"Wading neck deep in a swamp, your revolver is neither use nor ornament until you have had time to clean it" Mary H. Kingsley (1897)


A Private Hanging

Some months ago Sunil Laal, a young and rising Kerala artist, was in search of a temporary studio. I offered him the use of my out-house for a few weeks.

Sunil painted a diptych, “The Hidden Flower”, and kindly gave the pictures to me.

Today my carpenter, Sebastian, came to hang them in my hall.



These events are rarely quite as simple as envisaged: my concrete walls proved to be exceedingly tough and a more powerful drill had to be fetched; the furniture needed rearranging into new and more pleasing symmetries once the pictures were up. But the task is now happily complete.

Sebastian has been hastily dispatched upstairs: to hang more pictures in the upper hall and move a wall cabinet to a different room. His wife has just delivered a new baby. I don’t know when he will be free again..


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Monsoon Surgery



In my small yard, stands an out-house and a few trees.

Monsoon rains have damaged a large branch next to the pomegranate tree.

My man Shaji makes the initial diagnosis. Urgent tree surgery is required.

Sebastian, the carpenter, is called.

He does not bring a saw: Sebastian prefers hammer and chisel.

His surgical assistant is in attendance;

As is Shaji;

And Shaji’s wife, Dalila.


Soon the damaged branch has been neatly excised.

A post-operative audit is undertaken:

Pomegranates inspected;

The check-up completed;

Circulation to the out-house has been successfully restored.


The Gentle Arts of Woodwork

The monsoon is still at least a month away but evening rains have started.

With the rains come ever-increasing numbers of mosquitoes.

Insect repellents work well for evening excursions but leave you feeling uncomfortably warm and sticky.

When I close the door at dusk

The mosquitoes migrate instead through the louvre-shuttered windows.

The problem does not unduly concern me but overseas guests are cruelly targeted when they stay. My sister never complains but, on leaving India, often looks in need of an urgent dermatological opinion.

I seek advice.



My carpenter, who aptly lives in the local village of Nazareth, almost disappointingly, is named is Sebastian.

He suggests constructing fitted mesh screens across the windows and doors.

Sebastian sends his men. Their tools are minimal, their skills impressive.

No work bench or rulers are used.

Most is done by hand

And the wood is held by a bare foot,

The older craftsman teaching his pupil.

Some window shapes are simple to frame and mesh.

Others, more tricky.

Soon the project is more than half completed and the unwelcome mosquitoes noticeably fewer in numbers.


But outside, a different sort of carpentry is happening.

My house-boy urgently calls: “Papa, please you come!”

In the empty plot across the lane, beyond the wall and cables, a man is perched on a tree.

High on the tree.

The tree top has been cut through and folds over before falling.


The rest of the trunk soon follows. After a few hours all the trees in the plot have gone.

I am left to ponder future developments.

What will I face when I look out from the door?