Sunday, May 20, 2012

Conversation with a Clay elephant

April 15th, 2012

The first time I visited Punathoor kota I met the Clay Elephant. No. He is not a pachyderm made out of clay but one who looked like he was made out of it. There is an area in the sanctuary that appears to have been a coconut groove not so long ago but now only a sad reminder of the past. The trees were nothing other than long 'stumps' with no fronds on the top.

In this rather pathetic setting were a few elephants standing forlornly waiting for respite from the sun. One of them stood out from the rest because of his unusual appearance. All brown and covered with dried vegetation.


He didn't seem to be in 'musth'. I could not see that tell tale trickle from the temporal glands that usually is visible above and behind the eyes. Perhaps he was at the end of a cycle.

However, his behaviour wasn't exactly encouraging enough for me too creep up close enough. He kept reaching out and picking up all the litter around him and covering himself with it. Maybe the heat was getting to him and being tied up under a tree that offered no shade was obviously making him think out of the box. I was afraid that if I went too close, he'd take a swipe at me, just for the heck of it!

The afternoon sun was beating down mercilessly and I didn't want to risk a heat stroke. Not one to take undue risks, I let him continue with his preoccupation and went on my way. Of course, the clay elephant had to have the last word. He gave me a look that could only have meant, "Beat it, human. You annoy me".
That image of an elephant stayed imprinted on my brain for a long time. Mostly because other elephants in musth were not looking so menacing like this brown brute. So when I revisited Punathoor kota I made it a point to visit my old friend, the Clay Elephant, again.

May 6th, 2012
My second visit, unlike my first was remarkable. There were more elephants this time. Most of the tuskers that had gone off for the temple festivals had returned and Punathoor kota was buzzing with activity.

The paths between the trees and concrete pillars to which the elephants were tethered were almost buried under mounds of palm leaves, the favourite fodder of these pachyderms. Truck loads were coming in and the mahouts were busy gathering the quota allocated for their charges. I was curious to see how my friend, the Clay elephant was doing.

It was nearly a month since I had seen him and I wasn't expecting him to be there in his place now. I was wrong. He was very much there, and very much the same brown colour as before. I was tempted to think that his mahout had give up on bathing him. Why else would he be covered in the same brown mud & dust almost three weeks later? He busy eating his breakfast when I dropped in to say hello.

Only this time, he was far more calmer. He looked more healthier then before and less obsessed at taking a swipe at the people walking past, than the last time I saw him. Or was he? I had gone a little closer this time because he didn't look so agitated. He was ripping strips of the palm leaf and crunching on it like we crunch into a juicy sugarcane.

Then my Clay elephant, noticed me and dropped the strip he was holding. Did he recognize me? I wondered. I know elephants have good memories so he probably recalled our last encounter. My thought was reinforced when he suddenly picked up a new palm leaf with a rather intimidating stalk. I thought he wanted to take a swipe at me but he looked at me calmly and asked, "Breakfast?"

I wasn't sure how to answer but I finally blurted out, "Er. I've eaten already". He looked disappointed so I quickly added, "And, Oh! My teeth aren't designed to chew such heavy duty stuff."
He rumbled, "That is not a problem. I'll show you", and proceeded to teach me how to eat pachyderm style. "First", he said, "hold it like this", and placed the thick stalk under his fore foot. "Then grab an edge like this", he continued as he twisted his trunk around a corner of the stalk.

"Now, hold tight and pull up"

 "If you have any difficulty you can use your other foot like a pivot. Like this"

 "Then you can pull it up, as you push sideways with your foot. See. It's so easy"

I was impressed. I've heard of ambidextrous people so what would you call this elephant?! I wasn't sure but he wasn't finished. "Once you have a long bit, twist it around your trunk and rip it off"

For one fleeting moment my brain went into overdrive.I couldn't help imagining myself in the place of that palm leaf. Oooooh! How excruciating? Statistics have shown that the number of mahouts killed by elephants have nearly trebled since 1997. The pachyderms are not to blame, the owners are. The greed for more earnings from the beast puts more stress on them.

My Clay elephant, looked anything but  threatening, if you discounted his appearance! He interrupted my reverie, "Hey! What are spacing out for? Do you want a bite of this juicy strip? Come on. I wont hurt you".

I muttered something about my gut not made for tough stuff. He retorted, "Stupid humans. Fiber is good for the gut. It helps you clean your insides. Look behind me. You'll know what I mean"

Then he closed his eye and started chewing contentedly on the strip. The only other noise was his insides rumbling. I didn't say goodbye. He was in a world of his own, where his kind were free to roam. I did not want to spoil his dream.

For all those who still think elephants are for parading, go through this page.

These disturbing stats appeared in the Times of India Sunday edition on March 15th, 2012. There are more thought provoking articles on that page.

It's time we gave up our obsession with parading these gentle giants. 

Wake up Malayalee. The God's aren't happy any more. They never asked you to torture elephants for their satisfaction!


  1. Good read...As long the Malayalee loves his thrissur pooram and other temple festivals, our elephants have it tough

  2. That was a dig at me.I pity those creatures but unfortunately that has been our culture.

  3. Culture wasn't made by God. If we created something we can change it too

  4. Very good read. Yeah, festivities are fun but it would be more fun when we exclude animals from the events.