The Call of the ‘Airavat’
Ananya Chand, Workshop 4
When a teenaged girl from a tiny hamlet in a remote corner of India suddenly moves to a big city, she is awed by a lot of shiny things that didn’t ever belong to her childhood.
The big cars, swanky hotels and malls, terrace gardens, manicured parks and myriad colours of the street in the night, slowly replaced her life’s views that were hitherto stuffed with dollops of green, blue, brown and grey. Green from the dense forests near Kaziranga, the overflowing blue of the Meghna estuary of Brahmaputra, vast brown hills and gigantic grey elephants that paraded her grandfather’s fields everyday and ate to their stomach’s fill.
Within a decade of her grandfather’s death and her major ‘life event’ of movement to the city to live with her parents, that she had also updated about on Facebook, everything around and about her had transformed significantly.
Her past was now a distant dream locked safely somewhere in a memory box that she never intended to open. In this little box tossed in a trunk under her bed, was a fading picture of her 3-year-old self with her grandfather, holding a baby Airavat or Airu, as she loved calling her pet elephant.
As a child she would always get angry with the Airavat when the ‘not-so-gentle’ giant ate all her share of bananas from her grandfather’s garden. But one excited or apologetic trumpet would calm her down and make her melt into Airavat’s trunk.
In the last 10 years, she never once thought about how Airavat had fared in the village that she had long left behind, was she even alive? That thought was perhaps consumed and belched by the new city life that she had so willingly embraced.
One day, as she passed by a beautiful temple in Begur, 1000s of miles away from her native village, she thought she heard a trumpet that she just could not ignore. Her foot slammed on the brake suddenly, as she gathered her thoughts and memories from 10 years’ ago. And took a u-turn towards that haunting sound.
As she entered through the grand arch of the temple, she was greeted by another trumpet. She knew in her heart this was her long-lost friend but nothing really seemed to fall in place. “How could Airavat be here?”… “How did Airavat know that she was around?”, “Why did she call to her”, her heart was pounding hard.
She was drawn further towards the temple pond where a gigantic beast was splashing water all over itself, playing with people around and having the time of her life. It was almost as if you were in the presence of a relentlessly entertaining ‘happy-go-lucky’ person.
“Is this Airavat? Am I over-thinking”, she wondered, when a light pat on the shoulder brought her back to the reality. The temple priest offered her aarti and prasad and asked her if she was searching for someone, to which she involuntarily said, “I think I lost my friend Airavat, I’m looking for her… can you help me?”
The priest smiled and said, “I am not sure which Airavat you’re searching for, but we have one of our own, right in front of you. He was rescued from a deadly hit-and-run on the Bangalore-Kerala highway by a retired forest official and he brought her to this temple which his family has been associated with since generations.”
She was crest-fallen that this was not her Airavat but the temple’s generosity and kindness toward this elephant brought back all the memories from her childhood, especially how her grandfather treated herds of elephants who kindly went by their fields. Far removed from the picture of maruading elephants painted by the media.
She thought hard about her Airavat, had she grown into a massive adult with majestic tusks and kids of her own… was she well-fed, was she happy ? But on the darker side, the news was rife with information about poaching for elephant tusks and hide… She wondered if Airavat had been caught by poachers and were there others like her who were tormented? The thought made her shudder.
Over the next few weeks, she spent endless nights researching the topic of elephant preservation and slowly saw her life acquiring a purpose which had been missing for a very long time.
Everyone, perhaps, has a call of their own. Her call was the ‘Call of the Airavat’.
Ananya, a zen small-town girl who wishes to visit all small towns of India and chronicle them in her book one day. She attended Short Story Writing Workshop 2.