Santhi the Elephant and its Exploits
Veeraswamy Krishnaraj



July 29, 2016.

Santhipuram is a midsize town in Tamil Nadu. Gajanathan was a Mahout. The elephant was Santhi, the only elephant in town. The elephant retired from a circus. Gajanathan took the elephant on the streets to entertain people and children. The weekends were always busy. The money kept pouring in.

Gajanathan decorated the elephant with expensive clothes and precious gems. The elephant picked up the children with its trunk and made them sit on a secure platform on its back. A five-minute ride cost 5 rupees. For three rupees each, three children rode the elephant. People brought Bananas, rice balls, sugarcanes, mangos… for the elephant. After inspecting the items for injurious non-food items, Gajanathan allowed the children to feed the elephant.

The children, afraid of being lifted by the trunk climbed on a portable ladder held against the body of the elephant.

The mahout trained the elephant to throw ball for the children to hit. It played basketball, football…with the children, who were advised to stay ten feet away from the elephant while playing ball with the elephant.

The mahout used Nāmam, Pūsai, and Pottu in a three-day cycle on its forehead to show his impartiality in Hindu religious practice. That further added his popularity among the city dwellers and the children.

The city spread to the banks of Gajamukhi river, which provided the water to the people. The mahout had a city permit to bath the elephant in the river.

The children jumped in the river against city ordinance to bathe and frolic in the water. Once a child was drowning in the rapids. The rapids carried him from afar in its downstream course. There was a lot shouting from the children on the river bank. The mahout ordered the elephant to catch the boy floating down the stream. Not only it caught him by its prehensile trunk but put him on its back and neck so the boy could hold on to its ears. This was all caught on video by a teenager who came there to take video of the bathing elephant.

The local movie houses made copies of the video and played it on their screens. The elephant’s reputation along with that of the mahout spread far and wide, because the newspapers picked up the story and ran with it.

The mayor grateful and impressed by the rescue of the child by the elephant held a special reception for the elephant and the mahout in the city hall. The rescued boy was his godson. The mayor himself fed the elephant a load of bananas.

Invitations came pouring in by thousands asking the mahout to bring the elephant to their communities. The mahout and the elephant travelled by special coach in the train, all free of cost to the mahout.

In one of those towns, where the crowd gathered to see the elephant, there were pickpockets up to no good.  It just happened, a thief took Māṅkaliyam (=Thāli = chain with marriage badge) off the neck of a young woman. The mahout, the elephant and several people saw this daylight robbery. The mahout gave a coconut to the elephant and ordered it to hit the fleeing robber. Hit it did. The robber was hit on the head. Down went he. People caught him and handed him over to the police, with a mile-long rap sheet on the culprit.  He had a laceration on the scalp, but did not lose his consciousness.  People brought the coconut to the mahout. The elephant crushed it under its foot to smithereens. The police restored the chain to the young woman, who thanked the officers.

The press and the TV channels went gaga over the incident. There were interviews with the mahout and the elephant, the victim, and the robber.  The mahout insisted on a load of bananas to feed the elephant before any interview.

The press directed its attention to the robber.

Press: Why did you steal the Mangaliyam off the neck of the young woman?

Robber: That girl is the daughter of my maternal uncle. I am entitled to marry her, as it is the custom in our caste. But she was given away to another man. I am angry. So I stole her Thali.

Press: Now you got even with her family.

Robber: Yes, I feel that way.

Press: We hear a rap sheet with the police is a mile long.

Robber: Hard work does not pay as much as robbery.

Press: I see your point. But how often you went to jail?

Robber: Four times. Three months at a time. I am still ahead in the game.

Press: What if someone, having a grudge kills you?

Robber: I have to take that chance.

Press: Good luck to you.

The elephant knew to recognize the edible from objects like coins. The mahout trained it to hand him the coins thrown on blue tarpaulin near it. He trained the elephant not to pick up the knives, blades and other injurious objects from the floor, thrown by miscreants.

In one town on its tour, a man threw a blade on the floor within its reach. The elephant rushed towards him, picked him up and held him aloft for five minutes.  The fellow was flailing his limbs, yelled louder than a thunder, and begged for forgiveness. People joined in a chorus and yelled, “Drop him dead.”

The mahout ordered the elephant to put him down gently. The people rushed the culprit and pummeled him to a pulp. By some time, the police showed up and rescued the miscreant from the angry public.

Police: Why did you throw a blade at the elephant?

Miscreant: I was praying to Lord Ganesa for years to make me rich.

Police: What did you do to make yourself rich?

Miscreant: I play lottery. Whatever meager money I make, I buy lottery tickets offering a prayer to Ganesa. Ganesa never made me any money. I am angry with Him.

Police: Why did you take it out on an innocent elephant?

Miscreant: Elephant is the nearest thing to Ganapathi. That is my reason I threw a blade at the elephant.

He was promptly arrested, booked, and produced before the court for malicious mischief. He received six months’ incarceration in Jail.

There was an itinerant bear handler, who went from village to village, town to town making the black bear dance for people. It is just by happenstance that the bear and the elephant were close by, entertaining people. The bear got agitated and rushed to the elephant and attacked it. The mahout was sitting on its back. The perspicacious elephant lifted the growling bear high and threw it into a thorny bush. People could not believe their eyes. The bear handler apologized to the crowd and the mahout and spent a long time extricating the bear from the thorny bush.