Friday, July 07, 2017

Writing Retreat in Sri Lanka

I've been here a week now, and settled in nicely after a rocky start in which I almost died of thirst on my first night! I will be here for six weeks. I will be doing no sightseeing until my daughter arrives on the 6th August. I'm here to write; or rather, edit. The first draft of my next manusript is finished and I'm now going through the marked-up version supplied by my editor. Deadline: 10th July! Which means I have two more days, as of today, to finish.  After that there is a pause, and then proofreading. We hope to get the entire editing process over by the time I leave on 13th August.

But in a place like this, work seems almost like play. This is the garden of the villa I'm staying at:

And this is my "office", the dining table where I deposit myself with laptop every morning. I work until the battery is empty...

...after which I take a rest, in the red hammock. My room is that edifice on the right; it's separate from the main house, at the end of a wide L-shaped terrace, so it's a bit private, which I like.

This is the house as seen from the gate:

The garden is huge, and adjoins another huge property which is just a coconut field. This in the middle of the bustling city of Negombo.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Down Memory Lane: Georgetown Cinemas of Yesteryear

So, the Astor Cinema is up for sale*. It’s now a derelict hulk, just one more eyesore in a city that was once deemed the most beautiful in the Caribbean. The tiny For Sale sign hangs on its façade like a timid afterthought, a hopeless plea to some rich saviour to swoop in and rescue this one-time Castle of Dreams; save it from crumbling to the ground. 
The Astor -- Palace of Dreams?

 With a pang, I stopped to take a snap. And I made a wish. Someone, please, do it! Someone save this monument to Georgetown’s Golden Age! Such wonderful stories have played out here; so many people escaped their humdrum lives within these crumbling walls. This was once the home of romance and glamour and joy. Bring it back! Cinemas took us Georgetowners to far-off lands and transported us into the exotic lives of others; they showed us the world beyond our shores, and took us on adventures and exploits beyond our wildest dreams; they sowed the seeds of  ambition within our souls and lit the fuse of our most daring aspirations. They did it in a way the now ubiquitous DVD—sold now in pirated copies at every street corner—cannot; and that Multiplex Cinema I heard is planned for Georgetown? Phooey! It can’t compare. 

Going to the cinema was a big event. You dressed up, and you were on your best manners. It was always a double-feature, back then, and in the pause between films you could buy soft-drinks and popcorn. Before the film started they would play God Save the Queen and show a short film with the Queen on horseback, and everyone would stand up in respect. Remember this? Though it may have been in black-and-white.

I remember well the owner and manager of the Astor. He was a young man named Gregory G., and he liked to hang around outside the cinema with other young men of his ilk, ogling us teenage girls in ways that, in retrospect, were decidedly creepy.
In this article another writer, Godfrey Chin is nostalgic for the good old cinema days:

In 1940 the Correia family built the magnificent Astor on Waterloo Street, and in spite of WWII the film fare of Hollywood’s best, delighted the locals. The classic Gone with the Wind which opened in Atlanta, in December 1939, debuted at the Metropole in March 1941, and all the great classic movies such as Gunga Din, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Robin Hood and Singing in the Rain, kept the locals up to date with the fashions, styles, norms, etc, of the outside world. Cinemas were our windows to the outer world. Even the British Council utilised 16mm shows to educate us about our then British ‘overlords.’

The Astor was the scene of an embarrassing éclat between my aunts and my Uncle Dennis. Everyone in Georgetown knew or knew of Uncle Dennis, an eccentric bachelor. The eldest of eight brothers, who rode around town on a rusty old bicycle wearing khaki short pants, long socks, and a hat. If he saw one of his many nieces and nephews he would immediately jump off his bike and call us to him, whereupon he’d tell us a joke and ride off again. Uncle Dennis was quite brilliant, though his formal education was limited. He had taught himself German and was well known for tutoring pupils who weren’t doing well at school, especially in mathematics; and never taking any money for his efforts. Uncle Dennis was a Christian and believed in Christian charity. Which also meant he had not a selfish or mean or snobbish bone in his body. And also that he was quite poor all his life.

Which was why, when he went to the cinema, he would always sit in Pit. In the classist, racist Georgetown of those days, the cinema was the one place that told you where you stood in the hierarchy. If you were black and poor, you paid a pittance and sat in the Pit, at the front of the cinema. Here there were only wooden benches; it was a noisy, raucous place and those who considered themselves better off would never set foot down there. Behind the Pit was the House, where the general populace sat. Above the House ranged the quiet comfort of Balcony, floating above House in velvet exclusivity. And at the front of the Balcony, if you could afford it, was the quiet luxury of the Box.

