Jungle Cat Gone

Posted by sepoy on October 20, 2004 · 9 mins read

Imagine that Miramax trailer guy doing the voice-over a dark, inner jungle tracking shot....His home was 4000 miles of jungle....He was ruthless....He helped his people....He killed his enemies....An army was after him....Veerappan. Flashing shots of him running through the brush, Raj Kumar looking nuts, attacking police teams, sniffing sandalwood etc. The poster would have a shadow background of the 'stache.

Koose Munusamy Veerappan, who killed 120 people, 2,000 elephants, stole millions of dollars worth ivory and sandalwood, beheaded Forestry officers, kidnapped ministers and actors, filmed his own 9-hr documentary, but was never caught, was killed yesterday.

Obviously he was a loathsome criminal but, damn, there is something alluring about a man who seemed to inhabit some other time-space than the 21st century. Dacoits and brigands have always had a mythic hold on the south asian psyche (remember the Thugees?). His persona was incredible. His myth even more so. With Che being romantacized as we speak in multiplexes everywhere, it is inevitable that the movie of Veerappan will be made.

And I typed too soon. Google says, of course, such a movie as I posit is being directed by my very favorite director Ram Gopal Varma. Good call, Ram.

update: Tangential to tsk's query re: the 'Stache...is a column in India Today about the Mustache's Last Stand. Ravi Shankar thinks that the 'stache is a dying breed which has come to represent Eeevieel, while once it represented manliness:

There existed rarely a South Indian hero without a moustache, and a villain without one wasn't worth his lines. The distinction between good and evil was made by the shape and size of the moustache. The hero usually had a pencil growth -- two lines gracefully parting after a little descent to spread away across the upper lip -- while the villain had moustaches of varying shapes and sizes -- some were whiskers which made them look like bad-tempered terriers, while there were those who went in for the walrus look or simply the handlebar; others preferred pointed lip-hair like the twin swords of Zorro, whose ends they constantly twisted to the accompaniment of rolling eyes when they contemplated some foul deed.
But today, hairlessness is macho. Consider the Salman Khan sculpted look, with a clean-shaven face showing off its angles and planes. Ramp models have smoothly hairless visages and only grandfathers in advertisements have moustaches. So perhaps it is a sign of changing tastes that nobody really cares for Veerappan or the non-crisis he has created.

The 'Stache is back, at least, in American pop-culture with the ascendancy of 70s style. Who can forget the "who wants a mustache ride?" line in Super Troopers?

So much of Veerappan's post-mortem press seems to be revolving around his facial hair. I will have to ask my South Indian crew, if that was during his lifetime as well.

update 2: I think I should put a bio-sketch of Veerappan up here as well since we are starting to discuss how to read his public persona in the comments. This is as close to an official sketch as I can find. It is written by K. Arkersh, Superintendent of Police Task Force commissioned to bring Veerappan in.

Born on 18th January 1952 in Gopinatham, a remote village in the midst of dense forests and hills on the bank of the river Cauvery in a Padiyachi Gounder family, Kuse Muniswamy Veerappan Gounder alias Molakkan alias Veerappan, grew to be a unique criminal unparalleled in Indian history. Having had no formal education, he took to cattle grazing in the midst of deep forests living in "Natthasn or "Doddis". From childhood he took to hunting. At the behest of the then established hunter Sevigounder, he shot a tusker at the age of 14 years, which earned him great notoriety. At the age of 17, he committed a murder with the help of two more persons, a tradition with which he continued throughout.

