About the Author: Ramaswamy Aiyer Krishnamurthy (9 September 1899 – 5 December 1954), better known by his pen name Kalki, was a Tamil writer, journalist, poet, critic and Indian independence activist. His writings include over 120 short stories, 10 novellas, 5 novels, 3 historical romances, editorial and political writings and hundreds of film and music reviews. Kalki Krishnamuthy received the Sangeetha Kalasikhamani award conferred on him by The Indian Fine Arts Society in 1953.
Summary of The Tiger King by Kalki
The story revolves around the Maharaja of Pratibandapuram, Jilani Jung Jung Bahadur, who is also known as the Tiger King. He is dead now but how he came to be known as the Tiger King is the story that the narrator tells. The manner of his death is quite interesting.
Soon after he was born, the astrologers predicted that one day the Tiger King would grow up to be a great warrior but he would have to meet his death. As the astrologers uttered these words, a miracle took place. The ten-day old child said that all those who are born are meant to die someday. He wished to know the cause of his death. The chief astrologer was awestruck at the fact that the ten-day old Jung Jung Bahadur did not only speak but also raised an intelligent question. The Chief astrologer said that he was born in the hour of the bull. The bull and the tiger are enemies, therefore, his death would come from a tiger. After hearing this prophecy, Jung Jung Bahadur was not intimidated. Instead, he declared- “Let tigers beware!”
The crown prince grew taller and stronger with each passing day. No other miracle took place in his childhood other than the initial one. He was brought up like an Englishman, under the influence of western culture. At the age of twenty, the State came into his hands.
The astrologer’s prediction came to the Maharaja’s ears. He started hunting tigers as an act of self-defense. He was extremely delighted to kill his first tiger. However, the State astrologer warned him that he may kill ninety-nine tigers but he must be aware of the hundredth tiger. When the Tiger King questioned him what he was going to do if he managed to kill the hundredth tiger as well, the astrologer said that he would give up his profession if his prediction turns out to be wrong.
The State banned tiger hunting by anyone except the Maharaja. A proclamation was issued stating that if anyone dared to even hurt a tiger, all his property would be confiscated by the State. The Maharaja had only one goal at that point and he vowed to attend to all other matters only after killing hundred tigers. He faced a lot of dangers while hunting the tigers but he always managed to be victorious.
Because of his obsession of killing tigers, once the Maharaja almost lost his throne. A high-ranking British officer, who was very fond of hunting tigers and even fonder of being photographed with the tigers he shot, visited Pratibandapuram. He wished to hunt the tigers in Pratibandapuram but the Maharaja refused to cooperate. Even when the British officer’s secretary informed the Maharaja that that British officer wanted a photograph of him holding the gun and standing over the tiger’s carcass and that he could do the actual killing, the Maharaja refused. He thought that if he agreed to this proposal then other British officers would also desire to hunt in his kingdom. The Maharaja and the dewan deliberated on the issue and to maintain healthy relations with the British, the Maharaja asked a famous jewellery company in Calcutta to send him the samples of some expensive diamond rings. The Maharaja sent fifty rings to the British officer’s good lady expecting her to one or two rings and send the rest back. But she took all the rings worth three lakh of rupees. The Maharaja lost three lakh rupees but managed to retain his kingdom.
Within ten years, the Maharaja managed to kill seventy tigers. The tiger population became extinct in the forests of Pratibandapuram. The Maharaja called the dewan and expressed his desire to get married to a girl from a royal family belonging to a State with a large tiger population. The dewan followed his orders and the Maharaj got married to a girl from a state with a large tiger population. Jung Jung Bahadur killed five or six tigers each time he visited his father-in-law. In this way, he was able to kill ninety-nine tigers. Now that he had killed ninety-nine tigers, he was more anxious to kill the last one. By this time, the tigers had become extinct even in his father-in-law’s kingdom. The Maharaja was eager to kill the hundredth tiger and then he could give up tiger hunting altogether. He was sunk in gloom as the hundredth tiger could not be found. However, one day when he heard that the sheep began to disappear in his own state, hope returned to him. He was so thrilled that he even announced a three-year exemption from all taxes for that village and set out on the hunt. But the hundredth tiger was not easily found. The Maharaja got so furious that many officers lost their jobs. One day, he was so enraged that he ordered the dewan to double the land tax. The dewan figured that if the Maharaja did not find the tiger soon then it would have a bad impact on the kingdom. He was relieved to see the tiger which had been brought from the People’s park in Madras was kept hidden in his house. At midnight, the dewan and his aged wife dragged the tiger to the car and drove it straight to the forest where the Maharaja was hunting. The tiger wandered into the Maharaja’s presence and he shot the beast with boundless joy. The tiger fell on the ground. The Maharaja was so ecstatic that he ordered the tiger t be brought to the capital in grand procession.
After the Maharaja let, the hunters found out that the tiger was not dead after all. The Maharaja had missed the target. The tiger had just fainted from the shock of the bullet that was fired at it. However, out of the fear of losing their jobs, everyone decided not to tell the Maharaja about this. Finally one of the hunters shot the tiger dead and they took it in a procession through the town and buried it. A tomb was erected over it.
A few days later, on the Maharaja’s son’s third birthday, he wished to give him some special gift. After searching a lot for the perfect gift, the Maharaja spotted a wooden tiger in a toyshop and decided to buy it for his son. The wooden tiger cost only two Annas and a quarter but the shopkeeper managed to sell it as an extremely rare example of craftsmanship for three hundred rupees.
On that day the father and the son played with the wooden tiger that had been carved by an unskilled carpenter. Its surface was rough. As a result, one of the slivers of wood pierced the Maharaja’s right hand. He pulled it out and continued to play with his son. The next day, an infection flared in his right hand and within four days it spread all over the arm. Three famous surgeons were brought to operate him. The operation was successful but the Tiger King was dead. The hundredth tiger finally took its revenge upon the Tiger King.