16 Feb

In Touch with the Untouchables

Sometimes solutions to writing problems show up unexpectedly. I was reading a chapter in Half The Sky (unless you’re a caveman, read Half The Sky–now–or especially if you’re a caveman, first world or otherwise) about sex trafficking in the slums of Nagpur, where members of the Dalit (Untouchable) class, especially women, have almost no social or legal rights or protection, other than those they create with the support or leadership of social activists. (I won’t go into details–read the book: it’s smart, easy to read, hard to take–even when you’re already aware of its subject matter–and almost impossible to put down.)

I have henchmen characters, the shamblers, in Sea of Tigers whose origin has always been a little vague–one of those problems I knew I’d eventually resolve, although hopefully not with clichés. As I read the chapter described above, a voice–you know the voice–whispered, “The shamblers are Untouchables.” I don’t always trust that voice, even if it’s right–it’s also impetuous, a trait it shares with me. But the whisperer is right. They are Untouchables, although not from a single culture, and their leader organizes and runs them according to her complex (but not opaque) moral agenda. They’re not role models, they’re more privateer than criminal, but they are sympathetic and, in their ragged way, are working for a better world.

The shamblers’ origin wasn’t nagging at me when I read Half The Sky–I hadn’t thought about their origin in months–but it was clear that deeper parts of my creative conscious–that black hole where most of the real work happens and from which things can escape–had not forgotten about them and was actively seeking solutions.

That’s the beauty of eureka–it never gets old, it never stops being a surprise, it’s almost always a gift. Even when it’s a curse.