Bem Le Hunte and Sharon Rundle discuss Spiritual Realism, writing best-selling novels, and what we should take from the past into this great future. What can we let go of? And what might we transcend? 

It has been a great pleasure to interview Bem Le Hunte who was born in Kolkata, India. She lived there, and then in London where she studied anthropology at Cambridge and worked as a university lecturer. She moved to the Himalayas and now lives in Sydney, Australia. She is “Indian by birthright, English by descent and Australian by choice”. 

She is enchanted by the genre of Spiritual Realism and its exploration of the spiritual life, the inner life, the whole idea of transformation – which is very much a literary theme in her novels. 

“Living in other countries has been integral to my life, I describe myself as a liminal human. That liminality, although uncomfortable when you’re a child – and painful when you’re encountering racism became a powerful place to write from in my future life. That’s really useful for writers because it’s that metacognition that you need to tell a story well from other characters’ perspectives.” 

Bem went to India every summer with her grandmother which she said, “meant that I never lost touch with my roots and how people think, and I observed very closely the cultural nuances, the thinking, the rituals and the customs of people in India and family life.” 

Bem said that her novel Elephants With Headlights, is a complex work that’s woven with themes from various knowledges she teaches and has explored over the years, as well as the story of Savitri – a classic Sanskrit story and the theme of Sri Aurobindo’s classic poem, Savitri

Elephants With Headlights begins on the streets of New Delhi where 

Siddharth the father figure is an entrepreneur who is trying to bring a driverless car over to India. Yet there are still elephants walking the streets of New Delhi and the latest law is that they have to wear headlights. So, there is this simple technology of putting a headlight on an elephant to go through a street, alongside a driverless car. 

It was her metaphor for the evolution of society. She said that the whole question of this book is: “what should we take into this great future with us 

from the past, and what can we let go of? And what might we transcend? 

While not wanting to give away too much about the novel, Bem said that “the central question is what do we take forward? We’re all hurtling towards the future and we’re losing all the things that used to keep society together. The family, religion, belief systems, values – so much changes over time and so much change is good, but do we have to throw out everything? 

I teach transformative learning because I’m interested in this transformation of society. Elephants With Headlights questions that whole transformation of society and how we move forward. My experience as an anthropologist and having perspectives from other cultures comes through all my novels. Readers experience it through the characters, through the story, and through the emotion. 

There are ways to think more deeply about life, its purpose and the future that we’re going into, which is part of the quest for the novel Elephants with Headlights and it’s clear about its message around meditation. I’ve practised meditation for thirty-plus years.” 

Siddharth learns to meditate. He says to the teacher, the guruji in the book, that he has everything material. His teacher tells him, ‘Because then you’ve got everything, I’ll give you something even more valuable. All the worries of the world.’ His gift gives Siddharth inner access to people’s consciousness. It’s a challenge about what it means to be a human being – what kind of person you are. The astrologist’s predictions stop at a certain time. But what will happen beyond that? 

Bem tells me that: “Extreme storytelling challenges constraints. The magical realism genre doesn’t stop at the single sense of a life happening between birth and death, so I went beyond boundaries”. 

One of my characters announces that she has clairaudience, and this creates a whole world of magic that you have to believe in, but it does that through a balanced perspective – you have to