Tuesday, December 05, 2006

attica-ruth magazine 14


It is the ending of the year, and even in this tropical region a time of cold, of longer, darker nights. It is commonly a time for review and summing up; and a time for preparation. Preparation for what, do you ask? For a new calendar year, for the slow but sure return of warmth and the lengthening of days. Preparation for another cycle of striving and suffering and enduring. Striving, perhaps, to survive wrenching loss that tears half one’s self away. Bracing ourselves to suffer we don’t always know what. Enduring because immortality is ours whether we will it or no, and the manner of our enduring determines what manner of life shall continue for us, bliss without end or everlasting deprivation of our own choosing.

That death comes to all, we know. That death will suddenly and betimes cleave the soul from someone we love and leave in our hands only the cold body, unresponsive, unmoving, which once looked and spoke and acted out of love for us – for this we are seldom fortified.

Without question the pain of loss is cruellest to the nearest bereaved. But it is grievous, too, for close friends to see such pain and know themselves helpless to relieve it. Of what use are words at such a time? And by what deed short of raising the beloved dead may one end the outward and the inward weeping of a grieving friend?

We are made for eternity, whether or not we acknowledge it. And we grieve so because death is unnatural; because we are made for life and for happiness. Can there be happiness for survivors after such loss? There can be, there is. If death offends us all the way through to the deepest level of our being, so does loss of happiness. Neither loss is just. Neither loss is right.

And now comes the part that is simplest or hardest as we will it, for willingness is the point, the exercise of free will. Shall we deny the Life that exists and to which the beloved dead have returned entering into it unimpeded by mortal flesh? If we do so we shall be separated evermore from those we love who have left this earth, while that Life into whose embrace they have been drawn continues to exist despite our denial. There is no such condition as final oblivion, no matter how fiercely some may hold on to the idea of it. Nothingness is not – it has its temporary existence only in the tortured mind of mortal man.

Openly or secretly, is it the return of happiness that we desire, even one which we might qualify as “bitter-sweet” or “of a kind”? Such qualified happiness here, perfect happiness beyond, they await us all the time, no further away than an “Amen”. How simple that sounds. How simple it is. And yet how hard to abate the demand of the Self. Self says to God: “If you are there, God, if you are all they say you are, how could this happen to ME? What have I done to deserve it? And even if I did deserve it, aren’t you supposed to be a merciful God? Answer me, if you exist at all!”

He does exist and, more importantly, he is our loving father. One has to experience his fatherly love and care in one’s own life in order to speak of it confidently. Perhaps that should be amended to “recognize” in place of “experience”, for in all things it is the will, the free will, that decides whither we go.

God’s answers often come from the strangest sources, and sometimes they arrive before there was any thought of a question. “The readiness is all”, wrote the inspired dramatist, and “Ripeness is all”. He might in justice have added “Alertness is all”, for the messages come without fanfare, and not always from the acknowledged prophets. Even an enemy’s tame prophet – donkey-riding Baalam – can willy-nilly prophesy truly.

And there are sources stranger yet by reason of their incongruity. The light that, from time to time, illumines the path before us does not always come from candles on the altar. Sometimes it could be the flashing reflection from a sequinned costume on a performing artist. All is grist to the Maker’s mill; he will seek to capture our attention by every conceivable and inconceivable means. Thus, hours before hearing of the death of a most dear friend, there came from such an unexpected source strengthening against the shock to come. Paraphrased from it comes the following expansion of the aforesaid “Amen”:
“My father, how can I understand what you are doing to me or why you are doing it? I don’t. I can’t. But I know I must hold on to you, Father, or I am lost. From a broken heart, Father, I say ‘Amen to your will’”. To such a prayer there has always been only one answer from our Father.

The Collect for the 22nd Sunday of the year in Ordinary Time says the same thing differently, and it serves for a daily preparation against the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to:
'Lord God of power and might, nothing is good which is against your will and all is of value which comes from your hand. Place in our hearts the desire to please you, and fill our minds with insight into your love, so that every thought may grow in wisdom and all our efforts be filled with your peace.'


Carmen D'Sa
20 October 1939 - 13 May 2006

Udayan Chinubhai
25 July (1929?) - 1 September 2006

David Fernandez
23 February 1959 - 20 October 2006

Gita Bhatia

9 September 1941 - 2 December 2006

Fly, soul, to the gates of Heaven, opened wide for you;
while angels sing and all the trumpets sound.

©2006 by Ruth Heredia

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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

attica-ruth magazine 13

Journal Jottings

McCartney in Gir?

Photo: HINDU Young World: Sushanta Patronobish
Is he fashionably vegetarian, or playful, or frustrated, this Gir lion, presently in a zoo?

Tree and Leaf

My Brother-in-Law, Gentil e Nobre

My first meeting with Jimmy was when I came to Bombay with my father, for my formal engagement, at the end of January 1950.

I knew that all the arrangements for our accommodation in a hotel near Asian Building had been made by Jimmy, but he was still just a name to me. When our train halted at the V.T., we planned to hire a taxi. Suddenly we noticed a gentleman and a lady who appeared to be looking out for a passenger they had come to meet. As they looked attentively at each passenger, we alighted, coming face to face with them. Jimmy said: “Here we are. Dr Alvares?” and my father replied: "Sim". Then Jimmy introduced himself and his wife, Irene. The name ‘Jimmy’ was informal and affectionate, and that is how he was known in official circles as well as to his friends.
It is a common belief that first impressions are long-lasting and powerful. So it was with this one. I thought Jimmy and Irene a very amiable couple, affable and considerate; Jimmy had seen to all that long-distance travellers might require. After settling us into our hotel room, they left, with Jimmy assuring us that he would return to take us to his home for lunch, when we would meet other members of the Heredia family.

Mine was an arranged marriage and, naturally, I was apprehensive at every stage. I observed and assessed every family member introduced to me, and I was even more favourably impressed with Jimmy and Irene. The engagement ceremony took place at Asian Building, presided over by Cardinal Valerian Gracias, a friend of all the family but especially of Jimmy and Irene. After that there was a sumptuous dinner, for the family and a few close friends. I noticed Jimmy’s special affection for Fred, and in due course I had proof that this was not my fancy or imagination. Later on, it was Jimmy who made all the arrangements for the wedding, and gave a very grand dinner for us, including Fred’s guests who had come from the district where he was posted.

I soon learned that Jimmy, as head of the family after his father’s death, had cared as attentively and affectionately as a father for his younger brother and sisters. All of us had the benefit of his understanding of financial matters, and of his wise investments. I noted silently, but gratefully, the many times he assisted Fred unasked, and the interest he took to promote Fred’s career.

