My Five Senses of India: A Guest Post by Janet MacLeod Trotter, Author of The Sapphire Child

I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome Janet MacLeod Trotter to Linda’s Book Bag on The Sapphire Child publication day. Janet stayed in with me a couple of years ago when The Far Pashmina Mountains was published in a post you can see here. On that occasion, I had recently been to India, but just in the centre of the country to tiger reserves. The reason I’m so delighted to find out more about Janet’s Five Senses of India today is because the dreaded pandemic put paid to my trip to India this year when I was due to tour the country. Instead, Janet is taking me on a virtual tour through her The Sapphire Child guest post today and I’m immensely grateful to her. I’m thrilled to have The Sapphire Child on my TBR too.

The Sapphire Child is published today, 8th December 2020 and is available for purchase here.

The Sapphire Child

In the dying days of the Raj, can paths divided by time and circumstance ever find each other again?

In 1930s Northern India, childhood friends Stella and Andrew have grown up together in the orbit of the majestic Raj Hotel. Spirited Stella has always had a soft spot for boisterous Andrew, though she dreams of meeting a soulmate from outside the close-knit community. But life is turned on its head when one scandal shatters their friendship and another sees her abandoned by the man she thought she loved.

As the Second World War looms, Andrew joins the army to fight for freedom. Meanwhile in India, Stella, reeling from her terrible betrayal, also throws herself into the war effort, volunteering for the Women’s Auxiliary Corps, resigned to living a lonelier life than the one she dreamed of as a child.

When Andrew returns to the East on the eve of battle with Japan, the two former friends are reunited, though bitter experience has changed them. Can they rekindle what they once had or will war demand of their friendship the ultimate sacrifice?

MY FIVE SENSES OF INDIA!

A Guest Post by Janet MacLeod Trotter

To celebrate the launch of my latest historical novel, which is largely set in the India of the 1930s and 40s, I wanted to share some of the sensual moments that evoke India for me.

TOUCH

The feel of my grandmother’s Kashmir shawl. One of the reasons I am so passionate about setting my recent novels in India, is my family connection with the country.

My Granny Sydney on her wedding day in Lahore

My grandparents lived and worked in Northern India from the early 1920s until well after Independence – my grandfather was a forester. Granny would go into camp with him until the snows of winter came and I can imagine how she would have needed the warmth of this soft embroidered shawl.

My Grandmother’s Kashmir Shawl

The Sapphire Child is partly set in Kashmir too – a place I was lucky enough to visit as a teenager on an overland bus trip – and so I know how cold it can be in November. I wish I’d had Granny’s shawl then!

SIGHT

Sunrise Over Kanchenjunga

It might sound like a cliché but the sight of the sun rising over the Himalayan peaks is something that will stay in my mind’s eye all my days. These were the mountains into which my grandparents trekked – with my mother as a baby hoisted in a pram on poles and carried along with the baggage! I first saw the dawn on the Himalayas from Namche Bazaar in Nepal at the end of my bus trip, scrambling up a slope in the dark to catch the first rays striking faraway Everest. In more recent times, near Darjeeling, I’ve seen the peak of Kanchenjunga emerging out of the mist and floating on a bed of cloud.

The Raj-in-the-Hills Hotel in Kashmir – where some of the pivotal moments in the new novel take place – has a stunning view of Nanga Parbat in the western Himalayas. But no spoilers!

TASTE

This, for me, has to be Darjeeling tea! Since I first began researching my India novels – in particular, The India Tea Series – I have developed a passion for the light, musky, amber-coloured teas of the Himalayan foothills. I start each day with a refreshing cup (or teapotful!) of Darjeeling – First Flush being my favourite. Imbibing its almost fruity taste transports me back to the times I’ve visited Darjeeling and the surrounding area, walking through its tea gardens in the mellow sunlight.

Visiting a Darjeeling tea garden

Darjeeling would definitely have been served to the residents of The Raj Hotels in my novels, with a theatrical flourish from enthusiastic hotelier, Charlie Dubois!

A very happy author, tea-tasting in Darjeeling

SMELL

Preparing corn chapattis for lunch

Smell is one of the most evocative of senses and memory prompts. The buttery, smoky, spicy smells of wayside cooking conjure up India vividly. Street food: vats of steaming lentil dahl and rice, curried vegetables, the sharp tang of mustard oil and the hot fiery aroma of chapattis sizzling on a skillet.

Chapattis cooked on an open fire

Once when my husband Graeme and I were trekking in the Himalayan foothills around Manali, we came across a wayside café – a couple of benches and a table under the trees – where they cooked up one of the freshest and tastiest meals we had all holiday. Best of all were the chapatis – a local speciality made with homegrown corn – that were golden, rich, straight from the fire and utterly delicious!

When the characters in my novel return from Scotland to India, it is the smells as much as the sights which remind them of what they have missed.

SOUND

The noisy, bustling spice quarter quarter of Old Delhi

The noise of the bazaars. In some ways, nothing evokes the vibrancy, richness and frenetic side of India more than the sounds concentrated into the busy streets of their old quarters. When I first went to India in the 1970s, the traffic sounds that dominated were the bells of cycle rickshaws, the buzz of motor rickshaws and occasional hooting taxis. Competing against them to be heard were the cries of vendors and shouts of porters negotiating their way around wandering cows and shoppers in the narrow thoroughfares.

Visiting in more recent times, the growth in traffic – of motorbikes and cars instead of bicycles and tongas – is very noticeable. The toot of car horns is ubiquitous; not the aggressive, get-out-of-the-way hooting, but rather a friendly warning that ‘I’m behind you and I’m about to overtake you!’ Yet, despite the growth in traffic noise, it’s still possible to hear a flock of sheep come bleating along a grand street in Calcutta and sharing the pavement with tourists.

In The Sapphire Child, the sounds that my characters would have heard when the stepped out of the Raj Hotel onto the streets of Rawalpindi, would have been the cry of a peacock on the lawn, the clatter of horse-drawn tongas, the rumble of military vehicles and – yes – the tring of bicycle bells.

*

Oh Janet, that’s just wonderful. Thank you. You’ve really evoked India for me and brought back so many memories of the country too. I can’t wait to immerse myself in The Sapphire Child. Let’s hope when I read it I’ll actually be in India!

About Janet MacLeod Trotter

janet-small

Janet MacLeod Trotter is the author of numerous bestselling and acclaimed novels, including The Hungry Hills, which was nominated for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, and The Tea Planter’s Daughter, which was nominated for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Novel of the Year Award. Much informed by her own experiences, MacLeod Trotter was raised in the north-east of England by Scottish parents and travelled in India as a young woman. She recently discovered diaries and letters belonging to her grandparents, who married in Lahore and lived and worked in the Punjab for nearly thirty years, which served as her inspiration for the India Tea Series. She now divides her time between Northumberland and the Isle of Skye.

You can find out more about Janet and her novels on her website and by following her on Twitter @MacLeodTrotter. You can also find her on Facebook.

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