An Ambivalent Elephant Citing

I’ve always had a fascination with elephants. The more I learned about their intelligence, sensitivity and legendary memory, the more intrigued I became. Though elephants come from India and are even worshiped by Hindus in the form of Lord Ganesha, when they appear on the streets, sometimes on their way to the temple where they live and sometimes as an informal side-show where a collection for their upkeep and for the right to take pictures is demanded, a mesmerized crowd immediately assembles.

When an elephant and his mahout, accompanied by a dubious group of men in saffron garb, usually associated with ascetics, approached on the isolated country road I was traveling down in Madhya Pradesh, I had the driver stop and I jumped out of the car.

A Passing Elephant

A Passing Elephant

The shrewd “holy” men, circled me while I kept my eye on the lens. I knew their game well. I continued while I asked myself the old question, ” to pay or not to pay?” Paying goes

Elephant with Acetics

Elephant with Ascetics

against how I operate, yet I know that I have stopped them and if I play by the rules, payment is required . I decided that I would give them a little something but it is probably less than they expect from a foreigner in a car with a driver.

A Holy Hand Out

A Holy Hand Out

Their coarse and unscrupulous manner repelled me but  it was thrilling being so near to an elephant, yet it made me sad, too. I wasn’t sure how much they loved and cared for that magnificent beast. I watched with ambivalence as the elephant ambled off, its great weight swaying from side to side. I smiled because from behind, it almost looked as if the elephant was wearing over-sized wrinkled drawers that were in danger of slipping off.


About ninagrandiose

I am based in NYC but travel regularly to India and Mexico. Both of these countries feel like home. In India I scour the country in search of fabulous textiles to incorporate into my clothing designs. I sit back and let the ambiance and wonder of India seep into my consciousness so I can be inspired to write about what India is for me. I bring a limited number of people to India on exclusive and intimate tours of my favorite hangouts. In Mexico I take in the natural beauty that surrounds me and dance the night away. I constantly give thanks for all this and am pleased to share it all with you.
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5 Responses to An Ambivalent Elephant Citing

  1. Sampurna says:

    Next time someone in India stretches out a hand like that, just don’t pay. Or buy them some bananas to feed themselves and their elephants. If they’re real ascetics, they’ll smile and bless. If they demand payment, just ask with a smile “What kind of an ascetic are you?” 🙂

    • ninagrandiose says:

      I do agree with you about not giving money to these kinds of characters and in general, I don’t but in this case I stopped them and took their photographs. I think that there is an implicit understanding that by stopping them, I am obliged to give something. Do you disagree? Thanks for the visit!

      • Sampurna says:

        There are two things here.
        1) Traditionally, Indians consider sighting an elephant as a good omen, and it’s customary to donate something. This is encouraged as charity for maintaining the elephant. However, the contribution is entirely voluntary. No one can claim “I have an elephant but you have to pay for it.”
        2) There is no such thing as obligatory payment for taking a photograph, especially when you’ve asked for permission beforehand. Yet, and I’ve faced this myself, some people would agree to be photographed and then ask to be paid. That’s not right and you can refuse. To be honest I have paid money only once, but the vast majority of the times, I pay only compliments and it works 🙂 But then I’m Indian. I guess the expectations change when they see you’re from abroad.

        Btw I found your posts very warm and honest. Keep writing.

      • ninagrandiose says:

        Thanks for that explanation and for taking the time to do so! Yeah, it is different being foreign and sometimes I resent that difference…like when we have to pay more to enter a historic site (the biggest democracy in the world?) but mostly I accept that which I cannot change and am so happy to be in India and for the friendship that is extended my way at every turn.

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