Jeet lay awake on his luxurious four-poster bed and looked at his watch. It was 6.30 AM. He wrapped his brown, sinewy, athletic body in an exquisite silk bathrobe as he pulled back the rich drapes. let the ochre hues of the rising sun poured in its pristine rays. He walked onto his large balcony, overlooking a part of a forest near the Naval Colony. Breathing in the dewy morning air, untouched by the terrible AQI in the rest of the city, he rang for coffee.
His butler arrived with a beautifully carved wooden tray laden with a sterling silver coffee set, the rich aroma suffusing the atmosphere. Jeet sighed in contentment. He loved the aristocratic life. He walked down the ornate marble stairs to his palatial living room, tastefully done up with deep, plush leather arm chairs. His walls displayed the most expensive art that money could buy. Jeet smiled to himself as he thought of how unpleasantly surprised a few famous museums would be to find their missing artefacts in his living room. Jeet was not a connoisseur of art, but he knew enough about how the ultra-rich lived.
He eyed his luxurious mansion smugly as he stepped into his Rolls Royce. From being an alley cat on the streets to owning a multi-million-dollar business, what a journey it had been! Not bad for someone just over forty, he thought to himself, smiling inwardly. His dark eyes lit up with pride. His rather flattish nose flared involuntarily, and his half smile revealed a broken tooth—a relic of his chequered past.
Money coupled with his natural astuteness bought him access to the corridors of power, and though he was on the radar of the Indian Customs, he had enough clout to camouflage his dodgy business deals. Jeet had learned early that no other commodity fetched as much wealth in as little time as the contraband ones.
Being on the wrong side of the law seldom bothered him. "A drop in the ocean should not make that much of a difference as long as I don’t get caught," he thought of his favourite mantra as he slid into his Rolls Royce, heading to the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Why should he respect a law that left him to the burning agony of hunger in his belly as a child? A law that could not prevent his abandonment as a baby? A law that let drug peddlers use him to peddle their wares? A law that did not stop bullies from half killing him on the streets? He knew money was the saviour that would transform his life.
The flight from Delhi to Cape Town was announced, and he boarded last with the ease of a regular first-class traveller.
The bright African sun felt warm on his face as he got into the waiting car. He headed to his rather dubious, meeting that had much to do with his recent interest in the potential of rhino horns.
Checking into the Four Seasons, he jumped straight into his meeting. He was pleased with the results and was glad to have a couple of leisure hours before sunset. The hotel car dropped him off at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. Jeet ambled through the streets. The duck-shaped tourist boats dotted the waters while the waddling ducks haughtily ignored the poor replicas. Seals glided playfully, often pushing their noses up.
An old man sat outside a quaint little shop, sunning himself. He met Jeet’s eyes.
"Something special for you, sir?" he asked with a glint in his eye.
"What do you have that will entice me?" asked Jeet playfully.
The old man walked into the dark interiors, intriguing Jeet enough to follow him.
"I have something special." The old man whispered as he pulled out a long, ornate box. He opened it ceremoniously.
Two ivory tusks lay there, intricately scrimshawed, taking his breath away.
He had to possess this beauty. The crown of his home, a signature statement of his life! He visualized his next house party, patronized by wealth, power, and glamour, and he could see in their eyes admiration and perhaps envy!
A significant amount of money exchanged hands, and Jeet walked out.
After a few drinks and room service for dinner, Jeet fell into a deep slumber.
Jeet lay flat on the moist, dark forest floor, crawling behind the armed poachers towards the fence on the eastern side of Kitcher National Park, South Africa. Gunshots echoed from the western periphery of the park, a tactic designed to distract the park rangers. The leader signalled, and the group moved swiftly through the opening they had carved into the fence in advance.
The tusker looked majestic, waving his large fan-like ears that resembled the map of the country for which he was a mascot. Three shots rang out in quick succession. The tusker fell, and the herd scattered. The poachers set to work with practiced ease. They immobilized the beast and cut his tendons, rendering him in unbearable pain. The tusks came off. A shiver of delight went through his spine as Jeet felt the pure ivory in his hands. He was growing rich by catering to the whims of wealthy Asians.
Jeet woke up shivering. "That was two years ago!" He thought. He had felt the urge to see the source of his wealth and to experience the thrill of the chase first-hand. A handsome bribe to his South African agent and the poachers had helped overcome their reluctance at having a novice accompany them on such a sensitive operation. Jeet wondered why the incident was haunting him now.
He checked out and left for the airport. He could not wait to put up those magnificent tusks in his living room.
It was 6:00 p.m. when he got home. His trusted interior designer was waiting for him.
“I want them put up now,” ordered Jeet. He spent hours admiring his new acquisition. His mind went back to his trip with the poachers, but he brushed the thought aside and went to bed.
