Journey

Caught In The Flow Of Life

Breaking free and blooming…
[Image by Rae Wallis from Pixabay]
बन्दिनी/Bandini (A lady who is in bondage)

Tied to a drunkard good-for-nothing husband, Ma seems to be ready to cross the bridge today, yes she is, I saw it in her eyes, she spoke a different language that silenced him, my so-called father. And we will walk away… away from him, away from poverty… Ma, I promise…

Alas, on returning home, the son found his mother packing bags… she, a ‘bandini’, is ready to follow her old husband to their old village… a broken hut on a parched land awaits her… her home.


पदम्लता का सपना/Padamlata’s Dream

…क्या पदम्लता ज़िन्दगी में फिर कभी सोनापलाशी गाँव की मिटटी पर पैर नहीं रखेगी? जिसका बचपन केशोर्य यहीं बीता हो। सुख शांति और गौरव न सही, दुःख अपमान की समृति का भी अलग ही एक आकर्षण होता है। हो सकता है अपने आपको एक बार प्रतिष्ठित करने की गुप्त इच्छा सात साल बाद दुर्दमनीय  हो उठी पदम्लता में।

जोदू लाहिड़ी के घर खाना बनाने वाली ब्राह्मणी की लड़की ‘पोदी’ को सहसा पदम्लता के वेश में आविर्भूत होते देखकर सोनापलाशी के वाशिंदे कितने अवाक होंगे, इसे देखने की भयंकर इच्छा – जिसे सात सालों तिल-तिल करके पालती आ रही थी पदम्लता…

-पदम्लता का सपना

In the corner of the open veranda, little Podi slept close to her mother, boldly showing her back to the cold winters that kept prodding her. When her running nose and childhood got cured itself and bloomed into a beautiful young Padamlata, people couldn’t believe it nor could they believe when she got married. How did the old maid managed to marry little Podi? That too to a school master?

Word has it that Padamlata has turned into gold… she is a walking, talking bank… one who doesn’t believe in “interests”. Wide-eyed, jealous, in awe… the folks of Sonapalashi village are witnessing this role reversal speechlessly, they speak up only to welcome Padamlata, singing her praises and remembering her late mother.

Padamlata’s dream has come true, elated, she wants nothing more. But back home, her husband has gone bankrupt. His savings, he hid well in the house, are gone.

Exactly how much? Ask Padamlata, for she had secretly taken an amount to Sonapalashi before leaving.

सिक्योरिटी जमा करने के लिए घर-दवार ज़मीन-जायदाद यथा सर्वस्व बेचकर जो दो हज़ार रूपए इकठा किए थे, वह रूपया चोरी चला गया है।  तुम तो जानती हो, चोरों के डर से बक्से में न रखकर, रज़ाई रखने के टाँड पर रुपए की थैली छिपाकर राखी थी, लेकिन वहाँ भी चोर की नज़र कैसे पड़ी, यही आश्चर्य हो रहा है।

मेरा विश्वास है, यह रिश्ते के शत्रुओं  का काम है।

-पदम्लता का सपना

Caught in knots.
[Image by Pavel from Pixabay]
शोक/Shok (Mourning)

Old and ailing mother-in-law is no more, said the telegram early in the morning, just when Mr. Ji was leaving for the office. Imagining how Mrs. Ji will breakdown, shake mountains, tear rivers apart, he left to get his salary first, and later balance the personal world. He left only after tiptoeing to the window, keeping the telegram above the magazine, that too had arrived this morning.

Mrs. Ji unaware, walks to the room, finds the telegram as well as the magazine there; dumbstruck after reading about her mother’s death, she forgets to cry. There is no one around to acknowledge her absolute shock and pain. Her four months old son is crying in the kitchen, she rushes to tend to him.

Ashamed to reach home too late, Mr. Ji finds that Mrs. Ji has apparently not found the telegram; he finally breaks the news to Mrs. Ji, wondering if she hasn’t read it, how come the telegram shifted its place from sitting above to below the magazine and got a yellow spot of turmeric on it.


बेकसूर/Bekasoor (Innocent)

An open and shut case, thanks to so many witnesses who had not seen anything clearly, yet were sure how the business man’s son killed his wife in the darkness of late night by pushing her from the first floor. These witnesses, business man’s close relatives/rivals, had travelled via tram, ran and walked and persuaded the girl’s father to file an FIR before even seeing the dead girl’s face once.

