From the two-time Kerala Sahitya Akademi winner Vinoy Thomas comes a remarkable new book called Elephantam Misophantam, translated by Nandakumar K., launched by Eka, an imprint of Westland Books.

Elephantam Misophantam is a story of two brothers: one is the bravest young elephant in the forest and the other is written off by everyone as a lost cause. A story about friendship and courage, about human greed and hubris.

Vinoy Thomas writes in Malayalam, and is known for his novels Karikkottakkari and Puttu, as well as for his short stories such as Ramachi. Churuli, a Lijo Jose Pellissery feature film is based on one of his stories.

Elephantam Misophantam is available for purchase in various bookstores and online. A Kindle version is available too.

This is an excerpt from the chapter The Arrival of the Elephant Cloud, pp. 35–58.

Elephantam | Nature Infocus
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Illustration by Sagar Kolwankar

Five or six forest wardens were seated in front of the corral, basking in the heat from the fire. Looking at them seated with their teeth clenched, cheeks puffed out and eyes bulging, everyone would have thought they were alert and intently guarding Lightning Tusker. On the contrary, most of them were asleep. But none of them were snoring.

Suddenly, one of the wardens was startled out of his sleep. An astonishing sight greeted him when he looked towards the corral.

Two curved bridges seemed to be rising from the top of the corral and touching the moon. They were shining. As the warden kept gazing at it, it appeared to him that they were not bridges but two rivers. Two rivers of light.

He shook awake the warden posted next to him.

‘Da, is that a bridge or a river?’

‘What?’ the other warden asked as if he was never asleep.

‘Can’t you see the thing climbing up from the corral?’

‘Man, aren’t they the elephant’s tusks? They are not climbing up. They are just there. Are you drunk or something?’

‘It’s not that. Please watch it closely. Doesn’t it look like it’s moving up?’

The other warden peered closely. There was nothing like what his neighbour had said; nothing was becoming longer. However, he too felt that those tusks looked menacing.

They went back to sleep comforting themselves with the thought that after all it was night-time, they were in a forest, such delusions could happen.

But atop the hill, Granny and the baby elephants were staring at the tusks that looked as if they were flowing down from the moon.

‘Little ones, look at those tusks. Everything is inscribed on them,’ Granny said, gently slapping two baby elephants who were distracted. After that, they too looked up at the light flowing from the tusks.

As the baby elephants stood gazing at the tusks, they appeared to grow bigger and bigger. There were stories written all over them.

The baby elephants wanted to hear Lightning Tusker’s story. As they stood flapping their ears patiently, without Granny narrating it, they started to hear Lightning Tusker’s story

It was a few elephant years ago. That means, before Lightning Tusker’s own father was born. As per the elephant calendar, it was a blazing hot month. As per the Malayalam calendar, it was the zenith of summer.

Sheets of flame were descending from the sky. Fear spread in both the forests and in human settlements that they would run out of water—there wouldn’t be enough to have a decent bath and maybe even to drink.

Even if there was no water, would people stop parading elephants for temple festivals? No. Everywhere the elephants were goaded and whipped and made to stand and walk in the scorching heat as humans celebrated

Even if the senseless humans were doing insensitive things, Elephantam would not allow the forests and the hamlets to go up in smoke, would it?

Whenever it looked as if everything was going to perish in the heat, from the south-western corner of the earth, an elephant-shaped breeze would start to blow. It would turn into a strong wind and arrive, flying at a regal speed, like a freighter filled with billowing rain clouds, cold, lightning, thunder, and so on.

Elephantam would be hidden somewhere deep inside this mammoth wind.

That year, when the elephantine wind arrived at the height of dogdays, everyone was happy and relieved. Rains would cool everything down.

However, the Elephantam present inside the clouds was very sad. As it looked down, everything it saw caused it only heartache.

The elephants in the forests had nothing to eat or drink. Starvation had reduced them to mere skin and bones, and they were wandering around aimlessly. The wild elephants had to suffer starvation, all right, but what about the tamed elephants under human care? In the blazing heat of a fiery summer, the soles of their feet blistered and cracked because they had to walk on baking-hot concrete and on roads with melted tar. On their legs were festering wounds caused by the shackles and spiked chains that they were forced to wear. Mahouts would poke the wounds occasionally with their sharp ankusha or goad sticks

Their ears were all torn from the hook of the ankusha and the elephants could not even flap them to cool themselves. When they stood in front of huge multi- prong flambeaus, the heat and smoke blinded them. To make things worse, they had to suffer the clamour of the humans, the ear-splitting beating of chendas and the bursting of crackers and other heavy fireworks.

Although it had been witnessing such sights every year, somehow that year Elephantam could not hold back the tears.

Flying over other lands, it may have wept in the past, but this was the first time Elephantam’s tear was being spilt on this land. We may call it a ‘tear’, but it is not a liquid. Consider it a slice of ur-love.