(Coming Out, after Cryptogram)
I used to work in an old jute mill in Dundee. By the time I got there it had more or less moved over to the jute substitute, polypropylene – that was before it closed forever, and before jute made its comeback as the eco-bag of choice.
Dundee calls itself Juteopolis, city of jute 1. When the whaling fleet came in, some drunken sailor spilt whale oil on a bale of that useless fibrous plant grown only in Bengal, and Dundee discovered it could turn jute into sacks, dross into gold. For a hundred years, sacks were big business – among fibres, jute was second only to cotton – and it was these sacks which enslaved the Dundonians in the mills and gave them dreams of riches untold if only they could get themselves to the mills of Calcutta. Some did. Some became rich. Some, succumbing to the tedium and violence of the manager’s life, left the compound and discovered the other India that the white man didn’t touch.
I wrote most of Karṇa’s Wheel some years ago but I didn’t know how to begin it. By the time I did, I was full-speed ahead on Cryptogram and couldn’t turn back.
Coming Out Soon!
As soon as Cryptogram is out, Karṇa will get my full attention. It’s a cracking story (says the author). Watch this space.
1 Dundee also likes to think its name derives from donum dei, gift of God. Its inhabitants, in spite of everything, retain their sense of humour.
Karṇa’s Wheel is set in contemporary St Andrews, Dundee (1915-1923), Calcutta (1923-1946) and on the epic plains of ancient India. It is a tale of sons, lovers, mothers and their journey; and of Séamus, a stunted Irishman who helps them on their way. Stephen, the son, is the narrator, a Sanskrit academic, defensive, a dream addict in search of answers. Kitty is the mother, half-Indian, half-Scots, a woman with a murky present who holds tight to the secrets of her past. And Julia is the lover with secrets of her own which Stephen has to earn the right to hear.
Emerging from the faded fragments of his own untold history is Stephen’s grandfather, who escapes from the strife of Dundee to the jute mills of Calcutta... where he finds, not the paradise of the Dundonian dream, but the stuff of the film script which Séamus decides to write. And then there is Karna himself, the armour-plated hero of Stephen’s Sanskrit imaginings: the hero cast out and down, the Hamlet, the Captain Ahab, the James Dean of all our memories.