When Maheswari breathed her last on Monday morning, it was not just another animal dying at the Thiruvananthapuram zoo. It marked the passing of a stately animal that—for so many decades—provided delight and mirth to generations of visitors. Two days ago when octogenarian Maheswari took a stumble and fell on her forehead, zoo officials rushed to shift her position so that she could breathe normally. On Sunday there was relief, a brief euphoria even, when she began moving her head and trunk. But at 9.45 a.m. on Monday Maheswari was no more. Animal keepers who, for years, were her intimate ‘friends’, could only stand by as mute spectators.
The albino elephant first set foot inside the zoo in 1946. Her playfulness and the fact that there were religious overtones associated with ‘white’ elephants, her arrival at the zoo triggered widespread interest as per at least one contemporary publication entry. In 2008 a couple of zoo officials who were flipping through old books in the zoo library chanced upon an entry about her in the May 1946 edition of the Travancore Information and Listener magazine bought out in erstwhile Travancore.
“Cow elephant Maheswari, a recent addition to the Trivandrum Zoological Gardens, has aroused much interest throughout India on account of its having the attributes of a white elephant,” the Travancore Information and Listener wrote carrying alongside a picture of Maheswari and her companion Jayarajan, a four-year-old tusker. The magazine also records that the young elephants were drawing thousands of visitors to the zoo. The capture of the albino was so big an event that Travancore’s ‘Mahakavi’ Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer is reported to have said that the albino’s capture can be compared to another such capture in 1813 AD when musician-king Swathi Tirunal was born. Maheswari’s arrival was similarly linked to the birth of a princess in the royal family.