Saturday, June 24, 2006

attica-ruth magazine 4

journal jottings -1
A strange sad image of Afghanistan: the woman by lighting & composition seemingly turned into a rock, & the men equipped to end any other life that dares to survive. Must it always be so?
scribendi cacoethes

Egg-heads, snake-fish & berries
In the cavernous white-tiled upstairs bathroom at the Kolhapur Residency there lived a ghost. It lurked behind the door & sometimes, when one had shut oneself in, it stood disclosed, in the shape of a bald-headed man who grinned evilly as he proceeded to peel his egg-head, exactly as one peeled a boiled egg. Of course, one did not stay to watch the performance through to the end.

This was the children’s bogeyman – child’s, rather, for only the eldest saw it. The other was a happy toddler who knew naught of boiled eggs or ghosts. The adults had an invisible but audible ghost. It traversed the bedroom, causing the boards to creak, went to the washbasin in the bathroom and opened the tap. That was all. The water running out of the tap was just as invisible as the ghost & just as audible.

This ghost, or another, used to manifest itself to a previous Collector & District Magistrate in more sensible form. As a malignant dwarf it sat upon his chest & strove to throttle him while he struggled to escape. After a few such encounters he abandoned his post, a broken man. So the story was told. But the children’s father said that that was no ghost; rather it was Mr X’s bad conscience. For the man was a notoriously dishonest officer, & perhaps guilty of worse crimes than extortion.

Kolhapur District abounded in ghosts & in strange creatures. In the parkland around the Chhatrapati Maharaj’s palace was a lake. When it all but dried in summer, shrinking to some deep pools, wriggling shapes burrowed into the soft mud on the edges of the water. They were fish. Yes, fish of an ancient breed, & called murrel. Like snakes, they had an abdominal cavity that ran the length of their bodies. And when they were chopped up, each piece leaped about a bit before subsiding. The adults urged their elder child to eat. It was a tasty fish, they said. She shuddered & declined to taste the proffered dish.

Even such a conscientious Collector as the children’s father could at least once in his brief tenure take the household off for a break. Parents, children, maternal grandparents, ayah, & maid to the grandmother, spent a day or two at Panhala, a ‘hill-station’ some 20 km away from headquarters.

Panhala Fort was famous. Shivaji, the ancestor of the friendly Chhatrapati Maharaj, loved it. Also, he almost died in it, besieged by a deadly foe. It is said that a liegeman of his pretended to be his lord and fought to the death, while Shivaji stole away from his distracted enemies. But Shivaji’s son, the rebellious Sambhaji, also nearly met an early death there – by his own father’s decree. It must have been difficult to be son to such a larger-than-life father, but the young man had consorted with his father’s enemies….. Shivaji locked up his son in the Sajja Kothi & sentenced him to death, denying him both food & water. But Sambhaji escaped out of a window overlooking a sheer drop of some fearsomeness. They said he had been assisted by his mother. Naturally.

Even here, on a supposed break from routine, the Collector had to preside over a meeting. It was a noisy one, with voices arguing vociferously (how the newspapers used to love that word once!), for the times were troubled as they had been in Shivaji’s day. The lumbering state which had evolved from the Bombay Presidency of the British Raj was convulsed with agitations for two separate states. The Collector had to keep the peace until his masters made up their minds about retaining or dividing the state. All this the girl learned later, for she was too young to be told such things. But she sensed conflict; & it did not seem out of place in Panhala.

That day the Sajja Kothi was clammy from the low-lying clouds drifting in at its windows. In such a place as that, it was not difficult to believe all the tales told of Panhala. Then the sun rode out & the ghostly wisps of wet rain-cloud melted away. The ayah & the other maid led the children out into a thorny wilderness around the Sajja Kothi. Oh joy & wonder! There were bushes abounding among the thorns & weeds, & on the bushes glowed bunches of small berries. The women said they were called karvanda, & scolded the girl for eating too much of the acidulous fruit. “You will be sick”, they said, but they themselves ate quite as many as they gathered on the large rain-washed leaves, to take back to the adults within doors.

It is seemly to end a tale of ghosts & questionable doings & unsettling experiences with a burst of sunshine & bushes full of shiny dark berries.
journal jottings - 2

Tank Sinatra the turtle does it his way.

