TRANSLATED FROM THE BENGALI BY ANKITA BOSE
Bag-mara Bagambor– Tiger-terminator Bagambor. He was known to all by this name for a long time now. Once upon a time, he had single-handedly killed a tiger. It had happened in his youth when he harbored a passion for hunting. He lived by the forest, which made it easier for him to routinely go hunting—either alone or in a group. It was during one such expedition that had him almost become the prey to a tiger. But he managed to crack open the beast’s skull with one unfailing blow of his axe. Battling the rest of it out in the hospital, he had survived. But the tiger hadn’t. Its dead body, with the axe still plunged into the skull, was found three days later. The nail of that tiger hung from an iron chain around the old man’s neck.
Now aged, Tiger-terminator Bagambor still lived by the forest and harbored his passion for hunting. Even now, his axe was his all-time companion. But he lacked strength like before. He needed a stick to go around these days.
Nonetheless, Tiger-terminator Bagambor didn’t care to use a walking stick. Instead, he had a long handle affixed to his axe. Grabbing the eye of the axe, he supported himself with the wooden handle touching the ground. This way, the customized axe-stick served two purposes—it was an axe and a walking stick at the same time!
Just like him, his house had also grown ancient. Ruin had crept into all parts of it. The ceiling and the walls had gone through heavy wear and tear. The doors and windows were also partly broken. But the remains of myriad hunted animals—from the horns of an antelope, the nails of a tiger to the thorns of a porcupine, and the feathers of a peacock—still adorned the walls, along with the skeleton of a full-sized python stretching across the two walls in his room.
However, it had been three days since Tiger-terminator Bagambor had a morsel to himself. Forget meat, he couldn’t even manage a grain of rice! He had always been alone. Throughout his life, he had lived by the forest like a half-savage man, interacting more with wildlife than other humans. Thus, his life wasn’t tied to the rules of civilization. His lifestyle, akin to the ways of wild animals who don’t care for ration cards, voter IDs, or Aadhar cards, never felt the need to get any of the papers made. But now that he lacked strength, he felt helpless and lonely in his solitary room by the forest. His blurry vision darted off longingly at the smoking chimneys of the village. Friends in the village had their identity cards done by the local government office. Just by sitting at home, they got doles of rice, lentils, wheat, and flour. They even got money deposited into their bank accounts at regular intervals. They no longer got to taste hunted meat but they got to buy it from the market. But Tiger-terminator Bagambor couldn’t do either. Three days had passed since his stove was lit simply because he hadn’t anything that could be cooked.
When the third night of starvation rolled into dawn, the old Tiger-terminator scuffled through the containers and boxes in his house yet again. But not a grain was to be found anywhere. He scanned the old skeletons and bones on his walls. There wasn’t a sliver of dried meat on them either.
Nevertheless, the old tiger-killer stepped outside looking for firewood. He’ll boil some water with leaves and grass. At least, there’ll be some smoke in his kitchen. The village folks will get to see smoke over his roof.
It was still a bit dark. It had rained last night. The rainwater was vaporing back to the sky. The dampened smoke shrouded the enchanted forestland, and a lean pathway disappeared inside. Tiger-terminator Bagambor looked in that direction. This was the way that led him to hunt and supplied him with abundant meat in his life. Today, it lay silent and lonely.
Suddenly, the old man noticed a stir. Something shifted behind the three-layered foliage! Turning his attention to it, he followed it, supporting himself on his axe-stick. A frog sat there facing him.
Three pieces of meat! That’s the first thought that crossed Tiger-terminator Bagambor’s mind. Who knew whether it was this thought that made his abdomen wrench! He closed in on the creature to catch it in an instant and return. If all went as planned, he shall cook today after a long time. The smoke would escape his thatched ceiling and waft with the aroma of real meat. Like it used to, always.
But the frog leaped and escaped into the forest. The old tiger-killer fretted and followed it with his unstable body. The frog leaped and moved further away.
Now the old man invoked his hunter’s psyche. He stood as still as the dried-up bark of a tree and then moved in closer, slowly and steadily.
Finally, the trick worked. The frog no longer attempted to escape. The old man knelt, bending his body forward, reaching even closer to his prey. He raised one of his hands, spread the five fingers, brought his expanded palm over the frog, and then, zap!
But his hand only clenched the muddy grass. The frog jumped in self-defense and sat at a distance from him.
He didn’t get up. In his kneeling position, he crawled toward it. In small leaps, the frog kept slipping. Under the dim glow of the dawn, Tiger-terminator Bagambor crawled amid the foggy bushes. His wobbly and aged body supported itself on all fours and advanced deep into the forest. He could no longer be identified as a human. He didn’t resemble any animal either. He seemed to be someone or something that had been hideously preyed upon in a grotesque hunt. One with a befuddled sense of self. Perhaps, this expedition was an attempt to salvage his misplaced identity. He knelt on the ground and rummaged through the forest floor—the place where he suspected that it had gotten lost.
The old man was in a daze—a hunter’s daze–one couldn’t see anything but the prey. Hence, he didn’t realize how far he had come, crawling on four. Ignorant of the direction he was moving to, he was unaware that he may have been lost. He was brought back to his senses when muffled animalistic breathing reached his ears. He looked up and saw a pair of eyes glowing right in front. Right at that place where the frog was supposed to be.
Tiger-terminator Bagambor, still in a hunter’s daze, firmly clenched the handle of his axe. In front of him, a wide furry forehead unraveled between the two eyes. He knew there was a skull beneath that forehead. He needed to strike a blow right into that skull. He even raised his hand to do it. But for an old man now, the hunter’s spirit within seemed weak. Maybe, it was time that he concluded his hunt.
That day, the sun shone late into the afternoon. The forest, drenched in the night’s rain, glistened in the sun as if like an amusement park—a fervent grove. Keeping with the mood, the calves frolicked. Restless goat kids also gamboled in happiness. The little brass bells jingled into a harmonious tune. It didn’t seem like the forest could have witnessed anything that could be dreadful.
The shepherd, Bishu, was just about to blow his whistle. But he stopped when his feet touched something unfamiliar. It was lying in the grass. He picked it up to look at an axe with a long handle. Everybody knew this axe. It belonged to Bagambor, the old Tiger-terminator. It was known by the village folks and the wild animals alike. Even the frog knew this axe!
Shepherd Bishu held the whistle and the axe at the same time while he looked up. At some distance, there was a rusty neck chain lying on the pathway. It had a tiger-nail pendant to it. A real nail from a real tiger. It looked like it was still alive and injured. The nail still had blood on it—freshly coagulated blood!