I Am Gajraj Kharsel

 

 

I Am Gajraj Karsel

I got this new name and my new life when the Forest officials captured me from Kharsel Reserved forest near Bolangir in Odisha where I had been declared a rogue. Before this, my life can be considered insignificant or even dull. My Mahut had brought me from Banaras and used me for begging to go from one village to another as people identified our clan with Hindu God Lord Ganesh and offered coconuts, bananas, paddy, rice. We traveled for months through various states and that night we rested in the outskirt of this city in an open area in front of Padampur court. Something happened that night to change my life from a domesticated obedient elephant to an aggresive rogue.

We are very sensitive animals and any change in the behaviour of our Mahout can have deadly consequences. There are some unwritten rules which he has to follow strictly to control us. He has to be a vegetarian, no female should accompany us in our journey and strictly no liquor. That night he visited a brothel and returned in an inebriated condition. I could sense the change and didn't listen to his command. He shouted the commands again and again and used the ankush ( elephant hook ) roughly on my body to provoke me. I became furious, I broke the iron chain attached to my leg and lifted my Mahut with my trunk and thrashed him on the ground. After this the police took away my Mahut and put him on detention for some crime commited by him. Frenzy had taken over me. I ran into the nearby Gandhamardan forest with my newfound independence. I became a rogue only because of human mistakes. They captured my Mahut but I was left deserted. I was a male elephant and a wild herd may accept a female but never a male.

I became a big headache for the Forest Department for eighteen long years. I have heard some of them saying that the fattest file maintained in the District Forest office was on my rendezvous. I showed some unpredictable, moody, and destructive behavior as I turned wild. Houses and crops were trampled and many humans lost their life provoking me.  Many such human-animal conflicts have happened and their number is increasing as humans are cutting forests and encroaching our space with their habitation and cultivation. One day I saw some tempting maize crop in a field close to the forest. My hunger and a strong sense of smell led me to that spot. I started devouring them to my satisfaction. The owner seeing his crops getting trampled fired at me from a country gun. Though the injury was minor, it made me so furious that I trampled his hut and searched for him. By sheer luck, he escaped death. You all know that our memory is the sharpest and we do not forget easily. I took it as a personal insult. Every time I crossed that area, I came to that spot and destroyed whatever crop was planted also demolished the hut. Such was my anger. I become mad with anger if someone tried to harm me. Once an old woman threw hot water on me. I caught her with my trunk and smashed her on the ground. This is why the Forest officials tell the villagers not to provoke us but humans are too obstinate to understand and change ways.

I developed some peculiar tastes hitherto unheard about elephants. Let me tell you about one of my favorite food for which I went towards human habitation. It is water in boiled rice locally called Pakhala. If people did not provoke me, I would make a hole in the wall with my trunk and eat the pot of pakhala without causing any damage to the hut.  Unfortunately, when a man shouted at me while I was putting my trunk in the pot, I caught him in my trunk and thrashed him dead. Again when I came to eat paddy, I would not touch other crops. So devouring and trampling one variety of crop would be my favorite for that night.
My regular rendezvous led to many human-animal conflicts which resulted in deaths and damage. There was tremendous pressure on Forest staff to declare me a rogue and eliminate me. Each time an incident happened, they gheraoed the Range Office and Collector's office for compensation and my elimination. Finally, the Forest Department declared me a rogue and they searched for a shooter to eliminate me.

Finally, someone volunteered to do this job. This hunter resembled Jim Corbet in his attire with the khaki dress and round hat and a loaded gun. He went in search of me inside the forest for several days. Finally, we saw each other from a shooting distance. I was standing at the edge of the forest in front of the paddy field close to a Mahua ( Mohula ) tree. The hunter was standing below a jutting rock at a distance of around fifty feet with his aim ready. Both of us saw each other. I realized that my end had come. I raised my trunk and folded it at the top. This is the sign of submission, of reverence which I had been taught by my Mahut. Tears rolled down my eyes. The hunter realized that it would be a great blunder to kill this innocent animal. He retreated back and narrated his experience with the Forest staff and villagers. Thrice shooters had come to eliminate me and for some greater reason my destiny protected me.

After much debate, it was decided that under the guidance of Sri Saroj Patnaik a Forest officer and wildlife exponent, they will try to tranquilize and rehabilitate me somewhere else, and if everything went well then train me.
As a bait, a man was sent with a load of Mahua flowers which they knew attracted us with its smell, taste and intoxication. He laid it on my path and the tranquilizing team waited. Humans may be smart but are no match to us when it comes to sensing that something was amiss. Though I wandered close to it but was cautious not to go too close. Unfortunately that day luck was not on my side. They sighted me at Kuladiha village in Bolangir District. The tranquilizing team came close and were around 15 feet away. It was a challenge for them to shoot the tranquilizer from the right position so that I am not badly injured or killed. To frighten them, I suddenly threw sand at them with my foreleg and made a mock charge. They were experts. They knew our ways that we will not charge unless the group disperses and starts running.  So my next move was to turn around and flee. As I was fleeing, they shot the tranquilizer. The dart was misdirected and hit my right temple. I again turned around and made a mock charge. But by then the drug had started to affect me. I was not stable on my feet. I ran towards the forest but my legs gave way and I leaned against a tree. Another dart hit my upper trunk and then the third dart was fired which hit my right calf and I lost my consciousness.

