This Indian author, chronicler of the poignant, funny/desperate doings among the Fate-flicked inhabitants of the fictional town of Malgudi, here follows the spiritual progress of a giant tiger in a small fable--courteously narrated in sedate retrospect by the beast himself. Raja explains that he regards his Lord-of-the-Jungle days with mixed ""pleasure and shame. . . . It was naturally, a time of utter wildness, violence and unthinking cruelty inflicted upon weaker creatures."" (The human scene with which he will soon become miserably familiar bears an uncanny resemblance.) In the jungle Raja mates after hide-ripping combat with his beloved, sires cubs, sees his family slaughtered, and begins to swipe cattle--until he's captured by ""the Captain,"" Lord of the Circus. Starved and beaten into docility, Raja learns to race idiotically about and jump through fire. . . while the Captain and his wife fight (lovingly) like tigers: ""Why don't you,"" suggests Mrs. Captain, who refuses to trapeze through fire, ""put your head down your lion's throat and sing a popular song!"" And then Madan, an aspiring film producer, appears, wanting to use Raja in a film with his weight-lifting giant, Jaggu. So both Raja and poor Jaggu, a simple man terrified of tigers, are forced to perform--but when the Captain tries one cruelty too many, Raja summarily tears off his head, scatters the villagers, and wanders into a school. A merry Narayanesque village to-do ensues--with a strutting tiger-shooter, a hysterical headmaster (levitated to the attic), timid animal protectors, and a thrilled band of schoolboys. And Raja, instructed by a sardonic yogi, eventually becomes a reluctant carnivore and finds spiritual peace (with glimpses of reincarnation). An appealing curio--less widely engaging than prime Narayan, but with sly commentary and an unmistakable reverence for all sentient creatures beneath the Eden innocence.