The Jungle Book was recreated…again. It conquered many hearts…again.
I love Mowgli. Like every true Indian child of the 90s, he has always been an integral part of my childhood — as dear as a close friend and as idolized as a personal hero.
And yet, as I sat in the theater watching Mowgli triumph and Shere Khan fall to his death, consumed by the terrible ‘Red Flower’, my heart wept a little.
Kipling wrote the Jungle Book in 1890s. It was the time when tigers ruled supreme with a population of over a whopping 40,000 in India alone.
Unfortunately, 1890s is long gone. This is 2016. And the worldwide population of tigers is a little over 3000.
Minus Shere Khan.
Heroes and villains are a functions of their context. And may be, in simpler times, and perhaps for simpler stories meant for kids, it might seem easier to frame a ferocious wild beast as the villain.
But these are not simpler times. And kids deserve to know the truth. The truth about the times that we live in — times where ‘tiger-farming’ is an acceptable practice to breed tiger for harvesting their parts. Where poaching has all but erased these magnificent creatures from existence. Where tiger’s enthralling ferocity is no match to a measly human as long as he holds a gun. Where ‘survival of the fittest’ is not an evolutionary truth but merely a game for human pleasure and greed.
The times where humans are the true villains.
Statistically, this argument can be made extremely compelling…with all the money and smuggling and trade and kills involved.
But statistics are just numbers. They are of no use until they evoke true emotions.
Emotions like the awe the beauty and magnificence of a wild tiger inspires.
Emotions like the helplessness you feel when you hear about the atrocities being committed against Nature in general and tigers in particular.
Emotions like solidarity for the beast who does nothing wrong except fulfilling its role assigned to it by the nature.
Emotions like anger at the humans for overstepping their boundaries every step of the way and forcing these poor beasts to stray from their natural course.
Emotions like the chill that ran down my spine when I stood in a remote corner of the Himalayan jungle and heard our guide contemplating the possibility of losing that beauty forever.
Emotions like intense sorrow at what we have lost…and what we continue to lose just because we are too selfish to care for the Nature and its agents.
It is an old adage, often reiterated by wildlife conservationists…the health of the jungle is determined by the health of its tigers.
Shere Khan must live. Because without him, there is no jungle. There is no Mowgli.
There is no us.