"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)

death

Day Of The Dead

A congregation overflows into the churchyard.
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Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
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Picture taken yesterday, All Souls Day, outside of the Santa Cruz basilica in Fort Cochin at seven in the morning


The Lament Of Loss

The two chairs still sit together on their verandah:
his and hers;
the grandparents I never met.

Following a decade of health problems, all had assumed that he would be the first to go.
But it was my grandmother who quietly surrendered:
the unexpected loss of a son, too much to bear.

Life’s meaning was lost.
My grandfather turned his face to the wall.
In a matter of days he followed her.
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Dido’s Lament

“Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me,
On thy bosom let me rest,
More I would, but Death invades me;
Death is now a welcome guest.

When I am laid, am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.”

From Dido and Aeneas
Music: Henry Purcell

Libretto: Nahum Tate
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Picture of the verandah in our family’s home, which my grandfather built, and where my father lived as a child and young man.


Time And Tide

Time and tide may wait for no man,
but the parish hearse is patient..
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“The origin of the phrase “time and tide” is uncertain, although it’s clear that it is ancient, and predates modern English. The earliest known record is from St. Marher, 1225:  “And te tide and te time þat tu iboren were, schal beon iblescet.”

A version in modern English – “the tide abides for, tarrieth for no man, stays no man, tide nor time tarrieth no man” – evolved into the present day version.

The notion of ‘tide’ being beyond man’s control brings up images of the King Canute story. He purposely demonstrated to his courtiers the limits of a king’s power by failing to make the sea obey his command.

That literal interpretation of ‘tide’ in ‘time and tide’ is what is now usually understood, but wasn’t what was meant in the original version of the expression. ‘Tide’ didn’t refer to the contemporary meaning of the word, i.e. the rising and falling of the sea, but to a period of time. When this phrase was coined tide meant a season, or a time, or a while. The word is still with us in that sense in ‘good tidings’, which refers to a good event or occasion and Whitsuntide, noontide etc.”

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Picture taken outside the Holy Cross Basilica, Fort Cochin.
Origins of the expression “time and tide” taken from “The Phrase Maker “.


All Souls’ Night

“What man can live and never see death?
Who can save himself from the grasp of the grave?”
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The Feast of All Souls finishes quietly.
As the day gives way to darkness, entire families gather in Fort Cochin’s cemetery.
Candles are lit beside graves of the departed.
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The community remember their dead.
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“Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis…”

“Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them…”

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Pictures taken in Fort Cochin cemetery on All Souls’ night.
First quote from Psalm 89:49 (Grail translation)
Requiem passage taken from the opening of  “
Missa pro defunctis” (Mass for the Dead)


All Souls Day

Today is the Feast of All Souls:
The Church remembers “the faithful departed”.

Yesterday, All Saints (All Hallows) was celebrated – a far greater solemnity in the Church’s year.
But All Souls always draws the bigger crowd.
For it touches people’s hearts.

All Souls speaks of ordinary lives.
Of failure, suffering, brokenness and death.
It does not shy away from their centrality to us all.

And this acknowledgement often resonates more deeply than celebrations of success.
We may aspire to great happiness
But we will almost certainly know grief.

The Feast of All Souls points to the inevitability of own death and, more terribly, the death of all those we love.
But it also dares to point hesitantly through grief and brokenness.

All Souls looks at ordinary people, with ordinary lives, and speaks of hope.

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Picture taken on the Feast of All Souls, Holy Cross Basilica, Fort Cochin.
“The Day of the Dead”  painted by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 – 1905). Taken from the web.


“To every thing there is a season…” Part 2

Without and within,

passing years leave their mark

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and narrow our views. 

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Pictures of a chapel undergoing repairs taken in Kummumpuram, Cochin.

I find the tenor’s voice amazing – like something lifted from the Russian Orthodox liturgy.
Piaf’s power and poignancy is, as always, totally beyond description..
A subtitled visual clip of this performance can be found
here

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Entombed

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After a morning in the Red Fort,
our afternoon was spent at Humayun’s Tomb, often regarded as the Taj Mahal in prototype.

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Pictures taken at Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi. 


Butchered

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Sometimes walking late at night

I stop before a closed butcher shop.

There is a single light in the store

Like the light in which the convict digs his tunnel.

 

An apron hangs on the hook:

The blood on it smeared into a map

Of the great continents of blood,

The great rivers and oceans of blood.

 

There are knives that glitter like altars

In a dark church

Where they bring the cripple and the imbecile

To be healed.

 

There is a wooden block where bones are broken,

Scraped clean– a river dried to its bed

Where I am fed,

Where deep in the night I hear a voice.

 

“Butcher Shop”  by Charles Simic

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To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.”

Tacitus ( 55 AD – 120 AD)

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Discarded Dreams

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Life is a stream

On which we strew

Petal by petal the flower of our heart;

The end lost in dream,

They float past our view,

We only watch their glad, early start.

