Honey, there’s a wild elephant on the porch!

It’s not often that your kitchen garden becomes the preferred restaurant for a giant tusker. So, you’d better keep your French windows properly shut, your heart in your mouth, and your camera shutter ready, for when that happens.

Updated - October 02, 2019 07:53 pm IST

Published - October 01, 2019 06:47 pm IST

“Delicious shoots! You get five stars on Yelp.”

“Delicious shoots! You get five stars on Yelp.”

This is a blog post from

Nowhere in Kerala are you more likely to have an encounter — especially of the close kind — with a wild elephant than in Munnar and its environs. I’ve had several in the 70-odd years I’ve lived in these hills, but none as close — in the truest and most literal sense of the word — as the one I had on June 18 this year right in the old colonial bungalow where my son resides.

Around 2.30 p.m. I was roused from a refreshing post-lunch nap by the gardener, his eyes bulging with a mixture of alarm and excitement. “There’s a huge tusker in the garden!” he announced dramatically. I followed him to the sitting room to find a massive tusker in the flower-beds just across the lawn, foraging on the plants. Soon enough it spotted us spying on it through the large bay window. And it couldn’t care less, for it continued to feed leisurely with an air of nonchalance.

Word spread fast and presently several locals turned up to take photographs and gaze at the intruder with awe. Emboldened by the fact that it seemed to be preoccupied with grazing, some of the more foolhardy even ventured close to take ‘selfies’ with the jumbo in the background despite my warning them against such indiscretions. Luckily, the tusker maintained its mental equilibrium, perhaps lulled into a sense of euphoria by its lush lunch.

Having had its fill of shrubbery, the elephant suddenly stomped over across the lawn, eyeing the potted plants on the porch. People scattered helter-skelter as it sashayed resolutely towards the bungalow. Huddled in the sitting room, my wife and I along with our son and his two small children watched apprehensively as the giant approached. Would it dare to enter the portico, I wondered.

It did, much to our awe and astonishment. As it slowly sauntered through, it stopped to scoop up a potted plant with its trunk. It tapped it lightly against a foreleg, dislodging the plant from the pot, and then scornfully tossed away both, apparently deciding that the plant wasn’t palatable. While my son was gingerly videographing the intruder through the sitting room window with a mere sheet of fragile glass separating him from it, the rest of us cowered and stared aghast at its monstrous hulk from hardly three feet away, our hearts hammering. It was truly incredible. We were well within touching distance of the pachyderm.

Never had we seen an unsecured wild tusker at such close quarters or in such vivid detail. Its watering, amber-coloured eyes seemed to smoulder. Was it with annoyance because we were spying on it, I wondered. Its tusks, stained brownish-white, were impressively long and viciously curved with one tip noticeably chipped. Its long mottled trunk swept the ground like the cowcatcher of a railway locomotive, feeling, probing, picking up shrubbery every now and then. Its skin was thick, leathery and mud-caked, its toenails knobby and yellowing. Its massive flanks heaved as it lumbered along and its tufted tail swung freely to and fro like a pendulum. All in all, it exuded sheer brute strength and force.

After passing through the porch the tusker headed towards the water tap near the lawn. In a demonstration of its intelligence, it deftly opened the tap with its trunk — it had apparently done this before — and quenched its thirst, filling its trunk and hosing the water into its cavernous mouth repeatedly.

 

Then the gate-crasher coolly sauntered round to the rear of the bungalow, keeping us on tenterhooks and sending the throng of spectators outside fleeing. It began to feed with gusto on the arum lilies bordering the fish pond, tearing out clumps of the succulent plants again and again. All the while it was well aware of us snooping on it furtively from the kitchen window hardly six feet away, but it didn’t seem to mind. Indeed, it appeared to be giving us a close-up of its ‘vital statistics’ once again. And these were truly impressive to say the least!

Having demolished the beds of arum lilies, the tusker moved towards the gate, exploring the verdant hedge with its trunk for something edible to fill its capacious and still unfilled stomach. Finding nothing to its liking, it snorted its dissatisfaction a couple of times and strode regally away.

Someone in the ‘retinue’ of followers keeping a respectful distance well behind it shouted, “Po da! Po da!”, urging it to leave. Apparently familiar with Tamil, the jumbo broke into a brisk trot down the descending road, as did the people behind it. Then, perhaps to dispel any notions of docility or timidity on its part, it unexpectedly wheeled round and headed belligerently towards the crowd, its trunk raised in warning. Another stampede of sorts followed with people all but falling over each other as they scampered to safety.

Thereafter, around 6 p.m. the tusker finally headed down the road, having spent almost three suspenseful hours exploring our compound. Apart from being undoubtedly scary, the experience had also been exhilarating and educative for us. Indeed, it was an extraordinarily rare opportunity — a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime chance — to see a gigantic wild tusker literally on one’s doorstep, in broad daylight, in all its feral yet stately might and majesty.

In retrospect, the tusker could have easily smashed the windowpane separating us from it and caused serious injuries to us — for it was fully aware of our prying presence throughout its visit. Yet it didn’t, indubitably because we had scrupulously refrained from troubling it in any way and, instead, had allowed it a free run of the compound. It was, after all, its original territory decades ago — its stamping-ground, as it were — into which we humans had unabashedly encroached and established ourselves.

And having been treated well, I’ve a strong hunch the tusker will come back sooner or later to feast once more on the large patch of succulent bamboo shoots in the corner of the compound — it was the magnet that had attracted it in the first place. As is well known, elephants can, and do, remember — especially where their favourite delicacy is to be found. So I wait for its return some day when, hopefully, I’ll get a few more insights into its behaviour and disposition.

As an avid nature-lover, I couldn’t ask for more.

 P.S.

On the evening of August 18, exactly two months after its first visit, the tusker returned to our compound to relish the bamboo shoots once again. Certainly, it must have known that the shoots it had fed on earlier would’ve grown back by then, the clever chap.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.