A reunion that triggered jumbo-sized emotions

Ravi the elephant
(From L to R) Joshy Mathew, Mathukutty George, Antony George, Kunjumol and Dr. Kunjamma with the elephant Ravi.

Ravi wasn't expecting such a meeting after 30 long years. Emotions welled up in his heart as he heard the once familiar voice calling his name. Ravi, the elephant, responded with a slight movement of his head, flapping his ears, and raising his trunk as if to bridge the lost years.

Dr Kunjamma was apprehensive about whether her childhood friend, Ravi, would recognise her. "Ravikutta," she called out to the genial giant. His response made her choke with emotions.

Antony George, Dr Kunjamma's younger brother, who was watching the developments with keen interest, whispered softly: "He can't forget us." Time might have changed the external appearance, but not that love that remained etched in their hearts.

Dr Kunjamma is now 67, 10 years older than her Ravikuttan. Meeting him took her back down the memory lane, to childhood. Perhaps, Ravi, too, was trying to recall those years of youthful exuberance.

Kodanad to Pala

When Dr Kunjamma George's father E T George (Vakkachan) of Njalliyil (Edettu) of Pravithanam in Pala, his elder brother A J Joy and uncle went to the kraal at Kodanad, they had only one aim: buy a perfect elephant to use in their timber business and festivals.

The sight of the highly energetic Kodanad Raveendran, then a calf, sukling on his mother and running around with gay abandon made the selection easy. But getting him was not easy, since he had attracted another buyer, who wanted to present him to a deity, also. The men from Pala quoted the highest price, and Kodanad Raveendran became Ravikuttan.

It was in February 1966, Dr Kunjamma recalled. "A huge crowd had gathered at our house when I returned from school. A year-and-a-half old elephant calf, as big as an adult water buffalo, was the centre of attraction. He soon became so dear to all in the neighbourhood. There was a river dividing our property. Whenever we took him to bathe in the river, other children, too, joined in with coconut fibre and soap. Bathing and playing with him became our routine. Once bathed, Ravi will dash off to claim his 'right' -- a ball of rice from our mother," Dr Kunjamma once again revisited her younger days.

Pampered with love

The little elephant was pampered with lots of milk, banana, jaggery and other delicacies. After a brief pause, Dr Kunjamma continued. "I remember feeding him milk from a 'kindi' (a type of pitcher), and mixing Ayurvedic medicines as part of rejuvenation therapy in his rice so that he won't reject it."

Days and months passed by. Large quantities of dates were included in his diet so that his tusks would be large and shiny. "Chachan (father) bought high-decibel sound crackers during special occasions so that he would get used to them. He was then scared of even the lowest sound. Chachan used to stand beside him to make him comfortable," Antony George alias Antu, added.

Ravi started working in the timber business after turning seven. E T George ensured that he would not have to do heavy work. He was later sent out to carry timber. There, too, the family made sure that he was comfortable.

There was a talk in the neighbourhood that E T George has 12 children, and not 11. Antony was the 10th of George's 11 children, and Ravi was five years older to him. "Chachan pampered him more than us," Antony registered his complaint with a smile.

Ravi fell ill with impaction soon after George and wife Kunjumol had their third baby. He was put only on glucose for several days. Few elephants used to survive impaction, known as 'erandakettu' in Malayalam.

"Chachan searched for all means to save Ravikuttan. He heard of a natural medicine, which has to be applied on the forehead after making it into a paste with breast milk. Chachan had no hesitation. He went to ammachi, and asked for a little milk to treat the baby," Dr Kunjamma chuckled.

Whenever Ravi returned late after attending festivals, he used to sleep with George on a heap of sand outside the house, holding the man's hand with his trunk. "Chachan will lay still," Dr Kunjamma said.

Young Ravi, the elephant
E T George with Ravi, the elephant (file picture)

She recalled an incident which reflected the human side of Ravi. "The entire house was drowned in sorrow when our eldest brother's daughter died young. Ravi's food was served at the usual place that day too. He, however, did not touch it. He came to the door, kneeled there for some time and returned," Dr Kunjamma said, looking at the towering animal.

"While I was pursuing MBBS, he was at a nearby junction once I was returning home from the hostel. He rushed and stood close to me," Dr Kunjamma's memories of Ravikuttan continued.

Chachan's death

Ravikuttan was heartbroken like the rest of the family when Chachan passed away in 1993. Chachan was bedridden before his death. He asked to see Ravikuttan, but he died the next morning before fulfilling his wish.

"Ravi returned to a silent house, and saw Chachan covered in a shroud. We were apprehensive of his reaction since we had seen him when my niece passed away. He stood still for sometime, before slowly coming forward. He kneeled on the foreground and started wailing. People had a tough time tethering the screaming elephant. He did not eat for the next three days," Dr Kunjamma sighed.

Chachan's death affected Ravikuttan mentally. He became depressed and refused food, and he had to put on intravenous fluids. "Joychettan took up the responsibility of caring for him, but he refused to cooperate. He kept on falling ill, and we spent about Rs 6 to Rs 7 lakh for his treatment in 1995. But he remained depressed. Our family decided to sell him since we felt a change would do him good," she added.

Ravi left the Njalliyil (Edettu) house, where he had spent 30 years of his life, with a new owner in 1996. Seeing him leave was heart-wrenching for Kunjamma and her siblings.

The family used to visit Ravi at his new residence often, but the intervals between visits gradually became longer, before stopping for good. Meanwhile, Joy bought a male calf, but sold him off after realising that Ravikuttan could not be replaced.

Years went by. Ravikuttan was rechristened as Kulamakkil Jayakrishnan. Dr Kunjamma retired from the medical college hospital at Alappuzha as the head of the department of anesthesia and joined Al-Azhar hospital in Thodupuzha. But memories of Ravikuttan remained fresh in her heart.

Finding Ravikuttan

On August 12, 2021, the World Elephant Day, Dr Kunjamma made a social media post on Ravikuttan. The post caught the attention of poet Rose Mary and writer Saradakutty, who took up the responsibility of finding Ravikuttan. Joy's son Joshy Mathew was specially assigned the task.

After a prolonged search, they received information that Ravikuttan is now living in the house of G Krishna Prasad, State president of Elephant Owners' Association and assistant secretary of CPI Alappuzha district committee.

In between, Ravikuttan had changed hands several times. He had been in Kollam and Varkala before reaching Prasad's house in Alappuzha 15 years ago. His unique physical features helped Dr Kunjamma and family identify him.

Emotional trip

Though Ravikuttan was located, Covid-19 and other impediments delayed Dr Kunjamma's much-awaited trip to Alappuzha till the other day. Dr Kunjamma, along with her husband Puthanpurayil P J Joseph, brother Antony George and his wife Kunjumol Antony, and nephews Mathukutty George and Joshy Mathew visited Prasad's house to meet their Ravikuttan, who now also responds to call Kulamakkil Jayakrishnan.

Ravikuttan has age-related issues and is now leading a retired life. "Eat, little one," Dr Kunjamma offered him banana and jaggery. Ravikuttan did not hesitate to accept the nostalgic offer.

As the family bid goodbye, Ravikuttan trumpeted with a raised trunk, perhaps in the hope of accompanying them to his ancestral home.

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