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.
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
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.
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.