Baradighi Maneater

Aug 26 2013

We are pleased to show the very well written story below, 

by Mike Thomas.Mike was a planter with Jardines at Halem

and Baradighi in the 50's and 60's. The family all went to

Papua New Guinea on leaving India.  Then he retired to

Dandenonga near Melbourne Australia.



             By Mike Thomas

In spite of it being monsoon time, we decided to drive to Baradighi. The road was in quite good condition and all the rivers were bridged. Most of the trip would be on the new National Highway, constructed to link Assam to the rest of India after Partition. So all the heavy luggage was sent off by train and we packed into the car; Esther and Simon, Howra and our old dog Sally and the driver, that was me. Added to that was all the bits and pieces wanted for the trip. It must have looked rather like a travelling circus. We made the trip in one day, at least I think we did, but I do remember that it was a long, tiring and hot drive. Cars didn't have cooling in those days and we were all very pleased to arrive at Baradighi.

Baradighi was a lovely place, in those days, surrounded on three sides by thick jungle and by a river on the fourth. The estate was the show place for "Jardines" and for years money had been lavished on upkeep. All the buildings were of the best; the burra bungalow was the largest house in the area and all the other buildings were on the same scale. The sections of tea were so level that they looked as if they had been plucked by machine and the shade trees marched away into the distance each standing in formation and all the roads were immaculate. There was one big snag to all this, the labour force was huge and the cost of production was very high.

The manager, George Robey, was due to go off on leave a few days after our arrival so we moved into the burra bungalow at once and I spent the next few days being shown the ropes. I had very little time to get to know the-place before he was off.

The bungalow was huge and quite old. It had been built in the days of the Raj, by one of the old time planters who had been knighted for services to the King-Emperor. He had then proceeded to build a house in keeping with his exalted standing. It had two of everything; the drawing room and the small sitting room, the dining-room and breakfast-room, five bed rooms and five bathrooms all finished off with two huge verandas. It took an army of servants to run the place. The compound was to scale, more like a park than a garden, with about ten gardeners employed to keep the place in order. Two of these spent their time mowing the lawns, one pushing and the other pulling the mower.

The Estate itself ran like clockwork, all I had to do was to crank the place up in the morning, do the office work and then make the usual inspection of the plantation. Though from time to time unexpected things did happen like when one morning a band of fellows, all in a great state, marched into the office and plonked what looked like a pair of human hip bones on my desk. They were still in a very old pair of shorts and the smell was none too good. From all the chatter that was going on around me, I was able to make out that these bones were the remains of one of their relations who had gone missing a few months before. It seemed that this fellow had gone to the jungle to get firewood and had never been seen again. By this time all the office clerks and others were pushing into my room to have a look. Everyone was talking at the top of their voices and I was becoming quite bewildered. After things began to calm down it was decided that the poor fellow must have been eaten by a tiger which was confirmed after the Estate doctor had examined the bones. This was the start of the killings by the "Baradighi Man Eater" which went on from time to time for the next six months or so.

The tiger struck again half way through my acting. This time one of the estate cow herds was taken. The poor old fellow was close to the forest looking after the workers' cows. He was employed to do this by the company and was just rounding up his herd to bring them home for the night, when the tiger came rushing out of the jungle and picked him off leaving the cows untouched. This confirmed that we had a man eater on our hands.

The National Highway that ran by the Baradighi gates was built, after partition, to join Assam to the rest of India and because of this it became the main highway for the overland trip from Europe to the Far East and Australia via Singapore. We quite often saw rather unusual and battered vehicles, piled high with camping gear and full of travel-worn people who must have been doing the great trip. I remember one lot well. It must have been one evening soon after I had come home from work. We were sitting on the veranda having a drink when we heard the sound of a motor bicycle coming up the drive and two people, a man and woman, drove up to the steps on a scooter. I think they were Americans. They seemed very pleasant young people and were looking for shelter for the night. It seemed that they were scooting round the world and they intended to scoot up through Assam to Dimapur, then over the mountains to Burma and on down through Malaya to Singapore. To make this journey they would have had to travel through Naga Land, where all the trouble was going on, and over the old Burma Road to Mandalay. We gave them food and a bed for the night and they went on their way next morning. We never heard anything of them again and I often wonder what became of them.

Soon after this, George Robey came back from leave and we moved over to the assistant's bungalow and lived there for about the next six months. When George had settled back into the job we took our local leave and went up to Shillong. We rented a flat for the holiday. It was part of an old bungalow, owned by The Indian Tea Association which had converted one room into their office and the rest into a holiday home for planters. It was just across the road from the Loreto Convent gates so we turned Jenny and Robert into day pupils and they were with us for the rest of the time. Simon, who was only four at that time, thought, with a bit of prompting from us, that he would like to go to school too. So we fixed him up with a school cap and other bits of uniform and off he went in the mornings holding on to Jenny's hand. For the first few days all went well then Simon jacked up and, deciding that he had had enough, put his head on his desk and his hands over his head, and that was that! No more school for Simon.

