Toomai of the Elephants and Her Majesty’s Servants

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Toomai of the Elephants

Kala Nag is an old elephant who has served the Indian Government faithfully in various capacities, in war and peace, for forty-seven years. His mahout is called Toomai, the third man of that name to hold this position, and there will be a fourth, since his son, Little Toomai, will one day take over as Kala Nag’s driver. Kala Nag and Toomai work in the Keddah, or stockade, where wild elephants are kept when they are first caught to be pressed into government service. One day, Little Toomai jumps down into the Keddah to retrieve a fallen halter rope, an act of daring which brings him to the attention of Petersen Sahib, the government officer in charge of the Keddah. Petersen speaks kindly to the boy and gives him money to buy sweets but says that he must not enter the Keddah again until he has seen the elephants dance. This phrase, “when you see the elephants dance,” is proverbial among elephant catchers and means “never.”

That night, Kala Nag leaves the camp where the elephant catchers are staying, and Little Toomai follows him. Kala Nag lifts the boy onto his back, and they set off on a long journey, which ends in a large clearing in the middle of a circle of trees. Many elephants of all types, sizes, and ages come to this clearing. Some of them have also come from the camp, including Petersen Sahib’s elephant, Pudmini. The elephants trumpet, then begin to stamp. They flatten all the greenery beneath their feet for hours, making the clearing as flat as a dance floor, until dawn breaks. At this point they disperse, and Kala Nag takes Little Toomai back to the camp.

When they return to camp, Petersen Sahib is having breakfast. Little Toomai tells Petersen what he has seen, then falls into a deep sleep. Petersen goes to investigate and finds the clearing, with the earth stamped down absolutely flat. His tracker, Machua Appa, confirms that Little Toomai has seen something that no man has ever seen before: the dance of the elephants. He should now no longer be called Little Toomai, but be known by the same title as his great-grandfather, Kala Nag’s first mahout: Toomai of the Elephants.

Her Majesty’s Servants

It has been raining for a month in Rawal Pindi, where a camp of thirty thousand men, along with thousands of camels, elephants, horses, and other animals is due to be reviewed by the Viceroy of India and the Amir of Afghanistan. The narrator of the story has been awakened by stampeding camels and is just attempting to get to sleep again when he hears some animals talking. He says that he understands enough of the language spoken by animals in the camp to be able to relay their conversation.

A mule begins by kicking a camel in the ribs for stampeding. The stampede has also angered the two horses present, and the camel apologizes humbly, saying that he has been troubled by bad dreams. They are soon joined by two bullocks and another mule, who have also been awakened by the camels. The horses and mules compare the ways in which they are trained and how they behave in battle. One of the troop-horses explains the importance of trusting your rider during a charge and the courage that is needed on the part of the horse.

One of the mules, called Billy, whose job is to carry light artillery up mountains, talks of the agility required in his work. Mules need a different kind of courage from horses, for they must remain calm under fire without charging. The camels have another way of dealing with dangerous situations. A hundred of them sit down in a square, and the men use them as barricades, while firing over their backs. The bullocks, for their part, show courage by hauling a big gun into the thick of the battle, then calmly grazing as the shots are fired.

An elephant joins the party. The mules and the horses both dislike elephants, whom they call “Two Tails.” They think it unfair to have a tail at either end of one’s body and regard the elephants as cowards, because they refuse to go near the shooting in battles. The elephant explains that this is because elephants are intelligent and imaginative enough to see inside their heads what happens when shells explode. The bullocks will go closer to the fighting and graze because they cannot imagine this. The elephant starts trumpeting, for he knows that the horses and mules dislike this noise. However, he in his turn is frightened by a dog of the type that Billy the mule says he has often kicked across the camp.

The animals agree that they are all afraid of something and wonder why they have to fight at all. They are given orders by men, but these men in turn receive their orders from someone else, though they quickly decide that it is pointless to ask from whom. Morning is coming, and everyone must prepare for the big parade.

The narrator has a good position for the parade, close to the Amir of Afghanistan. The Amir shows amazement at the discipline of the animals, who follow orders so promptly. After the troops have been reviewed, an Afghan chief asks a native officer how the animals come to be so well-trained. The officer describes the chain of command, through animal, driver, sergeant, various ranks of officers and Viceroy, all the way up to the Empress herself. The Afghan chief says that his people are not like this at all, obeying only their own wills, whereupon the officer observes that this is why the Amir, whom they do not obey, must come here to take orders from the British Viceroy.

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