We’ve all heard the old adage ‘write what you know’. Dianne Noble has taken that to heart and her second book, A Hundred Hands, set in the slums of Kolkata, will be published by Tirgearr on 2nd November 2016. Remembering the details from a time past is often a problem when writing what you know. Dianne had no difficulty recalling the sights, sounds and experiences of her time in India because she made a determined, disciplined effort to keep a journal. In the passage below Dianne grabs the reader by the neck and dumps her in the midst of Kolkata. I challenge you to read it and not be gripped:
India is an assault on the senses.
My shirt sticks to my back as I edge round a goat, swatting at flies, coughing as the smoke from pavement cooking fires catches in my throat. After four hours of threadbare sleep I’m fighting my way round Kolkata, India, trying to find the group of street children I’m here to teach English to.
The noise makes my ears hurt – shouting, blaring of horns, backfiring buses. A cow stands in the road, munching impassively on a discarded newspaper, and traffic edges round it. This creature is holy. If a driver were to run into it he would be dragged from his car by an angry crowd and beaten up.The heat beats on my head like a hammer as I search among blackened buildings whose stonework crumbles like stale cake. I smell spices and sewage and urine evaporating in hot sun.
That must be the place. It takes me an age to cross the road, weaving between rickshaws, yellow taxis, tuk tuks festooned with dusty tinsel. The children are so tiny – malnourished – with bare feet, cropped hair and laddered ribs, but they shriek with laughter when I try to speak to them in Hindi. They stroke the pale skin of my arms and clamber on to my knees as I sit, cross-legged and crampy, on the bare earth floor. They are a joy, desperate to learn English, desperate to improve their position at the bottom of the luck ladder.
When I get back to my small room that evening my feet are gritty and blistered, my chest is raw with exhaust fumes and I’m filthy. Sweat makes white rivulets down the dirt on my face and I feel, and doubtless smell, rank.
By the end of my first week I’m overwhelmed by the magnitude of the poverty, despairing at the smallness of my contribution. How can I possibly do this for three whole months? Whatever had I been thinking of?
I start a journal and at the end of every day, no matter how tired I am, I write down every detail of my day – how the children are progressing, who made me laugh, how much their poor chests rattle, who has the worst sores. It’s a sort of de-briefing and I find it cathartic as I realise that I’m surrounded every day by happy, smiling children. I hear laughter everywhere I go in this dreadful place and the Bengali men and women get used to seeing me, wave and call out ‘Hello, Aunty’ (a term of respect for women of a certain age!) At the wayside shrine even jolly, elephant-headed Ganesh wears a broad grin.
My diary covers three months and forms the basis for A Hundred Hands, which tells the story of Polly who saw the plight of the children living on the streets and stayed to help.
A Hundred Hands is currently on Amazon pre-order for only 99p – a bargain price for what promises to be a very atmospheric book!