Arikomban, the wild tusker with a predilection for raiding ration shops in the human settlements of Chinnakanal, Idukki, for its favourite treat, rice, is nothing short of a celebrity. The victim of three translocation attempts, which began as early as 2017, with a heart-wrenching backstory of being an orphan, Arikomban’s curious behaviour has changed narratives from those of a stampeding tyrant to a scapegoat for human transgressions.
At present, it has been relocated to Kalakad Mundathurai Tiger Reserve, Kanyakumari, after making a cameo in the residential town of Cumbum in Tamil Nadu.
The jumbo’s journey across the Kerala and Tamil Nadu has been marked by public upheaval. While those allegedly hit by Arikomban’s marauds into residential areas continue to vouch for its translocation, the jumbo has a staunch fan base among aana premis (elephant lovers) and animal rights activists. A recent project dedicated to the tusker is the video recital of a poem written by Pramod Kannan Pillai and composed by veteran musician Kavalam Sreekumar.
Sending a message
The poem, titled ‘Arikomban’, was released in video format on June 21 and features the laments of the pachyderm, imploring mankind to rethink their ‘hypocritical decision’ to exile it from its natural habitat. Pramod’s inspiration to write the piece came from the disruptive changes in the ecosystem which have gone under the radar time and again. “Looking back, I wondered how a kaattu komban (wild tusker) became an ‘Arikomban’ (rice tusker),” he says.
The writing took over a month, before which Pramod had conversed with the residents of Chinnakanal. “Arikomban was not as grave a nuisance for them as it was claimed to be. I was able to gauge the reality of the situation and understand that the actual problem was not Arikomban, which led me to write the poem,” contends the 36-year-old poet. “I wanted this message to reach society and was advised to approach Kavalam Sreekumar, as he would be the best person to recite it,” says Pramod.
Sreekumar tested his compatibility with the poem before giving the green light to take on the composition and recitation for the project. “This is a burning issue and the questions the poem asks seemed significant to me,” says Sreekumar. Quoting one of his favourite verses, ‘Pashi elkum vayarinu thiriyumo, koottare, ari aanu kombante kaalan ennu?’(would a hungry stomach be able to foresee, my friends, that rice would be the tusker’s downfall?), the musician says, “When we read a poem, there are things that strike a chord in us, like hunger. It (the poem) made me reflect on what has happened and what ought to have been done.”
The shooting, at Chinnakanal and Ponmudi, took six days, with pre- and post-production work for the video spanning a month. “Our initial plan was to just take visuals of Sreekumar and some drone shots of Chinnakanal,” says Binoy K Midhila, who directed the music video. Sensing the need for evocative impact, he suggested incorporating performative scenes.
“Even the most stoic personalities have a vulnerable side. I took inspiration from the Ardhanarishvara (the composite form of Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati, which is half-male and half-female) and came up with the idea to personify Arikomban’s sorrows through a female figure,” he explains. The video moves between visuals of recitation, documented footage of Arikomban and an emotive dance by Hridya H, symbolising the distressed tusker as entrapped by society.
“My intent in writing this poem was to emphasise that there shouldn’t be another Arikomban in our society,” says Pramod. It is less of an attempt to save the displaced elephant than a call to address the degrading ecosystem before it is too late; the poem ends on a retributive note with the verse ‘Kaalam marupadi thannukollum’ (Time will give a fitting answer).
‘Arikomban’ is streaming on YouTube.