Uncle Dennis was fair-skinned, but he always sat in Pit. And there he was spotted by my aunts one day at a cinema outing. “Look; there’s Dennis down there in the Pit!” said Aunt Edith* with a shudder, pointing down. “I hope he doesn’t see us!” said Aunt Doreen* as they all moved along to take their seats. And just at that moment, Uncle Dennis looked up and spotted them in the Box.
Uncle Dennis immediately rose to his feet; he turned around and waved, his face a big joyful grin. “Doreen, Edith, Marjorie*! Hold on, I’m coming!” he yelled for all the world to hear, and proceeded to step over all the benches in Pit, climb over the barrier to House, and up the staircase to Balcony and Box. I don’t know if my aunts were required to pay extra for Uncle Dennis; but he certainly watched that film in comfort that day.

Opposite the Astor on Waterloo St was the Globe. Today, where the Globe used to stand is just an empty lot gathering the usual Georgetown garbage. But the Globe too has memories for me, and evokes for me one particular event.

Where the Globe once stood

 I was a junior journalist at the time, working for the Chronicle. Apart from the obvious perk of laying the foundation of my life as a writer, the job came with certain perks, the chief one being getting to meet interesting people—especially foreigners to our shores—and attend interesting events. One of the latter was a concert by Mahalia Jackson in the Globe Cinema; it must have been around 1969, a few years before her death in 1971. We of the Press got to sit in a Box, along with all the other invitees—for the most part, members of Society who sat in Balcony and Box rustling their programmes and clapping staidly at the end of each of Mahalia’s songs. The Pit, of course, was closed. This was a celebrity concert—they couldn’t have the hoi-polloi lowering the tone.  

Mahalia Jackson
However, one door, right next to the stage, stood open—only a chain closed it off from the street, and that’s where the hoi-polloi gathered, pushing and jostling to get the chance to see their idol. A guard stood there with a baton, pushing them back and trying to keep them from getting too rowdy.
Mahalia Jackson noticed the little rumpus down there in the corner, and assessed the situation in a moment. “Remove that chain!” she called. Next thing the chain was down and the city’s poor black population was pouring into the Pit. They filled the benches; they sat on the floor and stood on the sides and simply crammed themselves into every last inch of space.

Mahalia began to sing again, and this time, what a difference! The crowd in the Pit went wild. They clapped along, they sang along, they cheered, they rejoiced. Whether it was a slow and intimate Take my Hand, Precious Lord or a jubilant He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands—the Pit crowd was with her, heart and soul. Life came into that staid cinema hall, and joy and celebration. It was magnificent! Up in the Balcony and Boxes the Upper Echelons of Society sat stiff and silent, clearly out-privileged. And I would have loved of make the reverse journey to Uncle Dennis: down from the Box and into the Pit, into the midst of the rejoicing. For most of those people down there it would have been an evening they would never forget—just as I have never forgotten it.
The Strand de Luxe -- Now the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God

Other cinemas in Georgetown were the Metropole, the Plaza, the Empire, the Hollywood and the Strand de Luxe. The Strand was called de Luxe as it was a new build, the first air-conditioned cinema in town and quite special. Now it is another derelict hull; perhaps a church hall of some kind, judging by the sign across the building.

The Strand -- back in the day.

The Plaza was in Camp Street, just around the corner from my home in Lamaha Street. The Plaza showed all those Beach Party movies with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. I saw them all in great delight; I was in my early teens, and American teenagerdom seemed to me the height of all that was good and worth striving for in the world. I watched every one of them.
The Hollywood in Alexander Road showed only Hindi movies, so I never went there. And I have no memories whatsoever of the Empire. There remains the Metropole, and with it a memory of little Charlie. 
Jerry Lewis

When I was ten years old I broke a bone in my hand and was in the Georgetown Hospital for a few days. I remember a huge ward full of screaming children; I hated it, but luckily my Dad came to visit regularly. In the bed next to mine lay a little Amerindian boy. Possibly, he had polio; I remember both his legs were in metal braces. My dad made some enquiries and discovered he was an orphan, and in and out of hospital. Charlie must have tugged at Dad’s heart-strings, because after I was released from hospital Dad took me to the cinema at the Metropole to see a Jerry Lewis film, and he stopped at the hospital to pick up Charlie. It was a Jerry Lewis film, and it was the first time Charlie had ever been to the cinema. So it’s thanks to little  Charlie that the Metropole gets a place in my Memory Gallery of Georgetown cinemas.
But there’s one more.
Which teenager of the 60’s and 70’s can forget the Starlite Drive in? Of course, for most of those years, my generation was too young to own a car or even have a driving licence, but if we were lucky we knew someone who knew someone and could wangle an invite. The big deal was Tuesday night: Carload Night! We’d load up the car with as many teenagers as possible and drive up the East Coast Demerara towards Ogle—that’s where the big screen of the glorious Starlite was to be found. We never went for the film. It was for the event, the experience, the company that we went. It was a party, and we were young; those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.
I'll end this eulogy with another quote from Godfrey Chin:
Christmas 2008 the Astor, the last cinema standing, was showing a powerful action double, Casino Royale and Quantum Leap. As I sat in their balcony reminiscing, there were about 12 patrons in the entire cinema. I was impressed that the upkeep and maintenance in the balcony and house area was pretty good. The leather upholstered box seats are still there.

