Monday, August 10, 2009

A Journey ...

Once upon a time, in a faraway land where the heat baked the earth, and monsoon flood made rivers rage filling the plains with fertile soils, there was a forest. In a small corner of this vast country lay a stretch of land covered in rich verdant shelter. Here, amidst the swaying timbers of teak, sandalwood, jambool, peepul and rosewood, langurs swung happily from branch to branch. The canopy of the forest was filled with birds - bul buls, brightly colored parrots, shiny black ravens ... and down in the dense undergrowth prowled tigers, leopards, cheetahs and mighty elephants whose carefully placed steps avoided their smaller friends the snake, the mongoose and others. Here, in this paradise peacocks cried out intoxicated on the perfumes of jasmine and kachnar and every now and then one could hear the gentle whoosh of the breezes as they travelled across the land through the forest on their way from the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean.

It was here in the State of Harayana, in this majestic forest bordering a National Park, that I once stood - a tall and stately specimen of Indian Rosewood also known as Aguru in Sanskrit. My wood holds many medicinal properties and because of its durable qualities is often used for furniture making, carvings and martial art weaponry. Thankfully, I was saved from the latter.
So it transpired that, one day in the searing heat of the 'hot' season, in the rage of an unseasonable storm I was felled down by violent winds that lashed the forest and cut down many of my species. After the storm abated, it wasn't long before the men and women of a nearby village, eager to harvest the fallen wood came to saw, cut and collect their prize and take them home for varied uses. Every part of my being was put to use - leathery leaves for perfume, small sticks for kindling, larger limbs and trunk for slabs to be turned into furniture or housing. However, that was not all - because it is here that a new story begins.

In the village lived a fine wood carver - people from all over the land came to seek out her works of art, for not only did she create the most delicate and beautiful pieces of carving but she was a woman - a highly unusual craft for a woman in her time. She worked from salvaged wood and for many years now had kept her eye out for a suitable specimen of Rosewood. She had a special project in mind - she had been commissioned to create seven elephants for a family who were about to leave their watan (homeland) for a Australia.

Over the next year the woodcarver skilfully plied her craft – delicately turning the limb of Rosewood that she had salvaged into seven sturdy but elegant elephants. The ‘family’ ranged in size representing the mother, father and five children. Often, she had worked long into the night with nothing more than the dim light from an oil lamp – insomniac mosquitoes buzzing and biting tested her patience – but her strong hands had persisted, continuing to chip and carve as they shaped the hard wood. Each elephant had its own character reflecting meticulous detail in the skin folds, the eyes, the tail, trunk and enormous feet. The final touch had been the placing of the ivory tusks which she had crafted from salvaged material found in the neighbouring grasslands of the National Park.

The day to handover the elephants finally arrived. All the villagers gathered to greet the dapper stranger who had come to pick up his commission. They had also wanted to bid farewell to us - the elephants whom they had come to know as they had emerged from the fallen limb of timber. We were taken back to the big city of Bombay, to the fonseca family - home of our new owners. The children had squealed in delight at our arrival, caressing us and wanting to play with us. In the months that followed, we were wrapped, packed and parcelled off in a gigantic container along with all their worldly goods – and on the fourteenth of January 1967 we set sail for Melbourne, Australia on the ss Oronsay.

On arrival at our destination we were finally transported to our new home in Geelong, where we settled in with the family.

Since 1967, we, the seven elephants have taken pride place on the long shiny black mantelpiece that bordered the ornate gold moulded fireplace in Aberdeen Street. This room was filled with beautiful artefacts and mementos from India. Over time, from our position on this mantelpiece for forty two years we have been able to observe all the comings and goings of the family. There have been weddings, birthdays, christenings, anniversaries and numerous family gatherings at special occasions like Christmas and Easter. Then one day in the year 2006, the family was cloaked in sadness as they mourned the death of their beloved mother. Somehow, things were not the same after her loss – it seemed that the ‘soul’ of the home was lost. The dapper stranger who had commissioned us could not bear the loss of his beloved and slowly even we, on the mantelpiece were forgotten by him.

We have many stories to tell, and contained within those stories are many family secrets. However, as a species we are loyal and the secrets will stay with us in silence. There is a reason why I have chosen to relate to you this story of re-incarnation. It is a story of transition from tall timber in the Harayana forest to stately elephants on a mantelpiece, from faraway India to the island of Australia. You see, today is a sad day for the family – both for us the elephants and for the fonseca children. Following the placement of their father in care, the family home is to be dissolved. Today, they have gathered together to sort and divide the family treasures.

As artefacts we have a great symbolic significance in the family history and the division of us as a group was to be based on eldest to youngest. However, this naturally required that we be separated. Almost ceremoniously, each sibling picked us up and as she did, I observed a hidden tear in her eye. Their brother was absent, so elephant number four still stands on the mantelpiece awaiting collection with a few others in the collection. As we were plucked off our long occupied post – one sibling said: “you know, elephants do not like their family split up like this – they should stay together” … on hearing this the eldest spontaneously replied: “ all the more reason to always remember each other and come together with our elephants to celebrate re-union”. They all smiled and made their ways to their respective new homes.

I now sit in a very auspicious position on the sideboard in the home of the eldest sibling. I was thrilled to discover that she has long had a love for our species – and to my great surprise and joy found that along her shiny black window sill stood many elephants like me – wood, stone, ceramic, metal ….Alas,I would not be alone.

So, this is a story of love and loss – of separation and new beginnings – new frontiers and finding ways of staying together, of transition, renewal and re-incarnation ..and a story of a journey which will no doubt, continue...


  1. what a wonderful tale, have you considered illustrating it for a Children's book?

  2. Thanks Catherine - This story will probably end up as part of the collection of 'elephant tales' I am working on in conjunction with my PhD - so watch this space...