The most fascinating people in our lives are often our own ‘boring’ parents. Actress Diana Quick made this discovery only after her father died, back when she was still a student in Oxford University.
I met her back in 2008 during the programming of Oxford Playhouse’s 70th Anniversary. Soon after that, I read her family memoir, A Tug on the Thread, which was in part inspired by her father’s death. She had thought she knew her old man well enough, but he had requested a full-blown Catholic requiem service and she’d had no idea that he had any Catholic roots. Writes Diana,
When I really thought about his background I realised that all I knew for sure was that he had been born and raised in India and had come to England to be a student at Guy’s Hospital a few years before the Second World War. p.12
That led Diana into the fascinating realm of the ancestor sleuths. A season spent in libraries and registries eventually took her from England through Pakistan into India, turning up a part-Indian ancestry and a great-great- grandfather who died in the Indian mutiny. In this book, Diana combines her own biography with a riveting family history. She unravels a family feud, and the reason why she had always been drawn to the role of the exotic outsider in her acting career. The book evokes another time and place, and the sense of the personal cost, even to the colonists, of establishing an empire halfway across the world,
There was, at best, five months in which to find a partner, and for those men who had had to get leave to travel hundreds of miles from their postings, find a wife, get married and return to work, it was a much shorter period, perhaps just five to ten days. A frenzied marriage market ensured, conducted at balls and soirees and picnics and riding expeditions. It was a hysterical time, in the true sense of the word. p.72
Having watched a recent production of Racine’s Phedre, (http://blogs.african-writing.com/chuma/?p=376) it was also interesting to read about her experience, playing Aricia (p.140-7) in a Harrison version of the play and making the connections between the Indianized character and her own real life.
I took this book along on my recent visit for my father’s funeral. Ogbueshi Chukwuma Nwokolo was just as fascinating in his own way. On his deathbed he opened up for the first time to my brother, Kanwulia, about his experiences during the civil war in which he was shot and wounded during the Asaba genocide. Much later, on a visit to Asaba’s Ogwa Ukwu, I saw a faded black and white photograph of my father’s grandfather, Obi Nwokolo, who was the Asagba of Asaba back then. It was a pretty poor image, but I had not realised there were any surviving photographs of this particular forebear. I stood there awhile, feeling, ever so faintly, the tug of the ancestral cord, and then I went on to answer the summons at the traditional court.
There is probably a story, or a memoir here. Time will tell. For the present, Diana’s will do.