Elephant! by B. Jeyamohan

translated by Priyamvada Ramkumar and Suchitra Ramachandran

Elephant!

‘What?!’ exclaimed Appa when he heard the news.

‘Yes master, it’s true what I say. You must come and take a look. Such madness! Even the street dogs are standing around grinning,’ said Thavalaikkannan.

Before Appa could throw on his shoulder cloth and leave, I had jumped out of the back entrance, taken the short-cut through the coconut grove, clambered over the palm log across the stream to Padacheri, and climbed uphill to reach the house of Kaippalli Erali Aiyappan. What I had heard was indeed true.

Gopalakrishnan had entered Erali Aiyappan’s house. The mahout Raman Nair stood outside, crying, ‘Aana poraththe! Aana poraththe!’ Elephant come out! Elephant come out!

Gopalakrishnan did want to come out. But he could not. He stood fast in the doorframe, wedged in like a piece of wood. I watched from under the mango tree, my mouth agape.

‘What the hell!’ Ezekiel had come running to a stop behind me. ‘It’s standing there like a rat caught in a trap!’

It was true. Gopalakrishnan’s great black bottom with his little curled tail bulged out of the doorframe. The tail quivered fruitlessly. Aiyappan’s wooden house was tiny. Gopalakrishnan had tried to enter it, and was now trapped, unable to extricate himself. 

I went around the house to the back. The women of the house were there, screeching like hens around a fox. I couldn’t make out any words in all the ruckus. 

The elephant stood in the front hall. I could easily see its trunk from where I was, curling this way and that into the kitchen which sloped to the back of the house. One of his tusks was also in the kitchen.

‘How the hell did it get in?’ asked Ezekiel, who had followed me.

‘Jesus, Mary, Mother of God, the end of times is here!’ wailed the old woman Esili.

Father arrived finally. His friends, Thangaiyya Nadar and Nesaiyyan the deacon, were also with him. As soon as the prominent members of our village had arrived, the women came running, beating their breasts, shrieking and howling. ‘My god, have you seen such a thing! I simply can’t take it anymore! Why doesn’t my life leave my body?!’

‘Enough!’ barked Appa. ‘O,’ said Aiyappan’s wife Chandhri softly and stopped crying at once; she blew her nose with a noisy ‘reech!’ and wiped it with the end of her waistcloth. She rubbed her eyes dry and turned to her daughter Narayani. ‘Hey, didn’t I tell you to stand by the pots and vessels. With all the ruckus going on, some unholy wretch is sure to make away with the rice and lentils…!’

Narayani, who was my classmate in school, looked at me out of the corner of her eye and squirmed. I could tell that she was still undecided whether the story of an elephant entering her house would make her popular in school or an object of ridicule.

Aiyappan came to Appa. ‘So Kaippalli, what’s the problem?’ asked Appa.

‘An elephant got into the house,’ said Aiyappan

‘We can see that right in front of our eyes, can’t we? Tell us what happened from the beginning, you son of a beggar,’ said the deacon.

‘This morning, when I told her I wanted to go to the market…’ began Aiyappan.

Chandhri cut him off. ‘Oh, it’ll be dawn by the time he finishes telling the tale at this pace. Master, there were some dry coconut kernels in the palm-leaf basket inside the house. I was going to milk it for the oil. Sun-dried kernels, they had stayed out in the sun for four or five days now, just right for oil-milking. Last night, Nair had tied the elephant in the field over there, by the Kalayam house. It caught scent of the coconut, threw off its chains and came into the house,’ she said.

‘It stood at the entrance and asked for a kernel, stretching its trunk out endearingly… I asked this woman: Hey, can I give him one? How she cursed me for that! And what’s happened now? See for yourself. He’s standing there like a mouse stuck in a cup,’ said Aiyappan.

‘Oh, shut up… I’ll beat the living daylights out of you! As if we were rolling in gold to feed elephants coconuts… as such we had only eight kilos. Give away some here, some there, and this is all we have left… Give elephants coconuts indeed! What next? Why don’t you take the elephant and cradle it in your lap?’

‘Don’t hound him… he has a point there,’ said Appa.

