I’ve often said I’d rather be a collector of experiences, not things. And yet, in this six months of pandemic where I have not been on a plane, I am comforted by the things that remind me of my travels, those knickknacks I’ve picked up along the way that remind me of places and times, people and experiences.
One day, my memory may grow dim, if it hasn’t already, and I perhaps I won’t remember the particulars that I should. Or, one day, perhaps some of these things may be among my nieces’ possessions, and they may wonder, “Where is this from? What did it mean to Uncle Frank?”
As you can see from the picture above, many of the items I’ve collected are elephants. Several I have are from India, and are images of Ganesh (or Ganesha), the Hindu god who is known as the “remover of obstacles” and the deva of intellect and wisdom. Ganesh is easily recognized because he has the head of an elephant.
The image of Ganesh below was given to me on my first visit to Mumbai in 2006 by my friend Smita’s mother. I think when she gave it to me, I had already purchased several little red statues of Ganesha after coming down from the mountain from the temple at Elephanta. Notice that Ganesha is usually represented with his “vahana” or vehicle — his is a mouse.
I also have bought several elephants in India. The first and one of the largest I have was likely the one below, made from rosewood. I purchased this on a commercial street in Mumbai known as the Colaba Causeway. This one is in the picture below, along with another more modern representation of Ganesh, this one made from clay which I also bought in Matheran.
The largest elephant I have was the most expensive elephant as well. On my last trip to India, in 2017, I bought a 7 inch tall marble elephant, carved and decorated by the descendants of those who built the Taj Mahal, following the same traditions of the 17th century. I watched the artisans at the U.P. Handicrafts Palace in Agra (Fatehabad Road) as the workers inlaid the marble with various kinds of semi precious stones. The marble is from the same Makrana marble as the Taj Mahal as well.
The two elephants in the picture above all came from India as well. The one of the right one was purchased on my first trip to India in 2006. I love the delicate, jeweled look. I bought it to give to my Grandma Wrenn, who had it in her living room for years before she died. When she passed away, it came back to me. It will always remind me of her. The one on the left I bought for myself on a later trip to India, in 2007, because it reminded me of the one I’d given my grandmother.
The elephants above came from Thailand and Cambodia. The one on the left was handcarved by a man I met in a market in Thailand in 2009. I believe the market was the Baan Tawai market in Chiang Mai, known for its wood carvers. He also carved his name on the bottom. The one on the right was made from a red sand stone used to build the Banteay Srei, one of the smaller temple complexes I visited near Siem Reap in 2018.
The three elephants below are of unknown origin. The taller one on the left belonged to my Aunt Frances, I believe. The other two I bought in my travels, but now I don’t remember where – though I believe they would have to be from India, Thailand, or Cambodia. The carved wooden box I believe I also must have bought at the Baan Tawai market in Chiang Mai. Potentially teak? The little keychain elephants were purchased in Jaipur, India in 2017 from a little boy selling them to tourists.
To be continued…