mind.
Captain spoke to his wife about the film-maker that night. After the Jubilee he was going through a period of rest for two weeks before starting preparations to move on to Trichy, the next camp. This was just the time when Captain could enjoy a little domestic felicity. Go to bed early and find time to talk to his wife. When he mentioned the film proposal she asked,‘What exactly is Raja expected to do?’
‘I’ll know it soon, but I must know first of all whether we should consider the proposal at all ...’
‘I’ll say nothing until I know what you are going to say.’
‘So that I may save you the trouble of contradicting me.’
They were in a pleasant mood of banter without acrimony or any relevance. She asked, ‘Can they handle Raja?’
‘They can’t. The idea seems to be that they will tell me what they want, and I get Raja to do it.’
She remained in deep thought for a while and said, ‘I don’t know, I’ve always hated that brute ... seems undependable ... I feel uneasy whenever you are out with him.’
Captain laughed at her fears. ‘Let me say he is more docile than a Siamese cat ... However, I’m not asking for a testimonial, but whether we should consider the film proposal at all.’
‘Yes, if he will buy this little cat off your hands ...’
‘Nothing of the kind, my dear, I won’t part with him as long as I run a circus. I’m looking for another goat to train; until then Raja can be used elsewhere.’
‘Another poor goat to be made into a ghost?’was all that she could say.‘Shocking it was. I realized that if you relax even for a split second he’ll, God knows what he will do ... the way he glares! I feel more easy with your lions ... they are noble and gentle - I don’t know why you should not be satisfied with their work, and want to bother about this tiger or any tiger ...’
‘Given a chance the lion can also bifurcate a goat. Don’t take too harsh a view of Raja for it ... He didn’t do it out of malevolence, but a sudden impulse of mischief. That’s a way of life in their jungle society.’
‘What an explanation!’she cried.‘I don’t know if you will ever listen to me.’
‘All the time I do nothing but listen. Anyway, the main question is whether Raja should be lent for film work at all. However, there is time to think it over. Instead of idling his time ...’
The film-maker, whose visiting card, embossed on a thin sandalwood strip that filled Captain’s office with fragrance, said, ‘Madhusudan, Cine-Director and Producer’, came in as promised on the third day.
Captain said,‘The scent of your visiting card heralds your arrival even before you appear.’
‘That’s my intention, Captainji. If you keep it in your table drawer, you will not forget me. Call me Madan.’
Captain showed him a chair.‘I’m a TT, but I can get you a drink, if you would like that sort of thing ...’
‘Never touch a drop when I have to talk business.’
‘Why?’asked Captain.‘I thought for people like you it’d sharpen your negotiations.’
‘No, sir, I should like to be aware of what I’m saying,’said the director.
Captain engaged him in small talk for a while, called for soft drinks, and said,‘Now let me hear your proposal.’
The director cleared his throat and lit a cigarette.‘It’s a simple one. Ever since I saw your tiger, I wanted to make a picture with him in the chief role. I have watched his performance for weeks now, while the idea was developing in my mind. But when I saw him the other evening so neatly slicing the goat, I said to myself, “Ah, here is my material, here is what I have been seeking eternally. I’m at the end of the quest.”’
‘The tip of the rainbow where the golden bowl is!’added Captain.
‘You are absolutely right, sir,’cried the director.‘So you understand me! You are a genius, sir.’
Captain cried,‘You are no less so, now go on. We understand each other.’
The director said,‘Ever since I saw that act of your tiger in relation to the goat, I felt inspired, particularly after I saw the shot in sixteen-millimetre, which of course is going to be blown up to thirty-five and integrated in the feature, and, oh, boy! it’s going to be a sensation.’
Captain, being used to the company of monologists, sat patiently without fidgeting or interrupting the other’s flow of talk as he went on dilating on his aesthetic and commercial outlook without coming near any actual offer. When he had gone on for fifteen minutes, Captain felt he should put in a sentence of his own lest the other take him to be asleep, and said: ‘You found the goat scene inspiring, but my wife Rita, although accustomed to circus life, felt sickened by the spectacle and retired; even now when she recollects the scene, she is in tears ...’
