Jakaranda, The Great Elephant Dancer Part 1
Long ago, back when humans still lived on a planet called Earth, a sage of ancient China crossed the great mountain range to the south of the country, and found on the other side the dark and untamed region of India. It was a land of marvels, filled with exotic animals the like of which the sage had never seen, nor even imagined.
One such creature was the elephant. It was as tall as ten men, and weighed as much as a hundred. It was covered from head to toe in orange fur. It had fangs almost two meters long, and as sharp as razors. It had a long nose like a snake, with a hand at the end. The elephant was very strong – it used its nose to tear large branches from the trees, cram them between its jaws and crush them to a pulp before swallowing. These twigs and leaves were an elephant’s staple diet, though it was also partial to fruits and vegetables when it could get them. Strangest of all were the elephant’s ears – so big it was able to use them as wings! On windy days, an elephant could walk to the top of a tall hill, spread its ears wide, and after a running jump, take to the air like a chicken.
Yes, the elephant could fly – but only for short distances. Most of the time it preferred to move on land. Even then it was not a graceful creature – it was large and heavy with big clumpy feet, and many elephants did not look closely at the ground upon which they walked. Smaller animals lived in constant fear of being crushed by the careless footsteps of these giant beasts.
At that time, the people of India still clung to primitive ideas; they regarded the elephants as gods – in fact, they regarded many animals in the same way; monkeys, birds, tortoises – even such things as trees and rivers! To them, almost anything could be a god. But of all their gods, none was more powerful than the elephant, and there was none they liked more to tell stories about.
And so, in the first Indian village ever discovered, on the very first night, the villagers told the sage the story of Jakaranda, the Great Elephant Dancer.
All the elephants liked to dance; it was part of their mating ritual. They danced in a big forest clearing. The herd would move in a circle, blowing their long noses like trumpets, stomping the ground with their great feet, and stepping to the rhythm as they swayed from side to side. One by one, individuals would break off and move to the centre to perform their own individual dance, with the rest of the herd watching closely. Dancing was very important for elephants. But the fact is that elephants were big, clumsy animals – their bodies were not lithe and supple. Elephants liked to dance. But they danced badly.
Yet at one time there lived an elephant with real talent: Jakaranda. He had a natural sense of rhythm, a great elegance in his movements, and – despite his size – a certain lightness to his step. In addition to all this, he had a tremendous ear for music. As a child he spent much of his time practising his nose-trumpeting skills, and by adolescence had produced a number of musical compositions that became very popular among the herd. The elephants looked forward to his first solo dance with great excitement. Several of the females had already set their hearts on Jakaranda. They could hardly wait to watch him dance at the centre of the herd, and then to dance with him.
Jakaranda’s dance did not disappoint – nobody had seen anything like it! No elephant had ever danced like this – it was a breathtaking performance, a fine balance of high drama and subtle emotion that spoke of a meaning that lies beyond the reach of mere words.
Naturally all the elephants agreed that Jakaranda was the best dancer; nobody else came close! So good was his dance that the females were shy at first, and dared not approach him for fear of rejection. But Jakaranda’s easy charm soon won them over, and from that day on he was surrounded by admirers wherever he went.
He danced his solo dance again; he danced many times, and the more he danced the more refined grew his movements, the more infectious his rhythms. Each time he danced he brought the art to a new level. He was a great inspiration to the herd; the finest example of what an elephant could be. Rumours spread, and the neighbouring herds came to see the great dancer for themselves. Soon Jakaranda was famous throughout the land, and many elephants from far and wide came to watch him dance, bringing gifts of exotic fruit and vegetables to lay before his feet.
The monkeys noticed the fuss and sent a delegation to investigate; soon they too were entranced! When Jakaranda danced they would stop what they were doing and come to the edge of the clearing. They would climb the tallest trees to attain the best possible vantage point. Soon the hares heard about him, and then the peafowl, then the dhole and the leopard and the other animals of the forest – even the mice! Everyone came to the clearing to watch Jakaranda dance, and everyone loved him.
One day, Jakaranda was reclining in the shade of his favourite cherry tree, deep in contemplation of his art. By now he was long past youth, and as he entered middle age he found his thoughts turning more and more to the question of his legacy. Though few dared say it to his face, Jakaranda knew that many felt his best work was behind him; his dances were always well-received, but over the last year or two he had detected a distinct waning of enthusiasm. The applause was not quite so rapturous as it had been in his youth; it had become tainted by politeness, the animals’ respect for Jakaranda’s position as a cultural icon now tempered by a certain pity – for he was no longer as supple as before.
