On Kenneth Anderson’s Trail
Retracing the adventures of a hunter who had a way with words!
A swing of the door of the bookshelf at home revealed a thirty year old treasure of my father’s. The nuggets comprised seven books of the most amazing shikar stories written by an Indian of British origin retelling in his own words, ‘the hunting escapades’ he had undertaken in the then dense jungles of South India. A summer of reading them and I had taken the ‘bait’ much like the big cats he had so vividly described. I had been tempted and lured. Yes, I made up my mind and simply had to do it, there was no question of hesitation.
The feline prospect of sniffing out the trail of the firangi shikari and going on a ‘hunting’ expedition myself did not seem too far-fetched. I was very soon on the road, but, not alone. My father’s interest apparently exceeded mine who had figured out a similar plan when he had first read the stories; add thirty years of frustrating wait to it and you have one who is ever more forthcoming to the idea when it is presented to him again. I wanted go back on the trail of one of Kenneth Anderson’s many hunting escapades. I decided to follow up a particular story by Anderson, the title of which sounds like one right out of a fairy tale, The Man-eater of the Crescent Mountains.
In the story Anderson, our shikari hero, goes on a mission to sort out the problem of a man-eating tiger, a frequenting monster to the people Hogarehalli, a village once right in the middle of tiger country (presently very close to the new Bhadra Tiger Reserve). The village is in the District of Kadur, located at the foot of a towering hill, Hogarekaan, from which it gets its name. The protagonist tiger here was said to have descended from the eastern slopes of the Baba Budangiris of whose outcrop is the Hogarekaan hill, hence the title The Man-eater of the Crescent Mountains (Baba Budans was also referred as the Crescent Mountains).
One fine Sunday morning was fixed, a car was fashioned and off we went. For us, we had no GPS, not even a present-day map, all the directions we needed came from a trusted source- Anderson’s hand-drawn map of the then area around Hogarehalli which included the famous Baba Budans and his vivid description of each and every detail of the countryside. Call it intuition; we believed the landscape to have been obliterated less, and my father’s keen sense of direction honed over the years of travelling the peninsula, especially towards the Western Ghats collecting insects (he is an entomologist), helped us cross our first hurdle in this trip. Of course we also ‘googled’ some locals to get directions — the most energy efficient and precise way to find your way in the country and we made many friends in the bargain! Our first mini-Landmark achievement in navigation took the form of us reaching Lingadahalli-a village of notable mention in Anderson’s map. From there on it was just an hour’s travel to Hogarehalli — the place where it all began.
The prying eyes never were lifted off us when we reached Hogarehalli as is the case of every stranger who visits a village, they got focused even more and joining with them were the ears when we asked a few locals of the whereabouts of the relatives of the man we were searching — Mr. Mudalagiriyappa, a former Patel of the village. Why, you may ask, was that necessary? Well, Mudalagiriyappa, apparently, was a friend of Anderson from a past encounter for the same reason — a man-eating tiger. The Patel, was the one who had him come to Hogarehalli in the first place as recounted by Anderson in the story. We came in search of his relatives for we were sure he would not have been alive all these years since the story took place back in 1948.
The locals we asked, directed us to a house right next to the village temple’s chariot house, telling us the people who lived there are the relatives of Mudalagiriyappa- but, let me tell you this, we didn't exactly specify as to which Mudalagiriyappa we were after when we asked them! So, as you might have guessed, we went into the wrong house, started talking to the people of the wrong household, the realization and the embarrassment coming only later. We were then, after a few laughs, and invitations for Tindi and kaapi, directed to a queer-looking old man, told to be a relative of the former patel-hunter Mudalagiriyappa, who escorted us to his house telling us on the way, to our humour, that his name too was Mudalagiriyappa!
Upon reaching his house we sat down to talk, with the women-folk of the house. We could not decline the nudging for accepting the steaming hot kaapi for which we obliged. Sipping the hot cuppa we told Mudalagiriyappa as to why we had come to Hogarehalli all the way from Bangalore wishing to meet the former patel-hunter Mudalagiriyappa’s relatives, whom the former said was to be his uncle (why would anyone come from such a far off place to see someone as inconspicuous as us? He must have thought! Oh! I suddenly was filled with pride of being the first to come here and do such a thing!). Showing him the book which had the story we were after, we asked for confirmation of Anderson’s visit to the village to kill a man-eater for which he slowly began recollecting him, considering he was only a small boy then. More importantly he remembered a companion of Anderson with ‘wooden leg’ — Mr. Jonklaas, the Dutchman who finds frequent mention in Anderson’s books! Early on in our conversation, he promised to show us a photo of a ‘tiger trophy’ with an air of pride, excited, we egged him to do so and felt privileged when he took us to the former patel-hunter Mudalagiriyappa’s house which was just next door and showed us with pride a picture of the man, a gun in the hand, kneeling, with a tiger majestically spread on all fours in the front.
