NCERT English –The Dear Departed

October 11, 2017 at 2:54 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Dear Departed .. by Stanley Houghton

The story centers around the loneliness and neglect many people contend with in their dotage. The subject  dealt with in this short play undoubtedly evokes pity, and sadness among the readers, but the author has been able to inject some subtle humour, and harmless satire into the plot making it a very enjoyable piece to read.

Mrs. Slater and Mrs. Jordan are two sisters married to Henry Slater and Ben Jordan respectively.  The two families live separately in a neighbourhood that has little sign of affluence or luxury.  In this low-income setting, the Slaters live with their ten-year-old daughter Victoria, and her maternal grandfather Mr. Abel Merryweather. The old man is retired from active life, and is more or less ignored by his host family. He is a man of no real wealth sans some furniture and some saving in the form of an insurance policy.

It emerges that Abel lived with his other daughter Mrs. Jordan for five before choosing to move over to live with his other daughter, Mrs. Slater. Mrs. Jordan didn’t quite miss her father, nor did Mrs. Slater quite wrlcomed him. The old man was an impoThere is no love lost between the two families. Mrs. Slater is an imperious bulky woman of overbearing nature. She lords over her family members like a matriarch. No wonder, she picked up a verbal duel with her sister Mrs. Jordan one day. The latter left in a huff promising to never come to see Mrs. Slater again.

Clearly, members of the two families have no dearth of meanness, and greed. At every step, these unsavoury traits affect their thinking and action. Abel, unloved and uncared for, lives out his days spending his time in the local pub, run by a widow. He drowns his drudgery in drinks. Generally, he stays aloof from the family, either due to the uncaring attitude of the family members, or of his own volition.

One night, he returns home late and drunk. He goes into his room and lies down on his bed without taking his dinner. He slips into a slumber, possibly due to an overdose of alcohol. He oversleeps possibly and fails to get up in the usual time. Mrs. Slater assumes her father has breathed his last while asleep.  For her, the death (assumed) has brought happy tidings. She can lay her hands on whatever her father (still awake and well) has left behind.

First the rituals of mourning have to be gone through. The younger sister Mrs. Jordan was informed of the sad demise and asked to come with her husband Ben. Ideas rush into Mrs. Slater’s mind. She has to make a quick work of removing her father’s bureau and the old clock from his room. She asks Victoria to change to a much less flashy dress to demonstrate how sad she is. 

Even for a moment, none in the family feel it necessary to check on the old Abel (still in sleep. No one comes up to him, no one sheds a tear, no one grieves. 

Abel is asleep when the process of dispossessing him of his bureau and the clock starts.  Henry Slater isn’t moved a bit either. He sits in the chair awaiting the tea session to start. Mrs. Slater’s head is whirling with ideas. It emerges that Abel Merryweather had gone to pay his insurance premium the evening before. Mrs. Slater is relieved the insurance policy is alive, ready t be claimed, like a ripe fruit from a low-hanging branch.

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ISC English –Gifts by Ralph Waldo Emerson

October 4, 2017 at 11:11 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Gifts by Ralph Waldo Emerson

About the author .. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 -1882) was among the foremost thinkers of his times. He wrote poems, essays, and gave numerous lectures. His lectures bore the hallmarks of his incisive analysis of societal values, the emptiness of minds of the rich, and his espousing of individualism. Many intellectuals of his age lauded him for pioneering role in the transcendental movement. Two of his best-known books ‘Essays : First Series’ and ‘Essays : Second Series’ contain the self-edited versions of his lectures. They point to his ability to analyze social issues with no dogma or prejudice. This essay ‘Gifts’ dwells upon the virtues of selfless giving.

The essay .. First Para .. The author starts his essay with a quote

Gifts of one who loved me,–

‘T was high time they came;

When he ceased to love me,

Time they stopped for shame.

A person yearns for the love from others. When people love others, they present him with gifts. When love disappears, gifts cease to come. Such melting away f love is unfortunate and it should put the gift giver to shame. This statement underlines the importance of ove.

There is a perennial shortage of of gifts and gift-givers in this world. The dearth of this is so bad that the world seems to be constantly trying to grapple with this shortage. The need of such noble traits is very acute indeed. During Christmas and New Year periods, we experience a heightened desire to give gifts. The scramble for gifts seems to exceed what is in offer.

The problem that most feel is to decide what exactly is to be gifted. Judicious selection of the gift item evokes the intended reaction in the gift getter. Perfunctory choosing of gifts leads to no impression on the receiver.

Second Para .. Among the umpteen choices available to be chosen as gift items, flowers and fruits appear to the author as two very obvious choices. Flowers symbolize the loftiest and most charming offerings of nature. Through their breathtaking beauty and variety, flowers beguile the mind. Nature quite frequently unveils its frightening, ugly, and ghoulish face. However, a blossom emerges from the morbid background bringing with it its genteel, fresh, and bewitching face. Flowers are undoubtedly the messengers of love and sublime creativity. Flowers make us feel good, wanted, and important. In a way, flowers flatter us in a subtle way.

Fruits, to a large extent, are adorable items to be given away as gift. People cherish fruits because these are nature’s best offerings to its children. If a fruit grower walks a unusually long distance carrying the basket on his back and presents it to his friend, the sheer labour of love involved in the transportation of the fruits proportionately enhances the self-importance of the recipient. There is always the feel-good feeling attached to fruits.

