Books

He walked among us

There is a serendipity in meeting Joshua Mathew at Koshys. The soft-spoken author of The Last White Hunter, a memoir of Donald Anderson says, “Prem and Sathosh Koshy’s uncle Mathew, was Don’s classmate and is featured in the book.”

The Last White Hunter is a fascinating book in many ways. As the tagline says it is the reminiscences of a colonial shikari in Bengaluru. And what reminiscences they are! Speaking of a Bangalore where Bannerghatta was wilderness — it is another kind of wilderness now, and panthers roamed in the wilds of Jalahalli! Anderson was the son of the writer Kenneth Anderson.

Anderson talks of hanging out at Crown Cafe, going to school at Bishop Cottons, living in Prospect House on Sydney Road (Kasturba Road) on 12 acres of land, driving down South Parade (MG Road) with a panther slung across his bike. Anderson was born in 1934 and lived through tumultuous changes. Hunting changed from a way of life to being the terrible destruction of wild life — never mind the hunter’s code. The Last White Hunter is an honest and humorous look at a life less ordinary, warts and all.

Talking about the genesis of the book, the 41-year-old says, “Most stories and anecdotes of times that have passed by, die a natural death because someone did not take the trouble of documenting them. In Don’s case, I didn’t want to be that someone. Although I have no literary experience, as I listened to Don’s stories, I felt that people deserved to hear what an amazing life he had led. An individual who lived hidden in our midst, almost like the last surviving dinosaur, when the rest had died out. Added to this was the pride in bringing out elements of Kenneth Anderson's life, previously unknown to his fans.”

In a poignant epilogue, Joshua talks of how he met Anderson and also accompanied him to his beloved jungles. Joshua says he realised that a structured approach of asking questions and getting answers wouldn’t work. “So I paid two boys (at different points in time) to visit Don’s house, (where I had left the infamous voice recorder) rattle off the questions, and get Don to respond. On weekends, I would pick up the recorder, copy the files to my laptop and transcribe them. Then a fresh set of questions would follow. I have mentioned the names of the boys in the acknowledgement section (Joseph and Lakshminarayan).”

Joshua, who works as a Product Marketer at Microsoft, also talked to Don’s sister, June. “She lives in Perth and will turn 88 in June. She gave me stories for chapters one and two. Stories from Don’s friends gave me content for some of the other chapters. Then there were stories that he told me. The stories from the last chapter are just my observations. It was kind of a live jigsaw puzzle, planning, organizing and constructing a flow. The end result is very different from what I envisaged at the beginning, and it took many iterations.”

It was difficult getting a publisher for a book on a white hunter considering hunting and colonialism are both bad words today. “You have no idea! I got rejected by publishers in India and about 60 literary agencies in the UK. A few publishers in Scotland showed interest but nothing ever materialized.”

“I had a mixed bag in terms of reactions. Some did not respond at all, while others professed to love it but found it to be too niche. I was offered the self-publishing route on a couple of occasions, but I guess I was too stubborn or proud to consider that option.”

The fact that the book makes no attempt to present Anderson as a perfect man is one of the major pluses. “He was full of faults and frailties and I didn’t want people to see him in any other way. He killed animals for sport, could be insensitive and often his sense of entitlement was beyond belief. While a lot of it has to do with what I would call inherent personality, I would also attribute it to the times and circumstances he was a part of.”

Anderson did not see the drafts of the book. “He passed away in July 2014 and I was nowhere near completion at that time.” On whether he would have been okay with the tone of the book, Joshua says, “I can only guess, but I don’t think he would have liked the last chapter, as he was a very proud person and my describing his poverty may not have been appreciated. But I can guarantee that he would love all the attention the book brought and would have charmed any woman who interviewed him!”

Joshua’s lasting memory of Anderson is “His courage to face whatever life threw at him. At 74, most people who faced the kind of troubles he did would have given up, but he lived life his own way, a fighter to the very end.”

For more on Don and Kenneth, log on to Joshua’s blog, www.thelastwhitehunter.com

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2021 10:53:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/he-walked-among-us/article23382568.ece

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