Book review: The Last White Hunter, Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari

April 26, 2018

The Last White Hunter, Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari

By Donald Anderson, as told to Joshua Mathew
265 pp.
Rs.650

Indus Source Books
PO Box 6194
Malabar Hill PO
Mumbai 400 006
INDIA
Email: info@indussource.com
http://www.indussource.com

Readers who are interested in the wildlife history of India, and in particular, of the Melagiri and Bannerghatta forests near Bangalore, will be familiar with the name of Kenneth Anderson, a “shikari” (hunter) of the old school. The series of books that he wrote, on his various wildlife encounters, were very popular reading at one time.

His son, Donald Anderson, was brought up in the same tradition as his father, and grew up to be a hunter. But he differed from his father in two important respects: Kenneth Anderson, even in those days, slowly turned from hunting to conservation, and was also a widely celebrated author. Donald, by his own admission in this book, says that he could not hold the interest of a reader.

But since Joshua Mathew found that the life of Donald Anderson (with the line of Scotsmen dying with him when he passed away in 2014) was interesting enough for him to write this book, giving a voice and a narrative to Donald.

This task was no easy one. As Joshua recounts at the end of the book, Donald had become a recluse, not wanting to meet anyone; or he would agree to meet them only if they would take him on a “hunt” (or at least, to the locations where he used to hunt.) A parsimonious nature and a spendthrift tendency combined to make Donald perpetually hard up, depending on others’ help and scorning it at the same time.

Joshua got past these defences and allowed Donald to talk about his life. He also sifted through unimaginable amounts of pack-rat junk to sort out photographsand other material that he could use for the book.

This biography is not a linear book; Depending on what is being talked about,the book jumps backward and forward over the span of Donald’s life, However, the narrative is always clear, and as one moves through the pages, one learns of Donald’s life and times…his education, the places he stayed in, his family, friends, his own leanings and beliefs (or lack of them), his great love for the outdoors, the jungles, and for shikar.

It is not easy to adopt the voice of another person (especially one whose views one may not share) but Joshua does this with remarkable felicity. There is an absolute lack of a judgemental attitude throughout the book. When Donald himself repents something, that is conveyed; but there is no moralistic tone adopted about Donald’s actions, whether it is his extensive hunting, or his varied love life.

The book is like a bamboo basket; various incidents and interludes are woven together loosely, without the need to make a close-knit whole. In this way, a reader can dip into the book at odd points, and not have to “follow the narrative” as one would have to do with conventional books.

The language of the book is lucid and simple. Very often,Joshua uses Donald’s own words;at other times, words are carefully chosen so that the writer’s thoughts and opinions do not colour the character’s, in the narration. At the same time, descriptions of jungles, of the homes that Donald lived and grew up in, are detailed and extremely interesting. it takes one back to days when the culture, the mores and the lifestyles of those in Bangalore were very different from those of today.

And the differences are striking indeed. “There was no concept of traffic”, says Donald, and adds that he could travere across the length and breadth of what is today’s Bangalore, travel up to Ramnagara or to other parts of Bannerghatta. The life of the white (and “Anglo-Indian” _communities were very different from the Indian communities made up on the people who served them. Indeed, the book underscores a fact that holds true even today; there are two discrete Bangalores; the one of the Cantonment area, and the one of the traditional Kannadigas, and they rarely touch each other. Dances, drinking parties, convent schools and excursions..these constitute a life far different from that of the Kannadiga communities.

The incidents and anecdotes are neatly docketed into eight chapters, and they make very interesting reading. As a person who lived in the Cantonment area (Convent Road in Richmond Town) before moving to Kannadiga Bangalore, and seen the city transform from a sleepy, leisurely hamlet to today’s frenetic, groaning-at-the-seams metropolis, I can relate to a lot of things and places that Joshua mentions, in Donald’s voice. The amazing thing is that some of these places, and customs are there, in that part of Bangalore, even today.