Third Para … Looking at the task of choosing a gift from a mundane angle, ordinary items that the recipient needs make good choices. Presenting a pair of shoes to a bare-footed person fills his heart with instant joy, because he was craving for a pair of shoes. So, ordinary day-to-day items should not be dismissed as being unworthy of being called gift items. Seeing a hungry man eating with relish is always a pleasing sight. So, why not gift food items to those who need it most? [We can see how the flood-affected people marooned in water for days look forward to food packets.]

Another considering the suitability of choosing a gift item for any dedicated human being is to see what particular item suits his hobby or desire. It is like presenting a guitar to a music student, or giving a dictionary to a young language learner.]

We, however, tend to err when we choose rings or jewels as gifts. These are very high value items that we buy at great cost to ourselves. They convey no amount of personal sentiment or sacrifice. The giver expects the receiver to love it for its monetary worth. So, gifting costly rings and jewels is a barren idea. When a poet brings his poem, a shepherd brings a lamb from his herd, a farmer brings a portion of his harvest etc. etc., the giver parts with a portion of his own self. In the same vein, when a person writes the biography of another person, and presents it to the latter, he instantly builds an emotional bond. Such gifts are valued and received with warmth and delight. In terms of monetary value, such gifts may be insignificant, but for the recipient treasures them. Such gifts touch the heart.

When the intention of giving gift is enhancing one’s own standing, or as atonement sums for sins, costly gilded items bought from shops can be choices. Such practice of choosing readymade items of high value is seen among the elite and the royalty. However, such gifts are cold, detached and impersonal in nature.

Fourth Para … The practice of giving or receiving is a delicate job that needs careful judgement. Normally, a self-respecting man doesn’t receive gift except those coming to express genuine unselfish love. When one gives gifts in a condescend attitude, the person receiving it feels hurt and humiliated. He might show his displeasure overtly. So, gift-giving carries with it some risk. When we eat meat, we might feel guilty because the lamb might have been reared by someone else’s effort and investment.

Sixth Para … There is another risk attached to receiving gifts. If someone gives you a gift, you should make it a point not to take anything else from him. This is a golden principle f gifting. Our expectations from others is limitless. We expect all our needs to be given to us as gifts. Such expectation, borne out of greed and laziness, are degrading and need to be avoided.

Seventh Para .. Being able to receive gifts with dignity and grace is a virtue. We should restrain our feelings when receiving gifts. Overt expressions of joy or disappointment at the time of accepting gifts must be curbed. Venting such feelings hurts the person who gives the gift. When a gift arrives from a person who is unaware of or hasn’t bothered to know the likes and dislikes of his target, it causes more harm than good. This is so because it reveals the cavalier attitude of the giver. Gifts given as just ‘give-aways’ are vexatious, because the reason behind the gift is not mutual love or admiration. For the person receiving the gift, it is embarrassing to find that he adores the gift much more than the person who has given it.

The idea of ‘usefulness’ of a gift does not hold good when the giver and taker both are very intimate friends and are of equal means. In such a case a modest gift may be misjudged as a slight. The beneficiary might feel annoyed for having been given such a ‘small’ gift. The latter, driven by greed, might desire to be given a disproportionately large chunk of the giver’s assets. Not thanking the giver, he might even feel angry at him. It is better to keep away from such greedy, ungrateful, and mean people. One can even remain detached and unaffected on receiving a gift. The Buddhists behave with rare equanimity on being flattered or honoured with gifts.

Eighth Para … According to the author, the problem arises because the gift, in most occasions, fails to communicate with both the giver and the taker. When we do a job for a magnanimous person, the latter rewards you so profusely that you instantly become indebted to him. His generosity makes him a difficult man to be chosen to give a gift to. Since these altruistic people stand in readiness to do all they can for a friend in need, it is so very difficult to extend even a minor service to them. In our daily life we keep interacting with our friends. At times we do them good: at other times our deeds harm them. These things happen so frequently that seldom people come forward to thank us for our good deeds. Even if we are unable to render a service to someone directly, we can do collective good by sticking to moral and honest behaviour.

Ninth and last Para .. Love is all-encompassing and universally sought. In whatever manner gifts shrouded with love comes, we must accept it joyfully. One should not attempt to qualify such show of love. Some people are eminently placed to give us worthy gifts. Let us embrace these with pleasure. One can not pursue gifts and get them. They come on their own, unsolicited. When the charm of love is missing, no amount of gift, either in quantity or value, should be accepted by us. The author ends his essay saying that through his well-meaning advice, he received some intellectual satisfaction. Those who benefit from his sermons, but fail to thank him, he is morally bound to love them too.

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[COMMENTS FROM READERS ARE WELCOME.]

ISC English .. On Going out for a Walk by Max Beerbohm

October 1, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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On Going out for a Walk by Max Beerbohm

About the author .. A humorist par excellence, Beerbohm excelled in parody and caricature. Through his writing writings and innocent satire, he brought reading pleasure to countless readers. Sir Henry Maximilian (Max, in short) Beerbohm (1872-1956) espouses his non-conventional views against the practice of aim-less wa ndering about, but is careful enough not to castigate those who cherish this hobby. He wrote only one novel, Zuleika Dobson. However, he was a prolific cartoonist. Even George Bernard Shaw praised him for his talent for humour.