‘What point? After this bloody kaalamaadan married me, a blight fell upon my clan… Moodevi and misfortune entered my home… and now an elephant too…’

‘Elephants are auspicious creatures, girl.’

‘Auspicious, indeed… Master, all we have is this wooden box of a house. If the elephant breaks this up, then where will we go at night? Should we spread a cloth in the street and stretch our bodies out there? Oh Melangodu Bhagavati, my goddess, you have gone blind!’

‘Shut your trap, girl… Hey, take your woman and leave. What loose talk, like runny elephant shit…’

‘She’s always like that. At our wedding, even as I was tying the knot, she called me a dog.’ 

Aiyappan’s house was an old wooden structure. It was built in the days of yore when the Kaippallis were in business, with crossbeams fashioned out of sturdy teak, walls of teak planks and thick doors studded with brass knobs. But the door and the windows were tiny. The elephant was caught fast.

‘What do we do now?’ asked Appa. ‘The elephant is trapped there.’

Raman Nair came up. ‘I’ve called out to him many times. He can’t move. He’s scared shitless, see.’

‘Well, the elephant made its way into the house, didn’t it? Then how is it that it can’t come out?’ asked the deacon.

‘When an elephant is scared or angry, it puffs up a bit, you know. Becomes stiff-like. That’s why.’

‘What’s this story you’re making up now? Is the elephant a dick to stiff up like that?’ asked Thangaiyya Nadar.

‘What do we know? He’s the mahout,’ said Appa. ‘Summon it properly… Hold some bananas or palm jaggery in front of its nose’

‘I’ve already given him fourteen blocks of palm jaggery and seven clusters of bananas. He stretches his trunk, pulls them in and eats alright. Just can’t move…’ 

‘Perhaps it’s made up its mind to stay at the house as it is? Fourteen blocks of jaggery a day… Might’ve thought that’s a sweet bargain.’

‘Master, don’t make fun now. He’s a decent fellow, that one. He’s never got into a scrape in all these days. Doesn’t even go into the part of the river where the ladies bathe…’

‘But it does go where the men bathe, waving its prick around,’ said Lawrence.

‘Hey, this is the elephant of the Siva temple. A Hindu elephant then. What business is it of the Bible-men?’

‘Well, it parades its prick to the Christians too…’

‘Oh, piss off.’

Appa walked all around the elephant, studying it carefully. ‘There’s nothing to be said. I simply can’t make out how it went in. There is no way it could have entered the house… no chance.’

‘But it did go in… the proof stands right before our eyes.’

‘How did it occur to it to enter the house?’ asked Appa. ‘Elephants know their measure, don’t they?’

‘Some elephants are like that,’ said Raman Nair. ‘They forget they’ve grown up.’

‘It looks like the house was built around the elephant,’ said the architect, Asaari Brammanayagam.

The moment he said those words, the elephant started looking like a great snail to me. ‘It’s only a small house. What’s wrong if it always stays on top of the elephant like that?’ I asked.

‘You should tell your father that,’ said Stephen.

‘No…,’ I hesitated, gauging the look in their eyes.

‘It’s a good idea!’ Lawrence egged me on. ‘The elephant will never get wet in the rain… you should go and tell him immediately, little master.’

I dithered. ‘He’ll whack me,’ I said. 

Stephen and his friends laughed out loud. Appa turned and glared.

‘Is there any way out, Asaari?’ asked the deacon.

‘It’s old, sturdy teak. Even if we want to break it down, it will take a while,’ said the Asaari.

‘Aiyo, my Bhagavathi,’ shrieked Chandhri, hitting herself on the head with both her hands.

‘You want to break the house…?’ Aiyappan stuttered.

‘Fool! Anytime now the elephant will come bursting out of the house, sending the wood flying everywhere… If we break the house ourselves, at least we can save the planks. Otherwise, we’ll just end up with kindling,’ said Appa.

‘Don’t break my house, master! Please don’t break my house, master!’ Chandhri wailed.

‘Will you shut up or not? Look at her, showing her throat as if her husband just died.’

‘As if I would sit around wailing if this blunt axe of a man died… as if I’d have nothing better to do.’

