BACSA (www.bacsa.co.uk) Volume 13 No. 4, Autumn 2013. Editor Dr Rosie Llewellyn Jones
More Voices on the Verandah – an Anglo-Indian anthology. Editor Lionel Lumb
As the title suggests, this is another in the series* of Anglo-Indian memoirs by CTR Publishing which commenced with Blair Williams’ Anglo-Indians. Vanishing remnants of a bygone era in 2002. For the book under review a panel of five judges had the task of selecting entries from nearly 100 submissions from around the world.
The final selections comprise thirteen ‘yarns’ interspersed with several poems, followed by a dozen recollections and rounded off with seven ‘musings’. The standard of writing throughout this anthology is high and certainly achieves its aim of providing a focus for those interested in the ‘Anglo-Indian’ way of life. The yarns have quite varying subjects. ‘The Banyan-Tree Café’ by Sylvia Deefholts gives a vivid description of a kite-fight by twelve year old boys, while a family is preparing to leave India for a new life in Australia. ‘Girl in the Middle’ by Denise Kiser tells a tale of an Indian woman recollecting being bullied fifty years ago at school. She is protected by an Anglo-Indian girl and later is attracted by her brother Cliff – leading to a great sense of loss when the family leaves for England. ‘The Reluctant Fugitive’ by Jaysinh Birjepatil is an interesting tale of an Anglo-Indian’s protection and flight from gang violence during disturbances. ‘Where’s Olive Oyl Now?’ by Harry MacLure is an intriguing story about an aging film actress, nick-named Olive Oyl, who surprisingly grants an exclusive interview to a young reporter. This has a particularly good denouement. But my favorite is undoubtedly is ‘A Voice on the Digital Verandah’ by Rochelle Almeida. This beautifully scripted and very funny piece is written on one side of a mobile phone call between two matrons. As it solely comprises recorded speech, the script gives Almeida full licence to explore the idiosyncrasies of Anglo-Indian speech, with occasional mild swear words and lapses into Hindi.
The recollections tend, rather naturally to concentrate on childhood days. ‘Pindi Days’ by Dorothy McMenamin gives a nice description of secure, safe childhood in Rawalpindi – even though it started in the turbulent times of Pakistan. ‘The First Day of School’ by Joyce Mitchell vividly describes how, aged four only, she protected her shy elder sister on their first day at kindergarten. My favorite amongst the childhood recollections however is ‘But Why’ by Dolores Chew. This includes a good description of her ‘uncle’ Carl, an Anglo-Indian, who seems to have given up the struggle to compete with Indians after Independence. He rarely works thereafter and of necessity lives with the family, doting on Dolores and her sister. I was also naturally drawn to ‘Nameless Souls in Sepia’ a passionate edict by Liola Lee to take note of all those family myths, including the ever present one of having an Indian princess amongst our ancestors. (In my case the myth turned out to be true!) In ‘My Brother, the Storyteller’ Lionel Lumb talks with love of his brother, who died of cancer in 1991 and how his tall tales inspired him to take up writing as a career. In ‘The Colonels Last Campaign’ Jenny Petersen and Jean Schiavon relate their pride in their late father, Colonel Charles Campagnac, a keen sportsman, who commanded the Gurkha regiment at Dehra Dun training center. He migrated with his family to Australia, where his last campaign was establishment of Nepalese communities in Victoria and New South Wales. Lastly I must mention ‘Three Score and Ten… and Still Counting’ by Blair Williams, the founder and publisher of CTR books, in which he describes how he has always felt he was a ‘peripheral’ Anglo-Indian, with a slight feeling of separateness from the community due to the fact that his parents were poor and lived in the Andaman Islands. This feeling became exacerbated by his success in becoming an officer apprentice on the Indian Railways, so he subsequently mixed with Indians rather than Anglo-Indians. Nevertheless since 1999 he and his wife have devoted themselves to supporting less fortunate Anglo-Indians through the work of the CTR charitable organization he set up.
The seven ‘musings’ provide thoughts on various related subjects. In ‘Portrait of an Anglo-Indian girl’ Sanjay Sarkar analyzes a 1954 article in a Calcutta magazine about an Anglo-Indian girl, discussing the differences from her Indian counterpart of the period. The subject of dislocation appears in three of these essays – ‘What Becomes Of Us’ by Kathy Cassity, ‘Dislocation’ by Peter Moss and ‘Going Home – Britain’s Anglo-Indians and the Anxiety of Arrival’ a thoughtful essay on the reasons for emigration by Rochelle Almeida. ‘Matrilineal Anglo-Indians’ by Ann Selkirk Lobo, describes the Anglo-Indians of Shillong, where females belong to the Khasi tribe. They have bucked the trend of other Anglo-Indians by remaining stable and prospering since independence.
Assuming that the reader likes short stories, there is plenty of variety in this well written book. Warmly recommended (MS)
2012 CTR Inc Publishing. Copies can be obtained from Frank Bradbury in the UK email@example.com ; from Jenny Busby firstname.lastname@example.org in Australia; from Peter Lovery email@example.com in Canada and from Blair Williams firstname.lastname@example.org in the USA. Also order from the CTR website http://www.blairrw.org/ctr
* ‘Anglo-Indian Heritage series’ - Anglo-Indians Vanishing remnants of a bygone era – Blair Williams (2002); Haunting India – Margaret Deefholts (2003); Voices on the Verandah - Anglo Indian Prose and Poetry - Deefholts and Staub (2004); The Way We Were – Anglo-Indian chronicles - Deefholts and Deefholts (2006); The Way We Are – An Anglo-Indian Mossaic - Lumb and Veldhuizen (2008); Unwanted – Esther Mary Lyons (1996); Women of Anglo-India – Tales and Memoirs – Deefholts and Deefholts (2010); More Voices on the Verandah – An Anglo-Indian Anthology – Lionel Lumb (2012)