The essay .. The author is undoubtedly a non-conformist. He is an Englishman, but loathes to saunter — a habit most Englishmen practise as a matter of instinct. In this essay, he rails against this pastime. He details, good-humouredly the reasons why he detests walking for leisure.

First para .. At the outset, the author states, quite unapologetically, that he has never in his life ventured out for a stroll out of his own volition. The author recounts his early childhood days when a nurse used to take him out for a walk. He used to talk ceaselessly with her, but even then, he had not experienced any great excitement. He grew up, and in due course, moved to London. This metropolis with its din and bustle was not quite an ideal place for carefree promenade. The walk-shy author got some respite here as he didn’t and couldn’t go out for walk.

Second Para … London is known for its hectic pace, frenzied movements, high decibels, and dust kicked by the speeding vehicles. It is not a walkers’ paradise. So, walking is not a fashionable pastime here. Because of these reasons, the walker never went out for a walk, nor did anyone ask him to accompany him. On the contrary, life in the countryside is laidback and easy-paced. Unless it is raining, people set out for strolls. Instinctively, they ask the author to accompany them, not realizing that the latter hardly likes the experience. These walking enthusiasts feel that walking is a noble hobby that triggers new ideas in brain, and rekindles noble thoughts in the mind. With such entrenched ideas, people think asking someone to accompany them is a good thing to do. The author obviously wants to stay home. He excuses himself stating that he has letters to write, and so, can’t go for the stroll. But, such an alibi has its limitations.

Third Para … First lacuna .. Generally, people tend not to believe it. Second, it makes you to rise from your seat, proceed to the writing table, and act as f you are really writing one. Till the friend leaves the entrance, you have to remain seated near the table, so as not to arouse any doubt.

Fourth Para .. For those who have made waking their abit, it can be a pleasant pastime. However, the author thinks that instead of heightening the brain’s working, it numbs it. Many of the author’s friends have experienced such slowing down of the brain during walking. But, those of the author’s friends who succeeded in pulling him out on Sundays can not claim that their brains became active when they went for walks. The author is convinced that when a person begins to walk, his creative mind sinks into inactivity. He can neither think, articulate, nor even joke. While comfortably seated on a chair, or even standing near the hearth, he is found to be mentally quite productive. Clearly, the mind becomes dumb and empty. The movement of the feet seems to tie down the brain. Instead of talking intelligently on substantive issues, he engages in frivolous empty comments which mean nothing. The author cites the example of one such walking companion, whom he cryptically names ‘A’. On one occasion, as A walked, he stopped thinking, and began to read sign boards, milestones and any such trivia that his eyes fell on along the way.

Fifth Para .. When ‘A’ sat down for lunch, his mind regained its vitality. He began to talk, amuse others and appeared a normal man with a normal brain. The author felt that ‘A’ would never go out on a walking expedition again after the benumbing of his brain that happened during the walk earlier in the day. However, much to the surprise of the author, ‘A’ set out again for another walking expedition with a different companion. The author looks at ‘A’ and his mate till they go out of sight. He knows what ‘A’ would be telling his friend. Nothing much except the remark that the author is a dull companion to walk with. Then, with the brain in stupor, ‘A’ would begin to read the roadside signs.

Sixth Para .. The author wonders why people suffer such deactivation of brain when they begin to walk. He assumes that knowing this danger, the mind’s power to reason and analyse would make a man engage in walking. With no clue for such irrational penchant to go walking, the author assumes that perhaps the soul of a person prods him to go on walk. The walking enthusiast vainly assumes that walking imparts nobility and character to one’s personality. The unconvinced author pooh poohs the fascination for walking, and decides to spend the time on the bed instead — deep in slumber. The body and the brain continue to be totally static and inactive, till the former decides to get up again. In other words, the author feels that it is advisable to sleep in spare time, so that the body gets suitably recharged.

Seventh Para .. If a person has to go to a certain place on work, he instinctively takes a vehicle to cover the distance. He does not have to work his brain for this decision. Unless you are bent upon walking, this is the right thing to do. During the walk, the brain will stop doing any serious function, other than small routine ones. Walking is a viable proposition so long as the legs can take the strain.

The author states that the ideas for this essay were conceived when he had gone out for a walk. The author says that he is not the one who abhors walking, and chooses a vehicle even for traversing very short distances. He says he does not shun physical exercise. He does exercise normally and when he feels like doing it. There are some people who have some morbid fears about their health, and they overdo physical activity with the hope that it is a cure-all for illness. In moderation, walking is desirable. However, discovering a reason to go on long walks such as going to see a friend is a foolish pretension.
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QUESTION ANSWERS WILL BE POSTED SOON.

Of Expenses by Francis Bacon –Explanation

September 25, 2017 at 8:45 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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OF EXPENSES

RICHES are for spending, and spending for honor and good actions. Therefore extraordinary expense must be limited by the worth of the occasion; for voluntary undoing may be as well for a man’s country as for the kingdom of heaven.

Meaning .. Money and wealth are to be spent one day. People spend money for enhancement of one’s own standing in society and for better living. Money is also spent for charity, social good, and other such benevolent causes. While spending large sums of money or investing a god amount of wealth, one must weigh the wisdom of such parting of resources. Spending for the cause of one’s country, or for noble and lofty causes can be justified as good enough reasons.

But ordinary expense ought to be limited by a man’s estate; and governed with such regard, as it be within his compass; and not subject to deceit and abuse of servants; and ordered to the best show, that the bills may be less than the estimation abroad.