Veerappan and his associates have hitherto killed over 120 persons, (including police officers) - 55 from Kamataka and 66 from TamilNadu; poached over 2,000 tuskers, bringing in an abnormal ratio of tusker: makhana* (*makhana = A female elephant, bearing no tusks, but capable of breeding even tuskers.) elephants and denuded sandalwood costing over Rs 200 crore. He systematically created terror by indulging in selective killings representing regional and social groups (killed 3 PSls and a PC at Hogenkal, blasted 22 policemen and informants at Palar, brutally beheaded popular forest officer Srinivas at Yerkehalla near Gopinatham, ambushed senior police officer Harikrishna, ~ Superintendent of Police, Mysore and Shakeel Ahmed, PSI, M.M.Hills police station near Meenyam, killed 5 policemen and looted armoury at Ramapura police station, ambushed Superintendent of Police Gopal Hosur and killed 5 policemen and looted 5 Self Loading Rifles at Rangaswamy Oddu near M.M.Hills; killed 5 Soligas at Gaddesal (Tamilnadu), 5 lingayaths at Manjugummapatti (Tamilnadu), 7 Badagas at Punjanur (Kamataka), a Lambani near Gopinatham, 5 of his own cousins at Gopinatham village, two Padiyachis at Gopinatham, namely Koteyur Madaiah and his brother, a Shetty and his son at Nallur and brutally tortured and killed Kandavelu, a Padiyachi and Bhaktavatsalam, a student near Talamalai (TamilNadu). Most of his killings are of police and forest officials and suspected police supporters and informants.

Veerappan is known to be timid, unemotional, and shrewd and cunning as against the popular belief that he is brave and emotional. He always plans for the worst and goes for minute details. He does not take an iota of risk on himself. He does not give his mind to anyone except Govindan and that too on a selective basis. Planning important operations like kidnappings, blasts, raids and ambushes are meticulously planned and discussed only with Govindan. (Veerappan is known to be carrying the photograph of his daughter Rani who is now aged 12 years. He had also killed one of his own infant daughter, fearing disclosure of his location by the child's cry. His association with wife Muthulakshmi who was earlier in the gang is now severed. She is now known to be working as a factory labourer at Hennur, Tamil Nadu. Veerappan has no repentance or remorse for having brutally killed so many persons and animals. He has a tendency to justify all his actions with strange logic. He fears death penalty even if he surrenders, that is why he is demanding amnesty to be announced by a person no less than President of India, through popular media. Any talk of surrender short of such amnesty are only his game plans with evil designs.

Veerappan who has studied Che's guerilla warfare tactics (Tamil translation of which was recently recovered from one of his hideouts), follows it in letter and spirit. He is not likely to fight a prolonged battle for the fear of losing ammunition and realising the might of the Task Force. Hence he is likely to take a couple of aimed shots and escape in case of a `chance encounter' or a deliberate attack.

update 3: Boy, this is getting long. I talked to a colleague here who hails from the same district as Veerappan. Summary is that he knew two of Veer's victims as well as one of the kidnapped. Veerappen, in his view, was as much a bandit as a creation of the state and media - he did not kill as many elephants/people as are credited to him and there are two or three regional newspapers whose sole purpose is to inform the public about Veerappen. He operated in a large jungle where only tribal populations held sway and over them, he exercised control through the age old carrot-and-stick policy. Hence, his persona as a latter day Robin Hood. A persona he says Veerappen carefully supplemented. My colleague recommends Veerappan: The Untold Story.


desesperanto | October 18, 2004

I also find Veerappan an interesting figure, but not because he's an anachronism from another time-space. (Wasn't it the Brits whom Thugs had a mythic hold on?) But he had a sense of morality and political strategy for a "loathsome criminal": Veerappan makes , throughout the text, an impassioned plea against any form of violence that is unmediated by a sense of justice. The most revealing instance is his advice to those who practise politics of militancy: 'You plant bombs in buses, in roads, in houses. Who get killed? Women and Children. Two-year, four-year old children, with their limb being tore away, cry out for their parents. My heart burns. This is not right. It is sinful. Poor like us get killed... If we too kill people who are already tormented and murdered by the police and the government, what will be their fate?' I have nothing positive to hope for from RGV's Veerappan bio or from a Sholay remake. But I have heard good things about Chhal.

