Mention elephants to Jayaram and the actor turns all eloquent - out comes a spate of names and anecdotes, each told with oodles of love. He speaks of Keshavan like someone so close and his voice softens when Raveendran’s name is taken. No wonder he has come up with ‘Aalkoottathil Oranappokkam’ - a book chronicling his lifelong bond with the gentle giants. “All Malayalis are interested in jumbos in some way or other. It’s a collection of their stories told in the simplest style possible,” says Jayaram.
Being the nephew of Malayattoor Ramakrishnan, the actor surely can claim some literary lineage. “People often ask me to write a book and I was seriously considering to pen down my memoirs. But when I visited a book store in Kochi I found a deluge of autobiographies and decided to stay off the genre. And a book on elephants came as a natural choice,” he says.
Jayaram says his admiration for tuskers goes a long way back - from the time he first encountered the mighty animals at his ancestral home as a kid. “During those days wild elephants were trapped and trained for captive use. And we used to live next to the ‘ana koodu’ at Kodanad. It was my granny who instilled in me a love for elephants and those days Guruyavoor Keshavan used to be the ultimate hero of my bedtime stories. My father also had repertoire of elephant tales and I think it’s something passed down from generation to generation. Now, both my children know all about elephants,” he says.
Quiz him on his favourite tusker and the actor zeroes in on one story after much deliberation. “Raveendran and his mate Savithri were employed at Kodanad to bring back wild elephants from the pits. They were known as Prem Nazir and Sheela among us kids. Elephant trapping was banned in 1977 and later Raveendran was quietly carted off to Thrissur. I was upset for a long time as I used to visit him often. Then, after some years, I was invited to this honouring ceremony of an elephant called Puthankulangra Padmanabhan who was being given the title of ‘Gajaraja’. To my absolute surprise and pleasure I found Raveendran standing in front of me,” he says.
And when Raveendran died, the devaswom authorities handed over his tusks to the actor after completing all formalities. “They are still kept at the drawing room of my home, a reminder of the special bond we shared,” he says. The actor says he also has an unlikely hobby - collecting the stills of elephants. “I started it as kid and continued it through my acting career. Now I have nearly 400 photographs and most are included in the book,” he says.
‘Aalkoottathil Oranappokkam’ will be released on October 30 by Mammootty and the actor says, “I am really happy that Mammootty, who has a towering personality just as the title suggests, will be the one who releases it.”
And receiving the copy from Mammootty will be Kuttappan, the mahout who took care of Jayaram’s own elephant for a long twenty years.