The Memsahib and the Panther

The Memsahib and the Panther: Being a Humble Beater’s Notes on a Shikar




The Thieving Outsiders – A Temperamental Memsahib – The Dog-Lifter – Another Narrow Escape – More Than a Talisman 


In the summer of 1875, exactly a year after my wife died, an English hunting party set up camp by our village in the Satpuras. I was twenty years old, and woke up each day hoping it would be my last. My parents thought me mad. Every year, all across the hills, people died of ailments for which we had no names. We buried our dead, and then we forgot about them. But I could not forget. My fingers were still stained yellow from the turmeric my wife had applied on her skin; I heard the clatter of her bangles as I ploughed the landlord’s fields. Men whispered as I passed them, and plotted exorcisms with my parents. I took to walking on tracks that had known only the hooves of deer; I learnt to summon clouds of quiet in my head that softened the shrillness of other people’s voices. Then the English arrived and I made up my mind to leave with them.


Twenty-two years have passed since then, but how dreadful this confes­sion sounds even now. If I kept it cooped up inside my chest all these years, it was because I was ashamed of it. But now I look at the smooth scar that curves like a panther’s tail on the back of my right hand; I think of my elder brother who has laid himself open to penalty by calling for a rebellion to oust the English from our hills; and I know the time has come for this story of a hunt to be told.

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