Along with hunting, Fierce-Face was taught to conquer his environment. No tiger lives in places he cannot rule. Either he must remain utterly fearless or move into new forests. The cats always make sure that both land and water are their own servants. Wild wood or land they master within a short time. It takes them a longer while to make sure of the rivers bordering it. In order to do this tigers are taught swimming. This proved very painful for Fierce-Face. The cub was most unhappy about it. But his mother was unyielding.
After finding all pushing and cuffing worse than useless, one sundown she took a decided step. Without hinting at what was about to happen, she led him to a wide stream, deep enough to come up to the nose of a cub. There they both took a drink and rested. As if prompted by something unknown Bagni plunged into the water. It reached to her throat. But no higher. Without casting a single glance backward, she headed to the other bank. After shaking the water off her body, she mewed sweetly to her son. His muscles stiffened. His eyes hardened. His tail trembled, then stiffened like a rod. Fear of the water, and of losing his mother were upon him. Just then he heard the loud snort of an animal from the rear.
The tigress came back swiftly and pushed him into the stream, then started fording it with him. This reminded him of the time when, hardly five weeks old, he was pushed into a shallow ravine to wash himself. There he rolled and screamed, till his own wits told him to walk to the shore. He remembered also this: how he had enjoyed being on dry ground once more. At present he used his feet to feel the bed of the river carefully despite his mother’s urging to move on rapidly.
Hardly had he gone a quarter of the way through the water when he heard a few short but loud snorts. These and their echoes hitting the water stung him like arrows. Terror loosened his footing. He slipped. Here the water seemed too deep. He rolled and drifted downstream struggling with his outstretched paws. A tiger opens his hand in order to strike. The little cat struck at the water. He repeated his stroke. To his amazement he found that instead of killing the stream he was swimming on it…
The more he struck the liquid enemy, the easier seemed the task of floating. Bagni now came abreast of him and pushed forward. When they had clambered up the far bank they looked back to identify the noises that had been drawing towards the river. It was like a thing of magic: there stood a wall of tusks, trunks, and heads of elephants, an entire herd! They had come to their drinking place as usual and were showing their resentment of all felines by trumpeting. Swimming increased the cub’s sense of selfconfidence. He felt like a master – both on water and solid ground. Now the female instructor set about weeding their entire jungle of dangerous cats and dogs; such as leopards, wolves, dogs and cheetahs. Single-handed she succeeded in scaring them away permanently. Fierce-Face devoured these lessons. He took time to digest the idea that if other beasts of prey roamed in his world, they would eat all the bovine herds, leaving nothing for him.
Bagni went on teaching her cub. His final training lay in learning those feelings by which an animal knows remote dangers. Though remote, they are just as destructive as the attack by an enemy at hand. What are the remote dangers that threaten a tiger’s life? They are fire, flood, drought and disease. A cat has to know them. February was over. Mother and son moved into the neighborhood of man. In some parts of India it is the period of migration. From the first of March the dry season rules. The present short spring ended in a heat wave.
First, it put its tentacles at the root of saplings, reeds, bamboo, and grass. Then, leaf by leaf the trees lost their brief spring foliage. The sudden burst of fragrance fell upon the land like a storm. Winter’s decay was swept aside in a week. In turn, spring was flung out of existence by the drought. Flowers withered as if poisoned. Leaves turned ashen on boughs. Dust like the finest powder descended layer upon layer on seeds and unborn herbs to hide them from the sun. That which yesterday was panoplied with spring now hid itself under a raiment of dust.
Such a crisis drives the wild ones in two directions. Some go to the depth of the jungle where thick branches of aged trees save the springs from completely drying up, while the rest of the forest-folk go to the land of wide rivers on whose banks men live. “Civilisation follows rivers.” The villages of India dot the banks of her immense streams. There seems to be an ancient understanding between men and beasts. They draw nearer each other oppressed by the common terror of drought bordering on famine. During this particular dry season, Fierce-Face met mankind; also a man-eating tiger.
Excerpted with permission from Fierce-Face the Tiger: Jungle Stories, Dhan Gopal Mukherji, Talking Cub.