Friday, May 25, 2012

Why I Love to Write About Indus Valley Civilization

Guest Post by Vasant Davé, Author of Trade winds to Meluhha

Why I like to write about Indus Valley Civilization

Although Trade winds to Meluhha is my first  novel, I have decided that when I write the second, it too would be set in 'Meluhha', which is how the Mesopotamians called their contemporary Bronze Age civilization of Indus Valley. The most compelling reason for that preference is that I have accidentally stumbled upon a literary goldmine that had remained undiscovered so far.

It is not that no one had written fiction based on Indus Valley. Eileen Kernaghan, a Canadian author, had written Winter on the Plain of Ghosts in 2004. Probably unaware that Indus Valley had been full of projects utilizing town planning, water management and port building, she projected it as an uncivilized society that sacrificed children of other races. During 2010-11, an Indian author named Amish Tripathi wrote two novels The Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas, which went to top the charts in India. He tweaked the mythology on the Hindu god Shiva, and piggy-backed Indus Valley upon it – a connection which is yet to be proven with archaeological evidence.

On the other hand, as an engineer I was first drawn to Indus Valley due to its people's proficiency in all matters technical. I visited the 4,000 year old port at Lothal near Ahmedabad and storm channels at Dholavira in the Rann of Kutch. I also studied artifacts in the National Museum, New Delhi and Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai. When I completed writing the draft, I requested several Indus Valley experts to scan through it just to see if I had got the historical perspective correctly. Dr. Shereen Ratnagar, an archaeologist and herself an author, agreed and pointed out several glaring mistakes which could have put Trade winds to Meluhha in league with earlier attempts.

The second reason why I like to write about Indus Valley Civilization is its cultural and trade relations with Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, two very dynamic civilizations of the period which have given us a rack-full of extremely enjoyable novels and films.   

Hard-baked clay tablets discovered on Sumerian sites contain reference to interactions between Mesopotamia and Indus Valley. One of them as translated by Dr. Samuel Noah Kramer recorded that Sargon the Great who founded Mesopotamia's Akkadian dynasty considered it his achievement that:
'The ships from Meluhha (Pakistan and India),
the ships from Magan (Oman),
the ships from Dilmun (Bahrain) -
He made tie-up alongside
the quay of Akkad.'

In 1977, Thor Heyerdahl of Kon-Tiki fame undertook a voyage in an 18 metre long reed-boat named 'Tigris'. His calculations showed that reed vessels of this size were capable of carrying 30 to 50 ton cargo and could therefore have been used as trade vessels. He sailed from Iraq (Mesopotamia) to Oman and from there to Pakistan (Indus Valley). To reach Egypt, he continued up to the Horn of Africa but political unrest in the Red Sea impeded progress. Annoyed, he set the Tigris on fire at Djibouti.

I thought that Heyerdahl's validation offered a remarkable setting for a narrative based on adventure, love and strife among ancient people belonging to two diverse cultures. In a way, my idea was backed by Dr. Inez During Caspers' study of all portrayals of Indus Valley people which inferred that there was a cosmopolitan population in Harappa and Mohenjo-daro.

Therefore even if one of the big six were to offer me a contract to write a novel, and Hollywood to write a script on any place and period other than the Indus Valley, I might politely decline ;)

Trade winds to Meluhha by Vasant Davé is available as e-Book in various formats from the following web-sites:
Barnes & Noble
FaceBook page of the novel at


  1. It is always interesting to read books about little known places and times.

    Thanks for guest posting for us.

  2. Thank you, Marg. I am honoured to be given an opportunity to express my thoughts on this website. I hope that the readers of 'Historical Tapestry' enjoy this post.

  3. Hello, Vasant.

    Just wanted to set the record straight on Winter on the Plain of Ghosts. The "uncivilized society that sacrifices children" was not in the Indus Valley -- the book starts out in a tribal desert area to the west of Meluhha/Mohenjo-daro. I am well aware of the sophisticated town planning, port building etc in the Indus Valley, and I describe it in detail in later parts of the novel.
    Best wishes,

    1. Hello Eileen,
      I stand corrected for my observation about your novel 'Winter on the Plain of Ghosts'.
      With warm regards,
      - Vasant