Every face has a story to tell - #3

in #offended5 years ago

"I had to stop going to school after the 3rd grade because Father could not pay the 4 rupees they had started demanding as fees. And Father was not much of an earner. He loved dancing and drinking. When I turned 9, he had almost sold all the land he had inherited from Grandfather. The remaining 15 Katthas became collateral to the loan of 1000 rupees he had taken. As a boy, I spent my days taking the few goats we had to pasture since the dream of going to school had died. I remember seeing the elephants laden and tourists going to the jungle and wondered what it would be like to have one. But the reality was different. We all were barely surviving as our daily struggle for food would take all our time. If we borrowed 5 kilos of wheat from the farmers we had to return 10 kilos when the time came. We were getting poorer by the day. When father became sick, I had to go look for work that paid me some money. A man took me in, I was to look after his animals and live in the shed for which he would pay me 25 rupees a month. I would bring back grains with that money and for a while, we survived. At least, there was food. Life continued but we were not spared so easily. When I turned 15, I fell sick. I had severe gastritis and jaundice and could not go to work. I think my family had given up hope as the villagers would say I would not make it. For me, days were spent in pain with empty stomach and a hope that things would get better. I will never forget the day we sold the last pair of oxen for 900 rupees. That money saved me but our struggles continued. It was only when I turned 21, I got a job that required me to look after the elephants. This was something that I had always wanted to do and I was happy. Little did I know at the time, working with this elephants would change my life forever.

For me working with the elephants became the source of my steady income. From the meager 25 rupees a month working at the farmers shed, my income grew 365 rupees. It was 1988 and that money would buy me 2 quintals of wheat which would last for not one, but two months. At last, with full stomachs to eat, for the first time in our lives, happiness had presented itself in our home. From then on, food was never a problem and I was able to save some of the money I was earning. In a few years, I had already rented farmland and my family had started producing grains to sell. The day I was able to take back the 15 Katthas of my deceased grandfather's land, that father had mortgaged, was the happiest day of my life...

However, working with the elephants was not an easy thing to do. When I first started, I thought it would be nice to spend time with the elephants. I was not aware that these were beings just like humans, and they have their needs just like we do. As time went by, I was slowly forging relationships with these elephants and maintaining it every day. You cannot be happy with them today, treat them good and abandon them the next day. I remember in the early days when I was dealing with my own frustrations in life, I was in charge of Shamsher. That year, he had just reached his adolescence. One particular day, a few of my friends had warned me. 'He is unpredictable, he might run away and it will be difficult for you to bring him back. Stay away from his trunk and tusks. If you fail to read him right, prepare to risk your life', they had said. In the afternoon, as I was cleaning his space for him to rest, I noticed fluids running down his temples. And as I whisked him to the corner, I saw something change in him. He picked me up with his trunk and threw me a few feet away. When I think of that incident today, I know that he was not trying to hurt me. He was trying to warn me to keep distance. 'My friends were right. I have to leave him to his peace before something happens to me', I had thought. A few months later, Shamsher killed one of the mahouts which became one of the very sad stories that we talk among ourselves. Even though these incidents can be avoided, the feeling of loss will always remain. From that day on, I tell the mahouts and everyone involved in the husbandry to be careful and to treat the elephants with respect. To understand what they might be trying to communicate, to adapt to them. For without these elephants our lives would have no meaning. Without these elephants, we would have no stories to tell."

-- Kale Kumal, From Meghauli, Chitwan


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