Hunters tales

Print edition : March 26, 2010

Kenneth Anderson. He wandered through many of the jungles of South India.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

MORE than half a century ago, when the forests of southern India were lusher with vegetation and wildlife abounded in the jungles around Bangalore, there lived a hunter and writer of jungle tales called Kenneth Anderson. That was a different era; the landmark Wildlife Protection Act, which forbids hunting, was passed only in 1972.

Anderson wrote eight books and close to 60 stories, mainly about his hunting exploits. Each book consists of short accounts of his encounters with man-eating tigers, leopards and rogue elephants in the jungles. There are other stories as well, in which he discusses, among other things, the beliefs of the tribal communities inhabiting the forests, the ethos of the forest, and his love for the woodland.

Anderson was born on March 8, 1910, and died on August 30, 1974, of cancer. A group of nature lovers, who have been inspired by his works and are organised in a society called the Kenneth Anderson Nature Society (KANS), are working towards renaming a stretch of the reserve forest in the Melagiri range in Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri districts of Tamil Nadu after Kenneth Anderson to mark his birth centenary. They also want this stretch, where 20 of his stories are set, to be converted into a wildlife sanctuary and named after Kenneth Anderson, a la the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, which is named after the famous hunter and writer.

For most of his life, Anderson lived in Bangalore, where he worked for a company that later came to be known as Hindutsan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Information about his life is hard to come by with even the earlier editions of his books becoming rare. His first work, Nine Man-Eaters and One Rogue, was first published by George Allen and Unwin, the London publishers, in 1954. His last work, Jungles Long Ago, was published posthumously in 1976. Jaico Books, the Indian publisher, published several of his works later.

The brief biographical information about Anderson available on one of the Jaico books reads:

The author [Anderson] was born at Bolarum [near Hyderabad] in the former Nizams Dominions, on 8th March 1910. From a young age he was fond of adventure and of the bizarre. He has wandered in many out-of-the-way places, particularly in the jungles of India, where he met with many strange experiences and encountered many unusual characters. His love of hunting and wildlife, together with his fondness for writing, enabled him to publish four books on man-eating tigers and panthers and other wild animals and these have been translated into several languages throughout the world.

Snippets of additional information about his life, gleaned from other sources, reveal that his father worked for the finance department of the military and the family moved to Bangalore after acquiring a house on Kasturba Road. From his stories we learn that his house was a large property and had a moat and a menagerie, which even included a bear. He studied at Bishop Cotton School and St. Josephs College in Bangalore.

Anderson has contributed immensely to the literary genre commonly known as shikar literature in India. But while Corbett is known world-wide for his works, Anderson remains relatively obscure although the popularity of his work has soared tremendously after the publication of his collected works in two volumes by Rupa (The Kenneth Anderson Omnibus Volumes 1 & 2). One of the reasons attributed to his relative obscurity is that his claims of having killed several man-eaters are viewed widely with scepticism. Several people who were acquainted with him dismiss his claims that he killed tigers, leopards and elephants.

Academic researchers have perhaps ignored him for this reason, whereas several books have been written on Jim Corbett. The most recent one, On Jim Corbetts Trail and Other Tales from Tree-Tops, published in 2004, is by A.J.T. Johnsingh. (This veneration for Corbett is being examined critically by academics such as Prasanta Das who, in an article titled Jim Corbetts Green Imperialism in the April 2009 issue of Economic and Political Weekly questioned the widespread assessment that Corbett was a compassionate man who had exceptional environmental awareness.)

S. Theodore Bhaskaran, Tamil film historian and wildlife conservationist, argues that shikar literature was a concomitant of the British imperial class obsession with hunting as a sport:

Before the British came to India, hunting of wild animals as a sport was done only by the royalty. It was only after the British came to India from lands where there were no tigers and other animals found in the Indian forests that widespread hunting of wild animals began in India first by the white ruling class and then by the brown sahibs.

Bhaskaran is sceptical of shikar literature and feels that all hunting tales are exaggerated accounts. Rather than reading shikar literature and learning to love the forests, it is better that young people read authentic accounts of the forest by writers like Harry. G. Champion, M. Krishnan, Salim Ali, E.R.C. Davidar and Humayun Abdulali, he says. Anderson never alludes to having maintained a diary of his hunting exploits, which makes sceptics wonder how he could recall big game hunting in such extensive detail.

Another person who questions Andersons claims is 83-year-old Vivek Sinha, one of Indias best-known wildlife photographers and the author of The Tiger is a Gentleman and The Vanishing Tiger. Anderson was working in HAL when I worked there, although in a different department, and I first saw him in the 1950s. I seriously doubt whether he killed all those tigers, he said, adding that it is far more difficult and worthy to shoot a tiger with a camera than with a gun. There are others, who have known Anderson briefly, who too question his claims.

The grave of Kenneth Anderson on Hosur Road in Bangalore.-K. GOPINATHAN

Another reason for Andersons relative obscurity could be, according to Jayaraman Kakarla, secretary of the KANS, that Jim Corbett was close to the centre of imperial power and was well known among the British ruling class.

It is true that Corbetts services were often solicited by the government of the United Provinces, and thus his hunting of the man-eaters of Kumaon became a public event sometimes. Besides Corbett lived in another era; he was born in 1875 and left India in 1945 to settle down in Kenya, where he died in 1955.

