A TIGER IN THE HOUSE by Ruskin Bond

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1 A TIGER IN THE HOUSE by Ruskin Bond Ruskin Bond was born in 1934 in Kasauli, a rural area of India. F full-time writer since the age of twenty-two, he published several novels, short stories, and books for children. He has said of his work, My interests (children, mountains, folklore, nature) are embodied in [these books]... Once you have lived in the Himalayas, you belong to them, and must come back again and again. There is no escape. A Tiger In the House comes from his best-known collection, Time Stops at Shamli and Other Stories (1989). A TIGER IN THE HOUSE by Ruskin Bond Timothy, the tiger-cub, was discovered by Grandfather on a hunting expedition in the Terai jungle near Dehra. 1 2 Grandfather was no shikari, but as he knew the forests of the Siwalik 3 hills better than most people, he was persuaded to accompany the party it consisted of several Very Important Persons from Delhi to advise on 4 the terrain and the direction the beaters should take once a tiger had been spotted. The camp itself was sumptuous seven large tents (one for each shikari), a dining-tent, and a number of servants tents. The dinner was very good, as Grandfather admitted afterwards; it was not often that one saw hot-water plates, finger-glasses, and seven or eight courses, in a tent in the 5 jungle! But that was how things were done in the days of the Viceroys... There were also some 6 fifteen elephants, four of them with howdahs for the shikaris, and the others especially trained for taking part in the beat. 1 Terai - jungle near Dehra: the forests at the base of the Himalayan foothills near the town of Dehra Dun in northern India. 2 shikari - a hunter. 3 Siwalik hills - a range of hills running through the Terai. 4 beaters - men who drive animals out of cover by beating drums and shouting. 5 Viceroys - In colonial times, the Viceroy was the chief official of the ruling British government in India. 6 howdahs - seats placed for riders on elephants backs.

2 The sportsmen never saw a tiger, nor did they shoot anything else, though they saw a number of deer, peacock, and wild boar. They were giving up all hope of finding a tiger, and were beginning to shoot at jackals, when Grandfather, strolling down the forest path at some distance from the rest of the party, discovered a little tiger about eighteen inches long, hiding among the 7 intricate roots of a banyan tree. Grandfather picked him up, and brought him home after the camp had broken up. He had the distinction of being the only member of the party to have bagged any game, dead or alive. At first the tiger cub, who was named Timothy by Grandmother, was brought up entirely on milk given to him in a feeding bottle by our cook, Mahmoud. But the milk proved too rich for him, and he was put on a diet of raw mutton and cod liver oil, to be followed later by a more tempting diet of pigeons and rabbits. Timothy was provided with two companions Toto the monkey, who was bold enough to pull the young tiger by the tail, and then climb up the curtains if Timothy lost his temper; and a small mongrel puppy, found on the road by Grandfather. At first Timothy appeared to be quite afraid of the puppy, and darted back with a spring if it came too near. He would make absurd dashes at it with his large forepaws, and then retreat to a ridiculously safe distance. Finally, he allowed the puppy to crawl on his back and rest there! One of Timothy s favourite amusements was to stalk anyone who would play with him, and so, when I came to live with Grandfather, I became one of the tiger s favourites. With a crafty look in his glittering eyes, and his body crouching, he would creep closer and closer to me, suddenly making a dash for my feet, rolling over on his back and kicking with delight, and pretending to bite my ankles. He was by this time the size of a full-grown retriever, and when I took him out for walks, people on the road would give us a wide berth. When he pulled hard on his chain, I had difficulty in keeping up with him. His favourite place in the house was the drawing room, and he would make himself comfortable on the long sofa, reclining there with great dignity, and snarling at anybody who tried to get him off. Timothy had clean habits, and would scrub his face with his paws exactly like a cat. He slept at night in the cook s quarters, and was always delighted at being let out by him in the morning. One of these days, declared Grandmother in her prophetic manner, we are going to find Timothy sitting on Mahmoud s bed, and no sign of the cook except his clothes and shoes! Of course, it never came to that, but when Timothy was about six months old a change came over him; he grew steadily less friendly. When out for a walk with me, he would try to steal away to stalk a cat or someone s pet Pekinese. Sometimes at night we would hear frenzied cackling from the poultry house, and in the morning there would be feathers lying all over the verandah. Timothy had to be chained up more often. And finally, when he began to stalk Mahmoud about the house with what looked like villainous intent, Grandfather decided it was time to transfer him to a zoo. 8 The nearest zoo was at Lucknow, two hundred miles away. Reserving a first-class 7 banyan tree - a large, tropical fig tree native to India. 8 Lucknow - a large city in northern India.

