>The New Yorker: "Elephant" by Aravind Ardiga

>Chenayya is a cart driver who makes deliveries for Ganesh Pai’s furniture shop. The work is crushing, especially when he has to pedal the cart over Lighthouse Hill. He pays Pai for the privilege, but earns tips from the recipients. He also plays the local lottery. On one particular trip up the hill with a heavy burden, he sees an elephant coming down with a light load. He’s struck by the injustice. In the evenings, the other cart pullers drink cheap liquor, but Chenayya doesn’t join them, but instead thinks about injustice and plots to steal from the furniture seller. A journalist visits the cart pullers asking questions and inspires Chenayya to seek work in a factory instead, but that doesn’t work out. He as a moment of clarity (completely implausible, it seems to me) that he should work for a political candidate, and he is indeed able to help the candidate win votes in a Muslim neighborhood. But he receives no reward for his work. The next day, he receives an extraordinarily large tip from a European. With his good fortune, he buys lottery tickets and liquor (and again, this is implausible, since he hasn’t wasted his money on liquor in the past) until all the money is gone. He grows even more bitter. On the way back from a delivery he sees the elephant again, and the mahout is also complaining about life. Chenayya imagines that the poor have built their own jails.

And that’s it. We’re left with a very poor, angry man who at the end of the story is maybe a little less angry, for no reason that makes any sense. I hope for Adiga’s sake that this is an excerpt from a new novel, because it makes a lousy short story.

January 26, 2009: “Elephant” by Aravind Adiga

About the author


  1. >I rather liked it. The tension of his rage/frustration was palpable. And of course it doesn’t go anywhere — he’s trapped.

  2. >I have to disagree. I think it is quite edgy for the new yorker. Though if set in America there is no way they would run a story where someone stuffs shit in a woman’s mouth.

    How many stories do they publish about the poor? Hardly any. Only one I can think of – Sherman A. story about the Indian in Seattle. The poor have a voice and this guy delivers it. I think if we had that life we wouldn’t be telling jokes about our facebook experiences.

    It’s a clipped style. Jesus’ Son-like.

    Also their poetry is getting edgier. Alien vs. Predator a few weeks ago. Maybe Obama woke them up.

  3. >Edgy, yes, and the subject matter is a welcome depature (although did you read the Daniyal Mueenuddin stories last year set in Pakistan?) I even think this is a very interesting character about whom I’d like to read more. It just doesn’t work as a story, in my opinion, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s an excerpt from Adiga’s next novel.

  4. >I feel more positive about the story than Cliff does. In particular, some of Cliff’s specific technical criticisms don’t hold up in my view. For example, Cliff finds it implausible for the protagonist to waste all his money on liquor given that he hasn’t been drinking before. However, his craving for the liquor is cited earlier. Nothing about the story seems “implausible” to me.

    I remember a story Playdate by Kate Walbert from about 2 years ago where Cliff and I had sharply different opinions. I thought the story was great, Cliff didn’t. In retrospect, it turns out that the story made an enormous splash, at least on the internet, and would probably be considered one of the greatest New Yorker stories of the past few years.

  5. >I disagree. Nothing in the story is implausible and I found it quite absorbing. That a story is potentially an excerpt from a novel is a frequent criticism, but so what if it is? What about that specifically makes a story weak? An interesting character, vivid descriptions of Indian civic life, original subject matter and sharply witty prose (I chuckled more than once) to me make for a pretty decent story.

  6. >Shiffron,
    I too found the prose absorbing and, as I think I said, the character is quite interesting, even if, for me, some of his behavior was not supported within the context of what the reader knew of him. The reason I believe it fails as a STORY, though, is that it doesn’t seem to have a plot. It is a series of events that reveals his character, yes, but no plot. This is why it has the feeling of being an excerpt from a novel for me, and if TNY would just say, “this is an excerpt from a novel” then I’d be happy with it on that basis. But, for me, a short story is an art form unto itself and this prose, as engaging as it is, doesn’t make a good story. In my opinion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.