Saturday, August 1, 2015


I sat on a rock near the cliff feeling the sun rays on my cheek
while a sleepy river flew below without any turbulent streak

An age old temple teetered anxiously behind an ancient bath 
Stirring the stillness of the sight of the solitary dusty footpath

Overwhelmed by thoughts of its colorful n clamorous past
Lay a citadel at some distance ruing over the stark contrast

I traced the contours of its rocky defense run down by time
Trying to hold on to the pieces of a practice past its prime

It was there all around, in every speck, known and stray
And I jus ’picked it up one by one to fill up a long long day

It looked at me, the time, glad that I had kept my promise
to take time out to know him well n see him fade in abyss

After days and days of living all these days in a beaten blur
I’d broken away from the cloyed routine in an exalted spur

There was no past to ponder about and no future to fancy
Just the wind blowing through my hair in a carefree nancy

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

'E' for 'Elephant'

‘Everyone stop! Can you hear the distinct bird call?’

‘It is the Great Coucal, the lucky bird of Coorg. Let’s see if we can spot one.’
smiled Prakash, our morning bird watching cum nature trail guide at one of Coorg’s Plantation Resort. He was showing us around the coffee plantation estate with much enthusiasm. The fact that we had an Italian lady in our three member group added to his eagerness.

Standing at the plantation gate, all of us at once strained our ears and eyes towards a distinct & deep booming sound.

‘I have never liked bird watching. It’s all about chance’ Aakash was grumbling to himself.

‘I know what kind of bird watching you like.’ I retorted.

‘There!’ pointed the Italian lady towards a group of silver oaks, with hushed delight. All heads turned in the direction of her finger while our guide adjusted his binoculars for a better look. 

‘Looks like we have a lucky day ahead’ he quipped.
Prakash was brought up in these hills and was working with the estate for over five years now. No track was new to him; nor were any bird or plant species. He was wearing a jacket and a cap.

‘That one is the vanilla plant’, he paused along the track to give us time to shoot it. All of us were excited to see the plant for the first time in our life.

A morning walk in a coffee plantation is much more about healing than . Splashing across the dew laden leaves, plucking pepper from the pepper corn vines and picking up areca nuts on the way was proving to be an ideal definition of a weekend getaway.

‘And this one is called Kanthari chilly or the Bird’s eye chilly due to its size’ Prakash was holding tiny chilies towards us. ‘But don’t go by its size. It is potent fire. In fact the locals use it for cure against Tetanus infection.’ We were all amused.

‘Few days back the coffee flowers were in full bloom. You could smell them from far. Now they are turning into fruits as you can see.
’ Prakash was unstoppable.

‘We are heading towards the water reservoirs now. Morning is a good time to spot the birds. Although the sun is rising up fast, we might be just lucky.’

We saw few of those reservoirs yesterday during the jeep tour.’ I added. Our driver was telling us how they were confronted by a male elephant last week, while inspecting the reservoir.’

Now Prakash got all excited to share his share of information & stories about elephants. And he repeated what we had heard yesterday. ‘Coorg is a part of Elephant Corridor. Many a times we have spotted wild elephants crossing the estate from the reserved forests to the water tank. Maximum was fourteen. The elephant mud pool is by the reservoir. Elephants love to cover themselves in mud to beat the heat.

‘It also acts as camouflage.’ Silvia, our Italian fellow trailer added or rather smartly tried to cut him short. But, in vain.

Prakash went on, ‘Elephants are smart creatures. They have strong senses of touch & smell & sound. When we put electric fences, they sense it. So they use a log of wood to bring it down and cross over it. Intelligent, won’t you say?’

We trudged behind him over a concrete pole, crossing a small pool of standing water, clicking pictures on the way. It brought us onto a broad mud path dividing two adjacent reservoirs. These were man made reservoirs, dug up to collect the rain water, which could then be used to water the plants in summers. Apparently they were an instant hit among the wildlife as their watering holes. Since it was March, the water levels in the hole was not high, we were informed.

A creepy feeling crossed my mind. ‘What are we doing near animals’ watering hole? We shouldn’t be here in the first place.

Prakash adjusted his binoculars and passed it to us to have a better view of the birds on the other side of the reservoir. ‘See if you can spot a heron near that mud hump. And let us speak in low voices. We should not disturb the wildlife here.’

