Extended Families: A Memoir of India

2 January 2018

Extended Families: A Memoir of India
by Ven Begamudré
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Keith Foster
$24.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-927-4

Ven Begamudre’s Extended Families: A Memoir of India is an intriguing book, not only for the story he tells but for the way he weaves that story. Born in India, he came to Canada when he was six. Based on a journal he kept of his first trip back to India in 1977-78 when he was twenty-one, this memoir is both heartwarming and heart-wrenching.

Short pieces allow readers a peek into his life, displaying his personality traits, or quirks. He’s quick to anger and slow to forgive, and shows no tolerance for beggars. “I learn to shoo the children off with a backward wave of a hand,” he says.

Begamudre incorporates East Indian mysticism into his life story. He also wrestles over the question of whether he’s Indian or Canadian. He feels like an Indian in Canada, but in India he’s referred to as that Canadian boy. He marries a Canadian woman, only the second time anyone in his extended families married a non-Indian.

In his fluid prose, a highly observant Begamudre uses precise wording to provide elaborate details, as befitting a perfectionist. His descriptions are fascinating, although not always flattering, as when he says one man’s face looks like “a coconut with a jaw.”

In this memoir, Begamudre is frank and brutally honest, exposing his deeply personal inner thoughts. Examining a retouched photo of his maternal grandmother, he notes that we often gloss over our families’ imperfections to make them seem normal. But “the flaws bring a person to life,” he says.

As a boy, Begamudre considers becoming a physicist, having read every book on Albert Einstein in the local library. Failing that, he ponders becoming a magician. After all, he’s read biographies of Harry Houdini.

Egged on by his father’s constant criticisms, Begamudre begins to blame himself for somehow being at fault when things go wrong. His mother, well educated but prone to suicide, says the biggest mistake she made was marrying a man like her own father. Begamudre hides in his room with the door closed while they fight. When they divorce, they compete for his affection, and he finds he can use this rivalry to extract anything he wants from them. “I could transform guilt into gifts,” he writes.

Begamudre has lofty dreams and high ambitions. He aspires to write a great novel called Nomads. He also fantasizes about winning a major literary award, buying an expensive sportscar, falling in love and marrying a Swiss nurse, raising a son and daughter, and listening to them crying at his deathbed as his wife plays Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto. But perhaps what he really wants are parents who love him.

Extended Families may leave readers craving more information on Begamudre’s wife, mentioned only in passing, and how she interacted with his extended families. Supplemented with twenty-five black and white photos, this is Begamudre’s ninth book. With ink in his veins, he has carved a well-deserved place for himself in the Saskatchewan writing community.


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