Ghost of a chance for the tiger


TIGERS, EXCEPT perhaps for one southpaw Bengali, have no interest in cricket.

Cricketers, we presume, are interested in tigers. So what if that interest is sponsored.

They appear on TV screens and peer from billboards to tell you there are 1,411 Royal Bengal tigers left in India. We are not sure if that figure includes Sourav Ganguly.

Federal minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh is certain India has less striped cats than what the cellular service provider’s ad claims. But all is not lost for the tiger – yet.

Fuelling the hope for this carnivore feline is Assam’s Kaziranga National Park (KNP), usually talked about for its near-2,000 one-horned rhinos. The last census put the density of tigers in KNP at 32 per 100 sq km.

Corbett National Park in northern India comes a poor second with a density of 20 tigers. The other 37 Project Tiger areas in the country have a dismal 8-12.

Humans, obviously, have had a hand in ensuring a healthy population of tigers in the 860 sq km KNP. But credit should also be given to traditional tiger-conserving ghosts of Assam.

Assamese ghosts and evil spirits come in all shapes and sizes, some with zero – zeroer than Kareena Kapoor’s – figures. The baagh-rokhiya bhoot (tiger-guarding ghost) is believed to protect leopards and tigers from hunters unless the latter take the help of the occult-drenched baaghor oja (tiger ghost buster).

The grotesque baank is no protector of fishes, unlike baagh-rokhiya. It has several sub-species, but all have a common pastime – eating fish and haunting fishermen. The kandhakata and ghorapaank varieties have no head, and the mouth and eyes are on their stomach. The daunt type kills fishermen unless given a share of the catch.

But fishermen aren’t without friendly ghosts, such as jaula bira that resides in fishing boats and nets. If this benign spirit ensures the catch gets past the baank, the fisherman’s wife has to keep the suruni bira at bay. For, this female evil spirit specializes in stealing from the kitchen.

Beyond the kitchen, one has to be wary of a host of malevolent ghosts. The duo of khoba-khubi, for instance, revels in harming newly married couple. Khetar picks on small children and ogress jaraa on newborns while povati samoon hinders childbirth.

Then there’s haatovali who hovers over weekly village markets and sairha diya bhutuni who entices people to commit suicide by hanging.

And cricketers who wield the willow have to watch out for will o’ the wisp, the Assamese avatar called ukaa being deadlier than the English type.

But my pick of Assamese spirits is the male samoon. If offended, he strikes people dumb (some cricket commentators deserve his wrath).

Assam has eerier ghosts and monsters. To samoon…er…summon them and save tigers or stop cricket overkill, get a copy of Jyoti Bilingual Thesaurus. Compiled by Pranavjyoti Deka, this thesaurus is a gem of a collector’s item.

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About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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