The girl’s father, furious at first, wanting his son-in-law to be hanged immediately, realises it one day that his daughter’s old habit of sleepwalking got the best of her. The sun-in-law was not guilty.


Ablaze and silent…
[Source – Pixabay]
दियासिलाई का डिब्बा/Matchbox

That her suspicious husband read her letter before she could find out, yes, he read it yet again, read it shamelessly and tried to justify his stand, blaming her mother for always asking for money, probably assuming him to be a bank… sparked a fire within her.

Even though she turned this letter and her mother’s request for more money into ashes within herself, she couldn’t swallow her husband’s cold taunt, maybe 100th taunt and began to spit fire.

The smoke could have smothered the husband, but the joint family life quietly quelled this fire, that too unknowingly.

Entering the kitchen with a smile, engaging herself instantly, the wife didn’t let anyone guess that she had been on fire just a while ago.

A woman can also be like a matchbox…


कह न सकेंगे/Keh Na Sakenge (Speechless)

Back quite late, he is questioned by all – his wife, elder son, younger daughter – everyone who is at home. Irked to say the least, his behaviour irked the others. The old chap had come quietly, said he won’t eat and went to bed, then came to the kitchen to finish his dinner… But who is not at home?

His wife declares, as usual, that she will wait for their younger son to return. Slightly worried for him as protests and riots have erupted in the Calcutta city.

Who is not at home? The one who shouted at everyone in the tram and asked to de-board? One of the rioters? Because of whom the old chap, with aching knees, ran to a corner? In hiding he heard gun-shots and then heard someone describe a beautiful young boy with curly hair who had been hit.

The old chap, at home, remembers the sound of the gun shots and goes mum.


Words guide the confused…
[Image by Jon Hoefer from Pixabay]
रीफिल खत्म होता एक डॉटपेन/Refill Khatam Hota Ek Dot Pen (Faulty Pen)

The whole day went in looking for grandma, but when did someone saw her stepping out of the puja room… she left without having her morning tea… not possible… run-run-run… no, not on the terrace or in the backyard speaking to the gardener, not at any of the neighbours’ place, or at the temple, not at her brother’s or sister’s house, not at the ghat or the bazaar… this double storey house has come to a standstill… elder son went to the office nevertheless… he has a government service unlike the younger son who is naturally expected to wait… late-late-late… assigning duties to others and he left… daughters-in-law tackled the chores and the inquisitive neighbours, relatives alike… when kids came home from the school, one spoke, “grandma must have gone to end her life…” and showed a note… grandma had tried to scribble something on it… “but the dot pen stopped working“, said the kid and laughed… the world swirled and the time became stiff as everyone took notice of it… late in the evening they heard grandma’s voice… she was bargaining with the rickshaw-wala… both her sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren came running… she laughed and said she had gone to visit a temple… that is on the outskirts of the Calcutta city…

The family took a sigh of relief… and so did the grandmother…


The illustrious Ashapurna Devi. (1909 -1995)
[Source – eyramagazine.com]

Winner of the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship (1994), Jnanpith Award and Padam Shri (1976), Ashapurna Devi was an eminent Indian writer who wrote in Bengali. She had the knack for writing realistic, powerful characters, all caught in the flow of life, facing, choosing, accepting, neglecting, forgetting, overcoming, surrendering to the drama… the drama called life.

Read more about her here.


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A Diary Meets a Secret at Mohenjo-Daro’s ‘Great Bath’

Next stop – Mohenjo-Daro!
[Source – Wikipedia]

Along the great rivers – Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, Indus, Yellow, Yangtze, coastal Peru rivers, Coatzacoalcos – rose the world’s oldest great civilisations – Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indus Valley, Chinese, Caral-Supe, Mesoamerican. Rivers sustained these agricultural civilisations, providing food, fertile soil and better access to build trade relations with the rest of the world.

Archaeological findings provide us with a map that take us closer to these ancient civilisations, yet mysteries remain, as in the case of the Indus Valley civilisation, also known as the Harappan civilisation.

