Jungle Tales 1: The Tusker
I think it was an advertisement for Dhara Cooking Oil that coined the tagline ‘My Daddy Strongest’. It suits my dad so aptly. He has always been the strongest, in all spheres of his life. He spent over 18 years amidst wildlife in Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, the period has today come to be known as a sort of ‘Golden Era’ for the sanctuary. He has so many stories about his life in the jungle but he never shared them with us. We would later learn about them from members of his staff and his juniors.
Most of the stories I have heard about his adventures in the jungle come from my mom. I can imagine what a shock it might have been to my mom, a new bride from the city, on the ways of the jungle. Deta (that’s what I call my dad) was a ruthless officer. He held no mercy for the poachers. Cries of anguish would often reach Ma’s ears from the forest office, where Deta carried out his punishment on the poachers. She would hear the poachers cry out “Aru namaribi, Sir” (Please don’t beat me anymore, Sir) along with “Aru ketiau nokoru, Sir” (I will never do such a thing again, Sir).
Later on when I married my husband, I would hear stories about another forest officer whom he had known in his childhood. The punishment he would mete out to poachers seemed very familiar until I came to know that he was one of my dad’s juniors in Manas. No wonder the modus operandi remained the same.
Anyway, I plan to recount to you some tales from the jungle. This one involves a huge tusker. It so happened that one day, Deta was travelling through the jungle along with two of his junior officers. Deta occupied the front seat of the Jeep along with the driver while the two officers sat behind. It was quite late in the evening and the driver was driving at top speed to reach the destination. Thick foliage and tall trees bordered the road on both sides; stark darkness yawning beyond the twin headlights of the vehicle. Suddenly, the Jeep screeched to a halt. There stood in front of them a big elephant – a magnificent male specimen. Its huge curved tusks glinted ominously in the headlight of the vehicle.
The sudden appearance of the Jeep must have shocked the elephant, who was crossing the road at that moment. It stood motionless in the middle of the road, stunned, and then it charged towards the Jeep with a loud trumpet, raising a cloud of dust behind him. Before any one could comprehend the situation, within the fraction of a second, the occupants of the Jeep found themselves up in thin air. The elephant had dug its monstrous tusks into the vehicle and lifted it straight off the ground. The two officers in the back seats tumbled out of the open door of the Jeep while the driver and Deta were still trapped inside. To his horror, the driver could feel the sharp edge of the elephant's tusk press upon his leg.
The tusker, now mad with anger, shook the Jeep like a rag doll, jerking it from side to side. Deta and the driver held on to the interiors of the Jeep for dear life. The impact of the elephant’s action led the vehicle’s radiator to break open and hot water poured out. It scalded the trunk of the elephant and with a sharp cry, it banged down the Jeep on the ground with a resounding thud and fled in to the jungle. Deta and the driver somehow managed to crawl out of the flattened vehicle. They met up with the other officers and quickly exited the scene of danger before the elephant decided to come back and complete his vengeance. They walked all the way to the nearest forest office (known as ‘Beat Office’) and spent the night there.
Next morning, another vehicle pulled along the damaged Jeep to the main forest office. Ma remembers seeing the trampled state of the Jeep and wondering how anyone could have survived such an incident. Deta remained unperturbed while the driver continued to regale every one with that fateful evening’s story. After I heard about that incident, I would imagine the figure of a huge elephant standing by the road side every time we travelled through the jungle at night. It still gives me shivers thinking how the story might have ended.
So, that’s all for today. I shall be back soon with another jungle tale. It feels so exciting thinking about those perils now that I am away from the jungle! And yet I can’t help sighing for some reason..