Until now, the closest I had ever been to an elephant was on roads in India. During our trip to Hathigaon (Elephant Village) in Jaipur, Rajasthan, my parents, and I fed an elephant. Once we paid the fees, they walked us to a stall approximately the size of a one-car garage without a roof where an Asian elephant was waiting for us with her mahout (handler). One of the English-speaking workers introduced her to us as Rangoli, the youngest female in residence at Hathigaon with an approximate age of twenty- four. Before I walked up close to Rangoli, I said hello and asked her if I could come closer. For the feeding, we were given bread and green stalks, so I brought a few slices close to the tip of her trunk. She would curl her trunk around the bread, but sometimes, her incredibly agile and strong trunk would wrap around my fingers or my hand. My goodness what strength she had. She never stood still while she ate, so there a few times when I felt her pushing me over a little. I even lost my balance a bit.
It was frightening to know how puny I was next to her but I stood right next to her massive head anyway. She had big eyes with a fringe of stubby lashes. I even noticed she had a tear running down one cheek. For a moment, I just watched her. Here is the big, beautiful creature who was tied to this site forever. Every day, she would have the riding contraption on her back with a loop under her tail, her torso, and chest to hold it in place. She would have to do this job until she died or was too ill to hold people up safely during paid elephant rides. In that moment, I realized I was one of the people who contributed to her slavery. After all, wasn’t I there to ogle an elephant?
Although I was only a blip in her long life, I will always remember Rangoli. When I stood next to her, I realized that she could kill me if she wanted to. Instead, she let me stroke her face and trunk while I looked at the beautiful painting on her face. I could not be afraid of her and got quite close when I wrapped my arms around her trunk. As I thanked her for letting me get to know her a little bit, I stroked her face some more. She was very gentle with me and reminded me of the large-breed dogs who think they are small lap-dogs when it came to cuddling. I will never forget Rangoli and will pray for her and her family every day of my life. I know I sound quite maudlin by saying that, but spending time with Rangoli allowed me to embrace the power through her sheer size, strength, and surprisingly, her gentleness. For most of us, we only see elephants, Asian or African, from quite distance away, without a way to stand next to them. How often do we get to embrace a giant and walk away?