Appa stepped closer to the house. ‘I don’t think it can come out. It’s wedged in there like cork.’

I remembered the black cork that plugged the bottle of medicine oil we had at home. Why not oil him out of the door? ‘Let’s put some oil on him,’ I ventured.

‘What?’ said Appa. I hesitated. ‘Go, go home now. Always poking your nose where it doesn’t belong…’ said Appa, raising his hand in a threatening gesture.  

‘He has a point. We could try oil,’ said Thangaiyya.

‘And how will we get enough oil for an elephant?’ asked Appa.

‘It will cost us less than tearing down the house… Hey, we need four tins of oil. Quick!’

‘Oil will dry out. Grease is better,’ said Stephen.

‘Oh,’ said Appa.

‘Grease doesn’t dry so easily… Oil would slide off the elephant, wouldn’t it?’

‘Then two tins of grease… Hey, Thavalaikkanna, you go with Stephen and Lawrence.’

‘Oil will bring you some merit from the gods… The elephant is Ganapati after all. The elephant-god likes oil baths,’ said Pachupillai, a doddering old man.

Confused, Appa stared at him. ‘Why don’t you summon the elephant one more time, Raman Nair?’ he finally said. 

‘Darling… you’re my child, aren’t you? Come on… come out, won’t you? Aana purathe… aana purathe,’ said Raman Nair.

‘I think that’s the problem. You’re saying aana purathe, you want the elephant to step back and come out. But he’s not able to. Maybe try aana velithe… tell him to walk forward. He’ll just go into the house and come out the back.’

‘Won’t the kitchen collapse?’ asked Raman Nair.

‘It’s just a kitchen,’ replied Appa.

‘Aiyo, my kitchen! Bhagavathi, goddess, my beautiful kitchen!’

‘Chee, shut up… Hey, take her somewhere and shut her up… Look at the wretch, shrieking away like that!’

Aana velithe! Aana velithe!

‘Parrinhg!’ trumpeted the elephant and swayed just a bit. The whole house shook. There were creaking noises everywhere. Dust billowed from the sides.

‘Master, my house! My house, master!’

‘Be patient, the thorn must be removed from the leaf without damage to either leaf or thorn, mustn’t it?’

The elephant lifted his tail and discharged squelchily like porridge. ‘Fourteen blocks of palm-jaggery… Hey, don’t you smell a hint of arrack in the dung?’

Raman Nair kept calling the elephant till the grease arrived. The elephant slowly took a step ahead and moved forward. The whole house creaked loudly; rattled, the elephant paused. It tremulously moved its hind leg, and then gave up, refusing to move. 

‘If the elephant doesn’t move, it will swell in place,’ said Subbu Pillai.

Four bicycles arrived with grease tins. ‘It’s original grease, good quality. Nagappan asked us, why so much grease. To rub on the elephant’s ass, I said. He thought I was making fun of him and tried to hit me,’ said Lawrence.

‘If he gets used to it now and starts demanding grease for his ass every day, I’m screwed.’

‘Stop talking,’ ordered Appa. ‘Hey, rub the grease on the elephant’s bottom.’

‘No… I’ve never greased an elephant before,’ replied Raman Nair.

‘Has your elephant ever entered a house till now?’

‘No.’

‘Then?’

‘What if the elephant doesn’t like it?’

‘He will like it… Even the lorries get grease. How is an elephant any different? Go on. Rub it on.’

Lawrence, Yesuvadiyan, Thanappan, Anappan Velu and Thavalaikkannan came forward to carry out the task. They scooped out the grease and slapped it on the elephant’s backside, rubbing it nicely everywhere. The elephant’s bottom turned a shiny black.

‘It’s gleaming,’ said the deacon.

‘What do you mean, gleaming? You should see Mekkarai Kaliyamma’s rump,’ said Thangaiyya. 

Appa looked at me. I looked away.

‘Rub it all over.’

They poured the grease on top of the elephant. Then Raman Nair used many special words to summon it. The elephant rocked back and forth. But it still couldn’t get out. 

‘Summon him properly!’

Aana purathe! Aana valathe! Aana velithe!’

