The usually quiet Ramnagar was abuzz with the news of a young elephant calf roaming in its fields. The sarpanch called out Balram for help. Being a Mahout’s son, Balram knew a thing or two about handling the pachyderms.
Balram spotted the culprit gobbling sugarcane in his own farm. As he stepped closer, the startled beast looked up to find out who was disturbing its reverie. Balram smiled and patted its head. Encouraged, the she-elephant resumed devouring the juicy canes. Balram joined her; suddenly realising he too hadn’t had anything since morning.
Her hunger satiated, she playfully started chasing the birds, crushing other crops under her stubby feet. “Bahar chalo, Chhutki!” Balram affectionately goaded her out.
They went to the jungle, looking for her mother without any luck. Chhutki spent the night in the empty barn. The next seven days saw them continuing their search in different directions with no success. The little tusker now looked forward to their daily excursions into the deep woods.
“Poachers brutally killed an elephant for her tusks” The newspaper headline confirmed Balram’s worst fears. Unsure what to do, Balram looked at his orphaned companion. She returned his gaze with her trusting eyes. The moment of uncertainty was gone.
“The elephant is too young to survive in the wilderness on her own. I will take care of her until she is able to fend for herself.” Balram informed the Sarpanch.
Balram christened the elephant Pawankali. She filled the void left behind by his only daughter who was pursuing Law in the US.
Spoiled with love, one day Pawankali wandered into a neighbour’s field, ruining the whole crop. A complaint with the forest department was registered. Pawankali was forcibly taken away, as the new Wildlife Protection Act prohibited to keep wild animals as domestic pet.
Few days later, Balram’s daughter got killed in an indiscriminate shooting in her college. The devastation dealt by the twin blows sent him into a spiral of depression.
Loneliness got the better of him and Balram decided to end his life. He climbed on the wobbly stool on bed. As he was about to put his neck in the noose, Pawankali burst into his room, thwarting his suicide attempt. As their eyes met, she lifted her proboscis and let out a victorious trumpet.
Balram approached the office of National Board for Wildlife with an application seeking custody of Pawankali. They relented on one condition – Balram would have to move to Jim Corbett wildlife sanctuary. A wild animal can’t live in human settlement, but a human can live in the protected forest, they reasoned.
Pawankali and Balram now live next to Corbet Woods, a resort located near river Kosi. Pawankali takes small kids on jungle safaris under Balram’s supervision.
Earlier his friend, now his soulmate; Balram credits Pawankali for giving him a new lease of life.
Bahar chalo: Hindi for Get out
Chhutki: Hindi term of endearment used to address younger ones
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