"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)


Bringing In The Sheaves

The combination of poorly maintained roads
and prolonged rain 

Does little to make harvesting any easier

 For India’s faceless army of labourers.

Pictures taken in Cochin.

A Fine Balance


One of the many delights of life in India is that you never know what’s around the corner.
In this case, just around the corner from my home, where a small drama was unfolding. 

Here one can expect the unexpected…



I shall return to an account of my travels tomorrow.

A Visit To The Hill-Top Temple


From the wilds of Wayanad and the elephants of Tamil Nadu, we crossed into Karnataka. 

Our first stop was at the Himavad Gopalswamy Betta Temple.

Built almost 700 years ago at the summit of a quiet and lonely hill, it is often hidden by mist. But we had arrived in brilliant sunshine. 

Despite, or perhaps because of the presence of many devotees, there was a palpable sense of quiet and prayer.

Having received the blessing of the temple priest in the inner sanctum, we walked around the temple then made our way back down the steep and narrow track.

On this road, a pilgrim bus had jammed the rear corner of its chassis while taking a sharp hair-pin bend.
With minimal fuss, the passengers disembarked while the bus was re-manoeuvred into a drivable position, then quietly returned to their transport. There was neither shouting nor horn-tooting from drivers blocked by the stationary vehicle.
Something of a rarity in India.

Perhaps the calm and peace of the temple was more pervasive than I had realised…


Nursery Rhymes


A taxi was booked and the meal almost cooked,

To welcome my son and new daughter.

But the fates intervened

In this oft dreamt of scene.

Things don’t always go as they ought to.


Due to technical glitches and climatic hitches

They are sitting at home in DC.

While I sit in Cochin

Alone – with a gin.

An ominous sign, you’ll agree.


My solution is flimsy, no more than mere whimsy:

Try displacement activity.

I’m off to buy pot plants –

Small palms – in the off-chance

It will keep me from dark misery.


When fate seems adversary, a trip to the nursery

Can settle my pulse; keep me calm.

Some new vegetation

May soothe my vexation.

I am told nature acts a balm.


Though my rhymes are not clever, forgive this endeavour

To rescue myself from depression.

It was just an attempt

To pre-empt the contempt

Of self-pity – and future confessions.


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Déjà Vu


“Neither (he) or his advisers had considered the reactions of the Afghans to the advance of an infidel army into their country to evict the ruler and replace him with a prince whom few of them knew and fewer cared for…



He imagined that by throwing large sums of money at the Afghans he could win them over… A policy which had worked up to a point (elsewhere) but failed in Afghanistan where religious and national passions were deeper and fiercer.”


Both quotations from a discussion of the First Anglo-Afghan War 1839 – 1842 in “Raj: The making of British India” by Lawrence James, published in 1997.


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“A new generation has arisen which, instead of profiting from the solemn lessons of the past, is willing and eager to embroil us in the affairs of that turbulent and unhappy country. Although military disasters may be avoided, an advance now, however successful in a military point of view, would not fail to turn out to be as politically useless.”

George Lawrence, Letter to the London Times, prior to the Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1878 – 1880.


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  George Santayana


Walking On Sunshine?


The rain has stopped.

The sky is clear.

Time for a walk down to the bank.



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But I arrive at the ATM only to realise my cash card is lost.

Walking on sunshine, as I return home, feels just a tad more fraught.


A Question Of Balance

It was one of those mornings.

The local LG Service Centre had called to say my DVD player was ready for collection, following its recent malfunction.  I decided to combine the trip with buying coffee.

The taxi driver was new to me; his driving style unnerving.

The weather was poor.


And more rain.


For an hour, I sat in the back of the car.

The driver alternated between rapid accelerations and emergency stops. His hand continuously sounded the horn.

I felt nauseous and bad-tempered.

We finally reached our destination. But the service centre had inexplicably re-located since my last visit. A move not mentioned when they called, and signed only by the damp sheet of paper, pasted on the door of the old premises.

Their new workshop was a few kilometres away, across the city.

Forty-five minutes and several phone calls later, we found it.

After waiting a while, the DVD player was produced. I asked to see it tested.

It failed.

I sulked.

