Jungle Tales 2: The Elephant and the Tiger
It’s time for another jungle tale from my dad’s repertoire. Or rather, my recollections of the stories I heard. I had nearly forgotten this one when a casual conversation regarding tigers attacking elephants brought it back.
The story begins on an autumn afternoon when Deta (my dad) was touring the jungle on elephant back with another member of his staff. Co-incidentally, it was the same time of the year as today, ie. February end.
Now, let me share some jungle trivia with you. Forests like Manas, where this story takes place, have tall wild grasses which have to be burned down when they become dry during the non-monsoon season. Why do they have to be burned? Because, the accumulation of dried grasses become a danger to sporadic jungle fires and also obstructs new plants from coming up. That ‘burning’ is a controlled procedure. Parts of the jungle are singled out in installments and the grasses burned down under supervision. After the fires are put out, all that remains are sooty, reed like structures (called ‘ikora’ in Assamese). This ‘burning’ procedure is started late in November and goes on till March.
There, now you have enough knowledge on the ways of the jungle.
Okay, back to the story. Since it was the end of February, the wild grasses in the part where Deta was had already been burned. It was filled with blackened reeds and the elephant was trudging carefully through them, guided by the ‘mahout’ (a person who works with, rides, and tends an elephant). The person Deta was travelling with was a relatively new joinee and so quite inexperienced in jungle matters. They had reached a thicker part of the jungle when suddenly, out of nowhere, came the loud roar of the mighty tiger! Before anyone could make sense of the situation, the powerful creature appeared in front and sprang at the elephant.
The elephant, big it may be, was no match for the king of the jungle (at least in Manas, it is the tiger). The creature totally lost its head and gave a colossal shake to its torso in order to get rid of the tiger. The tiger disappeared mysteriously just as it had appeared. But, that ‘shake’ had done its damage. It threw off Deta and his colleague into the reeds. Let’s call the colleague Daimary. Poor Daimary fell with a crash and lay there, still as a mouse, without moving a single muscle. To him, at that moment, the world was full of reeds and prowling tigers and broken bones.
Deta got up from the ground and shook himself. “Daimary?” he enquired. No response. A bit worried, dad cried out, “Daimary!!”
Half a minute ticked by. And then. ..
“S-a-a-a-r…” Daimary’s voice came tremulously from somewhere within the reed jungle.
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t know, S-a-a-a-r…”
“GET UP, DAIMARY!”
Daimary shakily stood up on his feet, expecting all the while to hear his bones crunch and give away. He stood for a moment and then realized that he was actually alright. “I am absolutely fine, Sir” he said disbelievingly as he skipped out of the reeds.
The lucky duo then tracked their way back to the main road. We shall leave them there for now.
Meanwhile, what had happened to the elephant and the mahout? The elephant turned out to be even more chicken-hearted than Daimary. After dislodging its occupants, the fellow had made an outrageous dash for its life, as if the tiger was hanging from its tail. And there WAS something holding on to its tail. The mahout! The guy had slithered down the elephant’s back during that tumultuous ‘shake’ and somehow managed to catch hold of its tail. And so there he was, holding onto the tail while the animal was on his mad run.
The elephant ran non-stop with one sole objective. It wanted to get to its home! It lived with the mahout’s family in his village and that’s where the frightened creature headed for. It reached the village and still it would not stop, for that SOMETHING WAS STILL HOLDING ONTO ITS TAIL! The mahout now began to collect his wits about. He knew the elephant inside out and remembered its gluttony. Once inside the village, the mahout began screaming out to the villagers, “Get some bananas! Throw them before the elephant!”
The villagers were too dazed to see the elephant running to comprehend the mahout’s words. Finally, the meaning sunk in and some village youths made haste to collect bananas. They kept on throwing the bananas on the elephant’s way till it caught the animal’s attention. Gluttony overcame fear and at long last, the elephant stopped on its tracks to savour its favourite food. With a big sigh of relief, the mahout let go of its tail and flexed his aching arms. The elephant did not even turn around and went about chomping on the bananas. And people say that elephants never forget!
In the meantime, Deta and Daimary had managed to hitch a ride back to the residential quarters. My mom found it difficult to acknowledge that the soot covered person was her husband when she opened the door. I wonder how Daimary was received in his household!
So, there you are. Life in the jungle has its quirky moments. I shall be back with more. Take care!