Over the years I came to know of so many other good qualities in Jimmy that are well-known to others, and which I don’t need to write about. My first favourable impression of Jimmy was confirmed many, many times and enlarged. But to my mind the best thing any one ever said about Jimmy was the remark of my great and dear friend Clara:
“Senhor Jimmy e muito differente, a ‘gentleman’, gentil e nobre.”

Remembering Uncle Jimmy

The two characteristics of Uncle Jimmy that I chiefly remember when I think of him are his love of laughter, and his helpfulness.

When I was little I learned one verse of a Gujarati folk-song that was generally danced to - perhaps a garba - and in the solemn way that small children have, I must have demonstrated this minor accomplishment to Uncle Jimmy. Years and years after that, his first greeting to me was invariably “Khem cho Chakliben?” with a broad grin. He was never unkind in his humorous replies or remarks - not that I ever heard - but he had a well-developed sense of the ridiculous, and frequently found some comical aspect to things said in his hearing.

I still have a yellowed thesaurus which long ago yielded in usefulness to a better organized volume. Yet it keeps its place with my other reference books and for one reason: its inscription. On the fly-leaf is the date, 7 August 1967, and the words: “to dearest Ruth, from an admiring Uncle”. I never knew why Uncle Jimmy sent me the book, and so inscribed - I was too shy to ask lest it seemed like fishing for another compliment, and that inscription made me quite sufficiently proud!

This circumstance must have been in my mind when I appealed to him for assistance in obtaining a much-desired book. In December 1968 I had made the acquaintance of Tolkien in the classic bound volumes of Allen & Unwin, and my dearest wish was to have my own copy of The Lord of the Rings always to hand. Ahmedabad’s bookshops were too rustic then for Tolkien, but even Higginbotham’s and International Book House of Bangalore had offered Mummy books on Good Habits in the belief that that was what she meant by a book about hobbits. So I asked Uncle Jimmy. He must have got the books from Strand Bookshop, and I received - oh glorious gift! - an entire set of Tolkien in the now notorious Ballantine edition with the bizarre covers. Four of those five books were read almost to pieces before being replaced by a revised edition. But the gift was recorded in my Tolkien scrapbook as “received from Uncle Jimmy on 6 April 1970”, and there remains the fifth book, A Tolkien Reader.

So you see, Uncle Jimmy is always around somehow, and always a benevolent presence…

And here are two photographs in which you can see Uncle Jimmy, both times on the extreme left. James Nathaniel Heredia; ‘J. N. Heredia’ of the road in Ballard Estate, Bombay; “Jimmy” to all in the world who knew him, was a person affectionate, kind, dependable, and much more. Something of this you may see in his smile.

scribendi cacoethes

Sunbright blossom
blazing in the heat of high summer:
black branch, green leaf,
and every flower impearled.

Dusty path, brown burnt hedges,
and a shimmering road;
high white walls sun dazzle,
hot blue-glass sky weighs down,
and nothing moves that can be still;
only that blossom –
glancing over the wall.

Stooping swiftly out of the heavens
a bird’s call:
so clear, so sweet,
it stopped the turning of the spheres,
and beauty seized me by the throat
so that I knew this,
- here – and now – this
was the moment –
Verweile doch! Du bist so schon!

But all things pass, even such a moment
of beauty that is earthfound.
Somewhere a dog barked, children shrilled at play,
and all the sounds and smells
of life at mid-morning in summer

I live yet,
and so, most strangely bright,
does that moment out of time;
held forever in my soul,
alive – but very still.

©1972 by Ruth Heredia

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, November 05, 2006

attica-ruth magazine 12

Journal Jottings


Photo: SPORTSTAR: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Intent, appraising – umpire in disguise, perhaps? Spectator at Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera, during a Champion’s Trophy match between S. Africa & Sri Lanka.

[Pace, Blaise Pascal, mon ami, use of the first person singular is unavoidable here.]

“You know you‘ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” ~ Paul Sweeney

I have just renewed acquaintance with an ‘old’ friend, The Marquis of Carabas by Rafael Sabatini. The best of Sabatini has to be read twice over: the first time for the story & the second for the writing. The best of Sabatini’s books become friends for life.

I read Carabas a few years ago & was impelled to investigate the Quiberon expedition of 1795, to compare it minutely with Sabatini’s story. Events overtook me & the project was regretfully abandoned, unfinished. Now that investigation has been resumed & the final results will probably appear on the Rafael Sabatini website: http://www.rafaelsabatini.com/. In any case it is a site that appreciative readers of Sabatini must not miss.
--> Written many years after Scaramouche (pub. 1921), The Marquis of Carabas, also known as Master-at-Arms, is remarkably similar in many particulars. Given the time of life when Sabatini wrote Carabas, and all that had happened to him between 1921 and 1940, it is not surprising that Carabas is more subdued in tone. There is plenty of action, a deal of mystery, hatred, betrayal, duels aplenty, and much clever dialogue. Sabatini is master of that. It is a characteristic of his stories that makes a reader either embrace or spurn him. There is also a marked advance in the writing and the plotting from what Sabatini achieved in the first edition of Scaramouche. In Carabas there is such a thoughtful engagement with the complexities of history as is found in the revised edition of Scaramouche. This hero, Quentin de Morlaix, does not begin with a fixed position on who is right and who is wrong, although he has a sensibly democratic leaning from the outset. His basic values do not change but he does learn to reckon with human beings as individual persons first and 'party members' second. The novel has many characters who, like most human beings, are difficult to classify unequivocally as either friend or foe.

As he does in Scaramouche the King-maker (pub. 1931), Sabatini takes a byway of the history of the French Revolution. He weaves that bit of history into his tale of love and adventure and growing up, focusing on the Quiberon misadventure, and draws his hero into the historical narrative as convincingly as he does in King-maker. Again, as he does in King-maker and other novels (Bellarion, pub.1926, for instance), Sabatini takes a real historical person and gives him an important part in the plot, but he also makes a significant alteration or two in the 'history' of that person as a character in his story. This should keep an alert reader from ever confusing Sabatini's fictitious representation in the novel with the true historical person. I can imagine Sabatini's special satisfaction with this plot device since he used it more than once.

Another point of likeness with Scaramouche the King-maker is in the gradually developing relationship between the hero and his 'patron' - who is in both cases a real historical person - which ends with a rather similar transition in the hero's hitherto ambivalent feelings for this person, both transitions arising from a similar cause. The legitimacy of the hero's parentage is questioned, as it is in more than one of Sabatini's novels and short stories, including Scaramouche. (This is a characteristic of Sabatini's writing with a painful origin in his own life.) However, unlike Andre-Louis Moreau, who - at least in Scaramouche - hurtles from adventure to adventure, changing roles as he changes apparel, Quentin de Morlaix has his share of adventure but with a difference. Quentin's adventures are far more believable, more logical from the premise of the plot, and certainly bring him closer to death, time and again, than the adventures of Andre-Louis threaten his life in Scaramouche - though the case is different in King-maker.