Remarkable though Joshua’s achievement is, I do have apprehensions that the times, and values, that are described in Donald’s voice, have completely passed away, and there exist, now, at least two generations who think very differently. Since our wildlife is now decimated, today’s values make it a crime to hunt our wild creatures; and a resurgence of prudish Victorian morality would make several readers click their tongues over the accounts of Donald’s prolific romatic encounters, which were all short-termed, by his own admission.We certainly seem to be less tolerant of what we perceive to be aberrations, today, and an account of how to skin and animal and stuff it, I am afraid, will not be very popular with the majority of today’s reading public.

But if one is willing to look into history without being judgemental, and read details about how life was lived in this city in the days around the time of Indian Independence, both in terms of wildlife and lifestyles, then this book would be a great read….which is what I found it to be. I salute Joshua Mathew on a job very well done; it is Donald Anderson, and Donald alone, who speaks from the book. It is only at the end that we hear Joshua’s voice, and even then, he sets down the quirks of the shikari’s personality, warts and all, allowing us to see the man as he was..a product of his times, with unique talents….a person who was true to himself, and did not whitewash his own shortcomings. On another level, anyone interested in how the wildlife scenario was in Bangalore and its environs, nearly a century ago, would find this both a fascinating (seeing the abundance of wildlife) and depressing (seeing the hunting/shooting culture) read…but a compelling one in any case.

A good job well done, Joshua..and I wish you would reconsider your decision to make this your last book!

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Health worries: K1 and K2

April 25, 2018

of experience she has seen cases that are totally asymptomatic. She has seen an 80 year old patient who was completely unaware that she even had the condition and perfectly ok vision. She has seen children who came at the same age that ours did, are older now with no reported loss so far.

K1 does already have symptoms in that she has poor night vision – we started to notice this even at Age 2. But the doc today said that her central retina looks healthy and that her vision is good. She said that in unfamiliar environments, she will not be able to navigate in dim light. Yesterday’s doc suggested that she always carry a flashlight with her.

Today’s doctor also confirmed that genetic testing may help understand the prognosis (progress timeline) because there are a great many genetic causes for the condition. She also suggested that while there was no indication of need, for our peace of mind we could get an ENT test done as well.

K2’s condition is much more mild, and therefore, less clearly diagnosed, but changes on the retina still evident. Since it is so clear for K1, there is little doubt as to what it may be for him. She did not suggest that K2’s retina is at an “earlier stage” of the same thing or anything like that – basically his retina could become more affected with time or may not change at all. He has had no vision related complaints.

The doc didn’t recommend ERG (Electro Retinogram) for now because it is an uncomfortable procedure (electrodes inside the eyelid among other things) and if the kids don’t cooperate the results will not be accurate. She also didn’t recommend field testing (sitting in a ball and pressing buttons when they see lights flash around them to determine how much loss there may be) because both appear to have no loss in field vision at the moment. So we shall seek out genetic testing for the whole fam to see how much detail we can obtain regarding what genes are causing this and what science may already be or become available us.

The next step is to get them glasses for their nearsightedness (both have astigmatism and power) and come back for evaluation in 6 months. She stressed a balanced diet for them both, but specified that there was no known way to arrest the deterioration or affect the progress of the condition.That being said, we shall read and will likely ensure our diet contains things like Vitamin A palmitate etc. which have some reported success in arresting the deterioration. Also, we have well known Ayurveda centers specifically for the eyes, so we shall go in for a consultation.

If you know ophthalmologists first hand, or have direct experience with this condition, we welcome your inputs.

Two thoughts that are helping us at the moment:
1) Random crap can happen any time but the more notice we have, the better we can respond.
2) We are more than our bodies.

Please hold positive thoughts for both our kids to retain their vision; to remain as asymptomatic as possible, with either no deterioration over their lives or the least & slowest possible.

DnA

Health worries: K1 and K2, 230418

April 24, 2018

This is what has been going on with K1 and K2, we were rather upset over the past few days, but now we are sort of accepting things and hoping for the best.

