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Shooting with Vish Puri in Delhi

When I needed to find a local actor in Delhi to play Vish Puri, I called a veteran film director friend of mine. Arun assured me that finding a suitable amateur thespian wouldn’t pose a problem. “Gentlemen of that build are not hard to come by in these parts,” he said.

In the event, only a few candidates came forward. The most suitable was Mr. Ashok Bajaj. His ‘manager’, who I suspect was his nephew, assured me that Mr. Bajaj was a big thing in Haryana soap opera (Haryana being a state abutting Delhi with a TV industry that enjoys huge audiences, though the production standards have room for improvement).

There was just one thing Mr Bajaj was missing: a moustache. Not an issue, his manager told me at the casting interview – a makeup man would “do the necessary”. Did he own a Safari suit? I asked. No, they were not Mr. Bajaj’s style. He did not have a flat cap, either. These I would have to provide, along with transport and chai.

With the fees and other sundries agreed upon (and the manager’s large lunch paid for), I set out to hire a white Ambassador, Vish Puri’s trademark car. When I first lived in Delhi in the late 1990s, the only cars plying the roads were Ambassadors and Marutis. But white Ambys are a rare sight these days, the only ones being Government of India vehicles with whirring emergency beacons and antennas affixed to their roofs.) Sure enough, when I asked around at all the local taxi stands, I came up empty handed. No one I knew owned an Amby, either. I was going to have to go without.

On the day of the shoot, Mr. Bajaj arrived with his manager. The makeup man brought an assistant, too, and once Mr. Bajaj had changed into the Safari suit, they set about affixing the moustache: a piece of synthetic hairy fluff that looked fake from 10 paces. Adjustments were duly made. A great deal of glue was used.

When at last we headed over to India Gate to get some shots of Mr. Bajaj eating at various snack stands, he could hardly move his upper lip. This resulted in quite a lot of golgappa water dripping down his chin and onto his suit. Worse, when I asked Mr. Bajaj to deliver a couple of scripted lines to the camera, he was unable to say them – his upper lip was almost frozen.

We carried on regardless, shooting in Khan Market and Connaught Place, before heading over to Bengali Market. And there we had a stroke of luck.

As we emerged from one of the restaurants (where Mr. Bajaj had struggled to eat lunch, dropping quite a bit of his rajma and pickle into his lap), a white Ambassador pulled up across the street. Anu, my wife, who had been helping me all morning, hurried over to speak to the owner. The young man didn’t seem the least bit phased at the prospect of lending his car to strangers, and promptly handed over the keys, inviting us to use his Ambassador while he had his lunch.

Thanks to that trusting, generous man, I got the shots that I badly wanted. I was especially pleased with those of Vish Puri driving through Delhi on the back seat, something I had pictured him doing so often while writing the novels. And although Mr. Bajaj was unable to deliver a single line, it didn’t seem to matter very much at all.

You’ll find the photos from the shoot here.

If you’d like a limited edition hardback copy of The Delhi Detective’s Handbook, please go here.

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My Dad’s Autobiography

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I’m proud to announce the publication of my father’s memoir, “An English Baby Boomer My Life and Times”. Call me bias, but I’ve found it to be a very insightful and often amusing social commentary on the post-war years. Dad, born in 1947, grew up first in South Africa and Germany before being sent off to a British boarding school at the age of seven. The Britain he describes hardly exists anymore, and his recollections of the attitudes of his parents, grandparents and peers serve as a stark reminder of just how fundamentally attitudes have changed (mostly for the better). Dad went on to the public school, Marlborough, which is about as posh as it gets. But he broke the mould and, in the late 60s, joined a commune and started a decorating business in the West End. My favourite bits in the book are about his exploits with his Swedish business partner, Leon, with whom he attended church on Sundays with the sole purpose of picking up women. Go Dad! One detail did give me pause for thought, however. Apparently, when my Mum found out she was pregnant – and, no, she’s not Swedish and he didn’t meet her in church – Dad booked an appointment at an abortion clinic. Fortunately a friend told them it would be a mistake to get rid of me and my parents subsequently married, so I owe that individual a considerable debt! To think that there might have been one less Tarquin in this world.

Dad, who was 22 when I was born, proved himself an incredibly hard-working entrepreneur and a doting, enlightened father. Sadly, thanks to poor advice, irresponsible banking practises and mass-market competition, his businesses didn’t survive the recessions of the 80s. But always a survivor, he drove a minicab (his call name was “Spud”) to make ends meet and helped me syndicate my first feature stories with capital raised from the sale of his much-cherished family heirloom, his Grandfather Clock. That he also reinvented himself and forged a successful career in the financial services industry, which was full of snake-oil salesmen in the 80s and 90s, is not perhaps the titillating material of many best selling biographies. But it is a testament to a work ethic, common decency and fair mindedness that has made Britain such a liveable and tolerant place today. Inspiring? I would say so – certainly for anyone thinking about writing their own story. The book weighs in at 388 pages and he wrote it over the course of the past ten years. Personally, I can’t think of anything as precious to pass on to my kids…although one of these days it might be nice to buy back that Grandfather Clock.

To order a paperback go here.

For the kindle version here.

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