Those were the days when Colonel Murthi was posted to a semi field area in a North Eastern state where families were allowed to stay. Some houses were properly built but most others were barracks converted into temporary houses.
Col. Murthi being ADRVS was given an independent bungalow type of accommodation with a veranda which ran all round the house. The house had a tiled roof, a little garden and open space in the backyard. When we first walked in, the garden was totally neglected. The gate was broken and the fencing was pulled out very badly. I consoled myself with the thought that with manpower I could make the house not only liveable but also attractive.
The climate in that part was always humid. Electricity used to be turned off at unearthly hours at its whim and fancy. It also used to rain cats and dogs but within a few minutes the rain water used to disappear.
After a few days and after much persuasion Col Murthi sent a few sepoys to give shape to our garden. I struggled with them for entire week. I got the fencing pulled up and fixed well. I got a cute little wooden gate fixed up with a pathway, leading to our veranda. The sepoys even dug up the entire are and planted some seeds. I was so pleased looking at my little garden with its nice wooden gate with some reapers. Every morning I used to walk into the garden and look at seedlings sprouting and little saplings coming up.
One night the electricity went off at around 11 p m and we couldn’t sleep because of the humidity. It was very quiet but then our three dogs-an Apso, a Labrador and a German Spitz started barking. All three were always let loose and habit of sleeping under our cots. The dogs were used to coolers and felt restless when there was no fan, which was the minimum comfort we could give them. The Apso, in particular, gave us dirty looks whenever we put off the cooler or the fan. But this was different and dogs did not stop barking and we could hear some commotion far away. We could even see flashes of a torch.
Col Murthi got up and stood at the window which overlooked the veranda outside our bedroom. I walked towards him when I saw him watching something carefully. He turned and gestured to me to come to the window quietly. I went on tip-toe quietly to the window. As I looked out I saw some huge, black, wall like thing right next to the window. I was about to scream in fear but Col. Murthi silenced me by placing his hand across my mouth. He then whispered that I must not stir or make any noise but look intently at the wall. As I looked at the wall I realised that it was actually a huge, big black elephant. It was standing outside quietly with its small intelligent eyes looking in front. After sometime it started walking towards the fencing at the rear end and went towards the pineapple garden. There were two big Neem trees near the fence. The elephant went and stood against those trees. From the opposite side we could see a group of soldiers with torches flashing, walking towards our house. First, the elephant thought that it was hidden safely behind the Neem trees but later found that it was not all that safe and started walking into the pineapple garden, then, disappeared into the jungle close by.
Next morning when our sevadars rang the bell and I went out to open the door, they both anxiously asked me what had happened to our gate. I was aghast when I looked at my dream gate. It was broken into pieces and our whole garden was totally trampled upon. The little plantain tree was crushed to the ground level and the fencing at the rear totally pushed into the soil. It was really horrifying. Col Murthi told me that we should thank our stars that our dogs very wisely kept silent and he stopped me from screaming. He told me that our round veranda had a tiled roof and its walls were not strong. The slightest sound would have irritated the elephant and if it had really lost its temper, nobody on earth could have stopped it form crushing the walls and trampling the whole place. I always thought the elephant is noble animal. But this was a revelation.
But this was not the end. The next day, our sevadar narrated a hilarious episode which I couldn’t believe. The story went like this –
As it is a tradition in the army, every unit distributes rum to its soldiers twice or thrice a week before dinner. That day happened to be the rum distribution day, or, call it night. This particular soldier, who was a helper to an officer and used to stay in their outhouse, had his quota of rum and started happily cycling to his destination. On the way, he came across a speed breaker and ran over it. He felt that the speed breaker was high and it wasn’t there in the afternoon. Since everyday some construction work or the other was going on, he did not give it much thought; nevertheless went over it.
To his horror, the speed breaker got up and chased him. The poor fellow literally ran for his life reached the outhouse, threw the cycle, ran in and bolted himself in the room. The speed breaker banged the door, could not open it, crushed the cycle and walked away.
The helper in his drunken state never realised that an elephant was lying across the road, assuming that it was speed breaker, cycled over it. In fact he must have missed his usual route and gone a little into the interior.
More about the elephant menace.
One Sunday afternoon, we went to an army theatre to watch a movie. Next to the theatre was the unit canteen where along with the other items, bags of atta, rice and crates of rum bottles were also stored. During the interval, when people went out, there was a lot of commotion. The canteen was ransacked by a few elephants that carried away the bags of atta and rice. But one young elephant wanted to explore the crates of rum bottles. Since these elephants were used to moving around close to civilization, especially army personnel, they seemed to have observed people opening the corks of bottles and consuming the contents. This young and enterprising elephant opened a rum bottle and drank the entire contents at one go. It then did the same with the second, third… and all the twelve bottles! After all, it was an elephant enjoying its drink. As a result, it became tipsy and started swaying. It looked like it was dancing; it was such a big tamasha for the audience, more entertaining than the movie. Those who stayed close by went home and brought their cameras to capture the sight of a lifetime – an elephant dancing. Once the effect of the liquor wore off, the elephant walked away majestically towards the jungle. We watched the remaining movie and went back to our houses quite thrilled. But the local people knew better and were scared of these elephants. They stood still and prayed whenever an elephant crossed their path.
Once, my husband and I were going to the town in our Jonga. Suddenly, an elephant came from nowhere and crossed our path. The driver spotted it from a distance, stopped the engine, sat still, asked us to remain silent and pray. My husband was amused at the driver’s behaviour and thought it was a ‘civilian’s’ way of reacting to the situation. The elephant went towards the jungle. The driver explained to us later that it is always dangerous to be close to an elephant. One never knows when it can lose its temper. It is better to seek God’s intervention than depend on our strength. There were several other elephant stories doing the rounds in that locality that one could write a book about them.