I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Sharon Maas’s The Orphan Of India and doubly delighted to be able to share an extract from this gorgeous book. I reviewed the book earlier this month and loved it. You can read my review HERE.
Here is the excerpt you have been wanting to read…
A village in Maharashtra, India, 1977
Jyothi’s slight form wavered a little as Ma placed the small bundle on her head, but she held her head up high and gripped it tightly with both hands, and soon found the point of perfect balance. It was bulky rather than heavy, and far easier to carry than water. A single full bucket dragged from the well was back-breaking, down-pulling, stop-and-start work for a girl of almost five, but she could carry laundry with ease, using her arms as props, following Ma with swinging steps and a straight but pliant back, all the way up to the Great House at the top of the hill.
Ma carried a much larger bundle on her head without the help of hands, and she walked briskly, for they were late. Jyothi quickened her pace to keep up. Every now and then she stumbled on the hem of her too-long skirt, stopped to push a fold of fabric into her sagging waistband and hurried forward to catch up, for Ma would not wait. They reached the top of the hill, turned into the driveway, entered the front courtyard and walked up the three stairs to the great wooden door at the top.
Ma knocked twice with the brass elephant-head knocker. The door swung open silently and Devi Ma let them in, frowning slightly because the sun was already rising above the turrets to the east, and work was waiting.
Jyothi followed Ma, who followed Devi Ma; single file they walked along the coloured tiles of a short passageway of fretwork walls into the inner court. Ma lifted the bundle of laundry from her own head, and then Jyothi’s bundle, and set both side by side on the marble floor of the inner court.
Devi Ma squatted down beside Jyothi’s ma and together the women began the sorting and the counting: saris in one heap, dhotis in another, blouses and underwear in other, smaller heaps; counting and adding up the prices.
Jyothi’s ma could not follow the counting and the calculations but nodded at all of Devi Ma’s sums, trusting her. Only occasionally they squabbled over the price of an item, like the big yellow woven bedspread, which Jyothi’s ma said was so heavy and hard to wash her husband had needed her eldest son’s help in wringing it out, and it was worth fifteen rupees, whereas Devi Ma said it was only worth twelve. But the squabbling was amiable and soon put to rest, and Jyothi’s mother got fourteen rupees for the bedspread. After the clean laundry was checked against Devi Ma’s list and paid for, the pile of dirty laundry in the corner would have to be sorted, counted and listed. It was a good hour’s work, interspersed with good-natured stories of village gossip volunteered by Jyothi’s ma in exchange for Great House gossip.
While they did their business Jyothi sat at the edge of the pool in the middle of the courtyard and played with the water-spitting fish. It was an oval pool of turquoise tiles and shallow water that caught the early morning sunlight and played with it in golden concentric circles rippling backwards from the fish.
Jyothi wore a red ankle-length cotton skirt and a flowered blouse; her hair was neatly plaited and hung down her back in a thick black rope. She swivelled her body around, lifted her skirt to her knees and put her feet in the pool. She leaned forward and lifted cups of water out of the pool and let the water fall back through her fingers into itself with a delicious splash. The gurgle of bubbling water was music.
All of a sudden she stopped playing and cocked her head. She had heard a sound, a sweet sound, sweeter even than the water’s voice; barely perceptible yet strong, insistent, reminding her of something but she knew not what, calling her somewhere but she knew not where.
If you could turn the glow and delight of the first glimpse of the sun rising over the trees at the edge of the village into sound, it would be this. If you could turn the perfume of a rose or the taste of a ripe mango into sound, or the feel of cool water running through your fingers, it would be this.
If you could turn a soul welling with wonder into sound, it would surely be this too…
Jyothi stood up.
The fretwork passageway led back to the front door in one direction. She had never been in the other direction, had never continued up to its end; always they had left the passage at the arch leading into the inner court.
A last glance at her mother told Jyothi the business of sorting, counting and adding was only halfway through. Her mother had forgotten her presence.
She found herself in a wide room with a wooden herringbone floor, polished to such a shine she could see a faint reflection of herself in the deep brown gloss. A series of arched windows set into one wall let in the early sunlight, casting it in long slanting pools of round-topped light. The room was bare except for a few straight-backed chairs against the walls and, near the entrance to the passageway, a hatstand with an oval mirror built into it. Jyothi crossed the room and followed the sound to an open doorway at the far side. She hesitated just one second before passing the doorway.
She found herself in a large hallway, dark, for there were no windows, only several heavy doors of wood, all closed. There was no need to open any of the doors for there was also a staircase, and the sound came from above, from the top of that staircase. Jyothi walked up, her left hand on the banister, looking upwards as if expecting that, any moment now, the glorious sound would take on form and appear as a vision of light before her, a goddess beckoning her on.
Along the upstairs landing there was a wall broken by several more doors, again all closed. As in a trance, Jyothi walked along the landing, arms held out before her as if to feel her way forward, although the landing was not dark like the hallway below, but light, and the light was coming from the far end, as well as the sound. Light and sound merged into a single entity pulling her forward, erasing the memory of Ma and the bundle of clothes downstairs, and even the memory of herself and who she was, wrapping itself around her mind and drawing her into itself.
She felt light-headed, like clear water sparkling with sunlight.
Jyothi arrived at the end of the landing and stood on the threshold of a room that was all light: smooth shining white floor, white bare walls and, at the far end, opposite to where she stood, an open balustrade broken by a row of slender columns joined by scalloped arches. Beyond the balustrade Jyothi’s glance took in the green hills rolling away to the east, and the sun, now well above the hills, brilliant white at its glowing centre, and the entire eastern sky shining white, everywhere a blinding whiteness.
White, too, were the clothes of the two people in the room. It was these two who claimed Jyothi’s attention. One of them, she saw at first glance, was the source of the sound. It was a man, sitting cross-legged on a small red carpet that provided the only spot of colour in the entire room. Across his legs rested a sitar; his fingers caressed the strings, and it was the music thus produced that had drawn Jyothi.
Music! This was music! Nothing she had ever heard before was worthy of the name. Sometimes musicians came to the village and there was singing and dancing in the main street, and of course at every festival there was music. She had seen a sitar before; she had even heard one played.
But never before like this. She stood in the doorway, transfixed, staring.
A lost child. A childless couple. Can they save each other?
Living on the streets of Bombay, Jyothi has no-one to turn to after her mother is involved in a tragic accident.
Monika and Jack Kingsley are desperate for a child of their own. On a trip to India, they fall in love with Jyothi and decide to adopt the orphan child.
The new family return to England, but Jyothi finds it difficult to adapt. As Monika and Jack’s relationship fractures, Jyothi is more alone than ever and music becomes her solace. But even when her extraordinary musical talent transforms into a promising career, Jyothi still doesn’t feel like she belongs.
Then a turbulent love affair causes her to question everything. And Jyothi realises that before she can embrace her future, she must confront her past…
The Orphan of India is an utterly evocative and heart-wrenching novel that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Perfect for fans of Dinah Jefferies, Santa Montefiore and Diane Chamberlain.
A huge thank you to Sharon Maas and Kim Nash at Bookouture for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and for allowing me to share this excerpt. Follow the rest of the tour…