Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Unusual Occupations - Electric Elephant

Electric Elephant

This year’s Ganesh Pandal in our neighbourhood was a huge hit and attracted people from all over the city.

When you walked towards the Ganesh Pandal you heard the loud trumpets of two elephants decorated colourfully like the ones you find during festivals in the temples in Kerala. 

The elephants with their huge ears flapping about and  massive trunks that bless the little anxious visitor who cautiously goes to have a close up shot with the jumbos was attraction a lot of attention. The elephants let out such shrill trumpets that it was heard all over the neighbourhood.  There are leaves, branches, twigs laid out to eat for the two jumbos and they are fervently picking on the leaves.

This year’s theme at our Ganesh pandal was wild life. But they seem to have gone too far in actually trying to get the wild animals out into this concrete jungle otherwise teeming with high rise apartments.  It is too dense a human habitat to chain two massive elephants for a few days as an attraction for the Ganesh pandal, thinks the agitated arm chair animal rights activist in me as I am approaching the pandal.

Where would the elephants sleep, pee, shit and eat in this concrete jungle. So near to all our apartments.  All this just to depict wild life in this urban jungle ?
Is there not a safety risk to the residents ?   

On closer inspection, that is if you manage to stand up and close to the twin elephants for more than a minute you notice that the eyelids do not blink.  
And that gives it away.
It leaves you awe struck. 
In awe of the artist who conceptualised, designed and marketed this almost real elephant like structure.

Abdul Hakkim designs these elephants.  His business card reads – Moving art designer. His workshop is located in a small town called Udumalpet near Coimbatore in Tamilnadu. He may not be a Davinci or a Van gogh, but his creation is a marvel in its own right.  

His is an unusual occupation. Probably one of its kind.  

Abdul Hakkim's artificial elephants can flap their ears, let out loud trumpets, pick up the leaves that are cut down and provided to them and even bless the people with their trunk like a real elephant. 

What differentiates them from the real ones are that they are made of iron, plastic and leather, not of flesh and blood.

A stage decorator by profession, the idea of making a moving elephant struck Hakkim when he was commissioned to do the decoration for a marriage for a family near his home-town. 

His Beta version was an elephant statue using wood and paper. It was a huge success and from then on he started on the improvisations. He installed an electric motor inside the belly and made it move its  head, ears and the trunk. Later he installed a sound system that sounded like the trumpet of the real elephant and synchronized its head, ears and trunk movements to make it all look real. He even programmed the trunk to sense an object like a human being underneath and programme the movements in such a way as to give its blessings.  This was a huge hit among children and adults alike. Then the trunk movements also started picking up small branches of leaves as though the real elephant were chewing on some real food.

News about this near life like creation spread far and wide. A shopping mall that was inaugurated in the city of Chennai leased his first elephant for a few days.  He marketed himself aggressively over there.  Within months many orders to lease out the artificial elephant started pouring in. While wedding planners included this in their list of offerings for the weddings as an added attraction, some orders to lease out the elephants actually came from the organizers of temple festivals where they could not afford a real elephant. 

Since then there has been no looking back. Hakkim is busy these days having made almost six elephants and leasing them out. Making a life-size artificial elephant requires time, labour, resources and money. It takes at least 25 days to make an elephant. He uses iron, paper, leather and plastic for making various parts. With a height of 13 feet and length of 15 feet, a normal one weighs one tonne. Once the body parts are done, he works on the sound and movement, which is controlled by an electric motor installed in the belly.

Hakkim calls himself as a moving design artist. Artificial Elephants are  not his only creation. Hakkim also makes tigers and gorillas using the same mechanism. But somehow they do not inspire the same awe as it is evident they are not real since they are out of bounds for Human beings to touch, feel and experience.   

Various temples lease out elephants from the mahouts during festivities because not all temples can afford to maintain one. When temples have not been able to lease out the real elephants, some have come to lease out Hakkim's elephants as a substitute.  

The Elephants are not a DIY kit.  Hakkim normally goes to the spot and reassembles the entire structure as it is not very easy to carry the structure from one place to another.

It requires a lot of team work.  His studio in Udumalpet near the city of Coimbatore has people working for him.  He is the chief designer but it is his team that puts up the structure, assembles and reassembles it wherever the elephants travel. They also collect audience feedback and generously distribute Abdul Hakkim’s business card to solicit future business.

Abdul Hakkim’s elephant was a super hit at the Ganesh festival in Bangalore where he had installed a pair of these at the Ganesh pandal in our neighbourhood. That is when I stumbled upon him and decided to find out more about this unusual man and his unusual creation. His business card reads Abdul Hakkim , Sirpi Art decorators , Moving Art Desginer.  

He had to feature in my Unusual occupation series.            

I make a mental note to travel to his workshop in Udumalpet to trail a-day-in-the-life of this moving-design artist.  But alas, it has been a near impossible task to get hold of Hakkim.  It is election time in the state of Tamil Nadu.  The high pitched election campaign in the state is never without its share high pitched histrionics. Larger than life cutouts of politicians dot every street all over the place. Election campaigns this year would include the display of all of Hakkim’s elephants and more.

He has been commissioned to make as many more as he can. Worse he has to travel everywhere to assemble his creations which makes him super busy.

Remember when I said I-think-I have-bitten-more-than-I-can-chew on my facebook post before the theme reveal for this year’s A to Z challenge. The Truant Abdul Hakkim was playing in my mind when I wrote that.

He is still to give me time as I insist that I want to meet him not in some election campaign with his elephants but at his workshop in Udumalpet after all this frenzy is over.

Unusual occupations will run an up and close feature on Abdul Hakkim the creator of Electric Elephants sometime in the not too distant future in full length.

This one was just a trailer for the A to Z challenge. 
Meanwhile watch this video to get an idea as to why Abdbul Hakkim's creation is such a super hit. 



  1. in a way abdul hakim is doing a great service to real elephants. nice post

  2. You really have traveled miles to get these stories up and running and it comes out in the way each post is written...

    Seriously some unusual occupations....

  3. VGPAL9:50 PM

    This post started off well but then Tamilnadu elections played the spoilsport! Hope Hakim can be tamed at some point.

  4. J here, stopping by from the #atozchallenge - where I am part of Arlee Bird's A to Z Ambassador Team.
    April is here and I'm excited about it. Best of luck to us both on meeting our goals of posting and hopping to other blogs.
    My blog has a giveaway. There's a bonus a to z challenge each day to encourage people to visit more stops.

    That is AMAZING! Thanks for sharing. I would have never known about this elephant if not for you.


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