On Overcoming Elephantine Obstacles


There are obstacles, and then there are elephantine obstacles.

In the summer of 2010, I was driving from Mysore to Calicut in South India - through the Bandipur wildlife sanctuary . At the mouth of this sanctuary, a blackboard outside a restaurant had chalked upon it this information:

ANIMALS SPOTTED NEARBY
Bison(5:45am)
Leopard(6:30am)
Sambar herd(7am)
Elephant herd(7:10am)

This was intended for travelers on safari to acquaint them with their prospects of fauna-sighting. As I drove, I thought I’d be lucky if I could spot any of these creatures.

I was soon amid Bandipur's thick forests. Bamboo trees snaked upwards. Banyan trees luxuriated, gooseberry trees swayed and shrubs crowded around. Monkeys scratched themselves atop trees – looking lazily at scurrying squirrels.

I saw no signs of the creatures advertised by the blackboard. I was not surprised. In months of driving through this jungle on National Highway 212, I’d spotted wild animals only infrequently – and only from a distance. Bandipur’s abundant wildlife hardly ever ventures anywhere near highways. Safari tours always have to make incursions into rough jungle paths to see wild animals.

The green canopy’s shelter took the edge off the afternoon heat as I coasted through the forest highway. Just when my car had settled into a comfortable cruise, a roadblock loomed in the distance. As I slammed my brakes, the leisurely rhythm of my drive was jarred.

--

The enormous gray mass 100 meters ahead was an elephant standing in the middle of the road. He stood still, absorbed in motionless meditation.

I stopped my car. I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel. I figured the elephant would walk away into the jungle soon. 2 minutes passed. 5 minutes did. The rock-like mass on the road remained unmoved.

The elephant was colossal. At almost 3 meters in height, he towered above my car. I pulled out my cellphone and snapped his photograph. It was now 10 minutes since I’d stopped. I started to get impatient. Still, I told myself this would make for a great dinnertime story.

--

Abruptly, he shook himself to life. I sat up, readying myself to resume my driving. But he wasn’t about to saunter off into the jungle.

Before I knew it, the elephant was walking towards my car. In a moment, I realized he wasn’t walking – he was charging. His 7000-pound bulk might have slowed his walk, but his gait was purposeful – and his ponderous eyes were on me.

Hurriedly, I shuffled off my seatbealt. I flung my car door open and frenetically started running toward the nearby woods. I hid behind a tree and still panting, warily peered out.

The elephant started ambling around my car. He thrust his trunk into the open driver’s window – but didn’t find anything interesting enough to pull out. He encircled the car – and suddenly paused in mid-step.

--

He had decided to topple the automobile. He effortlessly lifted the car’s right side with his trunk and tusks, his height and bulk making the car look like a toy. The automobile’s right wheels left the ground. I gasped – but the wheels came back on terra firma in a moment. The elephant, for reasons unknown, had changed his mind and given up on toppling the car. I exhaled a breath of relief from my hiding place.

He continued moving around the car. In an unexpected burst of energy, he thrust his tusks into and out of the rear window glass, shattering it, leaving shining shards on the road. This obliterated the few traces of amusement in me. I shrank in fear.

He took a step away, and gazed in a bored manner at the car. I hesitantly waited behind the tree. The elephant took a couple of steps away. He drifted around, looking away from the car.

I gingerly stepped from behind the tree, my heart pounding. I tiptoed to the end of the car away from the elephant. I clenched my teeth, muttered a prayer, jumped into the passenger seat – and frantically wiggled towards the driver’s seat. I didn’t dare look sideways at the elephant.

I shoved the key into the ignition, gripped the steering wheel and plunged the accelerator down with my foot. It was only after a mile that I stopped to recover my breath, take a swig of water and survey the damage to the rear window.

--

The next day, my automobile insurance agent muttered in disbelief, ”WHAT did you say happened to your car's rear window?!”



S Rao

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