THE CALLCome, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
And such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.

~ George Herbert

This favourite poem by a loved poet was set to music most beautifully by a favourite composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. If only one could get the sheet-music…..
journal jottings - 3
~ “Marie Antoinette: Martyr or saint?”

So the wheel of fortune turns; but not moved by the hand of Justice. It is Commerce that raises up the poor ghost & sets it to work raking in the shekels; from $40 million film which is expected to return much profit, to the inevitable porcelain figurines in limited editions. Perhaps she was merely an egocentric who was born, unfortunately, into a state where she could indulge her whims without sufficient hindrance. When the bills came in – as they always do – she had only her head left to pay with. Regarded in her pomp she is hard to endure. But in her fallen state she might - & did – move her enemies to pity.

'at the beach'
Municipal Councillor to American Ambassador: “Hey-yu seen joo?”
Ambassador: “I, er, oh, Ju – Juhu? Yes I’ve been to Juhu – “
Councillor: “End hey-yu seen beach? Thee keeds are meelking et thee beach!”
Complete discomfiture of poor Chester Bowles, who is led away dumbfounded. (There is, however, no reason to believe the story that he was later introduced to a gathering of notables with the following encomium: “Thees ees Cheyster Bowels. Ehma bahu guts chhay. (He is full of guts.))
Milton, steeped in classical studies, was able to bring to English – that language spawned of the barbarous northern tongues & the Latin-derived – some of the expressive strength & sonority of Latin. Take a famous quotation from Book I of Paradise Lost:
Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
In Vallombrosa, ………..
Say it out loud. The first phrase, “Thick as autumnal leaves”, cannot be made to trip lightly off the tongue. It is clogged & slow, moving heavily. Then comes the clatter of those lamentable dry leaves – “that strow the brooks” - & then the cadence – the fall – “in Vallombrosa”.
Not only does the place-name make a perfect cadence by its sound, but its very composition – ‘valley full of shadows/ shadowed valley’ – completes the desired sensation of melancholy, of decline & inevitable loss, of farewell.
It is not many English poets who can achieve such effects in this way. That’s why Milton’s lines & verses stick in one’s mind although the man himself is very far from being embraced.
Milton would have learned from the Odes of Horace, among other classics, & he would have been familiar with the well-known lament:
Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume
Labuntur anni.
Alas, Postumus, Postumus, the fleeting years are slipping by.
Even if you take a brave stab at speaking the Latin lines out loud despite your ignorance of the tongue, the advantages of the old ‘dead’ language will be obvious when you compare it with the English translation. Nevertheless, the dying fall of the last two words is matched by Milton’s “in Vallombrosa”.
Ah, the fascinations of language & of literature!

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Friday, June 16, 2006

attica-ruth magazine 3

Title page of the Babur Namah

[pictures to go with the previous post - except that the technique of placing images in precisely the right place has not yet been learned]

attica-ruth magazine 2

scribendi cacoethes
Le temple est en ruine au haut du promontoire.
Et la Mort a mêlé, dans ce fauve terrain,
Les Déesses de marbre et les Héros d’airain
Dont l’herbe solitaire ensevelit la gloire.

Seul, parfois, un bouvier menant ses buffles boire,
De sa conque où soupire un antique refrain
Emplissant le ciel calme et l’horizon marin,
Sur l’azur infini dresse sa forme noire.

La Terre maternelle et douce aux anciens Dieux
Fait à chaque printemps, vainement éloquente,
Au chapiteau brisé verdir une autre acanthe;
Mais l’Homme indifférent au rêve des aïeux
Écoute sans frémir, du fond des nuits sereines,
La Mer qui se lamente en pleurant les Sirènes.
~ José-Maria de Heredia

[an English translation]
High on the headland a ruined temple looms.
Death in red-brown earth has tumbled
Goddess marble, with bronze hero jumbled;
Only the grass their fame entombs.

Alone, dark against the sky’s infinity,
Sometimes a drover leads his cattle to the bourn.
Filling the calm heavens, sighs in his horn –
Searching the sea’s bounds – an ancient melody.

