We have our first Prime Minister of South Asian ancestry. Rishi Sunak was born and brought up in England but his grandparents came from India and his in-laws live there. Most people in this country know little about India and often, what they think they know, is informed by unconscious prejudice. Rishi is a Hindu and was announced PM on Diwali, Hinduism’s biggest festival, the Festival of Light. When I wrote Sculpting the Elephant my aim was to shed light on India.
On a trip to Elephanta Island off the coast of Mumbai, Atam and I visited the cave temple. The guide stood in front of the giant statue of Shiva and sighed. Invading Portuguese had taken offence to his lignum (penis) and chopped it off. The guide raised his eyes heavenward and said, ‘Westerners do not understand Hinduism’. He was right. Most people in this country think of it as idolatry and not philosophy. Sculpting the Elephant is set in Oxford and India. Harry King, my working class origin artist protagonist falls for wealthy PhD student, Ramma Gupta, who is passionate about ancient Indian history and especially the time of Asoka. How many people in the world know that he was responsible for Buddhism? Buddha was a Vedic teacher. It was Asoka who spread his teaching across the subcontinent and beyond. How many people know that he also founded the world’s first international university at Nalanda? See pic below.
Readers tell me that Sculpting the Elephant is an entertaining read. It has a well-researched historical subplot mostly set in India. When you get to the end, without any effort, you will understand India a lot better. It’s a warts and all honest portrayal just as Food of Love is a warts and all honest portrayal of the UK. We are human so none of us is perfect but we are better when we learn from each other.
An example: In Food of Love I invented a word, ‘Communessence’ . It means ‘When we eat together we come together. The idea was inspired by my experience of Sikhs. In the UK , they work hard feeding homeless people and others struggling to feed their families. The numbers they feed in Amritsar and at the Gurdwara in Delhi are mind boggling. Their practice of giving free food at their Gurdwaras has a dual purpose – one to help the community and the other to promote equality. Given the discriminatory nature of the caste system in India, eating together sends out a wonderful example.