India's elephant whisperers The deep bond between man and jumbo

B A Raju & Vishnu Swaroop | TNN

G Achuthan’s father was trampled to death by the elephant he cared for two years ago, yet the teen's passion for jumbos hasn't died.

“I could not think of being away from elephants”

Achuthan is a helper for Godhai, an elephant belonging to Tamil Nadu's Sriperumpudur temple.

Choosing to be a mahout is not just a family tradition, it’s about an instinctive love for the animal.

In the profession for generations, mahouts share a deep bond with their wards.

More than just being a rider, trainer or keeper, they are friend and companion to the animal.

Karim Seth is a third-generation mahout. For him, elephant care has been a three-decade-long friendship.

The 57-year-old is in charge of Adhinayagi, an elephant from Adhinatha Alwar Temple at Alwarthirunagari in Tuticorin.

"Whenever I have to leave town for work, I need to talk to the elephant and tell her that I would be away for a few days. If I don’t inform her, she will throw a fit"

Another mahout, Bose Rajan who looks after Parvathi, an elephant at Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, says close observation is must to understanding its behaviour.

Youngsters intern with fathers or uncles, slowly learning to bathe, feed and take care of the gentle giants.

Meanwhile, at the rejuvenation camp in Mettupalayam in Coimbatore, on the banks of river Bhavani, the camaraderie between man and animal is evident.

Twenty-eight elephants from temples and mutts across Tamil Nadu and Puducherry were brought to the camp this year.

The 48-day annual camp provides respite to both elephants and their mahouts.

Here, elephants get medical attention; they're bathed, dusted and decked up by their mahouts daily

The mahouts get some respite too – it's an opportunity to meet relatives and friends who work in other temples.

But most of all, elephants can renew the bond with their peers.