Jungle Tales 3: Close Encounter with a Tusker
We were chatting over tea at my sister’s house while both our toddlers were fighting over the same toy. Ma and Deta (my mom and dad) were playing the indulgent grandparents when the talk shifted to Deta’s adventures in the jungle. None of us knew much about them.
“Tell them about that elephant and how you had a narrow escape,” Ma egged him on.
I told her that I already knew about the elephant which had destroyed Deta’s Jeep.
“No, no,” she waved her hand. “That elephant you had met when you were returning from the jungle on foot.”
Deta strained his mind to go back to the incident which had occurred some four decades ago. Finally, he seemed to recall and began to narrate it to us.
It was on a hot summer evening in July in Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, at around 10.00-10.30 pm, that Deta and three of his staff had finished patrolling on elephant-back and decided to return. They alighted from the elephants once they were almost out of the jungle and reached the main road. Paddy fields on both sides of the road marked human settlement in the area. The moon was hidden by clouds but there was enough visibility for Deta and his colleagues to shut off their battery operated torches to walk to the office.
All of them had mandatorily unloaded their rifles as it was risky to keep rifles loaded amidst civil population. Deta was known for his brisk walk and he had left his colleagues some way behind when a peculiar sound hit his ears. It was a muffled but powerful ‘thud-thud’ coming from somewhere in front of him. In a few seconds, he came face to face with a gleaming pair of vertical arches looming just 15 feet ahead. It took him another few seconds to recognize those as the huge tusks of an elephant.
Some commotion behind led Deta to understand that the elephant was actually being pursued by villagers with fiery torches (called ‘Jur’ in Assamese). The creature must have tried to feed on the rice in the field and was caught red-handed by the villagers. And now, the angry and frustrated animal was almost within ‘touching distance’ of my dad.
There was no time to load bullets in the rifle – the elephant was too close for that. Deta looked around and spotted a ditch running alongside the road. He did not think twice and quickly slid in to the ditch beside a small clump of bamboos which had been cut off, leaving only the bottom ends. While doing so, his hat slipped off his head on to the road.
A few seconds passed. Deta then raised his head and to his horror found himself staring up the trunk of the elephant over his head. The elephant had sensed human presence and was trying to locate the person. Its large ears were flapped out and motionless, trying to catch any sound that might signal the presence of that hapless person. In this case, my dad. Deta was almost holding his breath in his endeavor not to make the slightest of noise.
The elephant remained at the same spot, holding up his trunk every now and then. There was a summer breeze blowing and that might have confused his senses a bit. Meanwhile, the villagers wielding their torches were getting nearer. Finally, the creature was forced to leave the spot. It took a long stride, going over the ditch and my dad hiding in it. The elephant was a safe way off when Deta stood up and loaded the rifle. He fired a blank shot in the air, propelling the elephant to further hasten his steps towards the jungle.
Deta raised himself up from the ditch on to the road and was met with another terrifying sight. There were three more elephants running towards him, all of them fleeing from the ire of the villagers. These were smaller than the one Deta had just encountered. But Deta was prepared this time. He fired a few more shots in the air and the elephants abruptly changed their direction. They left the road and fled towards the jungle.
Deta let out a sigh of relief and remembered his hat. He looked around for it and found it neatly flattened on the ground, at the spot where the elephant had stood. Deta thanked his lucky stars and made way for the office. His colleagues had, in the meantime, managed to hide themselves well. One of them, in fact, had managed to run all the way back to the office and was coming back with more people.
So, all’s well that ends well.
“I was not meant to die that day, although death was certain in such close quarters,” Deta reminisces, looking back. “The elephant had stepped on my hat. It could very well have been my head instead.”
I don’t know if you had/have any animal related dreams. But I remember mine very clearly. In my childhood, I had a recurring dream of an elephant running a rampage in my hometown. It would destroy all and sundry and then tear apart our house, too. I would be hidden under a table, a sheet covering me. And then, the elephant would stop near me, lift up the table first and then drag away the sheet. I would wake up in horror every time I had this dream.
I realized while listening to my dad relating his story, that what had been just a nightmare for me, had occurred in real life to him. He had been there. And he had survived. It takes a lot of heart and a ton of luck for that.
Till next time, then, take care!