Deep in the forests and protected reserves of India you’ll find one of India’s most precious and treasured animals: the elephant. Massive, ethereal and moderately terrifying, the elephant has been a symbol for the Indian culture for as long as anyone can remember. Unfortunately they have also been treated unfairly, being hunted for their tusks which tend to be worth a pretty penny to poachers. Treated as though they do not deserve respect, it’s understandable that an elephant might become aggressive with poachers given the chance. These are some of the basic details of Tania James’ third novel, a story about elephants told from three different points of view. A story about poaching, filmmaking and life as an elephant, The Tusk That Did The Damage escalates from a wandering story to crushingly beautiful in a hurry.
The story of Gravedigger or Sooryamangalam Sreeganeshan or the Jackfruit Freak starts when he is just a young bull. His mother is killed by poachers. Her tusks worth thousand upon thousands of rupees are brutally cut from her jaw. Gravedigger is soon taken in by Old Man, a keeper and caretaker who uses him as an attraction, but gives him a decent life. How bad could a life be when you aren’t being hunted for your tusks? But the Gravedigger develops a vengeance for justice; a hatred for the very poachers that killed his mother. The Tusk That Did The Damage is a story told from three points of view: one from the elephant, one from the poachers and the last from a filmmaking crew that travels to India to make a film about elephants. The poachers, Manu and his brother Jayan, are a troublesome pair that dip in and out of poaching. Jayan gets in a smidge of trouble and is brought back into the trade only because the Gravedigger calls him out, or so he feels. The filmmakers too, are not specifically there to film or capture the story of the famous, murderous elephant. Only when opportunity arises are they told of this legendary tusker.
James’ third novel is emotional, poetic genius. Switching back and forth between three points of view probably wasn’t easy while writing, but it sure made for one fantastic novel. Still she’s able to give the reader an ample and fulfilling story in each part. The story progresses as one, each part playing it’s own role. We see the filmmakers making artistic discoveries, filming the baby elephants they always dreamed they would. Controversially we’re met with a pair of poachers who having both suffered greatly at the hands of the poaching profession are completely willing to re-enter the lifestyle to avenge what they perceive as a great wrongdoing unto them. Lastly we’re left with the Gravedigger, the entity this whole story is about. Bumbling about the forest, he kills humans for sport. Burying them under leaves just before he snuffs out their last breath. It’s poetic justice in form of revenge.
Rating: 8 out of 10 – The Tusk That Did The Damage will likely fall under the radar in a year that’s already filled with great novels. But it shouldn’t. Many will look back on this story later in the year and curse themselves for not reading it sooner. But it’s better to have experienced life with the Gravedigger than to miss the lyrical prose of Tania James.