Sample the prose-
“The man sits with his back to a tree and the light from the campfire waxes and wanes, throwing him into sharp relief along with the tree-trunk against which he rests, to fade the next instant into obscurity and gloom. Leaning against the tree beside him is a .405 Winchester rifle of ancient vintage. A battered Gurkha hat, its brim curled up at the left side, slopes rakishly to the right upon his head.
Except for the crackle of the flames and the drone of the man’s voice, the forest is lost in silence, and a heavy, oppressive, uncanny quiet that we feel cannot last much longer. And we are right. The roar of a tiger breaks suddenly through the blackness, to be answered by the scream of an excited elephant. As the tiger stalks boldly down the jungle aisles making awful sounds, the distant trumpeting of the elephant announces that the challenge has been met.
But the man seems not to hear these sounds, so engrossed has he become in the story he is telling. He appears to be of the jungle himself, and we get the impression that he belongs there. Let us give heed, then, to what he tells. Stories of the denizens of the forest; tales of incidents, macabre and ghostly sketches of himself. The man seems happy as we listen and he warms up to his theme. For he loves to speak about the jungle and its people, and who should know that better than I.
For I am that man!”
This is the ‘introduction’ offered by Kenneth Anderson (1910-74), and I get hooked. He was a hunter, nature enthusiast and chronicler of wildlife. He wrote eight books and numerous short stories which recount many of his real-life adventures in the jungles of South India. He spent most of his life in Bangalore, where he was employed with an aeronautics company. Anderson’s beautiful prose brings alive the jungle before our very eyes, with its inhabitants breathing, hiding, biding their time, even as nature, in all its splendour, provides a perfect setting for adventures to unfold.
Tales from the Jungle contains eight of his short stories, the first of which takes us “Ghooming at Dawn”. The shikaris wake early, boil tea, consume it with buttered chapattis and bananas and leave on the trail. In the proximity of jumlum (jamun) trees, they wait behind rocks to watch sloth bears walk past after gormandising the fallen purple fruits. To remain absolutely still is the first secret of successful concealment in the jungle. The second factor is the direction in which the wind is blowing. Thus if wind is not blowing from you to the quarry, and you remain motionless, there is a good chance that you can ambush any animal. The shikaris also get to test the famed inquisitiveness of the sambhar stag by luring it using revolving twigs. Langurs are seen playing around with fawns, even as mother deer keeps watche. It is then that “an elongated form, golden and spotted, springs from under a bush and in two bounds reaches the little fawn. In the next second it is dead, while the panther glowers and growls over the small quivering body.” The fawn’s mother is also killed while defending it. The hunters are moved, but respect the law of the jungle. After all, “the panther has killed for food, not wantonly”.
The next story is “The Bellundur Ogre”, so named after a man-eater who made its presence felt near the Bellundur hamlet in Shimoga district (Karnataka). Kenneth and Dr. Stanley track the jungle and finally lay low the beast-gone-astray, and her companion, who was set to follow the same path. “The Indian villager is a man of unbounded patience, an attribute easier to understand if one observes his complete apathy, his capacity for resignation and for accepting whatever misfortune it may be the will of God to bestow upon him. If such villagers had had enough of this man-eater and were determined to put a stop to its depredations, you realize that the Ogre had really gone too far.” Anderson claims he only ever went after confirmed man-eaters. I do not know if even that is morally justifiable.
“The Aristocrat of Amligola” is the story of Gowndnorai (‘aristocrat’ in Kanarese), who transforms from a lazy, confident tiger, given to sunning on rocks in plain view to a vicious, scheming, cowardly man-eater, after being partially blinded in a human attack. “The Assassin of Diguvametta” is set in Andhra, where Anderson buys a plot of barren land to camp on after he is dislodged from the guest house because of the impending DFO visit. Anderson recounts his hunting of a man-eater panther that used to hover around the railway line, and kill in the melee caused by incoming trains.
In “Tales of the Supernatural”, the author takes us through some of his paranormal experiences. “The Strange Case of the Gerhetti Leopard” and “The Lakkavali Man-eater” take us through shikars of beasts-gone-astray. “What the Thunderstorm Brought” recounts a photography expedition with his son, in which an elephant and a tiger attack his machan.
Kenneth Anderson has poured immense love in his accounts of the wild. Here is a hunter who has lived for his adventures in the jungles of India, and he sums it up himself-
“Where in the world would I find the conditions of India? Such a huge variety of topographic and climatic zones and located in close proximities to each other! Where would time be of so little, if any consequence, as in India? Where in the world would consequences themselves be of so little importance? It matters not how you dress, or dress at all. The bare requirements of existence are all that do matter. My friends cannot understand why I love India, or that why I do not think I shall ever leave it.”
He kept his promise, and died in Bangalore in 1974.
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