Struck by Aila, mauled by tiger
7 Jun 2009, 0430 hrs IST, Monotosh Chakraborty, TNN
KOLKATA: A desperate cyclone victim who strayed into tiger territory in search of food and firewood nearly fell prey to a big cat on the prowl on May 27. Though 55-year-old Lalmohan Mondal survived the grizzly attack, the incident highlights the plight of both man and animal in the Sunderbans after Aila swept away both foodgrains and prey from the islands that dot the estuarine delta.
The tiger attack took place when a group of four villagers from Rakhalpur in Patharpratima block's L Plot were fishing near Biziaria, one of 20 uninhabited islands in the belt. Around 4.2 lakh people live in the remaining 37 islands that make up the Indian part of the Sunderbans.
Mondal had ventured out after being marooned on an embankment for two days without food. It had been only two days since he had returned home after a fortnight of fishing in the high seas when Aila struck the island and rendered the family homeless. He just about managed to scramble atop an embankment with wife Kabita and sons Gopal and Gobinda before the hungry tide engulfed all in sight.
Though Lalmohan and Kabita bore the hunger with grit, it was the pangs of his sons, aged 9 and 12, that forced Lalmohan to leave the safety of high ground. "The situation was desperate. The children hadn't had a morsel for two days. I had salvaged some grains but needed firewood to cook a meal. So, I asked Lalmohan to go to the jungle, something I should never had done," Kabita regretted.
Three fellow villagers Mohan Samanta, Mintu Das and Meghnath Sardar agreed to accompany Lalmohan and the quartet set out in a countryboat with one Bapi at the oars. Along the way, they cast the net to make a catch. "Lots of fish had died in the cyclone. The water near our homes had all been polluted. So we thought of catching fish on way to the forest," said Mohan.
It was in the afternoon that the boat landed at the mud flats of Biziariya. The four pulled the net out of water and were busy extracting the fish when a blob of wet mud splashed Lalmohan's face. He turned around and froze. Just five feet away was a Royal Bengal staring straight at him.
"The tiger had leapt into the mud, causing it to splash my face. I knew I had to run but that split-second delay was enough to give the animal a huge advantage. The others reacted faster and ran into the water but my right foot got stuck in knee-deep soft mud. Before I could extricate myself, the tiger had pounced," Lalmohan said.
In the next instance, he felt the crushing weight of the tiger and the swipe of its powerful paws on his left shoulder. The talons dug deep into Lalmohan's flesh and he felt the searing pain. Instinctively, he raised his right arm to defend but the tiger's brute power had inflicted two deep wounds on either side of the elbow before he could even realize it.
Mondal felt the crushing weight of the tiger and the swipe of its powerful paws on his left shoulder. The talons dug deep into Lalmohan's flesh and he felt the searing pain. Instinctively, he raised his right arm to defend but the tiger's brute power had inflicted two deep wounds on either side of the elbow before he could even realize it.
Realizing that Lalmohan was in mortal danger, fellow villagers Mohan, Mintu and Meghnath (who had fled into the water) turned around. Picking up the sticks and pickaxes they had brought along, they raced to the spot and began raining blows on the tiger.
"Unless we acted, the tiger would have dragged Lalmohan into the jungle. Since the tiger was still engaged in incapacitating Lalmohan, there was a chance that we could take it by surprise," Mintu said.
The blow from a pickaxe landed on the tiger's right forelimb, causing a deep gash. After letting out a deadly snarl, it slipped away into the forest. The trio immediately lifted Lalmohan onto the boat and bandaged the wounds.
"Though there were deep gashes in his shoulder and arm, it didn't look life threatening. Hence, we took him home first. We avoided the block hospital in Patharpratima because that would lead to queries on why we had ventured near Biziariya without permission," Meghnath said.
Later, Kabita admitted Lalmohan to a nursing home in Diamond Harbour. He has recovered and is set to be discharged. But the family has run up a Rs 25,000 bill that it will find difficult to meet.
South 24-Parganas DFO Subhendu Bandyopadhyay said he had heard about the incident and was investigating it. "Since they did not have permission, they had no business being in that area. We have to also verify if their version of the story is correct. Were they simply villagers in distress or poachers in disguise?" he said.
Meanwhile, at Mollapara in Patharpratima's Upendranagar island, tension erupted on Friday evening after rumour spread that two tigers had been spotted in an adjoining forest. After foresters were informed, a team arrived and set up protecting nets around the forest to prevent the tiger from straying into the village. However, no tiger had been sighted till Saturday evening.