Book review: The Last White Hunter by Donald Anderson with Joshua Mathew
The Last White Hunter, Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari by Donald Anderson and Joshua Mathew, Indus Source Books.
This was a book I was meant to read two years ago but stuff happened, and I couldn`t/didn’t. So, when I cracked it open just a few days ago, only to fall headlong into the story and not surface till I reached the last page, my first thought was: sheesh, I needed to have read this at its launch, and told the world about it immediately.
Well, maybe I came late to the book but I can still tell the reading world about it, right?
Joshua Mathew has done a sterling job of recounting the life and times of Donald Malcolm Stewart Anderson, verily the last colonial hunter, a man who lived life king-size, one of the most colourful characters of Bangalore back in the 1940s.
So yes, there will be people who will shrink from, or at the very least, raise a questioning eyebrow at the `shikari` word. However, do remember this was another age, a time when dense jungles hedged Bangalore town, (for town it was then), jungles thick with tiger, panther, bear, wild boar, elephant. And if you know your Corbett, you also know that when these animals posed a threat to people and livestock, the hunters were called in to rid them of this menace, then feted and rewarded for doing so.
Mathew employs an even tone in his telling of Don`s story, keeping a calibrated distance from his subject. Which turns out to be ideal because an excited tone is the last thing you need when talking of a man who lived in a mansion on the edge of Bangalore cantonment in the 40s, grew up in the shadow of his famous father Kenneth Anderson (the Jim Corbett of the south who, like Corbett, was a hunter and also wrote bestselling accounts of his wildlife encounters), took to hunting game while still a schoolboy, held a day job at Binny Mills mainly to earn enough to fund his jungle trips, and soul together and went hunting on weekends to Bannarghatta, Ramanagara, Bandipur, the Nilgiri forests, sometimes riding back into town with a slain leopard draped casually across the handlebars of his motorbike.
Don Anderson had swag, oodles of it. He also had an amazing amount of knowledge about the jungles, about the animals he hunted, about the fish in the Cauvery and its tributaries. He forged an enduring friendship with the tribals who lived on the edges of the jungles, learnt a tiger mantram from his Sholaga trackers, and generally lived the good, even grand, life.
Then came the Wildlife Act of 1972, buttressed by the Act of 1992 which banned all forms of hunting, and it put the brakes on all hunting and on our hunter, too. This hunter willy-nilly turned naturalist but his glory days had come to an end. From then, it was a slow slide into penury, ill-health and days spent dimly recalling his past exploits. Up until the author of this book and a cohort of his friends, seeking (another piece of irony here) information on the late great Kenneth Anderson, befriended Kenneth`s son and became the prop of his declining years, providing Don with food, money, medicines, and most important of all, trips into the jungles.
So yes, it is kind of surreal to read of big game hunts in our supposedly woke times but there isn’t a trace of the bwana in Don Anderson, thanks be. Moreover, Don is not apologetic about what he was. “I will not defend hunting some of the larger animals as some sort of service I did to protect people,“ he says. “But the truth of the matter is, tigers, panthers and wild dogs were treated as vermin in those days and hunters were rewarded for killing them.“ And that was pretty much that.
The patois Don uses is pure Anglo-Indian, a sprinkling of delicious terms like pasting, bugger, chokras. This is ironical, considering that Kenneth Anderson`s family didn’t have a drop of Indian blood in them; yet they were happy to be labelled `Anglo-Indians` when they decided to stay back in Bangalore after Independence.
The underlying — strong– vein of humour makes this book a hoot of a read. Add to that stories of exciting encounters with wild and enraged animals, as also with eccentric Bangalore denizens, and you have a dashed good read, too. Then, there`s a bonus in here, exclusively for Bangaloreans: the thrill of reading about their city as it was around 80 years ago.
Here is the link to a Bangalore International Centre podcast of 24 Nov 2020 where I am in conversation with Joshua Mathew about his colourful protagonist.