The French Revolution seems to have had a special appeal for Sabatini. Six years before The Marquis of Carabas, he wrote Venetian Masque, whose back-story includes the Quiberon expedition, and its plot has many elements in common with the later novel: a dishonest steward, the usual clutch of tiresome emigres, a beautiful aristocratic 'spy' who tries to seduce the hero, and the blurring of national identity - is the hero fully French or is he English?

One of the characteristics of Sabatini's historical novels that particularly appeals to me is that history doesn't just become a source of 'local colour'. It is brought to life using whatever Sabatini had garnered from his wide reading of primary sources. Early in The Marquis of Carabas we are introduced to the world of French emigres in London, and I was reminded of Gone With The Wind, of the preoccupation with what was necessarily a shabby gentility in the remainder of Southern society that survived in Atlanta. Among the emigres is a nobleman to whom a nabob's daughter is married, clearly a barter of wealth for a title - shades of Vanity Fair. Except that this couple are nothing like the generally deplorable society Thackeray depicts. These are kind, generous and sensible.

The heroine is intelligent, spirited, loving - and best of all - that rara avis among Sabatini women, not liable to choose, unfailingly, a perverse interpretation of the hero's words/deeds/motives, which choice makes both miserable for unconscionably long stretches of a novel. The opening and closing sentences of the novel are also typical of Sabatini at his best, and are in a similar vein of humour (and of music) as those he wrote for Scaramouche and for Scaramouche the King-maker.

The Marquis of Carabas does become a friend one parts from regretfully.

Those who knew my father well may remember that FJ was a lifelong admirer of Sabatini’s writings. He first made their acquaintance in the mid to late 1930s, & read them with undiminished pleasure until the end of his life.

Anyone who wants to read The Marquis of Carabas online can download it for free from gutenberg.net.au.


Here are two recipes peculiar to the family. The recipe for sorpatel was evolved by the pater, Frederic Joseph, from the instructions of his beloved mother-in-law, Eugenia. She, in turn, either developed it herself from the traditional recipe or inherited this version from her Costa father, who was a notable ‘theoretical’ cook. Why ‘theoretical’? Because in his day he only needed to sit in a comfortable chair in the kitchen while he directed the cooks & scullions who would give substance to his idea for a dish.

The recipe for feijoada was reconstructed from memory of a version that FJ himself had conjured out of his own memories of a favourite dish. He did not leave a written note of this recipe.

Sorpatel (Costa-Heredia variant)
Pork (medium fat) 750 gms
Pig liver 250 gms
Ginger-garlic paste 1 heaped tsp
Tomato puree
Onions 3 large
Chilli powder 3 heaped tsps
Dhaniya (coriander) powder 2 heaped tsps
Geera (cumin seed) powder 1 heaped tsp
Haldi (turmeric) powder ½ tsp
Cinnamon ]
Cloves ] all 3 ground together to make 1 tbsp
Cardamom ]
Hot water
Gur (jaggery)

Setting aside a few pieces of fat, cut pork & liver into smallish pieces.
Marinate the meat with salt, ginger-garlic paste & tomato puree.
Render fat from pieces set aside. Remove the chitterlings, drain & add to the marinating meat.
In a pressure cooker fry thinly sliced onions in the rendered lard until pearly.
Add the condiments & roast well on medium heat.
Add the meat & brown it thoroughly, reducing the heat to allow juices to flow out of the browning meat. To further this process, cover the pan (but not with its proper lid) after stirring in the spoonful of ground spices.
Rinse out with hot water the pan used for marinating, & add this water to the meat. (Water added to cooking meat must ALWAYS be hot, else the meat becomes tough.)
Close the pressure cooker with its proper lid; increase the heat till steam comes out of the vent; fit the weight on; reduce the heat after the first expulsion of steam; & cook the meat for 35 minutes thereafter.
After the cooker is cool enough to open, add vinegar & gur to taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary, & boil briskly for a short while to cause free floating lard to be absorbed in the gravy. (Don’t ask how & why this works. FJ used to do it, & taught the method. It works.)

Feijoada (FJ’s version)

Rajma (red kidney) beans
Chicken soup cube
Pork 250 gms
Onion 1 medium-size, finely sliced
Star anise 1
Cloves a few coarsely ground with the star anise
Ginger-garlic paste 1 heaped tsp
Dried red chillies 2
Tomato puree
Hot water
Balsamic vinegar

Cut the pork into medium size chunks & salt it.
Pressure cook the beans, drain them, & stir in the soup cube while the drained beans are still hot, so that it dissolves.
Fry the onion till pearly.
Add condiments & spices & fry well.
Add the G&G paste & the chillies.
Brown the pork thoroughly & then reduce the heat to draw out juices.
Add tomato puree & then the beans, with sufficient hot water to cover pork & beans while they simmer under cover.
It may be necessary to top up with more hot water to make enough gravy.
When the pork is judged to be soft enough, add vinegar & gur to taste.

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.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

attica-ruth magazine 11

Journal Jottings
~ "A life less ordinary"

Delighted to read an interview with long-time friend Leela Ramanathan, illustrated with two lovely photographs.
See hinduonline.com for the supplement to newspaper of Friday 27 October.

~ "During Divali pets hide from the sound"

So they do, poor things, & some find unusual places of refuge!

Photo: HINDU: K. Gopinathan


Photo: HINDU: Murali Kumar K.
Lowest end music system from the bargain basement enraptures as effectively as - more effectively than? - top-of-the-line product. Proves that in truth what matters is not so much the quality of that which delivers the music as the quality of mind in the one who hears it.
Offer in support of this proposition the following: back in the 70s & 80s this lover of music explored the often strange & always fascinating world of "Western Classical" music, into its outer reaches & back to its earliest, Oriental-sounding origins. These explorations were conducted through the then abundant & superior music programmes of BBC World Service, heard fitfully as far as an erratic power supply & the electrical interference of kitchen appliances would allow, (not to mention the almost inevitable "wow-wow-wow" of poor reception), & always heard through a heavy storm of hiss, crackle & pop. Never did one lose heart even if frequently misplacing one's temper. Every fragment of music, as if it were a shard of porcelain or glass, was stored away as though it had been the finest Ming or the rarest Murano, entire & unblemished.
To recognize the matchless beauty & artistry of Claudia Muzio, Rosa Ponselle - oh, one must stop before nostalgia overcomes the spirit in this fading time of year; to recognize these beauties in such circumstances & be haunted by them ever after... Only the parched soul grateful for a single drop of heaven-sent refreshment could so respond. So, yes, this image perfectly mirrors the experiences of long ago, when life was as full of trials as today, but the spirit was young & hope had not had her wings so severely clipped. Eheu fugaces!