Meaning .. Normal day-to-day expenses of the apparently routine type need to be done commensurate with one’s income and assets. No money should be spent for furthering dishonest and immoral causes. Servants are valued human assets, and the employer must never spent any money to dishonor or humiliate them. Expenses must be less than the income, and should not exceed it.

Certainly, if a man will keep but of even hand, his ordinary expenses ought to be but to the half of his receipts; and if he think to wax rich, but to the third part. It is no baseness for the greatest to descend and look into their own estate.

Meaning .. Ideally, expenses must be around half of one’s income. For those who want to become rich, their expenses should be a third f their incomes. To be calculative and cautious in spending is not a mean thing. Keeping an eye on the income while spending is a prudent policy.

Some forbear it, not upon negligence alone, but doubting to bring themselves into melancholy, in respect they shall find it broken. But wounds cannot be cured without searching. He that cannot look into his own estate at all, had need both choose well those whom he employeth, and change them often; for new are more timorous and less subtle.

Meaning ……Some people do not stick to these principles of judicious spending not only out of negligence, but also for the fear of feeling sad. Inevitably, abandoning caution in spending leads to their financial ruin. If a ruined man wants to rebuild his finances, he must entrust the job of scrutinizing his budget to someone else, who can do the job dispassionately. A person can’t scrutinize his own spending pattern himself, because he will be biased. Even, the ‘Finance Manager’ brought in to restore the health of the finances needs to be replaced periodically. This is because, a newly-recruited Finance Manager will tend to be very alert and strict.

He that can look into his estate but seldom, it behooveth him to turn all to certainties. A man had need, if he be plentiful in some kind of expense, to be as saving again in some other. As if he be plentiful in diet, to be saving in apparel; if he be plentiful in the hall, to be saving in the stable; and the like.

Meaning … A person who is too pre-occupied to manage his own business, property and wealth, must hand over this charge to an outsider who knows the job better. Due to certain circumstances, if a person over-spends on something, he should cut his expenses on other items to neutralize the excess outgo of funds. For example, if he spends too much on food, he must economize on his clothing expenses. In the same way, if a person spends excess amounts in furnishing his living quarters, he must spend much less on building his stable.

For he that is plentiful in expenses of all kinds will hardly be preserved from decay. In clearing of a man’s estate, he may as well hurt himself in being too sudden, as in letting it run on too long. For hasty selling is commonly as disadvantageable as interest.
Meaning ……A man who spends without restraint, is bound to come to grief, sooner than later. Consequently, he may impulsively sell his estate, or liquidate any such wealth to free himself from the creditors. Such sudden action is really very harmful to his long term interests.

Besides, he that clears at once will relapse; for finding himself out of straits, he will revert to his customs: but he that cleareth by degrees induceth a habit of frugality, and gaineth as well upon his mind as upon his estate.
Meaning …The man who frees himself from his debts so suddenly will revert to his of ways of extravagant spending. This is devastating. On the other hand, a debt-ridden person who liquidates his loans gradually by incremental cut in his expenses, will be really happy in the long run. This is because, the period of contolled spending will change his extravagant habits, and he will imbibe the habits of thrift and caution.

Certainly, who hath a state to repair, may not despise small things; and commonly it is less dishonorable to abridge petty charges, than to stoop to petty gettings. A man ought warily to begin charges which once begun will continue; but in matters that return not he may be more magnificent.
Meaning ….Lastly, it is much less embarrassing to make small cuts in one’s expenses, than to become a bankrupt, and invite ridicule from the society. A man in such distress might resort to petty and often criminal ways to get some money. This is the worst case scenario. A man who judiciously steers clear of such pitfalls will be treated with respect by the society.

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ISC English –The Voice of Humanity by Rabindranath Tagore

September 20, 2017 at 11:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Voice of Humanity by Rabindranath Tagore

About Tagore .. A true universalist and a liberal, Tagore shot to international prominence when his book Gitanjali got him the Nobel Prize. From his adolescent days, Tagore’s literary genius had begun to unravel. He loathed formal education imparted within the confines of a class room. The rigors of school education repelled him. He let his mind wander far and wide and delved deep into his inner consciousness. The result was astounding. This son of the undivided Bengal, with no formal education, wrote hundreds of poems, short stories, and plays based on the joy and suffering of the humble people around him in the poverty-stricken, superstition-ridden society.
His sojourn to Europe opened his mind and rekindled the humanist in him. He began to feel that he belonged to the whole mankind, and he had a mission to bring light and wisdom to the whole world.
This essay is the lecture he gave in Italy. It overflows with his liberal idealism, compassion, and feelings of universal brotherhood.

The essay … 

It was 1928. The reins of Italy was in the hands of its fascist dictator Mussolini. Rabindranath Tagore was on his first visit to the country that was the citadel of the best elements of European culture. Undoubtedly, it was an overwhelming experience for the eminent visitor from the East. Tagore loved every moment of is stay there. Literally, he bathed himself in the literary, architectural, and scientific heritage of his host country and Europe in general.

First para .. Explaining the language barrier

This essay is the transcript of his lecture before an august audience of elite intellectuals. Tagore felt both humbled and honoured to address such a gathering.

Tagore knew English was not the mother tongue of the Italians. However, this was the only common language in which he could communicate with the audience. In his characteristic style, Tagore regretted the inconvenience he was putting his listeners by having to speak in English.

