World Travel
New Original Fiction
Books & Movies

Film Space
Movies in depth
Dreamscapes Two
More Fiction
Lifestyles Archive
Politics & Living
Sam Hawksmoor
Exciting YA fiction


From Our Archives: Writing about India - From Our Archives

Return of the Tentacled Brain-Sucking, Blood-Drinking Thing
Colin Todhunter on writing a bestseller about India

'From bats to geckos and from cockroaches to rats, I’ve slept with them all.'

In order to write, a writer must have inspiration and ideas. Staring at a blank screen for half a day can be a disheartening endeavour. I sometimes get the impression that India has been written to death by foreigners. What else is there to write about the place? From Arthur Keostler to William Dalrymple, and from Jan Breman to William Sutcliffe, India has attracted so many writers to its shores. What else can be written on architecture, geography, history and culture, or poverty and the sights, sounds and smells of India? From cookery to the IT boom, the market seems to have been cornered.

A few years ago, I was thinking about developing a new angle. I would write about India in a way that no one had before. At one stage, I had thought about doing a book on Indian gyms. I am a gym-junkie and simply have to work-out wherever I am. I must have been to well over fifty throughout India. I even remember training in a place in Kathmandu when I was suffering from the early symptoms of some disease. I felt utterly awful - but just HAD to train. My head was spinning, my stomach churning and I was on-fire with fever. It turned out to be a terrible case of dysentery. Later that day, I felt like death. Training on top of dysentery is not recommended. I used to laugh about the seriousness of dysentery until I found out that it was responsible for more deaths among the British in India than anything else - including war, and cholera.

But just how much is there to write on gyms. There may be a few chapters in it, but not much more. Well, they have four walls, are stocked with equipment of varying quality, and there has been an explosion in the number of gyms in India over the last fie years. I have been to the best and the worst that India has to offer, ranging from a slick outfit in Pune that catered for the city’s elite to a shed in Pushkar that possessed the barest equipment and had thirty people crammed within a space where it would have proved impossible to swing a cat around your head. Why on earth anyone would want to swing a cat around their head in the first place? I just don’t know. Perhaps it was used as a form of measuring unit in some former forgotten time.

I suppose I could stretch things out to fifteen pages or so. And, of course, there are the characters who frequent such places. I’ve encountered one or two wannabe film star heroes who strut around like cartoon characters, but that’s about it. Oh, I nearly forgot -there must a few pages at least to write about me being the centre of attraction whenever I set foot inside a gym. On more than one occasion I have been straining away with maximum concentration, only for someone to stand right in front of me with a bank expression and ask “Which country?” At that point, instead of exploding I am proud to say that my tolerance has paid dividends.

So I kind of went off the idea of doing a book on Indian gyms, although I suspect that no one has ever written much on them before. Then I had another fantastic brainwave: I could write about toilets in India. I’ll bet no one has ever done that! I have spent many an hour hunched over one, staring into the bowl, waiting to throw up as a result of some hideous illness. That (off) white enamel bowl, usually peppered with cracks and set into the floor. But then I conclude that I’d be hard pushed to squeeze one solitary chapter out of it. A case of writer’s constipation. Anyway, I don’t think it would be a seller. Toilet humour - it’s hardly riveting stuff that is going to capture the imagination of the book buying public.

So that was that as far as toilets and gyms were concerned. My latest inspiration is wildlife. I once met Theodore Baskaran, a renowned writer on wildlife, and took a quick look at a couple of his books. There is no doubt at all that I couldn’t compete with someone possessing years of experience and masses of knowledge on the subject. But then it hit me - It doesn’t really matter. I know next to nothing on species, habitats, behaviour, and all of things that any self-respecting wildlife specialist is required to know. I’m pretty hopeless as a wildlife expert really. But that wouldn’t stop me. I have an angle. My book would concentrate on all of those insects, reptiles, and amphibians that I have spent the night with in hotel rooms over the years.

