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By: Oonagh Prettejohn

Tiffins & Chanawallahs

Pages: 188 Ratings: 5.0
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Oonagh’s story takes us on a vivid journey through her post-colonial childhood in India, full of color, vitality, and unforgettable memories. However, as she leaves her birth country in 1962 to move to England with her family, Oonagh’s cherished childhood recollections take on a surreal quality. Determined to rediscover her roots and emotional identity, she embarks on a poignant quest.

From the roots of her maternal family, where ‘Staying On’ was in her grandmother’s blood, to the adrenaline-fueled excitement of gleaming gun barrels counted and stacked in pillars by the light of hurricane lamps, Oonagh’s journey uncovers both the beauty and harsh realities of her homeland.

Through her Ayah Ruth’s captivating stories, she experiences the intoxicating fragrance of jasmine on the day of Rinqu’s marriage, and the deep bonds of love and loyalty that define family life in India. With rich detail and compelling prose, Oonagh’s tale takes readers on a breathtaking journey of self-discovery and a celebration of the cultural richness of India.

Oonagh Prettejohn was born in India in 1948, the year after Independence, and spent the first 13 years of a magical childhood there.

She has lived in the UK and Hong Kong and is presently living in Tropical North Australia with her husband, Rob. They have been involved in eco lodges for nearly 40 years.

Essentially, a short story writer of fiction and non-fiction, she has been published in anthologies and online.

Oonagh has travelled extensively. In all the places she has lived and visited, it is the people who have fascinated and stayed with her most.

Customer Reviews
5.0
3 reviews
3 reviews
  • Barbara Hannay

    Tiffins and Chanawallahs A Childhood Journey by Oonagh Prettejohn

    I was enchanted by Oonagh’s beautiful memoir of her childhood in India. She takes us into another place and time filled with the colors, scents, and spices we associate with that country, and then gives us intimate glimpses to make her story very personal and unique.
    Set mostly in the 1940s and 50s, we are introduced to a country where monkeys are not only swinging from tree branches but from temple rooftops and from chandeliers. We’re in a world where young Oonagh has her school lunch (often curry, dahl, and rice) delivered to her by a Tiffin Wallah. We meet her mother, Mickey, somewhat unconventional for those times, who not only has several marriages, and takes a job presenting a jazz radio program on All India Radio, but is also able to shoot a mad dog that’s been terrifying the neighborhood, and does so with the calm heroism of Atticus Finch.
    Then there’s Hank, Oonagh’s stepfather who works for Shell, but must also travel to a nearby town to despatch a leopard that’s been terrifying the villagers. We meet her brother first described as dressed in a starched white uniform of Bombay Bloomers and a shirt. And then there’s the family’s “scragged”, “almost-terrier”, Bunny.
    As we’re immersed in a colorful swirl of silks and saris, we also discover the gentle heart and spirit of this land, embodied in the people who nurtured Oonagh, who accompanied her constantly and kept her safe, but also shared their legends and beliefs with her, while respecting her family’s Christianity. But perhaps what makes this memoir particularly special is Oonagh’s wonderful way with words which at times becomes pure poetry.
    Here’s just one of many brilliantly descriptive paragraphs...
    “There, at the very midpoint is the railway station, a pinpoint on a map, a comma, and a brief interruption to more important journeys. The train halts, exhausted from its laborious puffing, to expel a great gasp of soot and steam. Hardware and treasures from the city clatter and drag in the push of the glittering bright saris and white dhotis spilling from blackened carriages.
    One boy stands alone, waiting.”
    Oh, and I loved the tension of the epilogue too...
    Bravo, Oonagh, and many thanks for sending me a copy to review.

  • Robyn Kienzle

    Although India has always fascinated me, it has never been on my bucket list to visit. The hordes of diaphanous rainbowed humanity surrounded with smog, smoke and smells always seemed more than I could bear. In Tiffins and Chanawallahs, I felt Oonagh take my hand and lead me behind that messy canvas to a more peaceful, picturesque place. Each chapter was a vignette to savour and sometimes reread to fully appreciate the language and the many experiences that Oonagh describes through the wondrous senses a child. Like its cover, this tantalising memoir is colourful and refreshing. I have read many of Oonagh’s stories and always admired her prose. She certainly does not disappoint in this her ‘childhood journey’.



  • Diane Finlay

    This book is an emotional journey through a magical childhood. The smells, sights, and sounds of India are cleverly woven through the narrative; literally taking the reader by the hand to relive those precious thirteen years in India.
    This memoir will be enjoyed by anyone who has a connection or curiosity about India from 1948 to 1961.

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