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5.2.08

The Big Guest

An elephant trainer, or mahout as he is known in India, teaches elephants to obey commands. When an elephant disobeys, the mahout pokes him with a stick that has a sharp metal point. But, as this story shows, eveyone would do well to remember that there may be some truth in the old saying,”An elephant never forgets.”

Everybody called him “Raja.” It was not his real name but he liked being called “Raja.” He lived with his Grandfather and Grandmother. They were his guardians. Raja’s mother died when he was young. His father left Raja with his grandparents, who brought him up.
Grandfather was a tall, strong man. He always spoke in a loud voice. He knew everyone in the village. People respected him. They came to him for advice and help.
Grandmother was kind and gentle. She took good care of Raja. She would follow him like a shadow, saying,”Drink this milk” or “Eat your food” or “Have your bath” or “Go to bed.” Raja did not like this, but still he loved his grandmother very much.
At home Raja did not have any friend to play with. Grandfather did not like Raja would be spoiled if he did so. Other children did not like to come to the house because they were afraid of Grandfather.
Yet life with Grandfather was not dull. Raja liked his home and the very large garden all round it. There were many trees in the garden: coconut trees, mango trees, and other kinds of trees. There were birds, butterflies, and honeybees. There were many tanks, with plenty of fish in them. Kingfishers, storks, and other water birds came to the tanks to catch the fish.
In a corner of the compound was a grove, where trees, shrubs, and creepers grew wild. Jackals, mongooses, wildcats, and owls lived in the grove.
Raja’s grandfather owned many cows, bulls, and bullocks. Little calves played and ran about in the garden.
Raja liked to play with the calves. He liked to watch the birds in the garden. He looked for jackals coming out of the grove. He ran after mongooses. He caught butterflies and reptiles.
Once Raja’s grandparents had a big guest at home. It was Lakshmi, a young cow elephant. She belonged to a rich relative. The relative wanted Raja’s grandparents to keep the elephant for some days. Grandfather did not like the idea very much. It was costly to feed an elephant, even a young elephant. But Grandfather could not refuse the request of a relative.
Raja was excited when he heard Lakshmi was coming. Raja asked people how he should welcome the elephant. Grandfather told him that elephants loved sugar cane and that he should keep some for Lakshmi.
Once evening Lakshmi arrived with her mahout , Kittu. Everybody in the house came out to welcome her. She was a beautiful young elephant.
Kittu said,”She is young. She is hardly eight years old. She is intelligent and learns things quickly. She is very loving and likes to play with people.”
Kittu said so many good things about Lakshmi that Raja thought Lakshmi could have been Kittu’s own daughter.
Raja had a piece of sugar cane with him and he wanted to give it to Lakshmi. But he was afraid to go near her. Kittu saw Raja holding the sugar cane and took him near Lakshmi, saying, “She loves children.” Raja offered the sugar cane to Lakshmi and she took it and ate it.
At night Lakshmi was chained to a tree in the court-yard. Raja sat there for a long time watching her. He would have remained there longer but Grandmother came out and said,” Now, Raja, you go to bed. You can watch the elephant in the morning.”
Raja woke up early next morning and went out. Lakshmi saw him and she waved her trunk as if welcoming him. He was still afraid to go near the elephant. Lakshmi tried to come to Raja but she could not as she was chained to the tree.
Kittu came in the morning. He took Lakshmi out for a bath. Raja had never seen an elephant bathing. So he followed them to the tank. Lakshmi first went into the water alone. She played in the water. She took water in her trunk and poured it over her body several times.
Then Kittu went in and asked her to sit down. She filled her trunk again with water and looked at Kittu. Kittu said,”Don’t, don’t do it.” But Lakshmi would not listen. She spouted all the water on Kittu.
Kittu did not get angry. He again asked Lakshmi to sit. But Lakshmi again filled her trunk with water. Now Kittu showed her his stick and warned her not to repeat the mischief. This time Lakshmi did not pour water on him but threw it backward with force. Raja was standing just behind and the water fell all over him. It was great fun. Lakshmi was only playing.

Kittu pulled Lakshmi by the ear and ordered her to sit. She obeyed. He then scrubbed her with a piece of stone and cleaned her all over.
On the way back Kittu gave Raja a ride on Lakshmi. Raja was thrilled. When they reached home, Grandfather, Grandmother, and all the others were waiting outside to see Raja riding an elephant.
Kittu had told Raja that Lakshmi liked ripe bananas better than sugar cane. Raja waited for an opportunity to give her some. As soon as Grandfather was out, Raja quietly went to the cellar and took half of a huge bunch of ripe bananas. He took the bananas to Lakshmi. She ate them with great relish.
Later, Grandfather noticed that some of the bananas were missing. He asked everyone about it and found out that Raja had taken the bananas. Grandfather did not like anybody taking anything without his permission. He took a long cane and called Raja.
Raja knew grandfather wanted to beat him. He ran. And Grandfather ran after him.
Lakshmi was not chained to the tree at that time. She saw Raja running and Grandfather chasing him. She immediately came to Raja’s help. She rushed towards Grandfather with a wild cry.
Grandfather was very frightened. He turned back, ran into the house, and bolted the door. Raja went to lakshmi and patted her.
After a while Grandfather came out, holding in his hand the other half of the banana bunch. He asked Raja to take it and give it to the elephant. Raja did so, and both Grandfather and Lakshmi were happy. So was Raja.

By Shankar
Illustrations by Pulak Biswas

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