As I thanked Desmond Woon, the Manager, for his cinema tour, I quipped that his last stand reminded me of Errol Flynn in They Died with their Boots On, which opened at the Metropole around 1943. I should really name this Nostalgia, ‘The Astor’s Last Stand.’
So, any offers for the Astor? Or if not, why not post your own memories of Georgetown Cinemas in the comments?

* The For Sale sign is gone; but I don't think it was sold. Will find out.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The countdown has started!

 Just six days to go till publication day!

Here's a Goodreads review:

 The Sugar Planter’s Daughter by Sharon Maas is a deep and heartrending story of love and loss; betrayal and forgiveness; secrets and lies. I felt deeply involved in Winnie's and George’s lives; the lives of George’s family and their encompassment of Winnie into their hearts. But Yoyo on the other hand – she had such bitterness in her heart; she made me so angry at times - I didn’t like her at all! This is my first by this author and though I found the beginning of the book quite slow at times, I enjoyed the experience. Highly recommended.

Available on Amazon on pre-order now, at other digital retailer and in print on publication day, 22nd July 2016.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reviews: Musings Straight From the Heart

A couple of reviews in India. 

This one is from the blog Reviews and Musings, by Privy Trifles (Namrata)

The story is beautiful with such vivid descriptions that it makes you travel along from one continent to another with the characters. I enjoyed the beauty of the language the most, it is so enticing that it was simply thrilling to keep reading it. I enjoy such novels a lot, light on language, heavy on plot and emotions making it a perfectly enjoyable read on every page. From the pre-independence to the post independence era the detailing is very well described which speaks volumes about the author's research behind this book. 

Every page is so well narrated that you want to keep turning page after page to know the secrets hidden behind the whole plot. I stayed awake in the night just to know what happened because the excitement was just too much to contain.
Read more. 

This is from the Blog Straight from the Heart, by Arti Honrao:

Cover of the book is what helps the reader to decide whether to pick up the book to read or not. When I opened the package and looked at the cover; I knew my decision to review this book was right and I was going to enjoy reading it. For me, the woman on the cover was a strong woman; a woman who has been through a lot in life and has her own secrets. The synopsis mentions two names 'Savitri' & 'Saroj' but as I read the book I could identify the woman on the cover to be 'Savitri'.  Read more

Old World Charm

I love this review, because the author Ramya Mishra says that OMA retains that hard-to-find Old World Charm. Indeed: that's what I hoped to reflectin the pages of this book. Our world has turned so hard, so cynical. The heart needs replenioshment form time to time, and that can be found in the pages of a novel.  Here's an excerpt from her review:

After ages, I have read a book, which retained the old world charm. Yes folks it talks about love, but not the kind of love that today’s generation believes in. It speaks of love where, whether the person is around or not but the love never fades off. Hats off to the author Sharon Maas, for writing such a beautiful story which extends across globe. Read more

Everywhere in India!

OMa -- as I like to call Of marriageable Age -- is now all over the place in India.

Here are a few of the displays:

Now in India!

I'd like to share the beautiful new cover of the Indian edition of Of Marriageable Age:

Monday, September 14, 2015

Prayer Works.

Does Prayer Work?

Yes. Each and every time. If it is sincere, a cry from the heart, then yes, prayer works. I promise you.

(Cue hordes of scoffing atheists jumping on my back and wrestling me to the ground for the sheer ridiculousness of that statement…. I look around. Oh, they’ve gone? So, I’ll get up, dust myself off, and repeat:)

Prayer works. Each and every time.
I’ll tell you why.
Prayer is not about what you pray for.
Prayer is about you.
Prayer is not about who you pray to.
It is about the prayer itself.
Prayer is about what happens to you when you pray.
Prayer is not about changing the world, to get the outcome you want.
Prayer is about changing you.
Prayer is about making you strong enough to bear the outcome, if it is not to your liking, not the thing you prayed for.
If the outcome is to your liking, prayer works because the relief and sheer gratitude you feel will strengthen you and give you faith for the next time you need to pray.
And let’s admit it: most of us pray only in desperate situations. When someone we love is ill, or a child we know might be dying, or  you’re in a plane that has been hijacked, or you see distressing photos of refugees in a boat on the Mediterranean – that’s when people pray -- often, even,  people who don’t believe in God.
People pray when they have no more control over the outcome of a situation. We, especially those who live in the West, are greatly enamoured with the word “empowerment”. But sometimes we have no power, and something bad is looming, and there’s nothing at all we can do to change it.
That’s when we have to surrender. Admit we are helpless. Throw up our arms in a heartfelt plea: Help me, Lord!
Prayer is the admission that you are helpless. It’s a good admission.
So pray.

