A loud trumpet pierced through the still darkness of the night heralding the arrival of a herd of wild elephants. Within seconds, the cold winter air was punctuated with loud shrieks and cries as a huge swarm of men and women, old and young, with children in tow, made a bee line towards our bungalow. After all, elephants would not dare enter the manager’s bungalow, would they?
I was immediately transported 30 years back to a similar cold winter night when I had come to the tea gardens as a young bride. At the time, my heart was a mixed bag of emotions — of excitement, anticipation, apprehension and trepidation. I had done a double take when I first saw the huge bungalow that was to be my home. It spanned some 80 feet from one end to another, rising some 40 feet into the dark sky, built as it was on right feet high stilts. With my stomach in knots, I’d tottered up the creaking steps on my four inch stilettoes. My husband’s reassuring arm across my shoulders, and a romantic dinner next to the warm glow of the fireplace, had made me temporarily forget my misgivings.
Tarzan of the tea estates
The following evening, we were sitting in the verandah enjoying a cuppa when I heard a series of loud shrieking noises. My husband had by then leapt out of his chair, gone to his room, and come out with a whole lot of diwali crackers-–chocolate bombs mostly–which he stuffed into the pockets of his shorts and jacket. Before I could ask what was happening, he’d driven out of the bungalow taking a trusted manservant along.
Upon asking, one of the household staff told me that a herd of wild elephants had come into the garden and saab had gone to chase them away! I learnt this was a regular occurrence and that my husband was quite well known for his dare devil acts, which led me to wonder whether I had married Tarzan of the tea estates! The night air was soon filled with the sounds of bombs and elephants’ trumpeting. The only thing I could do was hope that my ‘Tarzan’ would prove his valour once again and return home triumphant!
A while later, I heard a huge commotion at the front gate of our bungalow. The night chowkidar had left his post and come running, fear writ large on his face as he scampered into the garage and hid behind our parked Ambassador car.
A surreal scene unfolded in front of my eyes!
I looked on in amazement as I saw a baby elephant saunter in and help himself to a bunch of bananas hanging on one of the banana trees near the lawn. I suddenly realised the bungalow servants had all found hiding places leaving me all alone by myself. Before I could react, I saw my husband’s jeep screech to a halt in the porch. He zipped out, bounded up the stairs, dragged me inside and shouted aloud, “Elephants! Get in!”
A nano second later, it seemed to me as though the ground was shaking. The entire herd had followed my husband to our bungalow in search of the baby elephant who had by then lugged his meal of bananas under the bungalow. It was probably looking to savour the meal in peace. The elephants circled the bungalow calling out to the baby elephant, who for some reason, seemed unable to figure his way out from under the stilts. This drove the herd into a frenzy and some of them tried to get under the bungalow to pull the baby out, but the stilts were not high enough for them to be able to do so. One of them then whipped his trunk around a stilt and tried to shake it lose. Seeing this, a couple of other elephants imitated him too. For a city bred lady who’d only seen elephants in a zoo, this was too much to swallow!
All hell broke loose!
My husband chose that opportune moment to inform that our bungalow was merely 100 years old and that the stilts could give way any moment. All of us started running from one end of the bungalow to the other, depending upon which side was being tugged, at that moment. After what seemed an eternity, the baby elephant managed to break free and ran out to a glorious welcome. The elephants let out a loud trumpet and slowly walked out in a disciplined straight line, the baby hidden within their mass.
My husband heaved a massive sigh of relief, let go off my hand and I simply crashed down on to the floor, whimpering in fear and relief. The servants sprang into action, lit the fireplace and served us steaming hot soup. Huddled in my blanket, I listened in rapturous excitement the stories my husband related of his previous encounters with elephants.
Back to the present
The sound of the elephants breaking the tin roofs of the nearby labour quarters shook me out of my reverie. The moans of the traumatised souls huddled on our verandah brought me sharply back to the present. As I looked at the multitude of people cowering behind every bit of furniture of our verandah, I found myself gently coaxing the women into calmness and cuddling a couple of bawling kids. My husband, meanwhile, spoke to the menfolk in a corner estimating the damage caused.
An hour later, the elephants left on their own and everyone went home. I realised I’d witnessed so many such nocturnal visits that I’d become used to it all. I was no longer the scared and nervous person I used to be. In fact, elephants and leopards visiting us seemed a very natural phenomenon and I know for sure that my friends who lived in concrete jungles were quite envious of the adventurous life I led!