Elephants at Dawn

It was past eight that night
when dad decided to
watch elephants.

let’s go camp, he said,
at the foothills of Arnekal
(elephant rock), and
watch elephants cross the hill
silhouetted against the dawn sky.

mum, four daughters
aged one, ten, twelve and fourteen.
plus my aunt, a guitar and
an assortment of friends,
agreed after some persuasion.

it was late, so
us sisters dressed in haste,
switched pyjamas for
tees and jeans,
grabbed a blanket.

next, our favourite picnic takeout -
butter chicken and romali roti - was
picked up from MG road, and
polished off before we were even half way.

dad’s other baby,
his olive green Land Rover,
was soon navigating potholed roads,
rock hewn paths and forest terrain,
rumbling us towards the herd.

when we reached Arnekal,
it was close to midnight and
the guest house was full.
baby sis stayed in mom’s arms
in the rover;

others stretched out
on lumpy ground at the
base of the hills,
under an unpolluted
starry night sky.

three sisters jostled for the only blanket
from one end to the other
oblivious to stars.
heads cradled on bent elbows
we struggled to keep toes covered.

after an uneasy sleep
we woke to a clear dawn and
sat, arms locked around knees
waiting for the elephants.

having scented humans,
Colonel Hathi and his troop
had completed their march
across the hills
well before we awoke.

at the time I thought
the night was a waste.
now I remember it as our
elephant-less adventure
to embrace.