by Arun Sagar

I've convinced Mme. Batiste I ride
elephants on the streets back home.
It's quite common in New Delhi, I say.
I tell her we've got two, being middle class.

Annapurna, the female, once flicked a cyclist
off his bike with her trunk, and I had to
bribe the constable to save my license. She
puts on great airs, because the last Viceroy

once sat on her grandmother. She scorns
the bananas children offer her, and insists
on dosas with dollops of ghee for breakfast.
In the afternoon, she wallows in the pond

and slaps mud on her head to keep cool.
We only ride her on the highway now.
Mme. Batiste's eyes widen as she asks
if they've ever trampled anyone. I tell her

of the fakirs who lie on a carpet of iron nails
while an elephant presses its great foot
on their chests, and they remain unhurt.
She wants to hear more,

so I tell her of the musth season, when
the madness comes, and males gore their mahouts
and hide in the dark forest, camouflaged
but for their eyes and the blood on their tusks,

and of Abul-Abbas, the white elephant who crossed
the Mediterranean and the Alps to fight
for Charlemagne, before dying of pneumonia
from the Rhine's cold, foreign waters.

But Mme. Batiste isn't listening to me now,
she's still imagining that murderous
black mass in the shadows. They must be
, she says. Yes indeed, although

mine are quite tame now, I tell her.