Sunday, 21 February 2016


If you were standing on the edge of a square, watching the traffic go past, what would you be thinking? I can recall being in Athens many years ago, feeling overwhelmed by the number of cars, vans and buses all beeping and jostling for position. Mumbai, too, takes the art of navigation to a new high where road users make their own rules as the situation dictates.

So, supposing there was a character poised to circumnavigate a roundabout in Mumbai, what would they be standing on - asphalt, compacted dirt, concrete? Would they be able to see their toenails? Can they smell the petrol fumes, the curry vendor or the Starbucks coffee? Are they 'in the moment' or transported to another time and place where unexpected memories surface?

Imagine my surprise when the first roundabout I stood near in Mumbai was empty of cars. Instead, half a dozen young men and boys were playing cricket, hitting a ball towards the stray dog fielding at mid wicket.

Circumnavigating this roundabout was easy enough - circumnavigating my cultural and cognitive dissonance was more challenging. Time to turn my attention to the more pressing issue...what will the character do now?

A Question of Heritage

Cultural heritage is one of those interesting topics where the attitudes to antiquities and ownership have changed over time. Take for instance the problematic artefacts in the National Gallery of Australia. It appears that the Gallery has a number of items (22 at last count) that were bought from an art dealer supposedly specialising in Indian cultural treasures.

The problem is that the items in question are likely to have been stolen, and taken illegally from India, only to be sold to the unwitting Gallery. There is a whole plot for a story right here (not to mention movie rights - I'm thinking Indiana Jones).

But if I step back for a moment, the most interesting thing is not what artefacts are involved, but what motivates people to steal a culture's heritage? I say 'people' advisedly since it's almost impossible for only one person to be the perpetrator. If it started as an alternative to holiday snaps (these days selfies) what led to the end game of greed, deception and fraud? Certainly something to think about.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

What would you do for an education?

As a girl growing up in Mullum I took it for granted that I would be able to go to school and be educated. Being able to read and write are skills that really make a difference to the opportunities available and it is difficult to imagine not being able to do either. But many girls and young women around the world, including in Mumbai, are not so fortunate.

The other day I heard about an Australian ultra-marathon runner, Pat Farmer, who is raising funds to support girls acquire an education in India.

He's crazy enough to run around seventy kilometres each day, intending to cross India from Kanyakumari – the southern tip of India where the three seas meet and the sacred site where Gandhi’s ashes were kept – to finish at Srinagar in Kashmir. It's a journey of around 4600 kilometres.

All the funds raised will go to the KC Mahindra Education Trust.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Festival Time

Almost all of Canberra is at the 'MultiCulti', the National Multicultural Festival, this afternoon and the Indian community is no exception. Not only was I reminded about the wide range of Indian food available, but there was a treat in store with one stage devoted to a range of Indian performances. Happily it was also in the shade, so on a 34C day it was a appreciated.

The fact that the Canberra India Council was prominently supporting the stage points to the increasing connections between India and Australia. This is something that has me thinking about the plot for my story. What are these connections? Who is involved? What sorts of relationships occur? Can there be complete understanding between cultures, and if not, what are the touchpoint and areas where they collide?

Max Weber suggested that  'all knowledge of cultural always knowledge from particular points of view,' so I am also thinking about the values, perceptions and points of view that are brought to those interactions as Indians and Australians come to know each other better.

Sound Bites

How should a character sound? This interesting question arose when I was talking to friends the other day. Like me, they have travelled widely and have met people from all walks of life.

We were discussing the cognitive dissonance that arises when someone speaks in an unexpected accent. It started me thinking.

What are the stereotypes we carry around that influence who we approach and the way we approach unknown people?

What do we do when we hear an unfamiliar accent or language? Who do we think is speaking? Who do we expect to see? What do we think we know about them?

Thomas Hardy took these questions a step further, recognising that body language is as important as the words a character speaks: 'There are accents in the eye which are not on the tongue, and more tales come from pale lips than can enter an ear.'

As part of the process of creating a character, I've realised I need to pay attention to not only how the character looks, what they say and how they sound when they say it, but to whether others expect this of them. I will also be looking out for body language and its unanticipated 'sound bites'.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

In Place?

Thinking this morning about location - the broader sense of it as well as the specific place where my feet touch the ground. I adore the Australian landscape. Not just the way it looks, but the fresh, sharp smell of eucalyptus, the clack of branches in a storm, the unexpected croak of a black cockatoo as it cleaves the sky.

There is a great quote from Tim Winton's Cloudstreet, where he writes about the sense of belonging (or not) that a place engenders:

'When I was a girl I had this strong feeling that I didn't belong anywhere,... It was in my head, what I thought and dreamt, what I believed..., that's where I belonged, that was my country.'

This connection between imagination, self-identity and place is powerful. Often I write where I can see the trees (like this morning). They operate as a muse, leaving my mind free. Perhaps my story runs smooth or ragged depending on the intricacies of their bark or the shape of the branches. A bird, its remarkably fragile legs holding onto a branch, becomes a metaphor for how we all cling to the world. Or, like the cockatoo, launch ourselves into the sky, unafraid of the turbulence this might bring.

As I work my way through the alternate need to cling to the familiar or seek out a new location, India is only a place in the landscape of my imagination. I wonder what stories it holds?

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

On Women and Cricket

Culture today (of a kind) with women's international cricket between India and Australia at Manuka Oval. It was a chance to soak up some sun watching these capable and athletic women play for their countries as I wondered about how cricket caught on in India.

Manuka Oval 2 February 2016
According to ESPN's Cricinfo, the game was introduced by British sailors as early as 1721. The first club, restricted to European men, was the Calcutta Cricket Club, established in 1792. It was in Mumbai in 1797 that Indian men first took to the field, and in 1848 the Parsees formed the Orient Club, beating the Europeans for the first time in 1877. The Women's Cricket Association of India was formed around 100 years later in 1973.  

2nd Test in 1935 in Sydney

The first time a (male) Indian national team travelled to Australia was in 1947-48 when they played a five match series. Given this, it might surprise you to know that the Australian women's team, the Southern Stars, played their first test match (against England) in Sydney in 1934.

On this beautiful afternoon in Canberra, as the crowd claps for a four from Elise Perry and the bowler walks back to her starting mark, I am delighted that cricket offers this cross-cultural opportunity.