Of baby elephants and beer bottles, curry leaves and black hair!

An elephant orphanage? Wow, what a wonderful country to think of something so compassionate – is my first thought. Where else but beautiful, beautiful Taprobane? Running for your atlas? Or offering prasadam to google – unless you’re a trivia buff? Taprobane is what the Greeks knew the island of Sri Lanka as and according to Western legend, the inhabitants had one giant foot with which they protected themselves from the sun!! Huh??

I’ve fallen in love with Sri Lanka from the word ‘go’ – as we land in Colombo – with it’s cute little ‘toy’ airport (this was over a decade ago!). Friendly people with gentle, singsong voices, the beauty of the land itself – what more could one ask for??

An elephant orphanage – that’s what!

So off we set to Pinnewala by road. Never seen so many baby elephants together in one place… come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen so many babies of any one species, including the human – in one place! Watch the elephants being fed milk out of beer bottles. One particular li’l fella catches my eye – a naughty chap who wants more than his share of eight bottles (wonder whether he thought those bottles actually had beer in them?!) and chases his keeper round and round the gallery to much merriment from the audience.

Feeding over, we wander about looking at the few adult pachyderms feeding peacefully while the babies walk sedately back with full tummies. I am standing quietly by the side of the path (yes, i can be quiet, you know!), arms folded, watching a cute threesome – obviously pals – of baby elephants walk towards us on the path. The little rogue fella comes towards us with a twinkle in his eye – i swear! – and I smile thinking he’s probably found something to investigate – maybe sugarcane or a monkey or something. The next thing i know, I’m lying flat on the path – having been thoroughly butted right in the tummy!  I am sure to this day that he meant to do it! Grateful for two things – one that I hadn’t eaten lunch yet so it was only me on the path and nothing else! and two, that it was only a baby elephant – a small matter of a hundred and fifty kilograms or so!

Traveling in interior Lanka was a challenge for a vegetarian bunch. What saved us was the podis and pickles we carried. Rice and stringhoppers were easy to find everywhere. And so a diet of “kalanda saadams” (mixed rice varieties) along with the local chutney ‘pol sambol’ was what kept us alive till we got back to Colombo!

One of those rather unusual rice varieties – the usual suspects would be tamarind rice, lemon rice, tomato rice and so on – is the curry leaves rice. Ayurveda lists these properties of curry leaves: anti-diabetic,anti-oxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic AND it protects the liver from damage! And that’s just the leaves!  The roots are used for treating body aches and the bark to treat snake bite! Not to mention the high iron content – remember all the admonitions to “MINGU” (swallow!) the leaves so your hair would stay black and you’d score high on the maths exam!! Phew, with all that, why do we bother to eat anything else, I wonder 😉


  • Cooked rice – 2 cups (Basmati or any other variety)
  • Curry leaves- 1/2 cup – wash and drain
  • Urad dal – 1 tsp
  • Chana dal – 1 tsp
  • Pepper – 3/4 tsp
  • Cumin  seeds – jeera- 1 tsp
  • Red chili – 1 or 2
  • Oil – 1 tsp
  • Ghee  – 1tsp
  • Cashewnuts – 10-12 – broken in half
  • Salt

Heat the oil in a small pan and fry the urad dal, chana dal, pepper and jeera. Add the curry leaves and fry till crisp. Or microwave the curry leaves for 2 minutes – they crisp up beautifully and retain the greenness. Let cool and powder. Mix in salt.

In a non-stick pan, heat the ghee. Add cashewnuts and fry on a low flame till golden yellow. Add the powder and the rice and mix well. Fry a few more leaves or microwave them and sprinkle on top. Serve with a roast potato or green plantain curry and chips.

You might try feeding it to that baby elephant too!