Silvia proved to be a pro in bird watching. So while she spotted and named the birds, I decided to go further down near the water to get better pictures.The glistening water, rising sun, long necked wading birds with the fresh coffee leaves as backdrop made for a divine picture.

‘That is the elephant’s mud pool I was talking about. ‘Can you see those marks? They are the elephant foot marks. Still fresh! Looks like an elephant family had taken a dry bath here yesterday’ Prakash pointed towards my right. Deep circular footmarks jostled for space in a pool of soft and wet mud.

‘So the elephants were here yesterday?’ Aakash asked.
‘Actually, it could be today morning too.’ Prakash replied.

Silvia handed over the binoculars to Aakash and adjusted her professional camera. She took a few steps towards me but the decided against venturing further. By now all of us had found our inner peace and were busy appreciating it.  

Suddenly all hell broke loose.

‘RUN! screamed Aakash.‘The elephants are coming here. RUN!
Instinctively, I turned in the direction of the sound to see what would probably remain etched in my memory for years to come.

Two agitated wild elephants had appeared from nowhere and were running towards us with their trunks and tails raised up. They began making loud noises, drowning all sounds in their rage. It seemed as if a thousand trumpets were blowing into my ears at the same time.

Aakash leapt sideways to avoid the fate of the smaller plants which were getting trampled under their feet.

My eyes were frantically searching for our guide to help us out of this situation. And finally I saw a petrified face rooted to the spot behind some bushes, apparently hiding from the second elephant. Any lingering hope of survival was dashed and I turned around to RUN.

There was neither any time to think of a way out nor any plausible way out for me ahead as I was heading straight towards the elephant mud pool. 
My whole life flashed before my eyes in the form of whatever I had read and heard about elephants as I screamed in response and began to run. 

My mom teaching me as a child, ‘Forests are for animals. We humans have encroached upon their homes. No wonder elephants & tigers attack us. They have nowhere to go

‘Elephants are peaceful creatures until something spooks them. They are good short distance runners …’ an overdose of Animal Planet reverberated in my ears.

Next moment I was listening to our guide in Amber Fort, ‘A lot of elephants are domesticated here for tourism. Recently an elephant crushed his mahout to death. Apparently he was over worked.

But just as I was about to take my second step, one of the elephants or rather his trunk, caught up with me and even before I could figure out what was happening, he lashed my back with his trunk. I lost my balance and fell side wards on on that undulating ground.

I rolled over to look up only to see the elephant’s foot, about the size of my face coming on to me.
Instantly, I rolled again to save myself. To my utter amazement, there was no emotion. It was as if my brain had put them on hold and put me on auto-pilot mode as its last ditch effort of rescue.

Face up, I saw the other pachyderm challenging Silvia back with his trunk towards the mud pool. Aakash had already jumped into the mud pool it seemed. I was almost at the edge of that five to six feet deep mud pool. Clearly the mud pool was destined to be our grave.

Once again the pitiless animal made a loud noise and lifted its feet to stamp me out forever. Lying on the ground I saw a huge leg coming towards me rather slowly as if it was trying to balance itself. My mind now began to recreate vivid imageries of how elephants crush people to death when in rage. When its foot was hardly six inches away from me, I realized my rib cage would be the first to go.

In a last ditch effort to save myself, I closed my eyes and rolled over falling straight into the ditch knowing very well that the elephant would tread on us anytime. There was no escape. The harder I pressed my eyes, the fiercer were the visualizations. I was praying hard to God to make it as painless as possible.

Few seconds passed and nothing happened. I wasn’t sure what was happening. I should have been crushed by now. But here I lay in a pool of mud, half sunk.

‘Get up. Get up fast. We have to move out of here, before they come’,
I realized Aakash was trying to pull me out. I opened my eyes and saw Silvia trying to gain balance to stand in that pool. But the next moment, to our utmost horror, she was anxiously trying to climb back.

‘Don’t do that Silvia’
Aakash cried. ‘the elephants are still there

But she didn’t pay attention. Instead, she clutched a handful of grass and pressed against the wall to raise herself. Stretching her hand as far as possible, she caught hold of something and pulled it back towards herself, content with her mission. Mission lost slipper!

We couldn’t believe what we just saw. ‘Did she really need those slippers, when we all were knee deep in the mud?’

