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Life of Pi (part 1 chapter 48)

2006-08-22 21:08

  CHAPTER   48

  Richard Parker was so named because of a clerical error. A panther was terrorizing the Khulna district of Bangladesh, just outside the Sundarbans. It had recently carried off a little girl. All that was found of her was a tiny hand with a henna pattern on the palm and a few plastic bangles. She was the seventh person killed in two months by the marauder. And it was growing bolder. The previous victim was a man who had been attacked in broad daylight in his field. The beast dragged him off into the forest, where it ate a good part of his head, the flesh off his right leg and all his innards. His corpse was found hanging in the fork of a tree. The villagers kept a watch nearby that night, hoping to surprise the panther and kill it, but it never appeared. The Forest Department hired a professional hunter. He set up a small, hidden platform in a tree near a river where two of the attacks had taken place. A goat was tied to a stake on the river's bank. The hunter waited several nights. He assumed the panther would be an old, wasted male with worn teeth, incapable of catching anything more difficult than a human. But it was a sleek tiger that stepped into the open one night. A female with a single cub. The goat bleated. Oddly, the cub, who looked to be about three months old, paid little attention to the goat. It raced to the water's edge, where it drank eagerly. Its mother followed suit. Of hunger and thirst, thirst is the greater imperative. Only once the tiger had quenched her thirst did she turn to the goat to satisfy her hunger. The hunter had two rifles with him: one with real bullets, the other with immobilizing darts. This animal was not the man-eater, but so close to human habitation she might pose a threat to the villagers, especially as she was with cub. He picked up the gun with the darts. He fired as the tiger was about to fell the goat. The tiger reared up and snarled and raced away. But immobilizing darts don't bring on sleep gently, like a good cup of tea; they knock out like a bottle of hard liquor straight up. A burst of activity on the animal's part makes it act all the faster. The hunter called his assistants on the radio. They found the tiger about two hundred yards from the river. She was still conscious. Her back legs had given way and her balance on her front legs was woozy. When the men got close, she tried to get away but could not manage it. She turned on them, lifting a paw that was meant to kill. It only made her lose her balance. She collapsed and the Pondicherry Zoo had two new tigers. The cub was found in a bush close by, meowing with fear. The hunter, whose name was Richard Parker, picked it up with his bare hands and, remembering how it had rushed to drink in the river, baptized it Thirsty. But the shipping clerk at the Howrah train station was evidently a man both befuddled and diligent. All the papers we received with the cub clearly stated that its name was Richard Parker, that the hunter's first name was Thirsty and that his family name was None Given. Father had had a good chuckle over the mix-up and Richard Parker's name had stuck.

  I don't know if Thirsty None Given ever got the man-eating panther.

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