Did the Tiger of Mysore really tame a tiger?

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Sultan Fateh Ali Tipu aka Tipu Sultan, ‘Tiger’ of Mysore, scourge of the British and army strategist extraordinaire, who was finally defeated in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War by the combined forces of Britain and Travancore.

A man who died defending his capital, on May 4, 1799, at a place not too far from the revenue department’s offices in present-day Srirangapatna, where all that remains is a stone plaque that says, “Tipu’s body was found here”, around which grow parthenium plants that seem to match the British forces of yore in their intention to undermine the legitimacy of the man who once lorded over the island capital.

It is said that Tipu Sultan was once hunting in the forest with a French friend. He came face to face with a tiger. His gun did not work, and his dagger fell on the ground as the tiger jumped on him he reached for the dagger, picked it up, and killed the tiger with it.

That earned him the title ‘Tiger of Mysore’.

The point of this essay is to analyse how any man, however courageous, could actually physically fell an animal like the tiger which biologists have scientifically concluded, is among the strongest and the most savage of all land mammals known to humankind.

Or was the story of Tipu Sultan killing a tiger almost barehanded, save for a tiny sabre, a valiant attempt of hagiographers masquerading as historians who had nothing but the sole intention of ingratiating themselves to the king for favours both told and untold?

My own peregrinations in the bowels of the jungles of south India over the years and the innumerable accounts of tigers I’ve heard from biologists and laymen alike have left me with the conclusion that the tiger as an animal is undoubtedly among the strongest, vilest, ruthless, and intimidating of creatures to walk the earth, mind you, when aroused or angered.

Otherwise, of course, I myself have seen tigers walk the game roads inside the jungle with the innocence of a poodle ambling along a track in the neighbourhood park!

An adult tiger, all of over 500 pounds in weight, when angered, is known to deliver a swipe with its forepaws, lighting quick in speed and almost incomprehensibly savage in its execution that has an effect perhaps comparable to a monster crushing machine capable of pulverising rocks.

The ferocity of the swipe when understood in terms of PSI or pounds per square inch should amount to over a whopping 2,000. Simply too very much for Tipu Sultan to have handled, especially while taking on the beast face to face, a beast which would be taller than him while standing on its hind legs!

Assuming that the great Tipu Sultan had encountered a wild tiger in the jungle and had decided to sink a dagger into its chest, he would have been history much before the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, considering that the animal with its almost maniacal brutality would have pounced on him and smashed his face or even his skull with its forepaws with their sabre-like retractable nails, even before his brain could have registered the moment. Such is the force of an angry tiger, say biologists.

When a tiger can routinely kill a guar, an animal that weighs a ton and is built like a Patton tank with muscles that ripple like black granite and pull away the carcass with consummate ease into a thicket to feed, imagine a mere human being’s chances against the striped marauder!

Whoever came up with the idea of painting Tipu Sultan in larger than life colours in relation to the tiger attack surely did not go unrewarded by the king, I’m sure.

For such imagination is rare.