Major sites and extent of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
[Source – Wikipedia]

Although bigger than Egyptian or Mesopotamian (spread across northwest India, Pakistan and northeast Afghanistan, more than 1500 sites being found), the Harappan society boasts no monumental marvels like the pyramids or a deciphered writing like the cuneiform, nor even a ruling class, a military, weapons of war and not even distinctive burial sites.

The historians found no evidence of violence either and therefore, a tectonic shift that dried up the river or a terribly great flood is seen as the main reason behind the Indus Valley civilisation’s final collapse.

Nevertheless, what was discovered makes Mohenjo-Daro and Dholavira – the main Indus Valley cities amongst others – world heritage sites of immense importance. Indus Valley people lived in a very well-planned city that was most likely cosmopolitan-natured.

With its naturally ventilated and uniformly baked clay brick houses, well connected grid-patterned streets, an elaborate drainage system (some of these 4,500-year-old drains still perfectly operational), public washrooms, dustbins, around 700 freshwater wells, a massive granary, a citadel, uniformly made artefacts, seals and weights – Mohenjo-Daro was one of the twin capital towns, along with Harappa, of the Indus Valley civilisation.

The most important structure excavated here is not a palace or a temple, but a public bath – known as the Great Bath – also called the “earliest public water tank of the ancient world”.

Tightly fitted bricks and a layer of bitumen (waterproof tar) made the floor of the bath watertight; it was a large building with several rooms, one of which also had a freshwater well.

The ruins of what was once a large multi-storied building – now termed as the House of Priests – right across the street of the Great Bath, reinforces the idea that the bath had a sacred purpose.

Most scholars agree that this tank would have been used for special religious functions where water was used to purify and renew the well-being of the bathers. This indicates the importance attached to ceremonial bathing in sacred tanks, pools and rivers since time immemorial.

J. M. Kenoyer
“The Priest-King”, a seated stone sculpture at the National Museum, Karachi. [Source – Wikipedia]

A single soapstone seated structure termed as “Priest-King” by the archaeologists does not suggest that a monarchy or a priest ruled the city of Mohenjo-Daro, yet the remarkable urban planning and meticulous construction focusing on public welfare hints at probably a council of elders and a community that worked together.


A Mohenjo-Daro’s citizen’s Diary

Seal with two-horned bull and inscription; 2010 BC; steatite; overall: 3.2 x 3.2 cm; Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, Ohio, US).
[Source – Wikipedia]

Day – Sunny

Got up. Slipped from broken stairs. Mended. Water’s fresh, took bath, drank plenty.

Seals made – water buffaloes, elephants, bulls, rhinoceros. Ha!

Day – Sunny, Clouds Playing

At The Great Bath. Slipped from slippery stairs. Cleaned. Cleaned more. Got fresh water from the well. Poured. Poured more. Thanked noble Indus.

Day – Too Rainy

Group work. Mending limestone slabs. Mended. Dry granary functions. Ate well. Didn’t slip. Healed.

Day – Raining

At The Great Bath. Mending roof. Unfinished. Slipped. Fell into the Bath. Resurrected. Ha!


Reclining mouflon; 2600–1900 BC; marble; length: 28 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City).
[Source – Wikipedia]

Blogger’s Note –

Only ten percent of Mohenjo-Daro has been excavated so far and yet it shows how grand the city must have been, its citizens living a simple life, nurturing good daily-living-practices; either celebrating special occasions at the Great Bath or just storing water, humbly accepting what the Indus River brought.

Spiritually awakened or not, religiously enlightened or not, fiercely ambitious or not, the Indus Valley folks definitely, without any doubt, slept well. And that’s their secret, if there is any. They rested and digested fantastically and so they functioned wonderfully. Maybe they slept for 12-14 hours, working from dawn, with a calming break around noon time, to early evening. Not rushing or worrying when at work.

And so, well rested, they loved water – fresh, salty, rainy (and were also aware about floods; they constantly rebuilt their buildings in cities like Mohenjo-Daro), and fire – for they loved baking bricks, and music and art – for ahm…The Dancing Girl, the ornaments and toys. They loved to work.

Every task was a joint venture, everything done together with nothing but the Sunny/Rainy/Cloudy day in front of them. And then the starry and peaceful night, when the wind played a lullaby and one with nature, they slept.

