Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 3

Things have not improved significantly. Hopefully my on-line order (see yesterday’s post) arrives this morning, keeping me in food and such necessities!

Now one thing you can do in lockdown is read. As well as my few library books, I have the vast eBook library I have posted about before. That now stands at 2,830 books! One recent acquisition — and 99.9% of my eBooks are freebies — is E M Forster, A Passage to India. I would say it has just emerged from copyright, as it was not available from Project Gutenberg before.

Now of course I had read it before, first while a student at Sydney University around 1961-2, and again later on. Naturally I also saw the movie.

All sorts of interesting things can be said about the book and the movie! We perhaps need to be reminded of three things: 1) E M Forster was a closeted gay man 2) the book appeared in 1924 3) the emphasis on the Muslim in India was one with the way the British tended to think about the “natives”. The novel, while not autobiographical, is rooted in Forster’s own experiences in India and with Indians. Much has been said, and fair enough too, along the lines of post-colonial critique; the first and still most famous example of that is Edward Said.

But what struck me most as after all this time I read the first few chapters is what absolutely brilliant writing it is. Also, that it really is better than any movie or other adaptation. Let me close by indulging in a long quotation from Chapter 1.

I quote the entire chapter!

Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off—the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.

Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan, and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway—which runs parallel to the river—the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply. On the second rise is laid out the little civil station, and viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place. It is a city of gardens. It is no city, but a forest sparsely scattered with huts. It is a tropical pleasaunce washed by a noble river. The toddy palms and neem trees and mangoes and pepul that were hidden behind the bazaars now become visible and in their turn hide the bazaars. They rise from the gardens where ancient tanks nourish them, they burst out of stifling purlieus and unconsidered temples. Seeking, light and air, and endowed with more strength than man or his works, they soar above the lower deposit to greet one another with branches and beckoning leaves, and to build a city for the birds. Especially after the rains do they screen what passes below, but at all times, even when scorched or leafless, they glorify the city to the English people who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described, and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment. As for the civil station itself, it provokes no emotion. It charms not, neither does it repel. It is sensibly planned, with a red-brick club on its brow, and farther back a grocer’s and a cemetery, and the bungalows are disposed along roads that intersect at right angles. It has nothing hideous in it, and only the view is beautiful; it shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.

The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference—orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple. But the core of blue persists, and so it is by night. Then the stars hang like lamps from the immense vault. The distance between the vault and them is as nothing to the distance behind them, and that farther distance, though beyond colour, last freed itself from blue.

The sky settles everything—not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little—only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous. Strength comes from the sun, infused in it daily, size from the prostrate earth. No mountains infringe on the curve. League after league the earth lies flat, heaves a little, is flat again. Only in the south, where a group of fists and fingers are thrust up through the soil, is the endless expanse interrupted. These fists and fingers are the Marabar Hills, containing the extraordinary caves.

I just revelled in that!

Inspiration point

It is very tangentially related to the above, if you give yourself enough leeway! But in fact it is from our local Wollongong news, and is a marvellous example of human kindness and also of Australian multiculturalism at its best.

You may have read here in the past about one of the favourite restaurants of my friend Chris Turner and myself — Samara’s. See for example Munching against the fear of “the other”…

On Facebook I remarked by way of introduction:

Samara’s is such a great restaurant, and such wonderful people. Their restaurant is halal.

If that worries anyone, then those worriers have the problem, not Samara’s.

Chris Turner and I were meant to do Friday lunch at Samara’s when the signs of what we are now going through became apparent — before Gladys actually called it.

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Now see what they are up to in the current lockdown.

Update

The grocery order arrived! Early, in fact!

I have been doing some interesting reading lately, but also 10 years ago — thanks to Wollongong Library

Lately will come later! Let’s look at 10 years ago:

Books read lately — 1

Posted on  by Neil

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First one is bloody brilliant!

 smiley-happy005smiley-happy005[5]smiley-happy005[7]smiley-happy005[7]smiley-happy005[7] Ashley Hay, The Body in the Clouds (Allen & Unwin, September 2010)

What if you looked up at just the right moment and saw – out of the corner of your eye – something unexpected? What if it was something so marvellous, so extraordinary, that it transformed time and space forever?

The Body in the Clouds tells the story of one extraordinary moment – a man falling from the sky, and surviving – and of three men who see it, in different ways and different times, as they stand on the same piece of land. An astronomer in the late 1700s, a bridgeworker in the 1930s, an emigrated banker returning home in the early 21st century: all three are transformed by the one magical moment.

