03 August, 2021

Animal Instinct

M.F. Husain, beware. Ganesh, elephant artist, does more than have milk and bananas-even Christie’s likes what he paints.

Animal Instinct

At first sight, there seems nothing special about Ganesh. He devours bananas by the dozen, sniffs out jaggery with a vengeance and proffers his winding trunk for a handshake, pachyderm-style. But this Kerala jumbo is no Dumbo. In fact, this six-year-old elephant has lots to trumpet about.

For he’s no starving artist. A belly full of bananas puts him in the perfect mood. He heaves himself before the easel and stares at the paper thoughtfully. Meanwhile, his teacher, 24-year-old Shafi Quraishy, mixes some oil-paint in a colour-stained palette and holds out a brush. Ganesh’s mahout is shouting instructions at him, in part-Malayalam, part-gibberish. But he falls silent as the elephant curls his trunk around the brush and reaches forward. He holds the brush a little awkwardly, like a child learning to write. And takes his first hesitant stroke.

"Look at that, just look at that," exclaims Quraishy proudly, as a light swoosh of mauve alters the paper forever. Ganesh is looking too. He steps back briefly, gazes at the colour lovingly, and flaps his ears back...

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