As of now, we have ordered the glasses for both the children, and the doc says the improvement in general vision will be perceptible, and that we should keep monitoring the condition every 6 months.

This upset us very much initially, but in a way, there is a relief in knowing that at least for the immediate future, there is nothing to be done.
=

Message from to our immediate family:

Yesterday (23 Apr 18) during testing for near sightedness and to get glasses, the eye doctors told us that K1 had a congenital condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa and K2 looked like he may have it too. At its worst, this condition causes loss of vision over time that could be complete, or just allow for tunnel vision (blackness surrounding a small area visible due to central retina functioning) by Age 35-40. This was devastating to hear yesterday and overwhelming to digest. The doctor had started telling us to “inform the children that sight is not the only thing in life” and that was very hard to take.

However, today, after taking a second opinion from Dr Savita Arun of Nethradhama, we have some hope that at its best, it could remain asymptomatic without much deterioration or loss or progress a lot slower.

Today, with second opinion, the diagnosis is confirmed for both children. The second doctor said pretty much all the same things that the doctors yesterday did, except with far more positivity. In her 18 years of experience she has seen cases that are totally asymptomatic. She has seen an 80 year old patient who was completely unaware that she even had the condition and perfectly ok vision. She has seen children who came at the same age that ours did, are older now with no reported loss so far.

K1 does already have symptoms in that she has poor night vision – we started to notice this even at Age 2. But the doc today said that her central retina looks healthy and that her vision is good. She said that in unfamiliar environments, she will not be able to navigate in dim light. Yesterday’s doc suggested that she always carry a flashlight with her.

Today’s doctor also confirmed that genetic testing may help understand the prognosis (progress timeline) because there are a great many genetic causes for the condition. She also suggested that while there was no indication of need, for our peace of mind we could get an ENT test done as well.

K2’s condition is much more mild, and therefore, less clearly diagnosed, but changes on the retina still evident. Since it is so clear for K1, there is little doubt as to what it may be for him. She did not suggest that K2’s retina is at an “earlier stage” of the same thing or anything like that – basically his retina could become more affected with time or may not change at all. He has had no vision related complaints.

The doc didn’t recommend ERG (Electro Retinogram) for now because it is an uncomfortable procedure (electrodes inside the eyelid among other things) and if the kids don’t cooperate the results will not be accurate. She also didn’t recommend field testing (sitting in a ball and pressing buttons when they see lights flash around them to determine how much loss there may be) because both appear to have no loss in field vision at the moment. So we shall seek out genetic testing for the whole fam to see how much detail we can obtain regarding what genes are causing this and what science may already be or become available us.

The next step is to get them glasses for their nearsightedness (both have astigmatism and power) and come back for evaluation in 6 months. She stressed a balanced diet for them both, but specified that there was no known way to arrest the deterioration or affect the progress of the condition.That being said, we shall read and will likely ensure our diet contains things like Vitamin A palmitate etc. which have some reported success in arresting the deterioration. Also, we have well known Ayurveda centers specifically for the eyes, so we shall go in for a consultation.

If you know ophthalmologists first hand, or have direct experience with this condition, we welcome your inputs.

Two thoughts that are helping us at the moment:
1) Random crap can happen any time but the more notice we have, the better we can respond.
2) We are more than our bodies.

Please hold positive thoughts for both our kids to retain their vision; to remain as asymptomatic as possible, with either no deterioration over their lives or the least & slowest possible.

DnA

In the water, in the sun, Lalbagh, 090418

April 9, 2018

Put your head out of the water.
Get a bit of sun.
Try to get some breakfast…
Without becoming one!

