Sundarban: ‘Beautiful Forest’ (Language: Bengali)
This short story was inspired by a documentary I saw on the BBC UK channel in 2013 entitled, ‘The Man-Eating Tigers of the Sundarbans’. The documentary was about the Bengal Tiger living in the tidal mangroves of the Sundarbans, Bangladesh—the only place in the world where tigers actively seek out human prey (up to 300 people are attacked and killed each year). While it is a phenomenon that continues to stump ecologists, it has been loosely attributed to global warming (rising tide levels leading to a decrease in tiger’s rainforest territory). This is a concern for both the villagers and the tiger conservationists, who have seen a rise in poaching and ‘revenge killings’ of the endangered creature as a response.
The most fascinating part of the documentary was the conservationists’ innovative plan to train local stray dogs as a pack to warn villagers when a tiger is near. The bravery, intelligence and instinct for survival of these previously mistreated strays was what inspired me to write this story about Dukhe, a stray dog from the streets of Khula, Bangladesh, who finds his leadership of the Chadpai pack threatened by a mysterious creature lurking on the outskirts of the forest. He goes to investigate, and in the course of a single turning tide, changes the hierarchy of the forest forever.
Dukhe lifted his shaggy brown head and sniffed. The villagers were at it again – burning incense, beating rapid footfalls on the hard clay earth and chanting in low, guttural voices as they did on the eve of each shrinking moon. Dukhe was so used to these strange monthly rituals that he let his eyelids grow heavy and stretched his forepaws towards the campfire flames, soaking up flickers of warmth. But as he was about to rest his head again, he caught a whiff of something heady, pheromone rich, skirting the opposite bank of the river just beyond reach of the firelight. The scent may have eluded a lesser nose, but it set the coarse hairs of his haunches bristling and exposed his canines to their root. Years living on the busy streets of Khulna in the far North—where the slightly rancid scent of another stray’s breath could carry with it the wide-eyed craze of the frothing sickness—had taught him never to trust a scent he couldn’t immediately define.
The sound began in the hollow of his chest, hitching a couple of times before bursting forth in a wolfish pitch. It was a sound that called to the heart of any dog whose breed had not yet been tamed, and for a second, the forest stilled, listening. The breeze held its breath. The tittering nocturnal creatures ceased their midnight rustlings. The tiger rose, hair bristling, the tip of its tail agitating left and right as though to swipe away the sound. When its attention shifted towards the village, Dukhe slipped beneath the tangle of roots and swum back to the banks of the khal where he rose, bloody and dripping.
To read full short story, order your copy of Pencilled In Magazine, Issue 1, ‘Fear and Hope’ here : http://pencilled.in/product/issue-1-fear-hope/ – A new literary magazine dedicated to publishing works from Asian-Australian artists and creators.