26 September 2023

Elephants with Headlights

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Bem Le Hunte, Transit Lounge, $29.99.

Taking life on as a spiritual and emotional journey, this is a deeply comprehended and tremendously enjoyable story that bestrides cultures, continents and generations.

Set in India and Australia, this wonderful saga of ancestry is skillfully written, and redolent, in its story.

An encounter with Elephants with Headlights is a collision between east and west, modernity and tradition – between driverless cars and ancient lore – and a world that needs revolutionary reappraisal. Part-Hindu chronicle, part-family history, it’s unconventional, lively and explores different spiritual and cultural values with knowing wit.

Le Hunte is grateful for being given the time to write in India’s utopians community that celebrates the lived experience of human unity – one of the themes in this book.

Her protagonist is named in response to Sri Aurobindo’s poem, Savitri, about the transformative power of consciousness – a tale from the Upanishads that deserves retelling.

The novel’s title comes from when it was pointed out that “my elephant wearing a headlight in the streets of New Delhi was a simple metaphor for the challenges inherent in an era of driverless cars!”

Savitri and her brother Neel, who grew up in Delhi, are pampered children of wealthy Hindu parents, Siddharth and Tota. Although Savitri is presented with a range of suitable young men from the right sorts of families, she is adamant that she does not want to ever get married. However, her attitude changes when she goes to Australia to visit her uncle.

On the other hand, Siddharth bemoaned his decision to ask Neel to come with him to Goa. He also regretted encouraging him to ‘have a bit of fun on the beaches’ before planning a university education overseas.

For if Neel hadn’t seen Mae dancing through the fire that night, he could have kept him at home – and he would never have met the Australian girl who had caused all the trouble in the first place.

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