When men were men
It must have been around 2002 or 2003 when I randomly picked up some books from the library. It would have normally followed the time honoured practice of piling the books and returning them unread around the due date.
This time however I fell sick in between and the sheer boredom of sitting at home forced me to pick up the books and actually read them. Now Kenneth Anderson was not exactly unknown to me while at the same time not much was known about him. My general perception was that he was a Jim Corbett wannabe. In my youth I used to travel extensively long distances by train and have a vague recollection of the AH Wheeler book stalls at every station displaying a book by K.A. At the risk of being risqué, there was one book on certain aspects of reproduction authored by him which occupied a place of prominence in these stalls.
Till this time in 2002 I was a complete city born slick and the only wildlife I was exposed to was the stray dogs and crows which have since disappeared and been replaced by pigeons. I did have a copy of "Man-eaters of Kumaon" but had found it quite dull when I read it many decades back. It somehow reminded me of my biology text book, a subject which I hated. Reading Kenneth Anderson suddenly transformed me from a city slicker to armchair naturalist. First of all the locales were all I could relate, mostly around 100 kms from Bangalore, the city that adopted me. Second the vivid description of the jungle hit me like a flash and I was a convert. Without any disrespect to Gentleman Jim, his books were a bit clinical while K.A were all about a Bollywood thriller with a bit of literature, prose and poetry thrown in.
In a short time I had completed all the books except for the elusive “Nine man eaters and one rogue”, which was then out of print and which I managed to by second hand from USA along with "The black panther of Sivanipalli"
My interest then shifted from the writings to the man. There was scarcity of information in those days and I felt like a forensic detective trying to pick up information.Though this channel I came into contact with Josh, Hari, Naveen, Praveen and Mr. Jayaraman. A whole fledged special investigation team was formed to go deeper into K.A. The two things which were known were that Don Anderson who figured so prominently in many stories was very much alive, lived somewhere and did not want to meet anyone and least of all discuss any aspect of his father life. The other thing was that anyone who had any contact with the Anderson family immediately clammed up when the subject was brought up and broke diplomatic relations.
I soon moved on in life though the special investigation team used to meet once in a while for lunch and discuss what were the next steps. Since I am writing this piece, I have the luxury of exaggerating my contribution to this noble endeavour and truth be told, I was akin to a junior partner who largely is good on advise and low on action. I would strongly recommend all to check the now defunct yahoo e-roups on Kenneth Anderson which chronicles much of the activity that went on so many years back.
It came as a surprise to me some time later when I heard that Josh and Naveen had managed to breach Don’s reticence, were in close contact with him and generally pulling him out of his self-imposed isolation. Josh was kind enough subsequently to introduce me to Don and we had a pleasant lunch though conversation was strained since I was in awe of the great man and was not sure about what topic would offend him. I was surprised when I got a call from Don a week later inviting me to accompany him to the forest. In a bit of a daze I went with him and some friends of his to B.R hills for a day and learnt that going through the jungle was a lot different from reading about the jungle. His love for the forest was so evident and he just savoured the forest without talking. It was with great reluctance that he did tear himself and come back to the city. The whole trip was filled with him cracking jokes continuously (some of them not for mixed company) and breaking into loud guffaws in between long lapses of silence.
After this trip I was in occasional touch with him and we did go out a couple of times for dinner. We last went to Hyderabad Biryani house and were told to leave the general dining area and sit in the “Family area” since we somehow did not fit in the general dining area. I felt a bit honoured that he showed me a collection of lovingly preserved photos from old times, something he was very reluctant to share in general.
We did try to make some further trips which unfortunately did not materialize. Each failed trip used to depress him tremendously. About a year before his death, he did call me and ask about the possibility of a trip. His voice was very frail and I heard that he was not in the best of health. None of this did deter him from his desire to be in his beloved jungles and it was great reluctance that I declined.
My account might it seem like a was a close friend of Don, but that would be an exaggeration of a high order. It is just that these encounters with him were very memorable for me.
Don’s life is not just about the jungle and hunting. He was a part of an era in transition. I asked him once why he did not migrate to Australia or England and he told me the thought of going there made him sick. Where would he find jungles and wildlife if he migrated? I did not have the pleasure of extended interactions with him, but each limited did make me aware of his experiences in seeing Bangalore transition from a cantonment city to an IT city.
I feel his time in the jungle toughened him so much that he could withstand all the adversity he encountered so much later in life.