MISSISSAUGA: The Courtney Park Writers’ Group had a wonderful virtual launch of two books on November 20 – ‘Phyllis, the Donkey Girl and Other True Tales’ by Trevor C. Trower and ‘The Jewish Gandhi of Cochin’ by Bala Menon and Dr. Essie Sassoon.
‘Phyllis the Donkey Girl…’ contains stories told with imagination and humour. Trevor’s tales take the reader to a bygone area – to a period in the British Isles during World War II and later in Canada during the economic growth years after the 1960s. Trevor was born in England, where he trained in photography. He moved to Canada in 1952. He retired after 35 years’ service with Air Canada.
The collection of enchanting stories is best described in his own words: “I hope you find the stores narrated herein to be entertaining. It certainly gave me a lot of pleasure in writing them.” Trevor has lived these incredible adventures within the pages of this book and is living proof that writers’ like wine, do get better with age.
He has lived an amazing life and continues to thrive. His stories reach out to you. For instance, in one story titled Plymouth Navy Week 1938 (And an afterthought), he relates the fact that in the fall of 1939, he was fishing on the pier at Barbican, in Plymouth, England. There slowly sailing past him was the HMS Exeter, limping into her home port after her fight with the Graf Spee off the port of Montevideo. Sailors dressed in their number one whites lined the deck of the brave little fighting ship and the ship’s band played joyous music to the delight of the crowd of a few thousand who had collected on the shoreline. They cheered as the ship sailed past, barely making her way.
How gallantly she, along with the Ajax and Achilles, had fought, engaging the Pocket Battleship (Panzershiff), The Admiral Graf Spee. The Exeter was almost destroyed during that terrible war battle and her crew was decimated. There she was, all patched up with canvas and plywood, to hide the dreadful damage to her armor and superstructure.
Trevor learned at an early age that surviving the war does strange things to a person. They either cave or dig in their heels and become much stronger, Trevor was the latter. He even learned to build an air raid shelter, the Anderson Shelter, built in their backyard when he was eleven. Surviving the bombing blitzes in Plymouth, England was no easy feat…
He says in his Introduction: “As I have added years onto my aging frame, my pleasures in this life more and more become those where a degree of wit is required to compensate for the more physical activities…”
Trevor’s hobbies include playing with model airplanes and radio controlled boats, travelling, archeology, writing stories, and poetry. water-colour painting, and watching television.
Trevor always jokes that he shares the same birthday as the Queen on April 21, this year she celebrated her ninety-fourth birthday, however, he always clarifies that she is older, but only by one year.
His published books in addition to his latest, ‘Phyllis The Donkey Girl, include: ‘The Travelling Man – a Memoir’ about his travels with Air Canada, ‘Connection of Poetry’, and various published magazine articles.
‘The Jewish Gandhi of Cochin’ is a biography of Abraham Barak Salem, born into the Paradesi Congregation of Jews in the erstwhile Kingdom of Cochin (now part of the southern Indian state of Kerala), and who became known as a lawyer, fiery labour union organizer, ardent Indian nationalist and political leader, Zionist, and the man responsible for the mass emigration of the Cochin Jews to Israel in the 1950s. However, he chose to stay back in his beloved state of Kerala.
Salem recognized early on that social reforms, as well as India’s independence from British rule, could only be achieved through Mahatma Gandhi’s strategy of Satyagraha – hold onto the truth and offer non-violent resistance to evil. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/satyagraha-philosophy)
He was a member of the delegation which asked for ‘Poorna Swaraj’ or Total Independence from British rule at the famous Lahore session of the Congress Party in 1929. He is credited with introducing the first bill for free and compulsory education for all in Cochin, which helped Kerala later to become the most literate state in the country. He also introduced social reform bills like pensions for widows and food rations for the poor and called for giving nutritious food to children in schools.
Salem sought reforms at the Paradesi Synagogue in Mattancherry. The White Jews would not allow Brown Jews, like Salem, to sit on the benches nor call on them to recite high prayers. Brown Jews could not marry White Jews and could not be buried in the Paradesi cemetery. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Paradesi-Synagogue) https://www.keralatourism.org/kochi/paradeso-synagogue-mattancherry.php
The largest open ground in Cochin was once known as Salem Maidan, in recognition of Salem’s powerful public speaking skills in Malayalam, the language of Kerala. Today there is an A.B. Salem Road in Mattancherry named after him. In Teen Murti House in New Delhi, the official home of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, there is a large photograph of Salem with Nehru.
Bala, along with Dr. Essie Sassoon and Kenny Salem, has also published the acclaimed book ‘Spice & Kosher: Exotic Cuisine of the Cochin Jews’. Bala also was one of the Editors of an anthology ‘Rhapsody Lane’, a collection of works by Flower City Writers of Brampton.
A surprise attendee at the Zoom event was Her Majesty The ‘Queen of England’ at the launch to deliver a Royal Speech (done with aplomb by the group’s exuberant Kim Cayer and a published author as well).
The Courtney Park Writers’ Group is more than 12 years old – although its members are not today restricted to the Courtney Park area… members live in Brampton, Oakville, Georgetown, and other cities as well.
The Zoom meeting was hacked twice with dance music and abuse until the offenders were evicted and one of the participants, host of The Artis with Ivy Reiss talk-show, Ivy Reiss, rightly said: “We now have bragging rights – because we are now hack worthy….” Participants joined in from India, Israel, Canada, and the United States for the launch and the chat session that followed. The books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine retailers.
Mary Ellen Koroscil, group co-ordinator, announced that the next project would be an anthology of short stories and poems to be published early in 2021.