3 compartment for himself and Timothy no one would share a compartment with them Grandfather took him to Lucknow where the zoo authorities were only too glad to receive as a gift a well-fed and fairly civilized tiger. About six months later, when my grandparents were visiting relatives in Lucknow, Grandfather took the opportunity of calling at the zoo to see how Timothy was getting on. I was not there to accompany him, but I heard all about it when he returned to Dehra. Arriving at the zoo, Grandfather made straight for the particular cage in which Timothy had been interned. The tiger was there, crouched in a corner, full-grown and with a magnificent striped coat. Hello Timothy! said Grandfather and, climbing the railing with ease, he put his arm through the bars of the cage. The tiger approached the bars, and allowed Grandfather to put both hands around his head. Grandfather stroked the tiger s forehead and tickled his ears, and, whenever he growled, smacked him across the mouth, which was his old way of keeping him quiet. It licked Grandfather s hands and only sprang away when a leopard in the next cage snarled at him. Grandfather shooed the leopard away, and the tiger returned to lick his hands; but every now and then the leopard would rush at the bars, and he would slink back to his corner. A number of people had gathered to watch the reunion when a keeper pushed his way through the crowd and asked Grandfather what he was doing. I m talking to Timothy, said Grandfather. Weren t you here when I gave him to the zoo six months ago? I haven t been here very long, said the surprised keeper. Please continue your conversation. But I have never been able to touch him myself, he is always very bad tempered. Why don t you put him somewhere else? suggested Grandfather. That leopard keeps frightening him. I ll go and see the Superintendent about it. Grandfather went in search of the Superintendent of the zoo, but found that he had gone home early; and so, after wandering about the zoo for a little while, he returned to Timothy s cage to say goodbye. It was beginning to get dark. He had been stroking and slapping Timothy for about five minutes when he found another keeper observing him with some alarm. Grandfather recognized him as the keeper who had been there when Timothy had first come to the zoo. You remember me, said grandfather. Now why don t you transfer Timothy to another cage, away from this stupid leopard? But sir stammered the keeper. It is not your tiger. I know, I know, said Grandfather testily. I realize he is no longer mine. But you might at least take a suggestion or two from me.

4 I remember your tiger very well, said the keeper. He died two months ago. Died! exclaimed Grandfather. Yes, sir, of pneumonia. This tiger was trapped in the hills only last month, and he is very dangerous! Grandfather could think of nothing to say. The tiger was still licking his arm, with increasing relish. Grandfather took what seemed to him an age to withdraw his hand from the cage. With his face near the tiger s he mumbled, Good night, Timothy, and giving the keeper a scornful look walked briskly out of the zoo. First Response: Were you completely surprised by the story s ending? Why or why not? _

5 CHECKING UP 1. Why was Grandfather asked to join the hunting expedition? 2. Who were Timothy s two companions? 3. What was Timothy s favorite spot in the house? 4. How old was Timothy when Grandfather took him to the zoo in Lucknow? 5. Why did Grandfather want to see the Superintendent of the zoo? TALKING IT OVER 1. A situation is considered ironic if its outcome is the opposite of what was expected. Why was it ironic that of all those on the hunting expedition, Grandfather was the only one who bagged any game? What was ironic about the kind of game he caught? 2. What evidence in the story shows that Grandfather was fond of animals and was comfortable with them? 3. Describe Timothy s behavior during the first few months in the house. What kind of change came over him when he reached six months of age? 4. The author s playful attitude toward the characters and events of the story gives the tale a humorous tone. For example, the description of the fancy dinner held in a tent in the jungle is almost comical. What other passages contribute to the story s humorous tone? 5. What is the unexpected twist at the end of this tale? Did any clues prepare you for the unexpected ending? FICTION Any story that is invented or imagined is fiction. Fiction may be based on events and experiences that actually happened, but the writer shapes these elements of truth into a narrative that is interesting, insightful and, often, entertaining. In this shaping process, some details are selected, and others are added or deleted. In fact, the word fiction comes from the Latin word fictio, the action of shaping. When the writer is finished, the story he or she has to tell is one that people will want to hear. Ruskin Bond says that he based A Tiger In the House on an experience from his childhood. My maternal grandfather, he writes, was quite a character, and he had a way with animals. We can assume, therefore, that the narrator in this story speaks for the author and that many of the story s details are true. The story as a whole, however, is fiction. 1. How does the story s opening suggest that the narrator has a knowledge of the places and events he is writing about?