But when the elephant took a step back, its foot slipped on the grease; it shuddered, balanced itself, and bellowed, ‘Parrengh!’ It then stood motionless, its bottom quivering, its tail curling restlessly. 

Poosari Appu, the village priest, approached Appa. ‘Why don’t we call for Kaduva Mooppil?’ 

‘Why? To have him tie an amulet around the elephant’s waist?’ retorted Appa. ‘If he wants us to buy silver string for the amulet, we might as well pack our bags.’

‘No, I just thought the manthiravathi might have a magic solution.’

‘He’ll turn the elephant into smoke and whiff him out just like that, won’t he?’

‘He worships Kaduva the mountain god, mind you… Don’t you blaspheme him.’

‘Well, what was Kaduva doing when Kulakkarai Kochammini took him by the balls last year for not paying her?’

‘That’s another matter altogether… Such things happen to men all the time. It’s good fortune in its own way, you know. This is different. This he can do.’

‘It would be easy if we could fold up the elephant the way we fold an umbrella,’ I said to Appa.

‘Go home, you dog. I’ll make your ears ring otherwise,’ said Appa.

I thought the deacon would come to my rescue and looked at him. He laughed. ‘You do have a point, son. The elephant is a black umbrella, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘But not a foldable umbrella, you know?’ he added. 

‘Look, what I’m saying is…’ said Thangaiyya Peruvattar. ‘Given our situation, we will do whatever it takes. If it takes magic, so be it.’

‘Magic? Hey Peruvattar, are you foggy in the head? Bring the elephant out with magic? What are you saying?’

‘We should do something, shouldn’t we?’

‘So? Let’s break the house down… Asaari, break the house!’

‘Aiyo, my house! My house! My precious Bhagavathi!’

‘Tie her up and throw her in the pond… Look at her screeching, tearing away at my ears…’

‘What’s going on? What’s going on? Aiyo, what is this?! How did it happen!?’ exclaimed Kolappan as he came running up to join our group.

‘Gopalakrishnan took Aiyappan’s house for a female elephant, mounted it and got stuck!’ said Lawrence.

‘Aiyo, really?’

Enraged, ‘Get lost, you! Motherfucker, cut him down, I say!’ screamed Appa.

‘Sir, be patient. After all, boys do let their tongues run away with themselves… Let’s get on with what we need to do,’ said the deacon.

‘Do whatever, just get rid of the damned thing, I’m leaving!’ said Appa. ‘But, be warned. If something happens to the elephant, our village will be done for. Gajalakshmi will leave the land where an elephant meets an inauspicious death—she’s a goddess flanked by elephants, after all. If any one of the eight Lakshmis leave, the other seven will follow her out too. They always go together.’

‘Mary is a Lakshmi too,’ said Stephen. ‘The Ninth Lakshmi.’

‘Cut down the motherfucker! Cut him down, I say!’

Stephen cackled with laughter. Unnerved, Appa quivered with tears.

‘Sir, calm down. He’s small fry, why get into a tiff with him?’ said the deacon. ‘Now then, isn’t he the one jumping about as if he’s inserted his shaft into a mousetrap… Hey, call Kaduva. Go, take the bicycle.’

Sindan Kaani, also known as Kaduva Mooppil, lived at the foothills of Mookanmalai, bordering our village. Big, black boulders from the hill encircled his house. There were mud figurines of the mountain-gods, Kaduva, Karaalan and Kuttan, in the nook between the boulders. All of them had big eyes, a large mouth and a massive penis. ‘It was after seeing Kaduva-saami’s tool that man invented the plough,’ Lawrence had once told me. It is with his tool that Kaduva ploughs the forestland.

Defeated, Appa went and sat on an upturned water trough. I knew I must not go anywhere near him. If there was one soul he could beat up in that crowd, it was me.

Up until the moment Sindan Kaani arrived on the scene, Raman Nair continued to plead with the elephant. ‘Hey makka, don’t humiliate me, son. Look, who’s here. Registrar Karadi Nair is here. And Thangaiyya Peruvattar too. Nesaiyyan the deacon is here as well. Please lift your foot, my darling!’

