When I met Don Anderson, my childhood hero - Shailen Jhaveri
Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated with old shikar stories of yore especially ones from India. When people think of shikar in India usually one thinks of Jim Corbett. In my case when I first walked into the library down the road from me at age 12 and asked for books on shikar, I was handed the hard cover (Allen Ulwin publications) of “Nine man eaters and one rogue” by Kenneth Anderson and man did I love it!! Hungry for more, I got my hands on other books written by him. The fact that KA’s experiences recorded in his books were of a much later day and age than those of JC were even more fascinating for me. Here was someone who’s thrilling stories of the jungle and experiences happened only about 40 odd years ago and not a century back!! Also the fact that he was from Bangalore and wrote about jungles of the South AND that he had a son called Donald Anderson who also hunted got me thinking and I wondered if Don was still alive and still living in Bangalore. Being a school kid I could only wonder and left it at that. Life moved forward, school got done, I went to college and then to England and came back to India. While my love for wildlife and shikar stories never really went away, it took a back burner for quite a while in pursuits of other interests.
The jungle however still fascinated me and I made a trip to Masinagudi sometime in 2007, it rekindled my interest in shikar stories and I got thinking once again about the stories I used to read by a shikari from Bangalore. By then I had quite forgotten the name of the shikari whose books I used to read but snippets of some those stories especially the one story where the son shoots a panther (The great panther of Mudiyanoor) while his friend stands directly behind the panther taking a photo and the hiding he got from his Dad after, still remained somewhere in my memory and I started to wonder once again about “The Jim Corbett of the South” and his son.
After coming back to Bombay and at age 32 I walked into the same library once again and asked for a listing on shikar stories. A few clicks on the computer, we walk to the right section and there was the Omnibus!! Voila, I remembered with joy this was the man’s stories I used to read and love! Lapped up the book again from the library and then decided right there I would buy all of KA’s books! I had re discovered my childhood joy and unbelievably still felt the same level of thrill and excitement when reading those books, albeit 2 decades later! I once again got thinking about Don Anderson and whether he was still alive? What would he be like if he were alive- a rich man still living in Bangalore with all his trophies on the wall or would he have long ago left the country and settled somewhere in England or Scotland? Too many questions in my head and a lot of excitement! Technology came to the rescue and and I started googling for Donald Anderson. Annoyingly I would keep drawing a blank at information on Donald until I came across KANS (Kenneth Anderson Nature Society) and a little section that said “Don aged 75 lives in Bangalore is still fit and active and support the cause of KANS”. That was it!! Now I had to turn my dream into a reality and I wanted to meet Don anyhow. Another trip to Masinagudi and upon inquiring with friends over there I was told that whilst Don is living somewhere in Bangalore, they had no idea of his whereabouts but that I should ask Mark (he of the Chital walk fame and son of ERC Davidar) who was friends with Don. Mark was a friend of Don’s, really!! My joy knew no bounds when Mark mentioned Don was due to visit his place that weekend. I was super excited as I was around for the weekend and due to fly back on a Tuesday. Unfortunately Don did not show up on the weekend and I was told he had postponed his visit to sometime mid -week. To say I was hugely disappointed was an understatement! I was to fly back to Bombay on Tuesday evening. Hoping against hope Don would be there on Tuesday morning I went to Marks place but he did not show and I had to leave for Coimbatore a little after noon. Extremely disappointed and dejected I took my flight home.
I made up my mind once back that I would try and locate Don through everyone I knew in Bangalore and would fly down even if it meant half a day’s visit just to meet him. I had only become a member of KANS on Facebook and did not find much information there about Don. That group had been set up primarily for conservation activities in some of KAs favorite haunts. I did not know of the existence of another group on Facebook entitled “Kenneth Anderson”. Through a post on KANS FB I discovered this wonderful group dedicated solely to Kenneth Anderson and his stories and for the first time I saw photos of my child hood hero as he was now along with so many other rare photos. My resolve to meet Don became even stronger. Due to settle down in a marital life soon I decided I would make one more trip to the jungle as a bachelor and since we were stopping by in Bangalore to any how make a plan to meet Don. Courtesy of a very fine gentleman on the Kenneth Anderson FB group I managed to do so this time around!!
Sadly through interactions and photos on FB group entitled “Kenneth Anderson” I was aware of his failing health and his monetary condition. It was truly disheartening to know of this and had never imagined it would be this way for my child hood hero. He passed away peacefully a couple of years after my meeting but the memory of that meeting remains forever etched in my mind and I consider myself truly blessed and lucky to have met him! Here is my little story on my meeting with Don Anderson
He knew his end was coming. He was living in squalid conditions but when I finally met him DON ANDERSON was everything we read about in his father Kenneths books - i.e. even at 79 he was still a mischievous "lad" and regaled us (a friend of mine and me) with some thrilling stories of his younger days when life was slower paced and the jungle far more accessible than it is today.
I mentioned he was living in squalid conditions - this was a man whose father had a sprawling bungalow in Bangalore near Cubbon Park and 200 acres of property in and around the jungles of the South. Sadly, all that was long gone when I met Don in January 2012 - he was in ill health living in a garage next to the house he had been evicted from -he had had goons threaten him just a week before I came to see him (hence he was a bit apprehensive about meeting me) yet the man NEVER EVER complained about his current conditions. Throughout the couple of hours I had the honour of spending with him he was extremely jovial and positive. I did not know it then but felt he disliked discussing his dads books (although he politely tried answering all questions I asked like a star struck child ) which I later found to be true and the reason was obvious. Don was a very private person (I speak as if I have known him for years ) according to people who knew him and being the son of a famous author he was constantly harassed by "fans" who would shatter his peace and track him down to discuss Kenneth's books. I guess he got tired of it all and hence he disappeared during the 80's for quite a while until one day some time in 2007 Don took a liking to one of the gentlemen who had been trying to befriend him for a while. It also helped that this gentlemen had been a regular visitor to a place called "Chital Walk" owned by Mark Davidar (who sadly himself passed away in October 2013). Mark was the son of hunter turned conservationist ERC (Reggie) Davidar. ERC and Kenneth had been good friends and Kenneths little jungle hut in Sigur had been a few hundred meters away from Chital Walk. FYI Chital Walk was one of the best places in South India for wildlife viewing from the comfort of an armchair and I was lucky to have visited it thrice. Anyway making friends with this gentlemen opened a whole new world to Don of friends and fans unlike and some of them dedicated themselves to looking after him till his demise on 12th July 2014.