25 February, 2012
who has been torn from its roots - and is sick with longing
When I was a child, my mother told me an old story - said
to be true - which she had once read:
A circus manager in England was deeply troubled. The circus
elephant had become unruly and dangerous. Previously so
gentle, it had started to behave aggressively.
The elephant was very valuable. It would mean a big loss to
the circus to be without an elephant and the manager knew
there was no money to buy another.
At last, however, he decided that the elephant would have
to be shot and he would try to make some money out of it.
He therefore announced it as an extra circus 'performance'
to which people could buy tickets. Brutal? Yes. Cynical?
Yes. More barbaric than what goes on daily in some sections
of animal-based industry in many countries? Hardly. What
about the curious people who come to watch the shooting -
do they remind us of something? Perhaps of all those who
come running to watch houses on fire. And how about public
executions of people - it is not all that many hundred
years since it was practiced in our own country and it is
still done in a considerable number of countries we would
rather not be compared to (but are we candid about our own
The elephant was led out into a solidly fenced-off paddock.
But a stranger came running up to the manager, demanding to
be let in with the elephant; he thought he could help so it
wouldn't have to be shot. "Are you crazy, man?" "No, I take
full responsibility." After some argument the manager gave
in but had his guest sign a statement saying that the
initiative was his own, that he had been warned that the
elephant was very dangerous and nevertheless took full
The guest entered the paddock. He started talking to the
elephant in a low voice. It came towards him in a
threatening manner but then stopped. It listened, then
continued towards the guest but more slowly, lowered its
head down to him, and wound its trunk gently around the arm
which the guest held out to it. I let out some muted
trumpet calls that sounded sad, and started rocking from
left to right, left to right.
The elephant and the guest talked with each other some
more. Then they walked quietly around the paddock in close
Coming back out of the paddock, the guest said to the
circus manager: "It will be good now for a very long time.
It grew up in India, in an environment where elephants do
heavy work together with people who lead the work. It
misses its homeland, its home. I spoke to it in
Hindustani*, which it has been used to hearing and
understands several dozen words of and remembers well. Try
at least to have someone from its homeland visit it as
often as possible. It longs for home."
Then the guest said goodbye. When the astonished circus
manager had gathered his wits and looked at the signed
paper, he saw that the signature was 'Rudyard Kipling'.
I never forget the touching story and my parents' kind,
Marianne Haslev Skånland
* modern: Hindi