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Elephant Story...

There are incidents in your life that you never forget - at least not for long. Every once in a while a day will come when, for no reason, your memory bank dusts up the episode and pushes it out for your conscious mind to live through one more time.

In my case, a rerun of the "Elephant Encounter" was long overdue. And so, i was not surprised when one fine evening, sitting at a bar table polishing off a beer, i found myself thinking about that day somewhere in 2000; When the four of us barely avoided a - argueably what would have been a one sided - wrestling match with a full grown Elephant.

So there was me, and then three more - Aliyan, Chetti, and one Mr Nair. On two Suzukis - a 100cc Samurai, and a 110cc Shogun - we set out for a 350km trip to our College, REC Calicut, to pick up our mark lists, degree certificates etc. Mission accomplished, we set off on the return journey, albiet this time choosing a different route - through the forests of Bandipur.

Mr Nair is excited; The route is famous for Elephants that stray onto the road. The Bus/Truck drivers who frequent those roads, they are used to the phenomenon - they park by patiently, till the big animals clear the road. Bikers do not normally take those roads, especially at night: it is simply not safe. So, like i said, Mr Nair is tremendously excited about watching Elephants - Wild ones - at close quarters. He keeps talking nonstop - How much he looked forward to seeing them, if possible approaching one and touching it, taking a few pics with some really huge elephants - and so on.

Im a bit surprised, and that's putting it mildly. Well it's like this: I would expect Mr Nair to be quaking in his boots. You see, many years back, Mr Nair fell in love with a girl in his neighbourhood, and as part of his efforts to look more presentable, made his first attempt at shaving his - almost non-existent - beard. Unfortunately, in that process he nicked himself mildly in a couple of places. So badly shaken was Mr Nair by the whole incident and injuries, that he never touched another razor since then. So apart from a visual imagination of Nair's present facial appearance, you would also have obtained a vivid picture of Mr Nair's tolerance towards adventure.

But now, sitting behind me on the Shogun, Mr Nair is chattering with such incessant noise power that he is drowning out the engine noise as well as the exhaust beat. Couple of times i actually stopped the bike, revved it up a bit, unplugged the 2T tube, made sure that oil is flowing, checked for smoke, piston slap, etc etc. Im thoroughly flabbergasted at this new found courage and bravado that Mr Nair seems to be displaying effortlessly.

Now a few meters in front of us, on the other Suzuki maintaining a steady 70 - because that's the max it will do - we have a different situation. Riding the bike, sitting bolt upright with glassy eyes staring straight ahead, and white knuckled fingers pinning the throttle wide open, is Aliyan. And at this point of time, his condition can be described reasonably accurately as "Scared Shitless". Aliyan moves through his life with a perpetual fear of Calamities, Accidents, Terminal illnesses, and various related misfortunes. So, to be on a jungle road in the middle of the night, on a bike, riding towards awaiting wild elephants - It's all a nightmare to Aliyan, and like Morpheus says, Aliyan accepts what's happening only because he expects to wake up soon.

Sitting behind Aliyan, without a care in the world, is Chetti. Now, Chetti is eternally curious about everything - Elephants as well. He is so busy being curious, he simply does not have time to be scared. His only focus at the moment is to find out how Elephants, Wild Elephants, would look like, and behave, from close quarters.

And me, I really wasn't feeling scared - only because i just did not expect any Elephants on the road. So off we went, 4 stupid fools on 2 little 2strokes howling their way through the night.

The roads were not very good, and i was actually having trouble keeping up with the Samurai - despite having an almost 100% power advantage. The Samurai was fairly new, with shocks in very decent condition. My shogun was somewhat run down, and doing 70 above those broken roads was really sending us all over the place, and i had to struggle to just hold my line. Oblivious of my trouble, Aliyan rode on like a man possessed.

So as we came out of turn, we find a Toyota Qualis coming opposite. seeing us, he braked hard and came into our lane, blocking our exit out of the corner, and forcing us to stop. We spotted the driver leaning out of the window as he slowed to a stop, and quickly realized that he wanted to talk to us. He didn't waste time or words:

"Elephants ahead...there are Elephants on the road!"

That did it. Aliyan parked the bike and jumped off like an acrobat. Turning to Chetti, he first reeled off a torrent of abuse, following which:

"See? Listen? what did i tell you guys? It was all your idea! now what do we do now? Why the heck did i listen to you a$$holes? it's all your fault!"

Aliyan is trembling all over, Chetti is grinning away happily, reality is slowly dawning on me, and Mr Nair is strangely quiet all of a sudden.

"I cant ride anymore...you ride!" - Aliyan yells at Chetti.

Ok no problem. Chetti slides forward onto the front seat and Aliyan climbs onto the rear. We have no choice but to proceed forward. The Qualis guy is actually having fun - inside the big Van, he is sitting pretty safe alright - so he actually does a U turn and comes along with us. He wants another glimpse of the Elephants, it seems.

