Out of the cold clutches - An Elephant's story
Out of the cold clutches - An Elephant's story21 mins 484 21 mins 484
“ Ruku, dear, get up”
“Get up, Somu! Lazy butt!”
“Hello, how are you doing Ramesh ji?”
I could hear the chatter of the waking village from where I stood, snoozing under a tree just a kilometer away. My whole body was cold and stiff. My back was numb from the load of useless things and the weight of the wooden seat on it. Of course, no one bothered to take it off, as much as they bothered about how I do not like my legs to be tied, or I do not like the cold, spiky piece of metal clasped around one of my fore legs. These things made my body even more numb. Still, no one ever bothered to bother. And, I was anyway numb to the numbness.
I saw my owners come out the depths of their shady tents. Their names were Baba VishnuRam and Baba Godbaleshwar. Two withering men whose skins were as dark and wrinkled as mine were. Their bristly white hair and beards felt the level of their chest. Dressed in many layers of bright orange cloths, wearing many chains of brown, muddy-looking beads, they ambled towards me, muttering to each other.
“Today is a big day”, said Baba Vishnuram. “Big money today”
“Yes, Of course”, chimed Baba Godbaleshwar, “Remember last year? Some people have given us a few gold necklaces!”
“We should be getting much more of that today!” said Baba Vishnuram, “Today, it will rain money. I can easily bet that.”
“Though that’s only from the villagers. I’ve no expectations from the city, as always”
“Ah, don’t do that. I’m pretty sure they will hand in some money some day. But we don’t have time to think about that now. Quick, let’s go!”
What, now? Oh, no. I am not in the mood right now. It is the break of dawn! I slowly turned my huge head towards the two tiny babas and gave a low, rumbling moan. They both looked up at me. They either would have not understood my moan or simply have ignored it, or would have understood what my moan meant, yet still have ignored it. Of course, what would they care of an ugly old and nearsighted elephant, who carried their unnecessary load, who always was forced to carry them on my back, who had to bear the commotion and noise of the village with my sensitive ears, along with their painful beating and overall cruelty? Every day was just the same. These seemingly doddering oldies had enough energy to exhaust me of my own. I find myself wondering whether God had made a mistake given me a life and the ability to feel; was I just meant to be some sort of a vehicle like the ones I see running on the road? A vehicle, who can fulfill the people’s need of transportation, without the vehicle having to feel anything or having any life?
I suddenly heard a shout from the ground, and I gave a jerk.
“Hey! Hup! Hup! Move!”
Baba Godbaleshwar was shouting. I had not noticed that Baba Vishnuram had already mounted on my back, which was why Baba Godbaleshwar was prodding me. I took a few slow steps, when there were two small sharp bursts of pain, one at the bottom of my foreleg where the metal spikes poked me, the second at the back of my neck where Baba Vishnuram hit me with what seems to be an axe.
“FASTER!” he bellowed.
And with much reluctance, I moved faster, bracing myself for the hubbub of the village.
A crowd of people in colorful clothes parted into two to make way for me to walk. I am at least glad that humans had the courtesy to do that.
“Arrey Somu, Move out of the way, Or else you will get squashed!” I heard a squeaky voice say. Oh, okay then. So people were making way to save their dear lives, Not because they had gained any respect for me. Well, I actually knew that already. It's just that I tried to convince myself that that is the reason, when in the back of my mind I know that’s not at all the case. If they did respect me, then they definitely would have noticed my fatigue and would have tried to put a stop to these fake Babas. Ah, I have a bad habit of thinking that people actually cared about me. I mean, I do not blame that little kid for warning his friend of ‘danger’ (To be honest, I know enough not to step on someone.), But I just wished that someone could just take a minute to think about me and my forsaken soul. My scars were, of course,
“Listen up!” Bellowed Baba Godbaleshwar, “Today is a very auspicious day! God has sent us a message through the skies. (Of course, not all you generous folks would know what it means). But this is the day to give plentiful offerings to the gods! The more you give, the more you get!”
One by one, the innocent villagers handed in valuables of their own. “Stop!” I shouted, “Don’t give them your money!”
However, the villagers scuttled aside with frightened faces. Of Course, They did not understand what I just said. Why did I even bother to waste my own energy? They only thought that I was going to run all over them. Did they think I have the energy to do so?