Second para ..  Author explains why he thinks it is a pilgrimage

Tagore had already decided what he was going to speak on. He wanted to explain to the listeners why he had travelled thousands of miles to come to their country. Tagore was a deeply spiritual and contemplative man. He saw God’s hand everywhere. His vision of the Divine transcended religious or national barriers. So, he explained to his audience that he had come n a pilgrimage to explore the place where the landscape bristles with is Divine creativity and love. Layers and layers of sublime manifestation of Divinity had enriched Italy. In the true Eastern tradition, he has come to discover the Divine hand here.

Third para   .. Europe enthralls the author

 Quite clearly, Europe’s astounding progress in all facets of culture and civilization had greatly impressed the young author. He was so impressed with the blossoming of the human spirit in this distant continent that he considered the land to be holy, worthy to be called a shrine. In 1921, driven by an urge to explore this land, he set out on this pilgrimage to Europe. He reasoned that Europe led the world because the inquisitive minds of its people were always reactive and restless. The frenzied intellectual activity that ensued led to spectacular advances in literature, art, science, philosophy and technology.  In contrast, around this time, Asia seemed to be asleep, losing its initiative, verve, and drive. Such indolence led to lethargy, backwardness, and poverty. Barring just a handful of bright minds engaged in the pursuit of knowledge and skill, the whole continent seemed to be asleep. The author left his pet project at Shantiniketan, and came to Europe to experience its electrifying energy and creativity.

Fourth and Fifth Para … Author sets foot in Italy 

However, this was not his maiden visit. In 1878, when he was a young boy of 17, he had set foot in the shores of Italy with his elder brother as escort. During those times, people in the East held Europe in awe and wonder. Although his English skill was far from being exemplary, the author had read the works of the literary icons of Europe, and was aware of the literary resurgence that was sweeping the continent.

In the moonlit shores of Brindisi in Italy, the steamer in which Tagore and his brother were travelling, landed. The breathtaking beauty of this alien land manifested in the blue waters of the ocean, the bewitching landscape virtually swept Tagore off his feet. He had never see such a sight earlier.

Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Para .. A fleeting encounter with a maid in an or chard

The small town of Brindishi didn’t have the daunting façade of the cities. The author found the place unusually quiet, but at the same time, very welcoming. The author’s didn’t have a placid dormant mind. He had already savoured the romance of literature, and had begun to dream. The two brothers stayed in an ordinary hotel with the most basic facilities. But, being in the land of Europe set his heart aflutter.

The next day, the author, his brother, and a Indian friend ventured out to a nearby orchard. The place was un-guarded and no one accosted them. Sun shone liberally over the orchard setting the garden lit with a golden glow. There was a youthful damsel plucking the grapes. She had a coloured scarf round her head. The author was spellbound by her charm. He was seventeen then, and the gush of manly instinct drew him to her. The sunlight accentuated her beauty. The author understood he was the guest in a foreign country, and must conduct himself with the required dignity.

Ninth Para .. Author explains why he has been sent to England

The encounter triggered no feelings in the other two, but for the author, it rekindled romantic instincts. The trio left the place soon. The author had been a problem pupil in his traditional skill. He used to be repelled by the walls of the school room. Finding his virtual refusal to be schooled in the traditional way, his guardians sent him to England so that he could learn good English – the language that held the key to respectability and accomplishment.

Tenth Para… England appears so cold, so distant

The author finaly landed in England – his destination. But it was winter, and the harsh chill made life quite unpleasant for him. The trees stood bare with all the leaves gone. There was hardly any crowd in the road. The usual bustle f an Indian city was sorely lacking. The contrast rattled the author, leaving him disconcerted and lonely. The place seemed so distant, and so unwelcoming. From his room’s window, he fixed his gaze at the Regent’s Park wondering what a bewildering land he had come to. Perhaps, he was too young to delve into the treasury of knowledge and enlightenment England held. He felt lost, pining for his homeland.

Eleventh Para ..Author returns home

After a stint of rigorous education, the author returned home, and felt more disinclined to pursue formal education that could give him a degree. He spent time in laziness doing little, but soon started writing stories, novels and poems. He wrote profusely, sitting in the bank f the Ganges. His restive mind found fulfillment in literature. He was oblivious of the tumultuous political changes that were happening around the world then.

Twelfth Para ..The seed of class room-free education is sown

The author’s mind underwent a sea change. He no longer liked to work in seclusion. Instead, he wanted to be among the crowd. He loved children, and loved to guide them as they grew up. He knew the system of class room education stifled and caged many young bright minds. He wanted these young minds to savour the taste of education in a free, unfettered environment. He chose a secluded place, away from the madding crowd, where he could school the students in the lap of Nature. 

Thirteenth Para ..New idea of education takes shape

While in the midst of this unique experiment with education, the author seemed to hear a distant call — a summon from the land where human endeavour and spirit had reached its pinnacle. He wanted to go on a pilgrimage again, to explore, learn, and feast his senses with the best of human civilization. He knew, his dream destination was Europe that stood at the forefront of humankind’s progress.

Fourteenth Para … World events unsettle the author

By then, the author was a well-read man. He had studied History, Literature and all such subjects. He had read the works of such eminent writers like Wordsworth. The hatred, oppression, exploitation, revenge, and wars that had ravaged the human race made him sorrowful. He had painfully concluded that man was the worst enemy of man. Despite such gloomy thoughts, the author remained an optimist. He felt the noble wisdom of mankind will eventually dispel the dark forces one day, ushering in an age of harmony, peace, progress and peace.

