Corbett’s gift

Jim Corbett. Like many other children of my age, I’d devoured his books about the man-eaters of Kumaon. Boy’s adventure stories, as I recalled later. In my twenties when I reread them, I found that the stories are about his hunts, but they do not revel in the kill. More, I found loving descriptions of his native Kumaon, and realized why he is now feted more as a conservationist than a hunter. So, staying in a homestay just outside the walled village of Chhoti Haldwani, I was intrigued to see the inscription by a gate that you can see in the photo above.

Corbett owned a tract of land at the point where the wonderful hill road from Nainital through Pangot and Kilbury joins State Highway 41. He gave it to several families who still farm this land. A low stone wall, nine kilometers long, surrounds this land. A century ago this land was full of wild boars, which would destroy crops. Corbett was unwilling to hunt them down, and had the wall built at his own expense. In the short run it was a wonderful conservation measure. But in the long run, human expansion has urbanized the jungle and, by depriving the boars of space, driven them to extinction. Still, one is advised not to walk around this wall alone at night. You see stray deer, and there is a slight danger of running into a leopard or a tiger. I wonder how this land will fare in another fifty years.

Corbett’s old house sits just outside the walled fields. I wandered through the small museum that this has now been turned into, and came across letters which bear on the transfer of this land. I was amused to find the phrase “manufacture of red tape”. He used it again in his story about the man-eating tiger of Mukteshwar.

I wandered through the museum, looking at the photos and paintings which show Jim Corbett at various ages. I’d never seen a photo of the man before, and was struck by how ordinary he looked. Wandering about the grounds of the museum I saw a little memorial to his dog, Robin. If you’ve read Man-eaters of Kumaon, you might remember that one of the stories is about Robin.

After the visit to the museum we cut through the walled village to get to our homestay. The path wound between houses and then through fields and orchards. I wondered about Corbett, a person who seemed to be completely at home in India. But his India was very different from now. The forests of Corbett National Park, originally set up through Corbett’s efforts, and the adjoining areas perhaps are the last we see of it. Fortunately, these are preserved as a transnational biosphere reserve which might give our wildlife a chance to adapt to climate changes.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

17 comments

      1. Quite as interesting was this snippet of information. In Corbett’s last years in Kenya, it fell on him to stand guard against wild animals when the future Elizabeth II spent a night in a tree house, the night when her father George VI died.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I, too, laughed when I read his thoughts on the “manufacture of red tape.” What a great way of putting it. Protection of habitat and animals is crucial. In our area, we continue to develop habitat and then people complain about deer, coyotes and bears in their yards and expect the government to do something. We need to learn to live with the other species on this planet.

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  2. My mom read The Man Eater’s of Kumaon through a book club and she loved it. It had a position of honor on her shelves. I started it sometime — junior high? But I wasn’t interested in that kind of story at that point in my life. I would probably appreciate it now.

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  3. Corbett still continues to be one of my favourite nature and wildlife writers. I keep coming back to him before any holiday to the forests or hills. But recently I read that he also hunted humans! He was enlisted to join search and apprehend teams to track down dacoits and dangerous men. I couldn’t believe it was the same Corbett but apparently dacoits would hide in the thick forests and they needed trackers and hunters with Corbetts patience and persistence!

    Liked by 1 person

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