The Body in the Clouds explores the stories we tell to define who and where we are. It’s about the stories we’ll tell for the people we love. And it’s about our secret longing to be up in the air.

You’ll never see Circular Quay and the bridge in the same way again!

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The second is brilliant too – but what can you expect from this man?

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smiley-happy005[13]smiley-happy005[15]smiley-happy005[17]smiley-happy005[19]smiley-happy005[21] See this great post: The Charming Quirks of Others: Alexander McCall Smith and the art of fiction. How can anyone resist the sheer wisdom of this guy?

It is not because you are  beautiful; not because I see perfection in your features, in your smile, in your litheness- all of which I do, of course I do, and have done since the moment I first met you. It is because you are generous in spirit; and may I be like that; may I become like you – which unrealistic wish, to become the other, is  such a true and revealing symptom of love, its most obvious clue, its unmistakable calling card.

A very witty offering from India next.

smiley-happy005[13]smiley-happy005[13]smiley-happy005[13]smiley-happy005[13] Vikas Swarup Six Suspects

This Indian reviewer — Jai Arjun Singh, a freelance writer and journalist based in Delhi — found faults:

Six Suspects is ridden with caricatures – from corrupt Indian politician, perpetually manipulating strings, to dumb, insular American who comes to love a third-world country (“where cows are worshipped like Goddesses rather than turned into steak”). It would be a mistake to over-stress this aspect of the novel – and to forget that people like Jagannath Rai and Larry Page really do exist – but the book’s use of these character types precludes any lasting insights into the workings of a very complex society struggling with injustice and disparity. Every nexus, every command issued by an oily politician is dealt with in straightforward cause-and-effect terms. The investigative journalist and the TV reporter (a Barkha Dutt stand-in, named – if you must know – Barkha Das) are sanctimonious. People speak in platitudes and articulate their flaws and motivations as if they were pinning easy-to-read labels on themselves for the edification of the reader. (“We hit people not to show our strength but to mask our weakness,” philosophizes a police inspector after an interrogation, “we pick only on the poor and the powerless, because they cannot hit back.”) Rarely do the bad guys bother to delude themselves that they are in some nebulous way working not for self-interest but for the greater good (which is something that happens all the time in the real world).

He’s right, no doubt, but I have to confess the book kept me thoroughly entertained. Some may also be sorry to hear that I feel it gave me a rather good picture of contemporary India.

Vikas Swarup is now best known for writing the novel on which Slumdog Millionaire is based.

Revisioning our history: Books read lately — 2

Posted on  by Neil

One thing I like about history is that it never quite runs out, is never quite settled. Some find this disturbing. I would find it disturbing if it were not the case.

Take Mahroot for example.

In 1789 a devastating outbreak of smallpox swept through the Aboriginal people of Sydney. The true impact of the arrival of Europeans on the Aboriginal people became clear to all. It remains unsure whether the British or French brought the disease that killed countless Aboriginal people or whether it was already in the local population.

Obed West in his 1822 account The Bays of Sydney documents meeting an Aboriginal elder called Mahroot in the 1840s who as a young boy, witnessed the Lapérouse expedition’s camp at Botany Bay and the pox that erupted shortly after their departure. In 1789 people refused to return to La Perouse for the fear of the pox and set up what was referred to as the ‘blacks’ hospital’ at Little Bay. Here the sick and dying were isolated and brought provisions of fish and water.

Well Mister… all blackfella gone! All this my country! Pretty place Botany! Little piccaninny, I run about here. Plenty blackfellow then: Corrobory: Great fight: All canoe about. Only me left now…
Mahroot c.1845

Well. not quite ALL gone. Here is a descendant of Mahroot’s people.

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And his descendants are still with us, together with plenty more like them. That’s one of the lessons of smiley-happy005smiley-happy005[3]smiley-happy005[5]smiley-happy005[7] Rivers and Resilience: Aboriginal People on Sydney’s Georges River by Heather Goodall and Allison Cadzow,  UNSW Press 2009.

From colonisation through to the present, Rivers and Resilience traces the social and cultural history of Sydney’s Georges River and its interaction and connections to Aboriginal lives. The authors assert the centrality of this beautiful river, comprised of sandstone escarpments, overhangs and plateaus; a network of creeks and marshy swamps that yield all manner of produce from fresh and salt water fish, eels, crabs, yabbies and oysters and an abundance of berries and wildflowers. If you have an association with the Georges River you’ll really enjoy this book, as you could slot your own story into the stream. The intellectual contribution continues Goodall’s thesis about the centrality of land demands to the everyday social, cultural and economic lives of Aboriginal people. But there is an extra dimension that details both the production of locality – that is the active process of connection to place – and the significance of the past, as it is permanently etched in the land (and water) and continues to shape relations among the river people.