During the return journey, following yet another emergency stop, I pointedly readjusted my seat-belt.

I put my hand on the driver’s shoulder and made it clear he must ration the use of his horn.

The rest of the trip was spent in relative silence, with me half-wishing the driver would make a foolish mistake, to further justify both my opinion of him, and my irritation.


We reached Ravi’s Coffee Shop.

Ravi, himself, was there.

The sights and smells were comforting and absorbing.

Ravi’s quiet dignity; his calm, noble face; and his gentle smile brought me to my senses.

I started to see my frustrations in perspective. I began to laugh at myself.


Living abroad entails many changes.

One of them is the loss of language proficiency.

Facing the challenge of LG’s repair-shop, and an over enthusiastic boy-racer, my first inclination had been sarcasm: a skill I spent decades honing before retirement.

But my Malayalam is non-existent, and local English is limited.

Sarcasm achieves nothing.

A more balanced approach to life’s small frustrations is now required.



“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration..  I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less clearing up to do afterwards.”   Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


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.


Truths: Confused, Revealed or Forgotten?

Truths confused

Retirement offers ample time to focus on one’s bearings.

On waking, my attention tends towards the structural bearings: the state of my natural and prosthetic joints.

But by evening, my thoughts often question where exactly I am.

A news item catches my eye:


Man rescued after sailing blunder

A lost sailor had to be rescued after running out of fuel circling a small island when he thought he was sailing around the UK coast.

With only a road map for directions, he set off on the river Medway, from Gillingham, and headed for Southampton.

But the coastguard said the man had ended up travelling around the Isle of Sheppey. A spokesman said “This guy had run aground after running out of fuel. He was attempting to travel around the UK from Medway to Southampton and somehow lost his bearings and ended up travelling around the Isle of Sheppey. He didn’t have the usual navigation charts or maritime equipment.”

The man told the rescue team he had been keeping the coastline to his right and had ended up sailing in circles around Sheppey. After the coastguards gave him advice on fuel usage, it is understood the man later attempted to continue his journey.

Published: 2010/04/28 01:55:28 GMT © BBC MMX

The story is amusing and instructive.

Am I boldly setting out to experience life’s myriad wonders?

Or, wasting opportunity and energy, confined in the tight circumnavigation of habit?

Truths revealed?

Truths forgotten?

Reliable charts? Accurate navigation equipment? Ready for stormy weather?

Who am I kidding?!

(Both cartoons from this month’s editions of  The New Yorker)

The Four Horsemen and Me

The previous two postings were an attempt to beguilingly dangle my size 44 chappaled feet out from the restriction of electronic purdah.

“For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones burned as an hearth.
My heart is smitten and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread.
By reason of the sound of my groaning, my bones cleave to my skin.
I am like a pelican on the wilderness,
I am like an owl of the desert. I watch and as am a sparrow, alone upon the roof.”

Well, maybe not exactly.

Whilst I travelled in the States, four horsemen of the apocalypse briefly visited my home and body.

They left business cards.

In their wake, strong tropical storms had brought down trees, cables and my defences.

Shaji. Dalila & Sumant, my trusty staff, have overseen the slow reopening of communication channels between myself and my public.

The internet cable is now intact; the wi-fi router again controls local airspace; the mobile phone is accepting at least some of my text messages.

Although the digital camera may still languish in a technician’s workshop; its screen perpetually frozen on New Mexican vistas; my chest now produces only moderate volumes of green sputum – the club class freebie offered to frequent fliers with sufficient air-miles.

Shaji, Dalila and Sumant  respond to my indisposition with well rehearsed efficiency. My agent was consulted for advice on how to interpret the ka-ka entrails; physicians’ opinions, western, ayurvedic and “homoepathic”, were offered but declined.

I start myself on anti-pyretics and the antibiotics that happen to be at hand – more suitable for Dengue or diarrhoea than a chest infection – but broad-spectrum and surprisingly efficacious.

Following some days of semi-hibernation, a diminishingly productive cough, and indifferent appetites, I arise, sleek and slim-lined, renewed and reinvigorated. Not, perhaps, a butterfly of tropical exotica, but firing on three cylinders and in the mood for a malabar fish curry.