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Letter for the Elephant

Ram & Lakshmi, I love you very much. Please listen to Amma. Behave well. I will see you two in Amritapuri

“Amma, did you take them shopping?” the little girl asked.

Why did everyone nearby laugh at this simple question?

Because “them” refers to the two elephants—Ram and Lakshmi—living at Amma’s ashram in India!

Ram and Lakshmi seem to have a special fascination for little Amrita. A lasting fascination, because even last year, they were the subject of her conversation with Amma. Actually, Ram was her first interest:

She asked Amma, “How is Ram?”

And Amma gave her new information:

“There are two elephants now — Ram and Lakshmi.”

The little girl’s mind worked quickly:

“When will the baby come?”

Laughter all around, and Amma set her straight, explaining that there won’t be a baby elephant, for, being ashramites, these two are brahmacharins, celibates.

More laughter.

And that is how it has gone this year too—every time little Amrita comes to Amma, she wants to know more about the elephants, and obligingly Amma tells her.

Amma told her about a misadventure a few months ago, just after the two elephants had their playtime with Amma after bhajans. Most evenings after bhajans, Amma finds the two of them waiting at the foot of the steps up to her room, and stops to feed them biscuits, payasam and bananas! She lets them show their tricks—they can pranam, garland her, search for sweets in her closed fist when she hides it behind her back, spray trunkfuls of water on the crowds standing to watch, and entertwine their trunks when she tells them ‘Kiss!’

This particular night, there were not enough mahouts, elephant trainers, with Ram and Lakshmi, so some brahmacharis were doing the “security” job, controlling the elephants while they were with Amma, and then leading them back to their quarters. But like schoolkids when their teacher is away, Ram and Lakshmi took advantage of the absence of their regular mahouts—and broke free! It was the dinner hour, and when two elephants appeared—loose—in the dining hall crowded with visitors and residents, what havoc broke loose! People screamed and headed for “high ground”—the balconies of the hostels, the spiral steps on the temple building—even Amma’s steps! For those who didn’t realize it was the elephants causing the panic, the immediate interpretation of the chaos was: TSUNAMI! The sounds of people screaming, the running for higher safety—all too well remembered. Amma—just like for the real tsunami—stayed on the scene, telling people where to go for safety, reassuring them, and directing the recapture of the renegades.

In the end Ram and Lakshmi were led back to their proper places. Nobody was hurt, the only damage was a few broken flower pots and some overturned rice plates. All was again calm, and there was lots of laughter.

So Amma told Amrita the story of the naughty elephants, and like a good sister, Amrita must have done some thinking about their behavior, and what she might do to help them.

Devi Bhava night in Los Angeles, Amrita came with her solution: a card addressed to Ram and Lakshmi, which she handed Amma. Upon learning what Amrita had written, Amma immediately said, “Send this home to Amritapuri. Tell Dhyanamrita to read the letter to Ram and Lakshmi.”

The letter says:
“Ram & Lakshmi, I love you very much. Please listen to Amma. Behave well. I will see you two in Amritapuri. Love, Amrita”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When someone comes to Amma with such simple, childlike innocence, watch Amma’s face closely, and you’ll see her eyes sparkle and you’ll detect love radiating in her smile.

Can we recapture what so many of us left behind so many years ago—that fresh simplicity? Maybe watching those who’ve never lost it—like Amrita, and like Amma—will help.

25 June 2005, Los Angeles