The noise the elephant made sounded like that of a cat—a slightly large one perhaps.

Kaduva arrived riding on the pillion of the bicycle. He was a short man. Probably only as tall as me. But he had fine, firm, broad shoulders and arms that bulged out of his sleeveless vest. There was not a single hair on top of his head. But his beard, overrun by dreadlocks, fell to his chest. He was holding a bag that had been repurposed from a fertilizer sack, the accoutrements needed for making the offerings were in it. 

Ricocheting off the cycle as he alighted, he scooted ahead a short distance, before gathering himself. Then, with a majestic walk, he approached the Peruvattar and said, ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Can’t you see? The elephant has to be taken out.’

‘The house will fall apart.’

‘Why do you think we called for your highness if we could just tear apart the house?’

‘Let’s see what Kaduva has to say,’ said Kaduva.

Setting his bag down, he walked around rubbing his chin, inspecting the elephant keenly. When he was finished, he said, ‘It’s possible to get him out… There is a spell.’

‘Spell or no spell, there should be no damage done to the elephant or the house,’ said Appa.

‘Uppity Nair-folk should keep away. This is the game of the mountain-gods.’

‘The Nairs have seen a few mountains too, Kaani.’

‘This isn’t one they’ve seen… Piss off!’

‘Hey,’ said Appa, raising his hand to hit him. Nesaiyyan caught hold of his arm. ‘He’s a manthiravathi… If he does some unspeakable magic and something bad happens, who’ll bear the brunt? Let it go.’

‘Hey, I’ll take you on, Kaani!’ yelled Appa before walking off and settling down a fair distance away.

‘I’ve rescued many respected Nairs and Pillais from their traps this way… Roar, Karadi, roar… What’s the matter? Has your tongue folded into your throat? Hey, Karadi!’

Appa looked away.

‘Let it go, will you? Just attend to your business now,’ urged Thangaiyyan.

‘This is easy. There’s a specific spell to shrink the elephant,’ said Kaduva.

‘What? A spell to shrink an elephant? What are you blathering?’

‘Anything can be made small, or big, if you wish. Big or small, it’s all in the magic of my hands.’

‘Is he still talking about the elephant…’ said Lawrence.

‘Hey, better make yourself scarce,’ said the deacon.

‘Take Karadi Nair for instance,’ said Kaduva. ‘In my father’s time, do you think us Kaanis could let our tongues wag like this? These Nairs would draw their swords out, mind you. Now, they just seem like blood-starved leeches.’

‘There’s a different metaphor for that,’ said Lawrence.

‘Hey, I told you to get out!’

‘An elephant can be shrunk. Shrink it more and more and it’ll be just the size of this bee here. You can pick it with your nails and set it down on your palm. Want me to show you?’

‘No, thank you. If you place the elephant on our palms, who knows, its kin might arrive and maul us to death… Let’s see you get this elephant out.’

‘This is a breeze. A simple job. Just wait and see.’

Kaduva draped red silk around his waist. And wrapped red silk into a turban around his head. As the village priest Poosari Appu handed him his udukkai, Kaduva brushed the drum aside in refusal. He picked up a solitary stick instead.

Kaduva pointed to Raman Nair and took him aside. He exchanged a few words with him. Then, he ordered him to move away. Raman Nair turned on his heel, walked a considerable distance from the scene and waited under a mango tree. Kaduva waved at the deacon, summoning him close, and issued orders. The deacon nodded and hurried back to his spot. He then gestured to the crowd of men and commanded them.

‘Everyone, fall back… Stand back, stand far away. The spell works in a radius of a hundred feet. Please leave a gap of a hundred and eight feet.’

The crowd fell back, the circle widened and expanded. The house stood at the centre, starkly alone.

‘What’s he doing?’ asked Appa.

‘He’s casting a spell.’

Kaduva was making his rounds around the elephant and mumbling something. It looked like he was conversing with the elephant, commanding it, calling out to it, petting it.

‘He’s making a fool of us,’ said Appa.

‘Hold your horses, Karadi…’

A long time passed. Kaduva went on making the spell, whispering slowly and evenly. It seemed as though he was engaged in a long conversation with the elephant.

