his is the tragic tale of a man who wanted to tame an elephant and his smartphone linked to Facebook.
The drunkard was travelling home in a trishaw with his family that included at least one of his kids. As the trishaw travelled along the border of Yala, he saw something familiar, an elephant grazing on the side. Bindu, the 40 something protagonist in this story was a headstrong man. He was a bit of a showoff as well. These two attributes coupled with a few shots of home-brewed arrack made for a deadly mix.
There was no turning back from the fatal path Bindu would take with the smartphone in his hand and his Facebook account. The temptation was too much. The moment he saw the elephant, Bindu instantly smelt an opportunity to become a hit on Facebook.
He asked the driver to stop, handed over his phone to one of his fellow travellers and ignoring the pleas of his child and others in the vehicle walked up to the animal. He wanted his escapade to be videoed.
What he was trying to do was to chase away the grazing animal using shaman techniques. He was a shaman of sorts, not a very well-known one, but his friends would later say he had chased away elephants in the past. But this intended made-for-Facebook dance with death went horribly wrong.
As inebriated Bindu walked up to the animal chanting, it charged and trampled him. All this, including the horrific screams of the children and women in the trishaw were recorded on his own smartphone.
"There was no turning back from the fatal path Bindu would take with the smartphone in his hand and his Facebook account. The temptation was too much. The moment he saw the elephant, Bindu instantly smelt an opportunity to become a hit on Facebook"
The video ultimately reached the destination Bindu intended all along, Facebook, about a month after his death. I first saw this on the Sri Lanka Elephant Facebook page. Initially, no one seemed to be sure of what was happening and the context, but several days later, a journalist contact of mine had visited Bindu’s village and figured out what had happened. The video on the said page was taken down a day later, but the visuals are now available on Twitter and YouTube.
There is no guarantee that Bindu would not have done what he did, if the smartphone was not there, nor if he did not know about Facebook. But the temptation of a Facebook hit is not alien anymore here. Just as people take crazy risks for a selfie, this was another attempt like that.
I am also not on a project to blame this death on Facebook. It was due to sheer human stupidity.
But within the factors that led the way for Bindu to approach the animal which was of no harm to anyone at that moment, the temptation for a few hundred Facebook views was a big presence.
Outside the realm of politics which has dominated this column during the last two months, social media does play a huge role within Sri Lanka. Politics is still a minor creator of traction on social media, unless there is some hype.
The number of selfies at weddings, parties or even at movies is mind-boggling. Everything now needs to be recorded and shared.
There are Instagram profiles of Sri Lankan actresses running into 600,000 followers, others concentrating on cars and watches spotted in Colombo take narcissism to a whole new level.
This is the main attraction, to grab that five seconds of popularity or even notoriety – by showing off an expensive watch or car, or taking a selfie dangling from a knife-edged cliff or in this case by trying to chant to an elephant to deadly effect.
The author is the Asia-Pacific Coordinator for the DART Centre for Journalism and Trauma, a project of the Columbia Journalism School.
Twitter - @amanthap