Earth’s a kindly mother to old gods; each spring
The fallen capitals with acanthus green
She crowns anew. In vain her gentle pleading.
Indiff’rent to his forebears’ dreams, Man hears
Unmoved in the dark depths of nights serene,
Her Sirens lost, the Sea lament with tears.

©1970 by Ruth Heredia

Journal Jottings
~ “The journal of Babur” (book review)Very nice to have a new edition of the Babur Namah at a reasonable price – reasonable for these wicked times. Always liked this Mogul; even better (dare one confess it?) than Akbar, his grandson. As “thought is free”, so is liking, & it bloweth where it listeth.
In the family library there’s a collection of prints; plates from the original manuscript. For this be thanked the policy of the now defunct USSR to subsidise the arts, & to make their beautifully printed posters & books widely available at absurdly low prices. Ah well, pull up the darnel & lose some of the wheat, too.

~ “Zweig: A writer’s writer” (book review)
Most interesting to learn something of the life of a notable biographer. His life of Joseph Fouché was a prize plucked out of a hole-in-the-wall second-hand bookshop of yesteryear. Odd that this Austrian Jew should have a toothbrush moustache like that of the man who sought his life & burned his books…..
~ “The last of the pharaonic sculptors” (feature)
Now that is remarkable & sad. Only two men left who carve nearly perfect copies of the surviving sculptures of Ancient Egypt. They get no help from their rulers & have found no one willing to be apprenticed. When they die, so does their art. Recall a film titled “Sphinx”, a ‘thriller’ lifted out of the ordinary by some memorable footage of pharaonic tombs & treasures.
~ “The Great Fen Project in the UK mirrors another venture undertaken in the 17th century”
How historical novels can stick in the memory where history lessons tend to fade & disappear! There was a fine & rather sad one for older children, “Many Waters” by Violet Bibby, which was about that very project.
Fen country – most evocative name. Dorothy Sayers set “Nine Tailors”, one of her best Wimsey novels, there; & Andrew Garve his “A Very Quiet Place”. Above all the haunting music of Vaughan Williams – “In the Fen Country” & “Norfolk Rhapsody #1” – recreates the mystery of that countryside.
Sometimes, one could almost be there, listening to the silence, gazing at the clouds or the clear blue skies that make a parallel zone to that flat land, feeling the salt spray from a restless sea. The imagination sparked into action by words & by music is a better travel agent than Thomas Cook, & very much less expensive, too!

~ “Is it the chicken or the egg first?”
Apparently some scholar has dug up a convincing argument from Ancient Greece, that the egg came first. Now was this important question being discussed by learned men in their lunch break? No, indeed. They were forgathered in all seriousness as a panel to debate the matter. Isn’t it far too early for the silly season?
~ “Those who appreciate the quaint & the old-world (sic) will visit Wellington”
If only one could revisit it! although it is unwise, in general, to revisit the glimpses of the moon. May the military connections of that lovely Club ensure that it keeps its name & all else that is its special charm…..

quirks & quarks
[verbatim from a newspaper that shall be nameless]: “On the Business DD brings the 1990, col, 122 mins, English film DRIVING MISS DAISY winnerof four Oscars and which centres round an old Jewish lady and his relationship with a black driver who she is forced to have following her smashing of her new Packard by the family.” [Phew!]

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

attica-ruth magazine 1

This is Ruth, with flowers growing out of her head. Well, at least they're not weeds!

These are the Three who grace the apartment aka house. Ruth keeps house.

