I am interjecting a section about a 'poster boy student of Life'. He was a master at ‘tracking’ and a master detective when it came to hunting down elusive serial killers! I feel that he had insights that were even greater than he himself realized. This section is a valuable, perhaps it could be called ‘an essential’ addition to my Sherlock Approach. Failure to apply three key points in this coverage will assure that you will never be a replication of the 'Great Holmes'!
Corbett had a capsule story in one of his books that I feel describes the difference between good and poor students of life and of the detective profession. His operating style put him in a position to comment on the topic. He knew how to be a good student in his fields of endeavour! When detective expertise is being discussed, it is worth pausing and giving a lot of consideration to Jim Corbett. In very simple and word efficient terms, he was able to illustrate several bedrock principles that must be in place for anyone to excel as a detective in Life.
Jim Corbett lived in the back woods of the earth and for most of his life few people, other than those who came directly in contact with him, were even aware of his existence. But when he was well past 60 years, he launched out on an altruistic fund raising project that gave him a worldwide audience. He wrote a book that had wings. Corbett was far from being a grandstander. The Real Corbett simply had an appeal and thankfully he wrote about his life’s experiences and observations and others realized that he had something of importance to say. His mind, his words, his actions, his legacy, his life, were admirably integrated and solid.
On the left is a poster for a movie that I suspect makes a mockery of Corbett's book which dealt with several, not one, man-eaters. The image of the guy with the gun and the peasant with the fainting maiden, tip you off that Hollywood is in action and using a dollar formula to brutalize a brilliant book. But the existence of the poster proves that Corbett's book was acknowledged!
Man-Eaters was published in 1944 when Corbett was 69 years of age.
Corbett's books are classics and I had the good fortune to have had contact with his first book, Man-Eaters of Kumaon, when I was quite young. Likely my English grandfather had the book in his collection. I rescued it out of a musty old trunk. He was not alone. I understand that Ernest Hemingway had a collection of Corbett’s books and thought highly of Corbett.
When my own children were an age where I was looking for books to read to them I secured the Kumaon book and was so impressed that I eventually secured all of Corbett’s books and read them all to the children – but I likely got far more out of the books than they did.
(Corbett and Leopard) – Here Corbett is pictured with the Leopard of Rudraprayag. Corbett, between the ages of 32 and 36, hunted down three man-eating cats. The three had killed well over 800 people between them. The task was no small achievement as others had tried to execute the killers but without success. Conditions were highly in favour of the cats and it was a tough call as to who was the hunter and who was the hunted. Corbett commented on the situation; “Fear may not be a heritage to some fortunate few, but I am not of their number. After a lifelong acquaintance with wild life I am no less afraid of a tiger's teeth and claws today than I was the day that a tiger shooed Magog (his dog) and me out of the jungle in which he wanted to sleep. But to counter that fear and hold it in check I now have experience that I lacked in those early years. Where formerly I looked for danger all round me and was afraid of every sound I heard, I now know where to look for danger, and what sounds to ignore or pay special attention to. And, further, where there was uncertainty where a bullet would go, there was now a measure of certainty that it would go in the direction I wanted it to. Experience engenders confidence, and without these two very important assets the hunting of a man-eater on foot, and alone, would be a very unpleasant way of committing suicide.”
The leopard shown in the above photo was the Rudraprayag Leopard which had killed 125 people over an 8 year period. The locals were very appreciative. A plaque, showing signs of age in the photo, marks the spot of the kill which Corbett achieved in 1926.
The Panar leopard (above) killed about 400 people prior to Corbett shooting it in 1910. Between 1907 and 1938 Corbett shot 12 man-eaters. 1500 victims had been killed by the dozen cats. In many cases, Corbett’s life hung on his luck and skill.
I was impressed with what a fine and wise fellow Corbett was. My impression was based on reading most of his books as well as the comments of others regarding Corbett. But then I realized I had missed one of his books, his last. The event that that book covered was classic. After eating a marvellous meal of Corbett faire, his final book, Treetops, was like a dessert that turned an already perfect meal into a once in a life time experience.
Apparently the probability of winning a large US lottery is comparable to getting struck by lightning while riding a bicycle while leading the Tour de France. Of course the nature of lotteries assures that there has to be one winner but I doubt that anyone has ever been struck by lightning while leading the Tour de France.
Well, Corbett’s Treetops experience would seem to be even more unlikely than having a champion cycle racer zapped. Corbett had spent many hours of his life sitting in trees while he attempted to eradicate man-eating cats, all without bounty or pay. That such an altruistic and fine fellow should cap his life with the Treetops experience seems beyond belief. He was a winner already. How can the story get better!
