Tigers are rapidly dying out in India. Aircel keeps warning us that there are only 1,134 tigers left. Apart from nodding sympathetically, and cooing over how cute Stripey the cub is, what is to be done?
Barun Mitra has suggested allowing private ownership of tigers. If private parties can invite people to hunt them or make soup from their bones or medicine from their chaudrons, or any such nonsense, the profit motive will ensure that they breed tigers until they have enough to keep selling for hunts.
Our experience in the past forty years has shown that the government completely screws up whatever it nationalises. On the other hand, whenever it gets competition, the private and public sector both improve their performance. It's even more magical and revolutionary than the iPad. So if private competition can improve the way banks, ports, insurance, gas distribution and phones work, it should work for tiger conservation as well. So on general principles I think this idea will work.
The problem is that while it will work for conserving the tiger species as a whole, it sucks for the individual tigers which are going to be hunted by modern day Mrs Packletides, or ground up into herbal Viagra that will then be advertised in a million spam emails.
This is sad. Must the benefits of private conservation depend on the fact that dead tigers are worth more than live ones? Can't we give the tigers a sporting chance to hunt humans as well? Can't we get people to support and cheer and pay for live tigers?
Yes we can! But only if we appeal to peoples' baser instincts. In a world of iPods and Playstations and Yahoo! columns, people are not going to pay money to look at tigers in zoos. Safaris are slightly more exciting, but still not exciting enough to convince most people to stop watching TV. What we need is a way to get tigers on to TV. And not in a Discovery Channel sort of way, but a way that makes them stars and gets people (and advertisers) rooting for them. I'm talking about making them reality TV stars. It's time to start an Indian Gladiatorial League, where every night gladiators are thrown into an arena. They first fight each other, and then, after the league stages, the survivors are thrown to the tigers.
If we pick the gladiators intelligently, we'll have the entire TV-watching population rooting for the tigers while simultaneously getting rid of some of our most annoying public figures. I'm talking about gladiatorial contests like:
* Pramod Muthalik and the fatwa-issuing imams of the Darul Uloom seminary v/s the tigers. Will their mutual disdain for women and common sense help them overcome their differences in time to combat a pack of ravening tigers? Even if it does, it doesn't matter. Muthalik is in such pathetic shape that mere Youth Congress activists were able to blacken his face. What would he do against a tiger? I haven't seen the Darul Uloom imams, but given that they seem okay with bodybuilding, it's possible that they may be in better condition. Even so, the tiger is probably in the best condition of all.
* Amitabh Bachchan v/s Genelia D' Souza: Everyone who has ever endured a commercial break will be delighted as Indian advertising's most overused faces are conspicuously consumed. This only means that no new ads featuring them will be made, and advertisers may continue to run the old ones. There's a solution to this - throw the advertisers to the tigers as well.
* Sagarika Ghose v/s the Internet Hindus: The problem with this contest will be persuading the Internet Hindus to leave the internet and appear in real life. If we can, it will be an awesome contest. I can picture Sagarika Ghose headbutting a spindly-armed undergrad student who, taken aback, screams about sickular atrocities just before she decapitates him with a sica.
Along with the celebrity matches, we can have a wild-card entry to the leagues. This can be done through a Rediff commenter free-for-all. Rediff commenters hate each other - now they can finally do something about it. In Rome, the colosseum has been replaced by AS Roma football matches, where the fans chant "Po... po po po po!" In India, this new gladiatorial contest will feature the battle cry "Po... po... porkistani!" To make things even more awesome, those about to die will be made to salute Raja Sen.
Just like the IPL, the Indian Gladiatorial League can have foreign and NRI players. This will give us exciting matches like:
* Deepak 'There is no such thing as an accidental coincidence' Chopra v/s Nassim 'Fooled by Randomness' Taleb. We will find out once and for all if part of the intelligent universe's plan is to have Deepak Chopra punched in the nose. Moreover, since this match will pit a man who popularised the term 'black swan' against one who scales new heights of quackery every day, it can be marketed as the Waterfowl Derby. All fouls will be permitted, except against the tigers.
* Hank Paulson v/s Dick Fuld: This will be the ultimate grudge match, as the ex-CEO of Lehman Brothers goes up against the man who bailed out every other investment bank. And if Paulson makes it to the round with the tiger, the IGL will get massive international viewership as well, when cheering Americans tune in to see the man who spent their taxes rescuing Wall Street be torn apart like a prime cut (no, not a subprime one).
I know what you must be thinking - will all these people actually care enough for saving the tiger to put themselves through being messily devoured? To which I say - these are celebrities. If there's enough publicity in it, they'd pit themselves through anything, whether or not it benefits young Stripey. So really, the trick is to make sure the Indian Gladiatorial League gets enough hype and publicity.
Fortunately, the man who is just right for this job has recently had to leave his last one and is at a loose end. I mean Lalit Modi, of course. A man who can get the whole country calling sixes 'DLF Maximums' and convince everyone that a balloon that isn't even there is a blimp can surely convince a few celebrities that nothing will boost their career like being mauled by ferocious Bengal tigers. If we get him on board, the rest of the plan falls into place.
Let's do it, people. For the tigers.
Aadisht Khanna labours at a factory outside Kanchipuram from 9 to 6 every day. He blogs at Wokay.in, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.