Anarkali

Every kid who grew up in Karachi remembers Anarkali the elephant who died in 2006 and was — horrifically — fed to the other zoo animals and stuffed. While searching around on the internet, I found this amazing story from 2002 about how she was captured and brought to the zoo:

http://www.dawn.com/weekly/yworld/archive/020302/yworld3.htm
You must be wondering that if elephants are so united, why do they not protect their companions when trapped by man? That is the story I am writing for you today, as I am the one who trapped Anarkali in the Chittagong Hills.

In 1956, I had gone to Chittagong to trap two baby elephants, one as a gift to Gen Eisenhower, the then President of USA, who was running for a second term. The symbol of his party was an elephant and still is so. The other was for a gentleman in Karachi, who later gifted the elephant to the Karachi Zoo.

The trapping of elephants known as Kheda is a specialized operation, undertaken by highly experienced trappers. The most experienced trapper in those days was Chand Miyan.

Before the actual trapping very elaborate arrangements are made to ensure success. It must be done during the dark phase of the moon so that the elephants don’t see the trap or the people who have set it. Trappers study and watch the herd everyday for a month and mark the area where they feed. Far away from this site, they cut down strong trees, remove branches for being fixed some six feet deep in the ground so that they will not be pushed down by the elephants when they stampede after knowing they are in trouble.

The poles are no less than ten feet long and are tied securely to each other to make a strong wooden wall, some three hundred yards long in a pincer design. Between the open arms of the trap, the first fire-line followed by a second and a third, these are ignited by trained men after the herd has crossed. The explosions makes the elephants run faster into the bigger trap, where they are confined, kept hungry and thirsty to demoralise them, to break their unity and social bond. Without this seemingly harsh step, none can be taken out because when one elephant protests, others run to help.

A tough and tame elephant, trained for just this operation comes into the picture here. His name was Lal Bahadur — a heavy tusker who seemed very big and awesome to the rest. His enormous size made them fear him as is the social norm and etiquette.

In this particular case, there were fourteen trapped. Their path of grazing, the place where they slept/rested was earmarked. The trap was erected overnight so as not to scare the herd. The path was in the centre of the arms and it was expected that they would run through it after they were disturbed by a line of beaters (about three hundred), all of whom struck trunks of trees so methodically that the herd would walk on the only way left open for them, which was towards the big stockade. The operation had a fifty-fifty chance of success, it could go either way because on the slightest suspicion, the herd could escape or run in the wrong direction which meant a total waste of time and effort, not to mention money. Once scared, they would shift to a safer zone, which was, in this case, crossing over into the forest of neighbouring Burma from where they would not return for another year or two, because elephants remember for a long time. It is well known that an elephant never forgets.

Coming back to our story, when the first, second and third line of fire was lit, the herd entered the area that would be their prison. The rope of a trap door, that hung on the entrance was chopped by a watchman with an axe from the tree on which he was perched. As the door crashed behind the herd, they found themselves trapped. In order to break away, they started pushing the wooden barricade. Finding themselves helpless, they started fighting and biting each other in sheer desperation, perhaps to punish the one responsible for leading them to their doom, which is most unusual behaviour for elephants. Even when an elephant has been shot by a hunter in Africa, many of them push and cajole the fallen comrade to get him up on its feet. They keep to it unless they are driven away by gun fire in the air or lose hope. When forced to retreat, they are seen with tears rolling down from their eyes.

In this case, two toddlers in the melee were crushed to pulp. Yes, it is a cruel operation. After two days of hunger and thirst, they were weak and famished. That was when Chand Miyan, our trained elephant, lifted the trap door and entered like a huge Lal Bahadur. He started punishing the strongest in the herd, who trumpeted in pain. This demoralised the rest further. When this first victim cowered down in meekness, a keeper jumped from, its back and tied up the defeated elephant with the leg of Lal Bahadur, who walked him three-leged into the open, where he was dragged to a strong tree, where he was tied up with strong chains.

The rest were brought out in a similar fashion, tied out of sight of one another to give them an impression that he or she had no one around to help. Two men burnt a campfire nearby to instil fear because elephants are mortally afraid of fire. They sang oddly the elephant songs and started offering bananas and water. Half of them accepted the degrading alms and the other half resisted for another half a day but hunger breaks even the tough ones. They were made to hear human voices and handled to make them feel that relief was now in the hands of the keepers. In ten days’ time they were subdued enough to be tied with a tame fellow to travel with him or her for a walk. That is how an elephant learns to accept the dominance of man.

Out of these, the two female teenagers, that I selected, were flown to Karachi. One left for the USA which made Pakistan very famous; the other was taken as a pet by Mr Hirjina — a Parsi businessman in the city who later on donated her to the zoo for the children of Karachi.

She is now your Anarkali, who loves toffees, biscuits and delicacies, is bathed by attendants, enjoys 8 kilos of sweet rice pudding with 50 kilos of grass daily while her cousins in the forest are still munching on rough and raw grass in the wilderness. They are free; she is secure, you decide what is better.

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