THE MAGUS (concluded)
The exhilaration generated by a live performance is not peculiar to Shakespeare's plays. But there is one source of this exhilaration that Shakespeare tapped more skilfully than any other dramatist. He used to the fullest the power of language. We all delight in language used with imagination, skill, wit and boldness. We may not ourselves be very adventurous in our use of it, but it gives us keen pleasure to follow an artist's exploration of the potential of language, especially if the result is as vibrant and graceful as the truly great writers make it. Shakespeare was one of the greatest of these, and he lived in an age when the language was as full of promise as Eldorado, while he and his contemporaries worked its mines as vigorously as any gold-hungry Spaniard. That splendid vitality still fires the blood, stretches the mind or stops the heart as it chooses; and when it chooses will ravish the ear with sweetness. With his contemporaries we have no present concern, but here is a necessarily random and restricted sampling of voices from Shakespeare's plays, now
Henry V:
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words -
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester -
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered -
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...

Macbeth:Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

poignant:Charmian: O Eastern star!
Cleopatra: Peace, peace!
Dost thou not see my baby at my breast
That sucks the nurse asleep?

Charmian: O, break! O, break!
As sweet as balm, as soft as air, as gentle-
O Antony! Nay, I will take thee too:
What should I stay –
In this vile world? So, fare thee well.
Now boast thee, death, in thy possession lies
A lass unparallel'd.

Lear: Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks; rage, blow.
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drowned the cocks.
You sulph'rous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head. And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' th' world;
Crack nature's moulds, all germens spill at once,
That makes ingrateful man.

Beatrice: Kill Claudio.
Benedick: Ha! Not for the wide world.
You kill me to deny it.
O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart i’the marketplace.

Antony: Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.
Kingdoms are clay.

Horatio: Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest:

Dogberry: Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years? O that he were here to write me down an ass! But, masters, remember that I am an ass; though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass.
or wise:
Edgar: Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither:
Ripeness is all.

Besides language we love stories. It is an enduring love, and Shakespeare's plays have memorable stories of many kinds: simple, happy, funny stories, dark, troubled stories, stories that terrify, that sadden, that console, that encourage…. What they all have in common is that they engage our emotions at deeper levels than most stories do. Perhaps only the great Greek dramatists etched their stories as deeply on the mind.
We have glanced at a few reasons why Shakespeare's plays are still loved, but there is another which was better understood, perhaps, by the playgoers of his own time. These were not primarily scholars, intellectuals and persons of cultivated taste, although numbers of them went to the theatre. For so did everyone else: apprentices, craftsmen, labourers, farmers come to London on business, lawyers and their clerks, shopkeepers and pedlars, priests and choristers, merchants, bankers, butchers, bakers, courtiers, soldiers, and university men. Nor was it men alone who went to the plays. They took wives, mothers, daughters, sweethearts along.

And Shakespeare had no difficulty in satisfying this diverse gathering of widely varying tastes and interests. Perhaps it was because his plays had to have something to please all; perhaps it was because Shakespeare himself had a heart and mind that embraced all of humanity with lively interest and understanding; perhaps it was a little of both, but in consequence his plays brought all the world – totus mundus - onto the stage, common man and hero, buffoon and philosopher, many kinds of sinners and even a few saints. It was as if Shakespeare's motto had been: "I am a man and reckon nothing human alien to me". His audience responded to that - how should they not? Sadly, the nature of that audience changed and for quite long the plays became the preserve of the learned and the wealthy; all too often of the snob. But now, from a number of causes, Shakespeare is accessible again to the plain, everyday citizen with no other object than to enjoy a good play. That is all the motive Shakespeare expected; he acknowledged it and strove to satisfy.

Shakespeare's characters frequently commit follies or worse. They suffer, change and are redeemed, or obstinately hold their course towards self-destruction. But whatever they do and however mixed our feelings about them, they move us. Most of the time they move us more deeply than their real-life counterparts would do, whether to tears or to laughter. They are real, yet larger than life and more concentrated. They haunt us, returning at moments of consequence to nudge us into heightened awareness. And suddenly there are truths we comprehend about ourselves or other people, because once a play by Shakespeare stirred us deeply and lodged in our memories. Phrases, lines, whole speeches surface slowly to illuminate a murky motive, a mystifying deed. Therefore, not only do his plays purge our emotions of those humours whose excess harms our minds and bodies, but they also exercise our intellects with insights keenly revealing but ultimately charitable, disturbing but finally consolatory, which enable us to endure the many shocks that are our daily lot.

When people anywhere, who take an uncomplicated pleasure in story, language and play-acting, overcome the quite unnecessary awe, and sense of inadequacy with which many regard Shakespeare, they find themselves experiencing more delight and lasting satisfaction than they have found in most other drama. If nothing else, at least they can see many of the world's finest actors and actresses exercise their skills to the uttermost in playing a Shakespearean role. It is surprising how many film and TV stars nourish an ambition to take up the challenge of such a role. As for the stage actors, it is by their achievements in Shakespeare's plays (and sometimes by their notable failures) that they are judged and remembered.

Ben Jonson called him a dramatist "not of an age but for all time", and so he is, but Shakespeare with his word-magic that gives wings to the mind, and his all-embracing sympathy, is also a dramatist for all hearts anywhere on this teeming globe.
scribendi cacoethes

A Romp of Puppies

The first remembered puppy was Scamp, an Alsatian of impressive pedigree. When the pick of the litter was offered, the puppies were only days old. They were fat, furry & black, like bear-cubs. Every step they essayed ended – splat! – pup on its pink tummy, legs splayed out, mewling faintly as very young creatures do.

Scamp spent his first nights in a large cardboard carton placed beside Mother’s half of the bed. He required her to dangle her hand within easy reach of questing paw or muzzle. When Scamp arrived at the stage code-named ‘doglet’, signifying halfway to young adult, he found his way onto the bed, nestling between Father & Mother. Turfed out of their room, he consoled himself by twitching the quilt off the children’s bed & smartly rolling up in it, snug as a bug in a rug. But that came later. While still a pup, he began by crying piteously when first confronted by the staircase, but after he tried plopping down the stairs & then bouncing up them, he was content to make only the softest plaints.

After Scamp came Rufus, a Collie of equally impressive lineage. In adult life Rufus would turn out to be more than just a highbred beautiful dog, & then the children amused themselves with fantasizing that he was a skin-changer like the enchanted prince in Snow-white & Rose-red. But when he rode home under Father’s arm that first day, Rufus seemed all snout & distended tummy. De-worming corrected the latter & soon that long slender snout, with its Roman bump, was poking curiously at a rubber ball.