We had a good time on that leave. The weather was fine so we went off for picnics in the hills. On one day we drove over to Charapunji which has the reputation of being one of the wettest places in the world. It's right on the edge of the Khasi Hills which fall away in a vertical drop to the East Bengal plain. With no high ground between there and the Bay of Bengal, the Monsoon storms rush in from the bay and deposit all their rain on the Charapunji area. The rain gauge there, which was like a small pond, measured the rainfall in feet instead of inches. It can rain non-stop for weeks at a time in that area. On the day we went there it was dry and we were able to get a good view out over East Bengal.

Our holiday soon came-to an end. I went back to Baradighi by car with Howra and Esther stayed on in Shillong for a week or so, and came back by train, with the children, at the end of the school term. Jogendra, the cook, came back with them too.

It was then that the tiger struck again, this time killing a woman from the plucking line who was working in a section of tea between our bungalow and the jungle. This really was getting a bit much! Something had to be done about it. This last kill was so close to our house that we had to confine the children to the lawn in the front garden for their play and all walks about the estate had to stop. We had an elephant and its mahoot stationed on a field next to our vegetable patch and George Robey and a few others went looking for the animal, but with no luck.

All went quiet for a few weeks and then, on one Saturday evening, there was another kill. This time it was our estate "dak wallah" (postman). His body was found on the Sunday morning by some of his relations, hidden under a bush a few yards from a jungle track. A deputation of the labourers came to report this to me. They were all very agitated and I could see that they would refuse to work in all parts of the estate that were close to the jungle unless the tiger was caught. They had come to me to make their report because they were scared to go to George Robey as George had a reputation for being very bad tempered on a Sunday towards lunch time……. Because of this, they all thought that it would be better for me to break the news to the burra sahib. So off I went, with the head man, to the burra bungalow and sure enough, I found that George ……….. was in quite a belligerent mood. When I told him about the latest killing he got all worked up about it shouting that no bloody tiger could kill his dak wallah and get away with it; we would go to the jungle and finish the bloody thing off then and there. He then got his gun and loaded it and told me to drive the Land Rover and so, with the man who knew the way in the back, we set out to the jungle. We soon got close to the place where the poor fellow had been knocked off his bicycle, which was still beside the track. The marks of the tiger going up the bank into the jungle could still be seen. George, who had a very bad knee ……., was determined to follow the tiger's tracks. I had all sorts of ideas of his leg giving out and, may be, coming face to face with a very irate tiger so I did all I could to dissuade him from going on, but he would have none of it, so on we went.

By this time it was getting quite late- in the day, which was not the time to be walking in the jungle especially with a man eating tiger wandering about the place, but on we went and came to the place where the body was hidden. Just as we got there we heard a noise that sounded much like a growl and we were off in a rush! Not even George wanted to stay any longer. Thank God his knee held out in the hike back to the Land Rover. I must say I was very relieved to see that car and be on the way back to the plantation.

Soon after this there were some deaths in one of the local villages and these, with our troubles, made the local authorities decide that something should be done about the tiger so the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police for the district took command of the situation and decided that a full scale hunt would take place and a date was fixed. The Cooch Behar State elephants were ordered to come to Baradighi. I think that there were about ten of them and we were told to provide a line of beaters.

At last the day came and all the officials, who wanted to take part in the hunt, turned up. They were the most motley crew, made up of local politicians and civil servants mostly dressed in dhoties and long flowing shirts topped off with Ghandi caps. They were all armed to the teeth with an odd assortment of firearms. I had gathered a set of men to act as beaters. They were all armed with kerosene tins which they were to use to make a noise and then they were stationed along a jungle track in advance of the hunters, covering the area where the tiger was thought to be living. Most of the estate labour force gathered in the background to see the fun. After all the local bigwigs had stopped fighting about who should sit where and on which elephant, they all climbed aboard and with

guns sticking out in all directions, made themselves ready. The signal was given and the hunt was on. Our men started to shout and bang their tins with great gusto and move slowly through the jungle in the hope that the tiger, if he was there, would run towards the elephants. Then the fun started. The elephants, who had lived a nice quiet life in the Maha Rajah's stables for many years just doing the odd ceremonial job from time to time, did not like all this trouble and when the noise started, all decided to take off home at top speed. To an elephant, they took matters in to their own hands and taking no notice of their mahoots, charged off in the opposite direction. It was one of the funniest sights I had seen for years; all the hunters were hanging on for grim death, guns and hats were falling all over the place and dhotis and shirts were flapping away in the wind. To make matters worse, all the labourers began to cheer and clap their hands. That was the end of the hunt.

Nothing more was heard of the tiger though there was a rumour that a lorry on the trunk road had run over a tiger one night. This was never confirmed but there were no more killings after that time so we were able to settle back to the usual plantation life.