A Tiger Comes To Town by R.K. Narayan

Following text is from the 1983 novel "A Tiger for Malgudi" by R. K. Narayan.

When I entered the Market Road, people ran for their lives at the sight of me. As I passed through, shutters were pulled down, and people hid themselves in drains, on trees, and behind pillars. The population was melting out of sight.

At the circus I had no chance to study human beings. They had sat in their seats peacefully while I cowered before captain’s whip. I got a totally wrong idea of human beings at that angle. I had thought that they were strong and fearless. But now I found them running from me like a herd of deer, although I had no intention of attacking them. When I paused in front of a tailor’s shop, he abandoned his machine and shut himself in a cupboard, wailing, “Alas, I am undone, won’t someone shoot that tiger?”

A prisoner, between two constables, got his chance to escape when the constables fled, abandoning him with his handcuffs. I tore a horse from its Jutka and enjoyed the sight of the passengers spilling out of it and running for their lives.

Sheer hopelessness seemed to have seized the townspeople. They withdrew into their homes and even there remained nervous. All doors and windows everywhere were shut, bolted and sealed. Some even thought that I was some extraordinary creature who might pass through the walls and lie in wait on the roof or in the basement. Why should an ordinary, simple tiger have any interest in them, either to destroy or to safeguard?

I rested for a moment at the door of a restaurant, the coffee drinkers and tiffin-eaters sat still at their tables, uttering low moans on seeing me. I wanted to assure them, ‘Don’t fear, I am not out to trouble you. Eat your tiffin in peace, don’t mind me ……You – nearest to me, hugging the cash box – you are a coward, afraid – afraid even to breathe. Go on, count the cash, if that’s what you want. I just want to watch, that’s all …. If my tail trails down to the street, if I am blocking your threshold, it is because I’m eleven feet tip to tail. I can’t help it, I’m not out to kill. I’m too full. I found a green pasture full of food on my way. I won’t need any food for several days to come. I won’t attack until I feel hungry again. Tigers attack only when they feel hungry, unlike human beings who kill one another without purpose or hunger’.

To the great delight of children, schools were being hurriedly closed. Children of all ages and sizes were running helter-skelter, screaming joyously, ‘No school, no school. Tiger, Tiger!’ They were shouting and laughing and even enjoyed being scared.

I followed them through their school gate while they ran up and shut themselves in the school hall. I climbed up the steps of the school, saw an open door at the far end of a verandah, and walked in. It happened to be the Headmaster’s room. I noticed a very dignified man jumping on his table and heaving himself up into an attic. I walked in and flung myself on the cool floor, having a special liking for cool stone floors, with my head under the large desk.

I was in no mood to bother about anything. All I wanted was a little moment of sleep. While I slept, I had been properly locked up and was being watched.

After I woke up, I heard a teacher saying, ‘Now that this brute is safely locked up, we must decide…….’

At this moment my Master pushed his way through the crowds and scolded, ‘Never use the words ‘beast’ or ‘brute’. They’re ugly words coined by man in his arrogance. The human being thinks all other creatures are ‘beasts’. Awful word!’

‘Is this the time to discuss problems of vocabulary?’

‘Why not?’ retorted my Master, at which they looked extremely upset and angry. Someone said, ‘What a reckless man you are! Who are you?’

‘You are asking a profound question. I’ve no idea who I am! All my life I have been trying to find the answer. Are you sure you know who you are?’

Meanwhile, I awoke after a very good stretch of sleep and heard voices outside. I looked up and saw the headmaster cowering in the attic. I stretched myself and roared, for no particular reason except that I felt alive. The poor human being in the loft must have trembled at the moment. I wished to assure him that I was not going to hurt him. I raised myself, put up my forelegs on the wall, scratched it, and growled softly which made him more nervous.

I knew my Master was outside, I could hear him say, ‘No one is going to school. You will see the tiger come out and walk off with me… One of you take a ladder in and help the headmaster come down from the attic.’