In an hour Rufus had invented doggie golf, to be played with nose & paws around the obstacle-strewn course of a family dwelling. Occasionally he vocalised a short scale in his light baritone, as he scrabbled to retrieve the ball. Rufus was never bored or out of sorts. That daylong (& sometimes night-time) game of golf saved his life when he was first afflicted with heat-stroke. Getting groggily off his charpoy as soon as he heard the muffled thud of his ball, Rufus gamely putted around his golf course.

Coco succeeded Rufus. He was a right demon as a pup. Coco was the largest in his litter – Big Brown his owner called him - & bullied his siblings as all such pups do. For a mongrel he was remarkably handsome, better looking than his highbred white Pomeranian father. From his woolly black ‘some-sort-of-Tibetan’ mother Coco inherited a violent temper. Also, large dark liquid eyes, & long black streamers on his ears, which gave him a charm that wholly belied his Artful Dodger ways.

Coco’s first Christmas in the household that acquired him, he seized a plaster angel from the Crib & sped into the garden with it, like the Devil carrying off a lost soul. He could crack pistachio kernels & eat the nuts as neat as you please; scouts’ honour. He had a vocabulary, too, that served his elementary purposes: “Coco, you are a bad boy.” – “Ang!” “Will you do it again?” - “Nah!” – “Next time I’ll beat you.” – “App!” (The last with a mock snap, delivered sideways, which made it all the more raffish.)

Palmerston had the most solemn face of any pup the family had seen. Yet there was a wiliness in it which, taken with his bristly side-whiskers, earned him this name among them. For Palmerston was a pup of passage & might well end his days answering to the name of Tinku. Why then is he remembered? It was that whiskery Victorian face atop the tiny doggy body.

En route to his new home, Palmerston attended a board meeting in company with Father. From the Chairman down, there was not a body at that meeting who was not distracted by the pup playing pat-ball among the legs under the board-room table. Next morning Father looked about the bedroom for his seemingly vanished charge. Palmerston’s whiskers gave him away. He had hidden in Father’s shoe, but his hairy face projected above its sides.

By some unlucky chance no photographs were taken of these dogs as pups. In due course the best of them as doglets &/or ‘doggers’ (young adults) & old dogs will be assembled, but until such time here are two delightful pups that not long since lighted up the morning news:

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.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

attica-ruth magazine 10

scribendi cacoethes

Urbanity in the Jungle

“Goans are different”, said Artemisia, “Goans are special”.

She looked at her visitor expectantly. Gravely that lady fed her her line: “How are they different?”

Artemisia was pleased. “I will tell you a story. Two stories.”

The visitor settled deeper into her armchair.

“Last summer”, said Artemisia, “I was in Bangalore, you remember?” The visitor nodded. “I was standing at Asirvatham Circle, waiting to cross Residency Road below the traffic island. It was during the lunch-hour rush, on such a hot day that the tar on the road had melted. When the policeman signalled, traffic surged up the slope. Except one car. It would not budge.” She paused.

“And then”, the visitor prodded, fending off an exigent puppy demanding attention.

“And then, naturally, there was a traffic jam. But what a noise! Car horns, policeman’s whistle, abuse, jeering. Every passing cyclist – they were the only ones who could pass – had some useless advice for the driver, who soon lost his temper. Pedestrians crowded round to watch the fun.

“Anyway, I had better things to do, so I picked my way across the road and left. I looked back once, and saw that the policeman had abandoned his post – with what result you can imagine – and was standing by the stalled car. He and the driver were bawling at each other … Terrible!” Artemisia fanned herself vigorously. Panjim can be hot even in December.

“What a waste of energy”, the visitor remarked. “But that’s the urban jungle for you; selfishness, mindlessness …”

“Excuse me”, Artemisia interrupted, “Not all cities are like that. Let me tell you the second story.

“Two days ago I had some urgent business in Margao. Pedro always goes there for the weekend, so I asked him for a lift. I didn’t expect him to load his car with all three boys and two large aunts before stopping at my door. You’ve seen his car?”

The visitor’s headshake signalled “No”.

“It’s an ancient Fiat 600, much repaired. I would have excused myself when I saw how full it was, but it would be a long wait before the next bus. So I squeezed in.

“At the old Patto bridge the signal was against us. It changed and the fun began. You know how humped that bridge is; quite a gradient. Pedro’s car would not climb – could not climb, I should say. Just behind us was a Kadamba bus and heaven knows how many other vehicles. When Pedro tried again to start it up, the wretched car began to slip backwards.

“In a flash several men surrounded us, steadying the car, shoving stones against the wheels until they worked out what to do. Then they gave us a mighty push that did the trick. We were climbing and then we were over the bridge.

“All this was done with some good-humoured joking at our expense, but no loss of temper. Even the policeman on the bridge was amused. No traffic jam, no fuss and noise, only a little well-deserved loss of dignity for Pedro. As for me, it’s always satisfying to see the triumph of commonsense and goodwill … But then”, she concluded, “Goans are different. They are special.”

“They certainly are”, said the visitor, smiling at Artemisia.

[a talk on the enduring magic of Shakespeare's plays]

Shakespeare's plays were performed in all sorts of theatres, including galleried halls, but they are most closely associated with the theatre proper called The Globe. Perhaps it was so named for its almost round building, perhaps again because its actors and playwrights knew their art well enough to give their theatre the motto: Totus mundus agit histrionem. It is only a coincidence, though a happy one, that within the Globe were met on play afternoons a microcosm of Elizabethan society; just as on its stage were played dramas that represented the Elizabethan world view in the variety of characters they portrayed, and in the thoughts about an individual's relation to society that they embodied.

Music was a very important ingredient of Shakespeare's plays and it was available to him on his stage, wherever that might be. But music was almost the only device he enjoyed the use of, other than some comparatively elementary scenery and stage effects. For the rest one might assume, from one's twentieth-century vantage, that his stage and his theatre imposed more limitations than they provided facilities. And one would be wrong; most of all about Shakespeare's plays. Strangely, the supposed handicaps of playing in a largely unroofed theatre in broad daylight, without benefit of artificial lighting effects, and nothing like the production facilities currently available to create such illusions as a dramatist desires, were no handicaps to Shakespeare. They were liberating and stimulating factors.