‘Has the elephant truly grown smaller?’ asked the deacon, ‘or am I simply imagining it?’

‘You think the elephant’s shrinking?’ blurted Appa. ‘What the…’

‘The elephant’s growing smaller and smaller… indeed, it is,’ said Thangaiyya Peruvattar.

‘Jesus Christ!’ said the deacon.

‘Holy Mother of God! The elephant-shrinking times are upon us,’ said Gnanakurusu.  

‘They do shrink them before boarding them onto Noah’s Ark, you know.’

Appa looked on, a little flabbergasted himself. The crowd settled into silence. Many were pointing it out. The elephant’s crown had lowered. You could easily see a gap now.

‘When it’s angered or scared, the elephant will straighten its back and stand up tall. It’s exhausted now. And so, it has bent its legs slightly and let its back slouch, that’s all,’ said Appa.   

‘Shut up, will you?’ said the deacon. ‘It’s his spell!’

‘If you think this is all Kaduva’s magic, you better switch religions. You are not a true Christian.’

‘That’s different!’

‘How so?’

‘Shut your trap, will you? Has anyone seen such a nitwit of a Nair before?’

The elephant bent its legs fully and with its belly flush with the ground, crawled backwards. Its body did not so much as graze the doorframe of the house.

The people roared in celebration. Myriad cries and whoops filled the air.

It moved backwards, further and further, until it settled right into the ground, still in the same position. Its trunk lay limp, like a rubber hose used to draw water from the pond.

‘Shall I proceed to shrink the elephant to the size of a frog? What say?’ asked Kaduva.

‘Please don’t, poor thing!’ said the deacon.

‘You can keep it in your house as a pet. But you must remember to put it in the clay pot at night and close the lid. Otherwise, the dog will spirit it away.’

‘Hey, please don’t do that,’ said Thangaiyya Peruvattar. ‘All said and done, the elephant has a special something about it, right? We shouldn’t mess with that.’

Aiyappan’s mother Neeli emerged from within the house, her shrivelled breasts hanging, her arms outstretched. ‘Aiyo, Aiyo!’ she wailed, ‘An elephant entered! An elephant entered the house!’ Her voice was barely audible. There was very little wind in her.

‘Well, well, so the old crone was inside all this time,’ said Thanappan.

‘She was lying under the elephant’s foot! Such good fortune!’ said Thavalaikkannan. ‘The plough is truly an auspicious tool!’

‘Aiyappa, it was your very own mother who was inside… Didn’t you tell anyone?’ asked Lawrence.

‘I forgot,’ said Aiyappan.

‘Masterful!’

Heeding Kaduva’s gesture, Raman Nair ran towards the elephant. As soon as he approached, the elephant trumpeted. ‘Appa! Aiya! I can’t take it anymore!’ it seemed to be bawling.

Raman took hold of its ears and calmed it. He petted its crown. After he had tried out various commands, it slowly rose to its feet. As though it had just discovered its legs, it gently lifted its foot and set it down. Pressing its trunk to the ground, it stood up, stumbling. It folded its ears forward. Snaking its trunk upwards and resting it on its forehead, it shook its head from side to side and trumpeted like a conch-horn.  

‘Raman Nair, is this really an elephant? We heard cat sounds from it some time back,’ said Lawrence.

‘Chee, get lost, you son of a bitch. Come and touch him if you can… Let’s see you touch him and then talk of an elephant’s strength. Hey, come here… I dare you.’

‘What will you do if I touch it? If I make the elephant run hell for leather, what’ll you give me?’

‘Ten rupees… Hey, I bet ten rupees.’

Lawrence picked up a dried coconut kernel that lay in front of Aiyappan’s house and walked towards the elephant. Gopalakrishnan stretched its trunk and sniffed it. Its body trembled. A tremor ran down its backside. It tucked its ears in.  

It withdrew its trunk and bellowed like a lorry’s horn. It buckled its body, slinked away to the side and, bellowing again, bolted off.

‘Gopala, stop… Gopala, stop!’ shouted Raman Nair, chasing after the elephant.

