Stories About Men
It was October 2018. I realised – as if in a flash – on the night of 18th October that the next day was the 71st anniversary of passing away of my most beloved and esteemed great-grandfather – a unique Guru, a tactful teacher, a versatile scholar and renowned Vaidya of his time, Shri Pramatmanand ji.
When the British ruled India, for many British men, especially those who lived in proximity to forests, hunting was not just recreation, but also a rite of passage. Conservation was unheard of, and tigers, panthers, bears and other mega fauna were often considered vermin, and hunters were rewarded for their destruction. However, the early hunters all hunted for sport, and not until Jim Corbett's book Man-eaters of Kumaon in 1944, did the colonial shikari's tales garner mass appeal.
Corbett was born in India, and, while a pucca sahib at heart, his love for India and the people were genuine, and there was a certain Indian-ness that transpired in his books.
Kenneth Anderson was his equivalent in south India. His ancestors arrived in India in the early 1800s from Glasgow. His father, who worked for the Army, settled down in Bangalore. Kenneth wrote eight books, that were not about hunting for sport like the early settlers, but putting an end to man eating tigers and panthers that were a menace to society.
After India's independence in 1947, Kenneth decided to stay on, a strange decision considering most of his peers decided to migrate, either fearing retribution or seeking greener pastures in the UK and Australia. He passed away in 1974, content to have lived in the country he was born in.
His son, Donald, was born in 1934, and his boyhood was like any other non-Indian at that point in time in Bangalore. However, he was more 'Indian' than his father, and blended with the rest of the population as he grew up. He loved hunting and the forests much like his father and lived a rather colourful life, witnessing an incredible transformation in the world around him, over the 80 years he lived.
I came to Bangalore looking to trace Kenneth's life, but befriended Donald in the process. I ended up looking after Donald during his last years, and during that time, I gathered content (and courage) to write his biography, reconstructing his poignant, and ultimately, wretched story.
From pre-Independence India to the modern day, my book titled The Last White Hunter poignantly captures the changing landscape, both in the jungles of south India, as well as in urban Bangalore. A faithful rendering of the life of a shikari, it is part adventure story, part social history and a nostalgic narrative of an often forgotten, bygone era.
Here are two excerpts from The Last White Hunter. The narrator in these excerpts is Donald Anderson.
"The company I kept had a few regulars, but there were always friends of friends who became part of our gang on and off. One such chap was Squadron Leader Milikens, who was a test pilot for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. He was one of those guys who always came up with bizarre but brilliant ideas, and I had taken him on many trips to the jungles. We had gone to Maddur for hunting wild boar and for some angling when we came upon this lake where we could see hundreds of wild geese flocking on the water. They were far away, on the other end of the lake, so it was impossible to get them with our guns. We asked around and understood that the gaggle would never come to the near end, having learnt the hard way that they would be shot at by the locals with their muzzle loaders. The far end of the lake was covered with impenetrable jungle, and I believe that practically no civilisation lay in that direction, so the birds had got their facts right. But how were we to get to them? Then Milikens had a brainwave. It seemed so odd and bizarre that I thought he was joking, but the earnest look on his face convinced me that he was serious. We would put his wonderfully hare-brained idea into action in two weeks' time, and I convinced my friends Tiny Seddon and Baba Cariappa, who were keen on duck shooting, to come along as well. We reached the lake before dawn on the arranged date and waded as silently as possible into the shallow parts of the near end, holding our guns. Then came the big surprise. It was like a scene from a movie. As dawn was breaking, a small plane was first heard and then could be seen approaching the other side of the lake. It was Milikens! That was the plan! I am not sure what story he gave his superiors, but he had actually managed to get a plane out from HAL to Maddur. His plan was to fly over the lake on the other side and frighten the birds and force them to fly towards us! Like a kamikaze pilot, he flew low and right into the nesting colony, scattering the birds. That was when we realised how the best-laid plans sometimes do not work out the way you want them to. For there were no geese, only domestic kokkus or storks, thin ungainly birds not worth firing at! We waved our hands and tried to indicate to him that these birds were not worth it, but I guess the difference between goose and stork in sign language was non-existent."
"Every once in a while, there would be festivals celebrated at Hogenikal, and people from all the neighbouring smaller villages and settlements would come there to participate. I remember an incident in the early fifties when I visited the village shandy that was part of the celebration, and believe it or not, there was an Indian version of a coconut shy. As the day progressed, the original art of knocking down the coconut with objects like stones had been replaced by the local men trying their luck to knock down coconuts with their locally manufactured matchlocks. They kept missing and it was an amusing sight for the neutrals. I was never short of overconfidence and waged a bet that I could bring it down with my shotgun. They were reluctant as they knew that I had a superior weapon, but the compromise was that they would move the target further back to even the odds. I naturally brought it down with my weapon but then realised that those guys were poor losers. "Dorai, even a fool knows that you have a better gun, so that says nothing about your skill. If you want to impress us, do the same with OUR weapon." To the amazement of the onlookers and mostly to mine, I managed to knock a coconut down with the first shot. Things started to get more interesting with stakes being upped with a lot of shouting and jostling and I beat a hasty retreat before my incompetence was demonstrated the next time around."
© Joshua Mathew 2018