As Shakespeare saw his plays performed at the Globe, there was no interruption to the subtly charged flow of the action on its way to an often electrifying climax; no artificial division of his drama by fall of cloth or of darkness while busy stagehands changed the setting of a scene as they do now. His plays moved with unselfconscious ease from location to location, making nothing of distance or of time; any country or no country that ever was, time past, time present, time that never was or that could, alternatively, be anytime. A throne room, a prison cell, a highway, a tavern of ill repute, a battlefield, a bedchamber, a forest; today, tomorrow, months later, twenty years after - the action encompassed them all without those illusion endangering factors the set change and the curtain drop, or the idle distraction of elaborate scenery, 'props' and stage machinery. So much for the liberating effect. There is also the stimulating effect.

Later generations saw ever more 'realistic' productions of Shakespeare's plays until there were staged some astonishing ones, fascinating in their devices and therefore tending to overwhelm the play itself. Today there is a greater tendency to revert to the simplicity with which the plays were staged (as we believe) when first presented. In part this has to do with scholarship, with sophisticated awareness of the power of theatre, and with taste. In part it has to do with the cost of staging an elaborately realistic production. Few have the money for such enterprises any more. The most interesting consequence of this change is that we are in a better position to appreciate the stimulating effect I spoke of.

Since Shakespeare's plays were performed at the Globe in daylight under the open sky, he had only one means of convincing his audience of thick darkness in an ancient keep, of a torchlit masquerade in an Italian palazzo, of moonlight in a forest glade, of elemental storm on a blasted heath. He had language - and with it he succeeded supremely well. What is more, he knew exactly what he was doing (and, one suspects, how well he was doing it) because that awareness lies behind the apologies of his Chorus in Henry V. Those apologies for the limitations of his stage are only a device of Shakespeare the Magus to stimulate the imaginations of his audience. Boldly revealing by the plain terms of his invitations to “suppose“, to “think”, to “piece out our imperfections with your thoughts”, the means by which his audience must suspend disbelief, Shakespeare achieves his object precisely while he appears to be giving away his secret, for while the Chorus affects to deplore the deficiencies of the stage, he is actually conjuring up those very illusions that he declares he wished the stage could have sustained, or else what is the value of such lines as these:

Play with your fancies, and in them behold
Upon the hempen tackle shipboys climbing;
Hear the shrill whistle which doth order give
To sounds confused; behold the threaden sails,
Borne with th'invisible and creeping wind,
Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,
Breasting the lofty surge. O, do but think
You stand upon the rivage, and behold
A city on th'inconstant billows dancing;
For so appears this fleet majestical,
Holding due course to Harfleur. Follow, follow!
Work, work your thoughts, and therein see a siege:
Behold the ordinance on their carriages,
With fatal mouths gaping on girded Harfleur.
the nimble gunner
With linstock now the devilish cannon touches,
And down goes all before them.
and these:
Now entertain conjecture of a time
When creeping murmur and the poring dark
Fills the wide vessel of the universe.
From camp to camp, through the foul womb of night,
The hum of either army stilly sounds;
That the fixed sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other's watch.
Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each battle sees th’other's umbered face.
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
Piercing the night's dull ear; and from the tents
Th’armourers accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation.

A reader of the plays misses much of the excitement generated by a live performance. Part of this excitement originates in the tension we feel between the reality of the actor who is 'inhabiting' a character, and the 'reality' of his acting that part. But much more excitement is generated by the irresistible and unstoppable forward rush of the play, every moment poised "on the razor's edge between the past and the future", word obliterating word, impression overlaying impression. Something of the kind happens when we listen to a live performance of music: like Faustus we would hold out our hands and cry, "Ah stay, thou art so beautiful!" But neither the sounds of music nor the magical words will pause for us. We can be sure that this at least is an experience we share with every audience of Shakespeare’s from his time to our own.

[to be continued]


A Better Resurrection

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears.
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf,

My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall - the sap of spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perished thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.
~ Christina Rossetti

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.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

attica-ruth magazine 9

scribendi cacoethes

Sitting in the sun
On an afternoon in May
Under the trees
In whose boughs the breeze
Wakens the surge and murmur of the seas.

Watching the sky
Pale, changeful as clear pools where
Sun, shadows and the waving seaweed play.
Clouds flow, formless and light. Far away
Tall tree-tops rise, dip and sway
Graceful as galleons on the Main.

Music and slow movement ease
With sleep the twisting brain,
Lapped by the salt waves in the vein,
Slow-welling peace
Flows from the life in sky and seas.
©1985 by Ruth Heredia

Journal Jottings
~ "Federer will find a way to praise himself and still seem saintly...(Rohit Brijnath, writing in the Hindu of 19 July)"
Aha! Wondered when someone would notice - & speak up!
Amusing cartoon in the Deccan Herald of 20 July commenting on the blog-blundering of the Government has uniformed goons casting “govt.net.in” as they chant “Block! Block!” which inevitably turns into “Blog! Blog!” Elementary but enjoyable.

The White Knight’s Marmalade“It’s my own invention” [Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass]
Very Important Preliminary Notes:
I have only used Kino fruit. This curious orange coloured fruit is called Kino when grown in Himachal Pradesh and sold by an unpretentious fruiterer. That may even be its correct name. But the fancy fruiterer, who makes his profits from snobs, will call it a Malta and inflate its price. What matters to you is only that the skin of the Kino/Malta should be blemish-free and clearly indicate freshness. The skin of fresh fruit gleams with moisture and with its essential oil – the much-prized, distinctive, aromatic citrus oil. Old fruit has less pectin. Less pectin will seriously compromise your marmalade.

Whatever its true name, or its place of origin, this is an exasperating fruit. Until you cut each one there is no knowing what you will find; and what that is has consequences for which you must be prepared. I have made three batches within a month, each different. The middle batch had to be converted – rather successfully – into orange chutney…..

Here goes.
* Some fruit has thick rind. This is excellent. Thick rind = more pectin and more water absorbed; thin rind = the undesirable opposite. Some fruit is very sweet, some very sour, some between sweet and sour, at calibrated distances from the one or t’other. Now, sweet fruit will not ask for more sugar than my recipe indicates; sour fruit will require it. But fruit with less pectin can ‘hold’ less sugar; more pectin can absorb a lot of sugar. What practical difference does this make? When there is a lot of pectin and less liquid remains after boiling, the jam sets so fast the sugar has no time/excuse to caramelize, or even to turn to brown the natural golden colour of the fruit. If there is less pectin and a lot of liquid, and the fruit is sour so you’ve added more sugar, you must be careful, and not be too ambitious. Why? Because in order to thicken the mixture and make it set, you will have to cook it longer, thereby risking caramelization. As with whipped cream which, on the single whisk too many, suddenly turns to butter, so the jam kept a second too long, in an ambitious quest for the perfect set, will suddenly turn to orange toffee.

** Seeds! Some fruit, bless it, has none at all. Some has anything from 1 to 5 or 6 large seeds, easily removed. The nasty ones have peculiar bunches of minuscule seeds, dozens of them, very tedious to remove. Luckily, none of this affects the marmalade.

