BBC Radio 4, 12 September 2008
Set in the
India of the 1970s, A Tiger for Malgudi recounted the life of Rajah, a wild tiger (Raad Rawi) from the tiger?s perspective. Plucked from the jungle at a young age, he began life in the circus, forced to perform tricks such as standing on his hind legs. If he refused, then he was whipped with a steel-edged lash. Eventually he took revenge on his sadistic master by slicing his head off with a stroke of his paw. His next engagement was in the burgeoning Indian film industry as an extra, forced to work with a leading male star who was terrified of wild animals. Finally he managed to attain some kind of peace as the companion of Shakar (Raman Goyal) an Indian mystic, who at least treated him with some respect and did not try to exploit him. Rajah?s final resting-place was in a zoo; although well-treated and fed, he returned to the life of exploitation.
A Tiger for Malgudi was at times very funny, especially when Rajah talked in casual terms of taking revenge on his circus-master (Nadim Sawalha), or laughing inwardly at the foibles of the so-called ?heroic? male film star. At the same time it also showed how animals often function as a means by which human beings can reveal their true selves; despite their pretensions to living a civilized existence, they remain fundamentally bestial. Even a sympathetic character like Shakar rejects Rajah at the end, on the grounds that the tiger is no longer ?suitable? for his existence. Almost every month I receive a letter from organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund inviting me to make a monthly contribution, so as to provide resources to guarantee the tiger?s future in India, Africa or wherever. Perhaps the directors of such companies should reflect that it is their fellow human beings who have themselves created such a situation as a result of self-interest.