Fifteenth Para ..Visit to England brings more gloom

Sadly for the author, when he reached England, the whole f Europe was gripped with strife, discord, upheavals, and war. Mutual suspicion, envy, and avarice had bedevilled the land. Passion to create had ceded place to passion for destruction. The specter was was so depressing for the author.

Sixteenth Para ..The  lush green farms captivate the author

While travelling from Calais to England, the author got to see the lush-green fecund farms through which the train track ran. The bounty of the fields filled his heart with joy. He marvelled at the hardworking nature of the farmers who had grown the crops. These great sons of the soil had done extremely valuable service to their motherland. Their dedication deserved the highest praise, because through their sweat and sacrifice, they had brought security and sufficiency to their countries, and to the mankind at large. In the land where such worthy toiling men lived, misery couldn’t set foot. But, why was Europe so riven with the ugly and the unbearable’, wondered the thoughtful author.

Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Paras .. Author examines Europe’s boon and bane

The author reasons that Europe’s children did fairly well till their endeavour was restricted to solving their own lands’ problems. Through application of their intelligence, ingenuity and their penchant for perfection, they did quite well. They brought prosperity and plenty to themselves. However, with the advent of science and technology, new challenges emerged. Europe began to look far beyond its shores. Such adventure unleashed huge political, military and economic challenges. Harmony of earlier times was gone. In its place, came discord and dis-harmony.  Tempestuous events overtook Europe. She is still grappling with these new destructive forces. Solutions to the new challenges have eluded the Europeans so far. However daunting the task might appear, a holistic and enduring solution to the new challenges must be found. A wrong prescription may lead to unintended consequences. The bounty that God bestowed on Europe would soon become her bane. The abiding virtues like the love of justice, freedom, love f beauty that once characterised Europe would become the things of the past.

In the relentless pursuit of profit, production, trade, Europe would lose the nobler virtues of art, creativity, and the softer side of the human civilization. Tragically, this would disembowel Europe of her tender core. Deprivation, misery, and suffering would follow.

20th Para …Europe’s rise and her nightmares

The author proceeds to analyse how Europe could build her huge repository of the best of human achievements. According to him, it all came through patient pursuit of perfection. The patience was borne out of Love. The legendary artists of Europe would work endlessly to reach perfection on the tiniest of things. Such passionate effort, and perseverance are anathema to a quantity and profit-oriented commerce-driven society. Greed and creativity are quite opposite to each other.  Unfortunately, greed has overtaken Europe. This shift towards profit and gain has dispelled creativity and beauty from the human mind. The voices of sanity, restraint, and the sublime have become too feeble to be heard. Man’s inner voice is lost in the din of factories. 

21st Para .. Author stresses role of Science

The author laments the lucre associated with the unravelling of a profit-driven industrial economy, but applauds the march of Science. In this domain, Europe has led the world. Nature’s secrets have been gradually decoded, and the benefits have been passed on to the future generations of mankind. Europe has made stellar contribution in pushing back the limits of the Infinite, but so much more needs to be done. Europe must continue to stay the course in this regard. True happiness lies in relentlessly continuing the quest to unravel Nature. 

22nd Para .. Author underlines Materialism’s role in human welfare

The author tries to clear the air by stating that the material world in not all bad. He likens it to the nurse and cradle that nurture life, and the human spirit. Europe has taken to the material world. This has brought goods and conveniences to human living. Despite such involvement in commerce and manufacturing, Europe has continued to cross more milestones in the path of science. This is really laudable, thinks the author. However, the author cites a note of caution here. He thinks that Europeans must not be too possessive about whatever they have gained in science and wealth generation through industrialization. They must assume that the gains belong to the whole mankind. Through such generosity, they can lay their claim to real greatness.

23rd Para .. Science does not hold all Truths

Europe surged in Science because of the power of its citizens to observe, question, think, and analyze. This gift is a rare one, but keeping the new-found knowledge close to their chest would do the Europeans no good. They must willingly share the scientific gains with the rest of the world. By doing so, Europe’s best brains would redeem themselves. There are truths which do not come under the domain of Science. Such truths must be allowed to fuse with the ones unravelled by Science. Disregard of truths of other domains unrelated to Science is fraught and could have disatrous ramifications. Sadly, this is what is happening. All the evils that plagued Europe then were rooted in the neglect of truth from other non-science fields.

24th Para ….Author bemoans the misuse of Science

The author feels that the mightier the weapon you have, the stronger should be the restraint in using them. Science has unleashed great potential to do good, and also to wreak havoc. Without the wisdom to rein in its destructive forces, it runs amuck and brings calamity on earth. The author laments that Europe pioneered science, but failed to circumscribe its devilish power. As a result, Europe faces so much danger now. 

While crying out for peace, the people at the helm go ahead to invent more formidable weapons. So, more violence results. The craving for peace must come from within for it to be enduring. Peace imposed from outside by force has only limited effect. In matters of ensuring lasting peace and tranquility, the virtues of sympathy and self-sacrifice are more potent than the efficacy of mass mobilization.