Corbett had spent most of his life in India but on February, 1952 he was living in Kenya and had been invited to be one of 8 people who would spend less than a day at the Treetops “hotel” near Nyeri, Kenya, two of the party being Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. Corbett was 76 years old. He would be dead in 3 years. He had smoked all his life and his lungs were not in good shape. No doubt he was amazed at the honour of being invited to such a gathering.
Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip leave London for a trip to New Zealand and Australia by way of Kenya. The King is too ill to go on the trip but there is no reason to think he is near death.
Treetops was destroyed by Mau Mau terrorists shortly after the visit by Elizabeth. The houseboy who assisted during the visit was not seen again after the attack.
Treetops was owned by Eric Walker who also owned the Outspan Hotel in nearby Nyeri. Boy Scout founder Robert Baden-Powell lived in a house at the Outspan and was buried nearby after his death in 1941. Corbett and his sister Maggie moved into the Baden-Powell house until Corbett’s death in 1955.
Above: Walker's book on Treetops. Right upper: A friend of my son by Baden Powell's grave at Nyeri. Below: My son Evan by Corbett's grave at Nyeri. Below right: Paxtu - the Nyeri cottage occupied by Baden-Powell and then Corbett until Corbett's death.
Amazingly, it was a different world back then and there were no body guards apart from Prince Phillip, Eric Walker, the owner of Treetops, and Michael Parker, Phillip’s personal secretary. An African house boy, Pamela Mountbatten, and Bettie Walker made up the rest of the party of 8. Corbett was uneasy about nationalist Mau Mau terrorists and spent the night of February 6 sitting at the top of the ladder to the tree house, with his high power rifle at hand.
In the morning, the Royal Party left and it was only later that news arrived that King George had unexpectedly died during the night. The unusual timing impacted Corbett greatly. And to add to the impact, we are not talking about just anyone making the transformation from princess to queen, in a tree house, under the guard of an old man – we are talking about THE foremost royal family on the planet and we are talking about a man with a long and highly unusual life story up to that point; a life story that matched him to the moment. Talk about an unlikely and highly positive situation. And who would have guessed in 1952 that Elizabeth would still be the reigning monarch close to 70 years later!
Above: Photo of Elizabeth at Sagana Lodge. Elizabeth received news of her father’s death at Sagana Lodge, the morning after the Treetops sleepover.
Most people have never heard of Jim Corbett and I have provided this brief coverage to give more credibility to his thoughts that follow. He was an unusual man and he was 3D and full colour. He did his time and his proven record is safely signed and sealed and open for inspection.
Here is Corbett's capsule statement on student/detective style. He talks about 'nature' and 'jungle lore' but the principles are far broader and can be applied in the same way to 'Life in General'.
I have emphasized elsewhere that jungle lore is not a science that can be learnt from textbooks, but that it can be absorbed a little at a time, and that the absorption process can go on indefinitely, for the book of nature has no beginning, as it has no end. Open the book where you will, and at any period of your life, and if you have the desire to acquire knowledge you will find it of intense interest, and no matter how long or how intently you study the pages, your interest will not flag, for in nature there is no finality.
Today it is spring, and the tree before you is bedecked with gay bloom. Attracted by this bloom, a multitude of birds of many colours are flitting from branch to branch, some drinking the nectar from the flowers, others eating the petals, and others again feeding on the bees that are busily collecting honey. Tomorrow the bloom will have given place to fruit and a different multitude of birds will be in possession of the tree. And each member of the different multitudes has its allotted place in the scheme of nature. One to beautify nature's garden, another to fill it with melody, and yet another to regenerate the garden.
Season after season, year after year, the scene changes. A new generation of birds in varying numbers and species adorn the tree. The tree loses a limb - torn off in a storm - gets stack headed and dies, and another tree takes its place; and so the cycle goes on.
The knowledge you absorb today will be added to the knowledge you will absorb tomorrow. The amount of knowledge you ultimately accumulate will depend on your capacity for absorption, not on any fixed standard. At the end of the accumulating period - be that period one year or fifty - you will find that you are only at the beginning, and that the whole field of nature lies before you waiting to be explored and to be absorbed. But be assured that if you are not interested, or if you have no desire to acquire knowledge, you will learn nothing from nature.
