“The Tiger in the Tunnel” is a tale of the triumph of an Indian family over their poor and humble reality. It highlights the family values and the commitment to honor, duty and service.
The story revolves around Tembu, a twelve-year-old boy, and his family. He lives with his father, Baldeo, mother and younger sister. They are poor and live near a jungle. To earn enough money in order to keep his family fed, Baldeo works as a watchman near a railway tunnel.
This night job is in addition to his work on the rice fields. Baldeo is responsible for keeping the signal lamp lit and the tunnel free from any obstructions for the train passing through it. He stays in a hut near the tunnel and his son Tembu also accompanies him infrequently.
Night at the Tunnel
Villagers often talk about various animals around the tunnel as it is situated near the jungle. There are circulating stories about a tiger, ‘man-eater’ who is often seen near the tunnels. Baldeo knows all the frightening rumors but is confident in his ability to face dangers.
One night while Tembu is asleep, his father leaves to check the lamp and asks him to stay in the hut. Like always, he goes armed with a small ax as a precaution. It may be required in case he encounters any animal and in particular the infamous ‘man-eater’.
The ax was a gift from his father and Baldeo feels very confident in his ability to use it. The battle inside the tunnel When he reaches the lamp, it is out and so he reignites it and goes inside the tunnel to clear out any possible obstruction.
But soon he finds the ground shaking which is due to an oncoming mail (train). As Baldeo looks in front, a tiger suddenly appears at the entrance of the tunnel and approaches toward Baldeo. Undeterred, Baldeo braces to use his ax and when the tiger attacks he evades to a side and digs his ax in the tiger’s shoulder.
Thus rattles the Tiger further and it attacks Baldeo again. He repeats the same move but this time the ax gets stuck in the tiger’s shoulder and renders Baldeo weaponless. The tiger snatches at Baldeo with its paws and tears into him.
After this entire scuffle, the train is almost at the tunnel. The tiger tries to get past it at the entrance but is smeared all across the train’s front side as the driver finds out when he stops the train at the next station.
The Grief and the Courage
Back at the tunnel, Tembu finds his father’s ripped body. The family grapples with the loss for many days to come. After he has mourned his father, Tembu returns to the tunnel and continues in his father’s shoes.
Devoted to his father’s legacy, he ensures that the signal light is always lit and clears all the obstructions in the tunnel. He also wields the same ax, a tribute to his late father and the commitment to protect his family. Tembu, unafraid and determined, becomes the new protector of his family.
The central theme of the story is the protection of family and society at large. Baldeo is the protector of his family and works to jobs to ensure their survival. As a watchman, he protects the tunnel and the overnight mail that runs through it.
As Tembu assumes the same responsibilities as his father, he also wears the same confidence, determination, and even the same ax. The story also celebrates tradition, strength, and pride.
The courage of Baldeo while fighting the tiger, the courage Tembu and his mother and sister show after losing Baldeo and the pride Tembu feels when he carries on the tradition and work of his father.