by Margaret Deefholts
We who have lived in and loved India, understand that it is as much a state of the mind as it is a physical reality. This is brilliantly portrayed by Margaret Deefholts in Haunting India a collection of short stories, poems, travel tales and memoirs. Margaret, an Anglo-Indian (of British and Indian heritage), grew up in India and immigrated with her husband and children to British Columbia, Canada in 1977.
Her stories have a gentle wistfulness, alternating between light and shadow, pleasure and pain, beauty and ugliness - all reflecting the contrasts that are so much a part of India.
The title of the book itself is a double-entendre, as her compositions 'haunt' at both a metaphysical and physical level. To 'haunt' is 'to appear frequently as a ghost', and also 'to recur constantly and spontaneously'. Both these meanings of haunting are played out in her book. Her stories of 'The Chowkidar', 'St. Anthony's Horse', 'The Guardian Angel' and her poem 'I Witness' - all have a supernatural element in them. On the other hand, her story 'Those Were The Days' and her travelogues and memoirs have her frequenting places in India where she grew up and lived.
Margaret's language is lyrical, evoking exotic pictures of the splendor of India. But through all its beauty, one feels her sadness and regret, even to the point that she and India have had to go their separate ways. One senses it is Margaret who is haunted; it is she who is trying to recapture a mythical past. The theme of searching recurs again and again, along with the theme of belonging (this the title of one of her stories). In her retrospective she talks of her return to India in 1987, "It would be easy to say I was cured of India after that first visit. But of course, I wasn't. I would return four more times over the ensuing years, still in search of my vanished yesterdays."
And so the book succeeds on several levels and ultimately expresses the joy and sorrow of being possessed by India.
Whatever your literary interests Haunting India will touch you deeply and leave you with many haunting thoughts and memories, both of India and a first generation immigrant finding her roots.
Professor of Manufacturing Engineering
Author of "Manufacturing for Survival" and "Anglo-Indians - Vanishing Remnants of a Bygone Era"
Founder of Calcutta Tiljallah Relief (CTR)
I travel by train across the sub-continent, looking out of the window at rural India. At farmers plodding behind their oxen, women washing clothes at village wells and buffaloes being scrubbed down on the banks of brown meandering rivers. Dense jungle and thorn scrub give way to paddy fields, coconut groves and banana plantations.
We rush past level crossings, where trucks, scooters, rickshaws, cars bullock-carts, tongas and cyclists crowd the barriers. Railway stations are shrill with the familiar cries of vendors…"aaay chai-wallah-chai…aaaay, paan, beedi, cigarette". Red-shirted coolies hoist bedding rolls on their heads and lope down the platform; men gargle at water taps, families sit on tin trunks patiently awaiting the next train; goats and cows amble along the perimeter of the platform nibbling on offal, and dun-colored pariah dogs doze in the shade of awnings
I watch the sun go down, an enormous orange ball resting on the horizon of India's plains, and listen to the long whistle of the locomotive as it flies into the gathering dusk.
All this is part of my blood and bone.
So are the evenings I spend in some little town, on the way to somewhere else. Sitting outside on the lawns as the shadows lengthen and the haunting call of the Indian Koel bird drifts across the air. Watching parrots as they screech and streak like emerald arrows from tree to tree. Smelling again the wood smoke from village cooking fires. Listening to the shrill of cicadas, the yapping of village dogs, the croaking of frogs. Letting India envelop me in her cloak of rural tranquility.