‘Ten rupees, dear Raman Nair! Ten rupees, Nair-e! Nair-e coooo!’ shrieked Lawrence’s friends. Riotous laughter followed.

‘They won’t let even an elephant live with honour and dignity in this land… such louts,’ cursed Appa.

‘Head home, will you? I’ll visit the fields and be back,’ said the deacon.

‘I want fifty rupees for myself and a chicken for Kaduva. Send it to the temple,’ said Kaduva. ‘Where’s the fellow who came on the cycle?’ he asked.

Thanappan materialised and said, ‘Please take a seat, Mooppil.’

Eyeing Appa, Kaduva said, ‘I possess the spell needed to shrink Nairs to the size of a pinky finger too. But why should I give them grief? They’re a wretched lot, anyway…’ He got on the bicycle.

‘Bloody beggar,’ muttered Appa, watching him leave.

‘The man has the grace of God. Christ the Lord will know him too,’ said the deacon.  

‘Aiyappa, you’re lucky, your stars are aligned. You’ve got your house back,’ said Thangayya Peruvattar.

‘I need to go to the market,’ Aiyappan responded vaguely. He hadn’t really understood what had happened. An attempt had been set in motion, that was all.

From the other end, Chandhri lamented, ‘Aiyo, it has broken eight pots of mine… The dratted elephant’s broken all my pots… Aiyo, my Bhagavathi!’ she cried.

‘The money for my grease?’ asked Lawrence.

‘You’ll get it… Hey, who’s this fellow? Agitating all the time!’

I ran after the elephant. It had entered Appu Peruvattar’s grove and was hiding in the screw pine bushes. Raman Nair was soothing it.

I went up to them. ‘Thankfully, nothing’s happened to the elephant,’ I said.

‘Screw you… I have to wipe the grease off its ass now. It’ll take a whole week… I can’t do it. Forget it. I’m taking off to Thirparappu instead, my daughter will serve me heavenly kanji.’

‘What did Kaduva ask?’ I said.

‘What do you mean?’

‘He asked you something, didn’t he?’

‘Oh, him? There’s a baby elephant on Nagappan’s estate, you know? Kochukesavan. He asked me how I call him. So I told him.’

‘Ah!’ I said. ‘That’s the spell he’s used.’

‘What spell?’

‘He’s called out to our Gopalakrishnan as he would call out to a little baby… He spoke to him as he would speak to a little baby. Our fellow heard that, fell for it and shrunk back to a little baby himself.’

Raman Nair turned and looked at Gopalakrishnan. He was tugging at a screw pine frond with his trunk and rolling it up, with tears and snorts to boot. Thinking that Raman Nair was glaring at him, he let the frond drop at once and stood with his trunk lowered and ears tucked in like a good boy.

‘You think we should call him like that too?’ asked Raman Nair.

‘Don’t, please. If he flops about like a small baby, will you scoop his poop?’

‘Fair point,’ said Raman Nair. ‘Elephant, to your spot!’

Author’s Bio:

Jeyamohan is one of the finest and most prolific writers to have emerged from India. Though he has authored more than two hundred books, spanning re-imaginations of epics, novels, short fiction, travelogues, literary criticism, and more, he has just begun to be translated into English. We have each translated one book-length work of his. This short story forms part of a series of more than a hundred stories the author wrote in 2020, one for each day of the pandemic-induced lockdowns. 

Translators’ Bio:

Based in Chennai, India, Priyamvada Ramkumar translates from Tamil to English. Her debut translation of Jeyamohan’s Stories of the True has been longlisted for the 2023 ALTA-NTA Prose Award. She won a 2023 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for White Elephant, a novel by the same author. She can be found at priyamvada_ram on X/Twitter. 

Suchitra Ramachandran is a bilingual writer and translator. The Abyss, her debut book-length translation of Jeyamohan’s Tamil novel was published this year to critical acclaim. She won the 2017 Asymptote Close Approximations Fiction Prize for Periyamma’s Words, a short story by the same author. She can be found at artisuch on X/Twitter.

Priyamvada

Suchitra

Priyamvada (left) and Suchitra (right)

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