The Fearless Joychandra
It was a dreary wet December day and I was feeling very frustrated as it was getting on into late evening and the elephant had not yet arrived at the forest camp. I had by then drank quite a few cups of tea and was contemplating calling off the shoot and having a drink of the Brandy that I was carrying for later. Normally my planning was quite thorough in such matters as a lot of advance thought was needed for the success of the hunt. But this time my regular elephant had been sent away to work in a block near Harmuty and I had requested my contact at Gohpur for an able replacement. He assured me that there was an excellent animal nearby which was requisitioned for me. I thought that the mahout was probably the problem and due to the weather he would have summarily called off the shoot. Then from the darkening road this majestic elephant entered the camp compound and raised its trunk in salutation.
It was much taller than any other elephant I had rode on and it had a lovely matching pair of tusks. The mahout, Bhojo, looked like a friendly person and explained that as he had got the message late he took some time to bring Joychandra back from grazing inside the forest. However, now that they had arrived I quickly set the team into motion and after deciding to take the route through the narrow river a few hundred feet away to search in the higher banks where the mustard fields were flowering, we set off. Joychandra had a confident gait and it was responding well to Bhojo’s commands. I realised that this man and beast were a good team and I felt quietly confident of the night’s expedition. By this time the rains had stopped and the cloud cover was breaking revealing in patches some stars blinking in the sky. It was also a dark night and now the weather conditions became more suitable. Joychandra splashed through the shallow river but the sounds of our journey were fully blended with the sound of the river flowing. At times we silently climbed up to the banks and used the torch to scan for any signs of game with the elephant poised perfectly still. After about an hour or so we took a bend in the river where there was salt lick and my shikari(hunter) companion from the garden indicated to the mahout to slow down; we saw the huge sambar then, full body exposed as it stood licking up the rock salt and did not notice us before it was too late. The light shone on its eyes as I fired and the deer fell down, but it rose again and tried to run off in to the tree cover. I took the second shot running and this time it fell dead. It was a fairly large male specimen and now we had to ponder on how to take it back to the camp.
We were three men and one elephant. To clean and cut the meat off the carcass would have taken us at least 4 hours. So we decided to try and pull the dead deer by the elephant for as far back as we could and then go to the camp and return with more men. Accordingly we got down and tied the carcass properly with ropes loosened from the howdah on which we were sitting and Joychandra set off with the deer trailing behind and we walked beside it on the ground. Normally elephants sense the dead animals and give a lot of trouble if it gets annoyed especially if one tries to put the carcass on its back. But our elephant must have been used to shikar(hunt) trips and it gave us no problem. However the going through the water and the thick undergrowth was difficult and I also sensed the slimy feel of leeches on my legs. It is not recommended to pull off the leeches as then the bites on the skin can become septic and best is to apply salt or tobacco so that the leeches fall off on their own. But at that time I never expected leeches and was not carrying any of these substances so we plodded on ignoring the bad feeling. At that instance, as we were climbing up a short incline to a point where a small nullah(drain) crossed our trail in front, we were halted in our tracks by a roar of a tiger which must have been startled by us. Joychandra trumpeted back in defiance. I froze at the blood curling roar and held my gun close slowly unloading the same and put in one bird shot to fire in the air in case we were charged. My garden fitter who always accompanied me on my forays into the jungle stood steadfast and put on the powerful spotlight to scare off the tiger, which roared again this time sounding even more frightening and closer. I must say that in a similar situation any elephant would have bolted in fright and the mahout too could not have controlled a scared elephant no matter how cruelly the ankoor (ankus or elephant hook used by mahouts to control the elephant)was used.
After a few nervous seconds more which was like an eternity for me we heard the tiger crashing off through the undergrowth and could hear the way it was going, very gratefully away from our direction. We all stood still for a while and then I felt myself shaking at this very close encounter but I knew that when you entered such jungles you were playing with your life and so one had to be prepared for all eventualities. In the case of a charge I would have had to fire the 2 ball shots which I always carried with me for safety but then we two men were on the ground and I doubt that we could have got the time to react fast enough as the tiger was quite close to us.
Now we were in a dilemma as it was too dangerous to continue like this and we set about freeing the carcass and tied back the rough howdah for us to climb back again. We decided to light a fire near the carcass so as to keep away any predators and put up some big logs to burn slowly and then set off to the camp which was still some distance away to fetch more men. I had mixed thoughts of losing the deer now but felt lucky that we got away from a very dangerous situation. We collected 5 more men and returned to the place where we had left the sambar. We pulled back the carcass to the camp with all of the men walking and reached safely. The men set about cleaning and cutting up the carcass. It was only then that we informed our group about the tiger incident and also gave them each a shot of brandy to lift up their spirits.
After the above incident, I made it a point to always use Joychandra for my forays into the jungle in this area and for about 4 years I had a lot of memorable experiences. But then a tragedy occurred when Joychandra was mowed down by a train near a place called Rangajan, a small hamlet where his owner lived. He was very badly injured in one of his front legs and could not be used for any further work. I sent money for his medical expenses and also met the veterinarian looking after him to enquire about the treatment and urged him to do his best for the poor animal. However, it was all in vain as Joychandra could not recover and died a few months later. It was a personal loss for me as I had grown very fond of Joychandra with whom I shared many adventures in the wild. But if I had to recall one incident it would be of the fearless jumbo who stood his ground and scared away the mighty tiger in the dead of the night.