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Lalbagh, 9 Apr ’18

4th Sunday outing, March ’18, and bird census: Hoskote kere, 250318

March 27, 2018

Email to bngbirds egroup:

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I had been toying with the idea of making Hoskote kere the venue for the 4th Sunday outing, when the email from Swaroop and his team arrived, announcing the bird count there. That made the decision easy, and several of us gathered at 6.30am at the Gangamma temple on the bund of the lake.
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We had a good mix of experts and newbies, children and adults, binoculars and bazookas 😀

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Swaroop and his team

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sent us in several directions, to see what we could see, and document what we saw. The paths were as as follows:

Dipu K, et al: north west edge
Rajneesh Suvarna, et al: Raghavendra Talkies
Vinay Bharadwaj, et al: east edge
Ashwin Viswanathan. et al: west edge:
Deepa Mohan, et al: Meeting point plus south-west edge

I was happy to take the children from Om Shri School along, as part of the initiative to involve schools.I found the children very interested; they patiently learnt how to use my binoculars, used the scope often, and asked a lot of questions too. I was able to show them almost all the birds that we sighted, and the bird scope was used well!

I started off with group, looking at the woodland birds in the plant clutter on both sides of the road. As the mist slowly lifted, we walked down the path with the lake waters along both sides. I have never before been able to walk past the "isthmus" that juts out into the water; in fact, a couple of months ago, the lake was so brimful of water that birders could not go down at all, and had to be content with birding from the bund along the Gangamma temple.

Robins, sunbirds, prinias and others were pointed out but then we got a few Baillon's Crakes

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in the water hyacinth at water level, and most of us got busy clicking these usually skulky and shy birds, which will soon begin their migration.

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Garganeys

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But our "regulars"….the Spot-billed Pelicans, Little Grebes, Coots, and Herons (like this Grey Heron)

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kept us all occupied as we watched them. There were Black and Brahminy Kites in the air, joined by a lone Marsh Harrier, another winter visitor which was looking for prey. Rosy Pastors

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flew over the water and settled in the dry trees. We saw Barn Swallows,

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as well as the Red-rumped, Wire-tailed, and Streak-throated variety.

It was nice to see both kinds of Jacanas, Pheasant-tailed

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and Bronze-winged,

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in the lake; similarly, Yellow, Grey and White-browed Wagtails flew around. One "dip" was the Pied Kingfisher, but we spotted the Small Blue and the White-throated Kingfishers.

Glossy Ibis

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Blyth's Reed Warbler

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Schoolchildren, along with the teacher, using the scope and binoculars

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Our group

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The children of Om Shri School

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Sandpipers, too, made their appearance, flying around with their typical calls. We noted Egrets, both Intermediate and Small. Spot-billed Ducks and Garganeys flew over the water and settled down, and were quite easy to show to the children. In fact, I was wondering if the children, or the schoolmaster who accompanied them, could take so many names thrown at them at the same time! I know I would have found it difficult to remember. But their interest did not flag, and after a certain point, it was I who had to call them back to return. It is very satisfying to be able to show people a whole lot of birds on their first outing!

Ants

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Water cabbage, an acquatic plant:

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Line-up of many of my group:

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Valli and Janhvi helped me with the app and physical paper entries, and we had to catch up with the bird names every now and then, as each of us spotted different birds! It was nice to have a problem of plenty.

Fish caught at the lake is sold on the bund every morning.

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Children on the lake reaches

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An array of snacks, including Manoj's mom-made alu parathas, kept us going.

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Return we did, to a hearty breakfast provided by the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD).

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Some of the teams whose transects were further afield did not return for a while, but all of us were very satisfied birders that morning! It sometimes happens that some paths have less birds ( on a census/bird count, it's our duty just to record what see, whether the numbers are lower or higher) but it's a great feeling when everyone returns with a satisfactory count of species. One group sighted the Eurasian Wryneck, which is a new bird-sighting for this lake.

Thanks to Valli, I met Arun and his friend, from the Andamans, and they gave us insights into the birding scene where they come from.

Our grateful thanks to Swaroop and team who provided us a great opportunity to see the variety of birds that Hoskote kere has to offer. Swaroop, Praveen and Nagabhushana say that 126 species were sighted during the morning, by over 120 volunteers! A big thank you for providing this opportunity for the 4th Sunday outing.