This is Boozleby. Made his acquaintance in March 2003. He has been a close friend ever since, despite his reluctance to speak, & his fixation on going for a walk.
Motto for these weblogs aka blogs:
"The 'I' is hateful." [Pascal, Pensées VII 434]
Journal Jottings
Stray thoughts while looking through newspapers for notes to make, cuttings to take:
~ "The Michelangelo exhibition at the British Museum in London is proving so popular that the museum is to stay open until midnight for the first time in its 247-year history."
Will a similar exhibition of works by any recent winner of the Turner prize be as popular in the 25th century?
~ "Most Russians want Putin to serve third term"
[Hmm. Difficult to avoid the hateful word.] I like Putin. Never met him, of course, but it's the opposite case to Martial's 'Non amo te, Sabidi'. However, the phrase "bloody Putin" unfailingly springs to mind whenever the name turns up. Why? After viewing a lengthy telecast of the Tehelka Tapes & hearing a drunken army officer on the take refer frequently to "bloody Putin" - or that's how it sounded - the phrase has stuck in more than one mind. It amuses. Just one of those things...
~ "Diary of a doctor makes war real"
Ah, that calls to mind on the one hand a poetic film, L'odeur de la papaye verte, & on the other, those years - so long ago - when one followed with outrage, sorrow & admiration the course of the heroic Vietnamese defence of their country against invaders.
~ "But then I started to hit some fabulous shots"
It is rather a long time since Peter the Great played tennis - especially winning tennis - and memory is no longer 100% reliable, but it does not record his claiming to have played 'fabulous shots'. He did say after the 1999 Wimbledon final, "It's probably the best I've played in many years" - which is not quite the same thing.
'The Wind Cannot Read' is the title of a film, & possibly of a book. Is it a quotation from a poem? If so, by whom?
scribendi cacoethes
The Dargah that Flew
When Mummy wrote ‘A Patriot for Me’, the biography of Vallabhbhai Patel – ‘Sardar’ – she included the story of the miraculously levitating dargah, because she had it from Sardar’s daughter, Maniben, & it was confirmed by such close associates of his as Tribhuvandas K Patel. But Orient Longman chickened out of publishing some half-dozen or so passages, including this narrative, from the script that they accepted. Now there’s only our say-so for the story. Maniben & dear old Tribhuvandas are dead, & so is Daddy; & as far as I know almost all the other old folk who might have confirmed the story are also playing harps up in the clouds. These would include the two old Parsi ladies whose apartments overlooked the dargah, & who were the only ladies’ hairdressers in Ahmedabad long long ago. Even later, until we left Ahmedabad in 1969, they continued to be our hairdressers. Odd to call them that when all they did was shorten our hair.
During Vallabhbhai Patel [not yet “Sardar”]’s term of office as President of the Ahmedabad Municipality (starting in 1924), it became clear that a famous & very holy man’s dargah at a bend on Tankaria Road, not far from Dilli Darwaza, was altogether too much of a nuisance for the rapidly expanding Manchester of India. [Alas! All the mills are gone, & half the city’s solid core/coeur with them.] The dashed thing was stuck plumb in the middle of the road & even tongas found it an obstacle, think how much more that new form of locomotion, the motor-car.
So what did the amazing Vallabhbhai do? Why, he organized a labour force sworn to secrecy & promised a handsome recompense for completing their task in the breathtakingly short period allowed – the duration of one shift at the mills, in the dead of night. The work was to be done perfectly; that was the conjoint primary condition.Come the night chosen, & half the task force dig up the dargah entire, undamaged, & shift it to the side of the road, where the other half have dug a foundation for it & all is ready to fix it in place. Between the two gangs, & always protected by a posse of policemen, the work is done to perfection. Before break of day, all tell-tale signs cleared, the special forces melt away.
Two batches of mill-hands now toddle along in turn, one going to work &, later, the other going home. Each finds the road unusually easy to traverse – hullo, where’s the sainted dargah? Why, there, shifted to the side of the road. Consternation; cries of “who hath done this thing?’; messengers racing off to fetch leaders of the community; & finally a delegation to Vallabhbhai. “Say you so?” asks our astute statesman with look of wonder & dawning awe. “Do you not see? The saint, that dear good man, mindful of the needs of his people has himself lifted the dargah with angelic assistance, & placed it where it gets in no one’s way. Praise to the Almighty, and praise be to his holy servant for the miracle they have wrought!”
Now what were those leaders, by no means bamboozled, to say? Should they gainsay him & so deny the credit for a miracle to their saint? Besides, such a miracle added to the glory of the dargah. So, not pleased at having to collude in an obvious fraud by a cunning heathen, but unable to do otherwise, & reluctantly admiring Patel’s near-magical solution to a very knotty problem, the leaders proclaimed a miracle & thereby accepted the fait accompli.
Decades passed, full of more exciting & momentous events. This one was gradually forgotten. And so a tiny gem of history is almost misplaced beyond recovery.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.