Good sleep made them bright and happy.

The Pashupati seal, showing a seated figure surrounded by animals.
[Source – Wikipedia]

Read further –

Rediscovering the magic of Mohenjo-Daro

Indus Valley Civilisation, Mohenjo-Daro and the Cradle of Civilisation

Watch to learn –
At the Great Bath, Bollywood style… enjoy –

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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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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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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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In The Sundarbans

Poem

[Source – Pixabay]

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Tides rise to meet the sky

In the Sundarbans

As the sky dives frequently

To borrow some condiments

From its marshy islands

For making rain;

Often overdoing, then hitting

The Sundarbans

With cyclones and storms

Flooding itself, the sky

Meets the tides

In the Sundarbans.

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The Bengal Tiger
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

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Flora and fauna there

Love drama

And everyone’s a fan of the Bengal Tiger,

A method actor,

Its every move, meaningful.

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And us folks, we take our boats

And get busy earning a living or sightseeing

(Hands tied, backs bent, loans taken, empty stomachs

Populated, polluted, dripping blood, we work so hard to make a living)

When we can simply live,

Live simply, now, here and there

In the Sundarbans.

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[Source – Pixabay]


Read more about the Sundarbans and also, “Explore Rohan Chakravarty’s Ecologically Conscious Map Of The Sunderbans.”

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Watch these insightful short documentaries to understand the Sundarbans better –

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Walking and, Without Looking for it, Finding Narnia

Coverage

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But as they went on walking and walking – and walking – and as the sack she was carrying felt heavier and heavier, she began to wonder how she was going to keep up at all. And she stopped looking at the dazzling brightness of the frozen river with all its waterfalls of ice and at the white masses of the tree-tops and the great glaring moon and the countless stars and could only watch the little short legs of Mr Beaver going pad-pad-pad-pad through the snow in front of her as if they were never going to stop. Then the moon disappeared and the snow began to fall once more.

Chapter 10 – The Spell Begins to Break

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They were pretty tired by now of course; but not what I’d call bitterly tired – only slow and feeling very dreamy and quiet inside as one does when one is coming to the end of a long day in the open.

Chapter 12 – Peter’s First Battle

Dear Godfather,

Though not in Narnia – oh this wonderful secret burns brightly within, always showing the way through whimsical times – but in this not-so-glaringly-magical world, there is something that reminds me of Narnia and that is – you’ll find it strange – the act of walking.

Yes, walking and especially in the woods, but also just walking you know, in the garden or any rough road, walking silently, worrying less and losing myself in the surroundings, walking transports me, like every step walked on the land of Narnia did.

Hmm… It seems ordinary, especially when I think, compare, weigh, measure, imagine and get emotional. But when I don’t, when I simply forget to do any of that, I am able to simply walk and that is when the joy of walking makes me feel so sweet.

Do you know, only that day, I lost myself when walking aimlessly towards my house, landing safely, feeling light hearted and cold but in a gentle way.

My journeys on foot in Narnia were plenty, full of dangerous adventures too, but I believe it connected me to the pace of the magic unfolding, for magic was routine there, and so was walking, on the snowy land to the grassy ones through the woods and across the streams, one walked to keep the magic alive within.

Godfather, is it one of the reasons for the Witch’s downfall, for she walked less and used the sledge, until, of course, Aslan… oh, I miss Aslan.

But I don’t feel dismal about it, dear Godfather, I long for Narnia, but I don’t cry, could be because I walk, via lovely pathways, wardrobes, parks, and in the town too, and through the village roads, whenever I can…

Thanks for the most wonderful gift one could ever give a goddaughter!

Love,

Lucy


Author C.S. Lewis, Illustrated by Pauline Baynes

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C.S. Lewis dedicated the book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe from the Chronicles of Narnia series to his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield, who very much was the inspiration behind the character Lucy Pevensie in the series.

And indeed, Lucy Barfield, a spirited bright person, an artist, loved the book.

“What I could not do for myself the dedication did for me. My Godfather gave me a greater gift than I had imagined.”

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 28, she led a life under restrictions, nevertheless, she continued to shine and must have again walked and, without looking for it, found Narnia for that is what a robin sang about to me.

