Friday, January 2, 2015

Elephants and Thankappan

Journalism gives ample opportunities to meet lots of 'real' people and their issues. There are some faces which you do not forget even if you come across many faces in your life. It might be because those faces tell real stories. Thankappan Chettan ( 'Chettan' in Malayalam means 'brother') is one among such faces.

He has braved several encounters with wild elephants. He is one among the three who has decided to stay back in Kayattuva, a place which was often threatened by elephants. It is 2 km away from Panieli Poru,  a beautiful place in the Ernakulam district of Kerala which is famous for its untamed wilderness and water falls.

Thankappan, who stands barely five feet tall says he is not afraid of elephants.  " They won’t hurt me. I light a candle and place it in a bucket. This scares them away. They hurt you, when you hurt them.”   Call it a paradox, a few days ago, before I went to do a story there, this lion-hearted man had to take refuge on a roof of another house when an elephant chased him. His was a thatched house.  He says "  I could not move as the elephant was in front of me. It was a narrow path. But somehow I managed to divert  its attention and ran and climbed upon the concrete roof of another house."

To reach Kayattuva, we had to travel 22 km through forest. I was really scared. I have of course, seen plenty of them and I come from a district in Kerala called Thrissur which is famous for its love for elephants. But I was not at all prepared to meet a wild elephant. Due to its steepness, our car could not move fast. So 22 km felt like 44 km.

 A year ago, 25 families lived in Kayattuva. Each family has one or two acres of rubber plantation. But now there are just 9 empty houses. Many shifted their abode. But as they could not leave their only source of income, they come to Kayattuva at the crack of dawn and wind up their work by 5 pm. Even when they say that elephants are intelligent and resort to violence only if humans hurt them, they did not want to take a chance with their little children and family.

You know ? When I was interviewing them, some one yelled that there was an elephant lurking in the woods just to show its head by 5 pm. Fortunately or unfortunately, I did not come across them. But it was a wonderful experience.


pic courtesy : Mithun Vinod