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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“Beth was a stranger to me when we met, too,” he said. “Picked her up in a bar.”

He overheard the Indian man—Bill? Rupesh?—say, “vas vesting away” and “his own urine”—and he turned away from the man’s disappointed wife.

“My father,” the man said, glad for another listener. “He was in intensive care at Georgetown Medical Center. They said they couldn’t do any more for his condition, which was inoperable cancer of pancreas. ‘He will be more comfortable at home.’ They were abandoning him, no question. He was wasting. As last resort we saw a yogi. He prescribed the urine cure. My father was instructed to drink a beaker of his own urine first thing in morning. He did so. After a week he grew stronger. Appetite came back. Hunger was there. Thirst was there. Second week, my God, he began to put on weight. Skin better, head clear. Third week he was walking a bit. Balance was there. Two months of this, drinking urine, and body was clear. Doctor said, ‘Miracle.’”

That was another thing: one minute it was budget projections and stock analysis, the next minute it was horoscopes and arranged marriages and the wonder of drinking your own whiz.

“I tell you, India is booming,” the man said when Audie did not react. “There is no stopping it. Bangalore is next Silicon Valley. Innovation!”

“So I heard,” Audie said, “but all I see in India”—and he smiled at the couple—“all I see in India is people reinventing the flat tire.”

Soon after that the couple smiled, and said they’d enjoyed meeting them, and excused themselves; and only then did Audie take notice of them, because he was unable to tell from their manner whether they were offended and abruptly ducking out or else actually meant what they said. It was a kind of inscrutability he had not associated with Indians. He was impressed.

“He seemed nice,” Beth said.

“Nice doesn’t seem like the right word for Indians,” Audie said.

“It’s a little too bland. Lavish, outlandish, pious, talkative, overbearing, in your face, slippery, insincere, holy—I’m thinking they are Indian words. That talk about drinking number one—did you ever hear anything like it?”

“I wasn’t listening. I thought he was handsome. That’s the trouble with you—you expect them to make sense.”

“What do you do?”

“I look at them talking. I don’t listen. Didn’t you notice he had lovely eyes?”

They had gotten up and were leaving the table when they heard a sharp “Hello.” An Indian man was bowing, another one who’d materialized next to them. He was carrying a clipboard.

“Doctor,” Beth said—she had forgotten his name, but he too wore an Agni nameplate, lettered Nagaraj. “Doctor Nagaraj.”

He had said that he would see them at dinner, and they had forgotten they’d promised they’d see him. But he was unfussed, saying “Not to worry” as they apologized, and again Audie smiled at his inability to read the man’s mood—whether or not he minded their having forgotten him.

“We’ve already eaten,” Audie said, seeing the waitress approach, and he noticed it was the girl who had seated them, Anna. She held three menus and stood next to the table, looking serene, patient, attentive. She had a pale, round, Asiatic face, like a doll, her hair in a bun, drawn back tight, giving her prominent ears. She was small, quick to smile when she was smiled at.

“Is that short for something—maybe Annapurna?”

“No, sir. Mother of Mary. I am Christian, sir.”

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

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