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Clement's Corner: Hunting Experiences With My Father

“Hunting weapons were always in our home during my childhood in India. My father hunted for the table rather than for trophies. By trophies I mean stuffed heads of wild animals particularly snarling tigers or panthers….’’ In this evocative article Owen Clement recalls two hunting expeditions with his father.

There will be another article, featuring a spectral experience, by Owen in next Wednesday’s Open Writing.

There is a small black and white photograph taken of me at four years of age in 1932 with my younger sister, Gloria and two other children, Peter and June Hoogstraten. Peter, about my age, is proudly holding a 12-bore shotgun. My disappointment is obvious at merely being given a camera case to hold. This was indicative, as I have been more proficient with a camera than I ever was with a gun.

Hunting weapons were always in our home during my childhood in India. My father hunted for the table rather than for trophies. By trophies I mean stuffed heads of wild animals particularly snarling tigers or panthers. These moth-eaten glass-eyed souvenirs made me wonder as a child, if the rest of the bodies appeared on the other side of the white calcimined walls. My father however, did have two such trophies from his hunting exploits as a young man. A leopard skin that lay spread out on the living room floor of our first home and a large wild boar’s tusk.

I accompanied him on only two occasions; both during the Second World War.

The first expedition took place in 1942 when Dad was called upon by his shikari friend Maiman Singh to scare off a family of wild boar that regularly rooted around in the paddy fields of his village extensively damaging the young rice plants. Dad decided that he would try and kill the leader, a huge male. If he was successful, the rest of the pigs would keep the jungle where they belonged.

“Come on my Son, it’s about time you joined me one these shoots.” Dad said.

I agreed, as I had always been impressed with his large vicious looking tusk.

One Friday afternoon Dad and I drove to Maiman’s village. Dad, Maiman and I were noisily escorted by some of the villagers to a clump of medium-sized bushes near the pigs’ trail. We were unable to build a machan (platform) off the ground, as there were no trees nearby large enough for the purpose. Extra branches were arranged around us as a makeshift hide. Dad made an opening large enough for to watch, aim and fire at his prey. The villagers noisily moved back to their village in order to fool the animals into thinking that the area was now clear of humans.

As the pigs usually arrived shortly after dusk to pass where we were crouched down, Dad warned me to stay very quiet and still.

I became more and more anxious as the pitch-blackness of the overcast moonless night closed in. Although Dad and Maiman were within easy reach, I could not see them. To add to our discomfort, the mosquitoes began their assault. Not being able to scratch or swat at them was hard for me. The mosquitoes, as annoying as they were, were soon forgotten when I realized that I was totally unprotected from the wild pigs, or more frighteningly other wild beasts such a panther on the prowl. I trembled with fright the whole night, imagining the sound of every insect or the rustle of leaves blown by the breeze as a footfall of some dangerous beast.

Dad and Maiman seemed totally unaware of my anxiety. Maiman, completely confident in Dad's ability, sat on his hunkers relaxed but alert. Dad also sat still and fully alert with his thumb ready on the switch of his three-cell Eveready torch attached by a bracket to the barrel of his twelve bore shotgun with index finger on the trigger. Unlike me they were in a familiar environment.

As dawn was about to break and the blackness slowly melted away I was finally able to relax my taught nerves. It was only then that Dad noticed the strain on my face. He chuckled and good-naturedly ruffled my hair.

The animals had not been fooled, as they had invaded the paddy field at the opposite corner. We had not heard a sound.

On the second occasion, some American Air force friends stationed at a B29 Bomber airbase nearby had wanted to go duck shooting; a well-earned break from their arduous duty of preparing and manning the planes on their missions to fly over the Himalayas, to bomb Japan.

Dad persuaded two local men from the workshops with shotguns to join us. Some of the Americans brought along their Carbine rifles.

Dad knew of an ideal place a couple of hours drive away. There were two jheels, small swampy areas, separated by a bush covered bund, a raised embankment, where the migrating Whistling Teal and Cotton Teal ducks regularly fed.

About a dozen young Americans arrived to our place before dawn in three Weapons Carriers (large jeep-like vehicles). Dad, Maiman and I joined one lot in the back of one vehicle. Dad's friends, who had arrived earlier, climbed into the other two vehicles.

We set off shortly after daylight. The vehicles being open-sided and it being a hot and dry day, we were first covered with red dust from the road, then with white dust after crossing the dried claypan of paddy fields and finally once again with red dust from the road. We arrived at our destination literally spitting dust.

The first thing the Americans did was to uncap a couple of large Jerry cans, normally used for carrying spare gasoline, and to our joy handed out cans of beer packed in crushed ice.

Dad, his group of American G.I’s, Maiman and I hid in the nearest jheel. One of Dad's work-mates took his group to the bund and the third party took their positions at the farthest jheel. The plan was that once we were well-hidden, an American GI with borrowed shotgun would fire at an airborne duck. When the frightened birds flew over the bund the second GI would have his shot and as the birds circled the second jheel, the third GI would have his turn. This would scare the birds into flying back to the first jheel, where the shotgun would be handed over to the next GI, and-so-on.

When the shoot began, a few Americans used their carbines to take pot-shots at the birds. This horrified the local men, as the bullets were copper-nosed and could travel great distances. If they ricocheted off the water, they could seriously wound or even kill one of us or some innocent villager. Dad and his friends soon put a stop to the practice.
I cannot remember the size of the kill. What I do remember is the heat, the dust and the icy-cold beer, a drink I normally abhor.

A few months later the airfields were closed and moved nearer to the theatre of action in the South Pacific. We never did go on another duck-shoot.

Apart from accompanying Dad occasionally to the nearby dairy farm to hunt snipe I never went hunting in India again.


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