*** If you use ginger, only available nowadays as “chips”, use the best quality. I never measured it so can give you no quantity.

**** Use a thick-walled, heavy-based pan. The old enamelled jam-making pans are probably only available as antiques. I use a ‘Vinod’ stainless steel vessel, which has a base of double thickness.

***** Buttering the pan, as you would a mould for a cake, makes a huge difference. Nothing has stuck, so nothing has been wasted every time I’ve made this marmalade.

****** Cover the pan while simmering the fruit at stage one. This helps retain the aroma. But leave a slight, a very slender gap for some steam to escape, else the liquid will rise up frothing, and overflow, flinging off the cover.

******* This is a very well-behaved preserve. While cooking at the second stage, - that is after adding the sugar - it doesn’t follow the norm and spit or make rude noises. It thickens soundlessly, occasionally wrinkling into wide-spreading sunny [given its golden colour] smiles, glistening with oil from the fresh rind, and with melted butter.

AND NOW, AT LAST, THE RECIPE:1 kg kino, washed, and sliced right through, as fine or as coarse as you choose
1 litre water
Set on to boil in buttered pan with heavy base. Reduce to simmer as soon as it boils, and cover. Between 20 and 30 minutes later test a shred of peel for softness. When satisfied, add:
1.5 kg sugar [for sour fruit, more sugar – to taste]
optional: slivers of ginger chips, ad lib

Stir well to dissolve, bring to boil, then reduce to simmer and leave it alone. Give the occasional stir, especially after 1 hour. With lots of pectin it should reach setting point in 2 hours, maybe less. With less pectin you have to be very alert, and even so be prepared to learn, by mistakes, how to judge the exact moment to end the cooking. The general idea is that when you lift your spoon out of the marmalade sideways [as if it were a knife], the stuff should fall off sluggishly, in large separate drops side by side, rather than a single thin stream. But remember that the mixture will continue to cook with its own acquired heat, even after the fire is out, and allow for that.

Bottle in clean dry jars while hot, but cover only when stone cold. I don’t guarantee it will keep outside the fridge – that is if such delicious stuff lasts long enough for preservation to matter!

quirks & quarks
NOTICES outside the Cathedral:

No Parking on Thar Road [presumably it’s all right to park on the Kutch Road?]
Beware of Thieves
Vehicles parts and
Valuable lifters.
[trying to visualise a crane – surely a “valuable” piece of machinery? – menacing churchgoers about to enter the Cathedral]

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, July 14, 2006

attica-ruth magazine 8

scribendi cacoethes

Melancholy Musings

Crawling along Ashram Road, lost in the dense traffic, shopping malls & triple-decker cinemas looming on either side. One tries to accept that this is Ahmedabad, the city one grew up in. But it isn’t. Not the shabby, sometimes exasperating old city one always felt safe in; that was left for one of less extreme clime, & is always fondly remembered as it used to be.
Over Nehru bridge now. Plenty of time to look at Sabarmati below, wearing her ugliest face as usual for summer.Once, a German friend was taken sight-seeing. He asked to be allowed to photograph brilliant red & black bandhani sarees

stretched over Sabarmati bed to dry in the sun. A camel hove into view. “Camille!” cried the visitor, “a camille!” It sneered at him, vastly bored, but paused long enough for a snapshot.
On to the orderly disorder of the walled city. Those shops! Dark narrow corridors running perpendicularly into old buildings, shelves lining either wall.
The merchant sat in the entrance, cross-legged on his white gadhla, with wooden desk before him.
Such fun to peer into the depths of shelves at the family’s favoured grocer. More fun when he magicked out of them a jar of olives, perhaps, & most fun when he handed around glasses of lemonade at the end of the visit. It isn’t greed but the vagaries of childhood memory that recall so vividly frosted tumblers of falooda
at the saree shop, or plates of kulfi at the jeweller’s. (It was always just the one shop; faithful customers; traders deserving of the patronage.)

Kulfi came from vendors in the chowk below, Manek Chowk, the jewellers’ square. Vendors & makers of the delicacy, masters of an art handed down the centuries, since Shah Jahan came to Ahmedabad & thought that something could be made of this hot dusty city, built by a Muslim sultan & settled by him with Jain merchant-banker families, one of which earned pre-eminence as “nagar-sheth”.
After shutters were lowered at the busy day’s end, the kulfi-sellers set out their wares on the door-steps around Manek-Chowk (with the shuttered shops at their backs). Food-vendors’ carts drew up.
The hissings of Primus Stove & Petromax lamp mingled with the spitting of hot oil. Ahmedabadis of every class gathered there in democratic unity of purpose: “to enjoy”, as the Gujarati idiom has it.
Back through medieval pols & nakas,

into the bustle of Teen Darwaza. Way back, in 1958, an incredulous citizenry found tear-gas ‘cannon’ poking out of the battlements atop the gateway, placed there by the Collector to forestall an imminent riot. “Not even Aurangzeb threatened us with cannon!” rose the outraged cry, but there was peace nonetheless.
And peace, too, between Hindu & Muslim, Ahmedabadis all. Some of the tazias at Muharrum, notably one from Khamasa Gate, came from Hindus. The rakhis for Raksha Bandhan were made & sold by indigent Muslim families.

That was how it used to be. Once, a proud city lived from dawn to dusk, through the cycle of seasons & festivals, a pattern of life founded on hard work, enjoyment of simple pleasures honestly earned, a realistic & good-natured tolerance, a strong sense of justice & of community.
The face of Ahmedabad has altered. What of her soul?
secret hoard
Adenanthera pavonina, the coral wood tree bears pods which twist & burst open as they ripen & dry. Within are very hard, bright scarlet seeds.
They attract children irresistibly, & craftsmen, too. Once occasionally used by jewellers as weights, the seeds were also turned into trinkets & prayer beads. But best of all is their use as hidey holes for elephants. Yes, ivory elephants – as few as five or as many as a hundred. The cost of this secret hoard depended on how many elephants lay concealed within the seed.

This one is 40 years old. The scarlet has darkened to crimson, & one of the elephants is missing. But something of the old charm remains.

ANON:"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

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, July 07, 2006

attica-ruth magazine 7

scribendi cacoethes

INCOGNITO or a Prince and a Pauper

It was during the Divali vacation of 1967 that the family travelled to Delhi, the three children on their first visit. Treats were treats in that bygone time; each child had saved up pocket money earned by doing household chores. The money was for souvenirs of those wondrous cities, Delhi & Agra, laden with so much history.
The elder girl, just turned sixteen, was by nature poised between the practical & the romantic. Not long since, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of a shop had opened in Delhi: the Central Cottage Industries Emporium, down a shabby lane leading off Janpath. The father, a civil servant working for what was then a miserly wage, had once or twice ventured in & come home with small but memorable treasures such as he could afford. All three children knew what they wanted to spend their tiny fortunes on, & at the Emporium the eldest carefully laid out her thirty rupees on things both useful & pleasing.

