Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Author's Inspiration — The Last Devadasi by Barbara L. Baer #amwriting #HistoricalFiction @pomegranatebarb

The Last Devadasi
By Barbara L. Baer.

The Last Devadasi opens in January 1970 in a convent during a typhoon flooding the coastal town of Pondicherry, a French protectorate in Madras State. The novel then moves to a film set at Gemini Studios in the city of Madras (now Chennai); from there we go to the port area of Georgetown, the colonial-era hotel The Connemara, and an overgrown compound with cobras in the brush. I wrote Devadasi over several decades from memory and journal entries I kept during my three years living in South India. Where I needed to add to the places, people, music, street noises and smells I remembered, I did research but mostly the story of four people whose lives cross in Madras came from memory and invention.

When I lived in Madras, I taught English literature at a woman’s college, but as soon as classes ended, I bicycled to a thatched roof studio where I studied the traditional dance form of Bharatanatayam with the greatest South Indian artist of her time, Balaswaraswati. By the time I became her pupil, the majestic woman had been showered with awards in India and all over the world, but in her youth, she’d struggled against the stigma of her birth: Balasaraswati was born into the Devadasi caste.

At the time, I researched the Devadasi caste, that literally means the servant of the god, a caste that originated in its South Indian form a thousand years ago when devotees were married to a god and dedicated to serving him. Devadasis were often the only literate woman, schooled in sacred learning, singing and dancing, indispensible in ritual worship. The girls from a young age were also sexual servants, and today, an even more corrupted form of dedication happens every year when the poorest are brought to a goddess of fertility until a man claims them.

 For the novel, I created a central character, Kamala Kumari, young and beautiful, a cinema starlet at Gemini Studios, where, like Bollywood, low-budget musical films are churned out every year. Even as Kamala has her picture on movie magazine covers, she still feels compelled to hide her Devadasi caste origins. The characters she loves and envies, bewitches and betrays, are drawn into her deception. This is The Last Devadasi, drawn from experience, transformed in my imagination to emerge as fiction.

The Last Devadasi

Passionate and forbidden love clashes with tradition and caste in a changing India.

Kamala Kumari is more than a Gemini Studio starlet: she’s a classical dancer trained in the age-old line of Devadasis, a caste set in place a thousand years ago when girls were first dedicated in south Indian temples to serve the gods and men. From the promise of art and devotion, the sacred dancers fell into the hands of priests who both exalted and betrayed them. Beautiful, brilliant and proud, Kamala struggles to escape the old ways, entangling her Indian assistant, Dutch lover, and his young American wife.

With its turbulent passions amid social upheavals, The Last Devadasi takes readers on a sensual feast in the 1970s palm-shaded trading city of Madras.

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Barbara L. Baer

Barbara grew up in California, got her BA and MA at Stanford University before going to South India to teach, study dance, and have experiences unlike anything in her American life. She taught in Madras (now Chennai) and Tashkent, Uzbekistan, then part of the USSR, which gave her the inspiration and voice for her novella, Grisha the Scrivener. After a decade of encounters and adventures, she returned to the US, taught at Dennison University in Granville, Ohio, worked for newspapers, and wrote fiction and travel pieces.
In India, she’d studied and fallen in love with the culture and classical forms of dance, but in America, her passion for ballet returned. She honed her skills reviewing classical and contemporary dance for newspapers and periodicals in America and France. Back in America, she also wrote political pieces and won a national journalism prize for her reporting on the United Farm Workers. Barbara’s fiction and non-fiction has often been reprinted in anthologies and she has spoken on national and regional public radio and on Voice of America about books as diverse as the life of a dissident Russian to a Soviet Jewish pomegranate botanist who led her to her own amateur horticulturalism. She helped create book festivals and started a small press to publish women writers, as well as one man.
Credits include fiction in RedbookNew American ReviewConfrontationNew Letters, 34th Paralleland other publications; non-fiction in Orion MagazineThe NationThe ProgressiveNarrativeSaisons de la DanseThe Massachusetts ReviewDance MagazinePersimmon Tree and more. Her work appears in collections from To Eat with Grace100 years of Writing from The Nation, Traveler’s TalesWreckage of ReasonAmerica’s Working Women. Her novella, Grisha the Scrivener, was published in 2011.
Barbara has lived many years in Sonoma County, California, where she writes, edits and teaches through the county jail program, tends a garden and an orchard of pomegranates and olives, and is active in environmental and political causes. She lives with her husband, Michael Morey, also a writer and bricoleur, jack of all trades, who keeps things going.

Barbara loves to hear from readers, you can find her: WebsiteTwitter.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Life in the Time of Sailing Ships – Part III, by Jayne Davis #History #Ships #Regency @jaynedavis142

Life in the Time of Sailing Ships – Part III
By Jayne Davis

Part I of Life in theTime of Sailing Ships looked at some phrases in everyday language that originated in the days of sail. Part II looked at living on a warship. For Part III, I’m returning to some of those everyday phrases.

