Birds, Beasts & Bandits

The transformation that the Western Ghats, bordering the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has undergone, over the last decade is legendary, thanks to one event which was the hunting down of a man, who ruled the wilderness for over 3 decades. An undisputed master of the jungles, the man spelt terror in the wilds, was idolized like Robin Hood at the hamlets bordering the jungles, gave sleepless nights to the special task forces and forest guards – was an omnipresent phantom of the woods – Koose Munuswamy Veerapan.

Such was his control over the forest ranges of Mudumalai right up to Sathyamangalam, driving down the Kollegal stretch or the B.R.Hills, MM Hills roads was fraught with great risk, for a chance encounter with this dreaded bandit. When he kidnapped Wildlife activists and Photographers- Krupa Shanker and Senani from their homes at Bandipur, no one gave them a chance in hell to get back alive. That they did return from the jaws of death, after almost a fortnight in the jungles with this Phantom of the woods, are the contents of this 175 page, 15 chapter thriller, an absolutely engrossing sequence of events detailed in right earnest, making for a very captivating read.

It is amazing how two very different personalities – one an outlaw who lives culling elephants for tusks, felling sandalwood for cash, and the other an environmentalist duo, concerned about nature and wildlife, almost two different ends of the spectrum, can gradually start admiring each other’s talent and actually end up respecting each other’s traits. This in essence, is what the whole book is about.

Krupa and Senani make their strategies and moves, with the slow deliberation of one obsessed with every detail, while the alarmingly moody Veerapan meanwhile seems to follow impulse ahead of reason. Their diametrically opposed paths actually converge at one point, when the dreaded elephant slaughterer stakes claim for protection of the elephants.

There are some insights into the psyche of the bandit that positively glisten. For example, his knowledge of the jungle, his ability to enact hunt sequences, and his brilliant reproduction of animal calls, luring them into his trap are simply magical. His eye for detail, his quest for knowledge, his passion for art (song and dance), his expertise with medicine and faith in destiny are traits that speak for his persona.

It is amazing that the bandit quickly grasps the depth of knowledge that Senani and Krupa possess and almost adores interactions with them, after the initial outburst. Towards the end, the brigand is a devout pupil eagerly lapping up the information dished out by the duo, and opens up on his personal life, especially about his family. Finally when the time comes to part ways, the dreaded criminal actually turns sentimental, and the narration cannot be brushed aside as a Stockholm syndrome of the authors.

The authors subtly expose the stupidity of some of those who hound them after their release, people who seek to verify the brigands “Black Magic” skills, his supernatural abilities etc.

Similarly, their attempts to soften and sober down the fiery tone of the outlaw, and succeeding in recording a pleading speech to the Government, which is eventually mistaken for submissiveness and weakening of stance is a turn of events that would put a Hollywood thriller to shame, while also blowing the lid on the attitude of the people in power in assuming things and drawing conclusions based on wild imaginations.

If there is something to point out as ‘could have been better’ it is possibly the language and the choice of words, which at times is a bit of a letdown, lacking the class and suave, which this unique experience possibly deserves and could have made a more compelling portrayal. However, the characters, the environment and the flow of events are so strong, it kind of carries you through, masking the inadequacies.

Overall a must have book in your personal collection, for events like these, do come rare . . .

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