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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Jim Corbett and human bait: An unrecorded incident

During1965-66, I was working as a field botanist with the Indian System of Medicine Survey Unit of Government of India and was posted at Ranikhet. I was to survey the medicinal and aromatic plants of the terai region of UP from Chorgalia to Haldwani to Ramnagar on foot. During those days, the roads were not metalled and used to be closed during the rainy season.

india Updated: Sep 22, 2006 00:11 IST
Dr NC Shah
Dr NC Shah
None
Hindustantimes
         

During1965-66, I was working as a field botanist with the Indian System of Medicine Survey Unit of Government of India and was posted at Ranikhet. I was to survey the medicinal and aromatic plants of the terai region of UP from Chorgalia to Haldwani to Ramnagar on foot. During those days, the roads were not metalled and used to be closed during the rainy season. About seventy years ago, this region was well known for two important historical figures. One was Jim Corbett, who had shot more than a 100 man-eating tigers and leopards in Kumaon and Garhwal region and had lived in Kaladhungi and the other was Sultana Daku, who was called the ‘Robinhood of India’ by Corbett in his book My India. It was October and we were to survey the area from Haldwani to Ramnagar, a distance of about 35 miles via Kaladhungi and Belpara. Apart from collection of technical information like the local names and uses from the local people of the region, I also used to ask the old people about Jim Corbett and Sultana Daku because I had read and heard much about these two from my father and uncles in my childhood. They had seen Corbett at Ranikhet where he used to show his wildlife movies and ‘prized maneaters’ to the British soldiers.

We had set out in the morning from Haldwani for Kaladhungi and our marching speed was very slow due to the collection of plants and pressing these for preparation of herbarium and making field notes. About five or six miles before Kaldhungi, we wanted to have our lunch and halt for siesta.

Our guide took our party of four to a house in the village. Our host received us outside his well-built double-storey house. He took us to the first floor into a small room through a spacious courtyard or ‘dalan’ surrounded by a four feet high stone wall. In the middle of the courtyard there was an ‘okhal’ (pounding hole) and the cattle were tied at the entrance to the house. There was a small room covered with a ‘moshtha’ (bamboo mat) and on the side of the walls, small ‘dunn’ (small woolen bhotia carpets) were spread out. Two small windows directly opened into the courtyard. As usual, we showed our host the plants we had collected on the way and noted the information he gave us. After completing  our report, the others went out and I was left alone with my host in the room. I asked him whether he knew Corbett Sahib, the famous ‘shikari’.

That’s when he told me an interesting anecdote which had occurred right at the place where I was sitting!

The live human bait

He narrated to me a story which was perhaps, true. About 30-35 years ago, a maneater leopard prowled the area. This information was sent by the villagers to Jim Corbett who lived nearby in Kaladhungi. Corbett tried hunting the leopard by using a ‘machan’ and goats and cows as bait but in vain.

He was very upset because within a week’s time the maneater had found another victim. Then, Corbett decided to use human bait. But who would come forward and become the bait?

Someone suggested to Corbett that our host, who was young at that time and had an ailing old mother, may help. So, one fine morning, Corbett came to convince our host. He promised that nothing would happen to our host and his mother would be taken care of. Our host at last, agreed and both of them drew up a secret pact. It was planned that the ailing old lady would be kept on a cot in the middle of the courtyard and Corbett would sit in the very room in which we were sitting at that time.

That day, Corbett reached our host’s house late in the evening when it was dark. Things moved according to plan and Corbett sat with his rifle in that room.

But that night, nothing happened and he old lady was brought back into the house. Early in the morning, Corbett returned home before any villagers could see him. The next day, he returned. There was pindrop silence everywhere and only the coughing of the old lady could be heard.

About an hour before midnight, Corbett saw a dark image on the left side behind the wall of the courtyard. Suddenly, the shadow jumped at the bait.

Corbett was tense and even as the ‘shadow’ was half way in the air, he fired.

The leopard fell dead about a distance of ten yards from the old lady’s cot. The old lady shrieked in fear. She was taken in immediately. Corbett examined his booty in the light of a lantern. He returned to Kaladhungi and sent along a few men to collect the dead body of the leopard before the villagers could find out.

Corbett paid the host to have his mother treated and the matter was kept a secret.

That evening we started for Kaladhungi on the same road which Corbett had used!

Meanwhile, I must tell you that Corbett has written six books but very few people know that all of Corbett’s books were vetted by Mrs Noel Barwell, wife of Colonel Noel Barwell of Ranikhet.

It was in 1970 that I heard a radio broadcast by All India Radio on the life of Jim Corbett narrated by Melville de Mello, the famous newsreader. It was an excellent and informative presentation and I wrote a letter of appreciation to him mentioning this episode. He asked me to write to him about this episode as he was writing a book on Corbett.

He acknowledged the receipt of my true story but I never knew whether he included it in his book or not.