It did not happen in a jungle nor did it happen in a wild life reserve. It happened near my house in a large residential colony in Chennai, one of India’s buzzing metropolitan cities.
The scars I sustained that day have healed. The nightmares don’t haunt me anymore. But the memories are indelible. Though I joke about it to friends and family, I always shiver a little when I recollect my escape from the trunks of a pachyderm.
Up until the late 1980s temple elephants with a mahout sitting on top it, asking for alms in the streets was accepted as normal. In temple towns and during religious festival seasons, it was almost an everyday sight. But in big cities it happened very rarely. So one day when my friends and I were returning from college, we saw this elephant with a mahout on top of it, come down our colony streets. We were pretty excited. A bell was hanging from its neck and its ding-dong noise lured people outside. Many offered the elephant coins, which it took deftly off their hands with its trunk and gave it to the person sitting on it. Then it put its trunk on the heads of the benefactors in a symbolic blessing gesture.
The mahout was a young lad of about eighteen years, and as we later surmised, not very used to handling this elephant. Maybe he had brought this elephant out, against the better judgement of the older mahouts.
As was the norm with all adolescents, he wanted to show off in front of the bevy of college going girls laughing, joking and gaping at him and his elephant.
No one can exactly recall in what way he instigated the elephant, but when it walked past us girls, standing in a line on the platform, it seemed to get angry. Suddenly and in a swift movement it stretched out its trunk towards me, standing last in the line and caught me.
There was pandemonium around. Everyone screamed all at once. I struggled from its grasp and at one point the elephant dropped me and I think it meant to trample me under foot. I tried to crawl away but it had me in its hold once more. It lifted me easily like a rag doll, and dashed me lightly twice against the walls of my neighbour’s compound wall. The third time it lifted me rather high. The third smash would have been the forceful final killing smash!
Luckily for me, my friend’s father who lived in the house next to mine had come out of his house just then. He saw me in the elephant’s raised trunk right outside his compound. Using great presence of mind and from the safety behind the wall, he pulled me from the elephant’s trunk. I fell into his garden. The elephant could not reach me there. Disappointed at failure, the elephant took off at great speed and ran wildly down our street and out of the colony.
We do not know how or when the elephant calmed down. As we did not make a formal complaint to the police, we never knew what happened to the elephant or the mahout after wards. We still do not know, to whom the elephant belonged.
But that day I was badly hurt. I was bleeding heavily from wounds on my forehead, chest and hands. My mother who had no clue to her daughter’s near brush with death, was at home. My friends ran to fetch her and when she saw me covered in blood, she became hysterical and almost swooned. We had to ring up my father to tell him the news. In her agitation she forgot his office telephone number.There were no mobiles then.
I am proud to say that even in my hazy state, I was able to mutter out my father’s office telephone number.
I was in hospital, under medical supervision for a week. Even though we hid the news from the newspapers and debarred all journalists from interviewing me, one very smart person managed to get my photo and collect information from my neighbours. I made front-page news the next day (not the head lines, of course but front page all right.)
Maybe you read the news “Student Attacked By An Elephant.”
Perhaps you saw my photograph too?
Photo Credit girl waving: http://www.rbgstock.com