Flies are everywhere in the Punjab. So, for a story based on that region, flies hover consistently. Instead of swatting them, I chose to make them integral to the story of Tara in Wild Boar in the Cane Field, my debut novel. Tara, the young woman central to the story, is found covered in flies in the opening scene of her life that Amman Bhaggan narrates to her young apprentice in Bibi Saffiya’s kitchen: “Flies up your nostrils, on your eyes. Whirling like dervish at a shrine. You didn’t cry. You lay there with your tiny fist clenching one of those wretched flies as if it were a rattle your mother had left you.” And, in the last section of the novel, the flies narrate the hidden intricacies that only a fly on the wall could know. “We, the flies, lingered above the cart and the maulvi, and we saw Maria’s already swollen eyes overcome with the sorrow that would cause her to implode if she spent a moment more standing there. We flew toward her, and she blew us away as she walked toward her home, choosing not to share her own devastating news about Bhaggan.” But it’s not only the omniscience of flies that compelled me to make them central to the story of Tara and the villagers in Saffiya’s ancestral village, Tara’s home. Granted they have short lives but they are soon re-incarnated. Their vision is a 360-degree-view of the world focusing on shapes, motion and colour differently. Flies are able to see light in a way humans cannot. A fly’s vision has often been compared to a mosaic – thousands of tiny images combining to represent one visual image. In addition to their vision, flies use taste to know their surroundings. They see and sense the world in a unique way, and despite their short lifetime, they manage to accomplish quite a lot for such a tiny insect. To protect the flies of Tara’s world, I created the Shrine of Sain Makhianwala, the keeper of the flies, where flies are venerated. It is not uncommon to find shrines dedicated to animals in South Asia. The revered saint of such shrines is known to have protected alligators, dogs to name a few lucky animals, so why not a sanctuary for flies? Most shrines in South Asia are also often the only refuge for people on the periphery of society. They might come for a meal, or they might stay indefinitely. Their prayers include help in making life decisions like choosing a life partner or influence on the supernatural that is always hovering menacingly around those who have little control over their lives. Bhaggan and Tara arrive at the shrine of Sain Makhianwala in hopes of good health for the former and a mother for the latter. They come in search of peace and control in life. It is also an opportunity for communal connection and entertainment through music and dance of the mystic. “We sat in contented silence when the drumbeats began. First one, then another holy man, a fakir, stood up to dance in frenzied circles around the drums. I had not noticed them earlier that evening, but, one after another, men with long, gaudily patched, tattered green shirts and unruly, tangled hair began twirling to the drumbeat. The tempo increased, and a female fakir joined the others. Her hair, like theirs, was an uncombed mess, unwashed and matted. She inched toward the centre of the dancing men, circling faster and faster, leaving the drumbeat behind, controlling the others with a dizzying force. The spinning dervish hypnotized us all. I looked away to gain some control. But Amman Bhaggan chose to drown herself in the circling frenzy. Her eyes had whitened, like those of the fakirs. She stood up, and her feet began to move in time to the drumbeat. “Allah hoo, Allah hoo,” she repeated. I wasn’t sure if I should join or stay seated. I decided to stay where I sat. The frenzy both scared and fascinated me. I’m not sure how long it lasted. The drumbeat, the chant, the feet, the dance, the heat. We were all hypnotized. The female fakir continued to lead the dancers as they now circled the drummers, who dropped their heads but continued the beat in a trance. And then, one by one, the dancers collapsed in small heaps of silence. The flies that had been aroused by the vibrating sound and movement settled in mounds on the fallen dancers.” The next morning, Bhaggan and Tara return to their life on the farm, which would be familiar to a large majority of the population of South Asia, with a few adjustments for language, landscape, and religion. The patriarchy, class divisions, feudalism, literacy rates and the socio-economic status of the majority are prevalent throughout the region. My experience of growing up in such surroundings compelled me to choose this setting for Tara’s story. The farm where I spent my formative years lies between a web of canals created in the 1860s, when the British Colonial Government of India established the largest irrigation system in the world. They replaced the jungles of the Punjab, creating the bread bin of India. Six million acres of land became farmland within decades in this audacious irrigation project. According to historians, with the canal colonization project, customary tribal law was given precedence, which encouraged a stagnation of the social situation. And this is the backdrop of Tara’s life. “Bibi Saffiya, the sole owner of this village, was recognized for her enormous house, encircled by acres of land, which produced everything we needed for all of our meals. We never bought any food from the stores in the city. It was all grown, or made in the village. Saffiya was the only woman in the area who owned such extensive property without having to answer to a male relative. At least, that’s what Bhaggan told me. The garden surrounding her house was filled with oranges, bananas, pomegranates, lychees and guavas. In the fields closer to the house, ginger, garlic, and onions were harvested from smaller patches. Buffalo, goats and chicken closer to the house were protected from the evil eye of neighbouring landowners and the slaughtering ax of roaming bandits. And on the distant periphery, all the way to the road to the city, crossing the large irrigation canal, stretched alfalfa, wheat and cane fields.” The reader of Wild Boar in the Cane Field will enter a time and a place that has not often been fictionalised in a novel in English. They might come across a United Nations Report or an academic paper about the people of rural South Asia, but rarely will they have the opportunity for such an intimate glimpse into the lives portrayed in Wild Boar in the Cane Field. And by entering this world, they will understand why I needed to leave it to the flies to tell the story.