For my revival they injected an antidote. Care was taken to keep my body cool with wet gunny bags placed over my body and buckets of water being poured. They applied castor oil in areas of my legs in chain and antibiotics was applied on my old injuries.

I regained consciousness to find my legs chain. I trumpeted and tried hard to break free. I roared in rage and with the strength of a thousand elephant finally broke free my hind legs but my front leg were still in shackles. I ran desperately towards the forest. Then something very strange and funny happened. A village boy named Nila who had no idea about handling elephants tried to stop my progress and in haste caught my tail. It was a sight to see a boy hanging desperately to my tail while I was running. Little did we both know that after the tail ride he would be associated with me forever as my Mahut. After I was captured, this was the person who somewhat dared to come close to me and cleaned my excreta using a long handle and also applied medicine to my wounds using a long stick. Maybe a bond between us was created and  whatever little I obeyed was to his words. I could not run very far and they found me at Baidehipalli in Patnagarh Dist. This was an open area and again the challenge for them was to tie me to strong trees that were not here. So they again tranquilized me with a lower dose of the drug and used the directional drive method, to drive and push me to a suitable place nearby. I was in a semi-conscious state. This time they tied all my four legs separately. How much I tried, I could not break the chain. I trumpeted in rage and frustration. It was a task for the Forest Department to provide me with food and water which had to be brought from a distance. I continuously used my strength to break free my legs from its shackles. This resulted in wounds and puss in my legs. This infection worsened with each passing day. Nobody could come close to me. Finally, they administered antibiotics and disinfectants using an agricultural spray.  I mostly stayed in a foul temper. The number of onlookers including media people irritated me even more. I damaged the food and water containers given to me. I was becoming a persistent headache for the Forest staff. Next, they brought two female trained elephants from Nandankanan to tame me but the reverse happened. Instead of getting tamed, I was sexually aroused and became so violent that this plan was discontinued.  There was an urgent need to shift me and train me. The media and onlookers were making their work more and more difficult. Finally, it was decided to shift me to Chandaka jungle close to Nandankanan where I can stay in a jungle and be trained and also can avail the services of veterinary doctors treating zoo animals.

It was decided to transport me in a closed truck which was a regular way of transporting animals. A team came from Nandankanan zoo and a sunken ramp was created so that the body of the truck was kept at the same level as the ground. They loosened the chains of my front and back legs. They pushed me from the back. I came to the edge of the ramp but did not enter this box-like thing. They kept pushing me to force me inside this box called truck. I was so annoyed that in rage I broke the sides of this wooden box. This did not deter them. They kept on pushing me. I was pushed inside. I shook the whole thing and using my trunk broke the front cabin. They had no option but to abort this plan.

Finally, after a long discussion, they decided to transport me in a trailer truck. The body would be open so the elephant which for some reason had become violent inside the wooden truck may be more pacified to be handled and the elephant would not be able to break the metal structure. So a customized fabricated truck was made inside Nandankanan and other trained elephants were loaded in to test whether I would hold inside. Now such a massive structure of 10 and half feet faced problems on the road as there was a risk of it getting contact with live electric wires.  Somehow it reached Bolangir. Again, welders worked day and night and reduced its height by 6 inches.
Now villagers started thronging in hordes from far and near to see this unusual size truck and the news that the elephant would be transported in this roused their curiosity even more. Crowd control was becoming unmanageable. It was decided that transporting me at night would draw fewer crowds. So in the evening again they tried to push me inside this structure. I had become so adamant that I did not move an inch. They kept pushing me, I became violent and banged my head to the body of this structure. Though the structure did not break, they were apprehensive that I would injure myself badly. Next, they decided to lure me inside the truck by using my favorite food like bananas, coconut, and mohua flowers. The team retreated nearby and absolute silence was maintained. By then I had become hungry but was still cautious. First I dragged the food kept close to me using my trunk. When this was exhausted, I sat on the ground, and using my trunk pulled the eatables lying a little further away. When this was over, I  cautiously moved my front leg forward to reach out to some more eatables. The team waiting anxiously a little further away was getting restless. By around 1 PM, 3/4th of my body was inside. I was happily and loudly eating which could be heard from a distance. This was the time for the team to act. First, they pulled and tightened the front chain of my legs and tied it to the body of the truck. Now they were assured that I would not be able to move backward. Then they signaled the team. The team shouting loudly charged and pushed my entire body inside the truck. I knew then that humans had tricked me into this structure. My strength was overpowered by their intelligence.

