The Girl and the Tiger

The Girl and the Tiger

by Paul Rosolie

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Overview

When Isha is sent away to live with her grandparents on the Indian countryside, she finds a young Bengal tiger that needs her protection. Her crusade to save the tiger becomes the catalyst of an arduous journey of awakening and survival across the changing landscape of modernizing India.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781945654312
Publisher: Owl Hollow Press, LLC
Publication date: 09/17/2019
Pages: 342
Sales rank: 264,517
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.76(d)

About the Author

Paul Rosolie is a naturalist and award-winning wildlife filmmaker who has specialized in rainforests and endangered wildlife for over a decade. He appeared on Discovery Channel’s Eaten Alive and Netflix’s 72 Dangerous Animals. He has also written for National Geographic and is the author of Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tribuaries of the Western Amazon.



Fluent in Hindi, Urdu, and English, Deepti Gupta has an international career spread across India, Singapore, Pakistan, and the United States. As a narrator she brings an open and curious perspective to the author's work. Her natural global/international accent makes her a great choice for an author who is writing to appeal to a global readership/listenership. As an actress she has earned praise from the New York Times for her performance in the feature film Walkaway, and also stars in Record/Play (a sci-fi love story) which was an official selection at Sundance 2013. She earned her MFA in acting from the University of Texas at Austin, an MA in theater studies from the National University of Singapore, and BA in English literature from Delhi University. Besides working as an actress and voice talent, she also works as a consultant with corporate firms and businesses to help expand and deepen their diversity and inclusion strategies.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The Cobra

It was a monsoon morning in her fifteenth year when Isha walked barefoot on a red dirt road. The Mangalore sun was peering above the horizon and warm light filled the hallway of tall palms so it glowed and sent the girl's shadow out slender behind her. She carried her chappals in her hand so that her feet could feel the cool red earth. A peacock cried out from somewhere in the mist. The world was beautiful and quiet. She walked slowly, her satchel over her shoulder, as the sun warmed her face. Inside the satchel was a book she was excited to read and the money her grandmother had given her with instructions to buy mosaru. It was a pleasant first day of exile.

Isha did not miss the jing-bang madness of city life. And she did not miss the oppressive confinement of school. School was a prison she had worked hard to escape. Here, beneath the tall palms in the warm morning, there was no one to keep her captive; she was a triumphant outlaw. She did not know that being sent to live with her grandparents for the summer was just a tiny fraction of the exile she would soon experience, or that the events of that morning would launch her toward that exile and forever define her life.

On that day, it began as so many great stories do: with a snake.

Across the misty countryside the world was still waking. Outside a house nestled in the lush plantation, a woman hunched before the door of a house drawing on the ground. She held her sari up with one hand, and with the other deftly dropped white flour into a series of dots and lines to create an intricate and auspicious rangoli before the door, just as her mother and her mother's mother had done. Isha waved but the woman did not see.

Some distance down the road, a group of boys were shouting.

The young cobra had fully intended to cross the road and reach the safety of the grass before anyone noticed. But the village boys had it surrounded in moments. They shouted excitedly, kicking at it, blocking its way so there was no escape. In retaliation, the young snake stood up, opened his hood, and hissed loudly at the boys. This scared them and intensified their excitement.

From a distance Isha could hear the boys yipping and shouting and saw them jumping excitedly around something. As she ran down the road, the boys seemed to strike the ground with sticks. When she arrived panting, the young cobra's back was already broken and bleeding. Even with its body ruined, the snake stood defiantly, hood spread, mouth opened wide, ready to fight until the last.

"Stop it!" Isha shouted, tears welling in her eyes.

One of the boys gave her a hard shove so that she fell backward, and inside her satchel she heard her glasses crack. She covered her eyes as the boys turned back to the snake and rained down a drumbeat of blows.

When Isha rose, they were prodding at the lifeless body of the snake.

"Why would you kill it?" she asked quietly in Kannada.

"What do you know, yah? City girl," the boy who pushed her said threateningly.

Isha's eyes would not leave the body of the snake. She said nothing.

"Can you not speak, yah? Is that why they kicked you out of Bangalore city girl school?"

They were laughing as Isha began to leave, miserable for the snake and frustrated with herself. As she moved away, the boys turned their attention back to the body of the snake. Isha's eyes were dark and full of tears. The sadness she felt turned into frustration and boiled into anger with dizzying speed. She wiped her eyes, turned, and with two running steps shoved the boy so hard he fell forward, flat onto his face.

He sat up and checked his palms. Bits of blood beaded through the gravel where rough clay had scraped. The other boys were swearing and whooping in surprise. The boy stood and sped after Isha, her long legs already wheeling behind her so that her hair was wild with the wind that now blew through the tall palms. She knew that if the boys got to her, they would beat her badly. That she was a girl would grant her no amnesty.