From bats to geckos and from cockroaches to rats, I’ve slept with them all. I was once in a hotel in Cochin having a shower and came across the biggest cockroaches that I have ever seen. To this day, I’ve seen none bigger. They must have been on a high protein, high steroid fuelled diet. So it was a quick in and out of the communal shower before heading back to my room thinking “Thank God that bathroom is not attached to my room”. I thought that my room, being a few metres from the bathroom, would provide sanctuary from those sinister-looking tentacled monsters. I didn’t want them appearing in the dead of the night sucking the blood from my neck (yes, as you my guess, I have an irrational fear of cockroaches). But later that night, Iwoke to find two of those giant mutant insects crawling on me. I shudder to think of that episode even now. Death by cockroach - urghhh!

That was just one of a dozen or so delightful cockroach moments I have had. Give me bats or dragonflies anyday. I don’t mind them. They just fly at head height and are more of a nuisance factor than anything else.

There is a hotel in Chennai where bats haunt the verandahs at night. But if you know they are about, then you can just keep your head down and hope for the best.

Rats - well, they are a different kettle of fish (bag of monkeys, or some other inappropriate metaphor). In the same hotel in Chennai there are a couple of monsters. Even the cats won’t go near them.

My only real encounter with a giant rat was in a hotel in Panjim, Goa. I was walking up the stairs during the day and guess who just happened to be coming down in front of me at the same time? Yes, that’s right - it was public-enemy-number-one-resident-rat! I had been informed by someone a few weeks prior to this assignation that if rats feel threatened by a human, then in all probability they may attack the region that all men seek to protect at all costs. So with this in mind I stopped on the staircase, wanting to appear as non-threatening as was possible to the rat. It all so stopped a few stairs up from me (just at an appropriate height to launch an attack into the said region). I looked at it, and it at me. It was like a scene from a spaghetti - western when the hero and anti-hero come face-to-face to duel to the death. Then, as cool as could be, it trotted past not blinking an eyelid. Then I made my not so merry way to my gecko-infested room. It is probably sad to admit, but I have spent many an evening watching geckos as they cling to the walls staying motionless for minutes on end prior to pouncing on their prey with extended tongue. They are fantastic predators. I don’t mind geckos, but it is other lizards I am not so fond of - the types that don’t stick to the walls or ceiling but walk on the floor, have rotating heads and are twice the size of a normal gecko. The type that will crawl onto you bed during the night with the sole aim of sucking out your brain! I’ve come across a few but have always managed to chase them out of the room with a broom before they can take hold.

Apart from mosquitoes, small frogs, bed bugs, beetles and other small annoyances, that is about it as far as hotel wildlife goes. I don’t really mind if I have to cope with only one or two species during a night, but it is when you get the lot all at once that things become a little to uncomfortable. And during one hot night in Thanjavur, in a hotel with “homely comforts”, I had frogs, lizards, bats and rats. I don’t know what the proprietor meant by “homely comforts”, but maybe he lived in a zoo or some kind of swamp with marauding bands of insects.

So maybe, just maybe, there is probably enough material to write a book on hotel wildlife from the perspective of a squeamish foreigner. I have just realised as I have been writing this, I have been scratching and hearing sounds all around. There is nothing in the room with me. I’m just being paranoid. Or am I? What’s that in the corner!!!??? Not to worry - it is probably just some tentacled brain-sucking, blood-drinking thing that keeps a store of human skulls in its den. That could be the title of the book! “The Return of the Tentacled Brain-Sucking, Blood-Drinking Thing”. That’s got to be a bestseller!

© Colin Todhunter September 2003

Natasha and the Juice-Bar Owner
Colin Todhunter

To a westerner, fed on a diet of European rationalism, India may seem a strange place. It has a different logic, which can be unfathomable to most westerners.

Mosquitoes and Ceiling Fans: More Chai Anyone?
Colin Todhunter covers the globe

More Lifestyles


© Hackwriters 2000-2021 all rights reserved