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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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 274 pages
    Sep 2008, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Vikram Johri

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Print Excerpt

“Imagine that.”

“Anna Hunphunwoshi, sir. From Nagaland, sir. Kohima, sir. Very far, sir.”

“I’ve seen you in the spa.”

“I also do treatments in daytime, sir.”

“Are you eating, doctor?” Audie said.

“Thank you, no. I don’t take food after six p.m.” He spoke to Anna. “I will take some salted lassi.”

“We should follow your example,” Beth said.

“As you wish.”

“Three of those, Anna, please.”

“Thank you, sir.” She stepped silently away, clutching the menus.

“Where did you say you went to medical school?” Audie asked the doctor.

“Ayurvedic Institute in Mangalore.”

“That makes you a doctor?”

“Ayurvedic doctor, yes.”

“Can you practice outside India?”

“Where Ayurvedic medicine is licensed, indeed, I can practice Ayurvedic without hindrance,” Dr. Nagaraj said. “May I see your right hand, sir?” And when Audie placed his big hand in the doctor’s warm slender hand, the doctor said, “Just relax,” and scrutinized it, and made some notes on his clipboard.

“That Indian script looks like laundry hanging on a clothesline,”

Audie said.

The doctor, intent on Audie’s palm, said nothing. And even when the waitress returned with the three tumblers of lassi, he went on studying the big splayed hand. He made more notes and, what was disconcerting to Audie, he wrote down a set of numbers, added more numbers to them, subtracted, multiplied, got a total, then divided it and underlined the result. Still holding Audie’s palm, the doctor raised his eyes and did not smile.

“You had a hard life until age thirty-five,” Dr. Nagaraj said. “You prepared the ground, so to say. Then you reaped rewards. You can be helpful to a politician presently, but avoid it. Next ten years very good for name and fame. Madam?”

He offered his hand to Beth, and she placed hers, palm upward, on top of his.

“Those numbers,” Beth said.

“Good dates, bad dates, risky times.”

“How long will I live?” Audie said.

“Until eighty-five, if all is observed,” the doctor said without hesitating. He went back to examining Beth’s palm and scribbling notes.

“I don’t want to know how long I’m going to live,” Beth said. “Just give me some good news.”

“Happy childhood, but you have no children yourself,” the doctor said. “Next ten years, excellent health. Never trust any person blindly, especially those who praise you. Follow intuition. Invest in real estate. Avoid crowds, smoke, dust.” The doctor strained, as if translating from a difficult language he was reading on Beth’s palm. “Avoid perfume. No litigation.”

As the doctor tensed, showing his teeth, Beth said, “That’s enough,” and lifted her hand and clasped it. Audie glanced at her and guessed that she was also wondering if Dr. Nagaraj was a quack. But that thought was not in her mind.

Dr. Nagaraj perhaps sensed this querying, though he seemed calm again. He sipped his lassi, he nodded, he tapped his clipboard.

“I took my friend Sanjeev to Rajaji National Park to see the wild elephants. They are my passion. Did you not see my collection of Ganeshes in my office?”

“I remember,” Beth said. “The elephant figurines on the shelves.”

“Quite so.” The doctor drank again. “We encountered a great herd of elephants in Rajaji. They are not the same as the working domesticated elephants but a separate species. They saw us. We were near the banks of the river. Do you know the expression ‘Never get between an elephant and water’?”

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

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