I have to go, Appai said to Isabel. In Malayalam. That was the only language Appai knew. Isabel knew only Portuguese. But their hearts had been entwined with a language that only hearts knew.
Isabel was one of the many thousands of the Portuguese people who crowded in the Port of Lisbon to see Ana, the little elephant, that was shipped from Kerala.
Vasco da Gama had inflicted all the brutality of civilisation on the coasts of Kappad and around in Kerala for almost two decades. The Zamorin of Kozhikode was not incapable of comprehending the brutality. It was not only greed that motivated people like Vasco da Gama to push their ships into stormy seas. It was not even merely love of adventure. Conquest was the motive. Brutality added intoxication to conquests. Every ruler knew that. The Zamorin was no exception. But how could the Zamorin forgive this man who massacred the Haj pilgrims from his country to the holy city of Mecca? Eyewitness reports had reached the Zamorin about how Vasco da Gama’s heart did not yield to the wails of women who held up their infants with one hand and bags of gold in the other. “Take all the gold. Take whatever you want. Only spare our babies.” The women wailed. They rent their clothes. “Take our bodies. And spare our babies.” The women pleaded. Vasco da Gama’s men grabbed the gold and whatever else was of any value in the ship. They snatched the women’s honour when there was nothing more to be snatched. The four hundred men in the ship were bound and locked up. The women stifled their sobs and opened their legs in the hope that their babies would be spared. Having grabbed whatever they considered valuable, Vasco da Gama’s men set the ship on fire. The wails of men and women and infants merged into the flames that rose to the heaven of a different god.
The Zamorin gnashed his teeth as he listened to the description. He vowed revenge.
Vasco da Gama made friends with the King of Kochi. Your enemy’s enemy is your friend. Every ruler knows that.
Ana was one of the many gifts that Vasco da Gama extracted from the King. Ana was a little elephant. A four year-old albino elephant. A white elephant. White was the colour of civilisation. Vasco da Gama accepted the gift gladly thinking that the King was parting with the most beautiful beast in his herd. He shipped the elephant to Lisbon. It was his precious gift to his King, Manuel I.
Appai was the mahout. He was a young man. No, not a man yet. The moustache was just sprouting below his nose. Isbael looked at the young man who controlled a huge beast with a small stick. She looked again. Again and again. One of those looks had penetrated into the heart of the young man who was basking in the admiration he was receiving from the vast crowd that had gathered around him and his Ana.
Everybody was admiring Ana. Isabel was admiring Appai. The admiration became mutual instantly. Appai had felt a tickle rising from the pit of his stomach and exploding in the core of his head like an ecstasy.
Some tickles metamorphose into hungers as insatiable as those which drive Vasco da Gamas over turbulent waves.
The need for elephant fodder drove Appai to the woods nearby. The hunger of the tickle drove Isabel too there. And they sated their hunger in the woods while the Atlantic raged with an endless hunger on one side and on the other the golden Tagus river longed for Mary Magdalene’s silver tears in the Portuguese poet’s hunger. The more sated the hunger was, the more it longed to be sated again. The Atlantic raged endlessly. The Tagus craved endlessly. Vasco da Gama’s hunger and the Kings’ hungers are endless too.
|Raphael Painting, 1514|
Pope Leo X was hungry too. He heard about Ana and expressed his desire to have a pet elephant. The Pope’s wish was a command for the devout King of Portugal.
Take Ana to the Holy Father, ordered the King.
Don’t move a step, ordered Appai to Ana in Malayalam. Ana being not in love understood Malayalam. Appai could not leave Lisbon. Isabel was the chain that held him back.
Ana refuses to move, Appai explained to the King’s men.
The men reported Ana’s disobedience to the King.
Tell the mahout that either Ana will obey or he will lose his head, ordered the King.
Will you love me without my head? Appai looked into Isabel’s maudlin eyes.
The King’s hunger is more powerful than ours, answered Isabel’s maudlin eyes.
Appai spoke Malayalam. Ana, the white elephant, moved on. There was a great love awaiting the beast in the Eternal City. A great hunger.
PS. The elephant became a beloved pet of Pope Leo X [1475-1521]. Its name (Ana was the Malayalam common noun for 'elephant') was Romanised into Hanno. Raphael [1483-1520] painted a picture of Hanno and the mahout. The elephant survived only a few years in Rome. It was given a royal funeral by the Pope. For more about Hanno, read The Pope’s Elephant by Silvio A. Bedini.
To order The Nomad Learns Morality (my stories):
To order The Nomad Learns Morality (my stories):