The pachyderm stood close and looked at him with its glowering, beady eyes. He sensed the accusation. The animal moved forward, swaying its trunk and flitting away flies from its inflamed tusk stumps. Strangely, Jeet could feel all his emotions. He sensed the searing anger of the beast. The chase began. Jeet ran for his life, panting in sheer terror. The animal gave chase, its thunderous steps echoing through the ground. Jeet could no longer run. He stopped. The elephant stopped next to him. Its long nostrils flared.
"I never forget," the elephant whispered. "That which adorns your home was a part of my body. You left me defenceless, unable to tear bark or dig roots, hungry and vulnerable. You must pay the price."
Jeet cowered in fear.
"Do you know what pain is? The tusks that you possess hold my agony. They sing the songs and legends of our tribe. They tell the stories of my ancestors." The animal looked him in the eye again. "The spirit of my kind will haunt you forever."
Jeet woke up, panting. He looked around wildly. There was nobody around him. He got himself a drink of water and curled up in a foetal position.
"Calm down, Jeet," he told himself. "You, the survivor of the streets, cannot be scared so much by a dream."
Merciful sleep enveloped him again.
"So, you are back? My tusks have memories. They have feelings." The deadly eyes looked at him again. He heard an earth-shattering roar and started running. The chase had resumed. His heart raced. He could not stop, and he could not run anymore. He felt his heart almost burst as he collapsed on the ground.
"Chased and hunted. How does it feel?" The thoughts reached him. The trunk waved close to his face. The stumps of its tusks looked sore and painful. Jeet felt an aching pain in his temples. He woke up sobbing.
It was 6 a.m. Jeet ordered a cup of black coffee. He was exhausted. Having showered and dressed, he felt much better.
He left for his office to arrange shipments from South Africa. He had clients waiting eagerly for the new product, and he knew there was big money tantalizingly within his grasp. He made a call to his contact in Cape Town to check the progress. He would need to fly back again next week to close the deal.
Jeet sipped leisurely on his drink as his flight sped towards Cape Town. He let himself daydream. A glamorous wife and a ticket to politics, he thought, would put him in just the right place.
He met his agent at the Four Seasons and tied up the arrangements for the shipment. Hard cash changed hands the deal was sealed on a happy note. A mixed lot of ivory and rhino horns! What a killing he would make!
Jeet looked forward to his visit to Kitcher National Park on the next day, a Saturday, before his late-night flight back home.
He checked out at 08:00 AM got into the car that dropped him off at the Kitcher Park gates. He decided to enjoy the day and not worry about his recent nightmares.
He had booked a self-drive 4WD. The park grounds looked beautiful, though desolate, with miles of grassland and trees. He spied a few animals and clicked pictures. "Let me be a tourist for the day!" Jeet chuckled to himself. The birds' songs were deafening in the quiet of the forest. He spied a one-horned rhino watching him and was fascinated. "Your days are numbered," he smirked.
A placid waterbody appeared around the bend, beneath the hills. Jeet gasped in pleasure as he spied a herd of four wild elephants splashing around in the muddy waters. A baby lay in the mud pool, trying to stand up, rubbing its tiny trunk against the older elephants, asking for a hand.
The biggest elephant turned around slowly and looked at Jeet. He froze under the gaze of those beady eyes. The sore stumps glistened in the sunlight. Jeet felt pure terror run through his veins.
The elephant trumpeted and charged straight at Jeet. He tried to move but was frozen in his seat. The raw tusk wounds felt as if they were his own. His mind raced to the artefacts on his living room wall. He had to run as he did on those mean streets. A survivor.
The vehicle overturned. He felt searing pain course through his body. The last thing he felt was the unbearable pressure of enormous feet on his head and chest, and the sound of crushing metal against his back.
The herd watched, lazily splashing water on each other.
The Times of India Delhi Edition carried a news item on Sunday: "A case has been filed against Jeet Khanna, a suspected trader of smuggled goods. Three containers of contraband wildlife products have been confiscated by Delhi Customs. The police have issued a lookout notice for Khanna, who is said to be out of the country. Jeet Khanna has been under observation, though he has been flying under the radar. The containers were shipped in through the Mundra Port in Gujarat."
The Sunday Cape Times headlines screamed.
"Mangled corpse found in the Kitcher National Park The documents on the dead man’s person indicate that he was an Indian national named Jeet Khanna. Wildlife experts suspect a revenge attack by elephants."
As per the WWF, 20,000 elephants are injured or killed every year for their tusks, an incredibly painful experience. Most die, and some survive with pain.
- Incidents have been reported of elephants, known for their fantastic memories, seeking revenge as a tribe.
- Wild life experts believe that the social structures of elephants are disrupted and give rise to delinquent orphans when the elders and the matriarch are killed.