Atmospheric Settings… Women Under Pressure

A Hundred Hands

A Hundred HandsBlurb:

When Polly’s husband is jailed for paedophilia, she flees the village where her grandmother raised her and travels to India where she stays with her friend, Amanda.

Polly is appalled by the poverty, and what her husband had done, and her guilt drives her to help the street children of Kolkata. It’s while working she meets other volunteers, Liam and Finlay. Her days are divided between teaching the children and helping with their health needs. But when Liam’s successor refuses to let Polly continue working, she’s devastated to think the children will feel she’s abandoned them.

After a health scare of her own, she discovers her friend, Amanda, is pregnant. Amanda leaves India to have her child. At this time Polly and Finlay fall in love and work together helping the children. Tragedy strikes when one child is found beaten and another dead. Polly feels history repeating itself when Finlay becomes emotionally attached to a young girl.

Can Polly recover from her broken heart and continue to help the children, or will she give up and return home?

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Bhubaneswar, India

Polly noticed the smell first. Naked apart from a loincloth, his tiny body caked in dirt, a boy danced and keened a song in a reedy falsetto. His mother stood beside him, eyes pleading, clutching a baby and a tin begging bowl.

‘The poor little soul, just look at him!’

‘Come away. There’s nothing you can do.’

Distressed, Polly watched the child. His voice became ever more shrill as he sensed a few rupees. ‘But he’s so thin, he—’

Amanda grasped her wrist, pulled her away. ‘This is India. They’re everywhere. Get used to it.’

The child’s mother followed them, touching Polly’s arm, pulling at her shirt, only dropping back when they reached the platform.

A wall of sound and motion, a roaring cavern with smells of stale clothes, tobacco, diesel. On every side were heads—heads and hands and bundles.

Amanda hugged her. ‘Come back. Please come back. It’s been so good to see someone from home.’

Polly fought against the crush of passengers surging off the train, her last glimpse of her friend a small, white face in the crowd, looking sad. She hauled herself up into the carriage, handicapped by her backpack. With a jerk, the train pulled away. She peered around her with no clue as to coach numbers.

She showed her reservation docket to a guard whose body didn’t fill his uniform. He gestured, unsmiling, in the direction she should go. Clambering over parcels and baskets, battling her way past a hundred people and their curious eyes, she finally reached her seat out of breath. With a last spurt of energy, she lifted her backpack over her head and hefted it onto the luggage rack.

In the time it had taken Polly to find her place, the train and its passengers had left the town behind. She rubbed her shins, sore where she’d banged into sharp-edged boxes and watched the countryside unfolding outside the window. Vivid, green rice fields alternated with villages of dirt roads and brick shacks. An old man in a red turban and a long, white shirt leaned on a stick as he watched them pass. Behind him, the horizon wobbled in the heat, and laundry lay drying on the corrugated-iron roofs of shacks. They were no more than hovels, and her thoughts flew to the budget hotel she had booked on the internet. Please let it be okay. On her own now, the luxury of Amanda’s home left behind, excitement and fright battled for position.

Amanda. How sad she’d looked standing on the platform. Had she made a mistake all those years ago when she’d been bowled over by Salman’s obvious wealth and good looks?

Polly’s gran—who’d always been fond of Amanda—had tried to talk her out of it. ‘They have different ways in India, cariad,’ she’d said.

But Amanda had fallen in love, and that was all that mattered.

Polly shivered in the fierce air-conditioning. The carriage had large, reclining seats, three on one side, two on the other, all occupied and not another European in sight. Mosquito-like buzzing came from the earphones of the woman sitting next to her, loud snores from behind. She stiffened as another blast of frigid air hit the back of her neck. Her journey to Heathrow had been equally cold, with freezing fog hovering over the white fields. She rummaged in her bag for the shawl Gran had pressed on her, the faint smell of lavender and home making her throat ache. The bag had seen better days. It was the one she took swimming because of its waterproof interior. Its battered appearance shamed her, but she’d been too afraid of leaving the house to go shopping for anything better. After a while, lulled by the train’s motion, she slept.

‘Chai, chai.’

Polly woke with a start, heart racing. Where am I?

A boy in a ragged shirt pushed a tea-urn on wheels, his gaze darting around the carriage in search of customers.

