An August Requiem - Saumya Chaki

It was a hot summer day in June of 1984, perspiring from a hectic game of soccer I trudged into my school library a skinny sixth grader. The break time gong had sounded, much like a death knell for an exciting soccer game. Though I was not complaining as I loved visiting the school library as reading was a passion that matched my excitement for the game of soccer. Wiping off sweat from my neck and arms, I quietly settled into a vacant chair at the left corner of the reading room. As I sat down my eyes caught a book title through the glass cupboard door. I looked more closely and walked up to open the glass cupboard and picked up a book titled ‘Man-Eaters and Jungle Killers’ by Kenneth Anderson. By the time I had read the preface I was hooked to it and rapidly headed to the librarian to issue the book in haste before it fell into a classmate’s hand. That evening I did not go out to play which was an unimaginable thing as we never missed a chance to play even during the monsoons in Calcutta.

By dinner I had finished the first two stories ‘The Marauder of Kempekarai’ and ‘Alam Bux and the Big Black Bear’. In my eleven-year existence I had not read anything remotely as exciting as these jungle tales set in a world I had not seen. The stories were set in the 1930’s and 40’s when wildlife was a lot more prolific in the Indian jungles. What stood out to me were the vivid descriptions that made the jungle tracks that Anderson walked on appear as images in technicolour in front of my eyes. My hair would stand at the description of how the famed Dorai would track down the man-eater in a game of hide and seek. Anderson’s ability to make an arm chair adventurer like me feel the heat of the situation was simply amazing. I had nightmares of man-eaters stalking me in our garden, me sitting on a machan waiting for the tiger to return to its meal. To a young boy who had grown up on Famous Five, Hardy Boys and the Commando series of comics this was a new ‘Baptism’ for me to jungle tales. It changed my reading and my interests forever.

I had completed the book in the next two days, staying up well past my bedtime much to my sister’s amusement. Those days we were not blessed with the internet but reading the introductory pages led me know of the other titles by Anderson. I was soon back to the school library searching for other Anderson books in the catalogue and much to my excitement I found two more ‘Black Panther of Sivanipalli’ and ‘Nine Man-eaters and One Rogue’. In the next two weeks I had finished both these stories with the same passion and excitement. While Anderson’s stories were mainly about his hunting exploits what really stood out, was his evident love and passion for the jungle, its inhabitants both human and animal. He had a keen understanding of animal behavior which was illustrated in his writing. He was truly a raconteur who was skillful in his art. Anderson never gloated about his successes and one could always sense a tinge of sadness when he had to shoot man-eaters who had been driven to the habit by largely man made situations like a bullet wound that never healed or accidents that left the tiger incapable of hunting its natural prey. Anderson always expressed regret for his hunting days of his youth and how much he felt happier just spending time in the jungle, taking long walks with just a camera in hand.

The transformation of Anderson from hunter to conservator happened well before the onset of Project Tiger in 1972. He was deeply concerned by the socio-economic changes in the Indian sub-continent and the constant felling of trees and encroachment on forest land. He almost seemed an amused bystander who was deeply saddened by what was happening around him. Anderson would have been heart-broken if he had lived to see the India of today where tigers and leopards are increasingly coming into conflict with human habitats. What makes Anderson writing unique is unlike other hunters he saw the decline of wild life as a serious imbalance in the food chain and natural ecosystem. While Anderson was a good 30 years younger than Jim Corbett, we find lesser concern in Corbett’s writing about the rampant loss of wild life in India during the British Raj. The other striking difference is Anderson stayed back in his beloved India not only because he loved the Indian jungle, but he was also a lot more integrated into Indian society having learnt Tamil and Kannada and had friends and acquaintances all over South India. Anderson’s books are rich source of how the flora and fauna was in the South India jungles about 70 years back and must be read by the youth of today as it would strike the need for ecological management and wildlife conservation in their impressionable minds. Anderson left us for his heavenly abode in August 1974, his thoughts and writings stay with us eternally burning like the eyes of the Royal Bengal Tiger.

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