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Fishing boats

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For the next few months, we will concentrate more on the resident birds in and around our city, and bid goodbye to our winter visitors.

The eBird checklist for my group is

here

Swaroop will provide the links to the other checklists.

I have put up my photographs (not by a DSLR camera, and not only birds…there is even a photo of some beautiful ants!) on my FB album,

here

Cheers, Deepa.

Art in commerce

March 23, 2018

I think it’s a human trait to introduce an aesthetic appeal into the most mundane tasks imaginable. Surely, one would not think twice about the peanuts one purchases from the pushcart vendors, whose paper cones are getting so slender that they may accommodate only a few groundnuts.

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But the very selection of those recycled papers for the cones, and their arrangement, is so attractive visually…a fine example of art in commerce!

Permits and permissions…

March 22, 2018

Permissions…
Are required only by humans.
The scholars, the researchers,
Those who need to get
Their field work done, their business transacted…
To get the data
That their study requires.
Do the birds, the animals,
The butterflies and insects,
Our feathered and furred fellow-beings on this Earth…
Do they not slip from one region to another,
Across states, countries and continents,
Without a visa or permit?
It’s only humankind which trammels itself
With documents,stops, and gates:
We are allowed here,and not allowed there,
As we struggle for access
And find it increasingly difficult
To move around on our own planet.
We snake through serpentine queues,
Fill up forms in triplicate,
Just to enter the territory
Of other human beings
Amongst whom we seem to find ourselves restricted,
Barred, or even banned for life.

A special outing, for special children. Ragihalli, 160318

March 16, 2018

Today (16th Mar, ’18), I took the children of

Snehadhara Foundation

for an outdoor/nature trip to Ragihalli. Was the trip worth it? Emphatically, yes! The children smelt some fruit, felt the texture of some leaves, got distracted by the butterflies…and took care of each other in the most heartwarming way.

The children had visited Lalbagh and Cubbon Park and wanted to go to “actual forest” as one of the more articulate children put it. Certainly, Ragihalli, in the Bannerghatta National Park, fit the bill!

We started from Snehadhara, in J P Nagar, at about 8 am,

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and though we navigated Bannerghatta Road quite well, the road deteriorated as we approached Ragihalli, and indeed, with road-laying work, the road was blocked at the village itself, about 3km short of Adavi Field Station.

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Nagesh, Dhanu, Shivanaja, and Akshath took care of us while we were there. Dhanu,

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whose father Manjunath runs the eatery in Ragihalli where we always stop for piping hot thatte iddli, is quite a keen birder himself, having Akshath as a senior in school, and being trained by him.The field station is willing to conduct bird walks in the area for those who are interested. I took the children from Pramiti School there last month, and so had no hesitation in taking the Snehadhara children there. (Though if I’d known about the road condition, I might have asked for two vans rather than a large bus.)

Our bus negotiated the drive-around with difficulty. It also happened that the area had no power since 5pm the previous day, so Nagesh, his brother Shivananja, and my other friend Akshath….all their phones were without charge, and unreachable.

However, we reached after a delay, and before Akshath took us for a walk, we had a little bit of loosening up and a game of “actions” under the large banyan tree.

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Our walk led us through the mulberry plants, and under large trees, to a rock formation where we sat peacefully,

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admiring the view over the hill ranges of the Bannerghatta National Park.

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Though humid, the cloudy weather enabled us to sit outdoors without worrying about the heat of the sun. We walked back to the field station, where the children had their lunch,

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and then slowly drove back from the scrub jungle of Ragihalli to the concrete jungle of Bangalore.

I showed some children and adults various wild flowers, put together in a tiny bouquet

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cultivated ones like this Pomegranate,

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Cotton

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plants, and some birds. The children definitely seemed to enjoy the outing. We got a few fresh mangoes,

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and I feasted on fresh, sweet tamarind from the trees. My personal delight was sighting a rare tree (Firmiana colorata,also called Coloured Sterculia, the last two photos of the album) on the way home through a route that bypassed Ragihalli (the actual village).

