BANGALORE: “I am so happy that somebody took interest in my life too, as it is always the pachyderms that people came here to see. This was the first time that outsiders came to meet the men behind the animals.” This was the reaction of one of the mahouts, who are called the “elephant people of India” to the recent visit of a US team to an elephant camp in the state.
Seventeen persons, including students from the US, were in the state recently to study and interact with the mahout community, especially their children, as part of an Indo-American project.
The team, under the project Children Learning International Cultures (CLIC) Abroad, visited Anechowkur and Dubare elephant camps on the outskirts of Nagarhole National Park, to study the lifestyle of mahouts, their families and, of course, the elephants. Each camp housing a few dozen families had a herd of 15-17 pachyderms.
One of the project members, Jill Denny, told Express, “Anechowkur camp, which normally does not have any visitors, was primitive, but the village bordering the national park was more accessible and the people were more frank and hospitable.”
Paul Akre, a student, said, “Although in the first camp we were treated like aliens and asked to quit for no reason, in the second place, it was an exhilarating experience though it was a big challenge for us to communicate with the children there.”
Akre added: “It was an unbelievable experience to see a different part of the world, document the life of the people and capture them on camera.”
The team visited the homes of mahouts, which they described as very simple with bare minimum facilities.
“In our materialistic society, we have so much more than necessary, but their life is so simple, they enjoy every moment of their life. Although it was difficult to communicate with them, we were able to express our feelings and their reciprocation was total,” said Jill.
Further adding she said, “My only concern was their lack of access to medical facilities. They are living in the wild, fraught with dangers.”
Even today, the children of mahouts take great pride in learning how to take further this specialised vocation. They have incredible love for pachyderms.
Another team member, Lori Sra, says, “The mahouts are helping orphaned and rogue elephants by capturing and training them to be used in temple festivals and mutts, and by this way they preserve Indian culture for posterity. About 300 mahouts die every year during training sessions, and this demonstrates the kind of dangers they face in their work.”
Concluding on a hopeful note, Claire, a student who was on her second visit to India, said, “We learnt many new things; their lifestyle and culture — something totally different, which cannot be learnt in school.”