Stumbling across an Elephant
Photography is a serendipitous experience...
Greetings from Ashoka University, India!
Cheruvadi is a sleepy town in Kozhikode, Kerala where nothing much happens. On a morning stroll, you’ll find gents socialising at the chayakkadas—tea shops, with women chatting on their front porches. The odd football game occurs in a field in the evening, the players caught in a silhouette at sunset.
In June 2021, I made a short trip to Cheruvadi, to visit my extended family. COVID-19 was ravaging the globe, rattling economies and breaking too many families to count. In all the heartache, I needed this weekend getaway.
One evening I decided to walk around the neighbourhood. Ascending a hillock, I watched the sunset over the rolling hills.
Then, a dark shape caught my eye. I turned, and a few meters in front of me was a full-grown elephant! I froze. Speechless, my adrenaline hit the roof.
Fortunately, she was a domesticated elephant, her leg bound to a nearby tree. She belonged to a neighbouring temple. While this is a common sight in Kerala, it took me by surprise.
The primaeval look of the Asian elephant has always fascinated me. Their enormous form contrasts a silent wisdom set deep in their amber eyes. They carry themselves with such majesty that one feels humbled in their presence.
Elephants are an intrinsic part of Kerala culture. People adorn them in gold caparisons during festivals and parade them through the streets. Most prominent temples own elephants, with 60 belonging to the world-famous Guruvayur temple. They even feature on the State Government’s emblem.
The elephant (or “Mini”, as I later learnt) was a middle-aged female. She was shorter than average and had a rotund belly, with large quantities of fodder at her feet.
I snapped out of my trance, grabbed my camera and started shooting. Unfortunately, the conditions were not ideal for photography. It was around 6 pm, and the light would soon disappear.
Nonetheless, I knew that Mini would remain there. The temple wasn’t far from my aunt’s house (where I was staying). So I decided to come the next day, hoping the light would be better.
A slight mist clung to the air when I found her the following morning. While it was brighter, the muggy backdrop softened the colours. Nevertheless, I shot a few images.
While chatting with the locals, it transpired that there were 4 temple elephants in the vicinity. I couldn’t forgo this photographic opportunity. So I probed the snaking pathways, searching for them.
Soon enough, I found Kuttikrishnan, a tusker a few streets away. He was basking in whatever little light shone through the clouds. He was larger, had only one tusk, and was well built, with powerful muscles taut under his black hide. And he, too, had his leg chained to a tree.
I encircled him, shooting multiple frames. He eyed me keenly. When I got too close, he would hurl his trunk in displeasure.
The overcast setting, however, prevented me from getting any good images. So I just observed him for a while and then left.
As the day progressed, I got caught up in other matters. I figured I would have to photograph the elephants some other time. Kerala in June is beset with heavy rains. So it was unlikely that I would get the lighting I needed.
Luck, however, was on my side because, at 5 pm, the sun broke through the clouds, casting its warm glow over the land.
I rushed back to Kuttikrishnan, catching him in the middle of his bath. His dark exterior glistening, he was enjoying himself. Furthermore, his mahout (caretaker) was around, so I photographed the two together. With that, I let him bathe in peace.
Had I not gone for an evening stroll, I wouldn’t have encountered Mini. If I hadn’t gone to photograph her, I wouldn’t have found Kuttikrishnan. And if not for that rain-free evening, I wouldn’t have gotten the photos I wished for.
It’s funny how fate works. In photography, it is good to shoot with an agenda, but one must also go with what the day brings. It might lead to all sorts of wonders.
On another tangent, I’ve been trying my hand at poetry. Here is my latest attempt:
Legend says there were birds so big that their wing beats could birth hurricanes
But in time, they soared high into the sky and vanished into the stars
Leaving behind only stories for us to remember them by
When the sky splits open and thunders across the world, it is these creatures letting us know that we are just tiny creatures in this big wide universe
Maybe a time will come when humans and wildlife live in peace. Maybe then, they will return.
I like to acknowledge my sources of inspiration. This poem was influenced by the ending scene of the movie “How to train your Dragon 3” (in overall structure), The Hobbit (the line “wing beats could birth hurricanes” is similar to what the dragon Smaug says about himself) and the Lord of the Rings, (being a small creature in this big wide world).
This Week’s Links
Letters to a young Songwriter: This is basically a letter to all aspiring creators. Read it to kickstart your creator-journey. Trust me, its worth it!
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This staircase is right next to my ancestral home in Kerala, India. It is covered in grass and moss; the quintessential look of a lane in this state. I find something very poetic about the lines and colours of this image…
When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up - C S Lewis
Have a great week!
If you’re new, welcome to The Owlet! My name is Ishan Shanavas, and here I talk about my work, along with curating the most interesting ideas on the internet. I confine them to topics like Nature, Culture, Photography, and Art but often fall prey to other genres.
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