25th and 26th Para … Science mustn’t lead to hubris and colonial instincts    

The author had always been an optimist. He believed that ultimately, the goodness of the human spirit would prevail. Like the Sun gets temporarily covered by clouds, the human spirit might be besmirched by evil instincts temporarily, but it would regain its radiance sooner or later. Some naive Europeans who cite their scientific prowess to justify their instinct to subjugate other peoples. However, like the earthquake unleashes great ferocity to shake the earth temporarily, the bombast of the colonizers would fall flat in the times to come. Some of these powers, who thought they could be eternally supreme by fostering the supremacy of their own nation, are beginning to crumble. Slowly, they are fading into the past. Quite logically, those nations who can think and act beyond their borders transcending narrow nationalism, can ultimately survive and prosper. In other words, the benefits of one’s progress must be shared with others for the gain to be lasting.

27th, and the last Para ..As the eternal optimist, the Author sees hope

Human beings who live in proximity with each other, and do not share each other’s joys and owes are not likely to thrive in the long run. By cocooning themselves within their own national confines, these self-centered people will self-destruct themselves. A day would come when the unified human spirit would prevail over parochial attitudes, and the whole human race would think and work like a single entity. That would signal the triumph of Truth.

Finally, the author humbly tells his listeners that he has come to Europe in search of the Voice of Humanity, which has been dampened by the clamour to amass power and wealth by the most brutal means. Fortunately, this dormant voice is beginning to be heard more clearly and loudly. With time, this would assume the level of a thunder which no one can ignore.

———————————————————END———————————————————

Readers are invited to send their comments on this interpretation of Tagore’s thoughts.

 

ISC English –The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

September 6, 2017 at 2:28 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

About the author .. Kate Chopin(1850-1904) is remembered as much as for her gripping short stories, as for her pioneering role in American feminist movement. She believed in the institution of marriage as any normal woman, but her inner self told her relentlessly that wives must have the liberty to profess their views with no hindrance, and do things they liked without seeking the permission of their husbands. Born in St. Luis, Missouri, she had a French mother and an Irish father. She was widowed prematurely, but the disaster proved to be blessing as it enabled her to plunge into writing with all her time and energy.
In her novel ‘The Awakening’, she gives enough indication about her strong belief in women’s emancipation and the idea f equality of the sexes. ‘The Story of an Hour’, she has portrayed the feelings of a woman who receives the news of her husband’s death with equanimity and subdued glee because as a widow she could live own life. The dream is shattered moments later when the ‘dead’ husband appears alive in person

The story …

Mrs. Mallard had just lost her husband in a train accident. Being widowed at a relatively young age is a shattering tragedy for a woman. Besides this, she had a cardiac history, so everyone took extraordinary care to soften the blow before breaking the news to her. It fell on Josephine to communicate the news to her elder sister. Josephine spoke in tits and bits, in indirect language, and in a way, so that the news didn’t strike Mrs. Millard too hard.

Their family friend Richards had brought the news of the train accident that had proved fatal for Mr. Millard. In the list of passengers list killed in the accident, Mr. Millard’s name surely was there. Richards had cross-checked it through a second telegram, before coming to convey the news to the bereaved wife.

Mrs. Millard’s reaction to the news was a bit unusual. She didn’t become benumbed and still, as most women react on first hearing the news of the death of their husbands. Instead, she cried loudly and wildly in Josephine’s hands. After a while, the tumult and the frenzy began to calm somewhat. Mrs. Millard rushed into her room, bolted it from inside, and locked herself. Everyone though, most likely she wanted to be left alone in that hour of grief.

Inside the room, there was a comfortable cane chair kept facing a large window. One could see trees with lush foliage. Spring was setting on. It had rained for a while. A hawker carried his ware a little distance away. Sparrows had been twittering in the eaves exuberantly. Cloud hovered in the sky. A lone singer was singing somewhere afar.

In the comfortable cane chair. Mrs. Millard seated herself appearing as if unable to take the burden of the grief. 

The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

About the author .. Kate Chopin(1850-1904) is remembered as much as for her gripping short stories, as for her pioneering role in American feminist movement. She believed in the institution of marriage as any normal woman, but her inner self told her relentlessly that wives must have the liberty to profess their views with no hindrance, and do things they liked without seeking the permission of their husbands. Born in St. Luis, Missouri, she had a French mother and an Irish father. She was widowed prematurely, but the disaster proved to be blessing as it enabled her to plunge into writing with all her time and energy.
In her novel ‘The Awakening’, she gives enough indication about her strong belief in women’s emancipation and the idea f equality of the sexes. ‘The Story of an Hour’, she has portrayed the feelings of a woman who receives the news of her husband’s death with equanimity and subdued glee because as a widow she could live own life. The dream is shattered moments later when the ‘dead’ husband appears alive in person

The story … 

Mrs. Mallard had just lost her husband in a train accident. Being widowed at a relatively young age is a shattering tragedy for a woman.  Besides this, she had a cardiac history, so everyone took extraordinary care to soften the blow before breaking the news to her. It fell on Josephine to communicate the news to her elder sister. Josephine spoke in tits and bits, in indirect language, and in a way, so that the news didn’t strike Mrs. Millard too hard.

Their family friend Richards had brought the news of the train accident that had proved fatal for Mr. Millard. In the list of passengers list killed in the accident, Mr. Millard’s name surely was there. Richards had cross-checked it through a second telegram, before coming to convey the news to the bereaved wife.