She ran her fastest but the boy motored after her like a hornet, flat hands slicing the air. The other boys galloped behind. Isha knew that she could not outlast them for long, so like a rabbit evading a fox, she began to weave. She turned off the road and ran past a house and into a backyard. Dodging through drying clothes and sliding under a drinking cow, she leapt out of the yard and into another lane where children were playing. Behind her the boys crashed into children, disrupting their game and causing screams. Isha didn't look back after a man on a bicycle carrying milk cans fell onto the street to avoid hitting her. The boys leaped over him and continued to gain on her.

Through jolting top speed vision, she saw a coconut cart beside a tree. She leapt onto it and with two quick steps leapt again, catching onto the tree. With arms hugging the trunk, she placed her feet flat, knees splayed outward like a praying mantis, and began inch-worming her way up.

The boy leapt onto the cart behind her, but his weight rocked it over and he fell. Coconuts rolled everywhere, and the vendor was furious as the boy stood undeterred and jumped to try and grab Isha's foot. She climbed steadily, tongue-out concentrated on nothing but going higher. The boy shouted obscene things from below and Isha, no breath to reply, turned and spat down at him and kept climbing. Now he was coming up after her.

Near the top of the tree she came into the thick green fronds where bunches of coconuts hung. Here the wind rattled the palms, and the ground seemed miles below. The boy had made it about halfway up the tree, almost thirty feet in the air, but he wasn't a good climber and was coming slowly. Just in case, Isha reached for a frond from the next tree, hand-over-hand climbing out as far as she could, before swinging her legs over to the neighboring tree.

Far below, villagers were gathering and pointing. The boy was struggling badly now. And when he looked up to see her in the next tree over, his eyes widened with exasperation. His feet skidded on the bark. He clung to the tree with eyes shut tight. Isha wrapped her legs around her tree and slid down ten feet until she was level with him.

"What's your name?" she asked him.

"Pankaj."

"Give up, Pankaj."

He was breathing loudly and beginning to tremble.

"Slide down or you'll fall. Please," Isha said with pity in her eyes. With that, she slid nimbly down her tree, gently alternating her feet and hands like a backward monkey.

On the ground, the other boys were yelling now, completely absorbed in their leader's battle against gravity. Men had come from the fields and stood looking up, shading their eyes, tying their lungis, laughing. Woman had come, some holding babies, some with firewood or water pitchers. High in the tree, Pankaj could no longer hold. Isha stood behind the crowd as his grip gave out. He skidded down the trunk until he fell and hit the ground. She pushed through the people to where he lay crying and holding his broken arm. He was alive and crying, screaming up a storm. She ran away down the street as fast as she could so that no one could see her smile.

* * *

If it had not been for the cobra and the fight with those boys, she would not have been so anxious to leave the village that she forgot to do the one thing her grandmother had asked her to do that day: buy mosaru.

In the evening when Ajji sent her once again, it was with strict instructions to buy mosaru from Mr. Chikkanna and come home. Nothing more. But on her way home moments after buying the two packets of mosaru, she saw the men at the edge of the field and was no match for her own curiosity.

It pulled her like a new gravity that was greater than fear. The men were standing beneath the yellow streetlight just outside the village, their white clothes glowing against the night. Beedi smoke and apprehension hung in a heavy cloud about them. Nervous hands retied lungis, wiped mustaches, contoured hollow cheeks. A man with one leg leaned heavy on his staff. They were speaking quietly, pointing, gesturing toward whatever lay on the ground amid them. Some held their hands clasped behind their backs, others folded their arms or had hands on their hips. All of them, at one point or another, turned nervously to the outer darkness.

Isha came barefoot silent. One hand held the other's wrist at her back. A single finger held her chappals. The men were five deep, and she wove quietly between them, a forest of gaunt bare legs. Someone was passing out leaf-rolled Ganesha beedies, and the air smelled of sulfur and tobacco, cheap rum and death.

These were the men of the earth. They were the labor class who cut laterite bricks from the ground or plucked areca nuts from tall palms. They were the coracle fishermen, the shepherds, the men who knew the land, and not one of them could fathom what was before them.

The brown-and-white goat lay with its eyes bulged and tongue out in the dirt. Blood spotted the inside of its ear. Isha peered at it as a man with a white stubbled face flexed the goat's leg. He looked up and said it was fresh. The other men agreed. The man — Isha thought he must be the owner of the goat — checked the udder and anus and mouth; he pressed on its belly and ribs. He stood, shaking his head. There didn't seem to be anything wrong with it other than that it was dead.

"Perhaps it was choked in a fence," one man offered. The owner replied that there were no fences to his field, and the struggle would show on the skin. A young man with curly hair suggested that maybe a car had hit the goat.

"What car drives in the fields, you fool?" a fat man said, raising a hand as if to slap the man for asking such a thing. There were chuckles.

"Maybe it has eaten something bad," a younger boy said.

"No," said the owner. "Goats can eat plastic bags and wood and whatnot without a hiccup. What could she have eaten? None of the other thirty goats has gone ill."

"Could it have been lightning?"

There was a chorus of speculative grumbles.

"This goat doesn't have any burn holes," one man said.

"It was a tiger!" the young, curly-haired man said in his deepest voice.

The fat man slapped him. Now the men laughed in earnest.

