Josna Rege

12. Following the Elephant Spoor

In 1960s, Childhood, India, postcolonial, Stories on March 6, 2010 at 2:41 am

by Pulok Pattanayak (

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.

Tracking the Heffalump—illustration by E. H. Shepard (from

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.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. How did you know the ‘spoor’ was getting fresher? 😉

    • You don’t really want details, do you?! Actually, there was no smell; it was just that because they weren’t yet dry, they gave us hope that their creator wasn’t far away. The spoor were quite far apart, and I don’t think there were consistently visible tracks in between, because the ground was dry, so following them wasn’t an easy task.

  2. “Spoor” is a new term to me. It means “tears,” yes? (wink)
    Poor elephant. (And lucky kids, not to have encountered the water snake!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: