Sandalwood thieves

In one of my earlier posts, I had talked about a real life midnight adventure.

It was September 1995. Veerappan, the notorious sandalwood smuggler (and his associates) was active in the forests of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, having killed several people who came in his way. Efforts to capture him and his team were being made by both state governments. With the forests being well guarded, it seems that the urban sandalwood trees were easier for them to access. Or so we discovered.

That night, the residents of Rose Lane, a quiet by-lane in Richmond Town, were woken up by a loud crash, that brought down the overhead power and telephone cables. The sandalwood tree in the Thomas compound had been cut!

A group of men, with mufflers to mask themselves, had entered the Thomas compound around 2:30 a.m. and started cutting the sandalwood tree with a motorised saw. The household inmates came to the verandah to check what the noise was about. One of them had a knife pushed into her face. She was told to get back into the house and stay quiet. They would complete their task and leave. Another neighbour from across the road also came out and asked one the men what they were doing. She was told that the tree was being cut. “At this time of the night?” She too was abrubtly told to get back into her house.

Soon the tree and its branches came crashing down. The street lights went out and the telephone connections were severed. The place was pitch dark. This is when the rest of the road realised something serious was going on. We could contact no one. I had my 2-metre amateur radio wireless set, but this was low on battery. Before the battery died out, I put out a call indicating that there were sandalwood thieves on Rose Lane, but at 3 a.m. in the morning, it would have been unlikely that anyone would have been listening on the VHF frequencies.

The thieves were well prepared. They quickly cut the trunk into manageable lengths and loaded the logs into a truck they had brought along. As daylight was breaking, they had to leave before they could take the bottom-most part of the trunk.

Sandalwood thieves 1 - Sep 1995

Sandalwood thieves 2 - Sep 1995
The branches of the cut sandalwood tree, spread over the lane, Sep 1995

Rose Lane carried the fragrance of a sandalwood distillery that morning. And it lasted for several days. As for the base of the trunk that carried much of the scent, the police and forest department that visited the site later that morning, subsequently took it away, as per the law, they said.

It was suspected that the thieves were a part of Veerappan’s team, and the possibility of Veerappan being there too was not ruled out. Statements of the neighbourhood residents were recorded, but to our knowledge, the thieves were never caught. We were told that we were lucky no one was seriously hurt, and all that was stolen was a tree. A nondescript sandalwood tree that we used to climb, without knowing it was so precious, and one that we now remember through this one photograph that happened to unwittingly capture it in the background.

17 Feb 1990 Graduation Day
The sandalwood tree in the Thomas compound, 17-Feb-1990

Siddharth, Bijoy and my brother Nagesh, ready to go off for the Baldwin Boys’ High School Std X Graduation Day function

Anyhow, the Thomas house (No. 2 Rose Lane) was razed a couple of years ago. All the trees that were in the compound needed to go to make room for the Zafarulla house that stands in its place.

No 2 Rose Lane Nov 2015
No. 2 Rose Lane, Nov 2015

One thought on “Sandalwood thieves

  1. Bhanu February 7, 2016 / 11:54 pm

    So sad that Veerappan was blamed for trees cut in centre of Bangalore, im sure the cops were hand in glove


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