Where the character of Maya originated
The character of Maya was not found in India in 1984 or in 2005 when I visited for a second time. I never met any young women like her. Most girls of her age were either in school, at home, or perhaps in a brothel. They were rarely seen in public and never alone. So when I began Karma I was surprised when this smart, confident girl appeared on the page. It was years before I realized that she likely grew out of a childhood memory.
When I was ten years old, an Indian family moved into our subdivision in Winnipeg. The father, tall and wearing a turban, was a professor at the university. His wife wore a sari, the first I had ever seen. Gold bangles circled her wrists. A diamond graced her nose. The tips of small beaded slippers could be seen when she walked. Their son, whose hair had never been cut, wore it on top of his head in a tight knot covered with a square of white cotton. And the daughter, who was my age, wore a salwar kameez: loose pants and tunic trimmed with silver embroidery.
Her name was Jeevit. She had black hair that looked almost wet as it fell down her back in a thick braid. Her dark eyes smiled and never wavered even though she had to wear what looked like pajamas to school. Jeevit was exotic yet was never teased for it. When I was invited to her home one day after school, I went with excitement. I removed my shoes and put on the slippers that her mother provided. And then I stepped onto the silk rugs that covered the polished floors. (Was it possible there were more colors in India?) The wood furniture was carved with flowers and birds. Real brass urns and bowls sat on tables. The house was orderly, like a museum. Only Jeevitís bedroom looked like it belonged in a Canadian home: white eyelet bedcover, pink walls, gathered sheer curtains.
I donít know what it was like for this family to live in a Canadian suburb in the late sixties. Did they make friends with their neighbors? Was the mother lonely? Did Jeevit feel estranged from her classmates? But I do recall my sense of this girl: confident, smart, and funny too. I remember her laughing as she ran across the gym, tugging at her Indian pants. She wasnít allowed to wear shorts like the rest of us. I like to believe that Jeevit stayed with me all of these years, eventually emerging in the character of Maya: A girl living on the fringe of society with a self-possession beyond her years. A heroine who discovers what she needs to save herself.