Earlier this week, the video of a Kerala man singing a lullaby to an elephant while caressing its trunk went viral on social media. Squatting on a bed of palm leaves, the man can be seen hugging the resting pachyderm and crooning Alliyilam Poovo – a Malayalam lullaby from the 1984 film Mangalam Nerunnu, while the object of his affection remains tranquil while only moving its ears.
The video shot in Perumpullissery, Thrissur was first published by China Xinhua News on their official Twitter page four days ago. It has since hit 120K views and is being shared across social media platforms. The man and elephant, who until recently remained a mystery, have now been identified as Thrissur-based singer and part-time mahout KC Sreekumar and ‘Bastion Vinayasundar’, a 40-year-old tusker.
“I was singing to Kunjan (Sreekumar’s nickname for Vinayasundar) to get him to fall asleep. He usually sleeps listening to my songs and once that happens, we give him a nice bath. I don’t know how this works, but I like to believe it is because we have a special connect. And it helps that he is a very well-behaved boy,” Sreekumar says.
Sreekumar says that the video was allegedly shot while the tusker was in heat. However, due to his ‘mild’ and ‘well-mannered nature’, he was calm despite being coddled.
The 38-year-old singer says that he was always fascinated by elephants and wished to become a mahout as a child. However, it was only years later, after he went on to become a professional stage-show singer, that he met Vinayasundar and went on to actualise his dreams.
“Sometime in 2014, I had a stage show in Nandipulam, near Thrissur. Kunjan was also brought there as there was a Pooram (elephant festival) happening in the same area. Kunjan’s first mahout – a man named Edamuttam Biju – spoke to me and said he enjoyed my music. He then took me to meet Vinayasundar. Thus began our love story,” Sreekumar recalls.
In the four years since they were introduced, Sreekumar would meet Vinayasundar every day, except on days he had shows. He would feed and pet him and later started singing cradle songs to him, a tradition he has continued to date.
“I now sing different songs to him every day. There is Paatupadi Urakkam Njan (from the 1960 film Seetha), Kannai Kalaimaane, the famous Kamal Haasan and Sridevi lullaby from the 1982 film Moondram Pirai and Rasaathi Unnai from the 1984 film Vaidehi Kathirunthal in Tamil,” he adds.
With his current social media fame, the video has also been receiving flak from other elephant lovers. VK Venkitachalam from Thrissur-based Heritage Animal Task force says that it wasn’t advisable for elephant lovers and even second or third mahouts to interact with the captive elephant in such proximity.
“The man in the video is not the elephant’s first mahout. Only the first mahout is allowed to touch the tusks, trunks, forehead of the elephant. They (trunk and tusks) are sensitive parts and could elicit a violent reaction from the animal, regardless of how well-behaved he/she usually is,” Venkitachalam told TNM.