Day One of the Great Trek
Raj, son of Randhava the Elder, walked beside Lakaji the Elephant Elder as they embarked on the first day of the Great Trek to the Sacred Forest.
The young man and the venerable elephant had met in the quiet and green and tall-treed forest of Gir and then walked many miles to the Grand Trunk Road, which on this day, was bustling and colorful, full of people and chatter and multicolor saris and street vendors selling colorful sweetmeats and spice vendors selling colorful spices and the occasional street performer whom Raj and Lakaji the Elephant Elder passed by on their trek. There was a man who walked on red hot coals in his bare feet while he kept smiling and then another man who seemed to swallow fire and another who seemed to swallow an entire blade of a sword and another who was a snake charmer whose cobra writhed back and forth and swirled and twirled out of a woven basket in rhythm to the mesmerizing music amidst the hustle and bustle of the swarming and scuttling, the teeming and thronging Grand Trunk Road.
Raj strolled happily with his new friend, Lakaji the Elephant Elder, and he thought back to the early morning, when Raj and the other young men of the village had met with his venerable father, Randhava the Elder.
Randhava the Elder had said to him and the other young men:
“I have spoken to Lakaji the Elephant Elder, and he has told me he is embarking upon a three day Great Trek from the forest of Gir to the Grand Trunk Road and then to the depth of the Sacred Forest. Lakaji the Elephant Elder would like my son Raj to accompany him on this Great Trek and share the legacy of his elephant clan with Raj. Three days into the depth of the Sacred Forest and then three days back means that you will be gone for six days total, Raj. On the seventh day, both Lakaji the Elder and I, Randhava the Elder, will give all of you men our fullest blessing to slay the elephant clan and profit from the sale of the ivory tusks you obtain. You have our blessing to kill off the elephant clan on the seventh day, as long as my son Raj agrees to embark on the six day Great Trek with Lakaji the Elephant Elder starting today.”
Raj had then responded to his father:
“Very well, father, I shall agree to accompany Lakaji the Elephant Elder on his six day trek from the forest of Gir to the Grand Trunk Road and then to the depth of the Sacred Forest, and then, on the seventh day, we shall slay his elephant clan for their ivory tusks, with his blessing and with your blessing.”
And so it was that they were now on the Day One of the Great Trek.
The sight of an elephant elder and a young man brought joy and wonder and adulation and veneration to the people peppered all along the Grand Trunk Road.
Raj and Lakaji the Elephant Elder would be joyfully enjoined and accompanied for a few strides or a few hundred yards of their journey. Children would join along and skip and sing alongside Raj and it would make him laugh and he would ask them their names and they would ask him his name.
An old woman who was a spice vendor made a paste of sticky yellowy turmeric and smeared it artistically upon the trunk of Lakaji the Elephant Elder as a mark of spiritual celebration for, as she had adoring said to Raj, an elephant elder brought good karma and everyone knew that.
Another vendor made a bright red paste and smeared it strategically upon the middle forehead of Lakaji the Elephant Elder to depict a Third Eye, that depicted the elder elephant’s spiritual insight and wisdom. Young men and old would request Raj to still Lakaji the Elephant Elder for a moment and when the elder elephant stopped walking and paused, the men would prostrate themselves and kneel down and kiss the foot of Lakaji the Elephant Elder as a mark of deep respect for, as they would explain to Raj, an elder elephant on a Grand Trek was a sacred ‘Sadhu Elephant’ on his final journey and everyone knew that.
The hallowed presence on the Grand Trunk Road of an elder elephant sadhu was spiritually and emotionally moving and even in this dry and dusty season, people would find their eyes welling up and streaming with tears of joy at the sight of the gentle elephant elder and his young and adoring and laughing friend.
As the first day of the Great Trek began to dawn, a very well-dressed middle aged man carrying in his hands a beautiful marigold flower garland, walked over toward Raj and Lakaji the Elephant Elder. The man silently cupped his palms together in respectful greeting and then kindly requested Raj to ask Lakaji the Elephant Elder to be still for a few moments. The man then placed the colorful garland wreath upon the trunk of Lakaji the Elephant Elder and then proceeded to kneel down, and with tears streaming from his eyes he kissed the right front foot of Lakaji the Elephant Elder while gently grasping the elephant’s ankle in both hands, and with much affection.
Raj placed his hand gently on the man’s shoulder as the man continued to kneel down and thanked him for his veneration and reverence of Lakaji the Elephant Elder.
“Tell me, friend,” enquired Raj kindly of the stranger, “What is your name?”
“Bhattacharya,” the man replied, the tears still streaming from his eyes.