Cool Buddies

Folk ‘Tails’ from Kerala [by Ratheesh]

Posted in Animals, Environment by Ratheesh & Sharada on September 22, 2008

“Why do we need to line up Elephants? Why can’t we have cows instead?”. That was me, asking my grandfather a very simple question. Both of us were among the crowd at Panangattukara Pooram (Yes, not Thrissur Pooram; there are zillions of other Poorams in Kerala). As my Grandpa stood there pretending he did not hear me through the ‘Panchavadyam’ (Folk music performed during festivities), I continued; “They can always make smaller dresses for the cows right? Of course, no one can climb on top of it and stand… or can they…”. That little incident was forgotten really long ago. My grandpa never answered that question and eventually he passed away.

Today, the larger question persists. Why! Why are these mere mortals dressing up such beautiful wild animals in ridiculous attire and lining them up for visual pleasure. Were these creations of god destined to be treated like slaves? Don’t they deserve better?

“I have wandered into a lunatic asylum!”. Those were the words of Swami Vivekananda after he toured Kerala and saw the caste based atrocities there. That was over half a century ago. But if you wander through Kerala now, you will be surprised to know that the statement holds good even today. The only difference is that now I am talking about atrocities committed on animals; I will try to stick to Elephants though.

For many of us, Kerala stands for Thrissur Pooram, Elephants (with and without make-up), Beaches, Backwaters, Kathakali, Cultural Programs, Ayurveda and a lot of Coconuts. But it is time we looked beyond that. At times I am proud when I run into a complete stranger, like a Kannadiga, North Indian or even an American and they are so happy to tell me their experiences of Kerala. But my head hangs in shame the moment pictures of Elephants tortured and street dogs killed go through my head. That’s the Kerala I see. The one I wish I didn’t have to see.

As a young boy I have committed the sin of going to the ubiquitous Poorams, along with my immediate and other family members. I have touched the rough Elephant skin as they struggle to move past human ocean standing all around Banyan Trees. I have stood in my verandah at my ancestral home and watched them tied to our trees. I have fed them large rice balls out of my hand with the constant fear of being crushed or eaten up. Eventually, the same memories crush me today. I wonder why no one, not a single elder told me how these magnificent animals were captured, tortured and trained before they could play the fool for us.

These gentle giants are captured using large pits, into which they fall; sometimes fatally injuring themselves in the process. Then they are dragged out of these pits and kept continuously chained for days. Although any Elephant owner/handler would deny the use of weapons to train elephants, the truth is, they do. They continuously keep this wild animal in control by using tools such as the ‘Ankusha’, which is a sharp hook attached to a rod. I have personally seen Elephants with split ears due to continuous prodding by the Mahout (I did not know the reason then).

Although I have not personally seen torture scenes that happen behind the rosy picture that Kerala paints for us, the visuals from a typical Pooram itself is proof. For that you will have to look through the odd-number of bejeweled elephants and coloured umbrellas. Take a closer look; you will see the Elephants moving their head side to side restlessly; you will see them flapping their ears to beat the summer heat, yearning for a tree’s shade; you will see them shifting their weight from right leg to the left waiting to rest; you will see them searching for some dust to bathe themselves in since the owners scrubbed them clean; you will see an animal that is begging for some dignity.

What is interesting is, I can’t fool any Malayali with my sweet talk about Elephants. The Malayalis have already fooled themselves into believing they are ‘Elephant Lovers’. That is what I get to hear when I talk about this issue. Some of my closest people have accused me of being ‘Unpatriotic’ so to speak. Most of them tend to think that ‘Just because my fore-fathers loved elephants, I should’. Now ‘love’ elephants, I do too; but not in a way that I make a fool out of it. I hate the use elephants in Poorams for the same reason that I hate Zoos.

People like to believe that they and other fellow humans (all humans) have done our best for the Elephants by providing them with large temple fields and lots of palm leaves to eat. But the ethical question is, did the elephant come into your home asking to be taken care of? No! They did not. You took them away from their homes, tortured them till they were driven to desperation and loyalty, and now provided them with what you believe is the best they can get.

As a ten year old, I had again enquired why the Elephant was crying continuously. I do not recollect getting a satisfactory answer then, but later in my life learnt the physiological reasons behind it. But today, I would like to believe that the Elephant cries, so that we may go back home smiling. The only statement I can make is; If you really ‘love’ an Elephant, let it go; let it go into the last remaining forests in Kerala; let them roam the wild and be themselves; let them live a life that they deserve.


2 Responses

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  1. Gireesh said, on September 24, 2008 at 6:59 am

    nice one…..think its time we take of the elephants from these pooram’s….

    People can still continue the traditions by having some cultural programs/games/activities….not a bad idea

  2. Ratheesh & Sharada said, on September 24, 2008 at 10:28 am

    No one is asking for humans to stop enjoying themselves. Just that it must not be at the cost of animals (and nature)

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