Watching ‘Kartiki Gonsalves’ Oscar winning documentary about the beautiful, almost filial bond between Bomman and Raghu, the elephant who follows him around, with his trunk wrapped around his hand, was like balm to my soul, because I have also seen Mike Pandey’s highly disturbing ‘Shocking Cruelty to Elephants – Vanishing Giants’; also visited an elephant training camp in Kerala.
They say elephants have very long memories. I too, can’t seem to forget Mike Pandey’s video. Every time I see elephants patiently giving joy rides to hefty adults and chirpy children; every time I see in resplendent temple elephants parading in pageants, I wonder. Does he remember the day he was captured?
Does he remember the silence in the heart of a Kerala Forest, a silence peopled with sounds of peace – rustling leaves, twigs snapping as some animal prowls by; birds stirring in their nests as in the eastern skies, the sun begins tentatively to nibble at the ears of darkness?
The loud crash as he fell into the pit! The bewildered terror that gripped him as he heard the blood curdling trumpeting of the other elephants, the panicked stampeding as the herd fled through the under wood and he was left alone?
Does he remember his desperate struggle for escape; the pit watcher waiting in a machan on top of a tree, coming closer only when the crashing sounds of the retreating herd had receded, laying logs on the mouth of the pit so that he could not escape while the pit watcher went for help? The crowd of humans that returned to take him captive, the way they first placated the jungle goddess, mother of all jungle animals, with prayers and offerings – would any mother give up her child for betel leaves and areca nuts?
But that day his mother really had forsaken him because the noosing operations began. The moment he raised his trunk a noose was slipped on; in his despairing stampede, he found one foot caught in another noose; ropes made of vakka fibres said to be even stronger than iron chains, were used to tie him to nearby trees. The level of the pit was raised and two decoy elephants lured him to step out, fall in step and accompany them to the training camp.
In the Kraal, a black cage like structure of unshakeable strength divided into compartments so designed that the elephants can just hear see and feel each other, his hopes must have receded even more. Scared, dejected and hungry, he started accepting food from the mahout’s hand. Gradually over a period of months in the camp, his spirit was broken. The mighty beast of the jungle was completely subjugated.
Mike Pandey’s video was unnerving to say the least.  I just could not forget it. The sight of a caparisoned temple elephant or one giving joy rides to tourists would send a shudder down my spine leaving me praying my elephantine memory would desert me. Until I saw Elephant Whispers. It healed me – somewhat.
A must watch documentary, Elephant Whisperers leaves you rejoicing at life. Thank you Kartiki for reminding us there is another way to live with the children of the Jungle Goddess.

The author is a novelist. Her novels include, The Indian Café in London; Radius 200 and The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi.

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