Slush fund

The meaning today is a reserve of money used for illicit purposes. The meaning has changed over the years, as it was originally a fund used to buy small items for a ship’s crew, such as books for them to read.
So why ‘slush’? It is an unappetising explanation.
Ships’ crews ate a lot of salted meat. The cooking for all the men was done in a central galley, and for the salt beef or pork this consisted of boiling it up in large vats. The fat floated to the top, having much the same consistency as the slush we get when snow partially melts. The cook would skim this off and store it for sale.

The galley on HMS Victory. Note the tiles to prevent falling embers setting fire to deck planks. The fire would be put out in rough weather or when going into action—there is nowhere to run to if a ship catches fire at sea..

Learn the ropes or Know the ropes

Knowing the ropes is to understand how to do something. Sailing ships use ropes—lots of ropes!
The photos below are of the Cutty Sark, a 150-year old tea clipper now on permanent display in Greenwich, London. It was the fastest ship of its day.

Just some of the rigging on the Cutty Sark.
Some of the running rigging on Cutty Sark. These are some of the ropes used to control the yards and sails. You need to know which one to pull on.

It seems obvious that the phrase must have come from the days of sailing ships, but this is disputed. It has been suggested that the phrase originated in the theatre, where ropes were used for raising and lowering scenery, and the word wasn’t seen in print until the beginning of the 19th century.
I’m sticking with the nautical version – even if the phrase did not originate with sailing ships, it is very appropriate.

To the bitter end

Not bitter as in lemons…
The photo below shows two sets of bitts on a tall ship (with ropes very neatly coiled). The bitts are the pairs of posts almost hidden by the rope.

Bitts, with cable wound around them.

An anchor or mooring cable would have one end wound around the bitts to fasten it to the ship. As the rope was paid out, it would eventually come to the bitter end—the end attached to the bitts. So the bitter end is when you can go no further.
Again, this is disputed, but it sounds good to me.

Taken aback

As I’ve given you two potentially dodgy phrases, I’ll finish with this one which is more definite.
Taken aback today is to be startled or surprised. The first things to be taken aback were sails, the phrase being first recorded in the 17th century. It means when the wind gets on the wrong side of a sail. This can happen due to a sudden shift in the wind, or due to a course change. If this happens accidently, it is not normally a good thing, but sometimes sails are ‘backed’ on purpose, when a ship heaves to, or if it is caught ‘in irons’. The principles are the same for tall ships like the Cutty Sark and for sailing dinghies, but it is much easier to explain using the latter!
Heaving to is bringing a ship to a stop in the water, without anchoring. A ship being boarded for customs checks, for example, would have to heave to. On a sailing ship, this is done by having some of the sails backed. These backed sails push the ship back while others are trying to move it forwards.

Heaving to.

A sailing ship wanting to go in the direction the wind is coming from (into the wind) has to tack back and forth. Each time the ship turns, it has to pass though a position where the wind is coming from dead ahead. If the ship doesn’t have enough momentum in its turn, it can get stuck pointing directly into the wind, unable to move or turn further. As the ship is hardly moving the rudder doesn’t work. It is referred to as being ‘in irons’. This is an example of a phrase going from everyday like into shipboard life—a convict in manacles (in irons) cannot move, and nor can a sailing ship in this position.
The way out of this, as I rapidly learned in my dinghy sailing days, is to back the jib. This pushes the boat backwards, giving enough movement for the rudder to work and put the boat in a position where both sails can fill. You then try again, hoping not too many people were watching.

Backing the jib to escape an embarrassing situation.

Further reading:
The Phrase Finder website discusses lots of phrases that have nautical origins, and debunks some that seem to be obviously related to the sea but are not.

The Mrs MacKinnons 

England, 1799
Major Matthew Southam returns from India, hoping to put the trauma of war behind him and forget his past. Instead, he finds a derelict estate and a family who wish he'd died abroad.
Charlotte MacKinnon married without love to avoid her father’s unpleasant choice of husband. Now a widow with a young son, she lives in a small Cotswold village with only the money she earns by her writing.
Matthew is haunted by his past, and Charlotte is fearful of her father’s renewed meddling in her future. After a disastrous first meeting, can they help each other find happiness?
4.7* average on Amazon, available on Kindle Unlimited.

Jayne Davis

Jayne Davis writes historical romances set in the late Georgian/Regency era, published as both ebooks and paperbacks. There are more articles on her blog. [please link to]
She was hooked on Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer as a teenager, and longed to write similar novels herself. Real life intervened, and she had several careers, including as a non-fiction author under her real name. That wasn't quite the writing career she had in mind...
Finally, she got around to polishing up stories written for her own amusement in long winter evenings, and became the kind of author she’d dreamed of in her teens. Her first book, The Mrs MacKinnons, was published in 2018. She is now working on the first few books in the Marstone Series, set in the late Georgian/early Regency period.
Book 1 in the Marstone Series, Sauce for the Gander, will be published in early 2019.

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