Facing the elephant in the room, quite literally

I take pride in calling myself an animal lover but perhaps I took it far too seriously in the second week of our reporting module for Radhakrishnan sir’s class at the Asian College of Journalism.

I saw a report on temple elephants and the constantly filed PILs over the years and it was enough to move my jelly-like heart that ‘moves’ at the slightest hint of  extremity.

My story was approved in one go, sending uneasy signals the next moment already as if sir knew how smooth my down-hill ride was going to be, hence it began and ended pretty much how I dreaded it would.

First stop was the Kapaleeshwara Temple in Mylapore, that coincidentally was celebrating its annual festival of 10 days called Brahmotsavam; from all I had heard from my sources, the temple was known to call in elephants for processions and blessing rituals ; my story was on the same, animal cruelty being masqueraded in god’s purpose.

Most temples in Chennai have rigid timings like 9a.m to 1p.m and then the complex reopens at 4p.m, so I left at noon to interview the General Manager of Blue Cross of India (BCI) here, following a telephonic interview with the General Secretary of Animal Welfare Board of India.

Skipping lunch, which is the new normal for budding journalists, I reached the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Board (HR&CE) office in Nungambakam at 3p.m. After narrating my purpose of visit in detail to three people, I was signalled to wait for the Joint Commissioner. This is the most tedious part of every reportage, explaining to scores of unnecessary people around why I have graced their doorstep with my presence.

The Joint Commissioner’s secretary told me to wait for 10 minutes for he was having his lunch. Now, this transition from having lunch to busy-in-meeting happened maybe when I batted my eyes for a few seconds because I didn’t see a soul leave his office neither one enter.

Government employees have this incredible teleport abilities that laymen like you and me can only fathom to achieve. So, I let myself believe that there was a secret tunnel through which he left or his colleagues entered the office and now suddenly a national security issue has cropped up that will entail a four hour meeting.

Four hours! Mother of god! No one I have ever known has the capacity to sit through a four hour meeting; but let’s consider that there is some modicum of truth in this. How does she or the Joint Commissioner know that it is a four hour meeting, not a minute less than that?

Naturally I left after been made to sit for close to 45 minutes that is when she realised that the meeting had started. I made a last attempt to procure some information by talking to this gentleman who knew Hindi and was somehow sympathetic to my ordeal.

Thankfully he obliged and I promised to keep his name under wraps, it was one of those moments when you feel like dancing to Gangnam style for I had managed to get something out of that stringently protocol-following government office.

Next stop was the Kapaleeshwara temple that wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated. I’m not a religious person neither do I buy this idol worship or fear the god concept; but I’m wary of people in Chennai for they take it seriously and to a different level. So my questioning did not go well with the elderly, who scolded me for doing a report on such a sacrosanct issue.

Anything related to god or religion is forbidden to be questioned upon and one can get away with almost anything if it is dipped in saffron. So, I talked to the young guns and a group of photographers who had been documenting the festival for two years in a row.

Tried talking to a priest, whose condition was that I first offer my prayers in the complex and only then would he feel comfortable talking to me. I offered my 50 rupees worth of prayer in the donation box and he gave me a quote that I could have easily done without in my report, it was as bland as my hostel food.

The reportage ended with a string of conflicting answers that put me in a fix because the story fell flat. There were those who said elephants were used by the temple and then the authorities who denied the claims straight off.

The HR&CE board that keeps busy more than the PMO, did not entertain me the second time round at around 6p.m and I left for college to file a report, I knew was destined for doom.



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