How not to deal with menacing elephants

Half past five this morning the first signs appeared on local news channels. Some refused to believe it, some others decided to wait and watch. And some, like me, were still asleep.

By six o’clock it was confirmed: three elephants from a nearby forest were on a mad rampage in the very heart of our city. Two cows had been injured, add to that five people, and then one man dead—all within a couple of hours.

Certainly, the funny part was that—apart from saying some people awoke to find an elephant at their door—nobody knew which of the two neighbouring forests they had come from! And the outrageous part was that until about half past eight—almost three hours later—there was no sign of the authorities doing anything about it.

More often that once has it struck me as amusing that the media is far more punctual in, and I daresay capable of, getting to the news than the authorities are at solving problems.

The situation today, for instance, serves as an example for most of the points I wish to make clear. For starters, there is the delay in responding to the problem. It took them three hours—or, rather, the injury of two cows and five men and the death of one man—to get out of their bed and onto the streets.

And then the people, even those watching the news on their TV, let alone those on the streets near the elephants, knew very well what the next action was: tranquilise the animals.

But the authorities knew full well that it was not priority; what was priority instead was to give audio interviews to the news channels. And one of the leading politicians here even decided to show his grinning face on the cameras.

The interview was typical. The media, themselves being overwhelmed, stuttered and faltered and erred grammatically and asked everybody the same set of questions, none of which—all being factual—could be answered in any way more than one.

Where are the elephants? Answer. What steps do you wish to take? We plan to declare today a holiday to all schools and colleges. What else? Crowd control, divert traffic. And the zoo authorities? We plan to send them.

The pivotal question that was never asked was, ‘Are you actually doing all of this?’ The answer would surely have been, ‘Of course not! We only want to do it.’ In other words they were contemplating.

Indeed they contemplated for close to an hour as to whether they had to declare a holiday for schools today. And when they have such important matters to keep them occupied, trivial issues such as maniac elephants can hardly be expected to bother them.

By eight o’ clock the elephants had traveled as per schedule: across half the city. By eight o’ clock the authorities realised they were running low on tranquiliser supplies. By quarter past eight, all their attention was on one (baby) elephant of about eight months at whom they had shot three darts, all of which had mysteriously awoken the elephant thus serving its purpose (?)

Alas what happened after that I was too frustrated to stay with. Then again, perhaps I was happy with the way things were (mis)handled.

The worst bit, in my opinion, even though unconnected with the elephants themselves, came a few minutes later: the nightmarish reminder that the elections were nearing; the wonderful time when all politicians get down to earth again.

Relief funds, as far as my minute knowledge of them are concerned, were meant for the following circumstances: if a cat was killed in an unexpected natural disaster, if terrorists killed the cat in a crossfire, if a bomb accidentally fell of a plane exploding tragically on the cat. But not if it was curiosity that killed the cat.

However, if the elections are fast approaching, it becomes necessary to look beyond the killed cat itself, at its surviving family who will be voting in the polls soon.

What happened today, if it was not the same, was at least something remarkably similar. The dead man died out of curiosity. He knew full well that an elephant was outside his house, on the street, and when everybody decided it was wise to shut their doors and stay inside, this wonderful being thought it better to satisfy his curiosity (though a curiosity of what is beyond me; perhaps the curiosity of seeing an elephant?) and decided to step out to the street, right splat (literally) in the middle of the elephant’s path. What happened next one can only conjecture.

The idea here is that the government did not ask him to do anything that would result even minutely in this (in fact they asked the people to stay home) and the circumstance was certainly not an unavoidable one. Given all this, I think the need for a compensatory relief fee to the family is pointless.

But then the Chief Minister himself comes to the news on a hazy audio line and promises a whopping five lakh INR (about $11,200) as a relief fee which he will, himself give. While the government can be blamed for letting the elephant in, in the first place; or perhaps even for being unable to control the animals; they cannot be held responsible for a man who sees fit to lay himself in an elephant’s path hoping it will not hurt him any.

Presently, everything seems quiet. The elephants were making their way towards where I live, but then for some reason found it to their liking to detour and are now heading about 45 degrees in some other direction, outside the city. I also wonder how these authorities can control terrorists with ammunition when they cannot contain two elephants safely; especially considering that the elephants do not even have complex instruments to fight back with.

It reminds me of a scene from Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon: Lee’s opponent, in a dramatic show of ability, punches an exam board far away; Lee, still looking him square in the eyes, says ‘Boards don’t fight back.’ I think we have a similar situation here, now; the only difference being that we are unable to hit the board in the first place.

And, as I go about my day quite like nothing different has happened, the trio of elephants are still taking their bloody tour of the city.