A Map of the Unknown World
I’m reading a wonderful book (thanks, Bill Wickman, for turning me onto it) called Bugles and a Tiger, My Life in the Ghurkas by John Masters.
This is the kind of book I absolutely devour—a straight-ahead memoir, no plot, no characters, just an absolutely true account of a fascinating life experience, in this case the tale of a young Brit who served in India in the 30s in a legendary Ghurka battalion.
What exactly is a Ghurka?
The Ghurkas are Nepalese peasantry. Modest of stature, often illiterate, incredibly hardy and brave, loyal, dedicated and true, they have covered themselves with glory in every war they’ve fought in.
Here’s a story (trust me, this is related to our old theme of the Professional Mindset) from World War II:
A Ghurka rifleman escaped from a Japanese prison in south Burma and walked six hundred miles alone through the jungles to freedom. The journey took him five months, but he never asked the way and he never lost the way. For one thing he could not speak Burmese and for another he regarded all Burmese as traitors. He used a map and when he reached India he showed it to the Intelligence officers, who wanted to know all about his odyssey. Marked in pencil were all the turns he had taken, all the roads and trail forks he has passed, all the rivers he had crossed. It had served him well, that map. The Intelligence officers did not find it so useful. It was a street map of London.
I can relate to this story completely. I have written entire books where I was navigating with total confidence by a map in my head, only to realize later that the map bore no relation whatsoever to the ground I was covering. Yet I made it home.
I’ll bet you’ve done it too.
But back to the Ghurka rifleman. He had no legitimate map, but what he did have was a professional mindset.
He had confidence.
He had optimism.
He had faith.
He knew the sun rose in the East and he knew he was heading north. He knew to keep his own counsel, trust no one but his own inner guide, and to keep on trucking.
Who cares if there was no Hammersmith or Wimbledon in the Burmese jungle? There was the stream, there was the crossroads. You gotta believe.
In the end, you and I as writers are artists are guided not by a chart or a concept but by a calling in our heart.
The story we’re telling knows itself. It knows where it’s going. It’ll tell us if we listen.
Our Ghurka rifleman, unlike the Intelligence officers who debriefed him, may not have been able to spell Shepherd’s Bush or King’s Cross. But he knew his heart.
He knew his way home.