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Author C.S. Lewis, Illustrated by Pauline Baynes

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Vermeer’s Room

Short Commentary
The Geographer by Vermeer.
[Source – Wikipedia]

The Geographer and the Astronomer were in the same room as Vermeer for it is in the front room, on the second floor of a spacious house, Vermeer’s mother-in-law’s house, that he produced most of his work.

One good room and in this one good room, a window (usually on the left), a table, chair, cupboard, stool, curtains, draperies, tapestries and a picture-within-a-picture maintained a position, steady, jolly, known, homely, oozing warmth that allowed the artist to mix the pigments well.

And in these two paintings, the two silent globes – a celestial globe with its terrestrial pair for in the 17th century globes were sold in pairs as a direct, neat, calculable link between astronomy and geography was thoroughly entertained – appear in full support of the two sharp owners, a trust built on daily encounters in the same room.

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The Astronomer by Vermeer.
[Source – Wikipedia]

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The Japonsche rocken/ Japanese kimono worn by the two scholars here add to the room’s mood and colour; more like precious gifts for a selected few – back then these were not for sale, but presented in batches only to the merchants who were allowed to visit the Imperial Court in Edo (Tokyo) – the robes then feature seriousness, persistence and also recognition.

Many feel that the Geographer and the Astronomer are the same person with some guessing him to be modelled after the Dutch scientist, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who probably knew Vermeer.

The ultramarine, cyan shade that colours the two robes, derived from natural lapis lazuli, very expensive, deep, quietly presents the two scientists caught wondering, imagining, getting inspired by a source.

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The only supposed portrait of Jan Vermeer van Delft.
[Source – Wikipedia]

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And the artist painstakingly fine-tunes the details, adds layers, swirls and golden dots, folds, peaks and dips, floral touches, tiny tiles and shadowy walls, and signs the painting, sometimes signs it twice.

And the room, sitting patiently absorbing in light and darkness, also signs.

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Mr. Thomas & Wiener Zeitung

Short Feature
Old, gold cobbled stone lanes, Vienna!
[Source – Pixabay]

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June 30, 2023

An old cobbled stone lane, old-old and narrow, lined with – old and famous – medieval structures, Mozart playing in the backdrop, timeless, captivating, deep and probably the reason that keeps the old charming and new, through this old cobbled stone lane passes old Mr Thomas, every day, pipe on, no smoke, with a copy of Wiener Zeitung folded, under his arm, thoroughly read, re-read.

The folded copy of Wiener Zeitung – one of the oldest newspapers in the world, 320 years old, whose first copy got published in 1703, a newspaper that Mozart must have read, that covered (in 1768) 12-year-old Mozart’s magical concert, that got shut down in 1939 on Hitler’s orders (started printing again in 1945) – isn’t heavy at all, even though historically a giant.

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“Mm-mm, I did read it.” – Mozart’s busts said in unison.
[Source – Pixabay]

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Direct, also echoing, echoes arriving/leaving, Wiener Zeitung spoke what it saw, observed, analysed freely.

Old, Mr. Thomas’s favourite, this newspaper has friends too, you know, same like it, old and gold – the Italian Gazzetta di Mantova (1664), the English London Gazette (1665) and Berrow’s Worecester Journal (1690), also Haarlems Dagblad (1883) from Netherlands and the very many, thousands and thousands, of readers and the humble employees.

Old Mr. Thomas is walking fast, caught in a thought of uncertainty and the past and future, that he almost tumbled in the present. But, hey, he is fine because he is doubtful and so will explore.


July 1, 2023

Weiner Zeitung won’t get published today. Yesterday was its last day, the print version’s that is, for an online version will be out soon.

Saying tata-bye-bye to many employees means tata-bye-bye to many readers too? Will old Mr. Thomas now, with his pipe on, no smoke, surf the internet for Weiner Zeitung?

The old cobbled stone lane, old-old and narrow, lit by medieval lamps and Mozart’s songs, will see Mr. Thomas sometime soon, him and many oldies that it had befriended and many youngsters too, with a smart-smarty phone, listening/reading as they walk, to news bulletin, probably one published online on Weiner Zeitung.

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“Where’s my copy of the Zeitung?”
“Not there, check the website bro.”

[Image by Margit Wallner from Pixabay]

Adieu Weiner Zeitung (the printed one)!

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