I had an encounter with three elephants in the middle of Dhaka City a few weeks ago. I didn’t get to take a picture so you’ll just have to take my word for it. But as things go in Dhaka, it’s not that hard to believe.
My family and I were going to dine out for Iftar a few weeks before Eid. Going through a residential street this fine afternoon, it was the usual commute. The streets are crazy with traffic right before Iftar (it’s crazy with traffic most of the time but let’s just go with this for some well-meaning contrast). My brother in law navigates the streets and then stops dead on the tracks as the car faces a giant elephant in the middle of the street. We notice three more behind him. The handlers on their backs expertly maneuver them behind our car while the first offender stands in front of us. I had a moment to notice how amazingly beautiful they are just before panic strikes the general air inside the car. My nephew who is five and is amazed to find a walk-in zoo stares in wonder. My dad and my brother-in-law struggle with themselves to try to appear calm and composed for the rest of us. The first elephant in front of us puts its trunk on the hood of our car and we all feel the bump. They want money. I can sense my father and brother-in-law trying to stare down the elephant in an attempt to avoid the human-animal-crushed car debacle.
The handlers try to goad us for some money. But for some reason after a few tense minutes, and I suspect it’s their own apparent surprise at finding themselves in such a position to extort us, they let us pass, unharmed.
I’ve seen those elephants around after that incident. The next time they were simply traipsing through the streets, no doubt being hoarded towards another street to be used as thugs by their handlers. I wonder how they are treated and if they are unhappy.
If anything, it reminds you that you can never really be surprised at anything in Dhaka anymore.