Day 4 India

Monday, 26 December 2022

I take the quieter path past smallholdings with their ponds, the occasional shrine, young men idling on their motorbikes and load-burdened women accompanied by children.

This time I try an experiment, receiving to my pleasure a shy smile from some of the likelier folk in response to mine. In the West Country, you greet a meeting stranger, perhaps making some cheery comment and waving a badly folded Ordinance Survey map. But not here (especially not the B.F.O.S) where eyes are averted and the European stranger glides awkwardly past; probably shyness rather than hostility but it makes me feel uncomfortable, taking my distance in a tense badly fitting way alien to me. Until now I have conformed, but this time I decided not to, feeling that Bengal and I had to come to an understanding about this. It’s not an aggressive change of policy on my part but instead of averting my gaze, I attempt to look friendly and allow eyes to meet (I would prefer not to see a film of myself doing this but it does seem to work as intended).

Apart from shy smiles, I photograph flowers and, with more caution, shrines. I acquaint myself with the pretty Red Arrowroot of the Canna family, according to my plant recognition program, the first species to be described by Linnaeus in his Species planetarium (I must check this). It has medicinal uses and a clutch of alternative names and is also used in palaeolithic cooking, which I had never heard of but which seems to consist of aiming at a diet before humans ceased to be nomadic and start farming. Low on dairy products and high on what is available for gathering and killing although the subsequent transformation of the palaeolithic environment and its fauna and flora must be a problem.

There is also a shrine which Google Images assures me is Lord Shiva but I’m doubtful as it is in this case a shiva with eccentric attributes. To be investigated with someone more Hinduwise than I.

Since moving to Sweden with its convenient “mellandagar” (“between days”) to describe the passage from Santa to the following year, I’ve been irritated by the absence of a convenient expression in English for this period, “the days between Christmas and the New Year” being language as a stumbling block rather than an aid to communication. My casual import from the French of “bridge days” attracted comment and a Facebook and otherwise friend, told me that the Scots use the expression “daft days”. This apparently comes from a poem but has roots in the French fetes des Foux going back to the twelfth century. Once Google had grasped that I was not looking for cut-price pizza, I found some helpfully obscure sites in French, telling me about how the clergy organised events on the streets with schoolchildren (in the 12th century?) and some splendidly called Basochiens, apparently associations of the legally trained and clerks. It’s not clear whether the clerics participated in these street frolics but there was a pape des fous (a bonkers pope) as well as a bonkers bishop and abbot (presumably not the genuine article). Supposed to honour the donkey on which Jesus entered Jerusalem, the festival is intertwined with saint days celebrating the festival of the innocents and later French religious festivals, presumably a result of repeated efforts by church and state authorities to bring some order into these shenanigans and associate them with something more easily controlled.

Links back to the Roman Saturnalia were also mentioned but suffering from thread fatigue, I went no further.

For the time being I will stick with bridge days, which seems to better correspond to our contemporary struggle to overcome the bloated and ease our way back to a muted form of everyday life after the red and white frenzy.

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