The rains, the trains and the elephants are all objects enchanting forever. Heavy rains, speedy trains, swaying elephants are very attractive. For children specially, once they notice any of them, life comes to a standstill. Ananya too was no different. In fact, she had an obsession with elephants.
Some years ago, her father had taken his family to Thailand and Ananya had a chance to go on Elephant Safari. It was a free ride for children. She was too small to sit alone on the elephant. Her father had tucked her with him. Initially, she was scared. But when that initial fear got subsided, she was thrilled by the Safari and wanted to have more and more rounds. Since they had come to Thailand as tourists, it was not prudent to spend more amount on one single item. Not only that, similar Elephant Safaris were available in India also, across many cities and in many forms. In every place it carried a different name. Ananya got a promise from her father that once in India, she could have as much joy rides as she wanted.
Her craze for elephants started from her childhood itself. In her childhood days she was taken to a park where a bush plant was trimmed to a shape of an elephant. She was quite amused on seeing a plant grow into a shape of elephant. Then he replied, “Oh! This is after all a man-made design. You cannot sit on it nor go for a ride. Years ago, in my younger days, I had actually mounted on a real elephant and had a joy ride around the park. That was in Bombay, at Byculla, Victoria Gardens.”
That information got stuck in her tender mind. From that time on, she kept on asking him for a similar jolly ride. Finally, it got fulfilled in Thailand.
Her bedtime stories also had to have a story on elephant. Her father too never disappointed her. He told many things about elephants, like Guruvaayoour Kesavan, Seeveli service at night by decorated elephants at the same Guruvaayoor temple, elephant racing and playing football tournaments at Thrissoor mainly for attracting tourists, then Mudumalai elephant resorts in Tamilnadu, and then highly decorated elephants parading in Mysore dasserah procession etcetera. Once he got her a film made on elephants “Haathi Mere Saathi’. She was never tired of seeing it again and again. She had a good collection of films featuring elephants, monkeys and birds. Hatari was her next favourite film. Many animation films were also there in her cherished library.
Circus was another great fascination for her. More than the joker, buffoon and other artists, her all time favourite was the elephants one behind the other, taking rounds holding the tail of the one in front. There was nothing more joyous to watch the elephant lift the trainer-lady by its trunk and gently get her seated on its back. But she hated to see the elephant made to stand with its enormous four feet cramped on to the tiny top of a small stool. It was a sad news for her that due to heavy losses, many circus companies had wound up by now.
Many temples in Tamilnadu were maintaining elephants, but of late, due to various reasons, they had given up and surrendered the animals. The famous Mylapore Kapaali temple also had some elephants. That was many years ago. Now there was none. Suddenly it was in the news that an elephant along with its mahout had come there. They stood outside the temple. Good number of devotees thronged the animal seeking its blessings. The devotees would offer coins to mahout and the animal would lift its trunk and touch the head of the person.
How was it possible that the elephant was in town and Ananya was not there? She was there almost every day. The elephant was aptly named ‘Ganesha.’ Every devotee said ‘Ganesha, bless me.’ Small children caught the fancy of getting touched by the huge animal. They were tickled and amused. Some boys offered bananas, some gave cocoanuts and some gave jaggery wrapped in a banana leaf. Each and every time, the elephant consumed the ‘prasadam’ known as offering, it would bless the person. The mahout allowed this to go on for some time. Later he had to control it as it was not good for him.
At that time, a distinguished authoritative man came with his small boy. The boy wanted to give bananas and also wanted to mount the elephant and be seated there and if possible, go for a round. The mahout gently refused. He said the animal had already taken too many bananas and more of it would cause problem to the animal. He was more concerned with its health. Regarding the ride, again he had to say ‘no’. For obvious reasons, the mahout had no permission for such activity. The area around the temple was narrow and crowded. Many vehicles were plying up and down. Mahout said to get permission for mere ‘blessings’ by the animal itself was very difficult. Later on, it was granted subject to certain terms and conditions. Any deviation from the said norms would lead to total refusal. He once again told the V.I.P. that it was not possible to oblige him.
Both the boy and his father were never accustomed to refusal nor disregard to their pleas. The boy started crying and his father got annoyed. The mahout said, “Our Ganesha does not like crying babies. Please take him away.”
The boy’s father shouted, “You don’t know who I am. My one word will throw you out. Better be careful.”
His son raised his tone and cried louder. Mahout became nervous. “Sir please Sir! Please go away with your son. My dear Ganesha is getting nervous. Normally, he is very gentle by nature. When he hears children crying, he becomes restless. If he turns violent, even I cannot help in controlling him. I knew him as a calf and I had trained him with difficulty. He would get wild under unpleasant situations. I request all of you to go away please. Please go. Allow him to be calm and cool. Let us remember ‘Life first’, Rest all business only next.”
Boy’s father was angry as his ego was hurt. ‘A non-discreet rustic guy would dictate terms to me and I should obey! Never.’ He demanded where it was written that elephant would go awry if a small kid would cry. He was still bent upon picking up arguments. People around him were trying to pacify. He would not budge.
Ananya saw the tension drama going on there. She went with her father to a nearby shop. She bought a few items. There itself she prepared a thick card-board card with clear bold writings. It had long strings on both sides for tying. It read, “I hate kids crying. I love them smiling.” A big smiley emoji also adorned the card in colours. She took her father and went to Mahout to give the card to be tied to the elephant. The mahout accepted and agreed to use it later when the elephant was comfortable.
By then, the arguments had come down, but not the uneasiness. The boy was now sobbing. Ananya’s father was thinking a bit loudly if the man was so influential, he should get permission for this mahout to take the elephant to Marina beach so that children could have a jolly ride there. Ananya caught his idea and went to the distinguished man of authority. She spoke to him without any hesitation. “Please, Uncle. Please use your power and authority to get this caretaker of Elephant to take us on rides at Marina beach. Just like your son, even I like to go for elephant rides.” Soon some more children from the crowd also requested the V.I.P. to make it happen. The mahout also meant to say the same thing with his folded hands and pleading eyes. If such an opportunity came up. he would see that Ganesha was at the temple in the mornings offering blessings to devotees and be at the beach to enthral and entertain the children in the evening.
With so many people looking to him for favours, the V.I.P. became a real V.I.P. With his altered ego, he said that he would meet the concerned officials and try to arrange. At the same time, he warned the mahout to display properly, announce loudly about safety and Ganesha’s displeasure on seeing children crying. Children would always continue to be children, sometimes crying sometime playing and sometime laughing. The parents need to be cautioned. They should be warned not to harm the animals.
The mahout already knew that keeping Ganesha in cool temper would certainly help in getting his business going steadily on, but his main concern in maintaining him cool and comfortable was to ensure that all people around him were safe and sound. If he got wild, no one could be spared. As long as he was swinging and swaying his trunk, it was wonderful. When he raised his trunk and blew trumpet, no one could withstand the damages. A terrible untold misery would befall. He was even aware of a circus which came crumbling down just because, the elephant became wild. A few casualties were also reported. He prayed. ”God forbid! Such a mishap should never occur. Never with Ganesha”.
Mahout requested Ananya and other children there to get him some more cards so that he would display one daily. He also suggested some slogans, ‘LIVE AND LET LIVE’, ‘DON’T CRY, BE CALM’ DON’T TEASE’ ‘LIFE FIRST, BUSINESS NEXT’ and some more. He showed them to Ganesha to choose one.
The card chosen was “Life first, business next”.