On my Facebook page, I wrote a status update that my blog post this time would be on Tiger-Woods of the Widows. I mentioned that it would be a personal story.
A few friends queried to know more. They wanted to know what kind of personal experience I ever had with “Tiger-Woods” and the widows.
Let me be clear, just in case. No, it’s not about Tiger Woods the media-celebrated-and-now-trashed golfer; in fact, I have no experience either with the game or the gamers. My present story is about some remote, God-forsaken forests where tigers rule and people are helpless game; these people are preys of their circumstances.
It’s about villages where desperate, hungry men go deep into the forests for fishing, honey-collecting and wood-chopping. They do it, knowing very well they’re taking grave risks. They often get killed or brutally mauled by tigers. In fact, there is an entire, vast area where all the male members have been killed by tigers. It’s a place that nobody cares about, even though it’s only about fifty miles from the bustling city of Calcutta — the so-called “cultural capital” of India, where Tagore, Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen have left their footprints. The cultured, sophisticated people, politicians, poets and press of Calcutta, India or Dhaka, Bangladesh hardly mention Deulbari, Kumirmari, Mollakhali, Baghna or Chamta. I’d tentatively say that Deulbari area is now called Woods of the Widows (the picture on your top left is from Deulbari). Tentatively, because nobody really knows how extensive the problem is. There could well be other villages with the same fate.
Some twenty years ago, I actually lived on an island very close to those forests (watch a short YouTube here). I lived there for four years and taught biology to my students who came from some of those villages. Ganesh Mondol, Motiur Rahman, Pradip Das, Bina Das, Srabani Mondol and the others told me that the area indeed existed. They told me it’s not just tigers, but snakes and crocodiles that killed people regularly. They told me they personally knew families in extreme poverty — thrown in even more poverty than ever before — because the head of the family was now killed; worse, because the men did an illegal act by invading Project Tiger sanctuary areas, the families never got any government compensation. Now, on top of it, the widows with their children are social outcasts: people in surrounding villages believe the women are cursed; otherwise, why would all the men be wiped out — something that never happened before!
So, that’s the story with a personal angle: nothing fancy, fabulous or sexy about it. Sophisticated and cultured people from Calcutta, India or Dhaka, Bangladesh of course visit the government-built picnic spots in the Sundarbans quite frequently. In fact, in the cool months of December and January, hundreds of motor launches with gleeful tourists and nature lovers rumble through the river Matla; fun trips would carry them from Port Canning to newly built resorts in Sajnekhali, now a tourist hotspot not too far from a no-electricity town called Gosaba at the tip of an islet. When I lived and worked at the Sundarban Haji Desarat College in Pathankhali, another no-electricity tip of the Gosaba islet, Sajnekhali was not really a place where you could stay overnight; I remember once I had organized a fun trip for my Calcutta friends and relatives to the forests; at night we very shakily anchored our motor launch in the middle of the wide-open Matla river, and practically nobody slept out of fear. Anyway, that’s a story for later.
Just the way these three men on this photo are wearing a face mask to deceive tigers into believing this is the front of the men when actually they are working on the ground with their bare backs exposed to the tigers (it is said that tigers only attack from the back…not sure if that’s always the case), tourists often get a chance to see on-site how the masks actually work. Additionally, they’re shown electrified barbed-wire fences fencing off work sites (at this point, tourists would really feel the chill). Then, the bravest tourists — mostly men — get a chance to climb up the watch tower to try their luck to find the wild cats from a distance. Jokes are hurled about how we would consider ourselves lucky if we got a chance to see the tiger but the tiger wouldn’t get to see us…etc. (at this point, you’d hear a lot of youthful giggle and chuckle).
Then, it would be time for the motor launch to start back its diesel engine, and gleeful tourists from Calcutta, India and Dhaka, Bangladesh would return home with thrilling stories about the dark and dense forests where daylight hardly penetrates even at noon, and where even if you couldn’t see the big cat (aren’t you lucky they didn’t see you either…ha ha…), at least you were able to see clear and pronounced paw marks six inches deep into the treacherous mud.
Meanwhile, on a weekly basis, a poor man on those mangrove islets would be preyed upon because of fierce ecological competition, and his headless body or remains would later be collected by his luckier friends and relatives. There would be a new, cursed widow with fatherless children in those God-forsaken villages.
By the way, Sundarbans is now a famous, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Does Deulbari know?
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