The giants of the wild, great beasts with the power to crush and the speed to outrun you. Without disturbance three females calmly search the branches, winding their trunk around the tastiest leaves. The tree snapping back as the foliage is ripped away. Deftly she twirls the leaves with her trunk, just like we might spaghetti on a fork, until it’s easy to take in the mouthful. Her long, triangular, fleshy lower lip hangs and gently sways as she grinds the leaves slowly in her mouth.
Surrounded by woodland and tea plantations, these elephants are free and wild but coexisting in the area with humans. As we watch quietly I see signs that the elephants are aware we are there but they continue unconcerned, we are not a threat. A truck stops on the road further up the hillside and starts honking its horn. Saddened I see the elephants are disturbed, they stop eating and begin to walk away calmly but with determination, removing themselves from this irritation.
They gently lumber along, out into the clearing which they must traverse before coming to the shelter of a thicker area of woodland. I feel a certain satisfaction, the greed in my heart grinned; I could catch a clearer view of these exotic beasts, I profited from the disrespect of the honking truck.
The way these females walk away so calmly reminds me of the wisdom of turning the other cheek, I can’t know what they were feeling but I projected my own feeling for them of irritation for having been interrupted so unnecessarily. Elephants are capable of complex emotions, their wisdom and intelligence revered, capable of extreme destruction they choose to, but instead they just calmly walked away.
As they disappear into the shade of the trees, cloaked by woodland and foliage, the gentle giants vanish out of sight. My heart smiled, I felt a wave of calm in me as I recognised that they once again had slipped into peace, the peace of living their lives uninterrupted, un-gawked at.
The giants of the temples, chained since infants, their spirits broken by man; they have no idea they too have the power to crush and the speed to run far away. Five males dutifully lined up, adorned in heavy ornamental gold decoration on their head, brahman priests riding on their backs, deafened by the sounding of horns and the beating of drums.
The five elephant bulls sedately make their way over the bridge, I feel their pain, their chains tightening around my heart, choking me. I can only look on as they are drowned a sea of humanity, claustrophobically overwhelming.
He walks by, placing his feet with such grace, such care taken as he treads softly on mother earth caressing her with each and every step. The folds of his hide on his flank are so thick; the way we know a fine silk to fold in its thinness, this hide falls just as exquisitely in its enormity.
Looking into his eyes sadness wells in my heart, chokes in my throat and wells up in my eyes. I want to hold his gaze and will him to revolt, to crush, to rebel against his jailers with all his might; at the same time knowing that a elephant out of control in such close proximity to human life, to me, would be catastrophic. I hold his gaze a while and instead send love and compassion, so much love, I whisper ‘I’m sorry’ on behalf of humanity for this humiliation he must go through, parading here like a circus animal.
It is now illegal in India to raise elephants in captivity. The elephants already in captivity will live out their lives in captivity but, all going well, their wont be a next generation.
Sightings in the wild: Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India.
Temple elephants: Palakkad, Kerela, India. A local festival, not a tourist attraction.
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