Here you have a taster of what i'm presently working on-a work in progress so to speak! I had previously posted an extract on here however changes have been made (and no doubt more to come!) as well a good few more pages that have been added. Melancholic, dry humor, introspective adventure into complex - family relationships, immigrant life and death… well let’s just see what transpires. Please bear in mind this will probably change and be reedited a thousand times before meeting its final version but it gives an idea of one of many creative ideas going on in my head. I suffer from continuous writer's block interspersed with a life that tends to veer more in the direction of complex and chaotic; however when i do force myself to sit down and write it's a pleasure to lose myself in this other realm and indeed a great form of therapy.
If anyone who reads this has a background in colonial India/post colonial-particularly Anglo-Indian i'd love some feedback and to hear your story.
BORN IN BOMBAY
I sat by his bedside-a wave of confused emotion washed over me as I contemplated his still and peaceful being: Peaceful was perhaps not an apt description of a person who must surely be wracked with guilt and unresolved issues, a storm of emotional turmoil.
Is this the truth-the final truth-when confronted by your imminent departure from this world-your spirit prepares to face its maker or indeed stand before a never ending play back of every scene in your life; moments of joy, despair, regrets or reflection?
What must be going on in that muddled mind of his?
I turned away for a moment as I felt the lump in my throat grow bigger. I swallowed hard and rested my forehead against the cool glass. The dampness soothed my aching head. I licked the condensation and contemplated the view before me; it could have been worse I guess: The hospital entrance, a bus stop, a patch of grass; a loan wooden bench usually occupied by anxious relatives or chain smoking staff, desperate to steal a few forbidden puffs between shifts. Today the sky was leaden, the clouds low and suffocating, reminding me of ‘home’-though where or what was home?
Family is by far the most complex of human relationships, ours was no different. Over the years during our period of ‘estrangement’ I had begun to investigate our complicated background and mixed bloodline in an attempt to understand myself and the rest of the family and perhaps finally find some peace amongst my many unanswered questions. Now was the time to make sense of so many of the unresolved issues and unearth the secrets that were in danger of being taken to the grave…
From the onset of puberty when one’s offspring evolves from a cute, sweet tempered passive little person into a raging, hormonally driven he or she-devil, things invariably begin to get somewhat strained in the household; ours was no different. looking back with hindsight however, I realized I wasn’t that bad at all compared to many-in fact it wasn’t until I hit at least 17 that the male species began to be at least of some interest to me: That wasn’t the problem really-it was that I had opinions-strong opinions and dared to say no. My father, despite his seemingly liberal lifestyle had a very Eastern streak when it came to women and opinions; the first of many culture clashes I was to be confronted with when I finally realized East met west in more ways than one under our complex roof.
Apart from the fact that my father had a permanent sun tan and more facial hair than most, I never really considered our family to be that much different to those of my friends: Yes we ate a lot of curries and my grandparent’s home in Wimbledon smelt odd to me (the spices of course I know realize) but that was about it. The most embarrassing part for me was my father’s long locks and penchant for jewelry-I longed for him to look like the other fathers-suited and booted as they prepared for work in the city.
My father did indeed prepare to work in the city at times but most definitely not in the conventional sense-he worked in one of the most glamorous business’ of the 70’s-the Rock business. The immigrant had finally fallen on his feet; but I’m jumping ahead here-why am I telling this story? Perhaps there are a million stories like this the world over-father /daughter clashes, family feuds, an inability to understand each other, sad endings, happy ending or simply non endings. All I knew was after so many years of battles, misunderstandings, I had to find peace before it was too late, not just for myself but for my future offspring and theirs…I wanted to break the patterns of negativity and begin a new chapter for what was left of my life and my family’s; someone or something has to be the catalyst for change and in this case it was to be me.
My father’s upbringing seemed so exotic and far removed from what most of us would consider a ‘traditional’ upbringing but they aren’t actually that unusual for an ‘Anglo-Indian’ brought up in a Catholic community back in the days before India gained Independence from Great Britain.
In order to truly understand him, and indeed myself better, I felt that a journey into his past and our combined roots was one of the only ways to gain that understanding. I’d read enough to know that I wasn’t the only one with a confused identity that stemmed from a mixed cultural background and a feeling of never truly belonging in any one place: Of course this can be used in a positive way too depending on one’s outlook on life-a citizen of the world able to fit in just about anywhere or not: I don’t know, maybe some of us are more complex than others or more melancholic when viewing our place in this world and how we fit in the great scheme of things...
