suppose that not many are in the Indian space that I’m in while I read this. I’m just back from two weeks in the sub-continent. And I’m in the break room at work. Indians chat in Hindi to each to each other. The spicy scent of their food drifts over me. So, what better place than to read of Little Toomai, the son of a mahout, from a long line of them. His great grandfather was the one who help capture and break the grand elephant Kala Nag (“Black Snake”), a huge, wise elephant in service for proud decades.
While Big Toomai is the mahout-in-charge of Nag, Little Toomai already thinks of Nag is his. He rides him, he cleans him, he picks away the thorns and takes care of him. He even roots for the grand old bull when green elephants are brought into the keddah (or enclosure) and battered by the trained elephants to accepting submission. Yet at one point, Little Toomai becomes so wrapped up in the spectacle of this Pachyderm rodeo that to fetch a dropped lead, he ducked down between the legs of the meleeing brutes to pluck it up and toss it to one of the elephantboys. This gets him in hot water with his dad, yet earns him notice of the white Sahib who runs the show. When told he might not be allowed back to the keddah, the Englishman laughs and yes, oh yes, he can come back, once he’s seen the elephants dance (a mythical naturalistic show that leaves the foliage pounded down for hundreds of yards, a sight never seen by the eyeballs of men).
But then comes the night soon after where the elephants in the camp line seem nervous. And even though Nag has been locked down, other elephants need his chains more and so Little Toomai keeps close, to keep his elephant steady. But then the massive trunk has plucked him up, settling him neatly between those sail-like ears, and off they go, tearing through the jungle, heading towards… what? Well, I’m sure you can guess, but it still makes for interesting reading. And the result is great too.
As usual, Kipling captures his time in country, not only from his own point of view as an English officer, but for the people who made up this sprawling land, even down to the smallest boy of an elephant driver, his wants and desires and life. And that’s’ why we read, to open up ourselves to other POVs of other times and cultures. And this one won’t hurt you – it’s a short lunch sprint, perfect for a company laptop and a sneak into Project Gutenberg, where I got it. And HERE IT IS, for your own enjoyment. It’s part of his Jungle Book collection, but you can click through directly to the story in most of the download format. Otherwise, scroll.
And enjoy it – great read!