Anderson, on the other hand, was a sixth-generation Anglo-Indian of Scottish descent whose connections with the imperial class were far more tenuous or completely non-existent. One of his lesser known novels, The Fires of Passion, discusses the Anglo-Indian dilemma in India and he contextualises the Anglo-Indians as inhabiting a middle-ground and being despised both by the British imperialists and by the Indians.

Sujit Mukherjee, in his book Forster and Further: The Tradition of Anglo-Indian Fiction, writes that Corbett was far more successful simply because he was a much better writer than Anderson. Mahesh Rangarajan, in the chapter titled Five Nature Writers in the book History of Indian Literature in English, speculates as to why the work of Kenneth Anderson is not as well known as that of Corbetts. He writes: It is unfortunate that his work gets small recognition: this is one of the disadvantages of writing in Corbetts powerful narrative shadow.

Another interesting difference between the works of Corbett and Anderson is the number of humans that these cats would kill before being hunted down. While it was usual for Corbett to go after man-eating tigers that had sometimes killed hundreds of victims (between them the Champawat tiger and the Panar leopard had killed 836 human beings while the man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag had killed 125 people before Corbett hunted them down), Anderson hunted tigers that had killed a few people. The feeling that one gets from Andersons writing is that he had a wide network of informants in the forest hamlets of southern India. Anderson often visited these villages in his trusted Studebaker during his forays into the forests. The informants kept him posted on marauders.

No documentation of Andersons exploits are available Corbetts killings have been well-documented although archival evidence available at the Forest Department library in Bangalore clearly shows that there were reports of man-eaters in the forests of southern India in the 1940s and 1950s. If the stories of Corbett and Anderson are anything to go by, there is no doubt that both were fearless hunters.

Anderson lived in a time when hunting was considered a fairly common activity. From his own stories we realise that he was not the only hunter of tigers as he occasionally makes references to another hunter called Dickie Bird. It was a time when being known as a hunter was a matter of prestige and was common among a certain class.

Andersons works can be useful source material for researchers of sociology and social practices of the tribal communities although there is a faint whiff of orientalism in his understanding of these societies. He had a good knowledge of the tribal communities inhabiting the jungles and was well-versed in the field craft of the jungle. His writings are useful to wildlife enthusiasts. Even an amateur reader of Andersons stories will acknowledge that he has an amazing felicity with language, especially when describing the forests.

Mahesh Rangarajan writes in his introduction to the first volume of The Oxford Anthology of Indian Wildlife: Given the incredible diversity of terrain and habitats in India, hunting can now be seen ironically as one way of knowing the country. There were indeed many insensate killers. At the same time, some had a keen sense of natural history, an eye for detail, and even an appreciation of the wild. (Two of Andersons stories form a part of this anthology, along with two of Corbetts). In another place, Rangarajan writes about Andersons works: His descriptions of animal behaviour are excellent, the drama of woodland life being of keen interest to him.

While Andersons skills as a raconteur are well known, the problem really begins when one starts critically analysing his claims of having killed scores of man-eating tigers apart from leopards and elephants. Does the work of Anderson extend beyond factual accounts and are his claims exaggerated? While the claims of his stories are hard to verify, it is intriguing that there is no serious work done on the life of this writer. Another question that needs to asked is whether what he wrote needs to be verified at all. Why should anyone spend time examining his claims when they make for excellent stories?

These questions seem slightly inconsequential for members of the KANS whose love for the forests was mainly sparked by their readings of Andersons writings. Over the past few years, they have visited the places mentioned in Andersons books and managed to verify his accounts. Many of the members of the KANS are not full-time conservationists but have been responsible for encouraging and spreading awareness about conservation issues. They were part of the group that petitioned that the road connecting Karnataka and Kerala through Bandipur be closed at night to avoid the running over of animals. The major portion of their work, though, is in the forests around Dharmapuri hills, where the majority of Andersons stories have been set.

The KANS is working with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department to do a complete biodiversity survey (a thorough mapping and listing of the flora and fauna) and is involved in the tiger census in the region. According to initial studies done by the group, which is working in collaboration with the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, species in the area such as the four-horned antelope and the grizzled squirrel might be endangered.

In assessing Andersons legacy, perhaps we need to shift the focus from analysing his claims to examining the impact he has had on the tradition of shikar literature in India and the extent to which he inspired individuals to involve themselves in conservation work.

A young man named Karthik, whom this correspondent met near the lake in the Dharmapuri forests which Anderson writes about in A Night in Spider Valley, said, My love for the forests began after I read Andersons stories. Karthik visits the Aiyur forest every weekend, where he volunteers for the Forest Department.

Says Kakarla, who has spent several years verifying Andersons stories: I believe that Kenneth Anderson has killed man-eating tigers, but rather than question his claims what needs to be taken note of is the huge numbers of young people who have become interested in the forests after reading his works. Even K. Ullas Karanth, a leading conservation zoologist, has acknowledged in his book A View from the Machan that Andersons works were one of his early influences.

Anderson may or may not have hunted big game and some of his accounts may be fictitious. But there is no doubt that he was a great lover of the forests. He has written in his stories about his concern for the depleting animal population.

In his introduction to Tales from the Indian Jungle, Anderson writes: He [Anderson] appears to be of the jungle himself, and we get the impression that he belongs there. This is the home for him and here is the place he would want to die; the jungle is his birthplace, his heaven and his resting place when the end comes.