(The primary school in Silvaasa)
Sandarbh at Silvaasa is a great opportunity for Jinson because it goads him from inside to bring forth his stories and narratives in a work of art that he intends to do there. During his trekking for finding an adequate site as well as a feasible idea, Jinson chances upon primary school where ninety four kids from the surrounding villages study. For the ninety four students, the building looks absolutely small. But the student strength is directly proportionate to the ‘noon meal’ program. Children are given a meal here. There are two teachers.
(E for Elephant...getting started)
For Jinson it is a eureka moment. He has found his place and his idea. The school stands on a hillock covered with dry grass. Around the fringes, you see greenery, giving faint impressions on the beginning of a forest. Jinson thinks about the kids, alphabets and animals. A for apple, b for ball, c for cat, d for dog e for elephant…Cat and dog are too small and too familiar. What about an elephant.
(Jinson with the kids from the school)
‘E for Elephant’ is a temporary sculpture. It has the image of an elephant, more like an African mammoth, made out of a bamboo armature covered with dry husk and grass. Jinson collects bamboo pieces from a house near by. Children and teachers support him with great enthusiasm. They are going to have an ‘elephant’ of their own.
(The man with sickle)
Everything goes smooth for Jinson. Artist friends come around to help him. But one villager does not want to let things happen just like that. In a story there is always a villain, he thinks. He comes forward, pretty much intoxicated by all what he has drunk and chewed and asks Jinson about his intentions.
Jinson is often cool headed. He smiles at him and tells him about the making of an elephant. The moment he figures out that the armature is going to take the shape of an elephant, he joins Jinson to help him, but only on one condition; Jinson should give him some money.
(From a different angle)
On that day, the drunken man, after helping the artist for a while, slips away from the school premises. The next morning he re-appears in the scene with a sickle. If Jinson does not pay, he will cut the armature down. “I am not afraid of killing an elephant,” he swears. Jinson hands over hundred rupees note to the man and the next moment you find him joining hands with Jinson in making the elephant. He runs around and brings a lot of dry husk and grass.
The village kids are not just cucumbers or urchins or dumb people. They are intelligent. They know the difference between an Indian elephant and African elephant. One day when they come back to school, they find some changes made to the elephant by the artist. After looking at it for some time they understand what the change is. On the previous day the elephant was looking southwards and today it is going in the opposite direction.
(The elephant and the school)
“Some how the armature was not giving support to the front side of the elephant. So I decided to turn it around where armature has more grip,” Jinson says with a smile. Finally the elephant is done. All those five days, children come everyday to the artist. They ask him questions in a language that Jinson do not understand. Somu makes his occasional appearance from nowhere and negotiate with the local language.
(the burning elephant)
On the final day, Jinson decides to ask the kids to draw the image of an elephant on a piece of A-4 size paper. They all draw. To everyone’s surprise, all of them make very good drawing of an elephant, but obviously not the elephant that Jinson has created. They draw the image of an Indian elephant going somewhere with its legs in motion. Rajesh Pullarwar, a fellow artist asks, “Why all the elephants go towards the right side of the paper?” “That’s how they do their writing. So the trunk of the elephant starts there,” he explains.
On the last day of performance (29th October 2010), Jinson buys sweets and candies for the school kids. And he does his final act. With the help of friends, he sprinkles a bit of kerosene on the elephant sculpture. Some of us are ready with buckets of water. And he invites the teacher of the school to set the elephant on fire. And with a lot of happiness, the teacher does it. And look, the elephant goes up in fire. In a few minutes, it’s all over.
(Jinson Joseph and JohnyML putting out the fire)
Why does Jinson burn it? “In school we learn alphabets and most of the time we keep erasing them as we make a lot of mistakes. If we use slate and pencil, it is easier to erase but when we use paper and pencil, it is difficult and even if it is erased, it leaves some marks, at least for some time. I burned it because I wanted to feel the elephant as a drawing and a way of learning. I wanted to erase it as I know that there are mistakes in it. This is a process of entering into a linguistic structure, which is not familiar to us. There are a lot of erasure, some violent some benign. In this forest village, I have entered into their linguistics and I understand it is very difficult to learn it. I have to erase it to relearn it. What I leave is just some marks, some impermanent marks, which would be washed away by a rain or a wind,” he explains.
(The man and his act of erasing)
The burning elephant- quite surreal. But a lot real here. Perhaps, each time we recollect the act of making and breaking, we could read more into it. Did Jinson feel too lonely after burning down the elephant? I think, he did. Art is like the saying, ‘kids put you in the maya (trap of illusions).’ Art too does.