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Parbati Barua: Indomitable elephant trainer
Published on 8 Mar. 2010 12:17 AM IST
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She is a graduate in political science from Guwahati University. And she hails from the erstwhile royal family of the Baruas of Gauripur, now in Assam’s Goalpara district. One would have probably expected her to pursue academics and settle down to a conventional life. But, she wasn’t quite cut out for that. Parbati Barua, who is now in her fifties, was journeying deep into dense jungles from her childhood with her father, the legendary elephant expert and tamer Prakritish Barua. Interestingly, Parbati’s uncle was Tollywood movie star of yesteryears Pramathesh Barua of Devdas fame, stated Sinlung news. Today, she is a mahout (elephant trainer), arguably one of few women in the world to be involved in such an unusual occupation, and a well-known pachyderm expert. And, just as she did as a child, she spends long stretches of her days and nights in the forests, taming, training and protecting them. Yes, she has a family. But, her children also include three pachyderm ‘daughters’, Lakshimala, Aloka and Kanchanmala and a team of co-workers who help Parbati in her unquestionably out-of-the-box preoccupation. Parbati, a crackshot at lassoing wild elephants, travels with her team to any part of the country which is in a spot with elephants or where the largest land animal is in distress and danger. She is often called in to thrash out elephant management policies and conservation activities and controlling and capturing wild herds, driving out wild elephants from urban locales and training mahouts. And, one can rest assured that Parbati and her crew will live up to their assignments. Having spent the better part of her life in the wilds, Parbati Barua is lion-hearted. Recently, a 28-year-old rouge bull elephant in Kaziranga killed several people, including the mahout. The Assam forest department decided to step in to gun down the elephant. She takes the risks of venturing into the almost impregnable, dark jungles in her stride. “Every time, I enter a jungle, I think it’s the last time I’ll be around to ramble around them. And, that my end is round the corner. An encounter with a rogue elephant and to put it on leash is a gamble between life and death. At the other end of the scale, an elephant can assimilate 40-50 commands. But, to pull that off, one needs to get a full grip of its psychology and deal with its tremendously high level of intelligence and memory and succeed in tackling its immense strength. Otherwise, you are as safe on elephant back as in your bedroom. Any mistake may end up being fatal. But, isn’t city life also brimming with risks,” Barua remarks, lending an insight into her command over her favourite animal. But, isn’t it strange that the lady, who was awarded the United Nations Environment Programme Global 500 Roll of Honour in 1989, decided to live life dangerously instead of the glamour and glitz of her princely home? “I think it’s in my genes. I had become my father’s assistant even while pursuing my graduation at Guwahati University. So, after his demise in 1988, I decided to plunge into my life with elephants. Even today, it’s more a passion than a profession. As a mahout, I can never retire. I’d like to end life with my elephants just like my father did, says Parbati.

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