This is the story of my mother-in – law’s childhood which was spent in Bangalore. Her name is Alicia Briggs but she is affectionately called Bunni. Her family was originally from Scotland but has been in India for three generations. I have always enjoyed listening to her stories not only because they are fascinating but also because for me there was a special connection , a connection formed during my boyhood when I was hooked onto books written by a certain person . Her childhood was my boyhood dream.
The family was originally from Madras but in 1954 they moved to Bangalore when she was four years old. They lived, as tenants, in a red coloured house on Kasturba Road. This used to be the guest house of Lord Cubbon and was gifted to the present landlord’s parents by none other than the man himself. Behind the house was a wilderness now known as Cubbon Park.
Apart from her parents there were three brothers – Donald (uncle Don), Gilbert (uncle Gilly), Thomas (uncle Chippy), and three sisters – Shirley (auntie Shirley ), Margie (auntie Margie) and Carol.
The next to the house was a museum simply known as the Red Museum (now the Art Gallery) as the building was also red coloured. The compound of the house extended from the Police Station to this museum and was full of trees and bushes. This property was owned by a colorful personality called Kenneth Anderson (KA) and his wife Blossom. In fact KA’s parents had left this property to their daughter – in – law, Blossom. They had a son called Donald (DA) who became a good friend of the family. KA was working with what is now H.A.L and would also write books about his exploits in the South –Indian Jungles including stories of man eating tigers and leopards. It was through his books that I formed my connection with my mother-in-law’s childhood. KA was and continues to be a well known author.
KA used to live in the central portion of the house and the rest was occupied by tenants. The compound was full of animals as KA was an animal lover. The special few that Bunni remembers were Bruno the bear, Jackie the hyena, Bambi the chital, Jimmy the monkey, Wolfy the Alsatian and Yella the jackal.
Bruno was a favorite. He was brought when he was very young and most probably his mother was shot by KA or by DA. Bruno was part of the children and he would sleep in the bed with them. Besides that he would dance and play with them and hide and seek was his favorite game. He also had a weakness for ice cream and beer. When the ice cream man would come with his cart he would get all excited. When he got too old he had to be shifted to the Mysore zoo. However he was extremely unhappy there and finally Blossom had to go and bring him back. He traveled back to Bangalore in a cage lashed onto KA’s car. Blossom had to hold his hand from the window. Jimmy the monkey was Bunni’s special friend. He would spend a lot of his time with her. He was usually dressed in a skirt!
As can be imagined with the number of children and animals it was quite a happy household. All the animals usually joined in with the children while playing games. Wolfy the Alsatian used to be the wicket keeper. He would also kill bandicoots and bring them for the python to eat. Yes, there were a lot more animals than just the pets! Jackie the hyena used to live in a large island surrounded by a moat or a pit. One day uncle Gilly was playing a hoola-hoop which had just been introduced and was all the rage. The hoop fell into the pit and he went to retrieve it. Jackie in the meantime had got hold of it and was reluctant to let it go. Jackie it seemed wanted to join in the fun. In the tug-of-war that took place Uncle Gilly got hurt in the arm. That was the only incident that took place and it was not Jackie’s fault. However the Municipality came to know and Jackie had to be shifted to KA’s other house in Whitefield.
Bunni was Blossom’s favorite and had the run of the house. She would trouble KA by peeping into his room when he used to be busy writing. KA was a very good tempered person and would never scold or raise his voice with the children. In 1962 part of the property was leased and a petrol pump was built there. It is still standing. The rest of the property was sold in the 1980’s and the Prestige building now stands there. The Red Museum is now the Art Gallery.
KA had a farm just outside the city that was surrounded by jungles. To get to the farm the family used to travel in an old Studebaker upto a point and get into bullock carts and finally had to walk the rest of the distance. All supplies also came the same way. His friend Sundaraj the owner of a gun shop called Guncraft also had a farm next to KA. DA and uncle Gilly were great sportsmen who loved to hunt. (Both farms were taken over by the govt. in 1975-76 and now are part of Bannerghatta National Park) The hunts were family affairs and all the children would take part. DA had a lot of patience and would take the children along with him as long as they did not fuss or make noise. Bunni was his companion on many of his hunts. All the shooting was done on foot and not from the cars.
Between 1954 and 1966 a lot of hunts were arranged and the bag would include leopards and bears which were abundant in the area. Tigers were rarer and none were bagged in Bannerghatta. However quite a few were bagged elsewhere. For longer journeys they would use a Morris Minor for transport. In the 1960’s a film based on a book called Harry Black and the Tiger was shot in India and DA stood in for the hero, Stewart Granger in all the hunting scenes. There was a shot of him being attacked by a tiger and the tiger in question was called Rani and used to live in Mysore zoo. During the afternoons when the zoo used to be deserted she was let out of her cage and allowed to roam freely. She became very popular because of her role in the film
The tribes who used to live in the area never used to bury their dead. They used to tie the bodies to bamboo platforms or stretchers and left in one particular valley where they would slowly decompose. This valley was known to the family and was called ‘Skull Alley ‘for a as can be imagined it contained a lot of skulls!
