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Let us read and find out how Gannu finds a family and what follows.

Beni Ram found Gannu sitting close to her mother's body. Her leathery face was stained with tears. Beni Ram walked up to her slowly, not wanting to scare her. Then he stopped and held out a hand.

“Aa, aa…, come," he whispered.

The baby elephant looked at him and then turned away. So Beni Ram quietly went home.

The next morning, he returned. Now Gannu's head was resting close to her mother's still one. She was looking at her mother out of the corner of her eyes. Beni Ram had brought bananas from his orchard. He held one out to Gannu, but she ignored him.

Beni Ram had no luck with Gannu for two whole days. Each day when he came to collect firewood from the forest, he offered her food. But she wouldn't look at him. Then, on the third day, she raised her head and sniffed his hand with her trunk. Beni Ram felt her soft breath blowing on his palm.

Slowly she got up and followed him. She turned one last time to look at her mother, as if to say goodbye.

When Kamala saw her husband coming home with a baby elephant, she was surprised.

“Deo! Kinnu!" she called excitedly.

The children came running out of the house and stopped in surprise. When Beni Ram and Gannu entered the little wooden gate, Kinnu hid behind her mother. But Deo walked up to Gannu who shied away.

“Not so soon, Deo," said Beni Ram. “She's never been among humans before."

That night, Beni Ram fed Gannu bananas and left her to sleep in the grain shed.

When the household was asleep, Deo crept into the grain shed. Gannu eyed him nervously, but he didn't go near her. He piled up some hay in the far corner, lay down on it and went to sleep. After a few minutes, lonely, sad little Gannu began to feel comforted by his presence. She put her head down onto the brown earth and fell into a peaceful sleep.

Months passed. Gannu became part of Beni Ram's household and grew bigger by the day. Beni Ram stopped selling the bananas from his orchard. When the neighbours asked him why, he only smiled and shrugged.

Gannu seemed to understand the kindness she received in her new home. One morning, when Kamala came out of the house struggling with a pot of water, Gannu lifted it out of her arms! Putting it onto her own back, she turned to Kamala as if to say, “Let's go, what are you waiting for?"

Surprised, Kamala laughed and led the way to the orchard, where the fruit trees had to be watered. The job was done in no time at all!

One day, Gannu disappeared for many hours. When Deo went searching for her, he saw the elephant walking down the muddy forest path. There was a bundle of firewood on her back. After that, fetching wood for the fire became Gannu's special task.

Summer was the time of the annual village fair. People from far and wide came to eat the delicious badas and kachoris, to watch artists walk the tightrope, and buy the colourful puppets on display. Kinnu was very excited. She dragged her parents away from their chores and to the fair! Deo was to water the fruit trees and join them later.

When Deo entered the orchard, he stopped in horror. Three wild elephants had trampled through the neighbour's garden and were headed straight for Beni Ram's orchard!

“I must do something," thought Deo frantically.

The elephants reached the little wooden gate. With one heavy step, they smashed it to bits. Deo ran back into the house, grabbed an iron vessel and a metal spoon and charged outside. He banged the spoon against the vessel again and again, hoping to scare the wild elephants off.

It didn't work.

Angered by the noise, the largest elephant turned and fixed its cold eyes on Deo. It began walking towards the boy, shaking its head, swinging its great trunk menacingly.

Deo was paralysed with fear and his legs refused to move…

At the fair, some of the villagers had climbed aboard the giant wheel.

“Baba, I want a ride too!" pleaded Kinnu. Beni Ram swung her up into one of the cubicles and got in beside her. The wheel began to turn. Round and round, up and down, it lifted the people high into the air and swirled them down towards the earth again. Kinnu squealed in delight!

“There's our home!" she laughed, pointing in the distance. “Maybe we can see Deo…"

She did. And she screamed.

The villagers charged towards Beni Ram's hut carrying sticks and beating drums to scare off the elephants. Tears of terror were flowing down Kamala's cheeks as she ran alongside Beni Ram.

But when they burst into the orchard, their hearts beating in panic, they found that they did not need to save Deo… Gannu had saved him first!

There stood Deo and on the other side stood the wild elephants. And in between them was Gannu. No more was she the baby Beni Ram had rescued from the forest. She suddenly looked big and very fierce. Trumpeting loudly, she stamped her feet. Frightened, the wild elephants took a few steps backwards. Then Gannu lowered her great head and charged at them. The wild elephants turned and ran! Gannu chased them until they disappeared into the forest.

Kamala ran to Deo and hugged him. The villagers stood around, amazed by what they had just seen.

Minutes later, Gannu returned, looking tired and dusty. Beni Ram walked up to her and wrapped his trembling arms around her trunk, burying his face against her. He said nothing, but when he raised his head again, Gannu's leathery grey skin was wet with his tears.

The rains had come and gone. Soon winter would be here, and plenty of firewood would be needed to keep the fires burning through the cold months. Gannu went out every day and returned with a bundle of sticks on her back.

But one day she didn't come back home. By evening, the family grew frightened.

“Where could she have gone?" cried Kamala to her husband.

“I'll go look for her," said Beni Ram, trying to remain calm.

“Wait, Baba! I'll come with you," said Deo.

Holding their kerosene lamps high, Deo and Beni Ram set off into the forest, calling out to Gannu. They searched for many hours and could not find her. So they returned home.

The next day, Beni Ram went to meet the forest officer.

“Yesterday, some hunters came to these parts looking for tuskers. We fired our rifles to scare them away. I saw an elephant with a bundle of wood on her back run deep into the forest. She was frightened by the noise."

Beni Ram and his family were heart-broken.

Many months passed. Every day Kamala gazed down the forest path, hoping to see Gannu coming home to them, but she never did. At night, Kinnu cried herself to sleep, and Deo hardly smiled anymore. Each day while Beni Ram was in the forest collecting firewood, his eyes searched, always hoping…

Then one day, while he was deep in the forest, he saw a movement amidst the trees. He hid behind a tree and looked carefully at the creature…

It was Gannu!

Then she moved to pluck some leaves, and Beni Ram saw a tiny baby elephant beside her! His heart filled with love. But as he started to come out of his hiding place and run to Gannu, a thought stopped him.

“She has got used to her life in the forest and she is happy here. Why should she come back to the village only to carry firewood and water the orchard? After all, she's an elephant, and elephants are free..."

Beni Ram looked at this creature whom he loved so much, for a few minutes. Then silently, he walked away. A little distance ahead, he stopped to look at her and her baby one last time, as if to say goodbye...

Adapted from the story Mallipoo Free by Adithi Rao

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