Anyway I digress; you get the picture, a complex family with a great tan that argues a lot and eats spicy food (or mildly spicy in my case)and is never quite sure where it feels most comfortable.
As my father began to recount his earliest memories I was soon to realize that I’d have to do some thorough research myself to substantiate many of his claims; apart from historical facts-there weren’t many living relatives left who could clarify the hazier details. Besides, I knew my father well enough to recognize his fondness of embellishing the truth on more than one occasion.
The thing is, I’d already made some tentative attempts at investigating our roots and generally come up against a brick wall particularly with certain relatives who felt that, ‘the past should remain in the past’, make of that what you will: In my case it only served to feed my curiosity further-there must surely be some dark juicy secrets that no one wished to be revealed. The problem is, life steps in to remind you who is in charge and that many things are completely out of our hands; death often being one of those and if you don’t move fast enough, well, it may be too late: That was when I got the phone call.
Partition: The birth of Pakistan as a new Islamic state-a time of terror and massacre as India underwent major change following independence from Great Britain. Mobs went on the rampage-no-one was spared; no man, woman or child. The true figures are unknown though it is believed over a million people lost their lives during that reign of insanity.
Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your views of religion) my father was brought up a Catholic and managed to keep safe during that bloody period.
“George, George!” his mother’s voice rang out shrill with panic. He sensed her fear and despite his young age, instinct told him to quietly obey. The memories are hazy but the screams, the sense of terror, the acrid smell of burning; those are the memories that remain. He hid, cowering beneath his bed whilst clutching his battered teddy-old enough to know something terrible was afoot, young enough to be spared the details of the true extent of the horrors. They didn’t leave the house for many days, relying on the BBC World service to inform them of the continuing horrors being played out around them. He believes he remembers witnessing some of the violence-beheadings, beatings…what effect would such scenes have on the vulnerable mind of a child? We’ll never know if the memories are real or not or simply confused with the tales related by his elders and made his own as is often apt to happen with some childhood memories.
So we begin a young life during a time of extreme change, transition-a deeply unsettling period in history: But this is India-a land of deep mysticism, where nothing seems too unbelievable or surreal to be true. George’s upbringing was nothing less than surreal at times if we are to believe everything he tells us…
George was brought up in a well to do Anglo-Indian household, eldest son of a steam train driver-a prestigious position in those times. The servants, predominantly Hindus or Tamils, were there at his beck and call. Servants were not an unusual feature in any middle to upper class home-though on one particular day events were to take a slightly more bizarre and unusual turn…
The screams grew louder, becoming more and more blood curdling as the young child was awoken. He ran outside frightened and confused as the familiar servants rushed past him heading for the gardens. He followed in their steps, hearing the screams get closer. He came to a halt and looked on with disbelief at the young female servant before him; her pretty face contorted and almost unrecognizable-indeed she looked like a demon to his young eyes. But what was more terrifying was the little bundle that lay in her arms-George’s baby brother.
“Babe-you okay?” I jumped, startled out of my reverie. “You were sat there for ages, a far off look on your face; actually that sounds too romantic-to be honest you looked slightly insane!”
My boyfriend/partner or whatever society dictates he be called, stood behind me, gently massaging my tense shoulders. I smiled up at him and shook my head wearily. “Honestly, and I mean this, be completely honest with me; what the hell are people going to think if I write what I’ve been told apparently happened? You know the possessed servant scene, the one I’ve heard throughout my life?” I rubbed my tired eyes and yawned, feeling the irritability creep over me.
He smiled gently and patted my cheek as if I were a child; “Well, you’ll probably gain some weirdo stalker fans, paranormal obsessives. Then you’ll lose all credibility as a writer and your family won’t speak to you again-actually they probably won’t anyway by the time the book is published-but hey, look on the bright side! You’ve got me and, erm, I admire what you’re doing even if I do think you’re a few sandwiches short of a picnic!”
I laughed and groaned simultaneously. “Great! I isolate myself from my family and the world in general in a vain attempt to tell a story that I believe is worth telling but I know some people don’t like the truth and let’s face it-even truth is purely subjective! So basically, I’m Fucked.”
I became quiet as the weight of my own words sat heavily upon my shoulders: It’s impossible to please everyone and no matter what you do, someone will feel offended and attacked, even if that was never your intention in the first place. Call it what you will; generation gap, culture clash or just plain lack of mutual comprehension, whatever the label, it was going to be hard. I stretched and visualized the scene in a far -away land…
A land I’d yet to visit.
