Today in New Delhi, India
Nov 17, 2018-Saturday
New Delhi
  • Humidity
  • Wind

Wild buzz: The goral godfather and the pistol’s sign

Apart from shoving his horns up the nearest target, the dominant male indulges in ‘’aggression displays’’ to deter potential intruders.

punjab Updated: Aug 20, 2017 11:12 IST
goat-antelope species,Lord Louis Mountbatten,maharaja of Mewar-Jodhpur
Zookeeper Bittu with Gorals in zoo enclosure; and (right) the dominant male Goral.(Photo: SHIVJOT S BHULLAR)

Embers in belly, horns on fire. How does the stud Goral at Chhatbir zoo establish dominance? This exceptional specimen of the goat-antelope species, whose natural habitat is the craggy Shivaliks, does so by butting other males with sharp horns that sweep backwards like a mafia don’s swept-back shock of black hair from the iconic film, ‘The Godfather’. On occasion, the ‘double-barrel’ wounds delivered by the horns are so deep that they turn life-threatening for smaller males. Even the Gorals’ zookeeper, Bittu, is not spared. Unlike comparable medium or small deer/antelope species at the zoo, which are not aggressive towards zoo keepers, Gorals frequently butt Bittu and rip his trousers when he puts out feed or cleans the enclosure.

Apart from shoving his horns up the nearest target, the dominant male indulges in ‘’aggression displays’’ to deter potential intruders. Reacting to our presence, the dominant male spread his hind legs and closed his forelegs. This was followed by a slow movement in circles, like a fire dance of head-hunting tribals, and interspersed with emphatic thumping of forelegs as he kept his eye riveted on us like a ruthless commando instructor.

To defuse the dominant male’s explosive cojones, the zoo’s management interns him in an isolation ward. This male would leave rivals wounded in butting sprees as none matched his vigour for violence and exclusive sex. ‘’The big male is 5-6 years old and quickly grew to a dominating size and temperament,’’ Bittu told this writer. After a spell of internment, Bittu goes in for a ‘’soft release’’, wherein the dominant male’s behaviour is observed carefully in the group enclosure. ‘’If he keeps calm, we let him be with other Gorals, especially during mating period. But if he continues to attack other males, we again isolate him. He even attacks in the non-mating season,’’ informs Bittu.


Maharaja of Mewar Hanwant Singh displaying one of his inventive sporting rifles to Lord Mountbatten, Field Marshall Sir Alan Brooke and Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck in Delhi, 1944. (GAJ SINGH II and HOLT’S AUCTIONEERS)

At the dawn of Independence, many a fascinating anecdote unravelled from the accession of princely states to the Indian Union. In the realm of the nobility’s coveted firearms, how did the first Governor General (GG) of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, come to acquire a gold-plated, pen-pistol of .22 calibre? This firearm was equipped with a 2.75 inch smooth-bore barrel, a concealed trigger and was designed personally by then maharaja of Mewar-Jodhpur, Hanwant Singh. According to his son, Gaj Singh II, this unique pistol was presented to Lord Mountbatten in a fit of princely pique.

‘’My father was irritated with VP Menon (then secretary to the Union ministry of states), who had led my father to believe that Lord Mountbatten was expecting him and then kept him waiting, and he in mock anger pulled out his pen pistol and threatened to shoot him if he deceived him. When Lord Mountbatten walked in on the scene, my father explained he was showing his new invention to Mr Menon and then gifted it to Lord Mountbatten. Lord Mountbatten personally confirmed receiving this gift from my father when I met him at King Birendra’s coronation in Nepal in 1975,’’ wrote Gaj Singh II, in his letter of June 26, 2010, to the new owner of the James Bond-esque pistol after its London sale by Holt’s Auctioneers in 2010.

The pen-pistol gifted to Lord Mountbatten. (GAJ SINGH II and HOLT’S AUCTIONEERS)

Gaj Singh II recounts in his letter that he wanted to buy the esoteric firearm worthy of medieval palace intrigue and born of his late father’s passion for weapon design and invention. But he was late in making a successful bid at the auction.

The melodramatic utility of that pen-pistol lay claim in Lord Mountbatten finding himself in the remote contingency of being forced to sign a document under duress. He could have averted that disgrace by turning the pen on the aggressor or shooting himself. This pen was mightier than any sword! After its receipt as a gift, Lord Mountbatten loaned the pistol to the Inner Magic Circle, of which both he and the Maharaja were members. Thereafter, the pen-pistol landed at the auctioneers in 2010.

The destiny of many fine, expensive weapons that occupied pride of place in the palaces of Indian nobility was that they ended up exported to the West as collector items. After the 2010 auction, the pen-pistol again came up for auction at Holt’s in 2013 and was sold for £13,000 to the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, West Yorkshire.

‘’The museum displays the National Collection of Arms and Armour. In general, this type of concealed weapon (pen-pistol) was used by secret agents and spies around the time of World War II through to the Cold War,’’ Nicola Hughes of Holt’s Auctioneers told this writer.

Akin to the legacy of the Kohinoor or ‘Black Prince’ Duleep Singh, this gem from the treasure trove of Indian weapons and birthed in ‘Gun Shop Jodhpur, 1948’, passes the day in cold exile, in some corner of foreign land.

First Published: Aug 20, 2017 11:11 IST