- It's early morning and we are just going to sleep when the chowkidar rushes in to wake us, shouting, "Sahib, Hathi, Hathi, Hathi, HATHI, HATHI.....", he’s stuck on the last word and looks surprised his lips haven’t stopped moving. I run, barefoot, slide on the slick red floor, picking up bits of loose tobacco and dirt. The cool floor has a hint of warmth from the sunlight streaming in through the netting that makes up the walls of the verandah. It lets the “atmosphere” in while keeping the mosquitoes out. It’s too bright out here. The sun washes out the lighter shades around me. I imagine cotton clouds, blue skies; a prefect tropical morning. I do not look at the sky to confirm. A throbbing in my head informs me that I am not prepared for this.
- The elephant is on the other side of the barbed fence that divides Rahul’s bungalow from the workers huts. He is big, old, wrinkled, and scarred. His skin looks like worn leather. He is the color of ash - like a ghost elephant. His skin is worn out and patches of the thick faded, worn grey are replaced with smooth baby pink skin - new skin - skin that hangs loosely all over his body. One ear has a long tear right through its center. He has stumps where there should have been cream colored ivory.
- "He’s been tamed.”
- "Bastard that did it should have his teeth pulled out."
- "It’s better this way, or some motherfucker would have surely killed it."
- The chowkidar wrings his hands, his eyes are bulging. It seems like he is talking more to himself than us.We come to learn that machines have replaced the elephant's job. Elephant handlers are out of logging jobs and can barely feed themselves. Why has the elephant been beaten? we inquire. Mahouts are known to treat their elephants as part of their family. It’s not business it’s tradition. Elephants have remained in the same families, seen great-grandfathers die and grandson’s become grandfathers. Elephants are more than family to them. They are treated as forms of Ganesh, the elephant god, doted on and worshipped by the mahouts. It’s more than just a story, in his voice is a plea, can’t the sahibs do something? Rahul has a terrible headache from a few sleepless nights of drinking and the chowkidar’s narrative isn’t helping so he is sent off to make lots of chai and asked not to forget the biscuits.
- On the other side of the fence is another world. People standing in line to fill up water for cooking and bathing have abandoned their bright multicolored gaudy plastic buckets, brass and steel pots. A man with soap on his body runs to his house. We hear the shutting down of doors and windows. It’s like one of those shootout scenes in Westerns, thin, insect like scurrying brown people replace the rolling tumbleweed.
- The elephant walks up to the blue door of the first hut (all huts have blue doors and white walls) like an old saint begging for alms. They are ignoring him hoping the madman will get tired and leave. The front wall of the hut has turned black and there is an up and down movement of light and shadow. THUNK. A door is tossed aside it is followed by a loud crash. What was a house is now a pile of dirt. 4 thin brown people scurry through the dust and wreckage like insects running from water. The elephant finishes their monthly ration in a minute.
- The chowkidar is reciting prayers to Ganesh saying that the creature is not an elephant but a god and we have to pray. I laugh. The elephant goes to the next house and the next like a tax collector and everyone seems to have realized what to do. They’re throwing out all their food out the window, huddling together and praying. Some boys have started enjoying the show and are cheering the elephant on. The elephant goes for the banana trees and the boys jump and shout. The elephant goes to one of the flowing water taps and drinks. He sits down and surveys his territory. Blows his own trumpet. Shakes his tail, flaps his ears. Waits for the mahout to come close and raises his trunk. The mahout is crying, he calls out to the elephant, he coos, makes soothing noises. The ash elephant - the ghost, his eyes still have fire, they look into the mahouts eyes, he rears back and runs lopsidedly into the forest. There is silence for a moment, the mahout breaks down into sobs, his wife takes him home. People start coming out, there is a lot of wailing and crying, some people are pointing angrily at the mahouts house. People start digging in the debris trying to salvage what they can.
- We are too excited to sleep. We drink OLD MONK XXX rum and coffee toasts, laugh and chatter. We celebrate an entertaining morning.
- People come over from the other side of the fence and say they are glad we are fine. Rahul wonders why the elephant did not attack our bungalow when we had more food than all those people combined. Rahul’s younger brother goes to take a shower with his girlfriend. We order breakfast - sunny side eggs and toast, baked beans and chopped liver. We drink some beer.
- The chowkidar wants all the credit for our escape, claims we were saved by his prayers.
a guest Aug 3rd, 2012 14 Never
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