Our bungalow was situated on the very edge of the Hijli campus. In the wild area beyond, there was said to be a lone elephant. A Raja who had fallen on hard times since Independence, when the Princely States had been absorbed into democratic India, had simply let his pet elephant go, presumably unable to care for him any longer. So we children had heard. We had never seen this creature, although we ranged quite widely in the forested territory where he was supposed to roam, but we had seen his old spoor.
One day, looking for adventure, we came upon elephant spoor again, but this time it was quite fresh. We set out to track it, hoping to get warmer and warmer until we reached the source. Before long, as we approached the nearby Santal tribal village, we discovered further corroborating evidence: the tall bamboo hedge encircling the village had been munched down to the bare stalks. Our excitement mounted, knowing that we were closer than we had ever been to the near-mythical elephant. Well beyond the village, we came to an inviting watering hole, and decided to take a swim to cool off. Only afterwards did we see the long black water snake slipping through the cloudy depths, and thanked our lucky stars that our parents would never know how stupid we had just been.
We continued on our quest. For a time the spoor had been getting progressively fresher, but soon we were no longer sure. We were also beginning to get a little disoriented: could we be starting to walk in circles, like Pooh and Piglet in search of the Heffalump? The land began to grow unfamiliar and we realized that we were farther from home than we had ever been before. Beyond us was the metalled road that led to the Salua army base, though we had never been there, but we were now some distance into the interior. I don’t remember who called off the hunt, but it had been a big day and I expect we were tired and hungry.
We never did get to see the elephant in the flesh. Some time afterwards we heard that a bull elephant, either in musth or out of his mind, had stumbled onto the I.I.T. campus at the main intersection, attacked a school bus, and had to be shot. It must have been him.