Spell of the Tiger

Spell of the Tiger: Man-Eaters of the Sundarbans
Houghton Mifflin, 1995

Spell of the Tiger

“In the morning mists the water joins the sky; in the tides the water dissolves the earth-as the Self, Hindu mystics say, dissolves into the mind of God—the soft mud here looks benign, even luscious. You can imagine sinking into it as slowly and softly as you fall asleep.

But this is only one face of Sundarbans. Like the many-headed deities of the Hindu pantheon, it embodies terror as well as peace; but from the safe deck of a big tourist boat, the terrible face of Sundarbans is as invisible as the dark side of the moon.

Once you leave the wide rivers-if you enter the small channels, if you set foot in the forests—you enter a world where the ground sucks you down whole, where the night swallows the stars, and where you know, for the first time, that your body is made of meat.”
—from Spell of the Tiger.

This is not only a life-and-death adventure story but a journey through one of the strangest places in the world.

Sundarbans, a huge, swampy area between India and Bangladesh on the Bay of Bengal, remains the largest tract of mangrove forest on the face of the earth. It is also the only place where tigers eat men. Elsewhere in Asia, tigers are rapidly being hunted to extinction, but here they are the hunters, routinely carrying away fishermen, honey collectors, and woodcutters and feasting on human flesh. Sy Montgomery, the gifted young author of Walking with the Great Apes, has devoted years to this mist-shrouded, forest-screened region, and in Spell of the Tiger she tells us all about the peculiar relationship between tigers and their human prey. She tells us how it feels to know that as a human being you are, to the tiger, merely a source of meat.

Although they fear tiger attacks, the men and women of Sundarbans have turned the tiger into an object of veneration. Montgomery investigates the strange forms of tiger worship, itself a kind of earth worship. She comes to the conclusion that Sundarbans has been protected by the tigers who, watching over the mangrove wilderness, prevent humankind from destroying their own habitat. This book embodies a landscape; it also embodies a religion.