Sad news from home today: Kashin the elephant died at Auckland Zoo yesterday. I know it’s ridiculous that I’m moved to public lament when this blog fails to commemorate the deaths of Bergman, Pinter, Antonioni et al, but I guess I’m sentimental. (And not alone.)
Kashin was one of only three elephants in New Zealand. There’s another Indian elephant, called Burma, at Auckland Zoo, and an African elephant down in Nelson, in a circus. My sister remembers Jamuna, who used to give rides at the zoo: Jamuna arrived in 1923 and died in 1965. My sister probably also remembers the chimpanzees who held tea parties: this was stopped before I was born. All I remember is the Punch and Judy shows, which involved no inconvenience to animals, apart from persistent cruelty to the puppet crocodile.
The funds for Kashin were raised by the ASB, which in those days stood for the Auckland Savings Bank. It now calls itself the ASB Bank, which seems ridiculous to me, but presumably makes sense to its new Australian owners. Kashin arrived at Auckland Zoo when she was four and I was seven, in December, 1972. A public competition came up with the elephant’s name, though it has a Hindi meaning as well, allegedly unrelated to money. My brother and I were very excited about the arrival of a baby elephant, though he would no doubt deny this now. (He has a very non-elephant-like memory.) Like almost every other child of our generation, we got plastic Kashin-the-elephant piggy banks from the ASB. We had several of them, as I recall. I’m sure that one, at least, is stashed away in my storage unit in Albany, along with all the other jumble of my childhood.
When we were children, the best thing to see in the Auckland Museum was the gigantic stuffed form of Rajah, a male elephant who lived at the zoo in the 30s until he became too violent and unruly and had to be put to death. (It was seen as the humane thing at the time, apparently, because the alternative was spending his life chained up.) Australians are also implicated here: before he arrived in Auckland, Rajah was being terrorized by the public in Hobart, and this is now blamed for his anger-management issues. I think he’s still on display at the Museum, though the latest generation of curators despise him, no doubt, as a relic from a less enlightened age, and see the exhibit as capitulation to trashy public taste.
Today the Auckland zoo is all environments rather than enclosures; the old elephant house is rented out for parties and wedding receptions. It backs onto Old Mill Road, just where the road takes a steep climb. When we were children, we used to beg my father to drive this way at night – when we were going back and forth to my grandparents’ place in Ponsonby – so we could see the elephants. Just a glimpse of those massive dark backs, like upturned hulls, safe in their pens for the night.
The Auckland Zoo is closed today: they’re in mourning for Kashin. Here in New Orleans, it’s late afternoon, which means the McMain band is outside wailing and braying and trumpeting in the school yard, and our new next-door neighbor is practicing scales on her French horn. The sound of elephants, perhaps, but not quite the same thing.