Sunday, May 15, 2016

An Elephant Story from India

During WW2, my uncle, who was called Wag, was stationed at Arokonam (now called Arakkonam) in India, about 50km west from Chennai. This a Christmas aerogram that he sent to his sister Vera, my mother.

During his stay he paid for a temple elephant to take part in a parade. If anyone who reads this blog-post lives in India or has friends there who can tell me, I'd love to know which temple would have supplied the elephant and if the parade is still held today. Is it an annual event? What does it celebrate?

When Wag returned to England at the end of hostilities, he took home elephant carvings of all sizes for his family. One was minute and enclosed in a hollowed manjadi seed, and he gave it to my mother and I now own it. Most seeds have 12 elephants in them, some up to 100 - but mine only has one carving. You get one wish for each elephant. I wonder if each person who owns the seed gets a wish. What would you wish for? This has been a stimulus for my new picture book story in progress.

Carving elephants this size strained the eyes of child workers so that, sadly, some lost their sight, and I've read that consequently the industry was closed down in the 1970s or 80s.  I'd also like to know:
  1. How old were the children who did the carving?
  2. Did they work from home or were they employed in workshops? 
  3. How much did they earn?
  4. What tools did they use?
  5. How did they do it? Did they have magnifying glasses or carve unaided?  
  6. Is it really true that the industry has been prohibited? I wonder if some people are disregarding any law and children are still being exploited with horrendous consequences because, if you put ‘elephant seed’ in a search on eBay, you’ll find quite a few for sale, and they are very cheap.
Any help will be very much appreciated!

Peter Taylor

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