Book Talk: Jim Corbett of Kumaon by DC Kala

A tiger among men, lover of the underdog, a hero in war and pestilence, a model zamindar and employer, an ascetic, naturalist, and, above all, a hunter of maneating tigers and leopards for thirty-two active years in the then three hill districts of Uttar Pradesh comprising Garhwal, Nainital and Almora,” is how the author DC Kala aptly introduces the legend of Corbett in the opening lines. “Others hunted but he also wrote,” adds Kala.

The cover of the book showcases Jim Corbett with the Rudraprayag Maneater Leopard

The cover of the book showcases Jim Corbett with the Rudraprayag Maneater Leopard after the kill

Anyone who has read his books will be able to relate with how justly Kala chose to describe the legendary Jim Corbett. This is the first book I read about Corbett which was authored not by him but an admirer and a fan of his, DC Kala, formerly a news editor with the Hindustan Times. Born and brought up in the hill region of Kumaon, Corbett’s birthplace as well as his workplace, Kala fully utilised the opportunity to unearth every possible information to decode Corbett, through systematic spadework, within his reach. Writing a biography is always a tough job in the sense that one has to rely on most accurate set of information. In this case, his subject Corbett and all his associates had left India for good and were no longer alive when the author started writing this biography of Jim Corbett in late seventies.

In absence of any written record, apart from letters or agreements exchanged by Corbett in his professional capacity, the author has relied on the information gathered from various secondary sources including Corbett’s publishers, servants’ families, Nainital’s municipality records, churches records, official orders, historical records, a few communication exchanged here and there, newspaper edits and diaries or notes left by his former colleagues, etc. One particular interesting source on which the author counts very heavily has been the thirteen pages of unpublished notes of Ruby Beyts dictated by non-other than Corbett’s sister Maggie herself. Apart from this most of the information or conclusions have been drawn from Corbett’s own published accounts of his endeavours in the wild.

In 14 chapters spanned over a total of 160 pages, with deep interest in his subject, the author has lucidly captured Corbett’s childhood, family life, his railways days, life and professional assignments in Nainital, his compassionate bonding with villagers, superstitions he had interest in and came across, his jungle sensitiveness, his works as an author, his ambitions and views with respect to wildlife conservation, his days and life in Kenya, etcetera.

Having honed his forest telegraphic skills in the jungles of Kaladhungi, Corbett grew up to be one of the finest sportsmen of mid-century India. Ironically, though, the conservationist started his life felling forests and hunting wild animals. His multifaceted career spanned over a variety of professions or streams including railways, municipality politics, churches, property dealer as well as farming. “The rest of the time he kept watch on all the bad tigers and leopards of the high hills and the adjoining plains”, writes Kala.

These big, bad cats, maneaters to be precise, were Corbett’s extra charge. When one was proclaimed a maneater by the district authorities, they turned to him for help to rid them of it. When the call came, the 40pound tent, the suitcase and the bedroll were hurriedly packed by sister Maggie, the porters were collected, and the hunter set out in forced marches of twenty to forty miles a day – depending on the urgency – to the dak bungalow nearest to the last reported kill”.

Apart from courage, “Corbett was blessed with an excellent memory, good sight, a sound constitution, and a keen power of observation and hearing“, observes Kala. In later years, when he abandoned the rifle for camera, Corbett felt that while the photograph is of interest to all lovers of wildlife, the trophy is only of interest to the individual who acquired it. The book throws some insightful light on Corbett’s vision with respect to wildlife and forest conservation. The book includes a few black and white photographs and a map as well. Priced at Rs 250, the second edition of the book is available at most online shops including Amazon and Flipkart.

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