Baba Godbaleshwar “No! Don’t go away, kind people!” said Baba Godbaleshwar, “She is just welcoming you and congratulating you for your generosity! “
No!, I was trying to save their dear and precious belongings! I was warning them about the cunning of these two walking prunes!
Suddenly, I felt another sharp pain at the back of my neck.
“Don’t scare them, you rascal!” cursed Baba Vishnuram.
And this is what I go through on a daily basis. I just wonder how these people do not see absolute evil on their whiskery faces... Poor villagers, if they only knew.
To distract myself from all the stinging wounds, I started to look around at each of the villagers’ faces. Thin and chubby faces, smooth and hairy faces. Faces of men and women, boys and girls, grannies and grandpas. I lowered my head to see the loving faces of the street dogs. Actually, If any did see my pain, it was these dogs, but of course they knew enough to not mess with the ‘heavenly’ Babas They knew what they were capable of. Dogs are more scared of humans than they think they are.
As my eyes skimmed through the sea of faces, two particular ones caught my attention. The faces of a young man and a young woman, which did not have a typical innocence of a villager in them. They must be from the city.but that what not what had caught my attention; it was the fact that they were looking directly at me with worried and sympathetic expressions. They looked as though they could-they could see my pain. A peculiar sense of happiness rose in the back of my head. However, I suppressed it, because I knew it was superficial. There was no way that what I thought was actually possible.
As I heaved my tired legs and made through the crowd of villagers, we headed onto the road. Dreading it like I always did, I stepped onto the road that fried my poor feet every single day. Now that the babas were done looting the villagers, they would set out onto the road to try their luck with the people there. There usually would not be many people on the road in the beginning of our daily road journey, but even those walking on the street thankfully would never give into the babas’ coaxing; they at least knew that Baba Vishnuram and were fake to the core. I guess it was because they were presumably from the city, where people are a little more educated as I have observed over time.
But, if they were educated, then were they not sharp enough to see the extreme fatigue of an old and worn out elephant that they would see everyday, woefully dragging her feet on the burning hot road? Were they not sensible enough to see that it is wrong to use a living being as a vehicle? I’m the one, after all, who was forced to carry unbearable weight on my weak back and sway dizzily under the unforgiving sun with barely any nourishment to sustain me through the horrible road journey, when the babas had turbans and the shade of the umbrella attached to the seat on my back protecting their scratchy white heads from the sunlight and enough food and water to suffice them for the long haul on the road. I have, though, noticed the passers-by shooting skeptical glances in our direction, as though they did notice that there was something about me that was not right. The scars on my skin, the metal spikes on my foreleg, the calluses around my toenails, either of these would have given them a clue… but they would do nothing about my situation. Even when they would suspiciously question the babas about my captivity (I could never help getting my hopes up high whenever they did), they still would never take action against them.
Which, again, went to show that they did not really care about my suffering.
However, despite all the sadness and dizziness in my head, a memory struck out. A recent one, of the two seemingly special faces I saw today. Even though I have been fooled by fake looks of concern many times before (or rather I have let myself be fooled), there was really something genuine about their concern for me. Their faces somehow radiated an energy of… the will to take action. But I cannot be too sure. The chances of that were very slim. Maybe the sunlight was tricking my head into believing that they were gonna do something… but why am I getting such a strong feeling that they were. Ah, I don’t know. If I was sure about anything, it was that those faces definitely stumped me today. Should I keep my hopes up… or should I not?
We were gradually entering the more populated roads, which were bustling with vehicles, and I braced myself for the blaring horns. With much tire, I let the conflicting thoughts be at war with each other. I let the image of the two faces appear in my head from time to time as I trudged forward.
I was half asleep, half awake, due to the noise of the vehicles. I finally got some shade and the babas ate their lunch while murmuring to each other. As much as I did not care about what they were talking about, I could not block out their chatter from my ears. I swayed a little with my eyes shut, in constant dread of the sharp I was going to get soon as a sign to wake up and get going. Just then, I heard a voice saying “Hey!” from my left, from behind the tree I was snoozing under. It was a smooth voice of a man, though he did not sound very pleasant as though the man was acquainting the babas -- he sounded angry. I also heard some frustrated muttering and a sigh from another person who seemed as though he or she was trying to stop the man but had given up.