Ajju | October 19, 2004

And on a tangent from the article you linked, I recommend "Ab tak 56" if you haven't seen it yet.

thatshortkid | October 19, 2004

ok, i'm sorry, call me a rude american pig with no respect for other cultures.... but Thugees sounds like a diaper for baby gangstas. speaking of which, Veerappan sounds like he was pretty badass, in a Robin Hood kind of way. but who did he kill? why did he kill elephants? where did all the money go? how did he maintain such a killer 'stache?

sepoy | October 19, 2004

desesperanto: The morality of dacoits is always suspect as it is hard for me to separate some higher good in a criminal responsible for killing people and endangered animals no matter how attuned he was to the suffering of the downtrodden. Ajju: I haven't seen Ab tak 56 but now I will. Thanks. tsk: You rude american pig, not diapers but silk scarves. i see a post on thugees comin! Maintenance of the 'Stache is a cosmic mystery.

thatshortkid | October 19, 2004

hehehe..... it was just the sound and connotations in my capitalist pig mind, that's all. thanks for updating re: the 'stache. but my question still is: where did the profits go? there have been a lot of 'freedom fighters' that supposedly took from the rich on behalf of the poor but really were corrupt and power/money hungry. hugo chavez in venezuela is a perfect example of that. i'm wondering if the 120 people he killed were just workers guarding for the more powerful, which if it were the case, wouldn't put him on much higher moral ground than those that 'plant bombs in buses'. not to knock the guy. i hope my suspicions are invalid.

desesperanto | October 19, 2004

The morality of dacoits is always suspect as it is hard for me to separate some higher good in a criminal responsible for killing people and endangered animals no matter how attuned he was to the suffering of the downtrodden. You've misread me. I'd go on, but if you prefer to regard V. as a camp figure and object of moral disgust rather than consider what his appeal was to us, I won't detain you.

sepoy | October 19, 2004

deseperanto: I am holding him as a camp figure but not as an object of moral disgust. I do not have any greater moral issue with him than I would with any other dacoit or marauder. Obviously, he had a larger-than-life presence in Tamil-land and mass appeal. Still, I cannot find any nuance in the position you quoted. I see what he is saying, I agree with what he is saying but I have to counter balance that with his actions. Now the truth of the matter is that in the case of someone like Veerappan or Madonna, the persona is more "real" than real. The trope of a dacoit as the outlier tragic figure in south asian mythology is quite well documented. Veerappan fed entirely into that trope and his "appeal" to the masses was priviliged on it. Hence, the futility of the government to bring about his demise. That is just how I see it way the heck from the outside. But I have never lived in the area or talked to the people or read the local press or listened to the popular memory. I am very interested in what you can say about him. Perhaps you can answer tsk's question as well.

desesperanto | October 21, 2004

I am holding him as a camp figure And I think that's really pretty snotty for a scholar. I guess it must be nice to view V's as an instance of type dacoit and a moustache joke, rather than thinking of the relationship btw the state and the disenfrancised, the Dalit critique of environmentalism, caste, TADA, ltte, naxalites, Thamizhness, etc. I'll leave it there because honestly, anything else I say will come off as rude.

sepoy | October 22, 2004

I don't think it is particularly snotty just ignorant. Like I said, I have little knowledge of him beside what I have read in popular western press where he IS a camp figure. Hence, my request for you to tell me more. I was being quiet earnest.

zainab | October 28, 2004

though i know it might be a little late for me to be writing a comment on this story i think i'll go ahead and do it anyway. I find it extremely interesting that the Globe and Mail, a newspaper in Toronto reported the capture of varappan however did so inacurately. He was reportedly captured by a Mr. something something, the truth comes out a week later in an article apoligizing for delivering false information. Verappan was actually captured by a female officer. So much for pre-concieved notions and expectations of femininity and masculinity!

The Acorn | October 18, 2004

Ladies and Gentlemen, we got him India's very own October surprise Tamil Nadu police have shot Koose Muniswamy Veerappan dead. One of India's most wanted criminals has finally been dispatched to meet his maker. In this age of terrorism and suicide-bombing, Veerappan's sanda...