I stood up with Aakash’s help who also helped Silvia to come towards our side.
Silvia spoke first, ‘Where are the elephants?’

‘I don’t know. They were attacking a second ago. But I didn’t see them after I jumped here.’ Aakash replied. He seemed to be the most composed one of all three.

‘I am not sure, but I think I saw two giant shadows running towards the other end of the reservoir.’
‘Where is our guide?’ Silvia asked again looking at both of us in her heavily accented English, keeping her voice as low as possible.  
‘I don’t know.’ Aakash tried to look over the path. ‘May be he ran towards the other side
‘Or may be the elephants knocked him off.’ I voiced our worst fears.

What do we do now? Silvia was now beginning to get panicky.
‘I don’t know. The elephants have got great ears. They can find us easily’ I wasn’t any good either.

We all checked ourselves for any broken bones. But apparently the soft mud had absorbed all the shock.

Aakash still had the binoculars hanging around his neck. I was more than elated to find my phone in my pocket, so were Aakash & Silvia. But our joy was momentary. There was absolutely no network to reach out to anybody for help.

'Oh my God! There is no signal at all. What do we do now!' Silvia asked again.
‘We are way too deep in this estate to expect anyone to come for help early morning.’ I almost wailed.
‘Let us get out of here first.’ Aakash replied in his strained yet firm voice to check any further anxiety.

‘But how do we know which path to take? Elephants can be anywhere. Remember the guide told us that there is a family of 12 – 13 elephants in this area.’
I recalled with fright.
‘We cannot go back the same way. There is a bigger risk. We have to go that way.’Aakash reasoned.

We are stuck in one corner of the reservoir. Since the water levels were low there was a path visible along the sides of the reservoir leading towards dense plantation.

I was trying hard not to show my trembling but my voice gave away. ‘But if the elephants come back chasing us, then we will have no chance. They can definitely wade their way through this slosh faster
‘Standing here, we are not increasing our chances of living either. Going back looks more risky to me. I can’t think of any other option. Let’s try this one. If we find anything fishy, we will come back. Let’s not waste time.’ he implored.

‘It is certainly not the time to freak out Aditi. If you can’t decide, let’s go by what the other is saying.’
I was telling myself repeatedly. I gained some hold over my rising fear and agreed to check out the reservoir route first. 
Holding each other, we stepped out of the mud pool in to the reservoir. The mud was way too soft to resist our weight, so we had to be quick with our feet. Trying to keep to the sides we kept walking; Silvia on the edge to take support of the roots jutting out of the reservoir wall.

Please God, don’t let the elephants come behind us. We were all praying to the divine.

After walking some 50 metres, we decided to climb up the wall on to the actual plantation land. I climbed first. Lying low on the ground, I surveyed the area around for any indication of elephants nearby. At ground level once could easily see through the thousands of coffee stems since the leaves were at least a foot or two above the ground. Satisfied, we got Silvia up next, followed by Aakash.

From this high ground we looked back at the scene. It was unnaturally quiet and somber. There was no trace of our guide. We are now convinced that he was dead or at best seriously injured.

Both Silvia and I were now following Aakash as he still remained the coolest of the lot. ‘Let us walk up to the main plantation track quickly so that even if the elephants attack we can run fast. We won’t be able to out run them amidst the coffee plants’

‘Careful. These dried leaves are making a lot of noise.’ I tried to alert.
How will we know which side to go once we are on the trail? Silvia posed another bouncer.

But Aakash was in no mood to give up. ‘Once we reach there, we will be in a better position to judge.’

We had hardly taken a couple of slow and cautious steps when we heard a strange bird call.
Silvia’s eyes lit up with hope. ‘It is our guide. He is signaling to us.’

Confused, we continued to move up when the voice resonated again. It certainly didn’t seem like a pure bird call, but then neither I nor Aakash knew much about birds and their calls to decide anything.
We decided to believe Silvia, since she had proved to be a professional bird watcher in our trail. Moreover there was nothing much to lose.

We rushed back to the reservoir edge. There was no sign of him. Everyone became silent to figure out where the voice is coming from. We heard it again but could not guess the direction.