“Hey, you two!”, said the man again, his voice much louder this time because he was closer. I slowly and partially opened my right eye, and saw the babas’ surprised faces, looking slightly scared, even. Even though it was sort of hard to make out any emotion due to their multiple wrinkles and their bristly beards, I could tell that they looked as though they were caught doing something wrong or bad, exactly how they would always look when they were confronted by any people on the road, whether they were gonna do anything about me or not. I felt wicked happiness rise within me.
“We’ve been watching you two since morning. We saw how you treated her in the village. Why have you loaded her with all this useless junk?”
What? They have been watching us since morning? Excitement was building up inside me, even if it was a small amount. This could only mean one thing…
“Why have you two been watching us, huh? Let us do whatever we want to do”, I hear Baba Godbaleshwar say. If it’s two people who were confronting the babas, then I definitely knew who they were. I shut my right eye and slightly opened my left -- I don’t know why, but I wanted to pretend to be asleep -- and surely enough I was right; the two people were the same young man and woman I had seen today. I smiled faintly, as that was the extent my fleshy elephant face would allow my mouth to reach, to myself, and shut my left eye.
“Shush! Lower your voice, Aryan, you’ll wake the elephant up”, said the second, which had been quite all this while. It was much gentler, definitely that of a woman, and my pretence seemed to convince her.
“That’ll be a bit hard for me if we’re gonna be reasoning with these disgusting babas”, said the man, Aryan, in an undertone to the woman. Hearing the babas being insulted was very rare, but I savoured it when I had the chance.
There was a shuffling noise which indicated that they were moving closer to the babas. And once they did, Aryan seethed, “What you both are doing is an absolutely unforgivable crime. Yes, it is deemed illegal to keep elephants -- or any wild animal in that case -- in captivity like you have been doing for heaven knows how long. Do you think you have the right to keep an elephant in such a terrible state? We’re gonna take this elephant away from you --”
“Oho! So you two whippersnappers can keep the elephant, then?”, spoke Baba Godmaleshwar, “Not us, eh? You just want to steal it, but we need it for --”
“For what?”, said Aryan, his voice a little raised this time, as though he was starting to lose his temper. The woman tried to shush so as to speak softer but he didn’t seem to listen, “For what, exactly? To carry your stupid holy possessions? To - to serve as a vehicle and to serve as a seat for your wrinkled buttocks? We are taking her away from you two idiots for good because --”
“Hey! You think you can keep it captive, then? We have our special reasons and purposes so we have all the rights to keep --”
“Not when you treat her like vermin, you old bat!”
“Aryan! For God’s sake don’t shout --”
“Goddamn your purposes! To make her feel inferior to you, to treat her as though she doesn’t even have a life! If you think God is gonna favour you by doing this filthy begging business, well, then I wholeheartedly hope God saves the worst punishment for you --”
“Ow!”, cried the woman. To my horror, I had felt a small impact on my foreleg just before she did; on my cuffed foreleg.
“Kriti! Are you okay?”, exclaimed Aryan, and a moment later he shrieked, “What -- what exactly is this?”
I finally opened my eyes. Aryan was crouched at my foreleg to examine the metal spikes around it, and his face looked livid. The woman, Kriti, was also crouched to examine her leg. I could see a streak of red right above her ankle.
“They’ve cuffed her foreleg with this horrible spiky rusted bracelet! I didn’t even notice it and when I was moving closer to her I accidentally brushed my leg against it!” She looked up at Aryan, who was now upright and was scanning my giant aged body with squinted eyes, as though he was surveying its condition. I could tell he knew that it was beyond exhausted. Kriti followed his eyes until both their eyes met mine.
“Ah, she’s awake!” said Kriti, a smile spreading across her kind face. Aryan looked up and smiled too.
“Hey!” said he, stroking my trunk. His anger towards the babas faded and was replaced with tenderness, and a bit of sympathy too, as he brushed his hands over my wounds.
“You two, how could you ever -- ?”, started Aryan with a much calmer voice, turning towards the babas, only to see nothing but the bustling jam of vehicles and people on the road. The babas had disappeared, and strangely none of us noticed.
“Ah, where have those scumbags gone?”, sighed Kriti in exasperation.
