It was the summer of 96. The heat was gradually rising, the plant life slowly losing it’s shine and the rivers had already started to deplete at an inch meal. The blue sky had started to throw traces of vermilion. The television commercials were filled with ads of “Rasna” and “Roohafza”. The tea stalls have been replaced with “Aam panna” and “ice cream” stands. The entire Sundergarh town was gearing up to welcome summer, at it’s best.
Sitting on the fourth bench of the middle column of class 2″D”, Shruti was repeatedly looking at her wrist watch and desperately waiting for the classes to end. She had already read the message scribbled on the blackboard by her class teacher, Mrs Agarwal. “Summer vacation-25th April to 28th June. happy holidays”. Not only Shruti, the entire class was becoming restless to get out of the classroom and get started with the holidays. Few have planned a family trip to Shimla, some have thought of visiting their grandparents at the country side and some rare great souls have already scheduled to complete the entire academic syllabus, not once, not twice but thrice. But Shruti had plans of her own. The bags have been packed, the water bottle have been hanged by the neck and the paper chits with “happy holidays” written on it have been made. The roar of excitement was stuck at everybody’s Adam’s apple waiting to set it’s foot outside. Hundreds of eyes were tirelessly looking towards the direction of the school bell and waiting for it’s ring. To everyone’s relief, the bell finally rang and it ranged 2 mins before the scheduled time. The “Vidya Bharati” school which was earlier dead silent, is now awakened with loud happy noises. The entire building is filled with cheerful shrills and thankful cries. A wave of young boys and girls passed through the main gate, the moment it opened. 2 months of fun, 2 months of recreation and enjoyment. It was the ultimate smell of freedom for them. The “happy holidays” chits were unanimously distributed. Such was the innocence that the young generation carried during those times. Amidst all the celebrations and jollifications, Shruti came running by, passing through the huge ocean of merry-making lads. She stopped near the white ambassador car and handed over the bag and water bottle to Ramesh kaka, a 56 year old driver.
“What you carry in your school bag, Shruti beta, stones?” he asked trying to balance the heavy bag.
“Yes kaka, lots of them, now lets go home first”she replied in a hurry. “What’s the rush, don,t you want to meet your friends before the long holidays and wish them” he said looking at a group of her friends. But Shruti was not ready to listen to him. She was in a very different mood today. The celebrations did not interest her, her friends did not interest her today, the only thing that had vividly grasped her mind was, “Mary”, a 2 month old baby elephant, “Mary”. “No kaka, not today, i have to go see Mary.” Shruti replied. Without wasting any more time, she quickly opened the back door of the car and sat inside. Ramesh kaka gave a wide smile. He wished her friends instead and started with the return journey to home, to Mary.
It was a couple of nights before when a sudden emergency call made Mr Patnaik, Shruti’s father to go for night patrolling at the middle of the night to Shivpur village. A parade of elephants had entered the village to drink water from the pond. The sudden heat waves had taken a toll on them. Gradually the drinking act turned into fun and frolic game for them. After getting finished with their water play, the elephants started returning to the nearby forest. But a 2 month old female calf failed to get up from the slippery pond. Before the other elephants could help her out, the villagers gathered in large numbers. Out of fear, the entire herd fled to the forest, nowhere to be seen after that. Mr Patnaik, the forest officer of the area, along with some wildlife officials and a veterinary doctor came to Mary’s rescue after some concerned men called him about the unusual incident. After hours of plans and tries, finally she was rescued and brought to the forest campus as per the protocol.
Situated at the outskirts of the town, the Sundergarh forest office campus was spread to a radius of 1 km , both the residential and office quarters combined. Luckily, Shruti’s house was very near to the main head office. The news of a baby elephant had spread like a wildfire at the entire campus. It brought a new sense of life and excitement to the entire area, contrary to what was happening inside Mary’s heart. It was probably her 1st encounter with the human species. She had lost her parents, her own look a likes and now entering into an alien territory. A 2 month old animal brain was processing the entire situation in a very painful manner. She was filled with terror, she was scared and she was angry. Thankfully the wildlife officials were well aware of her thoughts. A small crowd gathered in-front of the white mini truck to witness and welcome the new guest, including Shruti.
“Please maintain some silence, this is not some circus show going on”, few guards said as they came running by to manage the crowd. After proper silence was maintained, the back door of the truck was opened and the entire crowd gasped with a silent “awwww”. A big grey ball like animal has been squeezed to the north-east corner of the vehicle. Mary was unwilling to face the crowd, she had not made up her mind yet. A 92 kg and 3 feet tall calf was shivering with fear. The crowd could sense her agitation and continued with the state of silence.
“Call, Dheeraj Yadav, the mahot” Mr Patnaik ordered after carefully analyzing Mary’s distress.
