Jungle Tales 4: Terror of the One-horned Wild Buffalo
It was around early-September that the beast had made its first appearance in Aamgaon Village*, near Manas Wildlife Sanctuary. It was a wild buffalo like no other. The first sighting of the creature evoked an image of the buffalo-mount of Yama, the Lord of Death, amidst the simple villagers. “It is a re-incarnation of the Devil,” went the whispered rumour around the village.
The wild buffalo was marked out distinctively for many reasons – the foremost ones being its sheer size and one-horned status. Nobody knew how it lost one of its gigantic horns, perhaps in a fierce battle with another buffalo. Some say it had fought with a tiger and slayed it with its horn, lodging it in the body of the animal. Although this seemed far-fetched, one look at the buffalo and even cynics were convinced that nothing was impossible for the creature. To some, the buffalo was a magnificent specimen of its kind, while to the others, it was a freak creation of nature.
It created havoc in the village within a fortnight of its appearance. Reports and complaints would reach my father’s office almost on a daily basis regarding the menace posed by the buffalo. The village was located adjoining the forest and agriculture formed the prime livelihood of its inhabitants. Almost every household had a pair of domestic buffaloes or bullocks to till the land. Every morning farmers would be out tilling the fields while the womenfolk tended to the household and the children. This idyllic life was thrown to jeopardy by the appearance of the buffalo in the village.
There were a number of incidents where farmers and their bullocks had been attacked and maimed seriously by the buffalo. It would appear suddenly in the forest fringes and charge at the farmer and his animals. In most cases, it would kill the hapless bullocks or the buffaloes while injuring the farmer grievously. Sometimes, it would charge at villagers returning from the markets or the fields. It would try to dominate the female domesticated buffaloes or even cows and stand outside the buffalo/cowsheds, striking fear into the hearts of the household who would remain huddled inside their rickety homes till the beast left the place. There was no peace to be had in the village of Aamgaon.
Deta (my dad) understood the gravity of the situation. Appeals were made to terminate the wild buffalo but there was no response from the concerned quarters.
“But why does it have to be killed?” I asked Deta petulantly while he was relating the story to me.
“Termination was necessary,” Deta explained. “The animal was a danger to human and cattle life. Besides, if the menace was not curbed it would create a deep resentment in the minds of the villagers against wildlife. For so long, wildlife and the villagers had lived in harmony. We could not let the buffalo destroy the balance.”
I realized that he had a valid point.
The seething anger of the villagers came to a head on the day before Kali Puja, when the Goddess of Empowerment and Death is worshipped in the region. The widow of a well-loved person in the village was returning from the market when she was attacked by the One-horned Devil. Within minutes, she had turned to a lifeless, mangled figure. There were other villagers with her and they were not spared from the wrath of the buffalo either. Somehow, they managed to save themselves by jumping into the river flowing alongside the road.
It was on the morning of Kali Puja that Deta was informed about the arrival of some villagers from Aamgaon. The sun had not yet risen. Deta had always played the pujari or head priest on Kali Puja and he had been fasting for that. He knew why the villagers were there and tried to pacify them. The buffalo was known to have feared elephants, so Deta sent across four of his best elephants to guard the village and himself took the Jeep. He reached out for his weapon and realized that it was a defective .315 soft nosed rifle, not appropriate for large game. The bullets had to be loaded one after the other as the ejector was not working. But he had no choice and started out for the village.
There was pin-drop silence reigning in the village when Deta stopped his vehicle and alighted from it. He then realized the cause of it – the buffalo was in the village. There were people everywhere in the village, but not on the ground. They were up on rooftops and even on the trees. All of them were looking at one direction – the courtyard of the house where the buffalo stood. There was a cowshed in the courtyard and the beast was standing in front of it, biding its time to charge towards it.
Deta gripped his rifle and walked slowly towards the house. The buffalo saw him coming and stiffened. Deta looked around him and observed that there was no place where he could take refuge if the buffalo attacked, which he was sure of. But there was a small tree, its main body forking out into two just a few feet from the ground. Deta quickly climbed up the tree and took aim at the buffalo. At its heart.
It was standing some 70 feet away from the tree and the rifle’s range was not too far. The cowshed was just behind it and Deta feared that if he missed the target the bullet would strike dead a cow, a sacrilege for a Hindu, that too one who was the head priest for Kali Puja. He was also constricted by the knowledge that it would take time to load another bullet into the rifle. By that time, the buffalo would definitely attack him.
So, all depended on that one shot. One shot that would pierce the heart of the beast. Deta quickly calculated the effect of gravity on the bullet and realigned his sight on the buffalo. He said a last prayer to Goddess Kali and pressed the trigger. The entire village held its breath.
There was no audible evidence if the bullet had found its mark. But a shiver went through the buffalo’s body. Yet, it stood still, its sight fixed on Deta. Disappointed, Deta loaded one more bullet. But he need not have. Because, suddenly blood gushed out of the heart of the buffalo, spurting as if from a hose. It held its ground for a minute and finally, collapsed with a resounding thud. A thunderous applause arose from the audience, who had witnessed the final act.
Deta got down from the tree and approached the fallen figure of the mighty buffalo. He was stung with deep regret at having killed such a magnificent beast. And yet, he had no other option. In order to maintain harmony among man and animals, someone had to bear the burden.
Just as Deta was ruminating over his action, a few village headmen approached him quietly. “We thank you from our hearts, Sir,” they said. “But if you don’t mind, we need a favour. Would you mind if we take the carcass of the buffalo? We are poor people and we do not have much money for meat. Our children will thank you, too.”
Deta was struck by the irony of the whole situation. Just a few minutes ago, this animal was a terror to the villagers and now it was going to be their source of food. But then, to each his own. Deta consented and left the scene.
I could understand Deta’s feelings so well. A person, who had taken oath to protect wildlife, had to consider the well-being of many other factors. I was reminded of the story ‘Shooting an Elephant’ by George Orwell, the memory of which had led to many tearful nights. But I was glad that Deta managed to save the lives of so many people and earned the goodwill of the whole village.
That was the first and last time Deta had shot dead a wild animal.
That was the first and last time Deta had shot dead a wild animal.
Let me wriggle out a few more stories from him. Will keep you posted!
*Name has been changed