Gandhi Samadhi

The Chicken Chronicles

Chapter Thirteen

© 2009 by Alice Walker

The elephant makes a gurgling sound, from the throat, on seeing his favorite mahout or owner. Similarly it may excrete dung, or urinate, to express its happiness. All these are considered good signs.

So, girls, we went today to pay our respects to a man who never ate a single chicken!* Mahatma Gandhi. Like you, he ate only plants and grains. There is a beautiful garden surrounding the place where he was cremated. Cremation, a notion of which you are innocent, and I will not attempt to explain. And, as we were getting out of the car, guess what we saw? A big neat pile of fresh elephant dung! Right there, in front of the Samadhi entrance, in front of our feet. It was too thrilling! Of course I thought of you. It was in huge yellow balls, and I wondered about the kind of grass that bright color represented, or whether the elephant had been eating his or her lei of marigolds? Sometimes elephants are decked out beautifully with many flowers. Still chained, though. In any case, it looked like something you would spend hours scratching and pecking in. And I knew, even before I checked with Wikipedia, that this was a good sign, a message from “the Gods” of Earth: elephants and chickens and trees and so forth, that all was in divine order on this and all travels.

I also read this:
If the elephant remains motionless (without flapping its ears), when approached, then one must be wary of it. (The elephant I’d touched had flapped its ears – I sighed with relief.)
Also: In Malayalam (the language of Kerala) elephants are called kanveeran, meaning “the black hero.” So there!

All my love,

*Mommy was mistaken about this: Rereading Gandhi’s autobiography after many decades I re-discovered he did have two periods in his life when he was a meat-eater, which particularly distressed his mother. This autobiography The Story of My Experiments With Truth is invaluable for many reasons, not the least of which is Gandhi’s candid assessment of child marriage: he and his bride were both thirteen. He offers insight also into how, in a patriarchal society, out of control feelings of sexuality can lead to tyranny over one’s female spouse. How Gandhi treated his wife,Kasturba, as a young man, was one of the great regrets of his life.