BALLE, BALLE: How tuskers eat away boredom

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Huge cauldrons sit on a three-pointed stone platform fuelled by fire from large logs of wood. Inside, the cavernous vessel is boiling a thick gravy of millet. Soon the millet will be spread out on a large slab of stone to cool off.

With the millet is mixed horse gram. And then expert tribal hands turn the entire concoction into ball-shaped mounds, almost the size of a football each.

It’s snack time for the working elephants at the Balle camp in the jungles inside which flows the placid Kabini. 

As the mahouts bring in their wards every day at nine in the morning and then again at about six in the evening, the sight of the huge creatures being fed their snack is amusing. 

The elephants on their part stand in a row resting their trunks on the wooden pole fixed between two stout posts, waiting for their turn.

And no sooner do the mahouts begin to walk in their direction with the millet balls in their hands than the mouths grow wide open with the trunk pulled to a grotesque angle.

Pop go the balls one after the other and disappear at once into the large cave that is their tummy!

Why this diet? Just to drive away the boredom of having to eat leaves and grass and bark for 18 hours a day!

The star attraction at Balle, for as long as I can remember, was Drona, the world famous elephant who had set a record of having carried the golden howdah during the Dasara procession in Mysore consecutively for 18 years.

A handsome creature of massive proportions with tusks that glistened like perfectly shaped swords just unsheathed from their scabbards, he was the cynosure of a million eyes every time he walked, with an imperial gait, at the end of the 2 km long procession on the auspicious Vijayadashami day. 

Drona’s mahout Bhojappa always told me that the elephant was so sensitive that he just wouldn’t relish the idea of anybody other than his mahout sitting atop him. Drona would shrug and shake his back, if any of us ‘lesser mortals’ tried hitching a ride. Such was his royal demeanour.

But as terrible fate would have it, he died tragically a few years ago after being electrocuted at a place called Karadi Halla by the high-tension electric wire passing through the Kakanakote jungles. I remember the whole of Mysore grieving for him.

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The elephant camp situated at Balle on the inter-state highway leading to Manandavadi in Kerala can be reached from Karapur in less than half an hour.