It was a full moon night. Dinu sat huddled in the midst of the vast sugarcane fields keeping an eye around.
A loud cry followed by the beats of the drum woke up Laala*. One by one, the huts lit up. People stepped out to witness the a spectacular event.
Tall, majestic figures stepped into sight, swishing their trunks and their tails in a steady rhythm as they marched across the fields towards the river. The beautiful Gajaneti led the group. At the end was Gajavakra, the mighty tusker.
Laala and his men bowed down in reverence. Soon the herd disappeared from sight. Everyone raised their hands in a prayer. Sighting Gaja and his herd on Purnima* was a good omen and always a harbinger of peace and prosperity. Hastingiri -the village, had derived its name from the herd. Villagers believed that an undisturbed transit of the elephants always bode happiness to the tiny hamlet.
Years passed. Laala grew old. Dinu, wizened by age and arthritis still kept vigil. Jagan, Laala’s grandson returned home after suffering huge losses in a business venture. He laid down mighty plans for development. Commercial crops were brought in. Boundaries were extended. The elderly protested. ‘What would happen to Gajabahini*?’
As the profits mounted, the protests died out.
One night Dinu’s cries broke the silence around. Laala hobbled out. Gaja was on his way.
Meanwhile a group of men surreptitiously drew closer. A sudden burst of crackers lit up the night.
Gajaneti and her followers stopped in their tracks, scared and disoriented. But a flurry of movement caught everyone’s attention. It was a terrified young calf!
Another round of crackers sounded and the calf scampered away, moving far away from the herd.
An opportunity, Jagan decided. He motioned his men to follow the frightened calf.
Laala shouted. ‘Noooo. Don’t anger Gaja.’
Jagan laughed and advanced towards the calf – a thick rope in his hand. Forming a knot, he aimed it at the calf. But a loud trumpet made him turn around. There was Gajavakra, the old tusker, preparing to charge at the men. Suddenly a spear flew in, piercing Gaja between his eyes. As the elephant slumped to the ground, Jagan danced with glee. The men cheered, and followed the calf. Their excitement was short-lived for a shrill cry brought them to their senses. It was one of their men pointing at a fast moving figure.
Hurtling at lightning speed, Gajaneti threw herself at the men, trampled them like ants and then directed her wrath at Jagan. Her trunk wound around him, lifted him high, paraded him around and then flung him aside like a rag doll.
Next morning, a funeral was held for Gajavakra and Jagan in the presence of the herd and the villagers. Laala passed a new law binding across generations. The road between the village and the river will never be occupied. If anyone dared, they would have to face the wrath of the ‘soond’*.
Note: The story is loosely based on a herd of elephants which came back to avenge the death of a tusker in North Bengal, India
Laala – The Village head
Purnima- Full Moon night
Gajabahini- Herd of elephants
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