The harder you pray, the better it is for you.
Sometimes, the person you are praying for “feels” your prayer, deep inside, and it gives that person strength, too, and so prayer works for others as well. A praying person helps those around him or her. Just like a panicked person spreads panic, a praying person  spreads peace, and peace helps soothe others in distress. It’s contagious.
It doesn’t matter whether you believe in God or not.
It doesn’t matter whether there IS a God, or gods, or not. That’s irrelevant, actually.
The problem is that YOU are in distress, whether it is for your own sake or for someone else.
Help is needed. That distress does no-one any good, neither you or the person who needs help. So pray.
It doesn’t matter if you pray in the Christian way, or the Hindu way, or the Muslim way, or the Jewish way.
If you are in trouble, simply pray.
I have prayed for over 40 years. In good times and bad, I’ve prayed.

It has always worked. Each and every time.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Sons of Gods again!


Sons of God -- Mahabharata is back! It's had a makeover -- new cover, and edited content, brand new and available very soon!

Sunday, March 08, 2015

RIP Eileen Cox, Guyana -- Tributes

The following comments were from a Stabroek News article announcing her death. I thought I'd save them for posterity, or at least make them more visible. Comments of the ordinary folk.
THANK YOU to all who have offered their condolences!
If you would like to write your own tribute, please do so in the comments. It's never too late...

  • This is a great loss to this country

    • Did I miss the block capital letters after her name? There have been many individuals who gave selfless service to various bodies and causes in Guyana. Too many have become unsung heroes.
      As a youngster, I knew the name of Eileen Cox as an advocate for Consumers' rights.
      I also grew up with the names of Eshri Singh and Ayube Hamid, etc (Radio Broadcasters) both of whom gave long years of service to entertain us with melodious Indian songs.
      What did we, all Indians, give back to them ? Nothing in return, nothing, nothing.

        • She was a good, decent woman.

            • Unlike you, who keep on defending a criminal and corrupt party!

                • This is a time to mourn not criticize anyone.Have some respect or just be quiet for once in your life.Damn.

                  • To yourself and natty, I never meant any insult to the deceased, however do you still have your fish rapped in newspaper? Strain your tea for grums? Siff your flour for roach legs and rat droppings? If so, so much for your consumer protection. What about expired products? Even the government was in the habit of giving out expired medication. I am a realistic person, I believe in calling a spade a spade!

                • I find your comment to be most appropriate. Contrast is a good vehicle to establish comparatives such as quality. A characteristic completely lacking in the government camp. Give them hell Saggainncayman. Attempts to stiffle your barbs are a sure sign they are causing severe discomfort.

                  • There is no hope for u. R.I.P. to this woman.

                  • She co-wrote a booklet with the the Womems' Revolutionary Socialist Movement, that, during the starvation period of Guyana under the PNC administration, pumpkin leaves should be CONSUMED to keep alive in Guyana. The Booklet is still at the library of the Ministry of Agriculture, and must be at the archives of the PNC. Great justification.

                  • RIP Eileen
                    You had a good inning

                  • A life well-lived at a time when women were relegated to the mundane and insignificant. A true pioneer. How many can remember when marriage was the death knell for a woman's career in the "civil" service? Just imagine our most accomplished achievers in many cases were doomed to childlesness and spinsterhood while those blessed with no talent or uneducated were free to multiply like rabbits. Rest in peace Mrs Eileen Cox. Thanks for your contributions in making Guyana a more egalitarian place.

                    • Very well stated, except for the part where you dismissed an entire category of women that were never given a chance. Many of your so called "talentless" and "uneducated", self-taught themselves even while running a side business and nurturing your current generation of doctors, lawyers and leaders.
                      Rest in Peace true Guyanese pioneer!

                      • Ms Eileen Cox was a disciplined, brilliant, decent, competent and BRAVE Guyanese woman. Condolences to her relatives and friends. RiP.


                          • Thanks for your advocacy, Eileen. RIP.

                              • Thank you Eilene for being there for us all.
                                We are forever indebted to you because you stood up for the weak and poor.
                                Enter God's door oh brave and passionate one
                                You gave us all the strength to demand that we not accept mediocre, but value our sweat.
                                We love you Eileen, you did us all proud, now it's your chance to dance with the angels.
                                God bless you oh brave and passionate soul.

                                • Great Lady,Great Patriot,Great Mother,Daughter,Sister,Friend of Guyana,RIP,True Guyanese,,,proved her Love 4 Country and fellow Guyanese..

                                • RIP sister your work will always be remember by many Guyanese my sympathy to the family.