Making a chaddi dost

The Elephant’s Corridor is a strip of land in a forest area that usually wild elephants use to travel. Apparently these elephants don’t take any other path. Desert or ocean, they will not budge. This is probably also needed because this track is like the way of the jungle and is even the path used by other animals. But they destroy anything that comes in their path. Years ago, they were left with no choice but to cause complete chaos.

My uncle worked in the forest department. His first appointment was in the Annakkayam reserve forest which is in between the route of Chalakudy and Pollachi. In that first year something incredibly frightening happened, which in the years to come became a thrilling and exciting story for him to narrate to everybody and everything. It keeps happening to him again and again but then I think that’s only because he is a stubborn man.

The forest department had no clue about the elephant’s corridor and went ahead and built official quarters there – small and independent houses. One of the houses came in the way of these substantive creatures and unfortunately my uncle was the resident of this house.

One evening while he was taking a nap wearing nothing but a mundu, the elephant’s decided to pay him a visit. He was woken up suddenly to the reverberations of the ground and a sound louder than his snore. If he’d had experience on this job, he would have recognized it as a stampede, but since it was his first time, he assumed it was an earthquake. He did the practical thing that any sane person would do during an earthquake. He dropped onto the floor and got under the cot, holding onto its legs.

The vibrations kept coming closer and closer and suddenly there was a noise, ‘thud.’ Something was belabouring the right side of the house and it began shaking. Mind can be really misleading at times and my uncle thought a tree had fallen on the structure. But then there was a clash again and the structure’s vibration didn’t even start from the bottom which is usually what he had heard about an earthquake but it started to thrum from the sides and vibrate towards the other side and then to the bottom of the house.

But uncle being really smart laid still. Again there was a commotion and he could hear the bricks from the side falling off and this time he thought there are 10-20 trees falling on it, after all it’s a forest. He didn’t bother to explain it to us but from his actions and gestures, I have come to the conclusion that he is lazy and a coward.

He held on tightly to the underside of the cot and hoped this will pass soon. He started praying to all the gods and sang the hymns and whatever phrases he had caught from the prayers his mother and sisters usually prayed.

In Kerala, men don’t have to sit and sing prayers every evening, only women have to. I have no idea why but that’s just how it is. On the one hand, out of fright and on the other because of his dedication to follow the tradition– he couldn’t remember the prayers and couldn’t keep his mind off the continuous pounding on the quarters. He was too scared to sneak out, he felt safe under his cot.

He wanted to scratch his back but was too frightened to move. After a continuous ringing of two minutes on the side of the building all the bricks fell off. There was a last thud and then it stopped. He turned his head to the side and saw a shadow slowly appearing on the tile. And then immediately the tiles stated to crack open. He closed his eyes because of the pain that went through his ears and when he opened it, he saw the giant limbs of an elephant covered with loosely hanging but tough grey skin.

He was perfectly still for a moment and his inclination towards staying in his sanctum grew very strong. Then his instincts changed when he heard the same sound of a tile breaking right above his head. He knew that the next stride would be on his chest.

He rolled to the side of the door from the safe haven under his cot. He looked back to the sound of breaking wood, one second late and he himself would have been in the same fate of his useless bed. He wouldn’t have been alive to tell the tale.

But he didn’t have time to ponder over his narrow escape. He quickly went for the door which was unlocked by luck; he had a lot of luck that day but as he was almost going to leap out, he felt something scratch his bottom and a sharp pain seared through his body and then he jumped.

Next minute he was lying flat on his stomach in a puddle with mud splattered all over his face, some of it even inside his mouth but he couldn’t ignore the burning sensation on his buttocks. He was suddenly picked up by unknown arms and taken to one of his fellow officer’s quarters. He was naked except for half a piece of underwear.

That last sharp pain he experienced was that of the elephant’s tusks which would have pierced through his body if he hadn’t sprung from there. The elephant, I am sure, was left disappointed in attaining only my uncle’s garments — mundu and a small piece of his underwear.

While he was treated, clothed, and was put to peaceful slumber, the wild tuskers were trying to break down the other wall. From the stories he gathered the next day he got to know the happenings outside. They were trying to call him the whole time but were too scared to come inside. They were sure he was going to die but seeing him dive out of there felt like a miracle. Those who stood there after he was carried inside saw a piece of cloth hanging on the tusk of one of those beasts.

Uncle was packed and sent home after a day and he couldn’t sit on his rear for almost two months. In his later years of service, he was once again appointed there and heard how they foolishly rebuilt the houses for almost five to six years and how every year the elephants came and destroyed it. They continued doing it until a researcher came and informed them about the the elephant’s corridor; they couldn’t just use their common sense and stop the construction.

Image Credits: Alamy
Image Credits: Alamy

But after what happened to uncle no one was ready to risk staying there again after it was rebuilt, so thankfully no one else had near death experiences and got their butts scratched by an elephant’s tusk because it was itching. Also by God’s grace the elephants didn’t take it as their annual task to destroy a house and didn’t follow suit by destroying the houses near it when they saw the house they have been usually destroying had not been reconstructed that year.

My uncle wrote about this to my dad the next day and my dad showed me the letter. But if one hears it directly from uncle there will be a few extra details like how he tackled the elephants, broke their tusks and left them to shame. If you sit long enough you might also hear him bragging about how he did the kaliyamardhanam upon the heads of the elephants. Anyways uncle is now retired and safely at home, but now when the ground rumbles, he only expects a herd of elephants to pop out instead of an earthquake.

 

Image Credits for featured image: tumblr – http://thewindowofthesummerhouse.tumblr.com

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Anjana Suresh

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