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In her poetry, Sujata Bhatt always cements her understanding by defining abstract concepts in terms of real structures. In "What Happened to the Elephant," she examines the cultural aspects of reincarnation without mentioning anything overtly religious, seeking a down-to-earth answer to a question which is apparently only asked by "nosy" children who have no fear of seeming disrespectful. Religious occurrences, regardless of the religion, are often based on faith and questions such as the one which plagues the narrator of this poem often remain unanswered, adding to the mystery of religion but also contributing to confusion and doubt. There is the nagging problem of whether it is all just a "fantasy." Certain ethical questions are inevitably raised, very relevant to a twenty-first century reader. There is a scientific element for a modern reader wondering where to draw the line in advancing science or the miracle of transplants, for example: "And what shall we do about the horse’s body?"
Bhatt's style and tone ensure that this poem is both personal and universal. There is an immediacy to the poem, a fast pace, even an impatience. There are the inevitable questions about identity as the narrator wonders, "Who is the true elephant?" The answer to this rhetorical question depends on the person reading it and his or her own understanding of what creates an identity together with any cultural and religious experiences. The deeper meaning should not escape the reader. There is also the "rotting carcass of a beheaded elephant..." which momentarily threatens to consume the narrator. The narrator wants to share the same faith as the child who searches for "a solution without death," but this is quickly dispersed with "he died of course."
The narrator shares her personal feelings, her inquisitiveness and even conflict, but at no time judges or questions the efficacy of the act (although there is a stark reminder that there are consequences). For Ganesh and his family, there is a future but for the elephants who mourn, there is only a "dance...that no one talks about." This alludes to the problem of a person's value to society. It may be interpreted in terms of religious and cultural teachings but can also be interpreted for its recognition that there is a very fine line between the sacrifice and the sacrificed. Does the modern world demand too much? Is it too self-involved?
The language and diction used by Bhatt is simple, almost child-like, which ensures that the narrator retains her innocence. There is no rhyme and the rhythm is created by the words themselves and the questions. There is no defined structure which works for this poem because it allows the reader to identify with the narrator's thought process as she considers the situation.
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