Don: a few incidents - Hariharan Krishnaswamy
My introduction to Kenneth Anderson came thanks to my father who had bought the entire KA collection when it came in the 1970’s. The very first book I recall reading was Nine Man Eaters and One Rogue. I would have been at high school then. Apart from KA, my father’s collection also included Jim Corbett and Colonel Kesri Singh. In my opinion Jim Corbett’s style, although factual, lacked the spice that KA managed to infuse in his books. Col Kesri Singh was somewhere between the two. KA’s vivid descriptions of the jungles, the locales in South India, especially in the area around Niligiris, were fascinating and I became addicted to reading the stories several times. They had the effect of creating a desire to explore those areas and also find out about Kenneth Anderson and his son Donald. In fact I used to look out for the Mamandur forest bungalow on the train journeys from Madras to Bombay and felt thrilled when I managed to spot it atop the hillock- as KA described.
When I got employed in Bangalore in 2004, I renewed my search for Donald Anderson- on whether he was still alive and living in Bangalore or elsewhere. A lucky search in google led me to a group “Jolly Roger” – and Mr Jayaraman, Naveen, Joshua and Praveen. It was a very pleasant surprise to strike acquaintance with people who shared my interests in the jungles and more importantly KA. I do know that many were the efforts made by Mr.Jayaraman and the others to get in touch with Donald Anderson. It was from this group that I learnt Don was once employed by Binny Ltd (Buckingham and Carnatic Mills) – the same firm where my father was also employed but in Madras. This additional piece of info made me all the more keen to meet Don. My introduction to Don came thanks to Naveen and Josh.
My first meeting with Don was on a trip to Mark Davidar’s Chital Walk. I was completely flabbergasted to meet Don in person and also delighted to find him a very friendly person. It was during that trip that Don, from the verandah of Chital walk, pointed out the copse of bamboo trees close to the stream and told me that he had nearly met his end under the feet of an elephant. This was the first of many trips that I had made with Don- and although the trips were interesting and funny, they could also be pretty strenuous for “town dwellers” like me. Once, Naveen- my long suffering friend, Don and I had made a visit to BR Hills. We were driving through the forest and I was behind the wheel- being tutored, chastised and rebuked by Don on “how to drive in the jungles and generally”-, when we came across a small herd of elephants with a calf . The herd was to our right and we were engrossed in the spectacle of the calf feeding in their midst. Suddenly we heard a loud “ Triaaankk” from our left and there were three adults to our immediate left. They were so close that if Don- who was sitting next to me- had put his hand out he could have touched them. “Go!”Go! Go! Harry!” hissed Don. I needed no second urging. We were off in a jiffy leaving the three adults to join the main herd. Later Don said he was convinced I would stall the car (thanks to my “driving skills”) in my nervousness but felt I had “kept my nerve”. Rare praise indeed from Don, I felt quite gratified. We made quite a few trips to BR hills. Whilst returning from one such trip, Don, Naveen and I started talking about Moyar Valley Ranch. We then decided to check it out since it was relatively close to BR hills. We made our way to Talvadi and thence to Mudiyanoor and started on the track to Moyar Valley Ranch-our destination that we reached. Our reception at Moyar Valley Ranch was nothing short of electrical when the owner realised that he was meeting Donald Anderson. The owner- Prabhu- had read KA’s books and obviously heard of Don. Don was very excited and happy. He said that he was returning to these places after more than 40 years- and that it had not really changed much. He also recounted on how he would take Americans and Europeans in the 1960’s for “tiger and panther” hunts. These hunts were a business venture that Don started with another friend of his. Don also said that it was he who was left with the task of “finishing off the tiger or leopard that his clients managed to only wound but not kill”. At Moyar Valley Ranch, when I brought up the topic of the Cedric Bone photographed leopard and the risk he had taken, Don dismissed it and said “Oh that bugger- he was far too gone and could drag hardly drag himself”. But Don took me to the exact spot where the incident had taken place and pointed it out. I am aware that many people are skeptical of the incident really taking place, but my impression of Don was that for all his faults, he was not prone to telling lies- at least as far as his hunting went. His memory of the jungles was also remarkable and accurate. We were returning from MVR and Don pointed a track where he said wild dogs used to frequent when he used to visit MVR until the 1960’s. We were surprised to see that the wild dogs continued to frequent the same track- the droppings- relatively fresh-and many tracks- were testimony to the statement Don also narrated an incident when and a couple of his friends were coming to MVR from Dimbum when their car “heated up” and they needed water to “cool it down”. They were unable to locate any water sources and then one of them decided that the best way to “cool” the car was for them to empty their bladders inside the radiator tank. They called out to all the passing villagers and offered them money to do the same. Don guffawed and said “I am sure those villagers thought we were mad- paying them money to empty their bladders inside a car. But we got the radiator tank filled”.
Once Don told us- on another visit to Chital Walk- “You know the last time I came here was with a few other chaps. I was put up in that separate room with one of them. That night, the bugger started removing all his clothes and wanted me to comfort him from the elephants and tigers. Bloody hell. I bloody didn’t know what to do. I told him that nothing was there. I hardly slept that night- not knowing what this bugger would do next”!!!!
Don’s health started deteriorating from 2011 onwards but he still kept up his spirits. When I visited him at Philomina hospital, I found the ward boys and nurses looking at him with awe. Don then confided to me that the doctor attending to him had told the wad boys and nurses that he-Don- would “wrestle tigers and panthers with his bare hands” and they- the hospital staff- had better watch out. Don had his pensive moments. I do recollect him stating once “Plan your life guys. Look what happened to me- I did not plan well”. But despite his straitened circumstances, he was not one to wallow in self-pity or blame fate or circumstances. He kept up his spirits for most of the time. Thanks to Don, I was able to visit many parts of the jungle which would not have possible otherwise- including remote parts near Kollegal where we were escorted by the Range Officer and shown spots where the brigand Veerapan had gun fights with the forest department. I was able to visit the farm in Bannerghatta where he used to go hunting young- the farm that has found mention in Vikram Nanjappa’s blog “Those were the days”. I last saw Don in the hospital, a few weeks before he passed away. He gave a wry smile and said “We had some good times Harry. I don’t think I will be able to make it any more”. I then heard of Don’s passing. Thanks to Josh who invited me to write on my memories with Don and KA, I was able to pen down a few of the incidents. There are many more- maybe they will find mention at a later time and date.