The other day, my friend Rudolph Vance called from Kolkata. During the course of the conversation, I asked him about our mutual friend Vernon Thomas. “Didn’t you know?” he said. “He died sometime in January.” That jolted me deeply.“How did it
happen?” I said. “Nobody knows,” said Rudolph. “He was living with his adopted son Paresh at a village near Kolkata and died suddenly.”
Vernon was a dear friend of mine. A bachelor, he had published 140 books for children. They were mostly detective novels about theft and murder published by the Mumbai-based Pauline Publications. Since he was not published by mainstream publishers, the
literary world was not aware of him. But he was a stalwart of the Anglo-Indian community.
For 12 years, on every Thursday, at 5 pm, I would go to his house and have a conversation about writing, literature, politics, spirituality, music and so on. It was fun-filled, exhilarating and unforgettable. However, in the late 1990s, I left Kolkata
for Kochi. But I remained in touch with Vernon by phone. In his home, apart from Paresh, lived a man called Ranen and his wife and son. Around 25 years ago, Ranen, who used to work near Vernon’s house, befriended the author. Later, Ranen asked him
whether he could stay at his home, because he was facing financial difficulties. Vernon said yes. And it wasn’t surprising why. All his relatives had migrated abroad, to the UK, US and Australia.
In 2014, Vernon’s health began to fail. And his mind had also begun to fade away. When I called him at that time, he told me that his mother had died a week ago. Vernon was 80 then.Vernon lived in a spacious Victorian-style house, with four bedrooms, a
living room and a dining hall. Last year, a builder came and offered money so that he could demolish the house and construct a multi-storeyed building. But he had resisted the temptation for decades. But this time, Ranen handled the discussions and
allegedly grabbed 90 per cent of the money. Hence, Paresh had no option but to take Vernon to his ancestral home.
And now he has passed away. It is so sad. What is sadder was that no obituary appeared in the newspapers—an undeserving fate for such a brilliant, kind and good-hearted individual.Nevertheless, I am sure Vernon has found happiness in Heaven. And I am
also sure, he will heal the heartache that I feel because I did not know about his death for so many months. I miss you, my dear friend!
"Vernon Thomas (born 1935) is a Kolkata (Calcutta) based Anglo Indian
author. He is the author of 119 books, novels and retold stories for
children, teenagers and young adults. While most of his books have been brought out by Pauline Publications, as many as 250 short stories of his
have been published in journals in India, Italy, the UK and South Africa. Thomas lost his eyesight in 1994 as a result of two faulty cataract
operations and continues to write."
If you're wondering why you never heard of him all these years, you're forgiven. For like he says, "I took up writing in 1967. Between 1968 and
1980, around 100 stories were published in the Teenager, a magazine
edited by Father Mark Fonseca. He is my guru, my mentor and when he
left the magazine he introduced me to some publishers."
Leading journals like The Illustrated Weekly of India, Women's Era and
Eve's Weekly published his stories, mostly in the kids' section. "Though
I cannot judge my writing style, people say that as far as romantic
fiction is concerned, it is very close to Dennis Robbins. I wonder if
this is a compliment. At the age of 12, I wrote my first story titled Identical Princess. I was then at St Xavier's School and my teacher
asked which magazine I would like it to be published in. I replied,
The Illustrated Weekly. But my teacher thought it should be published
in a journal meant for children. I refused the offer! My father never
wanted me to study literature, for he thought it would make a teacher
out of me. So I took up commerce at the University of Calcutta and
soon joined Jessop and Company in the billing department. I worked
there for 23 years and took early retirement, for I wanted to
concentrate on writing."
...Thomas, a bachelor and regular churchgoer, said he would become "spiritually empty" if he did not attend Mass. Spiritual emptiness, he explained, would lead to intellectual emptiness and ultimately to "my
untimely death." His adopted son, Lakkhi Maity, a Hindu, accompanies
him to church.
The author said writing is his passion and life, and Saint Joseph the
Worker guides him to produce more. He dedicates his output to the
Blessed Mother, whom he describes as standing by him as he writes the
first draft of each new manuscript.
De says Thomas´ heroes are honest, truthful and hardworking people. In
her view, he promotes the age-old proverb that "honesty is the best policy"
as relevant for modern times. She also said the simplicity of language
in Thomas' works appeals to her as well as the morals they teach.
Thomas affirmed that every one of his books is "deeply-rooted in moralities" he learned as a child, and he wants all his works to have a profound impact
on young minds.
For the past 10 years or so, Thomas has engaged a production team to
complete his works. After he writes the first draft, Orgah Mukherjee,
his 28-year-old secretary, reads it back to him, and the author
dictates relevant changes before sending it for typing. Mukherjee rereads
the typed script and makes additional changes. It is then sent for the
final typing before being dispatched to a publisher.
The reading and rereading is "absolutely essential," Thomas explained,
because it helps to "engrave the entire work" in his mind...
...Though Thomas does not want to leave the house his family has been
living in for long, someone claiming to be legal owner of the property
wants to raise a high-rise on the land.
"I'm feeling a threat to my life from the time locals told me that some unknown persons have been enquiring about my health. I've been fighting eviction attempts since 1963 and this time I'm really worried. They are
just waiting for me to die," said Thomas, who lodged a police complaint
in the first week of March...
He studied commerce in Calcutta in the 1950s and music in London.
If possible, check out the two-page-plus entry for him in vol. 56 (1989)
of the "Something About the Author" encyclopedia series. He tells the story
of his life for an entire page.
"About this time I was hoping to marry a young lady, but she underwent a change of heart. One day she was seen out with another chap, who later
became her husband. This intelligence left me rather devastated. I went
to bed that night most miserable, and the next morning I sat down to write
my first article. That was in 1967, and it was the start of my writing
career. I have always felt grateful to that lady. I attribute my initiation into the literary field to her. Today she lives in Australia with her
family, and we still exchange greetings at Christmas."
From 1973 to 1981 (maybe even later) his books included four novels for
teens, five short story collections for teens, and two such collections
for adults. Plus one 1977 novel for adults. Starting in 1974, he wrote retellings of Indian folktales, the "Arabian Nights," works by Aesop,
Robert Louis Stevenson, La Fontaine, plus retellings of "Ivanhoe," "A
Tale of Two Cities," "Les Miserables," "Robinson Crusoe," and
Looks though the only good way to find book covers is to go to Google Books and put his name in quotes - I can't provide the URL.