The call of the woods - Priya Rajan

“The clearest way into the universe is through the forest wilderness” says John Muir.

I am steadily realizing this in the past one decade. Growing up on the banks of the beautiful river Thamirabarani originating in the Western Ghats in South India, my high school vacation memories are always filled with greenery. Thamirabarani was always at a stone’s throw from our home. Kuttalam (Courtallam), Agasthiyar falls, Vaana theertham and Servalar Dam, the renowned Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) were just about an hour’s drive from the town of Tirunelveli. Some of my family members were stationed up in the Agasthiyar hills and Servalar dam on duty. So, the calls of sambar and langur, stories about a lone bull elephant on the road or a sloth bear scratching house door in the night were not new. Though all this unconsciously laid a sheath of affinity towards nature and wildlife, it was time then for me to plunge into the grueling rat race. The IT boom was just happening in India and swept most of my generation into the competition for admission to technical courses, work, travel etc. etc. Soon Thamirabarani and I were distanced and thoughts of ghats and waterfalls were taken over by the pursuits of career and life.

The first conscious home coming to nature happened about ten years ago. Though I was always fond of reading, I went through my quota of circuiting with various genres before discovering my favorite. One vivid day, when my friend and I went to the Sapna book store in Bengaluru, we incidentally stood at the wildlife section scanning through the collections. Kenneth Anderson, Jim Corbett! The names instantly rang a bell as I had in fact read a couple of enthralling stories in high school. I decided to pick up one omnibus volume each of KA and JC. I did not have the faintest idea of what I had just signed up for! My walk through the wilderness had just begun and boy there hasn’t been a looking back till date!

For many of us Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson have been the starting points of interest in wildlife. Their tales of Shikar are gripping, especially those of tracking down and hunting the man eaters. But through such stories what they mainly portray is the beautiful setting of the jungle, its denizens and the simple lives of the people living in its periphery. There can only be very few who do not fall for Kenneth Anderson’s false dawn, early morning ghoom and all-night vigil. While Corbett’s modus-operandi was mostly machans, tree tops and beats by the villagers to force the target to a preplanned route, Anderson’s was underground pits and combing by foot. What Corbett was for North India, Anderson has been to the South (and Hugh Allen to Central India, that’s how I picturize their territories). Though both began as hunters, what captivates me is their deep understanding and liking for the wild animals. They always want to be precise while hunting down man eaters and go to great lengths to ensure that they target only the right animal. It is from their writings that I learnt the situations under which an animal becomes rogue or man eater.

Here KA comes across as a very simple man who along with enjoying the adventures of Shikar, also gets set easily to the modest living conditions available in his expeditions to the remote villages. The way he portrays Gowndorai in Aristocrat of Amligola, one initially imagines a bulky chilled-out dude in the tiger! The long tunnel, the railway station and the forest bungalow get so lucidly painted in the mind through Assassin of Diguvametta. KA was familiar with south Indian languages like Tamil, Kannada and could converse with the locals in their language, there by easily connecting with them. I find his usage of the local dialects cute and amusing. In the Tales of the Supernatural, he mentions supernatural beings as Minnispuram. Knowing the language, I can only guess he is referring to Muneeswaran! Also, in few other stories he refers to the hair bun made by the women of south as Koondai (actually Kondai). Many such instances are sprinkled across his stories where the reader connects with his narration at various levels. With KA, the reader walks through the streams and clearances of the woods, meticulously stalks the quarry, tells a leopard’s spoor from a tiger’s, bats for breath at those moments of close encounter and eventually heaves a sigh of relief, only to be pensive soon after.

By penning down their accounts, both KA and JC have sown the seeds for millions of wildlife admirers to crop up. After a read, I am always left yearning for more. We then go on jungle safaris, read, click and talk more on nature and wildlife. And this cycle keeps recurring. Their stories offer the eternal rush of wading through the uncharted wilderness!

PC: Kalirajan Subramanian

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