The Genesis of Karma
We cannot see how our lives will unfold.
What is destiny and what is accident?
And how can one ever be certain?
In September of 1984 I arrived in New Delhi, warned that traveling in India was difficult yet remarkable. The food was good, the culture rich, and the traveling cheap—for $7 a day, I had enough money to stay for three months. I was 27; I had an American Express card for emergencies; I had just spent the last three months in Thailand, Malaysia and Burma. I figured I could take on India.
But what I didn’t anticipate was the intensity of Indian curiosity. I wasn’t tall, blond, or blue-eyed, the usual traveller’s recipe for attracting attention. And though I discreetly covered my body, I still attracted mobs. I was stared at, followed, touched, and talked to with the rapid diction of various Indian languages. So after weeks of extreme scrutiny, exhausted by the overcrowded cities with their excesses of noise, garbage, poverty, and a lack of personal space, I boarded a train to the country’s western frontier. The track ended in a glorious medieval town—Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, in the middle of the Thar Desert—and I fell in love with India. Jaisalmer is the place where the seeds of Karma began to grow: A teenage girl runs to the desert to hide; a boy, an orphan from a nomadic tribe, becomes her protector. The setting for the growing romance is a 12th century fort town right out of the Arabian Nights—shadowy alleys, saris and turbans the color of jewels, and a camel driver with an ulterior motive. But when a desert storm churns across the landscape, will the girl be lost forever?
My love affair with India didn’t survive the next month. On October 31, 1984, the Prime Minister was murdered by her Sikh bodyguards. New Delhi was taken over by revenge-seeking gangs of young Hindu men. At least three thousand innocent Sikhs were killed in three days and my romantic notion of the country was gone. I realized that India was a complex, troubled nation layered with racial wounds, a lingering caste system, and corrupt political organizations. If I were ever going to set a novel here, my characters would have to face the brutality, racism, and superstitious beliefs of this nation.
It took twenty-five years after my first trip to India to find the courage to bring this story to light. And though Maya, the heroine of the tragic but hopeful tale, is not the author in any way, we do share some similar travel experiences. Karma takes not only the reader on an incredible journey across a passionate country but the writer too, offering her an opportunity to fall in love with India once again.