Young George stood petrified trying to understand the scene playing out before his eyes; Screaming and confusion as George’s infant brother was hurled into the Cesspit before the shocked staff and family. As some of the servants desperately attempted to rescue the little one, others attempted to restrain the screeching servant girl: George looked on in wonderment and fear as they plucked a hair from her head where it was duly nailed to the trunk of the holy Neem tree with what seemed to be half a lemon. The woman writhed and screamed out, frenzied as if possessed. George watched in horror as blood dripped from her nose and ears, her body convulsing. There was more commotion as the village elders appeared; the holy men had been called to deal with the exorcism. They began to beat her with sticks as they implored the spirit to leave her body, asking what it wanted and why it had taken up residence in the young girl’s body.
George made out what seemed to be a male voice coming from the mouth of the young girl; he cowered with fear and hid behind the nearest servant. After what felt like an eternity to the young child but was probably no more than a few minutes; the young girl fell into a coma like state. As the clock struck midnight, the lone hair seemed to be injected with a life of its own-whizzing back and forth in circles in the windless night in an attempt to extricate itself from the trunk of the Neem. George looked on in disbelief.
And then as if by miracle, the young woman awoke, calm and confused. As the staff soothed and questioned her she seemed to have no recollection of the ghastly events. One of the elders calmly removed the hair and threw it into the adjacent river. George felt someone take his hand, tutting whilst gently pulling him back towards the direction of his bedroom. His parents were too distracted at the near death of their young baby to have noticed the presence of their eldest son. It was not a night to be forgotten in a hurry and indeed an event that was pushed into the collective recesses of the family mind-punishable if discussed.
I pushed down the lid of my laptop and took a deep breath-done! What will be will be; If people wish to ridicule me for telling a story I’d heard so many times myself, well so be it. Was it any stranger than believing in life on other planets or some bearded dude in the sky who was regularly cited when all kinds of hideous acts of religious ‘heroism’ were carried out? Let’s face it; us humans are nuts, some more than others but quite frankly nothing seemed too extreme to be real to me anymore. I may not have witnessed the event in person but I’d experienced enough rather extraordinary situations throughout my life to be very open minded to the ‘unseen’ and ‘misunderstood’ whether it be termed the paranormal, the occult or the spirit world-merely labels for all that we do not understand.
We can attempt to find rational explanations, the obvious one being a medical condition like epilepsy or a mental illness and yes there are still parts of the world where sadly those who suffer from such conditions are treated cruelly or even more barbarically, killed in an attempt to ‘exorcize demons’. Yes, I’m aware of these barbaric acts carried out through superstition and fear, more appropriately named ignorance but I’m simply relating a tale, many of which can be found in what is possibly the most mystical place on earth, India.
India-not a country but an entire continent: So very complex, so often extremely savage and bizarre yet simultaneously beautiful and profound. A place I had desperately wanted to visit then quite suddenly abhorred from afar for what seemed like so many savage atrocities carried out on a daily basis, particularly against women and young girls. A long distance love/hate relationship was flourishing within me: And the more Westerners that told me I had to visit this incredible place and see my Eastern roots, well the more annoyed I became! What was is it with this Western fascination for all things Eastern and mystical for Gods’ sake? Could they honestly believe that all those that lived in abject poverty were content, happy with their lot because they had a deeper understanding of the world and their place in it-in particular the Caste system? Yes-it didn’t take much to get me annoyed on the subject as I slowly began to lose my fascination with that far off land and get distracted with all else that life tends to throw at you on a daily basis.
Perhaps it was when my father decided to return to see his homeland some fifty years later that I began to explore those feelings again, my curiosity reluctantly aroused. It was a journey that I secretly hoped would change him for the better and help him put some of those many ghosts to rest; unfortunately I don’t think it really helped as much as we would have hoped. The poverty, dirt and noise were overwhelming for him and while he made a journey to some quieter coastal areas to recover from the cultural onslaught, he seemed to find little of the India he was searching for and had no intention of returning. This saddened me; not just in the vain hope we’d all get a bit more peace if he found his own, but I honestly hoped he’d find some internal peace and therefore be a happier person for the rest of his life, naïve of me perhaps.
Facing up to one’s past and dealing with those past issues is perhaps one of the biggest challenges we can face in life; in fact I wonder how many dare to even take the first steps? You can’t force someone sadly, and I say sadly for when you see someone consumed with unresolved issues and unable to enjoy the present whilst those demons continue to eat away at them, it’s actually quite tragic. In my father’s case, it was almost impossible to make him listen, such a stubborn character that he was, but it was the day he faced death that everything began to change.