Dheeraj yadav, a 26 year old elephant tamer jumped to the mini truck with a bunch of well-ripen bananas. And what followed after that was a pure example of how human brain has time and again dominated all other species of the world, how a 50 kg human became the master of a 90 kg animal. This is indeed, a very peculiar thing of being a human.
Few minutes passed by but the conversation between Dheeraj and Mary was still on. Suddenly, at a particular moment, she looked back, back at the crowd, at Mr Patnaik, at the sunlight. Her tiring eyes expressed the pain of losing her loved ones. Dark horizontal lines from the corner of the eyes depicted her emotions. Mary had cried the entire journey.
“It’s ok, be brave, nobody’s going to hurt you here, come with me”, Dheeraj said while slowly touching her temple. And his words worked like magic. Finally she stood up, ready to face her new life. It might be a success for Dheeraj but for Mary, it was her only option. Not just her only option, but a best one at that moment, the option of survival and survival to the best of her ability. She started walking out of the truck, fastening her trunk to Dheeraj’s hand.
“Yes, there you go little fella, u did it”, Dheeraj said thankfully. She got down the truck and looked at the crowd with merciful eyes. Her eyes were desperately looking for some reply, for some reactions. Mr Patnaik along with Shruti slowly came near her and touched her head. Shruti’s eyes twinkled. The entire crowd applauded Mary for her courage, for her new life. The cute little tail at the back of her body started wriggling after that. She was relieved, she could let go of her immediate apprehension.
“so, Shruti beta, have you thought, what will you give Mary to eat today” asked Ramesh kaka while driving back home from school.
Shruti, suddenly returned from her dreamland of Mary to reality. She might have watched the 1977 Bollywood movie “Safed Hathi”, a dozen times on Doordarshan. She had already thought Mary being her safed hathi, her new friend that god had gifted her. It has been only 2 days, but she and Mary have developed quite a decent amount of fondness towards each other. Among the tall people there, Mary would visualize Shruti as the smaller one, just like her, with small hands, small legs and height. They both connected.
“Bananas, kaka, i have already kept a stock of it at home” she replied.
“Ahh,, i see” with this note, Ramesh kaka entered the car inside the forest campus. Mr Patnaik was standing at the balcony, waiting for his daughter to return home. But Shruti, the moment she got down from the car, she started running towards the direction where Mary was kept.
“wait,, you eat first” Mr Patnaik said, running after her.
The entire town became fond of the baby elephant. The amount of love, care and attention that she received from everyone around there was beyond any measure. But their association continued for only the next 20 days. Mary’s family, the elephant herd, have migrated to the adjacent state and as per the government protocol, she has to be transfered to Nandankanan zoological park at Bhubaneshwar.
Mary left the town leaving everyone at a very somber state, especially Shruti. Days passed by, months passed by, but she never stopped missing Mary. The only thing that she looked forward to was her annual visit to the Nandankanan zoo, as promised by her father. Such was the beauty of relationship between humans and animals during those times. There was harmony, there was patience and there was acceptance.
More than 20 years have been passed to this incident. Shruti is not that small kid anymore now. She is in her late 20s and a biology teacher by profession. It was a rainy Sunday morning. As per her daily morning ritual, she got up and switched on the television for some NEWS.
“Breaking news- Electricity department neglect takes 7 elephants lives in Angul district”
Shruti sat with a loud thump. She was shocked for the very fact that precious lives of 7 elephants gone at one go. Just few days before, she came across a news about elephant killings and missing tusks. These incidents have become unusually frequent in these years. The killings were not only unidirectional, but bidirectional as well. The harmony between man and elephants that had existed earlier, has been lost to a dramatic amount. News of killings of people and destruction of houses & paddy fields by elephants are not uncommon.
Shruti started analyzing the situation, “We, the humans, have very accurately installed CCTV cameras and high security locks in our houses, have repeatedly acquired lands and buildings to add up to our assets, but we also have become instrumental in depleting the forests, which are the home to thousands of wildlife species. The rapid developmental work, the big industrial projects, the giant manufacturing units which have been installed in these forests, are indeed boon for us, but is undoubtedly serving as a curse for the forest dwellers. And in return, these poor animals have developed a defense mechanism against us.”
Thousands of questions keep coming to her mind, “Is this a development in real, or just a fake sense of progressive approach? How far is this a legitimate work, when thousands of innocent lives are being lost? Why can,t we limit our greed and give a new dimension to our approach? Why can,t conservation of nature be the new developmental project that the world should look forward instead of hovering around being industrially prosperous?”
“Oh again, elephants are dead” sighed Shruti’s mother, sipping her morning cup of coffee. She continued “I think the days are not far when the elephants will soon enter the extinct species list”
This particular statement shocked Shruti. She instantly started imagining a situation in which she is busy teaching her class about the extinct species list. Besides the woolly mammoth, dinosaurs, dodo, stood “an elephant”. Then she realized, the entire animal kingdom is in trouble, the nature is in trouble and the trouble is not tiny, but as big as an elephant, a “Jumbo” trouble.