When seasoned traveler Roberta Anderson touched down in India two years ago, she planned to stay a month, visiting a few old friends and business associates before returning to her home in Polson.
But in the small town of Puttaparthy, “a simple twist of fate” transformed her month-long sojourn into seven months – six spent bedridden and in a wheelchair. She became “a virtual renunciate,” confined to a narrow bed in a small room by a broken femur that she managed to break again just five weeks into her recuperation.
“All my familiar life props were abruptly jerked away,” she writes in Thank You India, “leaving nothing but three nighties, four bedpans, one pair of earrings, an iPad, and a few basic art supplies.”
Fortunately, her sense of humor and curiosity also seemed intact as she began to adjust to her new landscape. “It slowly occurred to me that I was being offered an unexpected gift in a weird disguise.”
The watercolor pencils she had tossed in her suitcase were put to work creating more than 130 drawings – many reproduced in her book. Her life also entwined with that of her neighbors, a family from Varanasi whose son, Laddu, urgently needed heart surgery – available for free at the same hospital that twice repaired Anderson’s shattered femur. She began to teach the two-year-old boy English while his mother prepared nourishing ayurvedic meals for the convalescents.
A veritable stream of family and friends found their way to her bedside, and thanks to her iPad, Anderson’s daily posts inspired and entertained her large community of Facebook friends.
As she healed, she began to find ways to give back. Rural India, she writes, “often seemed like an enormous bleeding wound with no bandages.”
In addition to helping Laddu receive his essential heart surgery, she raised funds to provide medical help for needy villages and for the local Happy Home orphanage, which cares for more than 40 street children in Puttaparthy (proceeds from book sales go to the orphanage).
The plucky narrator ultimately pulls off that age-old trick of turning lemons to lemonade. Her inspiring tale, and the drawings that accompany it, are a testament to the power of art-making, perseverance and a buoyant spirit.
The book sells for $25 softcover or $20 for the e-book; for more information, visit thankyouindiabook.com. Meet the author in person at a book signing, 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at Fact and Fiction in Missoula.
– Kristi Niemeyer