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Nithya Sivashankar

By Aravind Krish Bala. Illustrations by Sandip K. Luis
Tulika Publishers, Chennai, 2012, pp. 28, Rs. 150.00

Edited by Deepa Agarwal
Red Turtle, Rupa, Delhi, 2013, pp. 204, Rs. 250.00


A journalist, who writes on environmental issues and wildlife, Aravind Krish Bala is well-known for his book, Black Panther, brought out by Tulika. While this book is based on a conversation with an Irula tribesman during a tiger-sighting expedition in the Western Ghats, his latest book with Tulika, Magnificient Makhna builds on a story told to the author by a wildlife activist, and a veterinarian from the Theppakkadu Camp. Part-real and part-fiction, it tells the story of Moorthy, the Makhna (a tuskless, male elephant).   Once an aggressive beast that terrorized poachers, Moorthy is now confined within the fences of the Theppakkadu Elephant Camp in the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. Before being limited to the camp and its surroundings, Moorthy roams free in the Gudalur forests and the Silent Valley National Park. He has the reputation of attacking tiger poachers and tree-cutters. He is only caught once, that too, on a camera by a wildlife photographer. Although he is rarely seen by the inhabitants of the Gudalur village, they hang his photograph on their walls and worship him. Moorthy, in turn, makes them feel safe in their homes in the forests.   One day, a team of sharpshooters, veterinarians and locals is ordered by the Forest Department to track down and tranquilize Moorthy. After much wandering, Thangam, an ace marksman on the team, spots the Makhna and meets him eye to eye. Torn between duty and the desire to worship the elephant, Thangam hesitates to shoot Moorthy and lets go of the opportunity that comes his way. The same night, he sees the elephant again, by the bright silvery light of the moon. This time, he fires three shots and watches the Makhna lose consciousness. Moorthy wakes up amidst camp elephants and their mahouts, and is led to Theppakkadu to live a life of training and captivity.   Magnificient Makhna is an evocative and sensitive portrayal of the fate of a wild elephant. From being the ‘chief conservator’ of the Gudalur forests to becoming a ‘gentle giant (who) happily poses for pictures with tourists’, Moorthy elicits the sympathy and respect of readers. Although the story-within-a-story-within-a-story format doesn’t work and the textual narrative is quite clumsy, there is a certain honesty in Aravind’s writing that tugs at your heartstrings. The gorgeous, watercolour illustrations by Sandip K. Luis evoke the murky green landscape of the Gudalur forests and invites the reader to be part ...

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