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NON-FICTION:
Andal and The Cavury by Jaya Rajagopalan

You are hearing the soft sounds of drums and horns from the patio. Every moment they grow louder. You step from the patio out to go and pray to Andal. She is on her way to bathe in the Cavury.

Her calming and powerful energy you feel without even seeing her. The greatness of her being, her aura, extends farther than anything else surrounding the area. The horns and drums are so loud now, they ring in your ears. You finally see the first of the procession come from the corner of Chennai Trunk Road, heading straight toward the Cauvery River. You hear the chiming bells from the neck of Andal-there she is.

Each step her big foot takes softly hugs the earth. The priest sits upon her. Her face is painted with an iyengar thenkalai thiruman, just like Lord Renganada. As she disappears around the corner on the way to the river, you and your father decide to follow her. Her energy mesmerizes as if you are seeing the Swamy in real life. As you follow her you walk through gopurams, adorned with sculptural and spiritual masterpieces which guide you to and from the temple. You pass tea stalls, cows, goats, chicks colored green, purple, and pink, small temples, mango and coconut trees. Finally, you see the Cavury. Andal walks right into the knee-deep water and kneels down, submerging her trunk and flapping her ears. She takes the water and spews it onto herself. Her joy is contagious.

Men start taking hand brushes with huge bristles and scrubbing her. The man who is her main trainer and caregiver starts talking with your father. Your father lets you know that he used to work with the elephant keeper Rajesh’s father in the 80’s taking care of the last elephant named Gopal. He quietly lets you know he will try to find the opportunity for you to wash her. He continues speaking with his friend and someone hands you a brush. You start scrubbing. The sun glows a beautiful orange; painting the sky yellow. Under your hands is Andal’s thick and rough skin almost like sandpaper.

“Step back,” Appa tells you.

Andal begins to play in the water like a child. Swinging her trunk and laying on her side. You are the only girl who washed Andal. You ask your neighbor, “Why won’t any ladies wash her?”

“I’m scared!” she laughs back. You take out your lime green iPod and take some daring pictures in the river. Andal kneels down allowing Rajesh to sit upon her. She then splashes water on her head as he starts to scrub her neck and forehead.

As the sky slowly turns more yellow, Andal’s bath comes to an end. Rajesh tells her to get out of the water. She reluctantly returns to land, then kneels down. Rajesh then takes a red chalk and climbs upon her knees. He draws a teardrop shape. Then he is handed a white chalk and draws two rectangles on each side of the teardrop and a half circle connecting them under the teardrop. Her thiruman is ready. The precession begins again back to her home.

As we follow it’s clear that Andal’s bath was the best part of her day. She is less expressive with her ears and sucks her trunk. You and your father continue to follow her back to her hut. Just outside the temple on East Uthra Street. While walking, you ask if you’re the first girl who washed Andal. Everyone walking with the procession says yes, it is not that women are not allowed to, it’s that they don’t want to wash the elephant and it’s not the tradition.

Each day she goes to take water from the Cavury to the temple. You reach Andal’s hut. It is a giant hut for a human but too small for an elephant who is meant to roam free miles at a time. She stands eating hay from her giant hay pile. Your father and Rajesh talk about the old elephant Gopal and Rajesh’s father. He wants to find a picture of his father and Gopal to remember them by. The sky turns a dark blue color. It was time to go home.

On your walk home, your father tells you how Andal was donated to the temple. She was a private elephant in Coimbatore. At age 15 she was bought for rs. 25,000. The man who bought her was a devotee to Renganada and gifted her to the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple here in Srirangam. Now her duty is to bring water for the temple each morning. You turn the corner by the local juice stand and arrive home. Your family awaits your arrival and you begin to explain that you had washed Andal the elephant. Your mother was smiling as you told the story. Your auntie had prepared dinner and you sat down on the floor to eat. Her delicious food warmed your stomach with each bite. As you eat you listen to your family talk about the day and the local gossip.

After dinner, you reflect on the experience you had. You knew it would be a memory you would never forget. You go outside to the patio to find Jasmine the cute stray puppy. Quickly you grab the good day biscuits and pet her. Autos pass by along with motorcycles and cows. Your uncle and father converse in their plastic lounge chairs while watching the evening pass by. The beauty and calm of the loud scene came over you. You felt one thing: this was the best day of your life

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