6 2. Which events and details in the story do you think are true? Which do you think the author may have exaggerated or made up entirely? 3. The narrator was not present at the hunting expedition he describes in the beginning of the story, and he did not accompany his grandfather to the zoo. How does he explain his knowledge of the hunting expedition and the events that took place at the zoo? UNDERSTANDING THE WORDS IN THE STORY 1. An expert who advises on the terrain knows. a. how the land lies b. how to organize a hunt c. how the food should be cooked 2. A person has distinction if he or she is. a. different or special b. well liked c. lucky 3. The intricate roots of a banyan tree are. a. complex b. thick c. multi-colored 4. When Timothy stalked a target, he pursued it. a. rapidly b. stealthily c. noisily 5. A crafty look in the eye is an indication of. a. good will b. cunning c. humor 6. When Timothy reclined, he would. a. groom himself b. lash his tail c. lie down 7. Grandmother was prophetic when she. a. scolded Timothy b. made a prediction c. instructed the cook 8. A villainous intent is. a. easily interpreted b. evil c. benevolent 9. One place an animal might be interned is a. a. sidewalk b. meadow c. cage 10. The increasing relish with which the tiger licked Grandfather s arm was a sign of the animal s. a. annoyance b. playfulness c. pleasure

7 WRITING IT DOWN STORY MATERIALS Like Ruskin Bond and many other writers, you can take humorous events and experiences from your own life and shape them into fiction. Think about an amusing experience that you have had with an animal a family pet, a neighbor s pet, or an animal you saw at the zoo, for example. How could you shape your experience into an entertaining story? Begin by jotting down some words or phrases that come to mind as you recall the experience. You may find it helpful to fill out a story materials chart like the one below. ANIMAL STORY MATERIALS CHART INCIDENT OR EXPERIENCE OTHER PERSONS INVOLVED

8 A TIGER IN THE HOUSE by Ruskin Bond TEACHER S GUIDE Introducting the Selection This story might be read aloud and should take only one class period to cover. Before reading, ask students to contribute stories about unusual pets. Have they ever owned an unusual pet themselves? If so, what were some of its unique attributes? What problems did it pose for its owner? Ask students to imagine what it might be like to have a tiger in the house. Students will find this story both surprising and amusing. At the end of the story, Grandfather s assumption that the tiger in the zoo is his precious Timothy causes him to act far too boldly. The fact that this tiger does not attack Grandfather builds irony upon irony, as we might have expected it to devour him at the first provocation. You may want to share some facts with students who are unfamiliar with tigers. Found only in Asia, tigers thrive in a variety of climates. They are common in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia, and are found in smaller numbers in several other locations. They are presently on the list of endangered species. A world map on the classroom wall may help students identify the tiger s range. When full-grown, an average male tiger will weigh four hundred and twenty pounds and measure nine feet in length. Tigers usually hunt at night, lurking under cover and lunging after their prey in a series of leaps and bounds. They often hunt large animals such as deer and antelope and, contrary to popular opinion, very rarely approach or attack a human. Like kittens, tiger cubs are boisterous and playful. They are helpless at birth and weigh only three pounds; about half die before they reach their first year. The tiger cub in the story would not have been able to manage on its own, as cubs cannot kill enough large animals to sustain themselves. At about age two, they are able to provide for themselves. Students who are interested may wish to start a research project on tigers. This story takes place in India. The viceroys that the author mentions were rulers over India during the time of the British Raj ( ), when India was part of the British Empire. The Viceroy of India was the British representative in Colonial India, and at one point ruled over 400 million subjects. As described by the narrator s grandfather, the viceroys led an ostentatious life. The last viceroy was Lord Mountbatten, who engineered India s return to independence in India was considered the crown jewel of the British Empire. Not only did it have economic resources, such as its vast mineral deposits, tea crops, and cotton, but it also had the Himalayan Mountains, which provided a strategic military hedge against Russia and China. Britain s hold over India also facilitated trade; it allowed the British safe ports, such as Calcutta, when transporting silk and other goods from Hong Kong. The Viceroy s regal status and grand lifestyle were symbolic of Britain s power over the country. Students might want to research aspects of Indian history and culture in connection with this story.

9 Presentation Use the questions to guide discussion after reading the selection. Ask students to identify passages in which the author uses humor. Some examples might be that Grandfather was the only person to bag any game on the expedition, and that Grandfather reserved a first-class compartment for himself and the tiger. Much of the humor in the story arises from the understated, polite tone with which the narrator relates some hair-raising incidents. For example, he says that the tiger stalked Mahmoud with a villainous intent and licked Grandfather s arm with increasing relish. We don t expect a potentially dangerous beast to be described in such a formal, polite manner, as one might describe a gentleman. Even the title A Tiger In the House is playful and understated. You might want to start introducing literary elements such as tone and irony. Tone can be defined as the attitude an author takes toward his or her subject, characters, and readers. In this story, the narrator has a polite, understated, and humorous tone. irony, in this case, dramatic irony, can be defined as a contrast between what we expect to happen and what actually occurs. We expect the tiger in the zoo to be Timothy, but the scene reveals that it is another tiger altogether. In A Tiger In the House, irony is used for comic effect. Could any students predict the outcome of the story? When did they suspect that all might not be as it seemed? Students may be eager to share their own amusing experience with an animal. Direct them to the writing exercise. Although convincing tales with a twist are harder to write than would seem, students might want to try a surprise ending to fool the reader. Answer Keys CHECKING UP 1. Why was Grandfather asked to join the hunting expedition? He knew the terrain of the Siwalik hills, where the hunt was to take place, better than most people. 2. Who were Timothy s two companions? His companions were a monkey and a mongrel puppy. 3. What was Timothy s favorite spot in the house? Timothy liked to remain in the drawing room, where he would recline on the couch. 4. How old was Timothy when Grandfather took him to the zoo? He was about six months old. 5. Why did Grandfather want to see the Superintendent of the zoo? He wanted the superintendent to move Timothy to a different cage, away from the leopard. TALKING IT OVER 1. A situation is considered ironic if its outcome is the opposite of what was expected. Why was it ironic that of all those on the hunting expedition, Grandfather was the only one who bagged any game? The expedition consisted of several Very Important Persons who brought along fifteen elephants and specially trained hunters (shikaris). Grandfather was

