A Tiger for Malgudi

R. K. Narayan

A Tiger for Malgudi

R. K. Narayan

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A Tiger for Malgudi Summary

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A Tiger for Malgudi is a 1983 novel by Indian author R.K. Narayan, written from the perspective of a tiger named Raja, who recounts his life, up to and including his uneventful elderly life in an exhibit in the Malgudi zoo. Raja speaks nostalgically about his memories of the wild before being captured by humans, while acknowledging the meditative life his carceral existence now affords. Through its personification of Raja, the novel validates the experiences and emotions of animals who are too often neglected by their captors, promoting cultures of nonviolence between humans and animals.

The novel begins as Raja remembers his early life. He was born in the Indian jungle. Growing quickly, he seized his rightful place at the top of the food chain. He recalls the other creatures of the jungle feared him. Raja lived most of his young life in the broad swath of jungle called the Mempi Range. He was not an indiscriminate killer or despotic ruler, but was surely a dominant and occasionally ruthless one: he punishes those animals who deny him respect, and feasts on other animals liberally. At the same time, he has compassion for certain creatures. One day, Raja’s sense of supremacy is undermined when a female tiger challenges his arrogance. They fight and are an equal match, nearly killing each other. A wise jackal inspires them to speak to each other rather than fight. Obeying his words, they surprisingly become friends, then become mates and bear children.

One day, Raja’s three cubs are tragically killed by a group of hunters. He seeks revenge by stalking human villages and eating their livestock but is captured by a man called “Captain” who runs a traveling circus. Captain and his wife, Rita, train Raja to perform stunts. In the stunt that comes to be Raja’s most famous, he drinks milk alongside a goat. The stunt goes awry one day when Raja embraces his predatory impulse and kills the goat. Enraged, Captain takes him out of the show.

Madan, a film director, comes to Captain asking to feature Raja in a film. They strike a deal, but Captain delays for so long that he irritates Madan. Finally, they start filming. In one scene, Raja is to stage a fake fight with the strongman Jaggu. Jaggu, afraid of Raju, almost backs out of filming. In one attempt to film, Raja upsets Captain, who electrocutes him with a cattle prod. The rod does not subdue Raja as intended; the tiger retaliates by killing Captain. The film set erupts into chaos, and Raja flees.

Raja makes it to the city of Malgudi. He roams throughout the city, terrifying its denizens. Yet, Raja has given up using violence to influence humans and hopes only to be free again. Nevertheless, deeply curious about humans, he visits many cafes and businesses. He even visits a school after following a group of children. He falls asleep in the headmaster’s office; when he wakes, the principal and other staff are cowering and call for help.

Alphonse appears with a gun but doesn’t dare to enter the office. A spiritual leader known only as “the Master” also appears, attempting to placate the people assembled outside the office door. Alphonse drinks too much rum before attempting his rescue mission for the headmaster. He passes out, and the Master enters the office instead. Raja is surprised that he is able to understand the Master’s speech, unlike other humans. The Master orders Raja to leave calmly with him, and he complies, amazing the onlookers.

Raja and the Master travel throughout India spreading a philosophy of nonviolence. They travel into the mountains and live for a while in a cave. There, they are visited by many people who want to emulate the Master. One day, a woman appears and demands that the Master returns to her and their children, whom he abandoned. The Master replies that he is now a different person, just as Raja is no longer a violent beast. Disheartened, the woman returns to the city.

Raja becomes an old tiger. He finds it more difficult to hunt and protect himself. To help his friend along, the Master invites a zookeeper from Malgudi to their cave. The zookeeper offers to take care of Raja and proves to be friendly and compassionate. The Master gives Raja a final assignment: to move into the zoo and make children happy. The zoo will also render hunting unnecessary, enabling a nonviolent life for him. Now two old friends, Raja and the Master part ways. The Master tells him that their spirits will meet again, when their bodies are no longer necessary. A Tiger for Malgudi ends with this philosophical union between man and animal, suggesting that all creatures can and should strive for peace.

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