“They probably would have just left. Not surprising though, owing to the big shrivelled up cowards they are”
I couldn’t feel more delighted hearing them giving the most wonderfully accurate names to the babas.
“Ooohh! We should just call the other guys to come with the truck now, when we have the chance --”
“How many times should I tell you that the truck is in repair?”, said Kriti through gritted teeth; her quietness had now turned into vexation. “And none of the other trucks are free either. And couldn’t you have just kept your mouth shut --”
“Why are you making such a big deal about this? I just couldn’t stand the sight of her walking so dizzily on the road anymore”
“You really let your impulsiveness get the better of you all the time, don’t you? No, listen”, she said sharply with raised eyebrows as Aryan opened his mouth to say something, wagging her finger at his face, “We agreed on just following them and not confronting them, so that we could just take her in the night instead. Has it ever occurred to you that confronting them would make them even more difficult than they are now? That’s why instead of just unnecessarily arguing with them we could just take the elephant when they wouldn’t be aware, because it seems as though she’s with them pretty much the entire day”
Till now my mind was drowned in dumb silence, but just when Kriti finished speaking, thoughts and questions started to erupt inside my head and I didn’t pay attention to their chatter, which sounded more like lighthearted banter now that they were laughing.
How did I not notice them when they were following us? And why exactly were they? Where are they going to take me? Many such questions erupted like the nasty firecrackers that I loathed more than anything.
But these questions could hardly overpower my rising ecstasy. I could hardly believe my extremely trustworthy acute ears, and the recent conversation seemed to be ringing in my ears more than any other I had ever heard. As these intense emotions coursed through me at a rather alarming speed, the situation seemed to become more unbelievable yet believable at the same time.
Then, as suddenly as the questions and emotions flooded into my head, the next moment my head was drowned in the echoes of a single, rampant thought:
No more babas! No more babas! No more babas! No more babas! No more babas! No more babas! No more babas!
No more babas! I am going to be free!
Just at that moment, thinking of the devils and the devils appeared; a surly grunt from my left told me that the babas had returned, and I was jerked back into the present. The babas were accompanied by another man, an unpleasant-looking man with his porky belly nearly stretching his shirt out of its seams. I also noticed an unusual sensation on one of my foreleg, the foreleg that was cuffed. Or rather, the one that was previously cuffed…
I moved it, and felt no pain, not even a slight prick, which is when I noticed that the spiky bracelet lay at the foot of a nearby tree. But before I could internally celebrate its removal did the two parties start to slowly spit sparks at each other.
“So. You two are still here.” said Baba Vishnuram, sneering.
‘And you two came back”, said Aryan, returning his sneer. “Thought you would have been a bit of a scaredy-cat about it, and wouldn’t return”
“Sir, who are you?”, said Kriti, nodding in the direction of the pot bellied man. He was an acquaintance to the babas and had a share of their ‘earnings’, however meagre they were.
“I am the previous owner of this elephant”, said the man, “I gifted it to them. That means they still have the right --”
“Right over the elephant?”, said Kriti in a deadly calm voice with a raised eyebrow, “No, they don’t”
“Well, it isn’t against the law to gift someone an elephant --”
“Oh, is it now?” Kriti’s mouth reduced to a thin line, “Well, sir, if this wasn’t obviously a plain lie, then these two would have to declare their inheritance within 3 months since you apparently ‘gifted’ her to them, because if they didn’t then it very well would’ve been illegal. But since it is a plain lie --”
“It isn’t!” interjected Baba Godbaleshwar
“--possession of this elephant is still illegal.” she continued, turning towards him, “Therefore, we have all rights to seize her immediately, because we both are part of an official organisation. And, in this case, laws won’t even come as much in play because the bottom line is that you are treating this elephant like vermin. So, all in all, babaji, she is not yours anymore --”
“Yeah yeah yeah, all you youngsters want to do is to waste other people’s time so why don’t you two just shove off?”, said the man irritably, “Just stop interfering, please, they have as much right to keep the elephant as much as you say you do. Shoo, shoo!” He started to wag his hand to gesture that.
And the two youngsters indeed started to shuffle away.
But before the babas started to drag me onto the road, I heard Aryan mutter to me, “Don’t worry, you won’t be with the babas for longer than today”
That’s all I needed to hear as we set off.
