Breathing the past

CHARLIE

 

I always enjoy visiting places with interesting historical associations. For example, it gave me a thrill to enter the room in a house in Porbandar (Gujarat, India) where Mahatma Gandhi was born, and to stand in Sarajevo at the very spot where Gavrilo Princip shot the Austrian Archduke and his wife in 1914.

I hope that the following excerpt from my book “Charlie Chaplin waved to me” can begin to explain my fascination for visiting places with great historical significance either for me or the world in general:

To reach Oxford Circus, the starting point of our trips to the West End,
we used to take the Northern Line of the Underground to Tottenham
Court Station, and change there to the Central Line. In the 1960s, there
were signs that directed the passengers from the Northern line to the
Central, but these involved using a number of staircases and walking
quite a distance. My mother ignored the signs, and headed straight for a
passageway at one end of the southbound Northern Line platform. This
was clearly labelled ‘No Entry’. My mother knew better than to obey
this because she knew that it was a shortcut to the Central Line
platform. Today, it is the recommended route. Whenever I walk along
this once ‘forbidden’ passageway, I wonder whether amongst the
billions of molecules that make up the air in that circular passage there
is maybe at least one molecule of the carbon dioxide or nitrogen that
was once breathed out of my late mother’s lungs. And, do the echoes of
her footsteps still reverberate even ever so faintly in this busy
passageway?

It is the thought that I might be sharing even one molecule of the air breathed by the persons who gave a place the historic interest for me that gives me an irrational thrill. It is for this reason that I feel unable to visit places like Auschwitz and Dachau. I do not wish to breathe the air that might possibly have been around when the Nazis and their unfortunate victims occupied such places. 

This might seem a bit ridiculous as the chances of breathing the same molecules of air that say my mother or the Archduke of Austria inspired are extremely miniscule, but what is the joy of life if not full of quirkiness.

 

Charlie Chaplin waved to me” by Adam Yamey is available from:

Amazon, Lulu.com, and bookdepository.com, as well as on Kindle

Better on a camel

While travelling through Gujarat in western India, I have seen many camels (? dromedaries) working as beasts of burden. They are well suited to the arid semi desert climate of Gujarat. The camels remind me of airline jokes I learnt in my childhood. Each joke gives another meaning to an airline’s name or acronym.

BEA was British European Airways. The joke version was Big Empty Aeroplanes;

TAP, Portuguese Airlines became Take Another Plane;

The Greek company Olympic became Only Like Your Money Pay In Cash;

EL AL, the airline of Israel, became Every Landing Always Late.

And this brings me to humped beasts of burden.

BOAC, which was British Overseas Airways Corporation, became Better On A Camel.

Postscript

When the petroleum company ESSO first became established in India, workers in Indian companies worked half day on Saturdays. Esso workers got a whole day off on Saturdays. So, ESSO became known as Ever Saturday Sunday Off.

Mashed potatoes

Some restaurants in India serve both veg (vegetarian) and non-veg (meat, fish, eggs) food. Recently, my wife and I were sitting near to a young lady in a very good Italian restaurant in Vadodara in Gujarat.

Our young neighbour is a vegetarian. She ordered a veg pasta and asked the waiter if she could have a portion of mashed potatoes. I know that pasta and mashed potatoes are an unusual combination, but that is what she wanted.

The waiter told her that she could not order mashed potatoes with a veg pasta. Puréed potatoes, which are pure veg, could only be served with a non-veg dish.

We overheard the waiter telling this to our neighbour. My wife, who always tries to be helpful, interrupted the waiter and told him to bring a small dish of mashed potatoes with the pasta. Eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, the waiter did as asked. Our neighbour was so happy to receive the mash with her pasta that she got up and gave my wife an affectionate hug.

I am not a vegetarian.

Although I have met numerous pure vegetarians during the 25 years I have been visiting India, I still find it hard to believe that there are so many people, who have never tasted meat, eggs, or fish.

Indian way of worship

Over and over again, I am impressed by the “Indian-ness” of worshipping in India. I will illustrate what I mean by this by describing a small Orthodox Christian chapel I visited on Bazaar Road in the Mattancherry district of Cochin (“Kochi”) in Kerala.

Outside the chapel, there stands a carved stone stand with indentations for oil lamps (diyas). It looks just like any diya stand that you could find in a Hindu temple, except that it is surmounted by a Christian cross.

The crucifix that stood above a small high altar within the chapel was draped with flower garlands (malas). Again, these are commonly found draped around effigies of Hindu deities.

I saw a brass diya stand with burning oil lamps directly in front of the crucifix. Like the lamp stand by the entrance, this one was also topped with a Christian cross.

If one were to replace the crucifix with an effigy of a Hindu deity and were to remove the crosses from the diya stands, the chapel would become identical to a Hindu temple.

The use of diyas and also agarbati sticks (incense sticks) is not confined to Hindu temples. I have seen them used in Christian as well as Islamic (especially Sufi) and Jain places of worship.

At a Sufi shrine at Sarkej Rauza on the edge of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, I have seen tulsi leaves being sold. These are commonly associated with Hinduism, but the vendor in the Sufi shrine told me that they were also used by worshippers who came to the shrine.

I have seen threads tied around the trunks of peepal trees by pious Hindu women hoping to have their wishes granted. I have also seen threads tied by women around pillars in Moslem shrines for the same reason.

Hinduism was probably one of the earliest religious belief systems to become evident in the Indian subcontinent. Christianity and Islam were relatively recent arrivals. Many Hindus converted to these two religions, but, I imagine, they were reluctant to abandon their Hindu heritage completely. Hence, the Hindu-ness or Indian-ness of some aspects of other religions in India.