Saturday, September 6, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E

‘This queen of jungle wooed us’
Narinder Hartaj Singh

PEOPLE usually keep dogs and cats as pets. But my maternal grandfather was different he kept a very unusual pet, a tigress. He named her Haunty. My grandfather had a degree in forestry from the Institute of Forest Research, Dehra Dun. At that time he was married and had a daughter. After completing his course he got a government job and his first posting was at Moti Nala in UP. He called his family to join him. It took two days to reach Moti Nala from the nearest railway head. Nani had to spend a night in the forest on top of the tree as one of the bullocks had been killed by a tiger.

On reaching Moti Nala the family got a disheartening welcome from the predecessor’s wife. Seeing my beautiful nani she told nana that he has chosen the wrong profession because that lady had lost two of her beautiful daughters-in-law at Moti Nala due to malaria. My nana loved his family more then his job. He put in his resignation and was a free man for some time.


As he was good at his profession he got a number of offers from different states. Finally, he settled for a Nizam’s job at Bettiah in district Champaran, Bihar. He loved animals and had set up a mini zoo at a little distance from the main house. He acquired a tiger cub that was a few days old. The parents of the cub had been killed by some hunter. The small cub was a few days old and it required special attention. Since the mini zoo was at some distance, a portion of the big verandah near the staircase, in one corner of the house, had been converted into a big cage.

Nana used to feed the cub on milk when she was very small. When she opened her eyes, the first thing that she saw was nana’s face. Nana loved her very much and would take care of her even at night. Haunty grew into a majestic animal. As Haunty loved nana very much and was very possessive of him, she could not stand him showing affection towards anybody else except her. When nana used to go out on tour, she would not eat anything and would keep on moaning and crying. The moment nana came back from his tour, he would straight away go to her cage and pat her. To show her affection, Haunty would lick him and roar with happiness.

My mother joined her parent’s with her first baby. Being the first child, everybody, especially nana, loved him. Haunty couldn’t stand that, since he was so possessive of nana. From the cage in the verandah, she would watch nana showering his affection on others. When she used to be opened for a walk, everybody was supposed to lock themselves. In the evening, my nana used to take her for a walk in the jungle. She would spring, jump and sharpen her claws on the bark of the tree, and then jump upon my nana with such a force that he would fall down. However, she never harmed him. She showed her affection by licking him.

One day a servant was taking my brother to the first floor of the house as he came near the cage, Haunty pounced from inside and, through the bars, hit my brother’s head. My brother fainted. Nana took out his gun, but couldn’t press the trigger as he loved Haunty like his own child. As my nana was wondering what action he should take, my brother regained his consciousness. Every member of the family suggested that Haunty should be given away to some zoo. So Lahore Zoo was chosen, as it was close to his hometown, Sarabha, in Punjab. The parting was sad. There were tears were in nana’s eyes, and sadness on Haunty’s face. Outside Haunty’s enclosure a name plate was put. It read: "Presented to Lahore Zoo, the most lovable pet, Haunty, by S. Bakshish Singh. "Love Haunty".

Once nana visited his much-loved pet, she was sleeping inside the enclosure. Nana put his hand inside the enclosure and called out to her by name. A visitor standing next to him was shocked and quickly pulled his hand outside, thinking that he was not a normal person. However, the man was stunned when he saw the tigress licking nana’s hand jumping and roaring to get out of the enclosure. In this effort, she hurt her head as she hit it against the pointed bars. There was lot of commotion with most of the people hurriedly leaving the zoo, fearing that Haunty would come out of the cage. The zoo in-charge came running out. Nana told him the whole story. People was surprised as to how a tiger could love a man so much. The parting was sad. Nana could hear her roaring from a distance. Nana was quite upset, but couldn’t bring her home.

Love for the animal forced him to visit her again. On reaching the enclosure, he found it empty. The name plate was there but Haunty was nowhere to be seen. On inquiring from the zoo in-charge, he was told after nana’s visit she had become very sad, given up eating and kept moaning most of the time. Besides that, her wound too had become septic. The zoo doctor tried his best to save her, but couldn’t. Nana could not control his emotions for his most affectionate jungle queen, whom he had loved so much. The only souvenir of love he could bring back was the name plate which was full of dust. He put the plate on her old enclosure at his residence.