Presentation of Baldeo in "The Tiger in The Tunnel"
The "Tiger in The Tunnel," as with other adventure stories by Ruskin Bond, presents a chunk of experience that reflects the core of “Indian-ness”. This story about a courageous man’s act of bravery is a remarkable study of heroism. A detailed study of Baldeo’s character reveals how the author adds various shades to the hero of his story.
Baldeo: Introducing the Central Character
At the very onset, Ruskin Bond paints the backdrop. Baldeo is seen resting in his humble cabin. The author makes it clear that Baldeo belongs to one of the lowest strata of the village community. His decision of taking up the profession of a Railway Watchman was prompted not by any other motive but extreme poverty: “Their small rice fields did not provide them with more than a bare living and Baldeo considered himself lucky to have got the job of Khalasi at this small wayside signal stop.” At the same time, Baldeo is presented as the sole provider for his family. From the first two paragraphs, the readers understand Baldeo’s social standing as well as his affectionate relationship with his young son Tembu.
The story unfolds itself following the narrative technique of an adventure story. However, Ruskin Bond makes sure that the readers see the night’s events from the point of view of Baldeo. On one hand, he describes the forest with marvellous detailing: “The eeriness of the place was increased by the neighbouring hills which overhung the main line threateningly.” On the other hand, the author focuses on Baldeo’s courage and confidence in his axe: “Like his fore-fathers he carried a small axe; fragile to look at but deadly when in use. He prided himself in his skill in wielding it against wild animals.” Baldeo’s axe is introduced as an extension of Baldeo himself. Bond successfully establishes the rustic but powerful quality of Baldeo’s nature, symbolized by the axe he carried.
“Baldeo walked confidently for being a tribal himself, he was used to the jungle and its ways.”
The Metaphor of Power
It is interesting to note that Ruskin Bond names his character "Baldeo", after the Hindu God. Baldeo (or Balram) is the brother of Lord Krishna, and is famed to be a person of extreme bravery and strength. It is believed that, from his strong associations with farming and farmers, he used farm equipment as his weapon when he needed to. His usual weapon is the plough which, interestingly, appears similar to a giant axe.
These associations provide an additional dimension to the stature of Baldeo, the watchman since he also is a rustic man, responsible for protecting others, and weilds an axe.
Fear and Courage: Are They Really Opposite Traits?
What we get in the story is, therefore, a re-enactment of the eternal struggle of man against raw nature. Baldeo becomes a representative of the native man, equipped only with his humble weapon, confronting and negotiating with the primal forces of nature. In creating such a setting, Bond shifts his story away from the mainstream developed civilized urban space. This shift enables him to bring forth the native raw heroism of Baldeo.
The human element gets highlighted when the author describes the fear lurking inside Baldeo’s heart as he waited for the train. “Once more he fumbled for his matches. Then suddenly he stood still and listened. The frightened cry of a barking deer followed by a crashing sound in the undergrowth, made Baldeo hurry.” It is as if, by some instinctive knowledge, Baldeo understood the noise and silence of the surrounding forest.
Heroes are often believed to be fearless. However, when it comes down to the level of confronting primal Nature, fear is all that a man has to help him survive. Fear is not contrary to heroism but the very condition of heroism in these circumstances. Baldeo’s legitimate fear and caution is not a sign of cowardice, but of his understanding of the laws of nature and his respect towards them. His fear is a mark of his response towards his life, which now, as he logically understood, was at stake.
Exercise of Choice: Condition of Being a Hero
For Baldeo, the arrival of the tiger was not a surprise. He could read the signs even before he encountered the tiger. “A low grunt resounded from the top of the cutting. In a second Baldeo was awake, all his senses alert. Only a tiger could emit such a sound There was no shelter for Baldeo, but he grasped his axe firmly and tensed his body, trying to make out the direction from which the animal was approaching.” He had the most difficult choice to make at the moment. On one hand, it was his life that was at stake, there was also a chance that the approaching train would face a fatal obstruction on the tracks; on the other hand, his son lay unprotected and unaware of the dangers that loomed large because of the tiger. He could not afford to take the chance, he had to face his worst fear. This is the moment where Baldeo transcends to the level of a hero, for a true hero acts not to proclaim his bravery, but to protect others.
“Flight was useless, for in the dark the tiger would be more sure-footed than Baldeo and would soon be upon him from behind. Baldeo stood with his back to the signal –post, motionless staring at the great brute moving rapidly towards him.”
Despite knowing that it was pointless to run, Baldeo never gave up but fought till his last breath with his trusted axe. He was able to wound the tiger so much that it failed to get off the tracks and was run down by the train. It might appear to modern readers that calling Baldeo a hero because he killed a tiger is not fair. However, they have to understand the contexts and conditions under which Baldeo acted. The tiger had turned into a man-eater and its death ensured safety of the entire village. Moreover, Baldeo is not a hero because he killed a tiger, he is a hero because he chose to fight, even when the odds were so heavily against him.
Baldeo’s heroism is the heroism of a common man, struggling against forces far greater than him, and yet not losing faith in himself. Baldeo’s heroism is more universal that it appears from a cursory reading. His heroism is not restricted to one single act but is reflected even across generations. Baldeo dies, but his brave spirit lived on in his son who took up the same profession, with the same courage and zeal: “There was nothing to be afraid of – his father had killed the tiger, the forest gods were pleased; and besides, he had the axe with him, his father’s axe, and he now knew to use it.” Tembu became the railway watchman, for the same reasons and compulsions that his father had, but his father’s heroic actions had a positive influence on the way he looked at life from then onwards.
© 2017 Monami