Tales From The Wild: Forests Were Home For V A Muthumanickkam

“We are a forest civilization, an aaranyakshada. Our Upanishads, our vedas came out of the forests, out of the banks of rivers, the mountains. Unlike the Greeks, an urban based civilization, or the Islamic civilization, a desert based one, ours was a forest civilization. Our sages lived in the forests and that is why the Vedas are full of hymns to the trees, the forests, to all creatures. There is a 63 verse hymn in the Atharva Veda, which must go back at least 4000 years and represents one of the most comprehensive statements of ecological value one can see,” said Dr.Karan Singh, Sadr – I – Riyasat of Kashmir. His association with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) is well known. He had presented these points in his address at the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (India’s First Education Minister) Memorial lecture.
‘Shikhar’ has been an ancient activity. One can find references to it in the puranas and epics of the past. Great Emperors, kings and aristocrats used to indulge in it. “It was an act of courage and chivalry coupled with knowledge, presence of mind and experience, “ stated Late V.A.Muthumanickkam (1929 – 2017). He belonged to a big landed family and was born to Amaravathi Gounder and Ponnammal. V.A.Muthumanickkam hailed from Vettaikaranpudur in Pollachi Taluk. His family belongs to the aristocracy of our region. Therefore it is no small wonder that he indulged in ‘Shikhar’ during his prime. He was married to Kannammal and the couple are blessed with Prabhu, Raghu, Thiagu and Vinodhini. His Shikhar experiences are worth chronicling.
Hunting was the favourite past time during the yonder era. The forests had been classified. Chanakya had stated that the hunting forest was different from the forest meant for other purposes. His Arthasastra, the book on statecraft talks about the other kinds of forests too. Emperors like Akbar had a huge hunting contingent which consisted of drummers, musicians, cooks, soldiers and nobles. They used to encircle the territory and seek the wild animals. Rulers from the epics – Dasaratha, Pandu and Pariksit had turning points in their lives due to their visits to the forests. The four stages of life – Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa covered forest life too. Rama and the Pandavas spent their years of exile in the forest. These noble princes helped sages and other forest dwellers even during their period of exile.
Tipu Sultan had tigers which used to accompany him to the forest. Firearms came in and shikhar became easier. Ultimately this resulted in conservation. V.A.Muthumanickkam used to recall his days of Shikhar, “I spent a lot of time in the forest between 1948 and 1975. We spent time visiting national parks and sanctuaries. “Several Governors, Maharajas, Industrialists and actors like Sivaji Ganesan in particular were among his endless list of friends. “Shikhar is not a joke, I belong to a family with that tradition in our genes. Long ago, the forest near Vettaikaranpudur was a strategic point were the armies of the Pandyas and Cheras used to cross over. Subsequently a Vettaikaraswamy Temple was built and even today people make offerings in that temple, “stated Late V.A.Muthumancikkam over a conversation at the Coimbatore Cosmopolitan Club nearly a decade ago.
He had participated in the ‘Kheddah’ organized by the Maharajah of Mysore. It is a rare event were forest elephants are captured, herded and then trained with the help of trained elephants. The forest, the Kabini river, the banks and enclosures were used along with a large amount of man power who knew about the character and movement of elephants. Muthumanickkam used to be frank while talking about the trait of a Shikhar. He used to state that when a Shikhar shares his experiences with the public, he does so with truth and honesty for forest life is fraught with danger. Any misinterpretation could jeopardize the life of people involved. The sharing of experiences should be more sensible than sensational. V.Sethuram of Hoe & Co, Chennai was a good friend of Muthumanickkam. According to him, “He is a great person from the Coimbatore area, an excellent host. He was an outgoing and helpful person. His friends were always in touch with him and he used to entertain his guests with the best.”
V.A.Muthumanickkam and his friend V.Emberumanar of Hoe & Co (Chennai) used to take part in expeditions near Hyderabad along with several princes, Sivaji Ganesan and several others for about 10 years. During one year the bait was set and the members of the team were ready with their arms. They were positioned from the trees with the help of camp cots. A real wild tiger arrived on the spot. Including Sivaji Ganesan who was one amongst the few who could have taken a shot very easily but nobody did. Finally one executive of the Birla group and V.A.Muthumanickkam had to handle the situation. The bullet had got embedded on the forehead like a pearl.
The Shikhar used to consolidate his times within a few effective sentences, “Talking about Shikhar, I am going back into time thinking of my old friends. Thirumurthi Mills G.Ramaswamy who was an excellent gentleman, industrialist G.K.Devarajulu for whom the forest was a second home, Namashivayam, members of the PSG family who used to join our expeditions, my constant companions from the village, those days when guns, cooks, food and tents used to accompany us to the forests, the drummers, baits, the growling of tigers, the density of the jungle, the lovely photographs, the constant night vigils, the camaraderie among the fellow shikhars, my friend Sivaji Ganesan, the visits to the various game sanctuaries, the books on hunting and wildlife, the interest shown by Idhayam Pesugiradhu Manian, the love and affection of friends and guests who frequented our house at Vettaikaranpudur, the friendship and fellowship over the years made my life nostalgic and worth every moment.”
According to him, animals are at first disturbed and petrified in the presence of human beings and one has to react carefully. There is no way that one can out run an elephant in the jungle because one cannot handle the unexpected foliage, trees, shrubs, thorns and bushes that crowd the way and also the ferocity of the elephant. On yet another occasion a group of people had got stuck in a vehicle in Bandipur. One of travelers wanted to go to nearby place in order to seek help. Muthumanickkam stopped him. Later the companions understood that a person going through the forest without the requisite experience, skills or arms would put not only himself but his companions in great risk and therefore it would be better to wait for somebody to pass by that area of the forest.
Many of the experiences of V.A.Muthumanickkam resemble that of the quintessential Shikhar Jim Corbett. His friends, relatives and fellow Shikhars used to state that he should write a book. According to him, a man eater among cats like tigers could be very dangerous and has to be handled with care. He also used to state that numbers should never matter and it was the experience which counted. The courageous company that accompanied a Shikhar was of utmost importance. Man has always been in touch with the animals and the forest. Therefore it is no small wonder that temples have trees associated with them and Gods have animals as their mounts. With about six plus decades of experience behind him, V.A.Muthumanickkam ensured that there were never any dearth of experiences ever. The forests of the world were his home.
—Rajesh Govindarajulu

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