- Elephants With Headlights, by Bem le Hunte. Transit Lounge. $29.99.
Bem le Hunte's idiosyncratic title is immediately up-staged by her eccentric first sentence: "None of it would have ever happened if Siddharth hadn't received that call from the future".
The connective tissue is that the call in question suggests introduction of driverless cars into India, one obstacle being that elephants sharing the road "would have to wear headlights at night".
Le Hunte readily concedes that no algorithm or sensor could actually plan a safe, swift path along India's roads. For Indians driverless cars might seem as much a whimsical mirage as, say, universal payment of taxes, job opportunities for enough entrants to the formal employment sector or rapprochement with Pakistan.
Le Hunte quickly segues into gently ironic studies of middle-class life in New Delhi.
This is a world replete with conventions "bolstered in language, cemented in etiquette", and focused around a domineering, judgemental mother.
Families are consumed by arranging marriages, checking horoscopes and deferring to mothers. The club pool holds a decorous Ladies' Hour, a "two hundred-year-old" guru visits a McMansion, and the city extends exponentially, "brick by clumsy unqualified brick".
The simple lesson learned by this family is that parents should never do anything that pushes their kids away.
A grannie with multiple sclerosis secludes herself, but is nudged into contact with this century when her grandchildren wander in to brandish modern temptations.
Predictably enough, the more raucous intrusion by a feisty young Australian woman - who defends Indigenous Australians and wears a G-string bikini - causes chaos (or, to borrow the far more evocative Hindi word, a "tamasha").
For a shrewdly comic take on the same milieu, Tarquin Hall's stories about a wry, tubby Delhi detective are hard to beat. This book, though, has its own distinctive charms, ones which flow from le Hunte's keen but not unduly acerbic observation of bourgeois life.
She snares pretensions, pins pomposity, and revels in exposing all manner of prejudice. Le Hunte is quite civil with her characters but sees through every one of them.
Femininity, love and spirituality are treated with due gravity. Scenes on a marriage bed and a death bed are handled with particular grace.
Le Hunte's plot sometimes dips and sags, and some of her characters possess more depth and colour than others.
The elephants with headlights do not make an encore, but a few in the human cast indulge in elephantine antics.