11. Elephanta Suite
Dwight’s “Indian Surprise” can be understood in terms of his levels of tourism, not the standard scale of consciousness though, rather a scale based upon the women that he encounters and how they represent different stages of his Indian transformation. The young dancer Sumitra, Dwight’s first sexual encounter, was the direct result of an Indian scheme, showing Dwight’s extreme naivety and ability to be taken advantage of as a foolish tourist. The trick had placed him in a position of power and while he was originally resistant, bestowed a feeling of heroism that led to an unleashing of his sexual impulsivity. This impulsivity led to a release of inhibitions that brought Dwight even deeper into the Indian depths and caused him to ask others for what he desired, which led of course to Indru. His sexual relations with her had an unraveling effect on what had protected him from mixing with the culture and he began to taste the Indian food, instead of chaining himself to his hotel room with canned nutrition.
While his sexual encounter with Indru seemed to tear down much of what separated him from native life, this digression was momentarily halted or perhaps tested when he came in contact with the glamorous Winky. The scene in which, though Dwight is repulsed by Winky’s endless discourse his attraction for her beauty causes him to hastily kiss her, is the most telling of his departure from himself. Her reaction of disgust at his impetuousness grounds us and reminds us that sexual encounters do not exist as freely in reality as they do in Dwight’s new conception of it. This rejection is then counteracted by the introduction of Padmini, a younger version of Indru who Dwight learns to sexually explore, and subsequently results in the ultimate realization of his debauchery. The contrast between his original resistance to sexual explorations with Sumitra, the rejection he is confronted with from Winky and the horrifying reality of Indru and Padmini’s willingness to please him, represent the immense transformation Dwight undergoes that unexpectedly destroys him.
Interestingly, sexuality and the progression of American culture as opposed to its digression, is what transforms Alice’s life, and the exploration of both is the result of the same catalyst, Amitabh. She, like Dwight, came to India with a repression of sensual experience. Though she came willingly to India for leisure, while Dwight came for business obligations, she found herself at work and faced with a similarly severe, yet almost converse, fate. Though it would seem that working in a foreign land would separate Alice from being a tourist and immerse her in the culture, it actually had the reverse effect. The nature of the job, teaching Indians to speak “American English” for a telephone occupation, effectively takes away their native tongue and removes their natural way of speaking, which is one of the most important parts of their culture.
When they become more successful in their American speech, their behavior is altered as well, and the traditional formality and respect that she associates with them is diminished. We see this most evidently in the transformation of Amitabh, who is responsible for Alice’s getting the job in the first place. Ironically, he is what brings her to alter the Indian’s speech and in turn alter their personalities. It is within this transformation that Amitabh becomes forceful and rude to Alice and ultimately sexually assaults her. While his assault breaks her spirit, it also releases her from her personal restraint and ultimately drives her determination for revenge and the pursuit of justice. It seems that Amitabh changes Alice, although she is the one who effectively changes him. Her power for transformation, in both herself and in others, is, in effect, her “Indian Surprise.”
Theroux, Paul The Elephanta Suite