Friday, June 30, 2006

Vegemite Vindaloo - an email critique

This email is from a former Calcuttan, Jillian Brand,
who has lived in Switzerland for more than 30 years:

What can I say! Brilliant! Absolutely bloody brilliant! I have enjoyed every single word, every minute of reading `Vegemite Vindaloo', and I was so sorry I finished it today. Give yourself a BIG pat on the back and keep writing!

You totally transported me back to Calcutta – took me back to my youth. I felt cocooned in warm memories made so alive again by your writing. It was amazing how this book made me feel – yes, feel. I could see, smell almost, what you had put into words.

The New Market, where one old coolie would wait for my Mum – he knew when she would be coming and at what time, and he would be waiting. She never took any other coolie – and the patience that man had! The wetness of the Flower Market and the crushed stems everywhere. The Meat Market, where I would hold my breath and run through as quickly as I could, because of the awful smell! Needed to get to the other side, because that was where Mum bought her spices and rice!

What touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes, was your reference to the CEL Fete! This was the Fete of the year. Your Mum and mine, Ivy Bird, Mrs Makin, all bustling around St. Nicholas’s Stall. It was always a beautiful day and I used to love planning what to wear weeks in advance and always, always had a good time. Wonderful memories.

I could go on and on, but then you might think I was writing a book too! I really just wanted you to know how very, very proud I am of you. Well done, and please continue writing – because you are a talented writer and have one BIG fan – me!

Your book shows, in particular, how much you love the city of your birth – Calcutta. It’s not just the places you have mentioned, but your talent lies in opening the box! Creating a picture! Making your readers part of the story. I read quite a lot, but no book has touched me and lingered, as much as your Vegemite Vindaloo. Maybe as it was written about Calcutta, the city I too loved, this obviously plays a large part, but there was something more, and I think it lies in your story telling.

You have awakened, through your writing, a place inside me that I haven’t visited for a very long time. As we reach adulthood, Life takes over and with all its trials and tribulations; one very often forgets the warm, peaceful place inside ourselves that is our Retreat, and this place you have given back to me. Thank you. Don’t mean to sound soppy – but it’s exactly how I feel.

I felt totally involved with the characters right up to the end of the book, and when I realised there were only 4 more pages to go, I thought “oh, no – there has to be a sequel, a continuation, another book carrying on the story of Azam. What happened to him, his family in India, ? This can’t be the end”. To begin with, I was quite upset that the book ended as it did!

Then, as you so rightly hoped, I did go back to the beginning of the book, and realised who the football hero was! All was then clear! You achieved what you wanted – something unique. Still didn’t stop me from being disappointed that I had finished the book!

One of the cutest touches you put in was Phillip! “Yeah, men”, “… now I’m on my turd”! Oh, how I laughed! I could just imagine the accent as well! The other of course – perfect – was “soo-soo”!!!!!! And thanks too for the whole of “nini baba nini, makhan roti chini …!! I knew these two lines, but not the rest, now I can sing the full rhyme to my grandson. He’s been short changed till now!

I think every A.I. home should have a copy of your book in pride of place. When I visit India next January, I’ll get some more copies for my friends and I am sure they will enjoy it as much as I have. I’m not parting with my copy.

Jillian Brand, Switzerland

Thursday, June 22, 2006

`Vegemite Vindaloo' - a friend's viewpoint

This email is from a childhood friend of mine. She's given me a bit of a kicking, as you'll see. But she's bought seven copies of the book and that's what counts.

Finished the book within 36 hours. My Parsi friend Perri says she hunted for it in Mumbai and couldn't get a copy so I bought it here in Crossword. See, I'm spreading the word according to McMahon.

Now for my review. Remember NOT to pay any attention to "critics" - they're the ones who never wrote a book in theier lives for fear of criticism. As a friend, I found the book unashamedly nostalgic. Imagine weaving into the tale the "smell of ALOA" on Kydd Street. It's the same by the way, went down there the other day.

I liked the portrayal of Ismail and family --- very nicely done. I liked the way you introduce them into Cal and their meeting up with the Coopers and all their troubles and tribulations. The details were great and the situations realistic and beautifully protrayed. I liked "fatty Ayah".

Steve Cooper has so much going for him and you make him "fizzle" out in Oz and he becomes a capitalist pilot! I mean here is this guy, who if I had known him, or rather if he existed, I would have given up all intentions of staying single and married him, but then in the way of all men he just fizzles out.

His attachment to Azam and the way he deals with it is beautiful. His time in Oz is, I don't know, unremarkable. I somehow had hoped that he would join the two mad guys in Jindaroo Creek, but you're the story teller and I'm the critic! The old man Wally Bennett is an interesting character. He would fit in beautifully into a "cameo role" when the book becomes a movie.

Hated the beginning. It's all right till the two men met but the rest of the bit about football had me turning pages. The end ties up nicely with the beginning but the footy details did not appeal. Also the Hindi-filmi style in which Steve Cooper gets a job with Quantas --- too maach man!

Now can anyone get more critical than this?

Dr Ishika Ghose, Calcutta

Thursday, June 15, 2006

One Good Churn Deserves Another

Milking it for all it's worth
Photo copyright: DAVID McMAHON
It was a vivid splash of colour on a rainy, grey afternoon in the little town of Gravenhurst, in Muskoka, Canada. I drove in, found a parking spot and got myself organised, with plenty of time to spare, as I was booked on a cruise on the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Segwun. The cruise is one of the top tourist atttractions in Canada, so I ensured I had plenty of time up my sleeve. I walked down the street, within sight of the wharf where the historic Segwun and her sister vessel, the Wenonah, were berthed. I spent about half an hour shooting film and digital photographs - despite the persistent rain, low cloud and bad light. (Hey, isn't that the real challenge when you're shooting outdoors?) Then I walked up to this antique shop, drawn to the bright array of milk churns lined up on an old wagon. I guess it just goes to show that if you're willing to brave the elements, there's always an unusual shot just around the corner.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Sittin' On The Dock Of The Day

Witnessing the real Delta force

Port Carling, Canada. Photo copyright: DAVID McMAHON

On reflection, I was rather pleased with this photograph, taken on the main dock of the Delta Sherwood in Port Carling, Canada. I'd been shooting a dramatic sunrise over the lake when the light started to change and I swung my lens to the right, to capture the splendid colours of the silver birch, yellow birch, spruce and pine reflected in the still water around the boathouse. By the way, look to the left of the frame and you'll see a diving platform. It looked inviting, but the level of the mercury made me think twice about swimming to it.