Getting Elephants

Sri Lanka has passed a new law banning the drunk driving of elephants (Irish Times)…


It is a story that is replicated every Friday in pubs across the world. Rihaan went in for one drink after work, but one drink became several as he fell into company, fell into conversation, fell into the fireplace on his way to the toilet.

It was after that that Rihaan reckoned it was time to go home. Friends suggested that he get a taxi, but Rihaan would not hear of it.

This was because his elephant was parked outside the pub. Not all of the story is replicated across the world.

Waving goodbye to the group he went outside to where the elephant, Vimtu, was patiently waiting. Rihaan tapped Vimtu’s side, the elephant sank onto its four knees, and Rihaan pulled himself aboard. He settled into the howdah, pressed his heels gently into Vimtu’s sides, and set off into Friday evening Colombo traffic.

This was not as foolhardy as it sounds. There is a great deal of difference between the drunk driving of a car and an elephant. There are many skills, needing a clear mind, involved in driving a car. The sole skill to driving an elephant is the ability to duck under lines of washing.

But driving one while drunk was now banned in Sri Lanka, so Rihaan’s heart sank when he saw the police checkpoint ahead. He took a deep breath and fixed his face with what he hoped was a cheery smile.

Constable Sharvil walked slowly towards him. His tie was slightly askew and his hi-viz jacket was crumpled, an effect he achieved by stuffing it each night into a small wastepaper basket. This was because Sharvil secretly modelled himself on Lieutenant Columbo from the TV. A lot of policemen in Sri Lanka’s capital do.

He looked at Rihaan’s wide-eyed rictus, which looked as if he were trying to hold in a fart.

“Good evening, sir,” he said. “Been drinking, have we?”

“I don’t know if you have,” replied Rihaan, “but I’ve only had a couple.”

This attempt at humour did not go down well. Sharvil sighed and took a breathalyzer from his pocket. “I’ll have to ask you to blow into this,” he said.

He held it up. Rihaan, leaning over perilously, reached down. Their hands were two feet apart.

Sharvil sighed again, and went and fetched a small ladder from behind the checkpoint sign. He propped it against Vimtu’s hide and began to climb.

Rihaan panicked. He pressed his heels again into Vimtu’s sides, and the elephant walked slowly forward. Sharvil and his ladder stood horizontally against nothing for a second, Wile E Coyote-like, then toppled face first to the ground.

Sharvil got angrily to his feet, ran to a passing auto-rickshaw, and climbed in beside the startled driver.

“Follow that elephant,” he snarled.

The chase took some time, as the three-wheeled rickshaw took corners like a supermarket trolley, while Vimtu took them by taking them out. Sharvil’s driver weaved through the trail of debris left by Vimtu’s progress, not gaining at all, but as Sharvil looked around at where they were, he smiled.

They were approaching the Kelani River.

Up ahead Rihaan looked around at where they were, and smiled.

They were approaching the Kelani River.

Rihaan reckoned they could wade across the river and escape. He dug his heels in, hard.

“Go, Vimtu!” he shouted.

Vimtu looked ahead at the river, its waters swollen by monsoon rains. He dug his heels in, hard.

Hurled from his howdah, Rihaan landed five feet in front of the elephant. He came down hard on his buns, as the bag in which he carried Vimtu’s food had accompanied him through the air. One bun rolled from the bag, spun on its edge like a hub-cap after a car crash, then settled. Vimtu calmly picked it up and put it into his mouth.

The rickshaw came to a stop behind them. Sharvil had a brief row with the driver about the possibility of a fare, then walked slowly over to the groaning Rihaan, carefully loosening his tie as he did so.

“just one more thing,” he said. “You’re nicked.”




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