Boris Johnson. Photo: Bloomberg
Boris Johnson. Photo: Bloomberg

Boris Johnson’s close encounter with a Kerala elephant

  • Johnson and his family had come for a Kerala wedding in 2003
  • Boris Johnson won the race to become Britain's next prime minister

BENGALURU : Boris Johnson, the face of the Brexit campaign who won the race to become Britain's next prime minister, is known to have visited India several times and has had close ties with the country. In one of those trips, he was exposed to an exceptional experience, one that is sure to have made his famous blond mop raise in shock. It involved a Kerala temple elephant called 'Gopalan'.

Johnson and his family had come for a Kerala wedding in 2003. He was distantly related by marriage to late author Khushwant Singh, whose elder brother's grandson was getting married to the daughter of IAS officer-turned-politician Krishna Kumar, who was a minister in the Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao governments.

As it happens in fancy Kerala weddings, Krishnakumar had summoned a temple elephant named Gopalan for the occasion. And as it often turns out on such occasions, the elephant went rogue, attacking the crowd including Johnson. A Kerala writer informed Kushwant Singh about the news, who was so kicked that he went on to muse about the idiosyncrasies of the human-elephant relationship with his classic wit in the next edition of his column in the Telegraph newspaper.

"There are different versions of what upset the beast," Singh wrote. "One is that it did not like white people; when one of them wanted to take a close shot of it in her camera, it made its displeasure known by grabbing her in its trunk and hurling her on the ground. Another is that it had never seen so many turbanned sardars and expressed its disapproval by giving my nephew (the bridegroom’s father) a resounding kick which sent him sprawling with many ligaments torn. Altogether eight members of the party were hospitalized."

Once the melee was over, Krishna Kumar, according to Singh, saw the whole episode as auspicious, and said: "If you can survive an attack by an elephant, you can survive every calamity" The prediction has surely turned out to be true for Johnson, who increased his standing over the years from virtually nowhere to becoming the British PM.

"The elephant incident didn’t technically take place in Kerala. Happened in Thiruvattar in Nagercoil district. if I remember correctly. Knew KS very well and I informed him of the news. Gave him a Guardian or Spectator story, reproduced in an Indian paper. Wasn’t he kicked!" said a Kerala writer who did not want to be quoted.

Times have changed not just for Johnson. Having held the Union minister for state (I&B) post, Krishna Kumar was all over Kerala's Doordarshan channel at one point. An India Today profile of him was headlined: "Most powerful MP from Kerala in Delhi". And now? He has joined the BJP.

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