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And Gazelles Leaping

By Sudhin N. Ghose

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‘[Mohan] was, I believe, the sweetest of all the pets known to the children of Our School. Mohan was my favourite—so much so that I used to call him my Mohan, though he did not really belong to me. Sometimes I would call him Manmohan because I had an uncle who was so called, and he was much liked by all who knew him. My uncle Manmohan wrote poetry which was much too difficult for me to understand; but his friends would tell me:

‘Little Son, when you grow up you will have to be as good as your uncle Manmohan.’ So Mohan the elephant came to be named Manmohan by me. It was my way of showing my affection for him, and I kept this as a secret between Mohan and myself.

Mohan was a shy creature, and if he had suspected that one day I would write about him in a book, he would have blushed to the very roots of his hair.

You may well say you have never seen an elephant blush. But then you have not seen Mohan. He was no ordinary elephant. Other elephants may or may not blush. Much depends on their upbringing.

I know of some elephants which are cheeky, thick-skinned and ill-mannered, and if you expect them to blush you will be expecting too much. If such elephants were allowed inside a bus they wouldn’t make room for others; they would just stick themselves in the passage and prevent others getting in or out. If admitted inside a railway coach, they would behave as though they alone had the right to use the coach and to open the window or to slam the door as it pleased them. When going out, I am almost sure, they would not close the carriage door behind them.

‘What are the porters for?’ they would bawl if you protested. In the streets you would find them holding up the traffic, breaking the queues, and causing trouble to all decent people. If they went inside a tea-shop they would smash all the crockery in no time. Ask them to behave reasonably and they would grunt back, ‘Mind your own business.’ You can easily judge them by the way they walk. Moreover, they are generally unwashed and proud of being dirty, noisy, vulgar and ill-informed. Mind you, they might be quite intelligent and clever in their work, but they are absolutely shameless and they never blush. They lack those finer qualities that make an elephant lovable and distinguished.

However, all elephants are not ill-mannered, and Mohan was an exceptionally well-bred specimen. It was a pleasure to spend even a few minutes with him.

In life we have, at times, to pay for other people’s folly, and so it was with poor Mohan. Though his modesty and his good manners were inborn, I think the excessive shyness of his younger days was largely due to the rudeness of his neighbours.

Take one simple case.

No one could call the elephants of Professor Madhukar Babaji’s Circus stupid. But that did not prevent their being ill- bred and hurting Mohan’s feelings.

At one time, some of Madhukar Babaji’s elephants used to join the water-buffaloes in wallowing in the canals. There was nothing wrong in that so long as they did not hold up the barges. No one minded their being with the buffaloes in the afternoon, but no one took any notice either. This indifference of the public, however, made these elephants unhappy! They were anxious to show off and, if they did not succeed in attracting a big crowd, would go on making an awful row. Their grunts could be heard miles away. ‘What’s that noise?’ someone would ask.

‘Madhukar Babaji’s elephants are at play,’ would be the reply.

‘My word! They are noisy. Aren’t they? I never knew elephants could be so ill-mannered.’

‘I presume they are all like that. They set a bad example to our children.

‘They do. The sooner the Circus clears out of this place the better. Fancy sending children to Madhukar Babaji’s show to admire those beasts.’

‘I would never allow my child to come within a mile of an elephant or of a Circus.’

‘Nor would I. Those elephants are worse than pigs.’

‘They seem to be much worse than pigs. Pigs are dirty, but they are not as troublesome as these beasts.’

Imagine the reaction of a decent elephant to such a conversation! Won’t he feel ashamed? And Mohan had to listen, for weeks at a stretch, to such remarks. All that he could do was to blush and hide himself. No wonder the behaviour of Madhukar Babaji’s elephants made him feel more shy than ever—especially as he was very young then, and not forward enough to blurt out:

‘Please don’t think all elephants are alike.’

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