Excerpt from The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Elephanta Suite

Three Novellas

By Paul Theroux

The Elephanta Suite
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2007,
    274 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2008,
    288 pages.

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“I see you are in process of observing our monkeys.”

Like the other explainers, this one precisely summed up what they’d been doing.

“Do not be perplexed,” he went on.

It was true—they had been perplexed.

“They are assembling each evening. They are taking last of warmth into bodies.” He had the voluptuous and slightly starved way of saying “bodies,” giving the word flesh.

“I figured so,” Audie said. “That’s what I said to my wife— didn’t I, Beth?”

“They are also looking at smoke and fires at temple in town.”

That was another thing they’d found. Indians like this never listened. They would deliver a monologue, usually informative but oddly without emphasis, as though it were a recitation, and did not appear to be interested in anything the Blundens had to say.

“What temple?” “What town?” the Blundens asked at once.

The Indian was pointing into the darkness. “When sun is down, monkeys hasten away—see—to the trees where they will spend night hours, safe from harm’s way. Leopards are there. Not one or two, but abundant. Monkeys are their meat.”

“Meat” was another delicious word, like “body,” which the man uttered as if tempted by it, giving it the sinewy density and desire of something forbidden. But he hadn’t answered them.

“There’s leopards here on Monkey Hill?” Audie asked.

The old man seemed to wince in disapproval, and Audie guessed it was his saying “Monkey Hill”—but that was what most people called it, and it was easier to remember than its Indian name.

“It is believed that Hanuman Giri is exact place where monkey god Hanuman plucked the mountain of herbals and healing plants for restoring life of Rama’s brother Lakshman.”

Yes, that was it, Hanuman Giri. At first they had thought he was answering their question about leopards, but what was this about herbals?

“As you can find in Ramayana,” the Indian said, and pointed with his skinny hand. “There, do you see mountain beyond some few trees?” and did not wait for a reply. “Not at all. It is empty space where mountain once stood. Now it is town and temple. Eshrine, so to say.”

“No one mentioned any temple.”

“At one time was Muslim mosque, built five centuries before, Mughal era, on site of Hanuman temple. Ten years ago, trouble, people invading mosque and burning. Monkeys here are observing comings and goings, hither and thither.”

“I have a headache,” Beth said, and thought, Inwading? Eshrine?

“Many years ago,” the Indian man said, as though Mrs. Blunden had not spoken—Was he deaf? Was any of this interesting?—“I was lost in forest some three or four valleys beyond here, Balgiri side. Time was late, afternoon in winter season, darkness coming on. I saw a troop of monkeys and they seemed to descry that I was lost. I was lightly clad, unprepared for rigors of cold night. One monkey seemed to beckon to me. He led, I followed. He was chattering, perhaps to offer reassurance. Up a precipitous cliff at top I saw correct path beneath me. I was thus saved. Hanuman saved me, and so I venerate image.”

“The monkey god,” Beth said.

“Hanuman is deity in image of monkey, as Ganesh is image of elephant, and Nag is cobra,” the Indian said. “And what is your country, if you please?”

“We’re Americans,” Beth said, happy at last to have been asked.

“There are many wonders here,” the Indian said, unimpressed by what he’d just heard. “You could stay here whole lifetime and still not see everything.”

Copyright © 2007 by Paul Theroux. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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