Fishing was another hobby and the family would take off to the Cauvery at Galibore. At that time there was no Jungle Lodges and Resorts camp and the landmarks that Bunni remembers are called Crocodile Rocks, Anderson’s camp and Tamarind Tree. They would park their cars and walk into the wilderness and pitch camp near the riverbed. They had to be careful about elephant herds coming to drink during the evenings. Uncle Chippy was the keen angler and he and Bunni would wake up at 3 AM to prepare the bait. The bait was ragi boiled with hing and then kneaded into balls which would then be boiled again. Once the bait was ready Uncle Chippy would go off on his own. His quarry was the Mahseer . The fishing for the Mahseer was on a catch and release basis. Very often he would be joined by DA. Whenever a fish got snagged in the rocks, Uncle Gilly was called for. Being an expert swimmer he was the only one who would brave the river to retrieve the fish. Uncle Chiipy's largest catch was a 94 pounder.
The rest of the family would catch other fish like catfish which would not be released but would be cooked for lunch or dinner. They would also swim in the safer parts of the river. The area was taken over by W.A.S.I and in turn handed over to Jungle Lodges and Resorts.
The mighty Mahseer
The Mahseer has long been considered as superior, pound for pound, in sporting qualities to the ‘Lordly Salmon’. While the Mahseer first appeared in print in 1903 in a book of angling, it had captured the imagination of sportsmen long before that and continues to do so.
As mentioned earlier Uncle Chippy and DA were keen fishermen and the Mahseer was their favored quarry. While they mainly fished the Cauvery, the Kabini was also, before the construction of the dam in1974, famous for the Mahseer.
In 1870, the famous G.P.Sanderson of the Mysore Khedda fame, caught a Mahseer in the Kabini on a hand line that he estimated at 150 pounds in absence of a weighing scale. The head and skin of the fish were presented to the then Bangalore Museum were comparative studies placed the fish at 110 pounds. A second fish was taken by Sanderson in the Kabini and was said to be so gigantic “that the skull of a large Sambar would fit neatly inside it “As both were caught on a hand line they were disqualified from finding a place in the book of records.The first authentic record of Mahseer caught (and accurately weighed) by rod and line came in 1906 from the Cauvery near Srirangapatna. Mr.C.E.Murray Anysley was the sportsman and a commemorative stone was erected at the spot where the fish was landed. In 1909 (20 th September ) he had the distinction of landing a 103 Mahseer with a spoon .Probably the only one to do so as most others were taken on the traditional ragi bait. In 1919. Thirteen years later Maj.J.S.Rivett-Carnac took a 119 pound Mahseer from the Cauvery . He was a comparatively inexperienced angler and took the fish on a borrowed line! The heaver line was lent to him after he was broken four times on the day. A year later in 1920 J.De Van Ingen, the son of the famous taxidermist Eugene M Van Ingen of Mysore, took a 107 ponder at Srirangapatna. Twenty six years later he took a 120 pounder finally breaking the record of Rivett-Carnac. Mr.P.F.Bowring, DC of Mysore was another keen sportsman, on 9 th March 1921 he took a Mahseer of 107 pounds four miles below Srirangapatna. In 1923 (4 th Jan) the older Van Ingen took a 104 pounder and 81 pounder on the same day. In 1927 he took a 100 pounder and 102 pounder. The Kabini also produced its fair share of the fish. Lt.Col.G.Hare took a fish of 105 pounds at Kakankote on 6 th November 1926. On 22 nd October 1938 Mr.A.E.Lobo caught a fish weighing 110 pounds. This is the largest Kabini Mahseer on record. Unfortunately with the building of the dam in 1974 the Mahseer has almost disappeared from the Kabini.
Uncle Chippy and DA would spend most of the weekends fishing and Galibore and Sungum were the favored spots as they offered good game and were also close to Bangalore. The Cauvery Fishing Camp of Jungle Lodges and Resorts now stands there. Uncle Chippy’s largest recorded catch was 94 pounds. He however never recorded all his catches so in all probability may have caught larger fish. DA’s largest catch was 84 pounds in 1989 at Galibore. His previous best was 45 pounds taken ten years previously.
The family continued with their fishing camps till JLR set up camp. Now they don’t go as it is not the same with all the modern comforts of camp. Now my wife, daughter and I fish the tamed Kabini, of course, without any luck.
The mighty Mahseer has disappeared from the Kabini and along with it that special breed of men who pursued it.