many many years ago, back even before dhaka was dacca, this land was inhabited by many many different species of wild animals. or so my grandparents told me. i always suspected that they might be on some kind of drug or the other.
anyway, the place that is now this sprawling megacity used to be inhabited by all manner of god’s creatures, big and small. it was said that foxes were very common in this part of the country, as were small game, exotic birds and even the occasional random tiger.
sadly, this was the case eons ago, when trees were plentiful and concrete was rare. throughout my own lifetime, i’ve seen concrete overtake the trees rapidly, to the point where greenery in dhaka has to be part of a beautification campaign.
but enough ranting. nowadays, the little wildlife available consists mainly of crows that insist on sitting outside your windows at the break of dawn, cawing their bloody heads off. there also used to be a sizeable cohort of sparrows around my house, but it seems they have gone extinct, although a few still do exist in other places in the capital. finally, there are the staple stray dogs and cats that adopt me once in a while every few months. other than that, wildlife is pretty rare, but nowhere more so than at the dhaka zoo, where animals
go to die horrible, horrible deaths frolic like the happy critters they are. (well, at least the hippos do. every other animal is too exhausted to really frolic).
anyway, now there’s this.
right, let’s get the obvious questions out of the way first.
- yes, that’s an elephant.
- yes, it’s completely and utterly real.
- yes, it was only a few feet away from me.
- no, i did not get out of the car and touch/pet/molest it.
- no, it is not a projection of my own twisted psyche on to a photograph.
- no, the picture isn’t photoshopped in any way.
- yes, the elephant is walking on a major road in dhaka.
- yes, it does seem like the elephant wants to headbutt that “school van” with the horrible blue paint.
- no, the ears haven’t been chopped off, it’s just fluttering (if that’s what elephant ears do).
- yes, dhaka streets are extremely dirty.
and before you ask why there’s an elephant walking down a dirty dhaka street and headbutting horrible shades of blue, i have no idea. but yes, it seems to be there for a purpose, but what the purpose is we can only guess.
thank god i have a
fertile overly active imagination.
when i was first alerted to the fact that there was an elephant in my near vicinity, i was sitting in one of the regular traffic jams that constitute my daily commute. having nothing better to do, i was engaged in bangladesh’s ultimate pastime – looking at other people. actually, i was quite focused on this one particular interesting person (read: female) who was standing on the side of the road, waiting for a break in the traffic so that she could cross. and just when i was having many happy thoughts about the fact that bangladesh is not ruled by the taliban, so that this particular piece of heaven was not covered from head to toe in an anonymous black burkha, this young lady completed a move i haven’t seen outside of the olympics: she jumped up in the air and ran at the same time. (i’ve been trying that one all evening, but can’t exactly figure out how it works yet.)
she didn’t run far, though – only into a shop nearby, from which she started giving furtive anxious glances out the glass window. naturally, i was quite peeved at the fact that my enjoyable activity had been horribly ruined by some factor that had had the same effect on the woman that britney spears or the backstreet boys has on me. and so i searched for it. but i didn’t have to look far. in approximately 12 seconds, i was staring straight at a huge, dark grey ass. and so i pulled out my phone as fast as i could, and snapped this particular picture as the car pulled away.
now that you know all there is to know about me and my quirks, let’s talk about the elephant.
first and foremost, i’m sure you’re wondering what precisely an elephant is doing in dhaka city. for all intents and purposes, as far as i could tell, it was the newest addition to the dhaka city corporation’s elite street cleaning unit, which is mostly composed of chain-smoking people who are sometimes visible in the early mornings, poking futilely at litter that lies on the sides of the streets. the elephant, frankly, seemed to be interested mostly in all the trash on the streets, sucking up with its trunk any piece of litter it could find. so much so that i for a minute thought that the city corporation had finally been able to afford a decent, albeit living, vacuum cleaner.
second, you may wonder if the elephant is truly wild, because it seems quite tame in the picture, as evinced by the gentleman perched on its back beating it with a strong bamboo stick. frankly, i think it’s heartwarming to see a use for bamboo sticks other than for attacking cars and beating the living crap out of opposition politicians. you see, for the longest time i’ve believed that bangladesh doesn’t have a hockey team because we’ve forgotten that hockey sticks have uses other than breaking people’s bones.
then, you might wonder, how is it that an elephant is able to walk on a street in dhaka without getting hit by
the elephants that are already on the streets the many buses that ply the roads? [side note: as you can see, i’ve discovered the strikethrough tag, and will henceforth use it ruthlessly. i truly believe they make my posts funnier. if you don’t agree, too bad.] a more important question in my mind, actually, is whether elephants are subject to the same traffic rules as everyone else. rather, what traffic rights do elephants have in dhaka city? clearly they have the most important one – right of way. not only pedestrians, but even rickshaws were getting out of the way for the creature, which i think is a milestone in that both these groups of creatures think that nothing short of an act of god can stop them acting like idiots and for once actually obeying traffic laws. but it was refreshing to see that, in a country where everyone believes they have a god-given right to drive like maniacs, there are still things that scare them enough to make them actually follow traffic rules. perhaps this is the solution to bangladesh’s traffic problems: import a bunch of elephants to randomly walk up and down streets. i guarantee that in two weeks everyone will be following all traffic laws, even those that haven’t been invented yet.
alas, all good things must come to an end. although i parked the car a little ways down the road and waited for the elephant to come by so that i could take a more intimate and up-close portrait, the elephant did not make an appearance. it turns out the gentleman on its back had ridden it down to his favorite tea stall (which is where all those gawking people in the picture are standing) for a cup of tea and a chat, and had then gone back home with the elephant. which, besides the vacuum cleaner activity detailed above, is possibly the strangest use that i could imagine for a huge, heavy mammal.
i’m sure you never thought that this post would actually turn in to a rant, particularly when you saw the endearing picture of the elephant. but all in all, it was quite pleasant to see this today – after all, it helped to turn what promised to be an otherwise routine day into a completely surreal experience. furthermore, it’s good to see that, in an age when it seems that nothing can surprise us anymore and that we’ve seen it all, there are still things that make people sit up and take notice. i don’t know how many people saw the elephant today, but i hope it gave everyone who saw it a welcome and pleasant change from the monotony of the countless routine that constitutes our lives.
although it probably won’t be very pleasant for the street cleaners when they encounter the mountains of elephant dung tomorrow morning.