Heidi Norman
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences UTS

There’s a related photographic exhibition doing the rounds at the moment. It’s currently in Hurstville.

The rivers? The Cooks River, but especially the Georges River, the northern border of The Shire – among other things.

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Quite a long river, actually, running from all the way out from past Campbelltown and Appin. Again, as I noted with Grace Karskens’s The Colony, much is gained by setting different territorial frames for our histories.

I found again, as I had with The Colony, that things I had heard of or even seen suddenly came into focus as I read much that is in such books as these but has hitherto escaped much notice.

Endlessly fascinating.

Related: PDF on Aboriginal Sites in South-East Sydney. No longer works: go instead to Sydney Aboriginal Sites.

Check out Resilience Science as well.

The last book ties in very well with what I have been reading in the past month….

Wot about Winnie then?

Was he the moral equivalent of Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Mengele, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot….? The list could go on. And the answer is that the question is absurd.

But there is a responsibility on us to acknowledge the dark side of Churchill, which to some degree is the dark side of his times. See for example: Not his finest hour: The dark side of Winston Churchill. And there was the Bengal Famine:

On the other side,  see The Bengali Famine.

Martin Gilbert writes about the situation at the time: “The Japanese were on the Indian border with Burma—indeed inside India at Kohima and Imphal in the state of Assam. Gandhi’s Quit India movement, and Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army then fighting alongside the Japanese provided the incentive for a full-scale Japanese invasion. The Royal Air Force and the Army were fully stretched. We know what terrors the Japanese wreaked n non-Japanese natives in Korea, the Philippines, and Malaya.” If the RAF planes supporting India’s defense were pulled off for a famine airlift, far more than three million would have died. The blame for insufficient famine relief lies with those who prevented those planes from being used: the Japanese.

The case against Churchill collapses when we consider the war—just like the oft-repeated complaints that he did nothing for Australia after Japan attacked, or that he didn’t attend Roosevelt’s funeral out of pique or envy. There was a war on. More pressing military matters were at hand which governed his actions and decisions.

It is entirely appropriate to discuss such things, and more in Churchill’s career. But I have in mind too, not meaning a reductio ad absurdum, that in 1955 I was a racist myself. I was 11 or 12 at the time — but Billy Ling, if you read this mate, I apologise. It was a disgusting thing I said to you that day….

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Racist!

So on Facebook I considered THE statue:

Winston Churchill, Parliament Square, London

“Now I am going to tell you why there should be that statue of Winston Churchill in London — not because of his appalling views on Indians, Arabs etc., not because he was unfortunate enough to have had an aristocratic 19th century upbringing, not because of Gallipoli, not because he drank like a fish… No, because in that shining hour when everything was at stake he stood up to the Fascists and inspired victory, as no-one else could have, and I for one am grateful and don’t begrudge the bastard his statue — the imagery of which refers obviously to that time none of us should forget. Even if our PM Curtin had to defy him.”

And I’ll leave it there.

More yums in The Gong!

Friday was the last lunch with my friend Chris T before he heads off the Europe for a few weeks. We chose the just-opened — after a very long lead-up — Manjit’s on Crown.

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Fantastic. Chris chose a fish curry rather like this:

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I had Rajasthani goat curry — tender as! Check the menu.

Top quality basmati rice too, much like this. Very long grains.

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If Ramana ever comes to Wollongong we now know where to have lunch!

Cricket: lighting up our troubled times

I love this photo from Cricket Australia of part of the crowd in Brisbane for the first test between Australia and Pakistan.

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And what a game it turned out to be! Pakistan as near as did the seemingly impossible.

Australia ultimately pocketed their predicted win but it was Pakistan that emerged with a lion’s share of the plaudits after a history-making run chase that ultimately fell bravely short.

The manner in which the first Test ended – tailender Yasir Shah run out by Steve Smith’s laser-like throw from second slip having wandered inattentively out of his crease after staving off a Mitchell Starc yorker – was in keeping with many a previous failure from this most mercurial of Test teams.

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And I really like the day-night pink ball format. It is certainly drawing the crowds, and could be the saviour of REAL cricket – five day tests.

Meanwhile look at India go! Karun Nair triple century against England fuels India to highest ever Test innings.

There’s no doubt cricket is one of old England’s greater legacies! And a bit of sanity in a troubling world.