Ch. 33, The Elephant Calls My Name
I have a memory like an elephant. I remember every elephant I’ve ever met—Herb Caen.
I went wandering, as I usually do, and walked into one of those small adventures that make a trip special. This was, of course, after the elephant called my name and I purchased it, but before Dinesh came looking for me.
Have I mentioned that the city of Jaipur is especially famous for its gem cutting? In fact, more than half a million people are employed in that industry in India, with the best living in Jaipur.
Apparently the rest of the people in Jaipur work in call centers or are elephant mahouts, with the majority pestering tourists on the streets with items they are sure the tourists can’t live without.
So, in keeping with showing us the highlights of India, the tour coach deposits us in front of what my tour company call one of the oldest and most respected jewelry stores in the region, Bhandari Jewellers.
Upon entering, we are immediately escorted to a small room where four men are seated on thin rugs on the floor. (One look at them and my back starts aching.)
These men are cutting precious and semi-precious stones using traditional tools—a thin rope or strap is attached to a rod, then wrapped around a small wooden drum with a grind stone at one end. As the stone cutter moves the rod to and fro, the grind stone turns and shapes the tiny stone held in the stone cutter’s other hand.
|This man has colored his hair with henna. It's a popular hair treatment, especially for gray-haired men.|
Following the demonstration, we go upstairs to a large display room where products of their work are displayed. There are dozens and dozens of tables in all sizes on display, all inlaid with stones in exquisite designs. I wander around, appreciating the work, but have no desire to take a table home in my luggage.
|Mary and I opt out of shopping.|
|Remember the photo in a previous post about hospitals expecting a rash of injuries during the kite-flying holiday? Here's the follow-up article.|
Another room holds smaller items, and as soon as I enter the room, I glance to my left and—there it is, not twenty feet away—a painted elephant calling my name. I surrender to its call immediately. Its mahout tells me of its special charms. “Jade from Tibet,” he avers, and I am toast. There is no dickering about its cost—not at this place.
I look at other specimens on shelves full of items, some smaller, some larger, some with different designs. “My” elephant continues to speak to me as it waits patiently for me to “get it.”
|The mahout turned sales clerk.|
My credit card lands on the counter and the mahout, who transforms himself into a sales clerk, wraps my elephant in bubble wrap, works magic with my credit card, hands me a receipt with the price in rupees to soften the blow, and I am suddenly the proud owner of an elephant that somehow knows my name.
I stash the wrapped elephant in my purple bag (from the lavender farm on Maui) and go into an adjoining room where the jewelry is on display. It’s all very nice, but I seldom wear jewelry and don’t have enough occasions to wear what I do have, so I leave and go wandering. By this time, I am well ahead of my fellow travelers, some of whom are still in the table room while others are oohhing and aahhing in the jewelry room.
I look for a spot to sit down and see a chair. Four men are seated on the floor across from the single chair. They are more stone cutters, hard at work. This time, I’m by myself and wonderful things happen. I think the men are bored.
|Carving a design into marble.|
|A work in progress.|
|A larger piece of stone for the design.|
|The blade brazed to a shaft.|
I ask if I can takes photos and they nod. Pretty soon, I’m handed a cutting tool and shown where to remove the material within a sketched design on a marble disc. IT’S HARD! I barely made a scratch in the marble, and I have a new-found appreciation for the months of work that go into making a table design.
|Me trying to scratch the marble. I don't know what the orange stuff is, but apparently it's so they can etch a design they can see.|
This is special. This is one of the things that makes a trip so wonderful—those little things not on the itinerary that occur when I wander.
|Testing the cut pieces in a design.|
|The cut pieces are stored in bottle caps. Note the very modern cell phone next to this ancient craft.|
|A tiny piece of the design.|
|The completed design set into marble. They are multiple designs in a table top.|
After a while, I wander downstairs, where some of the group have discovered the clothing room. I escape this potential trap with my credit card intact and find a nice couch on which I wait.
Eventually, Dinesh finds my hiding place and escorts me to the coach. He does not know I have an elephant in my purple bag.
My carefully selected elephants:
|The "jade from Tibet" elephant to remind me of riding a elephant to the Amber Palace in Jaipur.|
|The primitive brass elephant purchased in the Indian village of Matiara, my favorite place on the whole trip.|
|The African elephant, purchased in a shop in South Africa's winelands, to remind me of Emily, the elephant I rode in Zimbabwe.|