I walked with a companion for twelve miles through a beautiful forest from one camp to another. It was the month of April and nature was at her best. Trees, shrubs, and creepers were in full bloom. Gaily coloured butterflies flitted from flower to flower, and the air, filled with the scent of flowers, throbbed with the song of birds. At the end of the day my companion was asked if he had enjoyed the walk, and he answered, 'No. The road was very rough.
I was travelling, shortly after World War I, from Bombay to Mombassa in the British India liner Karagola. There were five of us on the upper deck. I was going to Tanganyika to build a house, the other four were going to Kenya - three to shoot and one to look at a farm he had purchased. The sea was rough and I am a bad sailor, so I spent most of my time dozing in a corner of the smoke room. The others sat at a table nearby playing bridge, smoking, and talking, mostly about sport. One day, on being awakened by a cramp in my leg, I heard the youngest member of the party say, 'Oh, I know all about tigers. I spent a fortnight with a Forest Officer in the Central Provinces last year.'
Admittedly two extreme cases, but they well serve to emphasize my contention that if you are not interested you will see nothing but the road you walk on, and if you have no desire to acquire knowledge and assume you can learn in a fortnight what cannot be learned in a lifetime, you will remain ignorant to the end.
At a young age, Corbett had been influenced by a superstitious, story telling adult, to be worried about banshees. One day when he was in the jungle and was caught by an unexpected storm, he heard an unearthly howling sound that he had no explanation for other than it being a banshee. He fled for home, feeling guilty that he might bring the curse of the banshee on his family, but after the storm passed and the feared curse had not materialized, he decided to return to the spot where he heard the unusual sound. He was scared but inquisitive and he discovered two trees that rubbed when there was wind. In analysing his life, from the vantage point of old age, he looked back and identified that moment as a time he learned to try to explain anything that puzzled him.
Corbett had the capacity to work and learn and adapt and apply the things he learned to produce an altered life style. He had a thinking flexibility and a practical connection to his surroundings and to others that is somewhat uncommon.
His comments about 'jungle lore' and 'the book of nature', I feel can just as accurately be applied to 'life'. Corbett lived a grass roots life with his mind attentive to details around him. The approach yielded results. His books are a gold mine of wisdom and life style success. Despite his isolation from formal educational opportunities, he made dramatic use of his 80 years and had the capacity to pass on some of his lessons. His books as well as commentaries from those who knew him, are readily available. I have used his story about 'learning'. You are free to enjoy the rest of his writings!
In many ways, his books can be seen as educational manuals that explain complex issues in simple terms. Corbett generated all his books after age 64, via a manual typewriter, and with the secretarial help of his sister. He wasn’t backed by a media, business, religious, nor political force. He was just an attentive and involved individual – an individual like you or me. He was little Jim Corbett – a great student!
His legacy is one of an honest man, respected by those who knew him, regardless of their social class or race. He didn’t exploit others. He helped others. He managed his life well and didn’t make trouble for others. He left an inspiring example behind without detracting baggage.
Corbett is an inspirational example. Surely everyone can gain by being interested in everything that happens around them and by trying to explain and make sense of our personal life experiences. We have no shortage of study material!
Prior to dealing with Jim Corbett I talked about a youth having his mind programmed with media generated images that serve as distortions of reality. As a child, Corbett dealt with the same issue (see banshee image on left) but the experience triggered a resolve to not get burned again. A good story. The wise learn from their mistakes - the wiser learn from the mistakes of others!
Below: When Corbett was young, Indian game repopulated quicker than hunters shot animals but during his lifetime that changed. He was an early advocate for restraint when such thinking was highly unpopular with the British rulers of India. Corbett was a thinking man and his eyes were connected to his brain. That powerful 'duo-tool' was put to use and he managed his life and affairs wisely.
The bedrock detective principles that this coverage of Jim Corbett illustrates are;
-an enthusiastic, interested, and broad observation habit provides you with a critical inventory of micro clues, many of which will be of great value at a steady flow of decisive points in the future.
-A lazy and ego enhancing deceptionist mental-lockup style of wanting to believe that you have topped out on knowledge acquisition is fatal to achieving the status of a Maestro Detective.
-A vital trait is to attempt to explain anything that puzzles you rather than ignoring gaps and continuing to build on a foundation of information that is potentially riddled with error.
Corbett’s highly unusual skill at methodically eliminating killer cats, sinister creatures that effectively defied many others, was a tribute to his mental approach to the jobs he confronted as well as the mental approach he applied to life in general. His ideas and theory on approach to living was backed up by day to day, practical performance. His ideas and theories stood up to the hard logic of experience!