All along, since our arrival at the house of our new found friend I had noticed an old woman not younger than 75 standing by, keenly listening and hanging onto our each and every word. I would have dismissed her off as one among those several other curious villagers until our old man, Mudalagiriyappa, noticed and made sure we got acquainted — the widowed second wife of former patel-hunter Mudalagiriyappa! A rush of excitement, and we learnt more, how she was married to the man at a young age, how she used to welcome Anderson and force him to down rice and curry, with Anderson himself reciprocating the hospitality by offering canned meat and how her husband died early, all vaguely described but it did not matter as long as we prided in ourselves with the fact that we met up with people of the time — Oh, How exciting, for us, was that!
We barely escaped, after a few minutes of polite conversation, the household’s forceful request for lunch, for we had little time and a long way to go on Anderson’s trail! We were soon back on the road going southwards from Hogarehalli along the “footpath” as shown in the map, since our whole idea was to trace back Anderson’s adventure. We were right with our guess as to its state, but it would have been just the way Anderson would have seen it had it not been widened and just a trifle bettered. Adrenaline pumping, as our car went creaking up and down the rocky track, absolutely desolate even at noon; a shudder ran down my spine thinking of the night long walk of 10 miles down this road Anderson and his son took, as he retells in the story, fully aware that a man-eating tiger was prowling around, possibly even stealthily preparing himself for that one killing pounce from among the thickets of lantana! It was a drive through perfect tiger country and recalling Anderson, we would wistfully look around for a tiger at every bend. More so, since Mudalagiriyappa had mentioned that even today cattle-lifting by tiger is not uncommon!
We went past the small tank shown in the map, saw the Hogarekaan Peak, and as we were doing so I tried tracing our path and I could say If we had drawn the path we took and tried superimposing it with the one showed in the map, you couldn't tell the difference! Astonished as we were for the astounding accuracy of the map, we reached a recently constructed road alongside the depicted Yemmaydoddi channel, it is still there mind you, and made our way through to “Madak” lake, which is actually called, Madagada Kere (the other only in firangi lingo). To our delight, it was exactly the way it was portrayed in the map, also in the place of the zinc shed there was a cement building in the shape of a shed, being used for worshipping the deity now, as must have been the case then. A dilapidated ‘veeragallu’ and a few broken statues stood there as mute witness to the passage of time. We then went around ‘tracing’ the likely path taken by Anderson on to locate the place marked “Leper’s Body” in the map, the point where the scattered remains of the man-eater’s last victim was present. This was the spot where Anderson and his son Donald who had accompanied him on this trip had waited to ultimately shoot dead the tiger to end a very poignant story. We did zero in on the exact spot, but only after going down wrong paths and getting severely caught and scratched by thorns. After several lengthy arguments and hurling accusations at each other for misreading the map, we decided to make one last attempt and backtracked our way to the top of the tank bund. We walked up and down on the bund checking out each rivulet, stream and ravines, we finally located the ravine, exactly the way depicted in the story. The sweltering heat of mid-day, with no water or food, foreclosed any attempt at a descent into the ravine. The thick outgrowth of trees and weeds obscured the sight of a boulder where Anderson and his son lay crouched for hours in pitch darkness and waited for the arrival of the man-eating tiger. It was a trifle disappointing, but the fact that we had retraced Anderson’s adventure, in broad daylight though, was satisfaction enough.
And so we turned our back on the place where it all unfolded, having felt one with Anderson and with a “Yes, we did it!” look across our faces. There were enough memories to last us a lifetime and a sense of contentment and relief on our minds as we made a long, relaxed trip back home. Completely opposite to what it was the other way round!
There were many lessons learnt on this short trip, most to do with one of the raging topic of the present times — environment conservation. It was satisfying to see so much of our country’s ‘jungles’ (biodiversity, if you like, in modern jargon) still intact with neither an individual nor government ruining it though there were certain instances of human callousness. The government should spare no efforts in bringing more such areas under protection or else the next generation might not be able to learn from nature like I did. As our population increases the man-animal conflict is also bound to increase leading to devaluation of wildlife.
For all of you who don’t already know who our hunter-hero Kenneth Anderson is — he was the son of a Scotsman, part of a family of Scots who had lived and worked here in India for six generations. He was born in Hyderabad but spent most of his life till his death living in Bangalore. The jungle, its inhabitants and its wild creatures, were his lifelong obsession, for which he took to big game hunting and eventually to writing, real-life adventure stories and became famous throughout Southern India as one who could rid the villages of man-eating tigers — when such creatures still existed. He in later life shifted his focus to wildlife conservation and became a pioneer in such efforts in Southern India. A truly amazing character who loved India very much, so much so he never left it, except once to England, and enjoyed life heartily as one among us till his death in 1974. His grave is located in a cemetery on Hosur road.
To know more about Kenneth Anderson’s hunting adventures, the basics of jungle craft and value of conservation you could read reprinted editions of books having a collection of his stories which are easily available- This is The Jungle, Jungles long ago, Nine man-eaters and one Rogue, The Black panther of Sivanipalli, The Call of the man-eater, The Tiger roars and Man-eaters and Jungle Killers.