I was in a deep sleep, the type of sleep where you don’t take kindly to any kind of disturbance. I suffered from occasional bouts of insomnia and was finally falling back into a near normal sleep pattern. The call came at six o’ clock in the morning, early enough to alert me that something was w rong when I finally struggled awake, just in time to answer. I immediately sensed who it would be and what I’d have to do-an intuition that seems to exist especially within families.
It was all very sudden and therefore more shocking; there had apparently been some pains on and off for a while and despite my father being a lifelong hyperchondriac, he’d stubbornly refused to see a doctor. When he finally made the trip, the mastastisis had taken hold and what had started out as localized was now everywhere; a foreign army invading his body, his defenses and ammunition too low to fight back. It was merely a matter of time they said, and not much of it.
“You’re going back, aren’t you?” I lay beside him and tried to avoid his gaze. I closed my eyes and instead was bombarded with unwanted images from my past, my childhood. I swallowed the lump in my throat and nodded numbly. “Of course” I answered. “Do I really have a choice? He’s my father for fucks sake, no matter how I feel about things.” He hugged me tightly, stroking my hair back from my eyes as he whispered in my ear. “I never doubted for a moment that you’d do the right thing but ultimately you are his daughter and that means as bloody stubborn as he is!”
The flight back was a difficult one for me-consumed as I was by every imaginable emotion. Forget music or idly flicking through inflight magazines; my hand flew across the pages as I wrote list upon list of all the questions I had to ask before it was too late: An urgency had taken hold as I knew this was it-few relatives remained who could give me that valuable information and as I’d stated before, not all were remotely interested in aiding me in my quest. I was shattered before I’d even arrived; emotionally exhausted as I prepared myself to face him on his death bed. I had to confront difficult emotions and decisions I’d made as self -preservation: I had to stand strong and yet forgive, for that was the only path to freedom.
Why does it always have to be a grey depressing day when you are hearing dark depressing news? It felt like the whole world was suddenly grey to reflect my mood. The deterioration had been extremely rapid as my father passed from lucid moments into bouts of deep sleep from which nothing could wake him; moments when I thought he’d already left us. It’s surprising how quickly you all fall into a new routine as if you’d been doing it all your life; from barely having contact for a couple of years to suddenly being thrown back into the bosom of your family, each taking turns to keep vigil beside his bed, the outside world becoming all but a distant memory. It was as if I’d never been away, for better or worse: Even on his death bed my father managed to wind me up within minutes of my arrival and it took a warning look from my mother and every ounce of self- control to bite my lip and not respond: I suppose it was too much to ask that he suddenly turn into Gandhi in his dying moments.
I stood staring out the window, willing him to wake up so I could begin my long list of questions, but how to do it in a gentle way, a way that wouldn’t disturb him or cause any emotional upset?
I needn’t have worried, my prayers were answered; “Why am I in here”? My father awoke, blinking and confused as he looked around him. “You’re sick, dad” I responded gently. He looked momentarily irritable as he struggled to sit up. I helped as best as I could to make him comfortable then gave him some small sips of water. He seemed to have shrunk yet again the last twenty four hours, each day becoming slightly smaller. “I must have been dreaming then, I was back in India, running the streets of Bombay with the gangs.” He managed a small smile and without him seeing I quickly whipped out my master tool-my Dictaphone. I quietly pressed play as he began to reminisce: “The mid fifties it must have been; I was a ladies man, the girls loved me. I looked like an Indian Elvis: Even won a competition in Bombay!” I smirked at the thought of my father as an Elvis impersonator, not quite the image I had of him. “I hated the confines of Anglo-Indian life! My parents wouldn’t allow me to date Indian girls. My mother especially was racist. A lot of the Indians hated us too, as we were a reminder of the days of the Raj! A lot of Anglo-Indians were fleeing, back to the UK or Australia, Canada; USA. Your grandparents were reluctant to give up their life style there but it was inevitable it was going to happen. I was the darkest of the lot so looked more Indian than anyone, good to fit in with the Indians but even then, a lot of them preferred lighter skin, the darker skin being more symbolic of the peasants and the untouchables.” He sighed grumpily. “Sounds like you couldn’t really win.” I said helpfully. “It’s not your fault you were a product of the colonies: You can’t make the children pay for the sins of their fathers.” my father agreed, albeit reluctantly. Now we’re starting to get somewhere, I thought to myself.