‘Madam, it’s the perfect weekend getaway from Bangalore’, the travel agent had promised us.
I was eight months pregnant and still unable to believe that I would be a mother any day soon. Having never held a baby in my life, I was terrified of what motherhood would mean to me. I grabbed the chance at an adventurous weekend before I was sure; I would be lost in the world of potty training and lullabies. Little did I know the adventure that lay ahead of me that weekend.
‘Bandipur National Park’ was once known as the hiding place of the infamous Sandalwood smuggler ‘Veerappan’ as he spent years terrorizing people and avoiding the police. The smugglers are no more but the dense jungle stretches of Bandipur still hold a sepulchral thrill as one imagines the stealthy tigers and the crafty smugglers hiding behind the tall trees.
A short drive away from the bustling city of Bangalore, the forest resort is truly a slice of heaven for the weary city dwellers. Though a national tiger resort, tigers are a rare sight. One can spot deer, elephants, squirrels, peacocks and the like in the jungle. The forest is also home to some exotic trees like Sandalwood, Teak etc. With no access to mobile phones and television, it forces one to cut off from the digital world of constant communication and focus on the beauty of nature.
We arrived in Bandipur well in time for a sumptuous lunch. After a quick afternoon trek, we got ready for the jungle safari.
We were travelling in an open jeep with 2 other couples. A group of young men were also enjoying the safari in the jeep behind ours. As evening fell, the forest seemed bathed in the magical orange glow of a beautiful, cloudless dusk.
A group of elephants came near our jeep. There was one baby elephant and a group of bigger elephants along with it. ‘Look, elephants’, shouted one guy in the jeep next to ours.
Without a warning, he suddenly rigged up a huge camera. It was a huge contraption with its own stand. It was aimed right at the baby elephant. It got scared and started running when it saw the camera.
Suddenly, we saw the mother elephant charging at the jeep. Did she think it was a gun aimed at her baby? We’ll never know. It just felt its baby was in danger and reacted instantly.
As if in slow motion, our driver turned around the jeep and starting racing through the forest. Behind us came the other jeep, the reckless guy still aiming his camera at the elephants. And behind the jeep, eight angry elephants charged angrily towards us.
‘That’s it. I’ll probably deliver my child right here in the middle of the forest’ I thought as I tried hard to control my shaking tummy and shaking mind.
10 minutes of chase. 10 minutes of absolute fear. Somehow we found the way back to the camp. And with all our combined shouts, the man with the camera finally came to his senses. As we came to the open road, the elephants gave up their chase and retreated back slowly. Maybe once the camera was removed, the mother elephant thought her baby was no longer in danger.
A month later, the nurse placed a beautiful baby girl in my arms. ‘My own baby’, I was awestruck. And suddenly, I remembered the angry mother elephant I had seen in Bandipur. I felt the same primitive need to protect the small bundle in my arms as the elephant had that day. Maybe this is what motherhood means.
The elusive tiger might have escaped our notice in Bandipur but the protective and angry elephant mother had given me, my first, unforgettable, lesson in motherhood.