Amanda’s words echoed in her head. ‘Disgusting stuff, chai. Loose tea leaves boiled in a bucket. Stunning amounts of sugar. Industrial quantities of buffalo milk. Don’t go there.’

The tea-urn trundled past, followed by a procession of people trying to sell bottles of water, crisps, and sweets. Poor things, they didn’t seem to sell much.

With a squeal of brakes, they made a short stop at a station—neat with cream and terracotta paint. Small spirit stoves had been set up on the platform. The smell of frying eggs wafted through the carriage as omelettes were cooked then wrapped in palm leaves, secured with a twig.

A child, struggling with a bucket almost as big as he was, washed the outside of Polly’s window. He rubbed away, his expression solemn. He could only reach halfway up and moved on to the next one, leaving her view obscured by grey rivulets of soapy water.

After a lunch of biryani—the stringy chicken suggesting the bird had led an active life—Polly went in search of a toilet.

‘Use the Indian one,’ Amanda had urged. ‘Your bum won’t have to come into contact with anything then. Unless you fall over.’


“A Hundred Hands had me engrossed immediately. The tender story line of Polly and the blend of mystery enshrouding her trip to India are beautifully presented and had me turning page after page eagerly. There is a vivid depth in the story’s portrayal. Author Dianne Noble eloquently weaves cultural identity, love, struggle, triumph and a passion for making a difference  among her solidly developed characters.” 5 out of 5 Jennifer C Lopez

“I found the story heart breaking, the life in India very well described. You can see how Polly is gritting her teeth and experience her agony. Is it because of her husband that Polly feels the need to embrace the opportunity to lighten up the children’s lives? Do the hundred hands refer to the volunteers and people who care, who want to make a difference for the children growing up in such circumstances? Or could it be the hundred hands reaching out toward every volunteer every day for the little help there is to give? I loved reading this novel, Dianne Noble painted such a vivid picture that I could almost smell the food and feel the overwhelming heat.” 5 out of 5 Bits about Books

“This story will remain with me for a long time. India is a compelling background. The setting is so realistically drawn that I felt I was there in the heat, dirt and poverty, enduring the daily grind along with the main characters.” 5 out of 5 Cowrie

“A fantastic read, believable characters which you want to invest your time. Beautiful and gritty descriptions which bring India to life. I am looking forward to the next Dianne Noble’s next novel.” 5 out of 5 Elizabeth Chell

“A great story, wonderfully told. Dianne Noble’s vividly sketched characters come to life on the page. Another winner from a brilliant story teller.” 5 out of 5 Oscar’s Wild

“A good read for two reasons. Firstly it’s a good story filled with believable characters and secondly, it’s so atmospheric you’ll believe you’ve been to the slums of India. Enjoy.” 5 out of 5 Sally Jenkins

“I have never been to India… I have however read the two novels written by Dianne Noble and feel, due to her talent in bringing alive the sights, smells and sounds, that I have had a taster of the country which inspires her to write about them. Her first novel, ‘Outcast’ was a tour de force for a first published novel. I wondered if she could repeat her success. She did.  A touching, page turning novel. I cannot wait until her next publication.” 5 out of 5 Amazon Customer

“I devour Dianne Noble’s books about India. I admit I have a penchant for reading anything about the slums and the caste systems of India and have read most of the famous authors on this subject: A God of Small Things, A Suitable Boy, City of Joy, Heat and Dust…. Ms Noble’s novels could stand proudly up there on the book shelves alongside these novels. Her observation skills are second to none. Her characters become friends, they’re so real. The reader sees the very worst of Kolkata slums through Polly’s eyes and we admire her courage and strength in needing to help the orphaned or poverty stricken children. But it’s not only the characters, the author conjures up the horrors as well as the joys that meet Polly. Another excellent book. It’s about time Ms. Noble’s name was published alongside the greats.” 5 out of 5 Sue Roebuck

“The author works really hard to fill the reader with the sights, sounds, smells and experiences of the chaos, poverty and ways of life in India. You can almost smell the noxious gases, see the scuttling cockroaches and feel the humidity and dust. A good book to get a real feel for Indian life.” 4 out of 5 Rosie Amber

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