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Picture credit: Vidya Venkat

[First published in The Hindu thREAD on Jan. 22, 2016]

Here’s the tragic part about being born as an elephant. Sure, you may get to eat a whole lot of food and grow into a 3,000-kilo giant, but if your fate is to be ordered about by a puny human, how are you supposed to feel about that? Happy?

Taking a joyride atop an elephant (that costs a hundred rupees per head) at Dubare Elephant Camp in Coorg, I observe the scrawny animal course the walkway as its mahout periodically pokes it with a sharp metal rod. Halfway through the ride, the mahout rewards it with a roll of dried grass for its obedience. After we get off the elephant’s back, my mother buys a dozen bananas and gives it to the mahout in the hope that it would land up in the creature’s belly. Whether it truly does, we never know.

A short drive away from the Dubare elephant camp lives Karnataka’s state-appointed honorary wildlife warden Nirad Muthanna. Muthanna is strictly against the taming of wild elephants in such camps. “Their place is in the jungle, not in these circus grounds,” he says. Situated in the midst of coffee plantations, Muthanna’s house overlooks the Cauvery river, beyond which stretches the Dubare Forest where sightings of wild elephants and tigers are fairly common.

Sitting by the riverside, we discussed the dilemmas foisted on these animals by us humans. He recounts an anecdote from 2014 to make me understand why peaceful animals like elephants have learnt to be suspicious of — or even hate — human beings over the years.

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Picture credit: The Hindu thREAD

[First published in The Hindu thREAD on August 3, 2016]

Though the writer is no more in the corporeal sense, her words, her thoughts, and the lives of those she touched will ensure she continues to live on in our midst.

I can’t recall the exact date anymore. But it was for sure in the month of March in 2010, soon after I had quit my full-time job as a journalist, that I had met Mahasweta Devi in Kolkata. Ahead of a holiday visit to the city, I looked up Kolkata’s telephone directory from the BSNL website and typed in Mahasweta Devi in the name search bar and voila! The great writer’s residence landline number appeared right before my eyes. When I dialled the number and enquired, in the broken Bengali that I’d picked up during my childhood days in the city, if this was the residence of Mahasweta Devi, the writer herself answered the phone, uttering in crisp English, “Yes, speaking.”

“Ma’am, I am a great admirer of your works. I have read several of your plays while in college. Can I meet you in Kolkata when I am there?” I asked, thrilled to bits.

“Yes, sure. Please come. You’re most welcome,” she said kindly.

At that time I was seeking renewed inspiration to continue writing about the struggles of the poor and the marginalised in the country. Three years in a newspaper job had left me thoroughly disillusioned as stories of poverty and development were rarely treated as important by the editors. Meeting Devi fired me up.

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