Non-Fiction Reads: The Lonely Tiger by Hugh Allen

If not for a friend’s recommendation, wouldn’t have known of The Lonely Tiger (1960). 

Out of print for more than 50 years before Rupa Publications (Rainlight) released the work in hardcover (2014), this episodic collection of true and thrilling wildlife encounter stories is an exceptional, evergreen page turner. 

Probably pushed to near-oblivion by the looming popularity of Jim Corbett’s works, The Lonely Tiger is at multiple times a breathless, pulsating experience, dense with rare repeated calls of – What will happen next?
Once upon a time in central India…
All stories are set around Mandikhera, Madhya Pradesh. As life unfolded, Allen was discharged from the British Armed Forces during the Second World War due to a head wound. On the spur, Allen and his widowed sister Babs bought large tracts of land, and cultivated peanuts, barley, etc. at this central Indian village. 
Meanwhile, India gained independence and the siblings’ friends went – For heaven’s sake get out while you can.
In the preface, Allen admits he was a trigger-happy hunter, before remorse and guilt led him to take up the gun only to hunt man-eaters or creatures that destroyed his crops.
Homo sapiens, the most dangerous species…
What follows is an astonishing jungle trial of 14 stories, featuring amorous tigers, kill-crazy leopards, deadly wild boars, meandering bears, and the sole tiger that makes for the melancholic title story. 
In between, the human cruelty holds a horrific mirror to who we are, hammering our greed and will on wild animals, the ones crossing their path and not the other way around. Hunting was not yet illegal in India in the 1950’s and almost anyone who owned a gun killed animals for pleasure. 
Nature lovers will be deeply disturbed by the descriptive accounts of casual killing. The Lonely Tiger is a constant reminder of what we have become as allegedly, the most advanced species on the planet.   
Most man-eaters featured here are animals injured by bullet wounds, which made me side with the creatures immediately. 
Allen is clearly a gifted writer, builds a relentless stifling tension to a level that every sentence leads on to alarming blind turns. The sheer daring of it, to hunt for man-eaters in the dark on foot, cut through dense growth, be vulnerable to death every second, and thus invariably be alive to the moment…
Among the brilliant tales, Death in Sixty-Five Minutes particularly made my mouth dry with anticipation, The Odd Chance… turns out to be more lethal than anticipated, The Laughing Leopard is a stunning illustration of a leopard’s killing expertise, expect the unexpected in The Three Bears, and The Tiger’s Trap has the most hair-raising climax. 
For all reading seasons…
The Lonely Tiger is the only book Hugh Allen wrote, it is filled with the entire rich essence of his life at Mandikhera, gold-plated wildlife experiences like no other.
Even as we mutely watch more jungles make away to blankness, probably our false comforts, or temporary refuge then are works like The Lonely Tiger. It is the best non-fiction account I have read this decade, hard to beat in sheer reading experience, can’t wait to devour its contents again, whole and raw.   
(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

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