Elephants and Ganesha Walk with Me
1. Just out of my mother's womb, in my hospital crib, I sense Lord Ganesha hovering above me, notepad in hand. He looks at my sleeping form over his tusk, crosses out a line or two, adds a new detail here. Ganesha, the elephant god, my elephant friend, remover of obstacles. You broke off your own tusk to keep writing – ever be my muse, to keep writing.
2. Elephants have long memories. How far back can they go?
3. Do they recall the trumpeting of mammoths, the clash of ivory on ivory? Do they recall the steppes beneath their feet, shifting to make space? Do they recall turning to ice where they stood, to be uncovered centuries late?
4. BBC News: 16 Aug 2021. For the past 17 months, a wandering herd of elephants in China has embarked on an adventure of mammoth proportions, from breaking into villagers' homes, to giving birth while on the road. An extreme drought lasted for a year up to the elephants' departure. Elephants are known for their voracious appetite. So far, they have wolfed down 180 tonnes of corn, bananas, and pineapples laid out for them. Even a side-view mirror was torn off by a curious elephant inspecting a vehicle.
5. If you gaze into the eyes of an elephant, you will feel yourself drowning in a vortex of brown, deep and light alternating, speckled with stardust, pinning us with questions: What have we done with their ancestors? What are we doing to them now?
6. I may have ridden one when I was seven, disturbing the dust outside my chthi's home in Chennai. When I needed to lull myself to sleep, I'd call up that image – my twiggy legs hanging on either side near the crown of his head, swaying side to side on his ambling walk, his hair prickling under me. Nothing could touch me. I was elephant borne.
7. My favourite teacher gave me a sharpener once when I was 13, shaped like an elephant, pastel pink. It sat on my table in every exam I ever wrote, up to university, now dirty pink. Lord Ganesha, watching over me, writing my exams for me.
8. I rode again on my honeymoon, Chiang Mai. Then I learnt how elephant calves are torn from their mothers, starved and beaten till broken, to be tamed. Broken shards of elephant dreams could never hold my weight, I never rode again.
9. I love the sprawling stone temples in Tamil Nadu, with elephants blessing us for bananas, in Kamakshi Amman, Meenakshi Amman temples. They say She shaped him into being from sandalwood, then breathed life into him, a son to call her own, to stand guard for her. I wonder how temple elephants are trained? Can we tie up Ganesha to seek his blessings?
10. Born cartographers, elephants converse with the elements to chart their course across landscapes. The ground beneath their feet dances in seismic waves when greetings pass from one to the other miles apart. Ancient rivers whisper secrets to matriarchs who trace sinuous paths to lead their herds to water holes. Now that we too shape the earth with our crass tools, we are crosstalk in their dialogue with earth. How will they now manoeuvre the land, reconcile their history, negotiate their future? The dinosaur has become a bird. What will the elephant become?
11. An elephant plush toy gifted to my daughter is gifted by her to my best friend's daughter. Ganesha thus connects us across oceans, his trunk a ridged bridge for friends to meet in the middle. When I slide down her side with her, we leap off the ends of the upturned tip of the trunk, squealing with joy. When she slides down my side with me, we land at the start of the mighty trunk, eye to eye with elephant eyes.
12. The trunk is one of the most versatile organs to have evolved among mammals. (Britannica Encyclopaedia).
13. Elephants uproot trees with their trunks, pick flowers by their stems. They wash fruit before eating, roll in mud to cool off. They draw blood when their tusks clash, pour dust into wounds of their injured. Elephants swirl in contradictions. Like us. In the blazing savannah, mothers shift their mass to block the sun for their babies' naps. You don't mess with this vegetarian giant. They take revenge.
14. Legend has it that earth teeters upon the backs of elephants. Earth quakes when they shrug their shoulders. If we push them too hard, they will slip and we will fall.
By Meenakshi PalaniappanQLRS Vol. 21 No. 4 Oct 2022