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Thank you to Snehadhara for providing me with this opportunity to interact with the children. Sunny temparaments like that of Aravind (always with a smile on his face, and so curious about my camera and binoculars!), and quiet personalities like Karthik’s were equally fascinating to watch. And…I found that Swetha was my neighbour! The teachers
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were so patient and loving with the children, and there was so much happiness in the air!

The cloudy weather ensured that the children did not tire, and it was a very enjoyable trip indeed.

My photos are up on my FB album

here

No…I didn’t click the birds or the butterflies…I was concentrating on the children this time!

On Monday, all going well, I will be taking the wheelchair-bound children (who could not do the Ragihalli walk) to the IIMB campus, where very different kinds of minds will meet, as IIMB kindly allows me to bring special children into an academically high-performance campus for the first time.

Bannerghatta National Park, Monthly Bird Survey, 100318

March 13, 2018

Since I was not able to go for the inaugurual (Feb ’18) monthly bird survey, I went to participate in the March survey.

The survey is across four ranges, Anekal, Bannerghatta, Harohalli and Kodigere, and will be held on the second Saturday of every month for a year, to give a holistic picture of bird life in the Bannerghatt National Park over the annual period.

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Birds of Karnataka, display board at Kalkere.

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Volunteers gathering for the survey

I got the Kalkere State Forest transect, BTL (Bannerghatta Transect Line) 1. My team-mates were:

Forest Guard Michael
Albert Ranjith
Byomakesh Palai
Pervez Younus

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Michael, Pervez,Byomakesh, Albert

We stopped every 10 minutes, took the GPS co-ordinates, and then moved on.

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The Kalkere State Forest was much more productive in terms of birds than I thought it would be, because the city has actually spread beyond this forest patch now.

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We passed some quarried rock, which gave a sad look to the landscape.

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However, the good thing was that the depressions had formed rock pools:

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Our trail was quite scenic, even if it was not heavy forest:

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However, the scrub forest was very interesting, and we got several birds. Here are some I managed to click.

Greater or Southern Coucal, drinking water at the edge of the rock pool:

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Oriental White-eye:

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Shikra:
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Green Bee-eater:

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Jerdon’s Bushlark:

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Black-winged Kite:

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Oriental Honey Buzzard:

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Indian Peafowl (this is a peacock in the glory of full breeding plumage):

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Vipin was our organizer for the Bannerghatta range, and I found him very sincere and hard-working. Here he is, taking notes with a forest guard:

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An excellent breakfast of iddli was provided midway through the transect:

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I did not restrict myself to observing only the birds; here are some other interesting beings:

Milkweed:
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Peninsular Rock Agama:

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Two unidentified but beautiful flowering plants:

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This was a tiny plant growing in the path!

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An un-id insect with huge eyes:

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A dragonfly:

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the Flame of the Forest, Butea monosperma, in full bloom:

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Tired, but mentally refreshed by the morning, and the beauty of the scrub forest

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I left for Mysore to take part in the Ranganathittu Bird Census the next morning.

The Flickr album of the survey is

here

and my FB album is

here

In defence of puns

March 7, 2018

It’s a generally accepted practice to groan when someone cracks a pun, and say, “That was awful”.

I wish to defend all punsters. To be able to think of that unexpected link between words quickly, and say it on the spur of the moment, risking being ridiculed for the pun, or not understood at all, takes a certain kind of facility with the language (or more, for multilingual puns).

So could we change this fashion of describing clever puns as “really bad” or “awful”? Yes, cleverness is not as good as kindness or knowledge, but punning is a unique ability which needs more appreciation and less scorn. This is for the many people who have contributed great puns across many fora on social media and in conversations I have had.

Eg. I’d posted a photo of someone using a lollipop to steady his camera; someone called it a lollipod, and another, a lolliprop.

I happen to enjoy puns very much and don’t like groaning when I hear one…I would rather say, “Oh, that’s a good one!”