A couple of days ago I was upstairs getting dressed, deciding between my new Indian outfits, when I suddenly heard my mother-in-law shouting from downstairs, “The elephant has come! The elephant has come!” She was calling my kids to go see the elephant and I had no idea what she meant, so I threw on the easiest clothes I could find and hurried downstairs.
Indeed the elephant had come.
Once or twice per year, the elephant handlers from the neighboring town’s Muslim temple walk the elephant around to collect donations for the elephant’s maintenance. They walk through neighborhoods and when people hear the elephants’ bells they know the elephant is coming.
The elephant handlers collect donations of paddy (rice plants), coconuts, and money. They use the grassy part of the paddy to feed the elephant and the rice from the paddy to feed themselves and the elephant. The coconuts are for the handlers. The money is used to buy food for the elephant and to cover medical expenses.
By the time I got downstairs, a giant elephant was entering my in-laws’ front gate. We met her on the driveway.
My kids were simultaneously excited and scared. They fed the elephant a couple of bananas. Our driver gave her a palm leaf that she picked up and used to fan the flies off of her, then she stripped the leafy parts off and ate them.
They offered to let my kids ride her, but they were too scared to try. The elephant blessed my mother-in-law by raising its trunk to the top of her head.
The elephant hung around for about 10 more minutes while we chatted with the handlers. My in-laws agreed to let the elephant come back later to drink water. Then the elephant and her handlers went across the street to rest for a couple of hours in the shade of the trees at a small Hindu temple.
Sometime later the handlers came back to speak with our watchman, who then spoke with my in-laws, and they decided to allow the elephant to bathe at our house. This is not a small commitment, as the water has to be pumped from the ground into the house’s water tanks, and it was likely that the elephant’s bath would empty the tanks, leaving us without water for ourselves.
Bathtime was scheduled for 3:00 p.m., so we cancelled our hiking plans and stayed home to watch the elephant’s bath.
Coincidentally, my husband’s cousin was also scheduled to come over at 3:00 for her bridal photoshoot (my in-laws have a gorgeous garden that was once used as the setting for a Bollywood film). But in India, 3:00 p.m. doesn’t actually mean 3:00 p.m., and no one seemed worried that the elephant and the bride would show up at the same time.
But of course, that’s what did happen. The bride looked gorgeous and the elephant handlers couldn’t wait around for the photoshoot to finish, as they had to be on their way to collect more donations.
So instead of watching the elephant’s bath, we watched as the bride modeled 4 beautiful sarees and chudidars. I’m certain her photos will be stunning, and I feel honored to attend her wedding tomorrow.