Now they moved fast. It was close to daybreak. I was to be transported out of Bolangir before daybreak. Information about my transportation was already alerted on the way. Everyone was apprehensive that I may become violent and may even topple the truck carrying me but to everyone's relief nothing untoward happened and the vehicle reached Goribadi in Chandaka my new home. They had made ready a sunken ramp to deboard me. To their relief, I did not throw any tantrums and came out of the truck quietly.
The medical team was ready for me. They applied antibiotics on my wounds. To everyone's relief, I cooperated. It was Nila who stayed with me always and slowly I listened to his commands. Simple commands were given which I obeyed. How can I forget the commands taught to me long ago? Gradually he took me for strolls but trailing chains were tied to my back legs to control me lest I would play tantrums. Nila took me for bathing and two trained elephants always accompanied me so that no untoward incident happened. My front legs were tied with a chain to the legs of the elephant before me and my back legs were tied to the legs of the elephant behind me. They would thrash me with their trunk if I disobeyed. These elephants are called Kunki elephants or are trainers to train wild and unruly elephants like me. The Forest officials wanted to train me further to make me help in forestry activities and such elephants are called working elephants. 
So such kunki elephants and experienced Mahut were called from Assam to train me. I was kept in strict control throughout the day. Any arrogance and disobedience were reprimanded. In the evening, my Mahut became friendly with me. He massaged my body and gave me my favorite food. Slowly I started obeying every command and loved my Mahut. My training progress was closely monitored by the forest staff and they were satisfied with my behavioral change. They finally decided to shift me to Sambalpur for protection duty and Nila was selected to be my Mahut.
They brought a closed truck and a sunken ramp was created. My Mahut gave me the command to climb the truck. Once I boarded the truck and it was closed from the back, some unknown fear gripped me and I started behaving dangerously and did not obey the commands given by Mahut. Lest I would break the truck and hurt myself, this method of transporting me in a closed truck was given up. The opened the back of the truck and to everybody's relief, I deboarded.
They all were a bit disturbed to see the change in my behavior. Finally, after much deliberation, they realized the reason. My left eye was already damaged and so there was no visibility. Inside a closed truck, my right eye too visualized only darkness. This sudden lack of visibility made me react in such an agitated manner. This was also the reason for me to be more comfortable in the open metal fabricated truck. Carrying me again in a trailer truck had many logistic problems, so they decided to walk me this long trail from Chandaka jungle to Sambalpur. This too was a challenge for them to walk me continuously for such a long distance. My body temperature needed to be cooled down in between, I may show adverse behavior if I smell elephant herds on the way through the jungle. So many precautionary steps were followed. I walked during evening hours and took rest during the day. Proper food and water were provided at regular interval and care was taken to ensure that people did not gather around me. Even herds of elephants were driven away close to my path lest  I become agitated. An old and experienced Mahut deft in this job to handle elephants, agreed to accompany me.  I traveled around 30 km every day and took 12 days to cover a distance of 350 km.
I was exhausted and first, they kept me in a place called deer park to get myself acclimatized. After a few days, they took me to my new home the Debrigarh wildlife sanctuary surrounding the Hirakud reservoir over river Mahanadi. I immediately loved my new home inside the forest. Nila remained as my Mahut. Very often I was let off inside the forest to eat with trailing chains tied and the Mahut would reach me in the morning following the marks.
Now the forest staff rode on me on protection duty. No smugglers dare face a charging elephant. Previously forest dwellers used to uproot bamboo shoots which served as a delicacy and damage the bamboo crop. Now they don't dare. I charge at them trumpeting with my Mahut sitting on my back. Now the jungle is safe from such illegal trespassers and Forest guards do not get attacked by smugglers.
So friends this is my story on how a complete metamorphosis could happen. I changed from a rogue to become a guardian of the forest. 
 
N.B- Images have been taken from Google and the copyright is with the owner.
 
 

 

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5 Comments
Neha

So beautifully written.. feels like this short story has the capacity to be converted to a book. Its unreal how beautifully the perspective of the elephant has been put forth, forces one to re-think the way we always singularly view/conclude events. Very engaging read.

Subrata Das

Nice study of the psychology of the elephant. A well written biography. Keep it up. You write and keep it simple and engrossing. Thanks for the short story.

Anusuya Dash

This heartwarming tale of a once rogue elephant who became a guardian of a forest will touch a chord in the hearts of many animal lovers. Gajraj Kharsel, who was targetted by three experienced shooters on three different occasions was transformed into the majestic creature he was born to be - by a good measure of love and trust from compassionate human beings and trained elephants. A refreshing tale of how conflicts with animals can be resolved by patience and kindness.

Suman singh

Very very gud...wonderful...

Suman singh

Very very gud...wonderful...