The Tiger and the Dentist

Veeraswamy Krishnaraj

A village dentist from Palgudi was driving a cart on his way to his in-law’s place in a nearby village. He took his son with him. There was a forest between the two villages. Circumventing the forest was a twelve-hour ride on the bullock cart. A ride through the jungle was only a two-hour drive. It was a verdant forest with carnivores.  He had safe journey through the forest often. For protection of the travelers, there was a clearing in the jungle housing a Durga shrine. The travelers believed that worshipping Durga in the forest protected them from the carnivores.

The village dentist stopped at the roadside shrine and offered worship to Durga. He threw a slab of meat by the temple building as further insurance against tiger attack. As he finished up his worship, he and his son were walking towards the bullock cart. A tigress suddenly appeared from the shadows and sat on the forest ground. No growl. Her mouth was agape. Her tail was flat on the ground. Surprise: there were two cubs by her side.

The boy made one dash to the cart, jumped on and sat inside. The bullock loosened itself from the yoke and ran away. Now the dentist was alone with the tiger family. Something told him that the tiger was not to be feared. The tigress moved towards him in a suppliant manner and opened the mouth wide. The dentist noticed a carious tooth on the lower jaw.



The dentist always carried his instruments with him if his services were ever needed on his travels. He brought his dental bag, opened it and held in hand an extractor. He stood there for two minutes to make sure the tiger was passive.

The tiger stood up with a gaping mouth. He saw the rotten tooth and deftly extracted it with ease.  Before extraction, he put a sturdy steel pin across its mouth not only to make extraction easier but also prevent the tigress from clamping its mouth down. The tigress gave him a grunt, stood on its hind legs and licked the dentist on his face, as his son watched it with amazement from the safety of the cart. Meanwhile, the cubs were licking their chops. They nibbled on the slab of meat and left the bone bare.

The dentist went back to the Durga shrine and offered his thanks for saving his life and those of his son and the bullock.  As he turned to get back to his cart to look for the bullock, the tigress with the cubs lay behind him in prostration to Durga.

The dentist ventured out looking for the runaway bullock. He found it on a hillock. The tigress and the cubs disappeared in the thick of the forest.

He thought the tigress was people too. It disappeared without paying the bill. The dentist had the tiger tooth in his hand. That was payment enough for a lifetime story of his encounter with a tigress with toothache. He made a Tiger Tooth Pendant for his son as a living memory of their encounter with the Tigress with a toothache. Was this a fortutous encounter between man and beast wherein both gained from their experience? Was this a munificence of Durga to the Tiger (her Vahana) and the dentist?

The Dentist and his son retrace their path in the jungle.

On his way back from his in-laws, the dentist with his son took the jungle path. They met a mongoose which just killed a cobra and ate it. With the full stomach, he took a siesta on the jungle floor. The rustle of the dry leaves and twigs on the jungle path woke him up. The bullock, excited to see the mongoose, tried to become loose and take off. The man held the bullock in its harness and gave it a rub to calm it down. The mongoose begged the man to let him ride on the cart to the end of the jungle path so he could sleep in peace with no cobra bothering him while asleep.
As the cart neared the Durga shrine, a tigress with its cubs appeared. He was hungry. This time the bull was calm.
Tigress: My friend, I see a mongoose riding on your cart? I am hungry. I want to eat it. I like mongoose meat and liver. Can I please have it?
The man: Mr. Mongoose is my friend. You can’t eat him. I won’t let you eat him.
As the conversation went on, a band of thugs appeared from the dense forest along the path. Seeing them with bows and arrows, the man and his son climbed up a tall tree to escape the band of thieves.
The mongoose unafraid of the thugs ran around and between the thugs and bit their Achilles tendons, while the tigress pounced on them. Unable to fight off the mongoose and the tigress, the thugs in panic took to their bruised heels. The man and his son came down from the tree. They were used to climbing coconut trees in their village. That accounted for their ease in climbing the tree.
All gathered in front of the temple. The man and the boy offered thanks to Durga for saving them from the brigands. The mongoose and the tigress were waiting outside keeping a watch if the brigands returned to rob the man and his son.
The tigress saw its tooth hanging like a pendant on the chest of the boy. The boy thanked the tigress for its gift. The tigress acknowledged his gratitude.
The dentist, the boy and the mongoose got on the cart and were on the way home. The cart neared the edge of the forest. Mr. Mongoose had a good siesta and climbed down from the cart. As a parting gift, it regurgitated a precious blue stone it took from the cobra and gave it to the man and his son.