Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tales of the jungles

My grandfather was a sportsman, a good shot and a frequent traveler to the jungles. It is politically incorrect to even talk of shooting (other than with a camera) these days, but well up to the middle of the last century it was perfectly acceptable.

In his defence I venture that like most sportsmen, in later life he turned conservationist. After all, Yala was originally conceived as a shooting reserve, it was only later and with the support of former sportsmen was it turned into a wildlife sanctuary. Jim Corbett, the famed Shikari of Northern India was instrumental in creating India's first wildlife park.

Coming back to my grandfather, although he possessed no higher education he loved to read and had an extensive library. The library was in a separate room where few other people ventured and was my particular sanctuary, quiet and cool, despite the afternoon heat.

There was a long row of cupboards, the one at the centre contained his guns and fishing rod, on either side were the books. There were books on travel and of life in far of lands; I picked up quite a few books from Teak Wallah, Two Happy Years in Ceylon and The Kon Tiki Expedition to Country Life and National Geographic magazines and much else besides.

Naturally a lot of the books were on the jungles and in this genre one particular author was quite outstanding: Kenneth Anderson.

I am not sure how many have heard of him, he was not as well known as Jim Corbett but he was a far finer writer. I have never managed to finish a book by Corbett, I struggled with one once, but Kenneth Anderson was very special. His deep knowledge of the jungle and its denizens and his love of nature are vividly conveyed. Most of books deal with his adventures tracking down man eating tigers, leopards and rogue elephants and the killing that occurs at the end of each chapter is a little shocking today but the hold of the books is irresistible.

I thought I was alone in my appreciation for his skills but it turns out that he has a dedicated following in India and even a few in Sri Lanka. There is a Yahoo Group with about 500 members dedicated to him. That someone who wrote of his experiences in the 1920's and 1930's should be able to communicate to people in the 21st century (and more than a quarter century after his own death) is a powerful testament to his skills as a storyteller.

Most of his books are being printed in India and a couple are available free online. To whet people's appetite I quote the opening paragraphs of one chapter.

The Man-Eater of Jowlagiri

THOSE who have been to the tropics and to jungle places
will not need to be told of the beauties of the moonlight
over hill and valley, that picks out in vivid relief the forest
grasses and each leaf of the giant trees, and throws into
still greater mystery the dark shadows below, where the
rays of the moon cannot reach, concealing perhaps a
beast of prey, a watchful deer or a lurking reptile, all
individually and severally in search of food.

All appeared peaceful in the Jowlagiri Forest Range, yet
there was danger everywhere, and murder was afoot. For
a trio of poachers, who possessed between them two
matchlocks of ancient vintage, had decided to get them
selves some meat. They had cleverly constructed a hide on
the sloping banks of a water-hole, and had been sitting in
it since sunset, intently watchful for the deer which, sooner
or later, must come to slake their thirst.

The hours'wore on. The moon, at the full, had reached
mid-heaven and the scene was as bright as day. Suddenly,
from the thicket of ever-green saplings to their left, could
be heard the sound of violently rustling leaves and deepthroated grunts. What could be there? Wild-pig undoubtedly ! A succulent meal, and flesh in addition that could be sold ! The poachers waited, but the beasts, whatever they
were, did not break cover. Becoming impatient, Muniappa,
the marksman of the trio, decided to risk a shot. Raising his
matchlock, he waited till a dark shadow, deeper than its
surroundings, became more evident, and fired. There was a
snarling roar and a lashing of bushes, followed by a series
of coughing 'whoofs' and then silence.

Not pigs, but a tiger ! Fearfully and silently the three
poachers beat a hasty retreat to their village, there to spend
the rest of the night in anxiety as to the result of their act.
But morning revealed that all was apparently well, for a
male tiger just in his prime lay dead, the chance shot from
the ancient musket having sped straight to his heart. So
Muniappa and his friends were, for that day, the unsung
and whispered heroes of the village.

But the next night produced a different story. With sun
set came the urgent, angry call of a tigress seeking her dead
mate. For it was the mating season, and this tigress, which
had only just succeeded in finding her companion the night
before, was decidedly annoyed at his unaccountable ab
sence, which she quite rightly connected with the inter
ference of human beings.

Night after night for a week she continued her uneasy
movements, calling by day from the depths of the forest
and in darkness roaring almost at the outskirts of the
village itself.

If you appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature or simply enjoy a good yarn, try these books, I promise you will not be disappointed.


Delilah said...

funny, my father was telling me about this recently and i bought the book from an ancient second-hand bookshop :)

Jack Point said...

Delilah, good for you, I'm sure you will enjoy reading it. There are some 9 books in all.

n said...

I abolutely love Kenneth Anderson...have about six books if not more and used to read them voraciously as a kid..must revisit but most of them are falling apart :(

Jack Point said...

Hey n, thanks for dropping by, good to see more fans of Anderson around.

There is only one book of his, Jungles Long Ago, that was published posthumously that I have not read.

I want to get that from India.

PP said...

i just started reading kenneth anderson and i can't seem to put it down, except i had to. the gore in it was making my stomach flip a bit.

the books so far is awesome. the only thing i find a bit difficult to understand is how at times, he and his companions gun down animals just because they happen to be there. so far i'm about 4 chapters into nine man-eaters and one rogue. one leopard and one sloth bear have been killed just because they happened to be there. i guess it's to do with the fact that the books is set about 80 years ago and they are hunters.

Jack Point said...

PP glad to see you are into it. He is a superb storyteller.

True, the gore is a bit of a problem, but as you say the stories are from eighty years ago so it has to be seen in that context.

To be fair, sportsmen like Anderson tracked and shot animals individually. There were others in that era (although it was more common slightly earlier) who shot game from the back of elephants or from a 'machan' but with the aid of an army of beaters who drove the animals to where the hunters lay to pick off at their convenience with no danger or discomfort to themselves.

If you read the introductions in some of his later books his attitude has changed with time and he does advise his readers to shoot with the camera rather than the rifle.

What raises his books far above those of his contemporaries is his deep knowledge of the jungle and the vivid description of places and people. There is genuine love that shines through and infects the reader.

I would say it is worth persisting with the books. It may be easier if you have the physical book, reading my grandfather's slightly musty books with a faint smell of kerosene (it was sprayed in the cupboards to try and keep insects away), one was constantly reminded that books and the adventures were from a long time ago.

Those smells can still take me back although the books have now, very sadly, been destroyed by termites.

Jack Point said...

PP, you can also download the Black Panther Of Sivanipalli from here:!download|162l33|342319834|The_Black_Panther_Of_Sivanipalli.pdf|26624|R~29C6FDE8D02518B46F20C830D6E486AE

PP said...

he really is a great story teller. and i just happen to know where there is a fair amount of them so you can bet i'll be reading them all.