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Among the Elephants


Gayathri Sriram

Kindergarten Librarian

Vidyaniketan Early Years, Bengaluru


Gayathri is a primary school teacher with over a decade of experience teaching in diverse environments and cities. She is a librarian for the kindergarten children, at Vidyaniketan Early Years. She holds various diplomas and degrees, including Special Education Needs, Counselling and Life skills, Nursery Teachers Training, Travel and Tourism, and BA (Hons) in English. In her free time, she enjoys music, reading, writing, and exploring different art and embroidery styles.

 

I woke up one day and I found myself surrounded by an elephant and its herd. It was an experience that sent chills up my spine; I had never experienced something like that before!


I had a wonderful opportunity to go on a trip through an NGO to a place called Kushal Nagar in Coorg. This was at a time where I thought I could change the world, when I was in college and worked for the tribals, who were entirely unfamiliar with their fundamental rights.


I began my adventure on my own, coming out of my cocoon for the first time, and took a train journey all the way from the National capital of Delhi to a southern part of the country to help, guide and be a catalyst in the lives of the tribals. The tribals were intrigued to find a girl coming from a different state all alone and staying in Kushal Nagar for a month. Well, there I was, with dreams in my eyes and hopes of a better tomorrow for the downtrodden.

I visited different villages where the tribal were residing and carefully observed, wanting to understand their way of living. They were so undeniably in tune with nature that they could tell the time without checking a watch. We urban bred ones needed a watch to see the time in the era without mobile phones. They would cook with whatever ingredients they had on hand, things that were easily available. For example, bamboo was plentiful in those areas, so they would use bamboo shoots in their cooking and share with everyone.


We couldn’t go out of the house after dark in the fear of wild animal attacks. After dark, a local would accompany me to go out. On one such occasion, I happened to share a hut with a tribal. That night was incredibly windy, as though the rain God was playing hide and seek with lightning and thunder. The host told me not to get scared in the middle of the night if I hear some elephants trumpeting or bears grunting or growling. From his words alone, I was frightened. It certainly didn’t help that there was no electricity in the village. They were accustomed to a life without electricity, a concept I couldn’t fathom. As I had feared, I woke up early in the morning to the loud sounds of trumpeting. I was sure I was dreaming, but as I opened my eyes, I watched a herd of elephants moving from one place to another, just knocking at each door playfully and passing by. The tribals of the village were used to the pachyderms passing by, but for me it was a sight to behold. It was truly an amazing experience.


The tribals, who were called ‘Jenu Kurubaru’ meaning ‘Honey Tribals’, were rearing beehives, extracting honey, and selling it to make a living. They were all so dependent on nature, which was a way of life I had previously not been exposed to. There was much to learn, understand and internalise from this experience. Yet, it was a two-way process for me both learning and teaching them. I was more than willing to guide them in personal hygiene, human empowerment, educate them about the world outside their village, bring awareness about medical facilities, help them gain knowledge of alphabet, and write their names in the limited time I got.


The seeds of becoming an educator were sown, knowingly or unknowingly, at that age and continued as a passion for me. I constantly strive to learn something new every day from my surroundings and give back to people around me by being kind, empathetic, helpful and supportive as much as possible. It was an experience which made me reflect on many aspects of life. I also was fortunate enough to go around the places which have become famous tourist destinations now with the advent of social media. It’s surprising to think that …that one memorable day changed the course of my life.


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