Even in fast-globalizing India, some long-standing values have their place. A recent decision by state authorities banning working elephants from Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay and India’s commercial capital) attests to this. City life, the authorities said, was too cruel for the pachyderms: the hot pavement, the traffic, the hours of standing in chains when they weren’t on the streets. It’s good news, of course, except for this: there’s really no place for the exiled elephants to go. Plans are said to be in place to build them a forested rest home outside the bustling mega-city where they’ve spent much of their lives. But that could take years.
Some skeptics suggest the elephants, and their human owners will soon be back in Mumbai, internally displaced, but sanctuary-less. It sounds like the situation for a lot of people in the world, too. I’m hoping the elephants do get to express their “elephantness” outside the confines of concrete and human control, like some of their more lucky cousins in Africa who’ve managed to escape poachers’ bullets or the sprawl of fast-expanding cities. (Here’s a link to an article I wrote for the late, lamented Satya magazine about elephant-watching and elephant-being in Kenya.) After all the elephant-headed Hindu god, Ganesha, is the lord of new beginnings and, according to one source, of success.