I was supposed to write a post on polo today, but i will start that once i am finished with my hunt posts. after this one i will have one more left.
Today was crisis day. I was required back in India in 3 days time. Which left today for the hunting, tomorrow for the travelling and i would be in Delhi on the third day.
Coming down in the morning, i met priscilla and saw her wearing a fleece jacket, which had the Umdende logo and her name under it. The jacket was black and the embroidery was in gold thread. Very striking. I immediately knew what i was taking back with me to India. I asked caerie and herman if the jackets and embroidery could be arranged by today evening. They said that they would let Clay know by afternoon. I wanted to make dinner that night so i told priscilla to get the ingredients i wanted. Breakfast beckoned. Full cream milk over muesli and honey. Two cans of breakfast juice. Stole one can of flavoured yoghurt going out and Shikari Shambhu was good to go! We went outside. Me and Leon arranged the Lunch box and played with the dogs. There were two dogs at the manor. One was a lovely black labrador retriever. A german trained gundog, he was a machine! How funny it feels to give a dog commands in german!!!
The other one was hilarious, he is, i believe the worlds first shy rhodesian ridgeback. he had been rescued from a dog shelter and that perhaps explained his actions. He was a fearsome guard dog, but he wouldn't come near you. No matter what! you call his name and he hides around a corner. A lovely bundle of energy, but always at ten feet distance. Not once did i manage to touch him, although i did sit and admire him move. the athleticism of animals and the interplay of their muscles holds a lot of delight for me. the sheer fluidity and grace of this dog while moving, even though he was nervous was a sheer delight to watch. I tried enticing him with a piece of dried sausage, but to no avail and popped it into my mouth instead. This sausage is a lot like chewing gum, only you dont chew it, you just keep it in your mouth and wet it and worry it with your teeth and wait for the flavours to emerge. The fat rich sausage is a staple of the locals and has historically been associated with the independent minded boers. Indeed each boer house would make their own special type. The boer commando used to carry their own supply, and thus relying on dehydrated rations were one of the first forces in the world to do so. The ones i was having were made by Claytons father and were made of Blue wildebeest. Along with the Biltong these were my favourite food of the trip.
Clayton joins us outside. We bundled up in the truck and off we were. Leon was fast asleep in the rear and i was trying to take in all i could of the scenery.
After twenty odd minutes we reached the farm, picked up Impatie(smiley, whom i gave my hat to) he is a serial wrecker of boots and clay buys him a pair of gumboots every two months or so. today he had come in an old paired of DMS like boots. The old ones had given up. These men know an extremely hard existence. While shikari shambhu goes for a week and tramps about in a truck till he spots game, these seven men are responsible for a boundary fencing an area of 3500 hectares! Plus patrolling the game reserve and looking after the equipment and such sundry stuff. They walk the whole fence every week! And all of this in Blinding rain, freezing sleet and burning heat. There are no roads and these men go where even horses dont!I made a mental note to tip all these simple, straightforward men handsomely when i go. They were the eyes and ears of Clayton and i would not have had half as successful a hunt without these guys. Mentally handicapped smiley was, but he was no lazy boy. (pun intended)
We met Kahtie. We were after Mboonga today. The biggest antelope in Africa, also known as the Common Eland. There were a few on the farm and we were off to have a look if we could get close to them. Surprisingly for such big animals they were alert and suspicious like the little duikers and steinboks! a russian client had closed to 50 yards last year and i was hoping to repeat his luck.
Almost straightaway we got lucky and spotted a small herd of eland. They were mostly females and were in the distance. The sun wasnt bright enough to make out their horns so we decided to risk it and take a closer look. As it turned out, they were females with youngsters gamboling around and a few immature bulls newly aware of their horns, walking with self conscious grace.
We watched them for a while and then turned away. Spending an interminable hour in which we saw no eland but lots of Zebra, i decided to take a zebra instead. We chaged course and went after some zebra that we had seen earlier. alas, there were no good individuals there and we left them to graze in peace. We finally saw a small herd with a few good specimens. But as i had asked Clayton that i wanted a male only, we had to get in a bit closer and make sure.
This was the mother of all stalks that i did.
We circled out back to the left and west, behind a hill and started walking out north in a circuitous manner following the natural depressions that were there. After a few kilometres, we passed through a small thicket of jungle aloe. Aloe aloe every where, no cosmetics company in sight.
We came to a slope opposite which was a hill on the obverse side of which were our zebra, due east.
