Photograph with permission of the photographer Biplap Hazra
Biplap Hazra, who took this prizewinning shot, has kindly given me permission to post his image here and on this week's edition of One Hand Clapping magazine. This terrifying photo provoked my poem 'Prize Photograph', which is featured in One Hand Clapping, and will appear in Tiger Girl, my eighth collection, to be published by Bloodaxe on 3rd September. Biplap later said that the calf survived the attack.
I saw wild elephants in Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, though the ones I saw were ones that had just been captured by the park elephant handlers, to tame for tiger patrols, as poaching is such a threat to the tigers. Every morning the mahouts ride their elephants to scout for the cats and check their safety – one bull came up to our gypsy jeep and demanded the banana he'd scented in my bag – I had no choice but to offer my breakfast. Being up close to those brandy topaz eyes – the Gypsy is open and I was on the top seat – is unforgettable, as is being felt by the soft but persistent trunk. Wild elephants don't usually include Bandhavgarh in their migration corridors, but they entered with newborns, so the zones they lingered in had to be closed to tourists. That they wander from their usual routes is worrying, as it can mean their migration forests are closed to them, or felled. In this photo, they are under siege from farmers, who are trying to protect their homes and crops.
And this wild elephant, crossing State Highway 9 –
his footprints lakes for dragonflies and bees –
does not yet know the chaff of a howdah,
ankle chains, or the sting of the bull hook.
His mother is ahead, her ears flapping
for his rumbles that she also feels through her feet.
Only now her feet are burning, and she’s
closed her ears to the firecrackers, the jeers
of the mob protecting their fields. Already
one farmer has hung himself when his crop
and home were trampled – how could he feed his family?
And one woman has been crushed to death.
The men lob tar firebombs at the invaders –
go back jungli haathi! they shout, banging
on tin drums. The matriarch runs from the noise,
doesn’t hear her calf scream, his back legs alight.
Hell is now and here the caption will say
as Biplap Hazra clicks the shot of his life.