Power, Manipulation and Spirtuality in India
The Elephanta Suite is a novel that offers a unique interpretation on travel. It focuses on the individual journeys of two Americans in India. Both Dwight and Alice have different events encompass their journeys but each of the journeys follows the theme of using India as a way for them to discover themselves and as a way to exert power on the country in which they could not do back in the United States. Both Dwight and Alice also share the assimilation into the Indian culture as a prominent theme in each novella. They don’t simply travel to India and act as tourists while there. Both Dwight and Alice use India as a way to forget about their past lives and start new ones.
In “The Gateway of India” Dwight experiences new life while traveling to India. Paul Theroux writes, “Second trip, the life changing one” (85). On his first trip to India, Dwight goes about India through the view of tourists or foreigners who don’t take the time out to appreciate a foreign place. His viewpoint on India changes after encountering the real people that live in India. Behind the scenes of the glamorous business world, Dwight is exposed to the vicious nature of the Indian people. They are not into anything but making money and acting upon foreigners who are gullible. This is exactly what happens to Dwight in this novella. Dwight uses his desire for power and control to live in India. Theroux describes this by saying, “His sexual experiences in India had opened his eyes and given him insights. The world looked different to him” (133). Dwight becomes enraged with exploring his sexuality here. His life becomes controlled by visiting Indru. He uses her as a way to express his power and control over another human, something that he didn’t have back in the states. This is what the entire novella centers around is Dwight’s oblivious use of power and control. This need or desire to express his power and control eventually leads to him getting taken advantage of multiple times. He realizes that he may have not been in power this whole time at all. What seems like complete control and personal satisfaction to him, is viewed as foolery and mockery by the natives of India. The way in which he is humiliated however leads to him realizing the only thing he ever wanted. The novella ends with Theroux saying, “Craving nothing except more life- happy, seeing things as they were” (186). After his emotional and experimental journey throughout India, Dwight realizes what he wanted all along was a spiritual finding that will guide him throughout the rest of his life.
The third novella, “The Elephant God” is no different. Like in “The Gateway of India”, this novella features another oblivious American traveler, Alice. She acts similar to Dwight in that she thinks the people of India as her friends. She is unable to realize the true motives of the Indian people who are out to make careers and money and who stick together and trick foreigners into doing things that will profit them. I thought Amitabh’s description of his people proved this point well. Theroux writes, “Its funny how people come here from overseas- Americans, like you- and don’t realize how we are in constant touch with each other” (240). Like Indru and Shah realized in the second novella, Amitabh uses Alice’s oblivious nature against her. She is left with nobody to side with her except an elephant. This is where I think the title of the book becomes relevant. The elephant is the spirituality that Alice has been looking for all throughout her journey as well. Like Dwight who after traveling and undergoing misfortune, humiliation and manipulation by the Indian people found the centre that he had been looking for, Alice finds this at the end of the third novella. The elephant is her key to accomplishing freedom and the spiritual accomplishment that she had been looking for while in India. The novella ends by Theroux writing, “Then she pulled the long pin from the ring on the post, releasing the chain, releasing the elephant, releasing herself”. (274). After dosing out revenge towards Amitabh and getting that sense of power back like Dwight had at the end of his journey, Alice can be happy again and rejoice in song as she has found the fuel to help her proceed in her life. She has found the meaning behind her travels that she had been looking for.