‘I think we should call him back.’
Silvia suggested.
How can we do that? We don’t know any bird call. And if we shout in our voice, we can alert the elephants.’ I tried to articulate my apprehensions.
'But we have to reply so that he can know we are here. Else he will go.' Silvia urged. I could sense the restlessness in her voice.

‘Ok then you call him.’ I agreed. ‘What is his name?’
‘I don’t remember.’
‘Then how do we call him?’

‘We can call him guide.’
‘Ok cool. You call first then I will.’

And then I heard one of my life’s most sophisticated scream for help. ‘Guideeeee’
Aakash and I promptly broke into a smile.  ‘Silvia, no one can hear this.’ I told Silvia with concern.

‘Why don’t you try once?’ Aakash nudged me.
I clenched my fists, took a deep breath and gave out one of the loudest screams of my life, which filled the whole expanse.


To our utmost relief, we got a response in human voice, ‘Madam, where are you?’

Aakash turned to Silvia, ‘You were correct. It is our guide indeed. Let’s follow the sound.’

‘We are here. Where are you?’ I shouted back, trudging upwards from where the sound seemed to be coming from.

In less than few minutes, all our prayers were answered. Our guide was walking straight towards us.
What seemed to be an impossible dream few minutes ago was actually unfolding in front of us.
All of us had a big smile on our face now, knowing that everyone was safe and unhurt. Prakash led the way from there on.

‘Don’t worry. Elephants do not come in this part of the plantation. But we will still be watchful.’

‘But where were you? We had almost thought that the elephants had done something to you. How did you escape?’ We were all eager to know.

And so other side of the story was revealed to us.

‘Madam when I realized that the elephant was almost about to crush you, I knew I had to do something quickly. Immediately, I took off my ruck sack and cap and started waving them in front of him. Distracted and irritated by this, the elephant left you there and started running after me. The other elephant that was after Silvia madam also joined him.’

We were momentarily stunned by this revelation.

Prakash continued, ‘I know the ways of this plantation and these animals. So I ran in the opposite direction to take them away from you people towards the other end of the reservoir. After chasing me for almost a kilometer I think, the pachyderms decided to let go of me. I think I was out of their territory by then. I took a long route to come back towards that spot and was only hoping that you all would have tried to come out this way.’ He was smiling feebly, knowing very well, how close an escape we’ve all had.

‘But why did they attack us in the first place?’ Silvia asked the most fundamental question.

‘As far as I understand, this elephant pair was having a nice quiet time in the adjacent reservoir. Since they were covered in mud, we could not identify the. Looks like our presence threatened or disturbed them. So they attacked us.’ Prakash explained.

Aakash chipped in. ‘When I first saw them, I looked at you for any direction. Since you were quiet, I thought, it was normal to observe elephants in their natural habitats, drinking water from the reservoir etc. They appeared without making any sound and suddenly went wild making loud noises and running towards us.’

‘Hmmm. Their intention was to attack us, it seems. But I am thankful to God that all of us are safe.’ Prakash added apologetically. After all our safety was one of his prime objective.

Since there was no network, we could not call any one for help. Prakash guided all of us out of the estate till our resort gate after which he walked towards a place where he claimed that the signal was better to call for the estate jeep.

‘I am not sure.’ Aakash spoke to us in low voice.
‘Not sure about what.’ I enquired

‘Not sure about the story he told us. Before I jumped, I was watching you only. I never saw the guide waving the cap or even coming close to us.’ Aakash revealed his reservations.

‘May be after you jumped; that’s when he realized that the elephants were going to kill us. Otherwise what made the elephant change his mind the in the last moment? And why will he lie?’ I tried to 

‘Please realize that his job could be at stake because he put all our lives in danger. So maybe he is trying to sell this story to get us on his side.’ We admitted that he did have a point in the case.

‘Well may be. But I am going to believe his story. It makes me feel better and blessed.’ I dissented.

‘I know, we have little reason not to believe him, but it’s just that I don’t want to give him all the credit.’ Aakash protested weakly. The topic was dropped, there itself.

Suddenly Silvia remembered something ‘Hey! Remember? He told us that is was our lucky day in the beginning.

I realized she was referring to the spotting of the ‘lucky bird’.

‘Oh my God! What a memory you have!’ we laughed for the first time after this incident.

‘In a way it was lucky. We are all sitting here safe & sound. Isn't it? Aakash added.

I think a saw a drop of tear slip through his eyes.