'Runs in' with a Burmese Tiger and an Indian Panther*
by Joseph Alwyn Valu,
*Copyright, 2008 by Joseph a. Valu. All Rights Reserved.
Published by WorldWar2BurmaDiaries.com
An experience and observation described in his oral presentation to University of North Texas professors Robert S. La Forte and Ronald E. Marcello (editors) by Houston Tom (“Slug”) Wright, a radioman and meteorologist with the Texas National Guard taken prisoner of war (POW) on Java by the Japanese, follows: ( refer to :a must read): Building the Death Railway/ the Ordeal of American POWs in Burma, 1942-1945, p.187. Scholarly Resources. 1993. Wilmington, DE.
“…… I had bacillary dysentery, and I’m going to the latrine like a son-of-a-gun and feeling bad. “… well, I was up there relieving myself and a damn tiger passed by that fire. I saw his big eyes looking into the fire. I guess he smelled me because that would drive him off more than a gun. But he passed me like a freight train going by, and he was long. You know something that’s the best cure in the world for dysentery. I was so damned scared, boy, and after I got back, I didn’t go back outside that night.”
That incident reminded me of the day three of us, St. Mary’s /Byculla school boys extraordinaire, Maurice Shepherd, Brian Burke and I, decided to trek up Chembur Hill which is no Nanga Parbat but a fairly high hill situated several miles north of metropolitan Bombay from the top of which paens of poem –like descriptions were given us as to the view of that colossal City of lights… As we got to the bottom of that massive rise, villagers informed us that a panther was sighted in the area and so we should keep close to the aircraft beacon and build a fire to keep the beast away, especially in the wee hours of the morning when it was most likely to attack. City slickers that we were, we took it in stride with a false sense of bravado, but grabbed hold of a pole of bamboo or wood as an excuse for a walking staff.
We got up the hill with no real problems to relate and as the evening dusk fell on Bombay the Beautiful, the sights were every bit as described by others, and more. The entire City of Lights, carpeted with tingling dots of rainbow colors, lay miles away and well below our feet, the proud Conquerors of massive Mount Chembur, until it dawned on us that we didn’t have a scrap of wood to start a fire! We scrambled to pick up twigs which were left by the maintenance workers of the aircraft beacon which gave a splutter of dim light at what seemed frightfully long and inconstant intervals. There was barely any wood left on the cleared top of the hill, but little that was there was as dry as tinder and we got a fire going with a roll of the local paper one of us thankfully carried. It was all round a great experience for unarmed city school boys braving the elements, the jungle, and a possible panther lurking in the bushes near by. We tried to keep the last thought as far away as possible from our merry remarks about school, girls, and the like. At about 2 am we concluded that we just had enough of twigs to keep the cinders from going out altogether and since two of the three were sleepy, one of us was detailed to stoke the cinders frugally for an hour at which time he would wake another to take a turn.
All went well when the second shift took his place and continued to grumble his opinions of this, that, and the fact that we shouldn’t have dared the panther since we had no more wood to keep the fire going etc. etc…. when I nodded back into sleep. Around 4 a.m –the witching hour- there was no fire left, it was pitch darkness when I was awakened by a loud whisper :“ It’s real black with green eyes. Green eyes I tell ya. I can see her staring…’ Half asleep I muttered “Green eyes? Wow! How about an introduction, man?” At which all of us began first to giggle and then guffaw loudly, if a little nervously. There probably was no animal with green eyes anywhere near the beacon, but if there was one it would be the first time a panther was laughed off its scent.
Post Script: Whether or not an Indian panther had the opposite effect of a Burmese tiger, no one willingly commented.
Copyright 2008 by Joseph Alwyn Valu. All Rights Reserved.