Oh, deer! What can the matter be?

The elusive venison

Highlights: 
To my horror, the ‘honour’ of providing them with deer meat was ceremoniously thrust upon me, their landlord!

Surrounded by the dense, picturesque Malnad forests lay a good stretch of our ancestral paddy fields in a remote village called Hosalli near Bhadravati. This was way back in early 1950s when the Land Reforms Act was not yet in force. As per the practice prevailing then, we had tenanted the lands to the Lambani farmers who had established their tandya (hamlet) there.

Come harvest season, I would go there to collect our share of paddy while staying in our estate house. I invariably carried my 12-bore double-barrel shotgun as a precaution against dangerous wild beasts, aplenty then, which often invaded the place, mauling the farmers and feasting on their livestock.

During one such visit, the wife of our Lambani chieftain, Rooplya Nayaka, delivered a baby boy and it was their custom to celebrate this occasion with a ‘venison feast.’

To my horror, the ‘honour’ of providing them with deer meat was ceremoniously thrust upon me, their landlord! At that time, there was no restriction whatsoever on big-and small-game hunting. I cursed myself for being there at this juncture and was sickened by the very thought of shooting such harmless beauties as deer.

Simple and sincere, the Lambanis had their own deep-rooted traditions that I was well aware of. Had I chosen to reject their fond desire outright, I would have undoubtedly fallen in their esteem, which had been built up since ages by my family, besides facing the possibility of their retaliatory non-cooperation in work.

Trapped in this unenviable situation, as I was frantically looking for a way out that sleepless night, my eyes suddenly fell upon the old spring-wound hand-operated calling bell with which my father used to summon the night help during his stay there. As the proverbial drowning man clutching at a piece of straw, my mind spun around the bell to finally weave out a workable plan, after which I could sleep peacefully.

Next morning, Rooplya himself took me in his bullock cart for the task. Quietly slipping the bell into my hunting kit along with buck-shot cartridges, I cheerfully got onto the cart. Despite being nearly stone deaf, Rooplya had full knowledge of the jungle and the uncanny instinct of locating the exact zones mostly inhabited by deer.

The understanding between us was that he would stop the cart the moment the animal was sighted and point his hand towards the same (as even a whisper in the serene silence of the jungle was enough to alert them) to enable me to take aim and shoot. This suited me eminently.

Things followed as per plan: every time the cart stopped on sighting the prey, I would operate the bell inside the kit producing a long muffled alarm, inaudible to Rooplya but enough to alert the grazing beauties that vanished in a flash into their havens even before I could shoulder the weapon. This continued till late in the day, much to the disbelief and despair of Rooplya, who had never experienced such a strange phenomenon hitherto. Exhausted, we decided to give up.

Returning to the tandya, I took care to arrange for sumptuous eats from Bhadravati — laced liberally, of course, with their favourite arrack, enough to drown their disappointment over the elusive venison.

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Oh, deer! What can the matter be?

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