Lakshmi’s story features abiding love, flight across a great river and a manhunt. Someday, the movie will be made

How do you hide an elephant? You put it in a room full of people who would refuse to see it. Everyone knows that already. But what if you are in the great open spaces? You hide it in plain sight. Lakshmi, Delhi’s last elephant, had been hidden by her mahout for two months in the floodplain of the Yamuna river. She has now been rescued, and the hunt is on for her mahout Yusuf Ali and his sons, who had ridden Lakshmi across the river to escape police and forest officials out to liberate her. Her story has the makings of a movie set in the badlands.

The Yamuna plain near the Income Tax Office was once home to several elephants, who were hired for the weddings and festivals of the rich and infamous of the capital. But following a court order which found Delhi insalubrious for elephants, they were relocated to more suitable habitats in other states, and liberated from the drudgery of work. Lakshmi was the last to go, and she went in style, taking her human family with her across the water, and leaving the police no trail they could pick up.

Where does an animal hide most successfully? In its natural habitat. Moths hide best on tree bark, leopards in lantana. The Yamuna floodplain, with its tall grass, is an elephant’s natural habitat, where Lakshmi stayed invisible for two months, in the heart of one of the world’s most crowded cities. The logistical exercise of keeping her fed must have been a staggering challenge, though. The mahout must be admired for managing that, though sadly, his arrest for impeding justice is imminent. Elephants must obviously be returned to the wild, but our lives have been intertwined with theirs for millennia, and sometimes, parting could be difficult.

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