This is an age of search engines, google ad words, Facebook emojis, likes and dislikes. We think our life is surrounded by all these adjectives and without which there is no existence. If you google few key words, "Thiruvambadi Shivasundar" you will be astonished to find so many google hits and references to an elephant, that will make our film heroes/heroines/sportsmen swoon. A gentle soul that doesn't speak to you, but gave such immense pleasure to those around was an iconic elephant that attracted millions of people to touch, feel and seek blessings with its trunk.
True, we revere elephants (as elephant headed god, Ganesh) much more than we do our fellow human beings. We believe there is a spiritual connection that transcends all our beliefs to the god, somewhere. Yet, we fail to understand, it is a living soul, living being and chain them tethered to trees, make them walk tied with heavy metal, or drag it along the same roads, that we humans walk in a liberated way. While we bow in reverence, we can't appreciate the freedom that an elephant should roam free in the forests.
We first have to understand how do elephants end up on the roads, where the mechanized vehicles travel. First it was for wars, ceremonies and other human endeavors. And over the years, it has continued for human greed and entertainment - for the commercial sale of elephants to elephant-back safaris, zoos and circuses, causing the breakdown of complex relationships, lasting trauma and aggressive behavior. Another cause of elephant capture is the human-elephant conflict. We seem to have no understanding and correlation to elephant rampage other than to capture them outside the perimeters of the national parks. We have no time nor patience to understand the complexities of conflict, but our knee jerk reaction is to capture them first, put them in enclosures, starve them for three to six months, walk with them with pride with a metal hook to control them...Imagine a massive animal which can flick a human to cow down and listen to every command to sit, drink, eat, walk, etc...in these days, even a five year old child will throw tantrums but a fully grown elephant with a mind of its own is not suppose to.
We celebrate our lives with elephants in more ways than one. But do we ever think if elephants want to celebrate in similar ways. Recently, a high ranking forest official was trampled by a wild elephant in Nagarhole National Park. It was tragic and sad. A dear friend, S. Manikandan, IFS is the first high ranking official ever to be trampled by a bull elephant ever in any national park while on duty. We can deconstruct the incident in many ways. While a brilliant officers soul is silenced in the same national park, where the conflict is alarmingly raising it is also a fact that soon, the same tusker that trampled will be captured with a reason that it is becoming dangerous to humans. We will identify the elephant, which at this time has no name, will put him in an enclosure, give him a name that we think is appropriate and make him walk with us, may be in a parade, in a celebration or even to carry around few visitors around the park. Soon, his past history will be forgotten, but once he listens to the human commands - sit, stand, walk, bend... all is forgotten, but his new life chained and brutally beaten up. We will stand alongside the roads, marveling at the majesty, demeanour and walk, stature and will write in glowing ways, the beauty of the elephant. Least do we recognize that the elephant has been ruined of its freedom, free spirit and an opportunity to roam the forest that it belongs to. WE strive to protect them in the wild landscape, but we fail to protect them when the opportunity and adversity comes in front of us.
There is a systematic failure in our conservation scenario. It requires change and appreciation at the policy making bodies, chain of decisions that makes a wild elephant with no name to become iconic elephant with a name that bows to the humans with umpteen names around. It's time to wake up and put our collective consciousness together to leave the wild spirit in the wild areas and celebrate the spirit of wild - the sound, the vistas and the living beings that roam the wild landscapes.
Here are a few links to the Thiruvambadi Shivasundar and S. Manikandan, both of whom have been part of two multi-award winning elephant related films recently. - Gods in Shackes / Elephants in the Coffee
Dr. Thomas Grant
Professor of Journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College