Sunday, July 1, 2007


It was late in the evening. A dark form suddenly appeared on a ridge overlooking the city, about a mile away.

It stood there for some time, absorbing the last rays of the setting sun and surveying the land below. Then, as silently as it had appeared, the creature turned and disappeared into the undergrowth.

Meanwhile, a man sat in front of a large instrument panel in a big room in the heart of the city, keeping an eye on the numerous screens in front of him. Suddenly, his eyes came to rest on a particular screen and, for a split-second, he stared as if transfixed. Then, automatically, his right hand reached forward and pressed a button, which immediately caused to be photographed the scene on the screen. He waited for a minute to elapse, while he ran his eyes over the other screens. Nothing else caught his attention. He reached out to lift a small cover just below the screen. With his other hand he took out a developed photograph and studied it intently. The photograph was that of the creature, just before it had disappeared into the undergrowth.

The news was out in twenty-four hours. Everybody was talking about it. An unusual creature had been spotted! Was it a visitor from another planet or solar system? Or was it monster from a mad scientist’s laboratory?

The creature was spotted on the outskirts of the city twice more in the next couple of days. So, naturally, the matter had to be reported to the Mayor, who immediately sent for his Councillors. After deliberating with them, the Mayor summoned Professor Sharma, Director of the Institute of Unusual Affairs, for an expert opinion. The Mayor’s orders to him were brief and to the point: “Find out what this creature is, and where it has come from!”

Prof. Sharma collected his colleagues around him, obtained a copy of the only photograph of the creature available and set about studying records. At he same time, he commissioned Mr. Choudhury, one of the best hunters of the day, to “get that creature – dead or alive!”

Mr. Choudhury set about his task diligently. Accompanied by a tracker, he arrived at the site where the creature was first spotted and tracked it down to a small jungle, one of the very few left in the world. The next day, he arranged for men, some armed with sticks, some beating drums and some shouting at the top of their voices, to scare the creature towards him. He, himself, was hiding on top of a tree. It was an age-old hunting method, and it worked.

Lying on a wooden platform placed across two branches of the tree, a perspiring Mr. Choudhury waited patiently for the mysterious creature to make an appearance. He could hear the sound of drums in the distance. They were slowly coming nearer. Suddenly, he heard a scuffling sound from the bushes - and then a magnificent looking creature emerged. It stood for a moment, apparently trying to find its bearings, while Mr. Choudhury, recognizing his chance, quickly raised the gun in his hands and, taking aim, fired. The drug bullet hit the creature in the neck. It gave a convulsive leap, collapsed on the ground, and lay still.

Mr. Choudhury climbed down from the tree, hoping that the drug had not been too strong. He had wanted to capture the creature alive. He knelt down beside the recumbent figure, but it took him only a few minutes to discover that he had given an overdose of the drug. The creature was dead.

They brought the dead creature to the Institute of Unusual Affairs the next day. Prof. Sharma and his colleagues had found a clue to the creature’s identity from their records. All that was left to do was to measure and dissect the creature. In six hours, they had verified their deductions. This creature was no visitor from outer space. Nor was it a monster created in a laboratory. It was just - a relic.

By this time, the public and the media had lost interest in the case of the unusual creature. But the Mayor found time from his busy schedule to listen to Prof. Sharma’s report.

“We have traced this type of creature from many hundreds of years ago, when it virtually disappeared from the face of the Earth,” Prof. Sharma told the Mayor. “For centuries before that, these creatures had roamed the jungles of Asia and Africa. But indiscriminate hunting and industrialization quickly reduced their number and soon they became an endangered species. We believe that this creature is…was…the last of the species.”

The Mayor was already becoming tired of the topic. He had far more urgent and important matters of government to attend to. “Well, what is…was… it?” he asked, impatiently.

Prof. Sharma adjusted his spectacles and glanced at his notes. “Our ancestors called it the Tiger,” he said.