25 October, 2020

From The Machan Up There

A tribute to Jim Corbett—hunter, writer, conservationist, colonial

Illustration by Sorit
From The Machan Up There

Revisiting my hometown Nainital after a long gap, for a literary event at Jim Corbett’s old home, Gurney House, to celebrate his birth anniversary, I pondered the incongruities of his life. A child of Empire, Corbett moved to Kenya when India gained independence. Yet the people of Kumaon continue to consider him a local hero, and venerate the memory of their ‘Carpet Saheb’ with almost ideological intensity. As Justin McCarthy played evocative period fugues and waltzes on an electronic piano, the press and gentry of this crowded, polluted hill station remembered the gentle hunter who was also a pioneering conservationist with affection and nostalgia.

Born Edward James Corbett, on July 25, 1875, at Gurney House, he was the twelfth child of Mary Jane Corbett, whose first husband died in the Mutiny. Jim’s father Christopher William Corbett, a domiciled Indian, rose to become the postmaster of Nainital. In spite of enjoying the comparatively privileged lifestyle of a European household, Corbett was at home with his...



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