Manikantaka

The first time I saw an elephant
Was in 1996 when into our street
Marched Mahanta the ‘Megik Mahout’
With his ‘Mejestick Manikantaka.’

To my five-year-old height and weight,
The beast was almost a dinosaur.
Yes, I had already seen Jurassic Park
In the theatre by the swampy lake.
Yes, I was the kid who cried aloud
And denied his Zoologist mother
The best scenes of the movie
She had fought with her in-laws
To come and watch with her kids.
And yes, to this day that day’s sin
Is slapped on the bargaining table
When Mom and I contest in earnest
The possession of the TV remote.

There weren’t any overhead cables then.
So, Mejestick Manikantaka walked tall,
Flaunting its tattooed forehead and trunk
Of sandal, turmeric, and vermillion paste
That matched the elephantine garland
Of jasmine, marigold, and rose flowers
Adorning his royally upraised neck.
His tuskers shined Colgate white
Casting doubt upon the Odia proverb
That elephants never brush their teeth.
His nails had painted lotus buds and leaves,
His tail had a mehndi-dyed brush of hair,
And his back had a mandala of intricacy
That shamed the women of sixty years
Who had been drawing jhoti-chita doodles
Daily on their doorsteps.

When all had come out to marvel at him,
When all eyes and fingers were on him,
Manikantaka listened to the Mejik whispers
Of the Mejik Mahout in his flapping ears
And edged to the side of the muddy street
To our pride and joy, the open drain.
He turned around once more to face
The appreciative crowd gathering about,
Raised his tattooed trunk up high,
Lowered his mandalaed rump down low,
And performed the trick our street performed
Every morning while I walked to school.
The trumpeting of the trunk matched
The trumpeting of the ample rump,
And it stank like someone’s septic tank
And looked like peeled coconut coir.
The most fitting salute I’ve ever seen
To our street’s historic notoriety.

Today, in 2021, living on the same street,
As I surrender the TV remote to Mom,
Dad emerges from his battlefield
With arms raised and fists pumped,
Declaring, “Manikantaka!”
And I add a row to the scoreboard:
Dad – 1, Constipation – 0.