The problem was that on this opposite hill slope was a herd of Wildebeest and they were looking at us. Down we went. I went and hid behind a solitary aloe and was grinning broadly looking at the rest squirming as close to the ground as possible. the wildebeest soon lost interest and were on their way towards the Zebra. This might be a problem, caly said and i was wondering why, but decided to hold my tongue and see how things panned out.
we went down and moved across and up the base of the hill, circling right to the north. we turned the corner, midway up and saw the wildebeest and our zebra together on another hill slope directly in front of us. This was a problem. clayton told me that zebra stick to wildebeest as they are more alert! And it was true!! While the majority of the wildebeest were lying down or grazing without a care in the world, a few were still looking around and obviously guarding the herd. the zebra on the other hand, all 5 of them were down on their sides, sleeping like me in my bed!!! After a long time they got up and we had our first good look at them. I was foxed until clay told me to look at the thickness of the necks! that being the best way to tell sexes apart at distance for a novice. Before i could practice my newfound skill, lo and behold they were all down again. shikari shambhu had met his match in the laziness department. but it was a day to be lazy. bright, washed and scrubbed blue skies, cotton white clouds, golden hills and a crisp wind made all of us lazy. clayton determined that there were to good animals there and they warranted a closer look. we were now looking at around 400 feet of crawl over open ground in full view of the herd with no cover. our aim was to get behind a pair of old destroyed anthills that were around 6 odd inches high. but then didnt some one once said:
himmat-e-marda toh madad-e-khuda.
god helps him, who helps himself.
there was no question of carrying the rifle slung on my back or on one shoulder, as the barrel might point up or the scope might reflect sunlight. i removed the bullet from the chamber, put the safety on and put it across my elbows. i was going to move the rifle across me, keeping its cross section as low as possible, as and when required i would reach ahead, leave it and crawl up. the next half an hour was spent in doing this. slowly and painstakingly. the temptation to take it a bit easy, to ease yourself is very hard to resist. your mind argues with you and you have to fight it with all your heart. why cant i just raise my knees a bit? why cant i just have a sip of water from the bottle in my trouser pocket? Oh, that itch needs to be scratched, lets do it, no one will notice. i must shake my head to remove these beads of sweat. its too small a movement to do any harm. Difficult, but then; no one said this was going to an afternoon high tea!
we reached the anthills and boy was i happy. we just lay there, still not daring to move. the wildebeest had looked at us initially but had quickly lost interest, now that we were on a patch of starkly coloured soil, perhaps they got interested again and got up and a good chuck went off down towards the valley floor. the zebra got up, moved bit down and promptly went off to sleep. bloody jokers!
but in this brief period, clay spotted one of our zebras with an erection and he was marked.
as the zebra had not gotten up, we regained our breath and waited for them to get up. eventually they did. i placed the rifle up and got comfortable, removed the bullet, chambered it, and started tracking the zebra, i found the triangle and aimed for it. inadvertently i held my breathing and my hands started shaking. i checked myself, started breathing and looked again to acquire my target. by this time he was going directly away from me, presenting a very difficult shot. just my luck. clayton asked me to be ready, he soon presented himself and clayton asked me to take the shot. i squeezed the trigger. he was down. and very badly hit. i had hit an artery and blood was gushing out like a fountain. we ran on down. he got up and walked a few steps like a drunk, then flopped onto his fore legs again. his head was moving sideways. this is when the remorse kicks in. you can hear your footsteps as you are walking up. the grass crunching. i can hear a whistling sound and i realize its my blocked nose, open my mouth. my left knee is troubling me and i feel it at every step.i can see the grass bent by the beasts lying down. i see the zebras ears twitch as he hears us. the poor fellow cant even look around towards us. the blood is bright red against the soil. his coat is gleaming and i can see the ragged breathing of this poor soul. he is dispatched. clay congratulates me. he goes off to get the truck while i am still savouring my new bond with my zebra.
i cant explain the feeling. i feel so much more intimately for him, for zebras. i feel such remorse at the death of one of gods own creatures. i am not even going to eat him. he will be a skin on my bedroom floor. will i judged for this when my own time is up? how will i feel if i was in his place? my life blood draining out of me, my family running away in terror, hearing the footsteps of my killer coming up behind me and not being able to move? my old father, forgive me, that i stole your life from you. that i stole your breaths from you. that i took you away from your kin. will you forgive me, my old father knowing that i love you and i will honour you? but is it possible to love and honour and yet kill something that you love? and is that right? is that correct? are these words, just words, by definition, nothing more than letters defining variable meanings, but of no meaning to that noble soul who gave his life because some one bigger than both of us destined it to be so?