The Wisdom of the Sedentary Elephant
Jolpa jungle was home to an abundant variety of animals and birds. The kings of the jungle—or so they considered themselves—were a large pack of elephants, some twenty-odd families. As the largest of all the animals who had made the vast forest their home, they believed that they were its rightful owners and that the rest of its inhabitants were mere tenants, living at their mercy and will. Fearful of challenging their authority, the other beasts and birds allowed them to have their way, although silently resenting being treated shoddily. The elephants would criss-cross the forest just as they pleased, caring nothing at all about the great trouble this gave the other animals. They simply could not remain still, even if they had wanted to. Not more than a day must elephants spend in the same place—this was a cardinal principle of the elephant creed. To be an elephant was to be constantly on the move. And this was because the elephants believed—this being a fundamental tenet of their faith—that happiness lay in any place other than where they were at any given moment. As perceptive observers will understand, impelled to ceaseless motion by this doctrine, happiness constantly eluded the hapless beasts.
At the crack of dawn every morning, the elephants would be up and about, and would begin their long march through the forest, stopping, finally, only when the sun slipped below the horizon. They wore their constant movement as a badge of great pride. No other animal behaved in quite the same way, and this was, for them, a source of great delight. 'Beware! Monsters on the Move!' they would cry out as they plunged through the thickets. The other animals would flee at their sight, fearful of being crushed under their enormous feet. Birds and crickets would fly out of their nests in the trees as they marched ahead, tearing down the thick foliage that stood in their way.
There was, however, one exception among the elephants of Jolpa forest, and that was Sedentary Solo. She had set up home in a vast, delightful clearing in the forest, where the grass grew tall and rich. It was ringed with a number of fruit-bearing trees. A wide river flowed just at the border of the clearing. Being fed by glaciers up in the mountains beyond, it had never once gone dry as far as anyone could remember—and elephants' memories are indeed proverbial. In short, no one could have hoped for a more suitable home. Having all that she could wish for, Solo felt no need at all to step out of the clearing where she lived. Happy where she was, she found the constant travelling of her fellow elephants simply incomprehensible. Her head turned dizzy at the very thought of the dozens of miles they traversed every day for no reason other than this being the way that (or so it was believed) elephants ought to behave, driven by their dogged belief that happiness was to be found in some place other than where they found themselves at any given time.
Solo's clearing possessed enough space, food and water to serve the needs of all the elephants of Jolpa forest. Had they wanted to, the entire pack could have lived there without having any need to wander elsewhere. They could have spent their days enjoying the many bounties of the clearing, having innocent fun if they wished, or simply watching the clouds slowly sail through the vast sky and the birds silently meditating in the trees. That, indeed, is how Solo passed much of her time, this giving her much peace and joy. If the other elephants followed her example, Solo reasoned, they would spare the other animals of the jungle the terror of facing the elephants' irrepressible urge to be constantly on the move, which brought ruin and death to flora and fauna as they marched ahead through the forest in the hope of finding happiness in a place other than where they found themselves. Solo had tried many times to explain this to the rest of the pack. But each time she had done so, she had been rudely rebuked.
"Don't you dare try to tell us elders what to do!", Solo's father had scolded her. "Do you think you know better than we do?"
Solo's mother had cautioned her against trying to defy the norms of elephant society, according to which the beasts must ceaselessly wander in search of happiness. "Constant movement is in our genes, my dear. We ellies simply cannot sit still, not even if we get all the food and water and space to gambol about," she would repeat. "Spending a second night in the same place is a heinous crime punishable by the Grand Elly Council, dearest," she would remind Solo.
The youngsters in the pack would raise a loud cry every time Solo tried to convince them to think for themselves rather than constantly wander through the forest simply out of fear of what the Grand Elly Council might do if they listened to the voice of reason instead of to the elders. "Keep off, you lazy lout!" they would snigger when she reminded them that they could have all they needed, and the happiness they were looking for, in the clearing where she lived, which she generously offered to share with them. "Imagine!" she would say, and now her face would light up, "You can stay right here, without having to go anywhere else, and get all that you need! Think of the energy and trouble you would save for yourself! And think, too, of the number of animals' lives you would spare from being crushed by your ponderous feet and the poor trees that would escape being torn down, too!"
"Keep that fake do-gooder moralizing to yourself, Solo. That's just an excuse for you to do no exercise at all, you spoil-sport!" the young ellies would cry out in response. "Don't you dare try to prevent us from having fun and seeing new places!" And as for Solo's plea that the elephants' constant movement through the forest was causing untold hardship to the other creatures whom they shared their home with, the youngsters retorted with fierce derision and scorn. "Hey you namby-pamby! You blot on the name of the great elephant race! A bloated, good-for-nothing rat, that's what you are!" Solo was definitely not a real elephant, they insisted, for "true elephants", as they put it, "care not a damn for lesser creatures."
