Book Review: Man-Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett

by Mugdha Wagle on June 30, 2016

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Writer: Jim Corbett
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Year: 2016
ISBN: 9788129140364
Rating: ★★★★☆
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Man-Eaters of Kumaon is a book about wildlife and the human-animal conflict more than a century ago, when the scales were less heavily tipped in favour of mankind. If you, dear reader, are likely to feel horrified at the thought of the beautiful big cats shot by Corbett – who later became one of the first animal conservationists in India – then refrain from further reading. But if you can keep a sense of time and place while reading about his exploits, Jim Corbett will leave you enthralled. Buy Man-Eaters of Kumaon here.

What’s the book about?

Each account of Corbett’s is about his quest to stalk and then kill a man-eater – a rogue animal that had, for some very good reason (as the author is at pains to explain each time) started hunting and eating the hill folk in Garhwal and Kumaon. A hundred years ago, the Himalayan foothills were an inaccessible place with few hospitals, thatched houses, and no electricity. When a man-eating tiger or leopard began terrorising the countryside, there was little the inhabitants could do except sleep in fear, stop going out (at night if it was a leopard, during day if it was a tiger) and pray that some sportsman would consider it worth his while to risk his life to rid them of the ‘shaitan’ tormenting them.

What did I like?

The accounts are spirited and have more than a touch of ‘British stiff upper lip’ about them. Several times, Corbett candidly admits to being scared while stalking the man-eater all alone, on foot as was invariably his custom. His admiration for the hardiness and courage of hill-folk comes through in several stories (in fact, the dedication in one of his books, Jungle Lore, says, “It is of these people, who are admittedly poor, and who are often described as ‘India’s starving millions’, among whom I have lived and whom I love, that I shall endeavor to tell in the pages of this book, which I humbly dedicate to my friends, the poor of India.”)

Corbett is also in love with the animals he had to kill – a contradiction in terms. The descriptions of the cats, each with a unique personality, habits and reasons for turning to man-eating, are written fondly and with great attention to detail. Only a human being who has lived in close proximity to, and regularly had to match wits against , a tiger or leopard can truly describe what the animal is really like. He describes some of them as having a wicked sense of humour, others of being annoyed with him, another of being being just plain lucky in his repeated escapes, but one and all of being magnificent, dignified and worthy adversaries.

What I didn’t like

The proofreading could have been better; the edition seems to have been got out in a hurry, with multiple careless grammatical errors. Even the introduction of Jim Corbett on the first page seems to have been copied almost word for word from the Wikipedia entry.

The Verdict

Go for this book, definitely, if you enjoy true stories of courage and tenacity, not to mention the feeling of being up close and personal with the most dangerous and beautiful beasts of the wild who are so fast disappearing from our jungles. Buy Man-Eaters of Kumaon here. You might also enjoy the companion volumes, The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag and The Temple Tiger. Or you could get the Jim Corbett Omnibus which has them all.

Written by Mugdha Wagle

Kitabi Keeda of the most obsessive sort. When she’s reading something, interrupt her only if you have life insurance! Discovering a fantastic new author can move her to tears. Loves trekking, adores animals and venerates good food (eating it, not cooking it :))!

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