“Why can’t we fly?” Mahi shook Grandpa Chenguttu and asked.

“Yaaaaawn …” Mahi’s grandpa turned to his side and went back to snoring. Mahi watched a flock of herons flying high in the sky. Every year, they came to his jungle of Anastan from some far-off lands. Mahi longed to fly like them.

“Grandpa, Grandpa, tell me! Why can’t I fly?” The only answer he got was a rattling, earth-shaking snore. Mahi sighed. His grandpa wouldn’t wake up even if the sky fell on his head now. Grandpa Chenguttu would never miss his afternoon siesta. Or his morning nap. Or his night sleep. Not even his evening rest. Mahi was bored. A hundred questions troubled him. What is beyond the sky? How can the clouds float even though they are much bigger than the mountains? What if the sky leaks and whatever is above tumbles down? Why can’t the mountains walk?

But nothing troubled him more than the question: Why can’t I fly? He had asked his grandpa hundreds of times and, each time, he got a different answer. And none of them made any sense.

“Tatterrrrrrrr, kitteeerrrrr!” A shrill sound startled Mahi. Aha, a sparrow! Mahi watched the little fellow land near Grandpa and look around like a thief. Mahi stood still – unblinking, holding his breath. He didn’t want to scare the sparrow, just to observe how he flew. The sparrow hopped onto Grandpa’s head and looked warily at Mahi for a few seconds. Then, he got busy searching Grandpa’s head. Soon, the sparrow had found a louse. He gobbled it up.

“Yuck!” Mahi cried out, startling the bird, who unleashed an angry torrent of chirrups at Mahi and took off.

“Sorry. Sorry. Come back. You can have all the lice on Grandpa’s head. He won’t know even if you eat his ears. Come back!” Mahi watched the sparrow soar high, fluttering his little wings rapidly, and vanishing beyond the river. A gaggle of geese arced above his head, hooting and cackling. Mahi watched them, wide-eyed. He tried to imitate their screeching cries, but all that came out of his little trunk was a rattling trumpet. He watched them become dots on the horizon and disappear beyond the peaks of the blue mountain. Mahi moved his ears, at first slowly and then as fast as he could.

He imagined rising in the air and flying. Woooohaaaaaaaaaaaa. He was flying over the blue mountain! He twisted his tail to the left, and right he swerved; he twisted his tail to the right, and left he dove. Over the hills, over the trees, over the cascading falls – Mahi was soaring. He laughed at the crows struggling to keep pace with him. Mahi trumpeted and blew an eagle off his path with a powerful blast of air. He could feel the wind whooshing over him. Ah, the ecstasy of flying.

Mahi wanted to see the earth floating below him. But when he flapped his ears and opened his eyes, a frog croaked at his feet and jumped into the bushes. He was still standing firmly on the ground. Mahi felt angry. Why can’t I fly? It was so unfair. He needed an answer, and a grandpa elephant had no right to sleep when there was such an important issue to be solved. Mahi nudged Grandpa, pulled his ears, scratched his belly with his little tusk, banged his head on his back and even pulled his tail, but to no avail. Grandpa continued to snore.

Finally, Mahi had an idea.

“SUGARCANE!” Mahi yelled in Grandpa’s ears, and the grandpa elephant snapped up. He looked around, blinked a few times and trumpeted,

“Where, where?”

“Why can’t I fly?” Mahi asked.

“Where is the sugarcane?”


“Oh, there is no sugarcane?” Grandpa yawned. “I heard ‘sugarcane’. Maybe I was dreaming of a sugarcane field. Many monsoons ago, when I was your age, my father once took me to a sugarcane field …”


Grandpa blinked. “You doubt me? You think I am lying? I promise, my father really did take me to a sugarcane field!”


Grandpa waited, swaying his big ears. Mahi looked around to ensure no one was listening and asked again, “Why can’t we fly?”

Grandpa blinked blankly. He was hard of hearing. Mahi raised his voice as much as he dared. “FLY, Grandpa – fly!”

“Fly?” boomed Grandpa.

“Yes, yes, yes, yes. There are lots of flies. Irritating creatures, these flies. They are bothering me too. You need to swat them away with your tail … like this. Like this.” Grandpa swished his tail this way and that. Splat. Splat. Splat, splat, splat, splat, splat, splat.

“Arrrgh, not that fly,” Mahi yelled. “Fly, fly, like this,” he gestured, flapping his ears.

“FLY?” Grandpa boomed. “Who wants to fly?”

“Ssh, Grandpa, Amma will hear.”

Mahi looked around nervously. His mother, Ila, did not like her son making a fool of himself. Ila had forbidden Mahi from even talking about flying.

“Aaaah, slurrrrp, the sugarcanes of my childhood!”

“GRANDPA. I WANT TO FLY.” Mahi stomped his feet in rage.

Grandpa stared at Mahi. “Son, did you say … er … you want a fly?”

“YES, I – what? NO! I don’t want a fly. I want to fly.” Mahi was on the verge of tears. “Please tell me why we elephants can’t fly?”

Grandpa considered the question for some time. Mahi waited. Grandpa considered the question for some more time. Mahi feared that Grandpa had forgotten about it. He sighed and turned to go. “I know elephants can’t fly,” Mahi sighed.

“But elephants can fly,” Grandpa said. Mahi stopped in his tracks.

“Huh? We can?”

“What? Boy, speak clearly. Don’t murmur. When I was your age, my father used to tell us elephants should never mumble –”

“WE CAN?” Mahi yelled, before Grandpa could start on another tale about his childhood from eighty years ago.

“We can?” Grandpa asked, puzzled. “We can what?”

“Fly,” Mahi said, almost weeping.

“Yes, yes. We can, and we should.” Grandpa’s voice was dreamy.

“Then why don’t we fly? We keep marching from one end of the forest to another. That is the only thing we do. Totally pointless.”

Excerpted with permission from Mahi: The Elephant Who Flew Over the Blue Mountains, Anand Neelakantan, illustrated by Doodlenerve, HarperCollins India.