Next day the family went on a tour of historic Delhi. On their way into the Red Fort they entered Chatta Chowk or Meena Bazaar, a covered alley lined with rather shabby little curio shops, most containing fairly crude souvenirs for a tourist trade then only just beginning. There were reproductions of Moghul miniatures & Kishangarh paintings, of a clumsy execution & garish colouring that were apparent even to the relatively uneducated eye of the 16-year-old.
Only one shop had pieces that seemed nearer the real thing, & into it the father led the way, but without displaying any noticeable enthusiasm. He directed his family’s attention to this & that, then casually asked the shopkeeper if he had any old paintings on ivory. (This was before the ivory trade had become a forbidden activity.) The man seemed to consider before, with a movement equally casual, he leaned down to a drawer & brought out a small ramshackle cardboard box. From it he extracted an object wrapped in a roughly torn scrap of brown paper. It was a portrait of a man, in profile, apparently painted on a rectangle of ivory.

Some of the paint was already rubbed off, & the shopkeeper – oh, the monster – rubbed his thumb reflectively over what remained saying, “Is this the kind of painting you want, Sahib?”
Indifferently, the father took it & carried it over to what little light came in at the door. “Yes, something like this. But this is not in very good condition. Have you any others?”
“No, Sahib. Only this one. But there are others” – pointing to the reproductions – “which are nice & new.”
“How much is this old one?”
“Thirty rupees, Sahib.”
“Do you want it?” The father had turned to the girl.
“Thirty rupees”, exclaimed the mother, “that’s far too much.” And looking doubtfully at her daughter, “Anyway why do you want it? You’ve already spent all your money.”
The father continued to look at the slightly bewildered girl. He seemed intent on conveying something more than his words indicated, but what it was she could not guess.
“You wanted a souvenir of Delhi. This looks like a suitable one. If you want it, I’ll lend you the money. You can pay it back when you’ve earned some more”, he said, quelling his wife’s protest with a glance.
The girl never quite knew why she did it. To please her father? Perhaps. Or because it was an adventure; such a grown-up thing to spend a small fortune on an object which she partly recognized as ‘art’ & as ‘history’, but partly doubted the value of, seeing how shabby it was. “Yes,” she replied, and “Thank you.”
Her father counted out the money while the miniature disappeared once more into its unworthy casings. “Here, take your souvenir & keep it safe. It must be the most valuable thing you’ve ever bought.” He was pleased.
The mother continued to protest: “At least you could have bargained.”
But the father told his daughter, in the manner of a Polonius dispensing advice, “Bargaining only cheapens a thing, lessens its value in your own mind.”
Months passed. One day the father said: “Mr N will be dropping in this evening. We have some work.” (Mr N was a government official.) “Give him a nice hot cup of tea & some biscuits. After that you can show him your miniature. I told him about it. He is a numismatist but he knows quite a lot about antiques in general.”
So the little painting was brought out, now housed less unworthily in a jeweller’s box. Mr N examined it closely, asking for a magnifying glass & holding the ivory rectangle up to the light.
“I don’t know much about these things – you should show it to an expert. But to me this appears to be a genuine miniature, probably dating to the reign of Aurangzeb. See the flat turban jutting out behind the head: that was the style in Aurangzeb’s time. Quite different from fashions in Shah Jahan’s court. This is a prince.”

“Why do you say, ‘a prince’?”
“There were strict rules about dress at the court. A man could wear jewels only according to his status. A mansabdari was only allowed to wear jewels according to the size of his mansab; maybe pearls with rubies or pearls with emeralds, but not all three such costly gems together. Only princes could wear all these.”
“Ah, a sumptuary law. And what about the genuineness---?”
Mr N smiled & picked up the magnifying glass. “Look at the beard” he said. “Each hair is a separate stroke. It was made with a brush having a single hair in it. And look at the henna on his hands & the reddish colour in the corner of his eye. A modern painter who makes copies does not have the patience to do such work.” He was quite carried away.
“See the line running through the ivory – you must look at the reverse of the painting. This proves it is a piece of real ivory; not a piece of bone. That mark in black paint is a letter. It is the painter’s initial.”

He paused, & repeated his earlier caution: “Still, you should show it to an expert.”
The father ignored this. “How much would you say it was worth?”
Again Mr N smiled. “If it was gold or gems I could tell you the worth. But something like this is worth only as much as anyone thinks it is worth. There is no intrinsic value. If you want it, it has value. If you are not interested, it is valueless. How much did you pay for it, may I ask?”
He was still studying the miniature as he spoke & did not notice that the father had silenced the girl with a look.
“Three hundred rupees” said the father. “She paid three hundred for it.”
“Really?” Mr N looked up, impressed. “Well, young lady, I would say you got a bargain in that case.”
Then the men resumed their discussion while the girl, having returned thanks somewhat mechanically, gathered up her belongings & went off to reflect on all she had heard.
Later, the father came away from ushering his visitor out. He was jubilant.
“Didn’t I tell you? Let this be a lesson to you. When you see a thing that is worthwhile, don’t bargain. If you can’t afford it, walk away without regrets, happy that you saw it. It is clearly not meant for you. But if you can afford it, even by sacrificing something else you could have, buy it without bargaining. It is worth the value you set on it.
“But, that apart, I think you are very lucky to have got this miniature – a genuine antique – so cheap”, said he, forgetting that it was his discerning eye & educated taste which had brought about the translation of a prince’s portrait into the pocket of a pauper.
Journal Jottings

~ "Dhoon-Dhoon, a stump-tailed macaque, celebrates her first birthday at Assam State Zoo in Guwahati. The macaque, raised by zoo-keepers after she lost her mother in infancy, belongs to an endangered species."
She can’t eat the cake, but what satisfaction on her face, & what a look of affectionate absorption on the man’s, not to mention her embrace of his softly curved hand! Delightful & rare treat in the morning papers otherwise full of dreary stuff.

Can anyone find a source for the following line, even with a changed word here or there?
'Proud Agamemnon trod on purple to the axe behind the door.'
Could it be by W H Auden?
Or from a translation of a Greek play by any of the immortal trio: Aeschylus, Euripides or Sophocles?
It is important to find out whether this line, found on a sheet of paper tucked into the writer's file of ideas & notes & pieces left incomplete, is just another 'idea' or if it is a quotation carelessly copied without attribution.

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.