So we proceed along at something like 30kmph, with the Qualis bringing up the rear. We pass a few corners through a couple of Kilometers, but no sign of Elephants. Then we come around a 90 degree turn, and there as the road straightened, was a crowd of small Elephants. Yes - all small Elephants, baby elephants, and just one or two very medium sized female Elephants. The scene was anything but scary, and was actually peaceful. It was an anti-climax and our collective fear just evaporated. Even Aliyan relaxed and smiled, as we all fondly gazed at the pack of baby elephants.

The qualis guy turned his Toyota around and parked, rather disappointed, but still deciding to stick around and watch. We could have just rode on straight, but we decided to stop and watch the proceedings as well. We got off the bikes, lit cigarettes and just stood around watching the Elephant gang. It was pitch dark, except for the parking lights and headlight - now pointing in the other direction - of the Toyota.

At that moment, there was a shrill, almost unearthly, blast of sound from our right. We all jumped and turned, and was stunned to see a really huge Elephant charging out of the Jungle and straight towards us, trumpeting loudly. For a second we all stood frozen in shock; The Elephant paused at the clearing, perhaps some 30 meters away, and smashed a nearby tree like a twig - the crunching sound of heavy timber breaking like matchsticks is something i still recall vividly. But for some reason, the Elephant hesitated at the edge of the clearing, and it's headlong rush slowed down, as it demolished a few more branches, yet not taking it's eyes off us, and trumpeting always - terrfying blasts of sound, of phenomenal volume.

Only a few seconds had passed and by now we all woke up from that initial paralyzing shock. The Toyota came to life, as the guy let out the clutch and the Van shot away in a flurry of wheelspin. Meanwhile i was sprinting for the Shogun and Chetti was diving for the Samurai. Mr Nair was stranded a few meters away from anything, and he first made a mad rush for the Toyota - and even managed to get his hand on the rear door handle when the Van started moving and pulled away. I will never forget Mr Nair tugging hard on the door handle, first the rear, then the front, only to find the doors not opening and the Van moving away at full power.

In a flash, Nair turned around and scampered towards me, as i swung the kicker down hard; But the bike just did not start. i thumbed the choke in full, and kicked again in desparation, harder. Nair, realizing that im in trouble, turned around and sprinted towards the Samurai, which Chetti was trying to start at that moment. Even amongst all that panic, Nair's frenzied efforts were really Hilarious, and i swear i almost laughed out aloud...

To be serious, It was a terrifying situation - pitch dark by then since the Toyota had disappeared, only the fearsome trumpets of the elephant all around - you know the animal is nearby, but you don't know where it is. Because of the sheer volume of the sound, there was no way to place it's exact location, except that it's within some 20 meters or so.

As i tried my third attempt, i heard the other bike barking to life, and in it's lights i saw Mr Nair in the final stage of his sprint towards the Samurai, running hard with hands raised in the air and waving wildly like a stricken man - But hardly had the engine woke up, Chetti slammed into first and took off like a slingshot, Aliyan behind, hanging on for dear life. Watching it all, even while cranking the bike in desparation, i swear i struggled with another rising fit of laughter.

At this point, i realized something was wrong, and felt the ignition - only to find that the key was not there. No wonder. Stupid me, the key was in my backpocket - where i had shoved it after killing the engine a few minutes back. Now i really began to panic.

Meanwhile Nair was in full flight once more, this time back towards me. I squeezed my fingers into my rear left pocket - i was wearing a tight Lee jeans - and could touch the key, but simply could not find a grip to yank it out. it was a truly scary moment, trying to force my finger through the tight denim, to make enough of a gap so that i can hook my finger under the key ring and yank it out. I could feel the trumpeting coming closer, and at this point, my brain had totally succumbed to the pressure and tension. But i remember Nair running up, and emitting a despairing combination of a wail and shout to find that im still in some sort of trouble with the bike, turning around once more and setting upon another sprint, but this time to god-knows-where.

But within a second, i could get a hook on the ring and pull it out, and along came the key. Within a flash i pushed into the ignition, and with a single kick, the bike came to life. At this point, i had no clue where the brave Mr Nair was - i just slotted the bike into some gear, pinned the throttle, popped the clutch and took off. Anyway it happened to be 1st gear, and the Shogun leaped forward on one wheel like a scalded cat.

i swear i did a 0-60 in under 4 seconds, and eased off on the throttle only after a km or so. Spotted Chetti and Aliyan waiting for me on the side, and slowed down to a halt. Upon when there was a sqeaking sound from behind, and i realized with shock that Mr Nair was sitting behind me.

It still fails my logic as to how Mr Nair - who was not anywhere near the bike when i took off - managed to reach me and climb onto the Shogun that was being given full gas...

We all rode in silence for a few Kms, our brains slowly recovering from the panic overdoze of those last few minutes. I turned to Mr Nair and asked - Are you Ok?

Mr Nair was quick to reply.

"Oh im Ok. But i wish i had taken a pic with that Elephant. You know, I wasn't scared and all that...Were you?"