"I have been waiting 68 years for this book..."
Five-year-old Peter Marmorek was fascinated by the elephants he had read about in books, especially Dr Seuss’s Horton and Rudyard Kipling’s Elephant’s Child. But, like many other Canadian children, he had never seen a real live elephant before. Then one day, he learnt that he might be able to ask Uncle Nehru to please send an elephant!
Peter reminisces about the grand adventure that followed, how he inadvertently made it into history books (and our picture book!), and the lasting impact of the stories we read as children…
[It was] an otherwise uneventful day in 1952 when my father was reading our local French daily. Dad read out an article to me [that] said that Prime Minister Nehru of the newly formed country of India had said that if “the children of Granby wanted an elephant for the zoo, he would try to dig one up.” All I heard was the offer of an elephant, so I said, “Can I write to him?”
Dad typed my letter from dictation, which included my observing that, “I didn’t know elephants lived underground.” (I was puzzled by the digging up part of Nehru’s offer.) [In no time], I received a letter with the official seal of India (in red sealing wax!) from Nehru, explaining that he would send me an elephant, which were large creatures that did not live underground, but roamed through forests. Dad and Mom notified the Mayor of Granby; he notified the press, and I became an instant celebrity.
Two years later, a four-year-old elephant, Ambika, arrived in Granby, complete with her mahout to help her initiation into this land of snow. I had to officially present her to the zoo, and make a speech. I was relaxed about the speech part, but nervous about standing next to Ambika; even though she was three years younger than me, she easily outweighed me by a factor of ten. But she seemed very friendly, and I still have the photos of us in the family’s official elephant album.
Time passed, and while I visited Ambika often, I don’t really think she knew who I was, or that it was my fault she wound up in small town Quebec. Then I moved to Montreal, on to Toronto; life happened, and I lost touch with Ambika.
I did get to travel through India, and I suspect that part of its draw lay in Ambika, from whom I had learned that India was a magical country; if you wrote to it, they would send you an elephant. On my first day in Delhi, I forgot that in India traffic moves on the left side of the road. I looked the wrong way, and woke up to a shout from the mahout riding a large and much-painted elephant parading through Chandni Chowk. Never have I escaped a traffic accident with such delight — India was a country in which you could get stepped on by an elephant. It was instant love.
You can read the rest of Peter’s blog post here if you’re curious about what became of Ambika.
Nehru also sent Indira to Japan, Murugan to the Netherlands, Asha to China… These elephants lumbered into zoos across the world, delighting children and adults alike, and everyone saw that India was as gentle, noble, and friendly as the jumbo presents that it sent.
Peter wrote to us at Tulika a few weeks ago saying that he has "been waiting 68 years for this book".
You don't have to wait that long! Grab a copy of Uncle Nehru, Please Send An Elephant! from our website.