“A tiger eats an animal very neatly. He is a surgeon,” said 81-year-old shikari-turned-gun collector Adi Suder (also known as Suderwalla). He should know. Over the years, Suder has watched tigers and panthers devour their prey while waiting patiently for the perfect shot. He no longer hunts – for one, it’s illegal– but he still holds on to his formidable weapon collection, including a Hi-Standard .22 pistol and 10 rifles including a .416 Rigby, a 12 gauge WW Greener and a .250-3000 Savage. He also has three swords, a bayonet, a kukri and around 12 daggers inherited from his grandfather.
To demonstrate the power of the .416 Rigby or the elephant gun, Suder pointed to a massive rain tree in the distance outside the window. “The bullet can go right through that trunk,” he said.
As a boy, Suder didn’t seem to have the makings of a hunter. He remembers cowering in fright when shots were fired during a play his father had taken him to see. Even today, his diminutive five-foot frame seems at odds with the image of a gun-toting shikari. When Suder turned seven, his father took him to Deolali and made him fire a gun for the first time. It was a .250-3000 Savage that belonged to his mother. “I was shivering,” said Suder. But he was too embarrassed to show his fear especially when his mother grabbed the gun and shot at the target without a moment’s hesitation. When he finally fired his first shot, Suder thought, “It wasn’t as loud as in the theatre.”
As he grew up, he accompanied his friends and family on a number of expeditions. He recalls killing his first panther in a village called Chalisgaon near Nasik with the same .250-3000 Savage. The first gun he bought for himself after a prolonged tussle with the police commissioner, Mansingh Chudasama, was a 9mm Mannlicher-Schöenauer. “With that I shot some good game,” said Suder. Over the years, Suder’s job as a photojournalist for Kaiser-E-Hind, the Free Press Journal and Onlooker, helped him come in contact with all the police commissioners, who would issue him licenses. He even managed to get his hands on a .45 Colt, which was a prohibited pistol. He sold it when he needed money to start his own studio in the 1960s.
Like a true collector, Suder gets animated while relating stories about how he acquired each firearm. His younger sister, Bani, teasingly refers to the guns as “his wives”. Suder has mixed feelings about once shooting animals for sport. His parents stopped hunting after his father mistakenly killed a deer that had just given birth. “My mother felt so bad because she was carrying my sister,” said Suder. Both his siblings refused to hunt and are squeamish about killing any living creature. That is until his sister spots a lizard in the house. “[She shouts], ‘Kill it, kill it,’” said Suder, who immediately takes aim with his .177 National air rifle.
By Nergish Sunavala on July 06 2012 7.14am
Photos by Parikshit Rao