It was worse among the younger generation, who had never known a time before his great dance revolution. To them, Jakaranda was part of the established order. He did not speak for them. They thought he was old and fat and out of touch. They seemed to think he was deaf too, but he heard what they said, and it stung him.
Jakaranda was not old – at least not in his mind. His body had aged, true – but he was still in great physical shape. His intellect was as sharp as ever, and the creative urge burned in him as strongly as it always had. He had grown wise over the years, and often wished he had known as a youth even a quarter of what he had learned since. Jakaranda might be past his prime, but he could still be relevant. He still had much to say. But he was running out of time – his dancing years were almost over. What he needed was a new direction – something edgy and daring and undeniably modern to help him pull in the youth. If he could only touch their hearts, it would surely cement his legacy.
Jakaranda reached forward with his nose and picked an apple from the huge pile of fruit at his side. Dropping it into his mouth, he chewed thoughtfully. A new direction – but what? He wracked his brains. He ate more fruit. Ideas came and went, all minor variations on things he had done in the past. At one time they might have satisfied him, but no longer – he felt bored by them. He felt he had done it all before – seen everything there was to see. It was as if he had nothing left to learn. He began to feel as though his creativity was constrained by an invisible cage. He was trapped within the narrow box of his own preconceptions.
Suddenly, he was shaken from his thoughts by the crashing of branches from somewhere above. He peered up through the forest canopy and was lucky to dodge a falling coconut; it missed his head narrowly, then thudded to the ground between his legs. Fortunately Jakaranda remained unscathed. He kicked the coconut away in anger.
A monkey descended from the trees and immediately kowtowed before the elephant. “I beg you to accept my apology!” she cried. “I dropped that coconut by accident.”
“You should be more careful,” huffed Jakaranda. “You could’ve killed me!”
“Only my child was falling, sir, and—” The monkey began to cry. Her baby climbed up from its mother’s belly and clung to her neck offering comfort.
“Hm,” frowned Jakaranda.
“I meant you no harm, I promise!” sobbed the monkey. “How could I live with myself? You are a great artist, sir – an inspiration to us all! I could hardly believe it when I looked down and saw you here. That’s him, I thought – that’s the dancer Jakaranda!” The monkey looked up shyly. “It is you, sir – isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Jakaranda. “But how do you know who I am?”
“What? Everybody knows who you are!”
“Of course monkeys! And peafowl and dholes and leopards too. Even the mice know of Jakaranda.”
Jakaranda was puzzled. “What are mice?”
“Oh,” said the monkey. “They are the small furry things that live in holes in the ground. They have many young, and eat their own shit.”
“What? That’s terrible! I don’t believe it!”
“It’s true!” insisted the monkey. “Mice have no morals at all.” She shrugged. “We have tried many times to reason with them. But it does no good. They are too stupid to understand.”
“And yet,” said Jakaranda, “they have culture enough to appreciate my dance?”
“Certainly! Your dance transcends culture; it speaks to us all.”
“Do all the animals love me?”
“Yes. We always come here to the edge of the forest to watch you dance.”
“Indeed?” Jakaranda gazed about him. “So you live in the forest, do you?” he asked. “How lucky you are! It’s so beautiful here.”
“Yes,” said the monkey. “We like it very much. We would not want to live elsewhere.”
“Of course not! Why would you? It’s a kind of paradise.”
“Well,” said the monkey. “I wouldn’t say—”
“I’ve got it!” cried Jakaranda. “I know what to do!”
“For my dance! Oh, thank you, dear monkey – you have brought me such inspiration!”
Yes, thought Jakaranda – what better way to pay tribute to the animals of the forest, who so love to watch me dance? I shall bring the dance to them! I shall dance in the forest at the next full moon.
It was perfect.
“Here,” he said. “Take this mango – I don’t want it anyway; it is overripe, and will upset my stomach. But you monkeys are made of sterner stuff.”
The monkey hesitated.
“Go on, take it! Don’t feel bad – it cost me nothing, after all.”
The monkey took the mango from the elephant’s outstretched nose and sniffed. It was more than overripe; it was starting to rot. She looked up and, spotting the coconut lying a short distance away, opened her mouth to speak.
“No need to thank me,” said Jakaranda. “Just take the mango and be on your way. Thanks to you I have much to think about. Oh, dear monkey – when you see my next dance you will understand, but what I need now is peace and quiet.” He popped another apple into his mouth. “My creative process is underway; now please give me my space.”
“Very well,” said the monkey. And, clutching the rotting mango, she leapt into the trees and moved off. She quickly threw away the mango, but she had not yet given up on the fallen coconut. Later that night she came back to retrieve it, but all she found was the husk and a damp patch that smelled like spilt coconut milk. The elephant had eaten the rest.