Friday, 13 January 2017

The Tiger King, by Kalki is about divine retribution.

Kalki's The Tiger King is a caustic comment on what happens when one harms nature. The short story by Kalki provides a humorous rendition of the consequences of killing a hundred tigers in a rather wanton manner. The Tiger King is killed, of all things by a splinter from a sub-standard carved wooden tiger that has been sold to him at an exorbitant rate (as if he would pay for it), or perhaps even the very surgeons who had been called from Madras did him in. The statement by one of them, "The operation was successful. The Maharaja is dead" suggests that the surgeons probably had a hidden agenda of executing the Tiger King because he had gone too far in killing a hundred tigers.
The consequence of killing a hundred tigers becomes evident in the manner of the tiger king's death and the warning is that one should beware of harming nature lest one should invite the wrath of divine retribution! The manner in which "the hundredth tiger took its final revenge upon the Tiger King" is a warning to all those who would want to subject innocent animals to grievous harm.The Ancient Mariner in Coleridge's Ryme of the Ancient Mariner was punished for killing the Albatross, the Tiger King too is punished for the same reason.
The hundredth tiger appears to be the Tiger King's nemesis and each tiger that he killed added to the quantum of crime and guilt that was added to his account. The punishment of the Ancient Mariner was different from that of the Tiger King, and one might argue that the latter's death might have been a rather too easy way out from his crime than the former's. The manner of the Maharaja's death is a more sinister punishment than the Ancient Mariner's. The Surgeon's announcement about the success of the operation is eerie enough! It is as if they are hired assassins and the operation was an operation for killing the Maharaja. The warning is ominous enough, destroyers of nature, beware of what you are doing! You will be terminated by a bunch of assassins, 'exterminated,' would be the right term! Kalki's, The Tiger King is a political satire and it attacks the weaknesses and willfulness of people in power. It serves a warning that people in power have a responsibility towards their subjects and their responsibility includes protecting nature. When a person who is in power abuses his powers wilfully, like the Maharaja did, especially in the willful extermination of a hundred tigers, (ninety-nine) the punishment can be severe. In today's times, there have been instances of game-hunting among the rich and the powerful. Such instances illustrate the callousness of human beings towards wildlife. The killing of Cecil the lion, the bludgeoning of leopards by people when they stray into residential areas, all point out towards the need to think about the consequences of harming wildlife. In many cases, the perpetrators of such crimes go scot free, but then Kalki ends his story in a rather ominous manner with a parting warning about how nature-hundredth tiger took its final revenge". You might not be put into prison because of your power, but then you never know who might be watching!
It would not be wrong to suggest that The Tiger King deals with the concept of divine retribution which also talks about divine justice. You might get away with killing ninety-nine targets, but then be punished by the hundredth tiger with might also be your nemesis! The recent case of a Bollywood celebrity being awarded a sentence for killing a BlackBuck twenty years ago is a warning that you can't get away with crimes against nature even if you are the celebrity! In the case of the Tiger King, retribution or punishment came in the form the Surgeons from the 'three famous surgeons' who were brought up from Madras, and the bad luck of the Tiger King in having a 'sliver' of wood from the poorly made wooden tiger pierce his right hand. In this case, you have the human and divine agency coming together to punish the tiger king for killing ninety-nine tigers. When the surgeons come out of the operation theatre after operating on the Tiger King and declare, "The operation was successful. The Maharaja is dead," one wonders if they might not have been part of an 'operation' to kill the Maharaja! In any case, having such an immature, superstitious and obsessed head of state would have been the worst that the people could have expected from him! It was therefore essential for the safety of the remaining tigers, and the security of the citizens of Pratibandapuram to have the Maharaja executed.

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