It will be possible to read Sculpting the Elephant as a moving love story and ignore the historical subplot but I hope it will grip readers. My Victorian polymath works for the Great Trigonometrical Survey – the nineteenth century equivalent of the endeavour to get into space in the C20th! The inspirational thing about this 70 year long project to map the whole of India including the Himalayas is that the Indians and Brits who worked together respected each other.
The reason our country looks the way it does is because of Empire and it is not taught enough in schools or universities. We can’t properly understand this country without knowing about the British Empire. I don’t believe in sweeping away the horrors of empire, the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the Opium Wars, the massacres and the hasty departure from India using the army to protect the leaving British but not to police partition. Neither do I believe in stereotyped narratives. Life isn’t like that – its messy.
AS OTHERS SEE US – fabulous radio series !
Even after recounting terrible consequences of our former imperial rule, the predominant tone in the episode set in India is of affection and sadness at what we are doing to our country. This broadcast on how we are seen in India is particularly relevant to me given my Indian family connections and the themes of Sculpting the Elephant. They talk of the English language, law and cricket etc as positive legacies. Rarely talked about either in the UK or in India is the Great Trigonometrical Survey. Dr Jim Bennett of the Museum of the History of Science pointed me in that direction for my Victorian polymath character Bartholomew Carew. Put simply the mapping of India was one of the greatest scientific achievements of the C19. Measuring the Himalayas with heavy C19 equipment meant it was an achievement of human endurance too.
I want my books to reflect how each human being is unique. In my opinion we need to connect and judge each other on our individual behaviour and not on stereotypes! Our politicians need to distinguish between PATRIOTISM and NATIONALISM . The former is love of one’s country but the latter is my country right or wrong and is incredibly dangerous. In the story of the British in India this survey is a great and often forgotten achievement -it also defined the country we know as India