3 March 2011
Queen of the Elephants
Inspired by his previous travels across India on the back of his beloved elephant Tara; Shand returns to the heart of Assam to learn from the real master. Parbati Barua is the daughter of legendary mahout (elephant driver/keeper) Laljee Barua who has spent all her life living with, working with and caring for elephants and is a woman on a mission to protect the species that, although once revered throughout Indian, have now become a symbol of terror for many people, particularly those working in the tea plantations. The elephant's natural habitat is slowly disappearing all together and these starving animals, roaming the villages and plantations at night for food often unwittingly cause the death of many human beings.
If someone had told me about the precarious situation of the Indian elephant (is Asian elephant more correct?) before reading this book I, sadly, wouldn't have been surprised. Many beautiful animals are in this day and age. However, I was completely ignorant of the details and I am glad that this book grabbed our attention.
Apart from the most important and overriding messages present in this book, I also simply like the way it is written. For an account of a real-life trip across India, with all of the quotidian, mundane details that lugging cameras around with you inevitably involves, I found Shand's writing to be quite literary in style, so much so that the mythic character of Parbati could easily have been revealed to be a figment of the writer's imagination by the end of their story. The bf and I have already declared, after only snatching a week away camping last year, that this year will be the year of the holiday, and for someone who has spent a fair amount of time living and working abroad, I have surprisingly never set foot out of Europe (!) This year we would like to take two weeks somewhere further afield and, inspired its colour, vibrancy and a little blue steam train, Darjeeling will hopefully be our destination. I would love, between cups of tea and walks in the beautiful countryside, to have the opportunity to meet some of these awe-inspiring animals. This book will now hopefully enable us to look at them out of the tourist mindset and imagine ourselves in their perilous world.
To do your bit to support the Asian elephant visit: