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Mountains

The Pir Panjal Mountain Range, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh.
[Image by Jagriti Rumi]

What are the mountains saying that doesn’t reach me?

Nothing.


Sun kissed peaks, every hour of every day, shattering time moving in the round clocks, but not the colossal movement, the mountains hide what secret from me?

I’ll measure it, treasure it, capture it once and for all, weigh it well, dissect and familiarise, worship and sell without expectations. Tell me, what is it?

Nothing.

Don’t lie!

I’ll climb and conquer again, I’ll dig and extract again, I’ll create tunnels and pin cables, hang lights and find roads, I’ll race up and down and charge tickets, smart tools are enough to overpower, smartly I move, watch me.


Alas! Ages pass by and you rejoice in stillness while I struggle and fight with no one but myself. In the search of an answer, I have walked past the question always, watch me as I do it again, watch me as I fall.


Watching… Dear mountains, you have watched it all, the movement, steadily you have participated, participated fully… is that it, then? Erosion also doesn’t bother, nor does dying, mixing in dirt, letting the wind take you away in bits.

Evening hour, The Pir Panjal Mountain Range.
[Image by Jagriti Rumi.]

Dear mountains, you don’t speak of love, yet your beauty does. You play with the sky, clouds and lightning.

Not tethered to a window, you see the full picture, and breathe the fresh air, and live… live not as the word ‘live’ explains, dictates, guides, forces, blesses, teaches, restricts, warns, and shouts telling us how to… but simply you do. And for that you need…

Nothing.


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B for Babette’s Feast and C for Compassion

Babette collects herbs.
[Source – The Criterion Collection]

Believing in a belief, conclusion-loving, pinning the words ‘this way, please’ on a dimly lit – could be dusk, could be dawn – sky, they followed the direction, unchallenged they went for ages, preaching and praying, walking as said… old eyes looking at the sky, chanting the words again when suddenly a dazzling shooting star strikes through the pinned message… which way now?

Round and round… for the fear of going astray.


Setting the fruit plate.
[Source – Vox.com]

In Babette’s Feast a humble group of elderly believers – tired, corroded by time yet hoarding time, finicky, daft and cement strict – are made to taste another route, taste literally, for they are invited to a feast, “a real French dinner”.

This 1987 Danish masterpiece directed and written by Gabriel Axel, based on one of Karen Blixen’s stories from Anecdotes of Destiny, termed by critics as “gastro-cinema at its most sensual and intoxicating”, “melancholy bliss”, and “a classic of literary adaptation”, in its simplicity and candour trespasses the humdrum routine life, and compassionately so… that you feel full.

Receiving an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, the first for a Danish film, Babette’s Feast most probably is also the first film ever to be mentioned in a papal document, Amoris Laetitia, as it is Pope Francis’ most favourite film and a recommendation too.

Watch the trailer now –


Story – Meet the sisters

Martine and Filippa, two elderly sisters, in a remote region on the western coast in Denmark, have lived a life of austerity, carefully always measuring the rules set – set in stone, grey and seashore stone, often used to hold the roof, the door, the window, sincere and sturdy stone, set in the 19th century – by their late father, a pastor, who named them after the theologians Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon.

Following the spirit of Protestant Reformation, the pastor had started a congregation, a group with a mission to follow the followers who followed from the beginning the grand words of the follower. Now long gone, the pastor’s congregation is being carried on, thanks to his two daughters.

Sacrificing themselves for a greater good, the two elderly sisters, when young, were heartbreakers; many suitors attended the mass just to get a glimpse of the two beauties. The suitors dared to fall in love, Martine and Filippa dared to love not one but all, and the pastor loved his rule books.

The pastor with his two young daughters, Filippa and Martine, followed by the Lutheran sect members.
[Source – IMDB]

Yet, two true lovers – a Swedish cavalry officer, Lorens Löwenhielm, and a classical singer, Achille Papin – heartbroken, never stopped loving Martine and Filippa.

When Babette Hersant, a refugee, appears on a dark rainy night, begging for shelter, offering to work as a housekeeper for free, showing Achille Papin’s recommendation letter, the two sisters take her in. Fourteen years pass by and Babette, as a cook, serves Martine, Filippa and the congregation with better meals, deftly using from whatever is available.

The handful of folks who stayed loyal to the congregation – attending meetings, reading hymns, sighing, lamenting, cursing, gossiping – forgot, in actuality, why the congregation was formed. Saddened to see the folks bickering, Martine and Filippa, nevertheless, wish to celebrate their father’s hundredth birthday (a modest supper followed by a cup of coffee, that’s the plan).

Babette serves tea.
[Source – The Criterion Collection]

Babette requests the sisters, and it is the first time she does so, to let her prepare the commemorative dinner – a real French dinner – and also allow her to pay from her own pocket as she has won a lottery. The sisters, thinking that Babette will soon return to France and it probably will be her last time cooking for them, agree with her.

When Babette’s ingredients – exquisite wines, quail, a turtle, a calf’s head, etc., – for the feast arrive, the villagers are dumbfounded and the sisters are scared, regretting permitting Babette for she is turning the modest supper into a fantastic feast.

Sacrifice

A sacrifice is something sacred, holy, often done either to appease a deity or for the sake of others by renouncing something significant. Tied down in such a manner, sacrifice carelessly brings comparison in the framework of our societies.

The old pastor, thus, got lost in comparison. Comparing the text in his rule books with capricious people, he made them march-past, sing, sit and stand like the written word. All hail, now!

The congregation listens to Martine… Hallelujah!
[Source – criterionforum.org]

He couldn’t ever think of letting his two sweet bookmarks, his daughters, step out of his rule books, and the daughters knew, and the daughters obeyed, and the daughters gently broke hearts, and the daughters worked hard to run the congregation, to make the commoners appreciate. Hail and sing and love thy neighbour!

The pastor adored his daughters, appreciated the congregation, and loved the rule books for he identified with it the most.

The daughters surpassed the good old pastor’s attempt to follow a righteous path, for they sacrificed with compassion.

Compassion

Compassion works without failing, ceaselessly, for all and that is it; not divisive in nature, all comparison vanishes when a compassionate eye turns and looks through it.

Martine and Filippa are compassionate, always giving. From young to old age, they lived for others, tending and caring, cooking and serving, all seasons, morning to evening.

Not a sacrifice, for comparison rarely touches them, they quietly live – like the wavy grass, the cold ocean-fresh sand, the smoke coming out of the chimneys in the village, the lit and silent candles – cherishing their duty, performing it with love. Love!

On a dark rainy night, the sisters take Babette in.
[Source – The Criterion Collection]

Love engulfed their old father’s rule books and became Martine and Filippa’s sole guide, without declaring it.

But their habit of following the late pastor often led them to troubled states – the congregation was decaying unnaturally – and the rule books offered no solution. Round and round they went.

Who brought a change then? Who?

The act of giving a wounded Babette a place to rest, recover and serve, turned out to be that shooting star that struck through their fixated way of living… unawares the sisters stirred the scene and ripples of change began. It was a simple act.


Story – Babette’s preparing the feast

It becomes a grand affair, Babette’s feast, with the turtle soup and amontillado sherry, buckwheat pancakes with caviar and sour cream and of course, Champagne Veuve Clicquot 1860, then quail in puff pastry with foie gras and truffle sauce, accompanied with what the sisters were earlier worried about – they had asked, seeing the bottles of alcohol, “Surely that’s not wine?” and Babette had replied honestly, ‘No, that’s not wine. It is Clos de Vougeot, 1845!’

The sisters don’t say anything when dining, they had made a pact with all the community members, all of them won’t participate in this “witches’ sabbath”, they won’t accept pleasure and commit sin by describing how good the food is… so they eat everything quietly, the salade and dessert and the champagne and then the cheeses, fruits, sauternes, the coffee at the very end with the Grande Champagne cognac.

They chewed, sipped, swallowed slowly, sheepishly at first, then heartily tasting the fantastic joyful scrumptious heavenly meal, though never ever saying a word about the food, they do talk about their differences, mistakes, fraudulence, foolishness, love for the congregation, the old pastor and the lovely sisters.

Full and happy, pleased and welcoming, they then feel good and so, compassionately sing together, holding hands in a circle like little children.

“Mercy imposes no conditions…”, says General Lorens Lowenhielm.
[Source – The Criterion Collection]

The only one who did acknowledge the excellently prepared and presented dinner, is Lorens, Martine’s former lover, a General and married man now, who attends the dinner with his old aunt – the oldest member of the congregation.

Savouring every combination that is served, relishing the elegant, rounded, rich wines, he shares an anecdote about a woman chef, an artist, a culinary genius, who was behind the success of a renowned restaurant in Paris, and how this meal reminds him of the time when he once dined there.

Thanks to Lorens, the others get to know about the intricacies that made every dish so special. ‘Hallelujah!’ They sing together, the old hymns, looking at the night sky, and this once, find only the stars twinkling, not the pinned message.

Bidding goodbye, Lorens shares with Martine –

I have been with you everyday of my life. Tell me you know that.

Yes, I know it.

You must also know that I shall be with you every day that is granted to me from now on. Every evening, I shall sit down to dine with you. Not with my body, which is of no importance, but with my soul. Because this evening I have learned, my dear, that in this beautiful world of ours, all things are possible.

Sacrifice

The turtle haunts Martine.
[Source – The Movie Screen Scene]

Food chopped and sliced, butchered and boiled, softened, sweetened and spiced for the feast. The running food cycle does not appear like a sacrifice, one depends on consuming food, until one doesn’t.

The running food cycle turns exploitative when one species begins to burden the others, when storing food becomes the norm, when one has only two-minutes to cook. Nothing is sacrificed other than one’s health in such a case.

Says one of the members of the congregation – “Man shall not merely refrain from but also reject any thought of food and drink. Only then can he eat and drink in the proper spirit.” She then sips the champagne quietly.

The good food overpowering each one of them gradually, humbly, without a desire to win over, makes them forget the yardstick to measure goodness. They forget to compare.

Even though they follow Lorens’ lead – copying his manners, what to eat first and how exactly, for the exotic feast is absolutely new to them – they do so without fear. Conditions imposed faded away when they sat down to eat the meal.

Compassion

Babette once worked as the head chef of the famous Café Anglais in Paris, she is the culinary genius – an exception – Lorens spoke about; her passion for food guided her to experiment freely.

Fourteen years pass by and Babette, a refugee from a revolution that devoured her husband and son, scarred and impoverished her, learns to live, daily, by doing housework and cooking, serving meals to the congregation, learning the local parlance, cracking deals with vendors, experimenting with the home-grown herbs … she learns to live by doing nothing extraordinary.

In daily living, emptying herself of the past, she finds space for the present. Paying absolute attention to her chores, unknowingly she falls for it, and when she wins the lottery, after a little contemplation, she decides how to spend it – by cooking a proper feast for the congregation. Money doesn’t bother her now. She prepares a sumptuous meal, setting the stage well with beautiful silver and chinaware, brightening the mood with candle lights.

Head chef, Babette Hersant – an exception.
[Source – The Movie Screen Scene]

Perfectly, she conducts the performance – what is to be served, in combination with which drink, after exactly which dish – with the help of a local kid and the General’s in-waiting coachman, without taking the centre stage even once. Allowing the two helpers and herself to taste the food and sip the drink at the end, knowing well that the task is done.

Her food transforms all the guests; her passion takes the form of compassion; everyone feels grateful for one little thing or more. With the happy chaps gone, the two sisters come running to thank Babette for turning their father’s hundredth birthday into a wonderful celebration, something to remember her for when she returns back to Paris.

But she is not going back to Paris, says Babette, revealing that she was the head chef of Café Anglais where a dinner of twelve costed just the amount she won in the lottery (10,000 francs). Greatly surprised to know this, the sisters worry for her as she is back to being penniless, Martine says, “Now you will be poor for the rest of your life”, but “An artist is never poor”, says a smiling Babette.

The performance was for the guests as well as for herself, she adds, remembering what Achille Pappin often said, “Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me the chance to do my very best.” Filippa, a singer Pappin wanted to rule the French Operas, gives Babette a warm hug, saying it is not the end, that in heaven her art will delight the angels.

Overwhelmed, the sisters speak the language of the book and Babette of her art, that is all they know, but they speak with love. Love!


The Film

Gaberial Axel’s Babette’s Feast has given wings to this lovely short story by Karan Blixen aka Isak Dinesen, feather light, the 102 minutes long film never feels long. It begins like a folklore that gently plays with time – now talking about the father pastor, now the suitors proposing the young sisters and now the sisters, old, running the sect, then introducing a stranger, a troubled lady, on a rainy night… and now we want to know who she is.

Even though a religious sect paints this village in its colours, the story never preaches nor gets dull and overburdened with saddened affairs of the sad souls. Good food keeps them in good mood after Babette’s arrival, earlier they didn’t know the difference, and when they find out, and have to eat what the sisters cook in Babette’s short absence, they protest silently – grimace on face, one old fellow drops the mushy porridge back in the bowl, mumbling.

Until the feast is served, the community second guesses Babette’s every move – after all there’s an alive turtle in the kitchen – which even haunts Martine in her dreams. When the celebrations begin, we the audience also participate actively in it, watching what Babette serves and how the worried old folks react to it, we watch though not expecting much… for such is the art of cooking and shhhhh… Babette’s at work.

The candle dies out in the end… the feast is over, it fed and restored many, words were spoken, words were heard and understood, now there is nothing more to say, the day’s over and the night sky shines with stars for some, with messages for others… and a shooting star striking through again for the one who looks.


A truly lovely tale of everyday passion, magic and miracles.” – Geoff Andrew

A glimpse –

Read more about Babette’s Feast –

Babette’s Feast: A Fable for Culinary France by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson.

On wine and food and a seat at ‘Babette’s Feast’ by Patricia Rogers.


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Surprise!

The Happy Prince and the little blue swallow.
[Image by Jagriti Rumi]

Round the same corner, where the overgrown bushes and wildflowers say peekaboo, where the hilltop takes a sudden steep turn, where the gusty wind is always somewhat high, there, no formula has explained how, one is always greeted with a surprise.

Happy, tricky, charming, daunting, could be anything. The same corner’s sameness, the old corner’s oldness never mars its impact – the surprise surprises the surprised passerby.

Yes, it’s a corner to cross, no one’s destination. Just meeting an unexpected twist by the way, you walk past changed if it surprises you well.

Surprise, the word’s root meaning will take you to meet the medieval Latin word superprehendere which means ‘seize’. No wonder, a surprise seizes you, capturing fully until you see the hidden newness in what you thought was the same-old-same-old.


The Happy Prince & Other Stories by Oscar Wilde, a collection of fairy tales that he wrote for his own family members, is fun and full of surprises.


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The Lion’s Truth

Your highness, you rule!
[Source – Pixabay]

What shade is the lion’s

Truth? Grassland golden, hunting prey in red

Marking the dark night black

Soaking in wet sky blue

Of the stream, cloudy, stony, fish green

And scent heavy wind’s white

Smelling dry muddy earth’s brown

Resting, playing shadows under the sun’s yellow

Colouring death not in sorrow

Mankind behind great walls checks

Time, never finding how come his truth

Is different from the lion’s.

“It is not, truth is truth, same for all”, said the lion.
[Source – Pixabay]

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Farewell, Dear Star

Webb Telescope NIRCam image of supernova remnant Cassopeia A.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Danny Milisavljevic (Purdue University), Ilse De Looze (UGent), Tea Temim (Princeton University)

A star that shattered like a glass

Cassiopeia-A, its name

A supernova remnant, when captured

In a telescopic lens, it showed

The colours of peace that overtook the space

When the star exploded

Breaking the shell into pieces

To embrace the space

To become one

Dying not, but evolving

Into what is the infinite

Not far or near, but everywhere

Direction-and-distance-free

Beaming brightly, lives

The star that shattered like a glass.


The structure contains cosmic dust, which has the potential to coalesce under gravity over time, to grow and grow and eventually form brand new stars.


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The Samurai Walker

Reverberating grand mountain range… here I come!
[Source – Pixabay]

Recently ordained as a samurai or was she a veteran, no one knows for what is the difference between new and old journeys… Experience! Experience? Experience is always limited, tied to the past, a guide it maybe, yes, just that, but not a compass, for the working compass points towards the present, always.

And grannie, the samurai never called herself a samurai… she said, and I have heard too grannie, she called herself a walker.

Hmm… yes, yes, that’s right too, but listen what happened next. She crossed the ocean of the golden grass that swayed with the silken wind, her hands stroking the golden waves past her, dancing a little to the left, then to the right, dancing to dodge the crickets, grasshoppers and in some seasons the dragonflies. Some seasons? Some seasons, yes, for she has crossed this ocean of the golden grass many a times.

You mean the meadow, right grannie? Golden grass ocean is where we play? Because I have seen her passing by.

Yes kiddo! So, listen now, she crosses this ocean to climb the reverberating grand mountain range… mountains that speak and its white peaks touch the sky, its high peaks that speak that us chaps fail to see for we bend to sow seeds, our backs ache and speak a different language that doesn’t reaches the peaks that speak.

But the samurai’s footprints, when in the mood, talk and share anecdotes and so we know somethings like that she stands still to sleep and drinks fresh water for breakfast and dinner, skipping lunch altogether, that she takes different routes to reach the top in search of an answer.

Grannie, she bought flour from the market one day, I saw her. She knows how to cook too.

The footprints are complete, not weak, she is never in a hurry, walking ahead, different routes but one direction. Where to? What chasing question she chases? What can be seen that is hidden in these glorious mountains? An answer? Why again? Yes, again… isn’t the old answer relevant anymore? Or is the question too old, dimming the revelation in-turn? Or there’s no question, no answer to be known?

Kiddo? You asleep, good. Rest now, for you too have to go on a long walk soon.


The samurai, standing on the mountain peak, her hundredth journey, maybe, she mutters, for she stopped counting long time back, for it didn’t answer, it dated the time passed and that is all. Why hundredth then? For impact, she whispers.

Biting cold wind reminded nothing of its silken version that swayed the golden grass, the meadows that looked like a shiny river from there. The samurai looked in one direction for hours, concentrating madly, couldn’t see clearly when suddenly a brisk energy filled her fully, and she stopped looking in one direction, and looked at the panorama fully, the whole of it and not just a part.

The question, the answer busted in joy then, concentration took a dive into complete attention, a clarity dawned that stopped the samurai from checking time, for the whole movement moved in her wholly.


This one movement played like a melodious orchestra around her, that from that day, the samurai walker didn’t imagine her goal, but saw the radiant whole.

The job was done, yet the samurai walked, fought and caught the fallen and rose every time, looking, from a certain angle, as tall and strong as the mountains.


And those who have heard the peaks, mostly the oldies like our grannie, even once – the echoes of the purple caves – they have spent the days and nights in glorifying it as a legend, speaking in riddles, confusing all and never…

Hey, where’s my stick? Wait, you!!


Climbing like the rainbow.
[Source – Pixabay]

She walks without counting, checking time

Or imagining a direction, she walks

Matter-of-factly, fearlessly, lightly

Like the rainbow after a storm

-Samurai’s footprints

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An Ancient Temple

Living and dying daily.
[Source – Pixabay]

Stranger, think long before you enter,

For these corridors amuse not passing travellers.

But if you enter, keep your voice to yourself.

Nor should you tinkle and toll your tongue.

These columns rose not, for such as you.

But for those urgent pilgrim feet that wander

On lonely ways, seeking the roots of rootless trees.

The earth has many flowery roads; choose one

That pleases your whim, and the gods be with you.

But now leave! Leave me to my dark green solitude

Which like the deep dream world of the sea

Has its moving shapes; corals; ancient coins;

Carved urns and ruins of ancient ships and gods;

And mermaids, with flowing golden hair

That charm a patch of silent darkness

Into singing sunlight.

-Inscription on an ancient temple, Pingalavel, G.A Kulkarni

An ancient forgotten temple that luckily doesn’t asks for donation, mutters a handful of such words that falls on some lucky ears, but usually ricochets off the nearby rocks.

The mossy temple, absorbed in and absorbing the greenery around, is purposeless, meaningless, free from limited definitions.

It shoots comet-fireball-meteor-like sparkling rays randomly into the bright dark sky… or catches the comet-fireball-meteor-like sparkling rays… it shoots or catches… if you see after tilting your head a little.

And so, it meets and greets only the earnest pilgrim, who is roaming aimlessly, ‘seeking the roots of rootless trees.’ Admonishing a half-hearted, tied-to-a-string, fearful attempt, a fearful approach that has drawn conclusions. ‘… the gods be with you. But now leave!’

Sitting still, sinking into the deep sea, a silent celebration that never began and will never end.

The ancient forgotten temple disappears into singing sunlight.

Sing along the sunlight!
[Source – Pixabay]

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Together Pan-optically

Ah, recording it all and then repeating it.
[Source – Pixabay]

A humble looking, I mean just two lines long, definition took such a grim turn that it never left the abandoned penitentiary.

Definition –

Panopticon – a prison with cells/ rooms arranged in a circle, so that the prisoners in them can be seen at all times from the centre, without them knowing whether or not they are being watched.

After taking this same turn, one Michel Foucault – French philosopher, philologist, historian and social theorist – observed things differently, trying to understand why the penitentiary was made in the first place. To control and rule perhaps, but what about the good old methods of confinements in dungeons, solitary cells, and the public displays of torture? With the death of the monarchy, these methods rusted away quickly.

The new progressive democratic modern world needed a much more sophisticated method to control, to rule. Panopticon with a panoptic (pan= all, optic=seeing) tower cheered for itself, gaining a decent fan following.

Doubly jailed!
[Source – Purdue University]

Foucault in his work Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975) shows, with great detail and pain, how a structure like panopticon guarantees internalization of the idea of surveillance.

He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.

Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish

Walking ahead, leaving this grim lane behind, rushing past the dullness, the dilapidated mood and tiring heavy air, you realise someone is following you, a shadow appears now and then, it is eager to manipulate, and then a crisp clear voice says, ‘Big Brother is Watching You.’

The Panopticon is polyvalent is its applications; it serves to reform prisoner, but also to treat patients, to instruct schoolchildren, to confine the insane, to supervise workers, to put beggars and idlers to work. It is a type of location of bodies in space, of distribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchical organisation, of disposition of centres and channels of power of definition of the instruments and modes of intervention of power, which can be implemented in hospitals, workshops schools, prisons. Whenever one is dealing with a multiplicity of individuals on whom a task or a particular form of behaviour must be imposed, the panoptic schema may be used.

Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish

To discipline and punish a society that loves power-knowledge* equally and functions “pan-optically” allowing the power of mind over mind to flourish, what feelings, emotions then nourish the individual…?

A very lonely affair, this panopticon business, it inevitably breeds fear, snatching away life, pinning a number, tagging a label instead. This number, this label becomes reality unbeknownst by the one numbered/labelled.

The prison cell and the panoptic machine thus are two similar moulds that create same order in society, though with drastically different labels. So different that they are always seen in opposition.

“I know… yet I don’t know…”
[Source – Pixabay]

The humble looking definition that took a grim turn is essentially noble. It is not at all bleak in nature for it gives rise to questions and doubts, it confuses and bothers, if one stays longer with it, allowing us to see, that too in no time, how the two moulds – a prison cell and panoptic tower – are similar, and when seen so closely, one even gets to see its foundation – fear.

And when you see fear, directly, you find that fear is nothing but you, a concoction of some ideas, a darkness that simply dissipates when seen, it ends at that very instant, and with it, so do the two moulds.


“Am listening”, “am listening too”, “am listening three”, “sssshhh!”
[Source – Pixabay]

*For Foucault, knowledge is connected to power, his critical theory states –

Knowledge linked to power, not only assumes the authority of ‘the truth’ but has the power to make itself true. All knowledge, once applied in the real world, has effects, and in that sense at least, ‘becomes true.’ Knowledge, once used to regulate the conduct of others, entails constraint, regulation and the disciplining of practice. Thus, ‘there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time, power relations.

Michel Foucault

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Essentially Gold, The Lavender Hill Mob

A praying mantis sitting on a leaf, stealth mode on, meditating and still, prepares to make a move, to catch the prey and the predator unawares, killing one, fooling the other.

A man sitting in a bank jeep, subservient clerk’s hat on, conniving and shrewd, plans to make a move, to smuggle gold out of the bank and become rich, killing none, fooling them all.

The praying mantis jumps, attacks with precision, and wins; the man, fumbles, tumbles and yelps ‘Old MacDonald had a farm, ee i ee i o.’

The film poster.
[Source – vintageclassicsfilm.co.uk]

A black and white 1951 comedy film, that runs truly, only and only, on the story fuel, The Lavender Hill Mob, is perfectly crafted, balanced and performed heist caper, a hilarious journey that arrests you from the very beginning.

Ranked as one of the greatest British films of all time, The Lavender Hill Mob confides in the audience, letting them see, feel, laugh and think without tickling persuasively with a joke here and a punch-line there.

And so, personifying itself successfully, narrating a comic tale straightforwardly, wonderfully, giving the visuals the space to rise and fall, promising entertainment, delivering it with twists.

Comedy that studies its own movement through planned time-checked routes and unexpected quick-sharp turns, The Lavender Hill Mob set the foundation for future British comedies without any pomp and show, rather just through pure performance.

Check out the official trailer of The Lavender Hill Mob now –

Meet the protagonist, Henry ‘Dutch’ Holland

I was a potential millionaire, yet I had to be satisfied with eight pounds, fifteen shillings, less deductions. A weekly reminder that the years were passing, and my problem still unsolved.

Henry Holland (played by the genius Alec Guinness) narrates his tale honestly, matter-of-factly, beginning from the beginning, a man of numbers, to be specific, of the number 495,978 (pounds of gold bars), for that is what happened and he, like an amused storyteller, reminisces it gladly. This fact, that the protagonist is the narrator, doesn’t hang heavy on us, we forget and start walking with Henry Holland.

Henry is daydreaming again.
[Source – vintageclassicsfilm.co.uk]

The bank manager and his superior and juniors and most importantly the two guards see him as an honest fool, imbecile, fussy crack-pot, who they can trust, even blindly, who they feel is a cog in the machine, tailor made for nothing innovative. Henry knows it, he bows to this fact, choosing to continue the charade.

A place that assumes no special status, the boarding house, Balmoral, in Lavender Hill, London, becomes Henry’s abode, suiting his obscure identity well.

Mapping a robbery of a consignment of gold bullion robbed Henry of peaceful mapping as without a safe route to smuggle the gold abroad, all this stayed stuck like a day dream unexecuted. It is when Al Pendlebury, an artist, finds lodging in Balmoral, Lavender Hill, that Henry finds a ‘golden’ way out.

Pendlebury owned a foundry that made souvenirs – like Eiffel Tower paperweights – that were exported to holiday destinations like Paris.

More than a paperweight, eh?
[Source – Fruggo.com]

These two good friends partner-up and set the mapped scheme into action – timely they hire two chaps/ experts/ thieves for executing the robbery smoothly.

What Henry didn’t factor in while daydreaming about the robbery was the common errors, intrusive and funny ‘by-chance’ happenings and the simple-stubborn-absurdly-comical behaviour of all of us.

Ha-ha! Henry and his mob of friends run, miming a wall and hitting against it, encountering the police on the street, in the office, the gully, the lodgings, somehow meekly fooling them.

But when juggling too-too-too many balls, some are bound to fall… especially if one is juggling and running madly down the Eiffel Tower’s spiral staircase like Henry Holland the juggler… His paper plane, boat, car, crashes, sinks, collides and yet, he tries to do as planned – “for it’s a perfect plan.”

Henry Holland beams through his eyes, camouflaging neatly, mantis-like, aware of his agility and other’s dreariness; master planner, he walks to-and-fro, amongst the crowd, catching them unawares, cheating, skipping, dodging.

Al the Artist

Ee i ee i ohhh!
[Source – IMDB]

Alfred Pendlebury (played by the wonderful Stanley Holloway), lover of everything fine – paintings, sculptures, pottery, complete/incomplete canvases, a ready-made studio at his lodgings that he exclaims ‘…has a north light, too’.

He would be a full-time artist, quitting his souvenir business for good, but he never had the courage, and he quotes – “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these… it might have been.”

The iron’s hot and Henery doesn’t wait to strike; Pendlebury, in the mould, honestly thinks about their honest lives and steps out to join hands with Henery the mapper.

But there is a rush now, the robbery must happen within one week’s time because Henery Holland is promoted to foreign exchange’s department, with 15 shillings raise in his salary.

The Mob

The mob at work, ta-da!
[Source – IMDB]

How to hire two thieves? Talk about leaving your office’s safe unlocked with the staff’s monthly salary in it in crowded places on the top of your voice and ta-da, the applicants will land up in the office the same night without fail.

Two applicants – Wood and Shorty – small time goons end up chewing the bait, happy to be of assistance and glammed by the grand bullion million pounds plan all mapped neatly by now. 

Miss Evesham and Mrs. Chalk become Henry’s accomplice without them or him every finding it out. These two fortuitous accomplices by simply coming downstairs, crossing the corridor, sipping tea, getting someone to read a crime-fiction for them, knitting, ignoring door bells, opening and closing doors, suggesting and commenting contributed silently in building and yet disrupting the status quo.

The Gold

What’s cooking?
[Source – IMDB]

Like a dormant volcano, the gold, in the form of bullion stays too quiet, shining but inactive, somewhat silly, sitting steadily, favourable to none but the locks owning entity, so that the protagonist lurks, dances around it praying for a better life until the day the volcano becomes active.

Henry’s prayer is heard, that is what he assumes, liquid lava gold turned into Eiffel Tower paperweights add weight to his plan but nevertheless begins to slip away, carrying the souvenirs back to Britain from Paris, landing right in an exhibition of police history at a training college for police in London.

The game reaches its final stage, with time slipping by and Henry losing almost all his mob members, he tries to place the king on the diciest square to quash the enemy king’s check-mate move.

The king wins, but which one?

So, we wait and watch till the end.

Comedy

Suffering from vertigo?
[Source – sceen-it.com]

Serious about comedy the story refrains from pretentiousness. Catch Henry Holland gently smiling now and then, turning and glaring with another soft smile and beady eyes, and you’ll be a step closer to knowing what he is up to.

Al Pendlebury’s confused, amazed looks, clumsy actions, along with his loyalty to his best pal Henry allows him to sow and reap comedy.

Wood and Shorty – though they surrender the heist midway for the greater cause i.e., getting the freaking cash (actually refusing to travel because one has got tickets to a Cricket test match and the other’s Mrs. just won’t let him leave) – become the much-needed side-kick pals who bring in the spirit of tomfoolishness in the team.

The language too brings out a unique British flavour of comedy; it is straightforward, dialogues a bit longish, colloquially languid with a Shakespearen high, funny and fitting. In fact, the climactic drama owes it to the language mix-up as it causes a French saleswoman to sell six gold Eiffel Tower paperweights to six English school girls.

A shocked Pendlebury says, “How did that get here? I told you never to use a crate marked ‘R’.”

French Saleswoman replies, “But that is not an ‘R’, monsieur, it is an A(eh).”

Pendlebury exclaims, “It’s an ‘R’ in English!”

Henry’s calculations begin to fail frequently as such twists keep on overruling it; the master plan starts to lag behind and when no one is looking, it is put aside. The nail-biting hilarious ending reminds one, amongst other things, of the novel that Mrs. Chalk is reading – You’d Look Swell in a Shroud.

Conclusion

A cameo by Audrey Hepburn.
[Source – Film Forum]

Produced by the Ealing Studios, directed by Charles Crichton, and written by T.E.B. Clarke – a team renowned for making great comedies – The Lavender Hill Mob became one of their masterpieces, also winning the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay.

As the plot swiftly steers the story ahead, the absorbing clever character tracks merge strikingly with it, accelerating, without much effort, the journey. One forgets to question anything – a twist, turn or an action – while watching Henry and Pendlebury tricking and getting tricked at once.

The Lavender Hill Mob is gold for it has aged like the metal gold, without rusting or tarnishing, still shining and entertaining, turning every viewer into a mob member, following and cheering their leader Henry the juggler.  

Can they see us?
[Source – British Comedy Guide]

Watch this comedy classic here.


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The Source

Short Commentary
The diya flickers gently.
[Image from Pixabay]

*

Listen to this wonderful track by Pandit Jasraj and read along.

*

*

Transported to the past, a pinch of time plucked, rubbed, glided from vilambit (slow), madhya (medium), to drut (fast) tempo, casting a spell to unite.

The golden light smeared the pillars, the roof, escaping through the hall, smudging the dusk too… or was it dawn?

A small earthen diya (lamp) lit the space wholly, for so long, and though the last one to enter the hall, standing near the pillar, you feel the warmth.

No one moves, as if they are painted and fixed, but you do to see the diya from nearby, you ask it something, it flickers gently, and you realise it is the music that is its source.

The beats slowly embrace you.

Suddenly, in the end, before transporting back, you find yourself dancing, joyfully.

*


Weekly Newsletter

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