I live in Ahmedabad. And, after a long summer spent in Lockdown, suddenly one morning, the light changed and it started raining. Monsoon had arrived. That evening, while watching Cyclone Nisarga on television, I started receiving innumerable phone calls and messages from India and abroad, asking me, if all was well, with my family in Alibaug. I did not answer, as I was intently watching the havoc in Alibaug, as the waves were rising as high as the coconut trees against the backdrop of a dark clouded sky and turbulent sea. Yes, I know Alibaug, as often, I use this place like a stage to set my novels, but I do not have relatives there, except for a friend’s family.
Alibaug is the land of my ancestors; as the Bene Israel Jews landed here, after a shipwreck, some 2000 years ago, while fleeing from their Greek persecutors. And, since the millennium, I have often been to Alibaug, researching for my novel BOOK OF ESTHER and then BOOK OF RACHEL. During these years, I discovered, the ROCK OF ELIJAH in Sagav village near Alibaug, where he is known to have landed. It is believed, when he flew back to heaven in his chariot of fire, the wheels left a dent in the rock there, which is worshipped by Bene Israel Jews as a pilgrimage site. This coastal landscape inspired me, so I set BOOK OF RACHEL in my ancestral village near Alibaug and the novel starts like this, ” The cyclone lashed Rachel’s house exactly at three thirty that afternoon and brought with it a fish at her doorstep…”.
Soon after Nisarga hit Alibaug and the messages started pouring in, I did not know how to tell them that I did not have any relatives in Alibaug. I was connected to Alibaug through my novel BOOK OF RACHEL, where the story revolves around Rachel, her family and some other characters.
Slowly, by midnight, as the cyclone moved away from Alibaug, I realized that, for those who had read BOOK OF RACHEL, the protagonist Rachel, her family and all those who were part of the story had transformed into real characters for my readers and had become part of my family. I was deeply touched and did not tell them that the only relative, I had in Alibaug was Rachel….