Friday, 12 September 2014
Carry on up The Raj!
In the early days of the British Raj, when Queen Victoria was yet to use the title Empress of India, the sub-continent was a wild, unexplored place and drew many an adventurer from the ranks of the army to seek their fortune in trade and plunge into a life of derring-do, of steamy nights under monsoon skies and thrilling expeditions into the darkest jungle fastnesses. Shortly after The Great War, a veteran of those intrepid days was discovered in an army pensioners’ hospice in Dover by a young, keen reporter, out to make his name by writing a definitive history of the times.
In his day the former Lieutenant Colonel Farquharson had been a near-legend amongst the members of his regiment and others for his bravery under fire and his extraordinary appetite for danger. Off duty he thought nothing of stalking dangerous game and often set out alone in pursuit of the lesser big cats; the leopard, the Asiatic lion and the black-as-night panther. But none engaged his passion so much as his desire to bag a royal Bengal tiger and as the reporter furiously took notes, Farquharson recounted the sequence of events leading to a very close encounter indeed with this noble and gigantic predatory beast.
“And I tell you” said the ancient, sitting ramrod-straight in his chair, “there is no greater thrill than tracking down your quarry from the lofty howdah atop a mighty Indian elephant.” He continued: “Once, we were in the dense mangrove swamps of the Sundarbans in the Ganges Delta. A small party; two elephants, a few beaters, the scouts and trackers… and me with my trusty Enfield pattern rifle-musket. Ahead we could hear the occasional deep growl of a tigress, probably defending a kill from marauding leopards; lazy devils, the leopard – rather steal food than kill it themselves, given the chance.”
The reporter scribbled on as the hunter continued his tale. “Suddenly, there was a cry from ahead. One of the beaters had unearthed a banded krait, a big one at that, and one of the deadliest of snakes. In an effort to rid himself of the venomous serpent he had inadvertently flicked it with his stick towards one of the trackers who, examining spoor, was unaware and took a nasty and ultimately fatal bite on the arm. Panic ensued as he thrashed about in his death agonies and as we all looked on helplessly nobody noticed the huge, striped man-eater appear from the undergrowth.”
“Nobody, that is, except the elephants who both reared and stampeded off, bucking the mahouts and me onto the ground. My mahouts fled but I had twisted my ankle and as I looked up to assess the situation I saw, right in front of me, the largest tiger I have ever seen. My weapon was lost, my bearers had fled and all I had were my bare fists. I adopted a fighting stance as the tiger leapt towards me with a mighty ROARRRR!”
He paused a moment, then looked straight ahead and confessed “ I’m ashamed to say, I soiled myself." The reporter looked up from his pad and said, "Under those circumstances anyone would have done the same." Farquharson shook his head sadly and went on: "No, not then. Just now, when I said ''ROARRRR!''…"