The case of the
exploding elephant is from 1974 and happened in the remote
village of Dambarawa near Mahiyangana. You will
need a one-inch-to-the-mile map to locate this village. We were
the only doctors for miles. Ranji and myself were newly married
young doctors.The major local hazards were Malaria and the local
MP. Those who have read the previous story would know about
One of our friends
was the local Public Health Inspector a man by the name of Bandara
Pallekumbura who was in charge of the Anti Malaria Campaign.
He saw the incident first hand and Ranji attended to the victims.
I was away at that time.
This part of
Srilanka is so remote that there are wild elephants. As long as
they are in a herd they are pretty harmless and leave human beings
severely alone but occasionally they get separated from the herd
or sustain non-fatal injuries from ivory poachers. This, not
surprisingly, changes their outlook on life. They become rather
aggressive and are then known as "rogue elephants".
The village of
Dambarawa was about five miles from the hospital and was at that
time terrorised by an injured rogue elephant. The villagers
requested permission from the Government Agent to put the animal
down, permission was granted and the huge beast was duly shot dead
right in the middle of the village!
It is one thing to
kill an elephant but another thing to bury it. Bury it? How do you
dispose of an elephants carcass? Digging a grave was out of the
question for two reasons. Firstly this was the dry zone of the
country and the ground was hard baked. Secondly there were no
bulldozers or earthmoving equipment.
Meanwhile, in the
hot tropical sun the recently deceased elephant underwent the
usual post-mortem changes with unexpected rapidity. Very soon the
carcass started to smell a bit. Then it began to smell a lot.
There was only one thing to do and that was to cremate the
elephant. As the Public Health Inspector, our friend was involved
with the disposal. Old tyres and firewood were collected and
heaped up on the carcass. Diesel fuel was added to get the whole
lot going. Everything would have worked well if at this stage, a
rather vociferous village know-all had not insisted on adding
petrol (gasoline) for good measure.
By this time there
was a rather rowdy carnival atmosphere and villagers from several
nearby villages had gathered for the animal's last rites. Afterall
it is not everyday one gets the chance to attend an elephant's
funeral and this was well before the days of television. Even on
telly you do not often see an elephant's funeral but sorry ...I
Mobs rule! The
protestations of our friend fell on deaf ears and a generous
quantity of petrol was poured on the pyre. In the hot tropical sun
the petrol vaporised rapidly creating a mirage-like shimmering
effect. His protestations having had no effect our friend withdrew
to a respectable distance. The next minute a match was struck and
there was an almighty woosh and a flash--the sort of explosion
seen in Hollywood blockbusters.
Although I refer to
this story as the case of the EXPLODING ELEPHANT in
reality the elephant was largely unscathed. The same could not be
said of the villagers! A large number of bystanders sustained
nasty flash burns and were brought to the Mahiyangana hospital.
The severely burnt were despatched to the General Hospital at
Badulla using our only ambulance as well as private transport.
Some eventually died. Ranji had a busy day.
What about the
elephant? Well, later it had a proper funeral without the use of
©Copyright Gyan Fernando 2000