‘Do you mean to say you are going in as you are, without arms or protection?’ They asked him.

‘Yes, that’s what I’m going to do. We have no time to waste.’

The Chairman of the ‘Tiger Committee’ said, ‘By the powers I have being the second Honorary Magistrate, I give you notice that you shall not open nor enter that room.’

My Master asked, ‘Why do you prevent me from going near the tiger?’

They were at a loss to answer – ‘It’s unlawful to commit suicide,’ they said.

‘May be,’ said my Master, ‘but which section of the law says that a man should not approach a tiger? Are not circus people doing it all the time?’

‘Yes,’ replied the Chairman weakly. ‘But that’s different.’

‘I can tame a tiger. It’s after all my life that I’m risking.’

The Chairman was visibly confused and bewildered. ‘In that case you will have to sign an affidavit absolving us from all responsibilities for your life or death’.

‘All right, give me a piece of paper and tell me what to write.’

The Magistrate took out a sheet of paper from his briefcase and gave it to my Master. My Master wrote the Chairman’s dictation, absolving everyone there from all responsibility. He signed the document and returned it with the comment: ‘I’ve signed it just to respect your magistracy, although I’m convinced it’s uncalled for and irrelevant. You are exercising unnecessary authority.’

The Chairman looked at the document and said, ‘Stop, wait. Tell me what is it that you have written here?’

‘Only what you have dictated.’

‘In a language we don’t know! I can’t accept it.’

‘It’s in Sanskrit, in which our scriptures are written, the language of the gods. I write only Sanskrit although I know ten other languages including Japanese.’ Without further ado he put the key into the lock of the Headmaster’s room.

‘Let us go now,’ said my Master. ‘You must realise’ that human beings, for all their bluster are timid creatures. They are likely to panic when they see you. Don’t look at them. That’s the only way to maintain one’s peace of mind.’

Summary

"A Tiger Comes to Town" is a story about a circus tiger that managed to escape unnoticed from his cage one day and went strolling in the streets of the town. He was accustomed to giving performances in a circus where the audience showed no signs of fear. This made him think that men were strong and fearless.

As he walked down the street, he realised how wrong he was. Men behaved totally differently. Their behaviour was both surprising and amusing as they ran for their lives on seeing him. He wondered why they were scared of him when he did not mean to harm them.

Feeling tired after a long day’s stroll, he looked for a place to lie down and rest. He entered a school where the children got excited but their teachers sent them into a big hall for safety. The tiger entered the Headmaster’s room and finding it cool, went off to sleep. The terrified Headmaster jumped to the loft for safety. Meanwhile the teachers locked up the room from outside till they found a safer method to pull out the tiger.

When the tiger woke up, he heard his master arguing with the teachers who were not letting him in and also about their use of the term ‘brute’ for the tiger which he thought was an unkind word.

When the tiger woke up, he heard teachers and other officials talking outside the room. His Master was pleading with them to allow him to enter the room in order to take the tiger out but they refused. They felt that by going unarmed, he would be risking his life. All his efforts to convince them that nothing would happen to him, failed. Finally, after a lot of persuasion the Magistrate who was also the Chairman of the Tiger Committee said that he would allow him on a condition that he would give an affidavit stating that he was doing so at his own risk and that no one was to blame if anything went wrong. Irritated by all this fuss, the Master agreed to do so.

The Master deliberately wrote the affidavit in Sanskrit. He knew that neither the Magistrate nor the teachers knew Sanskrit. This was his way of making them realise how limited their learning and understanding was. Since Sanskrit is an officially recognised language, the Magistrate had no choice but to accept it.

The story is told in the first person where the tiger, who is the central character, narrates his experiences in his own words as though he were a talking and feeling tiger. The story is narrated from the tiger’s point of view. The author has put words in his mouth as though he were a talking and feeling character and therefore it is written in the first person.