Day 3 India

Sunday, 25 December

We do Christmas Swedish style on the 24th, the 25th a day of slow-paced leftovers. Then by two-stroke green and yellow “auto” to find footwear to replace out-of-control thong sandals. I found the shops in the local town paralysing when I first walked the three or four kilometres from the house, the winding road reminding me of teenage wanderings on Somerset Sundays. But now my eye has grown accustomed to India aided by light gentrification as Kolkata cautiously approaches, and Bengali retail holds few terrors.

Having sorted my feet out satisfactorily, I turn to the other end but here progress is sluggish.

I start for the nth time on the first lesson of my Bengali book, remembering the words for tiger, garden and mango, to enrich whatever surrealistic comments I feel I need to puzzle the locals with.

And then there is Chattopadhyay’s “The Final Question”, checking every cultural reference. The first essential lesson is not to hunt for the holy grail of neat explanation. The past has thrown down to us a complicated and contradictory tangle of myths and stories. The road to peaceful cohabitation of this area of knowledge with the other contents of one’s brain lies in accepting it as it is, in much the same spirit as approaching the world of the Nordic Gods, except that the pantheon here is even more complex. I am a little soft on the Goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, or Sarasvati as she prefers to be known in Sanskrit.

I dabble with applied Hinduism and add “hypergamy” and “hypogamy” to my stock, meaning marrying upward and downward in the caste hierarchy respectively. And learn that the word “caste” has been foisted on the Indians, probably initially by the Portuguese. And wrestle with the sub-divisions “jati” (clan) and “varna”, occasionally pinning them down for an ecstatic moment before they again slip through my hands wriggling away into the mist of unknowing.

St Jerome is with me and I want to write about his life as a translator, obtaining clarity about his bible translations and his theological positions and disputes with people such as Origen. Not too much of the latter as I suspect it is an invitation to dance in a marsh never to be seen again….

And when I tire of quirky obscurity, I have my collection of books about the British and India, wanting to know more about their means of controlling the Indian economy and the extent to and how the Indians freed themselves from the malevolent imperial embrace. I will have to think about how I combine these projects but it will have to wait until the bridge days are upon us, pointing forward to the coming glories of 2023.

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