My Journey from ‘Culturally Illiterate’ to Historical Novelist

My Journey from ‘Culturally Illiterate’ to Historical Novelist

January 27, 2019 | Author: Vasant Davé, Historical Novelist, Author of "Trade Winds to Meluhha"

An embarrassingly ironical situation triggered my yearning to write a prehistoric novel.

I passed Senior Cambridge in Mombasa, Kenya, which was under the British rule for most of my schooling. Thus, I was more familiar with William the Conqueror and the Magna Carta than the history of the Indian subcontinent, from where my parents had emigrated in the 1930s.

By the time I graduated from University of Bombay, President Idi Amin had created a sense of insecurity among Indian immigrants in East Africa. While I opted to stay in India, all of my East African friends emigrated to the U.K. and U.S.A., where they have contributed significantly to the medical and health industry there. You can find some of them in this photo below.

 

Elphinstone College hostel, Mumbai (1968). From LEFT to RIGHT. 1st row: 1st Pankaj Karia (Kuwait), 4th Sampat. 2nd row: 3rd Prof. Kshirsagar – Rector, 4th Vice Principal Mrs. Wood, 5th Principal P. S. Rege. 3rd row: 11th Mahendra Dave. 4th row: 4th Thakor Lal (Fiji), 7th Kishore Vasant. 5th row: 1st Self, 4th Mahendra Patel, 6th Ashwin Dave. 6th row: 5th Pravin Patel, 7th row: 4th Sharad Tanna. 8th row of 5 persons: 4th Bhupat, 5th Nitin Mehta. Top row: 5th Veerappan (Mauritius)

Then, while on a family holiday, we visited the Government Museum at Chennai, where a book entitled Lothal attracted me. It carried B&W photographs of ruins, pottery, seals and jewellery. I was amazed to learn that Lothal was a Harappan or Indus Valley Civilization site in India. Until then, I had been under the impression that the ancient culture of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro was only found in Pakistan. More shocking was the fact that Lothal was in Gujarat, the state in which I had been living for two decades!

Immediately I went to Lothal, near Ahmedabad, which showed remnants of an ancient port. According to archaeologist S. R. Rao, it harbored reed ships which sailed to Mesopotamia upon favourable trade winds. Later, I visited Dholavira, another Harappan site, and was awestruck by its network of reservoirs and canals to harvest and conserve scarce rain water in the Rann of Kutch. Both pieces of evidence appealed to my technical background as an engineer.

Two questions arose in my mind:

  • How could I help inform the younger generation of the subcontinental diaspora of our illustrious past?
  • Could I pick out hard facts from academic tomes, and present them in such a way that they could appreciate the stories they tell?

The genre of New Adult Fiction was promising in regard to both of those.

During the Second World War, all expatriates in British East Africa had sent their families to their home countries. During the war, the Germans torpedoed a few passenger ships, suspecting them of carrying weapons. So after the war, the only steamship that still plied between India and East Africa was unable to cope with the rush. Impatient to return home, my mother Jivibai, along with my sisters Rama and Sushila, boarded a dhow, a wooden contraption with a triangular lateen sail. Somewhere in the Indian Ocean, they faced a storm, and when the wind dropped altogether, the dhow was brought to a standstill for a week. I remember my mother narrating the harrowing experience vividly.

When I thought of that incident with the reed ships sailing between the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia, my respect grew for those ancient mariners. A storyline started developing in my mind. The result was Trade winds to Meluhha, a novel set in ancient Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.

 

Harappa International Conference

Vasant Davé is an electrical engineer who provided Industrial Market Research services throughout the world. His work which required extensive tours helped address his interest in archaeological sites. After retiring in 2008, he wrote Trade winds to Meluhha (available in USA, UK and India) One of its characters recently travelled around planet Earth, suggesting Harappan solutions to today’s problems. A high point in his post-retirement avatar as a novelist has been an invitation to deliver a lecture on Novelizing the ancient Indus Valley at Harappa International Conference. You can reach him at twtmeluhha@gmail.com.