The other said,‘Of course, women are likely to be squeamish, and we have to make allowances for that, but we can’t allow our plans to be guided by them. I always take care to see that when my picture goes up for the censor’s certificate it is seen only by the male members on the panel ... After all the film medium is where Art and Commerce meet - we have to keep that fact always in mind. All the sentimentalists’ outcry against the so-called sex and violence must be ignored. They make too much out of it. Life is created and made possible only through sex and violence, no use fighting against it, shutting one’s eyes to the facts of life ... Inspired by your circus act I sat up that night and wrote the outline of the story in which Raja would be the main feature. The human side in the story will be a hero called Jaggu. I have already booked him; he was an all-in wrestler and physical-feats performer and weighs one hundred kilogrammes, two metres in height. When he is photographed, his figure will fill a wide screen. I had booked him and was looking for a story. I was lucky to have got one of your VIP seats at the show, through a friend in the Collector’s office - that’s how I was able to film the goat sequence.’
‘I didn’t notice your camera ... I’d not have permitted it.’
‘I know, I know, I wouldn’t blame you. But I’ve a special kind of camera, which can’t be noticed ... What was I saying?’
‘Your last sentence ringing in my ear is “Goat sequence...”’
‘Thank you. The goat, brought up as a pet, is constantly being pursued by the tiger, who is accustomed to ripping off goat heads, but the giant who owns the goat fights it off with his bare hands. He finally captures the tiger and trains it to live at peace with the goat ... Non-violence is India’s contribution to civilization. I got the idea from your own speech before the tiger act; violence can be conquered only by non-violence...’
‘Then how are you going to fit in the shot you have already taken?’
The director became thoughtful. ‘I’ll get a story writer to fix all that. After all it should be his business. How can you show non-violence without showing a lot of violence and how bad it is?’
‘Sex, how about it?’Captain was enjoying this talk. He found it relaxing after all the strenuous labour of recent days.
‘Oh, yes, that part of the story will come through in our story conference and the story writer should be able to work it in properly. Everyone knows how important normal sex is and what an evil sex can turn out to be without a proper philosophy of life.’
‘With a virile giant running about, it should not be difficult for him to hunt women also ... Well, that part of it cannot concern me - only the tiger. If we agree on terms and if you would complete Raja’s part of the work within the time I specify, it’ll suit me.’
‘I don’t know ... If there should be any retakes?’
‘We’ll think of it. But let us discuss terms, if we may...’
‘I hope you will not demand too much. I want your cooperation and encouragement. We are planning on a moderate budget, getting the technicians and crew from Madras, shooting mostly outdoors ...’
‘I can spare Raja for two weeks at the start and for retake extensions, we’ll see, we may have to think of special terms ...’
‘What are your terms? You are mentioning only special terms.’
‘Meet me again three days from now. I’ll have to talk to my lawyer.’
‘There should be no delay ... We must shoot in the bright season. I am anxious to start the production without delay. I have come to you because you are an animal lover like me; with your cooperation I want to make an international picture. I’m not having a dialogue writer yet, I want to try how far we can go with a minimum of speech, which should make the picture appreciable anywhere in the world ... I am young - I want your blessing,’he appealed.
‘I’m not a hermit to give blessings. I’m only a businessman, and expect my terms to be fulfilled if my services are wanted.’
At which Madan threw open his briefcase, took out a cheque-book and a pen, poised the point over the cheque, and said,‘Mention your figure and I’ll put it down and sign. I’m also a businessman.’
Captain watched him calmly with a smile.‘Put it back. I don’t accept a cheque. Anyway, I have said see me again and we can discuss terms. On Friday you will have my terms neatly written down. You will have only to put your signature to it, and then you may schedule your work.’
It sounded simple enough, but Madan found it difficult to conclude the transaction. He could not understand what Captain expected him to do to finalize the business. He came almost every morning. He was staying at The Travellers’ Bungalow, four miles out, and had to visit the circus camp every day. He had to be satisfied with meeting Anand, who would keep him seated in his office, offer him coffee and soft drinks but no interview with the boss:‘He is in the training enclosure,’which implied that no one could reach him or watch him at work. Captain knew it was hard on the creature under training, and did not want any sentimental busybody to watch and carry tales to the SPCA. Any visitor who strayed beyond the STRICTLY KEEP OUT board faced the danger of being thrown out.

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