dada ttopp

Who is not fond of guns? Especially as children! Right from the age of reasoning, or even earlier when one starts comprehending things and the memory banks start storing data and ticking, one learns to recognize a gun as something that lends power, an extension to one's own faculties, to one's own clout and reach.

In our very first games, 'cops' and 'robbers' invariably feature. And even when devoid of a toy pistol, as little ones we are wont to pretend we have a weapon. Holding the palm of an extended hand depicting a cocked pistol - all by folding three fingers inwards into the palm while aiming the stretched and straight index finger and thumb at right angles to each other and pointing at the intended target - be it a friend or foe!

My own introduction to guns perhaps was no different. But I did have the added advantage of a pater with an obsessive zest for life in the outdoors, with youthful stories full of guns and shikar, exploits and encounters into the wilds, - a father who put stars in his child's eyes to make him sure worthy of hero worship. And this admiration evident from even pre-memory days manifesting itself in my "..dada ttopp, …kakaa gnummm". Said to be my favourite refrain to describe how dad would shoot and the bird would fall. Going by stories mother tells me, of days when I was still a toddler in her arms.

Family chronicles are full of stories of dad's hunting exploits and expeditions, - some shared, many others of times before I arrived on the scene. Most famous of them, was about a game of the skies, whose identity while transporting to home station needed to be kept from prying eyes for reasons not prudent to disclose. So when it was rolled in mats from head to tail-feather tips and put on top of a bus, its length exceeded beyond that of the bus - so the legend goes - with either end protruding on the roof from front and the rear of the bus. Such was the size of this legendary bird!

And there is this story of how dad was miraculously saved from being swallowed by a python the size of a tree trunk, even as he was about to bag a majestic sambar in the jungles surrounding the Hampi ruins. Of another, when he shot two warring reptiles in one shot, resting the gun on the window-sill even while running high fever and lying sick in bed. A scene witnessed by us all, when didi had come running to inform of two king cobras in fighting stance spitting at each other with heads lifted high and hoods spread wide, right in the pathway to the toilet blocks in the compound. Of other times when I accompanied him hunting bats by the gunny-sack full, from their giant-trees resting grounds across the banks of river Netravati off Panemangalur. When bat blood massage was prescribed for treating my ailing kid sister.

A childhood remembered with shikari outings galore, most family picnics not complete without the accompanying guns of course. When elders carried their adult weapons, we youngsters were not bare, but carried our own air guns to boot. I recall bagging my first bird - a white crane, with an air-gun at one such picnic at Penmanur. A sandy rail line suburb off Mangalore, where maternal uncle Father Basil had spent some years as a young Parish Priest.

And such outings turned to be a way of life once the coffee estate came on the scene. As children we invariably accompanied dad on the estate, the hunter's satchel slung from the shoulders by a long sling-strap, or a knap-sack on one's back to keep both hands free and handy. The bag contained the basic hunter's essentials for the day - gunpowder, birdshot and buckshot, a couple of twelve bore cartridges (LG, SG or just No.4), percussion caps and enough coir and waste paper for padding the munition while loading a shot into the muzzle-loader.

We were experts at loading a gun while still young - even a muzzle-loading gun, a position that we were allowed to graduate to once pater was convinced of our healthy respect for the lethal consequences of negligent handling of gunpowder and caps! And we were allowed the honour of carrying the spare gun, imitating the gait and style of how the adults conducted themselves. Looking back, 'tis a miracle that we were not victims of any mishap - which speaks not a little of the confidence pater had in the training (more by example) that he imparted to us his sons, even when still tender in age.

There was this time when we went wild-boar baiting. There were near to a million (or so it seemed) jack-fruit trees on the estate, for whose fruit there were no takers. Except the nocturnal beings - mainly wild boar, that feasted on the fallen, rotting, heap of fruit below every jack tree. We remained awake atop a neighbouring tree, waiting for the boar herd to arrive. It was early hours before they came - led by a huge male with curled tuskers - their grunts betraying their presence. We switched on our piercing head-lights on our hunters' helmets and viewed the scene.

But before dad could decide on his first prey, the excitement of it all made me slip and fall, from the perch on the tree. A horrified father watched even as the king boar scratched earth in readiness to charge, unable to get the game between the eyes, knowing full well a hit elsewhere would only scratch and bounce, to enrage the wild one more. Realising the futility of wasting the shot and fearing for the safety of his son, father reacted with lightening speed, jumping from the tree into the wild-boar's path. From my supine position 'midst rotten filth, I watched pater take aim and fire all in a split second. The shot got the beast in the right spot, but did not slow the momentum of its charge. It was my turn to watch in horror, as the rhino-sized knocked down my father. Who, by now had the rifle by the barrel using it like a club trying to clobber the wild beast down.

I feared the worst, and closed my eyes, affixed in a trance and unable to move. And opened them only when I heard dad's voice calling me to help extricate himself from under the hairy mass of black leathery dead meat over him. A survey of damage revealed heavy bruises on pater, no more. But the rifle had taken a beating. It was broken in two. Despite my misadventure, we had bagged a decent game. It took a dozen strong shoulders to transport the beast from jungle to bungalow, slung from two long wooden tree stakes.

Wild life enthusiasts of today may not like my nostalgic memories of the days gone by. Not without reason. But those were days of plenty. With forests still lush and virgin, of wild life and game aplenty. When species were definitely not endangered. But today we have reached a stage where such indulgence is literally criminal. When let alone for game, we do not have most species available even for viewing pleasure. It is unfortunate that meaningless and indiscriminate indulgence for purposes other than need and pest control, has deprived the present and coming generations of the joys - the type that we ourselves once enjoyed, in the days gone by. Long past the time for us now, to take heed and sit up!

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