Never have I ever felt so ecstatic amidst all the pain surging through my body. Never have I ever felt so awake at night even when fatigue was threatening to shut my eyelids. It’s not that I have ever slept particularly well, but this time I couldn’t and didn’t bother to try falling asleep. As we three drew nearer to the village earlier today, I must have stomped around like the happiest elephant alive, even though my distant past suggested no reason to do so, and my wounds were definitely not in favour of it, but I didn’t care. The babas wore a mingled expression of deep frustration and mortification when they dismounted me, which added more bounce to my step as I made my way towards the tree I snooze under. Due to his shock, Baba Vishnuram didn’t bother striking me when my bouncy walk was threatening to throw him off.
Now, finally under my tree, anticipation was sending shivers through my thin skin, tickling every single wrinkle. They, Aryan and Kriti, would be any minute now, bringing with them a large and clunky rumbling truck, flashing their kind smiles. I bathed in that anticipation for a few more moments, which slowly seemed to turn into an eternity. The anticipation was starting to wear off, but just as it was about to completely die down did I hear thumping footsteps and a blinding flash of light. As the footsteps grew louder, Kriti and Aryan came into view, jogging as softly as possible towards me. The low rumbling noise behind them and whispers suggested that there were more people and a large truck to take me to wherever they were planning to take me. Excitement rose within me all over again.
“There she is!”, whispered Aryan, “Oh, she is awake!”
He flashed his signature smile.
“We’re gonna take you to a very nice place, okay?”, said Kriti, rubbing my leg, “Say goodbye to the babas!”
No matter however happy I was going to be in my newfound home, I was sure nothing was going to surpass the happiness I was experiencing now, growing exponentially as Aryan, Kriti, and the other helpers got me into their cavernous truck, where they had a stock of bananas. Their soothing voices and warm expressions assured me that I was finally experiencing genuine concern and care, and that they were not just coaxing me into going to another horrible place.
I was constantly imagining how this very nice place was going to be like: will it be full of trees? Will there be stray dogs and cats like the ones I would see in the village everyday? There would definitely be animals that I have never seen before. Would there be more helpers over there? What kind of food would they give me? A shiver of thrill went through my body thinking about how the food would taste. As a million more thoughts raced in my head, a particular one stuck out and seemed to create a jolt in my belly:
I was definitely not the only elephant they had ever rescued. That meant there were going to be other elephants over there. There was a chance I could make friends with my own kind!
I didn’t realise that the tornado of thoughts in my head had stayed strong throughout the whole bumpy ride in the dark to, literally, the place of my dreams. After I got out of the truck I could see that the place, immersed in the dim golden light of dawn, was exactly as I had pictured.
One year later
Turns out that the sure thought I had as I was being lead into the rescue truck a year ago, about that moment being the happiest that could be, gained some pretty strong competitors: the first meal I ever ate, and I never knew those tastes even existed; having my calluses removed, a wonderful sensation seeping through my padded feet; walking in the shadow of various different types of trees, being in the downwind of their refreshing breath…
Or (and this almost surpassed the happiest moment), when I was introduced to another elephant, an elephant who was completely blind and had alarmingly weak bones. She was my first elephant friend ever. And it was a long time after we met when I realised that we were inseparable. She always reached out to me to guide her through the towering trees, or whenever she had a tough time, and I without fail would seek to help her. It was one of the best feelings in the world to feel needed, probably the best. As I stood gazing absentmindedly into the clear blue spring sky, I decided to let that moment when I discovered that I had met my soul elephant to take up first place in my head, and that’s when I heard a loud trumpet behind me.
“Hey, you gump! Get over here, I’ve called you five times by now”
I trotted towards my friend, Aryan, Kriti, and several caretakers and medical practitioners, all of whom helped me get to where I was now. Wearing ear-splitting smiles, they were all surrounding a huge platter of everything I loved to eat. When I joined them, I predicted what they were going to say before it even escaped their mouths.
“HAPPY ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY TO YOU!”
My friend trumpeted along with everyone else. We looked at each other with the same look of readiness to devour the meal, and plunged into it without further ado. Nudging her with my trunk, mouthful of delight, I muttered:
“Doesn’t it taste so good? And by the way, I’m not a gump, you dumbo”