Freighted with hope,

Crimsoned with joy,

We scatter the leaves of our opening rose;

Their widening scope,

Their distant employ,

We never shall know. And the stream as it flows

Sweeps them away,

Each one is gone

Ever beyond into infinite ways.

We alone stay

While years hurry on,

The flower fared forth, though its fragrance still stays.

Petals by Amy Lowell

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“By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower.”

Rabindranath Tagore

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“For every beauty there is an eye somewhere to see it. For every truth there is an ear somewhere to hear it. For every love there is a heart somewhere to receive it.”

Ivan Panin

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Taking A Bow

A blog is the ideal forum for requests.

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Living so far from family and old friends, I realise that I am unlikely to warrant normal formalities.

But, should the opportunity arise, please bear this in mind.

As the curtain finally closes and I am shunted off to the unknowable, I would love this to be played:

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It would make the perfect ending.

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Cartoon from The New Yorker


The Rhythm Of Kalam

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The sun has set.

With the dying of the light, Kalampattu begins.

The drums start pulsing their hypnotic rhythms.

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Song, dance and frenzy conjure up dark powers.

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Suddenly, my sensibilities are repulsed by what is enacted.

I feel as shocked as any Victorian puritan.

I put away my camera.

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Chicken may be gone from my menu for some time…

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Lambs of God

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In today’s “Hindu”, they publish a beautifully judged essay from Fergal Keane.

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In the footsteps of the soldiers of the Somme.

Fergal Keane

On the other side of the wood, the fighters soared and looped in a bright blue sky. I was standing in a cornfield and thought of how, in another time, that sound would have sent me running in terror for any cover I could find.

But I was not in south Lebanon now, or Iraq or Afghanistan. When the French military jets, practising for an air show, eventually wheeled away, the song of a skylark filled the air.

The soldier poet, Isaac Rosenberg, heard that song. Rosenberg, whose family had fled anti-Jewish attacks in Eastern Europe, was serving on the Somme with the British army. He described the birdsong “showering men’s upturned faces” — a small miracle in the dawn as he returned from a night patrol in No Man’s Land. His poetic genius was stilled by a German bullet later in the war.

We walked from the British lines to the German, across the ground where the doomed thousands had advanced on that July morning 94 years ago, into the flying lead of German guns that had withstood the most intense artillery bombardment in the history of the British army. Between July and November 1916, more than a million men became casualties of war in these fields.

Today the chalky soil is planted with barley and corn, and when a breeze rises and brushes the stems and ripples across the fields, it seems the gentlest landscape in the world.

I thought of the lines of Basho, the great Japanese poet of the 17th Century, who, coming across an old battlefield littered with warrior’s rusting armour, wrote: “Summer grasses. All that is left of the dreams of soldiers.”

We walked up through the fields, across No Man’s Land, through a small clump of trees and hedges to the great crater of Lochnagar. Here, two minutes before the advance began, British sappers had detonated a series of huge mines under the German positions. Even to someone used to the physical devastation of war the first sight of Lochnagar is heart-stopping. The crater is 91m in width and 27m deep.

In these fields, and further north into Flanders, was laid the pattern for war in the modern age. An epoch of machines and inventions, from the tank to poison gas, to aircraft, to atomic bombs. It stretched out from here into a future where machines would riot across the earth, and the capacity to kill and maim would be limitless. But it is the memory of the individual that strikes most forcefully at the Somme.

A colleague walking ahead of me across a newly-planted field suddenly knelt down and picked up what looked to me like a small stone. It was a button from the tunic of a French infantryman. One late fragment of all that had been lost here.

That sense of war as the country of the individual soldier has been with me as an unshakeable presence in these last few weeks. Soon after coming back from the Somme I went to Scotland to speak at a book festival.

I was talking about a long forgotten battle in India in which a small force of British and Indian troops had endured a terrible siege at the hands of a much larger Japanese force.

When the time for the audience to ask questions came, an old man in a wheelchair raised his hand. “My name is Angus Taylor,” he said. “And I was there.” He told his story of a fighting march across jungled hills, against a pitiless enemy.

Angus Taylor described coming on the bodies of comrades who had been laughing and joking with him just a few hours before. There was no hint of bravado in his speech, or self pity. He was a modest man, one of those many quiet fathers who had come home from war and found a job, made a home for his children, and spoke little of the places he had been or the things he had seen.

Afterwards we had a chance to speak alone. Angus brought out his photographs of the war. Among them were two which he kept in a little black wallet. “I found that on the body of a dead Japanese,” he said.

There were two photographs in the dead man’s wallet. One showed a woman posing shyly for the camera, alluring in her traditional dress, and the other a child, the couple’s daughter, plump and smiling, leaning against the outside wall of the family home.

The soldier would have taken these photographs before he left for the war and kept them with him until the end. For 60 years they had lain among another man’s memories. In such a way does war bind the living and the dead.

— © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate

© Copyright The Hindu

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