Certainly, this shooting of a man-eating tiger will rank among the most dramatic, and comparable to Jim Corbett. On November 19, a man-eating tiger, which had earlier killed a farmer in the Hediyala range of Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, pounced upon a forest guard, Shivkumar, as a buffalo bait was being tied to lure, tranquilise and trap it. The tiger had consistently ignored live baits and chosen humans as it was a damaged male. Karnataka State Rifle association secretary and professional hunter Gyanchand Susheel has slain six rogue elephants and five man-eating leopards earlier. He deployed a Mauser-action, .375 Magnum single-barrel rifle by Holland & Holland using 300 grain, soft-nosed bullets by Hornady, in this fearful face-off in the late evening of the Bandipur bush. Only a .375 calibre and above is officially allowed to liquidate man-eaters as a last resort.
The action from the time the tiger roared to the point the second bullet entered its skull, was less than 12 seconds, Gyanchand told this writer while sharing the details: “We noticed a ping-pong ball-sized spot of orange in the bushes and slight movements. Suddenly, the tiger rushed out with a roar as it must have been very hungry. There was a stampede but Shivkumar stood transfixed. The tiger leapt from 8-10 feet and got him by the nape of the neck. Tigers grip the lower body of the victim with their claws and then change the jaws’ grip to bite through the wind-pipe/jugular vein. Shivkumar was crying ‘save me, save me’ in Kannada. I reacted very, very fast knowing I had seconds only. My first shot was a high one from seven feet, to avoid collateral damage.
The bullet hit the tiger’s vertebrae ahead of the shoulders. The tiger was paralysed by the shot, but it kept holding Shivkumar. I then rammed another round into the rifle’s chamber from the four-shot magazine. Instead of the classic approach of firing from behind the animal, I now approached from the front and was virtually staring into the tiger’s eyes. I aimed at the high brain area with an angle that the bullet would go down to the spine and avoid Shivkumar. That finished the tiger. His jaw opened and Shivkumar’s neck was released, but his cap was left hanging, looped around its lower canines. I removed my shirt to staunch Shivkumar’s copious blood flow. Luckily for Shivkumar, the tiger had a missing lower canine and his first grip underneath the hairline was not a killer grip. Shivkumar was rushed to Mysore hospital in a critical state but has since been declared out of danger.”
A Pilgrim’s Journey...
In North Kashmir’s Kupwara district, Lolab is a pilgrimage for a connoisseur of natural beauty. The Lalkul stream, lapping at the ears like the feeble notes of a santoor, scissors through the many unfolding vales of Lolab. The Lolab once sparkled in the celebratory verses of Allama Muhammad Iqbal: “Paani tere cheshmon ka tadapta hua seemab, mugane-e-sehar teri fizaon mein hein betaab, ae wadi-e-Lolab, ae wadi-e-Lolab (O, Valley of the Lolab…The shimmering water in your springs is like volatile mercury, the morning birds fervently fly in your skies…).”
But since the 1990s, the Lolab is a haven for Pakistani militants, nestling as it does in the LoC’s long shadows. Has this paradise metamorphosed to an accursed meadow, which like a coffin beautifully draped, encloses bones rotting and flesh besieged by muted maggots? Is the Lalkul duty-bound to drain leaking blood, like the street sweeper of dawn? Do the meadow’s wild blooms seem -- as if strewn by nemesis’ hands to adorn advancing colonies of graves? Do the ears serve us treacherously in the Lolab: is the merry twitter of wild birds a sombre swan song, the sweet resonance of gun salutes in faraway places? The wind hisses fiercely in the alpine firs, is it the hiss of a tree’s bones warming up a soldier’s pyre?
The death of Col Santosh Mahadik, CO, 41 Rashtriya Rifles, Sena Medal (Gallantry), headquartered at Kalaroos in the Lolab, on November 17, brought to the fore his less-known efforts to foster tourism and rekindle beauty in the locals’ dulled eyes and pained souls. Painting was his hobby. He had created a Facebook page, Kupwara Tourism. “We are trying to locate his cell phone, which had many images of nature clicked by him. The cell phone was misplaced during the encounter in which he was martyred. He would even stop and click tiny wild flowers in a meadow during his tours and operations. He invited Kashmiri youth to share their photographs of Kupwara’s beauty with him on Whatsapp, which he then uploaded to the page,” Maj Praveen, adjutant, 41 RR, told this writer.
...To the eternal flame
Col Mahadik’s village elders in Satara (Maharashtra) recall the young fellow as adventurous. He would catch live snakes and gobble raw crabs like a true commando in the making. His brother officer, Col Sumeet Dua of the Grenadiers Regiment, recalls Col Mahadik possessed a shikari’s instinct for jungle warfare and would discern subtle tell-tale signs while in ambush during ‘Op Rhino’ in Assam. A particularly poignant family photograph shows the beaming Col Mahadik with wife, Swati, and kids, Kartikee and Swaraj, on an elephant safari in Kaziranga.
He perhaps, unwittingly, wrote his own epitaph in the cyber world. On a vivid picture of a flying Yellow-billed Blue magpie uploaded on ‘Kupwara Tourism’, Col Mahadik signing in on February 12 with his personal Facebook account (as Santosh Ghorpade), commented: “Will glide like you...whole life”. On the photo of a tree afire with non-autumnal leaves, on the same date he wrote fatefully: “Will be bright like you”.
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