An Unvisited Subcontinent

I find myself increasingly wanting eventually to write something that includes India. What I consider a major hurdle, however, is I have never been there. Moreover, I’m sure a visit would not be nearly enough even to start to get to know the gigantic country.

I know I have some Indian followers here, and even some readers of my books. The closest I have probably come to visiting your country was in 2012-13. A British girlfriend, born and raised here in England, and Sikh, had decided she finally wanted to travel there. Her parents had emigrated to Britain in the early 1960s and she had never seen their birthplace.

She was already well-traveled. We had assumed she would be going with her younger sister, who was her usual “travel buddy.” (They had once encountered Muhammad Ali in a Chicago hotel elevator.) But at least partly due to an ugly high-profile series of horrific sexual assaults on women, and particularly the government’s apparent inability to do anything about the issue, her sister was adamant she did not want to set foot in the country.

So she turned to us. Initially her invitation had been offered inadvertently comically. Our unmarried longtime girlfriend said to my wife, “I don’t want to go alone.” She followed by asking, “Would Rob be interested in going?”

After a pause, my wife revealed how that sounded. After laughter between them, our girlfriend quickly clarified herself. “Oh, I’m invited, too?” my wife chuckled.

[Stock Photo. Illustration of the Taj Mahal in India.]

Yes, it would have been the three of us, but we had much else going on at the time, and thinking there would be another time we turned her down – to our everlasting regret. Unexpectedly she died – far too young, of an ongoing condition that had suddenly turned fatal – about two years later, in 2014. Fortunately, thanks to her parents heading there for a family wedding (and also accompanied by another girlfriend) in 2013, she did get to the Punjab and see extended family she had never met, and as it turned out sadly would never see again.

She had known about Passports – we discussed it once as I was in the midst of writing it – and she encouraged me to “go for it”; but she never saw any of the actual novel. I was not long into working on Frontiers when she died – we were in New York; she was in London; we couldn’t even make her funeral. Her death so depressed me I nearly gave up writing and came within a few clicks of deleting this then barely three month old web site . . . and simply vanishing.

About a month later, dragging myself back to the keyboard, I thought of what she would have probably said in response to that reaction of mine. I could almost hear her voice as if she was standing behind me looking over my shoulder: “Oh, Roooooob, don’t be silly.” That thought helped get me back on track and also triggered this: I altered some of the planned story in Frontiers and as a small tribute decided to include her in it as herself – which her sister later told me she would have been immensely flattered by:

[Excerpt from Frontiers, on Kindle for iPad. Click to expand.]

India is also a country about which we Americans in particular need to learn far more.

However, I am also super-cautious about writing about, well, people and places I feel I don’t know enough about. Yes, of course it is possible to learn about somewhere without ever visiting it – especially nowadays. Still, that is not really quite the same thing as seeing it in person.

In fact I donโ€™t think I have ever placed anything major storywise where I have never been, or written characters not based at least somewhat on people I have known personally. (Conventions is historical naturally; but there is lots of the “personal” in there, too.)

[Stock Photo. South Asia.]

But if you write you also need to think ahead. What is “new” out there for you perhaps to tackle? While you stare at that present screen, it is always important to keep an open mind.

We never know what the future may hold for us…

Have a good weekend wherever you are in the world. ๐Ÿ™‚

3 replies »

  1. Oh, great idea, dear Robert! Read Emilio Salgari! He has written a lot about India, Malasia and he has got the true spirit! And, please, include a charming tea tale into your book .It will be gorgeous! There is a set of movies named Sandokan & The Mystery of the black jungle. I recommend them too for inspiration! Good luck! ๐Ÿ™‚

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