25 February, 2012

The elephant
Someone who has been torn from its roots - and is sick with longing

When I was a child, my mother told me an old story - said to be true - which she had once read:

A circus manager in England was deeply troubled. The circus elephant had become unruly and dangerous. Previously so gentle, it had started to behave aggressively.

The elephant was very valuable. It would mean a big loss to the circus to be without an elephant and the manager knew there was no money to buy another.

At last, however, he decided that the elephant would have to be shot and he would try to make some money out of it. He therefore announced it as an extra circus 'performance' to which people could buy tickets. Brutal? Yes. Cynical? Yes. More barbaric than what goes on daily in some sections of animal-based industry in many countries? Hardly. What about the curious people who come to watch the shooting - do they remind us of something? Perhaps of all those who come running to watch houses on fire. And how about public executions of people - it is not all that many hundred years since it was practiced in our own country and it is still done in a considerable number of countries we would rather not be compared to (but are we candid about our own atrocities?).


The elephant was led out into a solidly fenced-off paddock. But a stranger came running up to the manager, demanding to be let in with the elephant; he thought he could help so it wouldn't have to be shot. "Are you crazy, man?" "No, I take full responsibility." After some argument the manager gave in but had his guest sign a statement saying that the initiative was his own, that he had been warned that the elephant was very dangerous and nevertheless took full responsibility.

The guest entered the paddock. He started talking to the elephant in a low voice. It came towards him in a threatening manner but then stopped. It listened, then continued towards the guest but more slowly, lowered its head down to him, and wound its trunk gently around the arm which the guest held out to it. I let out some muted trumpet calls that sounded sad, and started rocking from left to right, left to right.

The elephant and the guest talked with each other some more. Then they walked quietly around the paddock in close embrace.


Coming back out of the paddock, the guest said to the circus manager: "It will be good now for a very long time. It grew up in India, in an environment where elephants do heavy work together with people who lead the work. It misses its homeland, its home. I spoke to it in Hindustani*, which it has been used to hearing and understands several dozen words of and remembers well. Try at least to have someone from its homeland visit it as often as possible. It longs for home."

Then the guest said goodbye. When the astonished circus manager had gathered his wits and looked at the signed paper, he saw that the signature was 'Rudyard Kipling'.


I never forget the touching story and my parents' kind, warm voices.

Marianne Haslev Skånland


* modern: Hindi