"What? Why not?" the curly-haired man said, throwing up his arms.

"Eh! A tiger would have eaten the goat, you fool!" the fat man bellowed.

"There have been no tigers in fifty years!" an old man said and scowled with a dismissive wave.

"Idu, this thing, what is it called? A leopard then! What about leopard?"

This idea brought a crescendo of consideration. Isha watched as they continued talking and smoking, arranging their crotches and sipping tea and smoking, as groups of men do. A few women in saris had gathered on the fringes. Someone had lit a fire. In the flickering orange light, a cow that was tied nearby began to shift uncomfortably. The men took no notice. Something mysterious had happened, and it whispered to their primal selves, so the fire and tobacco and talk made them scared and bold at once in the growing night. No, a leopard would have slashed it to bits; there would be teeth marks on the throat, they agreed.

Isha moved backward through the crowd, eager to shake the feeling of the mystery. It was dark now and there were no lights on these village roads. She would be walking home alone in all that darkness. Ajji had sent her to the shop over an hour ago. The two mosaru packets sweated in the warm night. She hurried across the center of the village, making for home.

The shopkeeper, Mr. Chikkanna spotted her and called out, "Isha, you are still here? Aren't you going home to Ajji's?" She nodded. "You go down this way." He motioned to a different road. "Go to the end, go left at the vana, it is a shorter path. You better get that mosaru home fast." She thanked him and went.

What could have killed that goat? she wondered as she walked. It didn't look sick and there wasn't a scratch on it. The more she considered it, the more the shadows seemed to throb with the terror of unknown things. She directed her thoughts in another direction and deliberately wondered how Pankaj and his broken arm were doing, and if the pain had made him feel any remorse for the snake he had killed.

She reached the end of the road where she was to turn left, as Mr. Chikkanna had instructed. Looking back toward the village, she could still see the men around the dead goat, beneath the streetlight, beneath the stars.

Now the trees joined over the road. She kept her eyes wide to drink what light there was. She held her chappals and walked soundlessly, hastening to outpace the fluttering fear. The trees grew bigger, and the sounds louder: the chirping of insects, the calls of night birds, the sonic screeches of bats. Squinting, she made out a small pooja area, a prayer altar with flowers and a statue of a seven-headed cobra. Numerous pillars of vine and tree stood all around in the great darkness. Her mouth opened as her eyes rose to see the immensity before her. The great banyan tree of the sacred grove stretched over her in the dark.

Then birds and bats became silent. Even the frogs stopped their chorus. She took half a step back. Then another.

She was no longer alone.

Isha crouched. Her heart felt like it might rupture, the way a rabbit dies from fear. She could not move, and for some minutes concentrated on vanishing completely. On some new frequency in the dark, she could feel another presence waiting. Then the sound of breath as a muscular shadow slipped through the ultradark. It came like a nightmare, shapeless and immense, and heavily silent so that there was no telling of it except for the vibrating air. Eyes like two green moons flickered in the blackness; blue smoke breath curled in the cool air. It stood in the soft moonlight, looking toward the town. Everything was still. Then, without a sound, the monstrous thing vanished into the blackness.

Urine ran warm down Isha's ankle. She wanted to run but could not move. For a time, all of her concentration went to silencing her shuddering breaths. Gradually the night birds and frogs timidly resumed singing, and the soft sound of bat wings came into air above. She ran the rest of the way home so fast she barely touched ground.

CHAPTER 2

The Tiger

The tiger had no name. She was born in a forest up the Malabar Coast beneath a blood moon. Her mother, a great long striped tiger of three years, licked her blind new cubs clean as they squirmed helpless. One male, one female. The tiger's first weeks of life were spent blindly suckling beside her brother on the warm, white-striped stomach of their mother. Mother thunder breath, mother wild eyes. Those were her first memories: the smell of the earthen den and her mother's giant, godlike form curled all around — her soft fur rising and falling with warm breath, licking her clean, rumbling songs of the jungle into her new ears. Though the cub was new to the world, and her mother only a few years older, they played in the sunset of a story many thousands of years old.

There is a myth that there was once balance in nature, but balance, like peace, is an exception to the norm in the world of men. It is deliberate, and paid for in blood. In the old days it was the tigers that kept what balance there was: they stopped the boar from tearing up all the roots and killing the trees and kept the deer from grazing until every last sapling was gone. It was the charge of the tiger to ensure that the other predators — brother wolf, sister leopard — did not become too powerful and eat up the deer and boar and birds and other small things. Even the elephants respected the tiger.

When the rivers were young, the elephants created the jungle by carrying seeds and tearing up trees — gardening the world that all creatures called home. The tiger never hunted men back then because the men were stupid and slow. But when they stood up and began building and clearing and laying waste to the jungle, the tiger took them, and the elephants trumpeted and stomped the men's small villages and crops. And so man was added to the list of creatures beholden to the tiger, and for a few millennia there was balance. The herons and otters and wolves and elephants and tigers and even men had an established order.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Girl and the Tiger"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Paul Rosolie.
Excerpted by permission of Owl Hollow Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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