Govind D. Belgaumkar

Stephanie falls in love with elephants first, then with Amit

BANGALORE: Stephanie Tasanen of the U.S. loves elephants so much she always wanted her engagement ceremony atop an elephant. She chose the Bannerghatta National Park near here on Wednesday for the special occasion.

A little after the Raahukaala (till 12.30 p.m.), Stephanie and her fiancé, Amit Sharma, walked hand-in-hand towards "Vanaraja", a regal elephant, that obligingly bent for the smiling couple to climb onto its back. The VIPs exchanged rings to a round of applause by Mr. Sharma's relatives, zoo officials and a curious gathering. They exchanged handcrafted silver rings with the embossed figure of an elephant. To Stephanie's delight, the couple took a small ride before getting down.

A priest from the nearby Ganesh temple came and blessed them. A couple of women employees of the zoo applied kumkum on their foreheads, performed `aarti' and wished them well.

Stephanie, a sales manager with a private firm in the city of Phoenix in Arizona, U.S., got introduced to Delhi's Amit Sharma, an Assistant Professor of a management institute in New Delhi, seven years ago through the Internet.

Little did she know that her "strong connection with elephants" would lead her one day to Bannerghatta.

Minutes before the ceremony, Mr. Sharma spoke to The Hindu . Asked why he had chosen Vanaraja for the engagement, he said: "Stephanie wanted it so. She is fond of wildlife. You can ask her."

Stephanie said: "Elephants are so intelligent. They are incredible. I have a strong connection with them." She had seen the elephants in Africa and India, she recalled, and the animals never failed to charm her.

She went to the Park on Tuesday and requested the zoo authorities to let her exchange rings with her fiancé on the back of an elephant. When the couple came with Amit's relatives early in the day, the authorities told them to wait till "raahukaala" was over.

Engagement over, it was party time in the evening for the relatives and friends. Vanaraja, sadly, was not on the guest list.