10 not a hunter, but he had more success than all the sportsmen. What was ironic about the kind of game he caught? He found a helpless tiger cub instead of a huge, vicious beast. 2. What evidence in the story shows that Grandfather was fond of animals and was comfortable with them? He developed a playful, affectionate relationship with Timothy. He also kept a monkey and a small mongrel puppy that he had found on the road. 3. Describe Timothy s behavior during his first few months in the house. Timothy behaved like an overgrown, boisterous cat. He stalked people around the house, took up space on the sofa, and cleaned himself religiously. What kind of change came over him when he reached six months of age? He grew less friendly. When he went on walks he would stalk the neighborhood pets, and he raided the henhouse at night. Finally, he began to stalk a member of the household, Mahmoud, with villainous intent. 4. The author s playful attitude toward the characters and events of the story gives the tale a humorous tone. For example, the description of the fancy dinner held in a tent in the jungle is almost comical. What other passages contribute to the story s humorous tone Answers will vary. Students may cite the prophetic statement Grandmother makes about Mahmoud disappearing, the tiger s train trip in a first-class compartment, and Grandfather s playful, rough treatment of the bad-tempered tiger in the zoo. 5. What is the unexpected twist at the end of this tale? Grandfather discovers that the tiger he is stroking is not his old friend Timothy but a strange, dangerous animal. Did any clues prepare you for the unexpected ending? Students may cite the first keeper s remark that the tiger in the cage is always very bad-tempered. FICTION 1. How does the story s opening suggest that the narrator has a knowledge of the places and events he is writing about? The narrator uses the Indian word shikari for hunter, and he speaks in a familiar way of the locale the Terai jungle near Dahra. The narrator s grandfather has related the story to him, and he is well-acquainted with the precise details of the scene such as the sumptuous jungle feast. 2. Which events and details in the story do you think are true? Answers will vary. Students may suggest that Grandfather really did discover the tiger cub under the circumstances described in the story. Other details may include Timothy s habit of occupying the drawingroom couch and descriptions of him washing himself and roughhousing with the narrator. Which do you think the author may have exaggerated or made up entirely? Again, answers will vary. Invented or exaggerated details may have included the stalking incidents, Grandmother s prediction about Mahmoud, and Grandfather s habit of slapping Timothy across the mouth. Some readers may suggest that the final incident at the zoo is also fictitious. 3. The narrator was not present at the hunting expedition he describes in the beginning of the story, and he did not accompany his grandfather to the zoo. How does he explain his knowledge of the hunting expedition and the events that took place at the zoo? In the third paragraph, the narrator uses the phrase as Grandfather admitted afterwards to indicate that Grandfather told him the story of the hunting party. The narrator later remarks that he heard about the events in Lucknow after Grandfather returned to Dehra.

11 UNDERSTANDING THE WORDS IN THE STORY 1. An expert who advises on the terrain knows. a. how the land lies 2. A person has distinction if he or she is. a. different or special 3. The intricate roots of a banyan tree are. a. complex 4. When Timothy stalked a target, he pursued it. c. stealthily 5. A crafty look in the eye is an indication of. b. cunning 6. When Timothy reclined, he would. c. lie down 7. Grandmother was prophetic when she. b. made a prediction 8. A villainous intent is. b. evil 9. One place an animal might be interned is a. c. cage 10. The increasing relish with which the tiger licked Grandfather s arm was a sign of the animal s. c. pleasure WRITING IT DOWN STORY MATERIALS The suggested writing assignment encourages students to draw on their own lives for fictional material, as Ruskin Bond has done. This assignment will complement the discussion of the literary element fiction and help students understand how fiction is shaped from memory, real-life events, and imagination. The Story Materials Chart is provided to help students organize their thoughts.

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