The grand and luxurious life of Delhi’s ‘last’ elephant
At present, there are seven domesticated elephants in Delhi, but the city may soon be left with just one – Laxmi.delhi Updated: Apr 22, 2018 08:07 IST
Every time 46-year-old Laxmi sees the grey Rolls Royce entering the sprawling farmhouse at Dera Mandi she gets excited, swishing her tail slowly from side to side. With her eyes half closed, the elephant approaches the car knowing that her master has arrived with gifts in the form of food.
“Elephants are known to have excellent memory. Laxmi remembers me and my car. I usually have to travel a lot. But whenever I get time, I visit the farmhouse. She gets excited with the very sight of my car,” said Vivek Chand Burman, 85, chairman emeritus, Dabur India Ltd.
At present, there are seven domesticated elephants in Delhi, but the city may soon be left with just one – Laxmi.
The forest department has served notices to the owners of six elephants kept at Sangam Vihar in Wazirabad area to shift their animals out of Delhi. The allegations are the animals are kept in “unhygienic conditions” and that wild animals can’t be kept in crowded urban areas.
The elephant owners were given a deadline of December 25, 2017, by which they were to inform the government where they would like to shift the tuskers. Plans were being made to move the healthy elephants to Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand, while the rest were to be taken to Kalesar in Haryana. The owners moved the high court again as they said they had identified a spot near Wazirabad, away from human settlement and near the Yamuna.
The ‘Dabur elephant’, though, has been spared the uncertainty.
Laxmi has an entire 2.5-acre farmhouse at Dera Mandi on the Delhi-Haryana border at her disposal. Far from the maddening hustle of the city, the bungalow boasts of sprawling lawns for the elephant to loiter around; a mud pool where she can wallow; a shed with fans and water sprinklers to cool off in when the mercury shoots up.
Laxmi shares her resort with two of her mahouts and a manager. They have been employed by Burman to look after his “daughter” and have been allowed to stay there with their families so they can provide round-the-clock care for the elephant. Unlike the elephants at Wazirabad, Laxmi seldom has to venture into the city.
“Walking on metalled and tar roads can injure her legs. But as elephants are migratory animals and are used to walking long distances, we have her walk around in the lawns here. She walks around seven kilometres every day. It is only when Burman sa’ab can’t come to the farmhouse and still wants to spend time with her that she is taken to the Burman family residence on Prithviraj Road,” said Md Ashraf, 58, one of the mahouts.
Even though hired elephants were used to promote Dabur in villages in the 1930s, the Burman family chanced upon Laxmi in 1978 when she was just six .
“At that time she was owned by the World Health Organisation, which was facing difficulty in maintaining her. They were winding up one of their offices in Delhi and were looking to find an alternative sponsor for her. They approached me since I was an animal lover and I gladly accepted her,” said Burman who doubles up as the honorary consul general of Nicaragua.
As she was alone, Burman bought a second elephant from Sonepur fair in Bihar. The animal died due to some disease.
Burman’s love for animals is not confined to elephants. The family used to maintain four dogs, including a Siberian husky. They still have three cockatoos and a few budgerigars in their Prithviraj Road house. The dogs have all died since.
“Whenever I am in Delhi, I try to spend time with them. I feed them with my own hands — walnuts and fruits for the cockatoos and bananas, apples and chapattis for Laxmi,” said Burman.
Laxmi gets to eat sumptuous meals comprising fruits, chana, rotis and items made with pure ghee.
“She has been with us for 40 years and has become a part of our family. Even my sons and other family members love her and sometimes spend time with her. But Laxmi would be the last elephant we will have. I would never bring in such an affectionate animal again. It hurts when they are gone. I have experienced that grief when I lost my dogs,” he added.
First Published: Apr 22, 2018 08:06 IST