A love so large

I collect animal stories the way other people collect postage stamps, and one of my favourites is the one Jennifer told me about her father, Mr. Russell, when he was in the Indian Police.

In India the police have to deal with problems that don't exist anywhere else in the world. They not only nab criminals and track dacoits into the ravines, but they are often called upon to shoot a man-eating tiger or a marauding hyena that has carried away children from the village. Sometimes they have to shoot an elephant that has turned ''rogue.''

One such elephant had run amok in Bhopal and killed his keeper. He then ran into the jungles on the outskirts of a cluster of small villages, where he terrorized the villagers by stampeding every time one of then emerged. He would not allow them to work in the fields in the day, and at night he trampled and uprooted the young crops. Something had to be done, and the decision to shoot an animal that is a protected species was taken at the highest level.

The inspector general of police was reluctant to be given the task, but the chief secretary said, ''Call in Russell. He is a crack shot and he loves animals as well. If anyone can do this job as mercifully as possible, he will.''

So Commandant Russell was called in and ordered to take a squad of the Special Armed Force and go out and shoot the elephant.

Russell stood to attention. ''I'm sorry sir, I'm afraid I can't do it,'' he said. The inspector general was livid. ''What do you mean you can't do it? This is an order.''

Russell held his ground. ''On principle I don't shoot elephants. They can't help turning 'rogue' from time to time, and it is only for a short period anyway. After that they are perfectly all right again.''

''But he killed a man -- his keeper!'' the inspector general said.

''The man must have been cruel in some way. Elephants never forget.''

At this the inspector general lost his temper and shouted. ''Look, this is not my decision. It's a government decision and I am giving you an order. If you refuse to carry out this order you will be had up for indiscipline.''

Russell saluted. His face was stiff. ''Very well sir. I'll go.''

The inspector general heaved a sigh of relief. Russell was one of their very best men. It would have been extremely awkward to charge him with something like indiscipline.

Russell and the armed squad left and everyone settled down to wait for news. A week passed and there was no news. Then the armed squad returned without Russell or the elephant. The ''sahib'' had sent them back, they said. He would continue on his own.

Now the inspector general was really worried. What if he had forced Russell into a position where he would rather die than kill an elephant? Perhaps by now he had been trampled into the dust, or broken a leg, or even perhaps gone off to some small ashram, or monastery, of which there were so many in India. What would his family say? And what about the elephant?

Search parties were sent out. They came back with the news that the villagers said the elephant had left their area and moved on into deeper jungle. No one had seen Russell.

Then just as all hope was being given up, a mud-spattered Commandant Russell walked into the office. His clothes were tattered, his face, arms, and legs scratched and bitten, and his eyes seemed swollen. He was dirty, hungry, and tired. But what he said made the inspector general grin with delight.

''I've got him,'' Russell said slowly. The inspector general came round to shake him by the hand. ''Good. Congratulations. How many shots did you need?''

Russell stiffened. ''I told you, sir, I don't shoot elephants.''

''Then what in blazes did you do?'' asked the inspector general.

''I've brought him back with me. He's tied up in Police Headquarters.''

And sure enough there was the elephant, happily munching sugar cane which was being fed to him by an admiring crowd. He looked mild, reliable, and the model of all that an elephant should be.

''But how did you do it? What happened?'' the inspector general asked.

''It wasn't easy, '' Russell admitted. ''In the beginning we kept following him, trying to be friendly. But there were too many of us, and he was suspicious. So I sent back the squad. Then I went on alone. I followed him all the time, offering sugar cane and fruit and getting closer and closer to him till he was used to my smell. Then finally one day, instead of retreating, he approached, very hesitantly, and when I held out the sugar cane, he came and took it right out of my hands. After that I simply led him back with me to Bhopal. I'm sorry it took so long.''

The inspector general was speechless. But Russell still had something he wanted to say. ''You know, sir, he is sorry he killed his keeper. He had tears in his eyes when he told me.''

Russell retired and went to Australia. They still get picture postcards from him asking about ''his elephant.''

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