As can be expected, the elders of the tribe, too, were aghast at Solo's well-meaning suggestion. "That crazy woman dares to defy the will of the elephant gods and the ways of our ever-wandering ancestors!" Grave Face, the chief priest of the tribe, would thunder. "May the storm clouds collapse on her head for her heresy!"
Having tried, all in vain, over many years to dissuade the other elephants from their constant wandering, Solo now kept all to herself. For daring to defy the norms of her tribe, she had long since been ex-communicated. The head-priest had declared that if any member of the pack ever met with her, he or she would meet the same terrible fate.
And so the years rolled on. Initially, it had been difficult for Solo to live all by herself in the clearing. Gradually, however, she had begun to enjoy her aloneness. It allowed her to be just as she wanted, spending her life in the way she felt was right for her, as a sedentary elephant, without having to fear what others might say. Deep within her, she knew she was right. There was really no need, she believed, for elephants to ceaselessly wander, especially if they could easily procure all they needed in one place, as she did in her clearing in the forest. If they truly wanted happiness, the doctrine of their faith that promised it to them in any place other than where they found themselves or at any moment than in the present had to be abandoned, she knew. Although she never voiced this to anyone else, she feared that her relatives' penchant for constant movement would one day cost them dear.
That, in fact, did not take long in happening—not very long after the head-priest had expelled Solo from the tribe. One day, a band of men entered the forest, armed with heavy knives and spades and hoops of rope. Having discovered the route that the elephants were going to take that day, they set about digging a deep trench across their path. They lopped off the branches of dozens of trees and laid these over the trench in order to disguise the trap. Spotting the pack coming in their direction, they quickly hid themselves behind a massive rock and waited with bated breath. They cupped their hands over their mouths in order to suppress their laughter. Soon, they excitedly thought, they would earn a neat sum of money by selling off the entire pack of elephants—some to a zoo, others to a temple, a few to a timber company and yet others to a foreign circus.
"Beware! Monsters on the Move!" cried the leader of the pack, a handsome bull who sported a pair of fine tusks, as the beasts came rushing towards the camouflaged trench. "Hurrah! Hurrah!" the others exulted after him, bursting out into loud trumpets and sending up great clouds of orange dust into the sky. A family of spotted deer fled in terror as the enormous beasts raced ahead, tearing down massive trees with their trunks and feet. A pack of panic-struck herons flew out from a giant oak that came crashing down. A pair of rabbits rushed into a mouse-hole just in time to save their lives. "Make Way for the Masters of the Forest!" the elephants roared in chorus. "March and Conquer! Onwards, My Brave Soldiers, Forever on the Move!", the leader bellowed—this being the anthem of the tribe (and in which they took much pride)—at which the others swung their trunks into the air and let out a deafening trumpet that reverberated over the towering mountains in the distance.
But just at that very moment, when their trunks were still held proudly up above their heads, the elephants stepped on the branches that the men had laid over the trench. In less than a moment they all fell, one over the other, tumbling deep into the trench. The forest shook with the howls of the irate beasts. It seemed as if a massive earthquake had struck. But if the elephants, only a moment earlier drunk on their power, were now in an irrepressible frenzy, the men who had laid the trap for them were simply delighted. They rushed to the edge of the trench, laughing out like little children, excitedly counting the number of beasts they had caught and calculating the fat amount of money they would earn from selling them later that day.
Word travels fast in the forest, and soon news of the fate that had befallen the elephants reached Solo. It is true that it did pain her—for although they had driven her out of the tribe, she had not allowed herself to become bitter about it—but she had all along known that something of this sort would inevitably overtake them, sooner or later. If only her power-drunk fellow elephants had listened to her advice, she mused as a stream of tears rolled down her face, they would have saved themselves from the fate that now awaited them as captives. But they had pompously dismissed her pleas to cease their constant wandering as "boring" and "definitely un-elephant-like", a grave affront to their society and a crime according to their religion and moral code. How many times, she reflected, had she pleaded with them to settle in the clearing where she lived, where they could have all they really needed, only to be rudely rebuffed for defying what was said to be the most fundamental rule of elephant life—of constant travel in an elusive search of happiness to be found, so they believed, in any place other than where they were at any given moment. It was this, Solo well knew, and not the machinations of the trappers, that had finally spelled their doom.