Friday, November 03, 2006

That Last Tyger

This is a story of Hurricane Harry. Hurricane Harry O'Brien is his name. Not much is known of this mysterious adventurer. From his name, we can guess he must have some Irish blood somewhere along the family tree. Hurricane was born in Singapore in 1900, born no less in the semi-majestic Raffles Hotel.

It is a story by itself. His birth. They say that when he was born, a tiger snatched him away. Right from the crib. This was the last tiger in Singapore. His snatching caused an uproar in the Enlgish community. Savage savage nature. A posse of hunters was gathered in the Palm Court of Raffles Hotel. That very stormy night. with their wyatt Earp-ish moustaches, eyes glinting with anticipation at the hunt, double barreled guns gleaming in the faint electric lights of Raffles Hotel. Bets were traded. Who would bring back this tiger's skin.

The hunt could begin only when the local convicts had been escorted to the Raffles from their cells. A tiger hunt was an elaborate affair. There were equipment to be hauled, torches to be lit, trails to be tracked, defending of the hunters to be done. And cheap labour, in the form of native criminals and convicts, was provided by the prison warders. It was a good way to ease the over-crowded prisons. You sent 25 convicts and sometimes only 5 returned. All for a good cause.

Once the hunt began, the hunters and their guides swarmed into the steamy jungles of Singapore's heartland. They fired several shots and found dead mousedeer, a wild boar and the occasional collateral damage, typical of such hunts.

But elusive still was the tiger. Try as they might, the tiger was never seen, not even glimpsed fleetingly. The tiger's presence was there though. Without doubt. In the hunters' minds, they could feel the tiger everywhere. Behind the clump of bushes. Hiding behind the rainforest. Threatening them always. But what they had were only half prints in the mud, An occasional pile of excreta. But still the hunters persisted. It was a question of pride after all. And perhaps also that there was not much other things for them to do anyway. The plantations were well-run. There was an ample supply of cheap coolie labour.

The hunt went on. And on. Some of the hunters succumbed to typical tropical diseases. Malaria, typhoid, dysentery, the likes. Others got lost in the fetid jungles. But as one hunter succumbed, there were others who took up the cause. The prize was the tiger. It was the last tiger in Singapore. The last threat. The final solution to safe Singapore. So the hunt went on, and on.

The last tiger was found and killed in the western jungles of Singapore. A place they call Choa Chu Kang. Some say the old tiger died before the bullet pierced its worn skin. Too exhausted and too hungry to escape. The tiger just laid down and died as the guides surrounded it. But the hunter still had to shoot. Just to make sure. This was some time in 1930. Singapore was finally free from the scourge of tigers.

The weary hunters made their way to Raffles Hotel. To claim their prize. But to their horror, they were told the last tiger in Singapore was slain in 1902. Right at the Bar and Billiards Room. The tiger was crouching under a table. Ready to pounce when an Englishman snatched one of the ornamental rifles and blasted the tiger into oblivion.

Some say that this is a false story. what really happened was that a drunk Englishman, on exiting the Bar, saw a civet cat in the lush garden of the Raffles. And mistaking it for the fearsome tiger of lore, he drew his handgun and killed the poor civet cat. The Englishman who was really a professional hunter in Malaya, what we commonly call as poachers in current parlance, quickly thought up a scam. Replace the civet cat with a tiger. He had some ready carcasses anyway. And so, with the connivance of the Raffles staff, they "killed the last tiger" in Singapore and claimed the reward money.

Ah! Imagine the injustice felt by those true hunters. They who spent almost their entire lives pursuing the real tiger. But some of the wiser hunters thought that after all, it was really the thrill and spectacle of the hunt that mattered. And so ends this story of the hunt for the last tiger in Singapore.

Quote of the Day --

"In the midst of this entomological banquet there is, however, one drawback--a sword suspended by a hair over the head of the unfortunate flycatcher: it is the possibility of being eaten up by a tiger! While watching with eager eyes some lovely insect, the thought will occasionally occur that a hungry tiger may be lurking in that dense jungle immediately behind intent upon catching you. Hundreds of Chinamen are annually devoured. Pitfalls are made for the animals all over the country; and in one of them, within two miles of our house, a tiger was captured a short time before my arrival. Only last night a party of Chinamen, going home to their plantation, turned back afraid, having heard the roaring of a tiger in the path. These are unpleasant reminders of the proximity of a deadly foe; and though perhaps the absolute danger is little enough, as the tiger is a great coward and will not attack unless he can do it unawares, yet it is better to have the mind quite free from any such apprehensions." -- Alfred Russel Wallace, Letter from Singapore, 1854

6 Comments:

Blogger *The Lunatic Fringe* said...

Dear Xenoboy

An allegory to how the current regime has hunted the opposition into near oblivion? The oblique references escape me.

Interestingly tangential in nature!

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual a very insightful allegory. I'm very afraid and pessimistic for the future of Singapore. I thought that Election 2006 would be different but...same old same old. I still have alot of immediate family members living there still - I worry for their futures.

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Rowen said...

Tiger,
Bio Sciences development,
IT development,
Integrated resort singapore,
Good Jobs. in these sectors

All these are targets and the latest targets which have been set.

Singaporean hunters train their skills and their equipment to these.

How many of these hunters will get the prey and get the awards once they kill their prey.

Or will a foreigner come and take the prize away again.

Just my 2 cents worth.....

5:26 PM  
Blogger *The Lunatic Fringe* said...

Dear Rowen

Thanks for the clarification.

The beauty of allegorical nature of this post is that one needs to think a bit about how art imitates life or vice-versa.

Thank God I took literature at "A" levels. :-)

11:45 PM  
Blogger prettyplace said...

I am not sure of where to put my myself...as a true hunter or for the reward....mmm only time can answer that question ...i guess.

3:00 AM  
Blogger SK said...

I was just wondering about the claim of Raffles hotel on wiki about the last tiger and googled, finding the info about the last tiger being shot in Choa Chu Kang in 1930s and not Raffles Hotel in 1902. A few questions: 1.I'm curious, how did you find out? I'm interested in the references for your story 2.Do you know where the last tiger pelt is? I'll like to know. Thanks!

12:13 AM  

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