Back to the Stone Age N O Sahib had ever been
this way before, so the villagers said. It was nothing but a ragged collection of huts, buried far away in the heart of the jungle. Here dwell the Suntals, an aborigine tribe whose land it was before the Aryans poured in from the North. Their religion an is a form of animism, and they carry bows and arrows. I called for the Manghi, or headman, and out he came. an I talked to him about shikar and he told me stories of the beasts he had slain—tigers as big as horses and so on. As I seemed doubtful concerning the powers of his tribe's primitive weapons, he offered to organize a bear hunt for me so that I could witness their deeds of valour. The tom-toms started to beat and runners were despatched to the neighbouring villages to rally the young men. After a while they started to drift in by twos and by threes. Those who were not armed with bows and arrows carried lathis and small hatchets of a peculiar design. They were fine-looking fellows, these Suntald, and quite different from the Indians one meets elsewhere ; with thick lips; frizzled hair and flat noses, and of the colour of polished ebony. When they had gathered thirty or forty strong we started to move off, half a dozen of the best hunters accompanying me whilst the rest acted as beaters. I carried a light rifle. The beaters spread themselves out in a fan-like forma- tion with stops placed ahead ; the whole forming a rough triangle of which we were the apex. We moved in bounds of one or two miles at a time ; the idea being that having waited in one spot until the beaters had closed in upon us we doubled on ahead to take up another position before the next drive started. In actual practice this system becomes a very tiring form of sport ; for within a few hours one has covered a considerable extent of country. . The sun poured down relentlessly ; I became absolutely drenched with perspiration and had to stop at intervals to gasp for breath. I had forgotten to bring any food and the water in my bottle had become quite warm.
Towards evening after a blank day, just when my Writs were beginning to lag, the word Bhalu ! (bear) was whispered from bowman to spearman to hatchet-wielder, and looking up, I saw standing in front of me, not more than thirty yards away, an old black bear. He must have crept through the jungle on us unawares, for even now he had not seen us but was just sniffing the air meditatively.
Twang—an arrow struck him straight behind the shoulder. He fell to the ground, but a moment after he was up again, roaring and bellowing like a smitten child. The remaining arrows took him in quick succession and this time he was down for good. The hunters still continued to shoot at him but the end was near. The loud roars abated and I heard a pitiable, sobbing noise— half human, in fact. To end the poor brute's sufferings, J put a bullet in his brain.
We all sat down now to drink coco-nut milk—and I have rarely 'enjoyed a drink so much. Meanwhile a Suntal was twisting a pointed stick round and round in a hole bored in another stick, with some dry leaves by it to act as tinder. After a while the leaves caught fire and we soon gathered round the blaze, like a company of Neolithic men.
Darkness set in. Ovei the crackling bonfire we friZzled the loins and haunches of the bear. After a time I cut myself a succulent steak and seizing it between my fingers I dug my teeth into it and started to pull. It was the first food I had tasted since morning and I ate like a wolf.
The tom-toms were sounding and to their monotonous beat the Suntals started to dance their wild Dance of Death—to celebrate success in shikar.- Round and round the fire they circled ; louder and louder beat the tom-toms ; faster and faster they postured, until at last some fell aside through utter exhaustion. The dogs howled an accompaniment and in the distance could be heard the universal lamentation of the jackal tribes. I was of the man-pack, gorging my belly with half-raw meat.
Twenty-four hours later I was in the restaurant car of the Calcutta Express—electric lights—white table-cloth —American tourists. Sitting next me two men were boasting of their long journeys. Great travellers they were—and so was I, for I had travelled back through the centuries in the course of twenty-four hours.