Mrs. Millard’s reaction to the news was a bit unusual. She didn’t become benumbed and still, as most women react on first hearing the news of the death of their husbands. Instead, she cried loudly and wildly in Josephine’s hands. After a while, the tumult and the frenzy began to calm somewhat. Mrs. Millard rushed into her room, bolted it from inside, and locked herself. Everyone though, most likely she wanted to be left alone in that hour of grief.

Inside the room, there was a comfortable cane chair kept facing a large window. One could see trees with lush foliage. Spring was setting on. It had rained for a while. A hawker carried his ware a little distance away.  Sparrows had been twittering in the eaves exuberantly. Cloud hovered in the sky. A lone singer was singing somewhere afar.

In the comfortable cane chair, Mrs. Millard seated herself as if unable to take the burden of the grief. A torrent of thoughts seemed to pass through her mind. She was sad, no doubt, but she was experiencing something different. She looked vacantly at the distant sky, gazing into the clouds. Perhaps, she was trying to imagine her life as a widow. She reminisced about her married life. It was both sour and sweet. Her husband loved her, no doubt, but disagreements often marred their marital bliss. The loss was tragic, but she must come to turns with it sooner r later. She must do the rebuilding task on her own terms, not pushed or influenced by anyone else.

She felt that she was ‘free’ at last. The thought was exciting. She saw an opportunity here –to do things she liked without being fettered by anything or anyone else’s overpowering influence. She was beginning to feel happy at the prospect of living an un-shackled life. After some serious introspection, she convinced herself that the deliverance from married life was a welcome opening indeed. She looked forward to a joyous life in the coming years.

Josephine, overcome with trepidation, was frantically trying to come in and see her bereaved sister. From outside the locked door, she screamed at her elder sister to open the door and let her in. Mrs. Millard didn’t like to be disturbed from her reverie. Optimism had returned. She looked forward expectantly to the months ahead. She seemed to have triumphed over her misfortune.

Finally, she opened the door to let Josephine in. She exuded rare self-confidence and hope. She clung to her sister and both of them went downstairs. Richard was waiting there.

Something utterly unbelievable happened. Brently Millard came in opening the front door by his key. As usual, he was carrying his umbrella and grip-sack. He looked somewhat tired. He was blissfully unaware of the accident as he happened to be in a different location when the mishap happened.

Mr. Millard had a quizzical look in his eyes. Josephine recoiled in horror on seeing him, standing before her in person. The shock was perhaps too much for Mrs. Millard. Her reverie had been smashed by hard reality.

Mrs. Millard couldn’t possibly bear it. She breathed her last.

——————————END——————–

 

ISC English –Quality by John Galsworthy

September 1, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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ISC English

Quality by John Galsworthy

About the author ….John Galsworthy (1867–1933), the celebrated English novelist and playwright will remain in the minds of readers for his campaign against class divide, materialistic pursuits and appalling conditions in prisons. He wrote The Forsyte Saga to vent his indignation against the Victorian values that divided the society on the basis of wealth and affluence. Although he came from a very well-to-do family of businessmen, he rebelled against the mad pursuit to amass wealth, denial of equal status to women, and indifference to the basic human rights of prisoners, and many such human rights issues. He won the 1932 Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932. But he was too ill to receive it in person. John Glossworthy will be remembered for his novels The White Monkey (1924), The Silver Spoon (1926), Swan Song (1928). Maid in Waiting (1931), Flowering Wilderness (1932), and Over the River (1933).

About this story .. ‘Quality’ is a short story about a master shoe-maker who was fanatically fastidious about the shoes he made with his own hand. He had some loyal customers, but not many as he lathed advertising, sales promotion, and all such means of modern-day business. In commercial acumen, he was a naïve, but in dedication to his work, he was second to none. Sadly, he died because, lost in shoe-making, he forgot to feed himself. Lack of food, coupled with punishing involvement in his work did him in.

The story ..

Two brothers, both ace shoe-makers lived and worked in a nondescript shop in a alley in the fashionable West End area of London. The author’s acquaintance with the duo went back many years to his adolescent years. His father used to patronize the shoe-making shop for getting his bespoke shoes made.

The shop had no flashy signage, no bright light, except a dull-looking name board that read Gessler Brothers. The name seemed German, so did their accent. In the window, the two brothers had kept a pair of shoes, perhaps to announce to the public that it was but a tiny shoe-making unit. There was a reason behind such modesty, because the two brothers made only customized foot wear. They didn’t make standard-sized shoes in large numbers for the market.

The shoe maker made shoes with his own hands, with delicacy and care, so that they fitted the wearer’s feet perfectly. He also made the finest light dancing shoes using the finest leather. He also made tall brown riding shoes that seemed almost new after long years of use. Rare artisanship was the hallmark of the shoes coming out of the hands of this shoe-maker.

In his youthful young days, the author seldom thought about the uniqueness of the shop. By the age of fourteen, the author began to realize that it was no ordinary cobbler’s shop, but the work place of two splendid craftsmen. The place seemed so intriguingly wonderful.

On one occasion, the author walked up to the shoe-maker to say that the pair of walking-boots supplied by him had creaked.

The complaint left Gessler flummoxed for a while. He perhaps couldn’t believe the shoes made by him could ever fray like this. With incredulous eyes, he asked the author if the tearing of the leather had occurred before the shoes were worn. The author denied it.

Gessler seemed lost in thought. He was perhaps trying to recollect when and how he had made the pair of shoes. Then, quite unhesitatingly, he asked the author to bring the shoes, so that he could examine them. The seriousness with which Gessler took the complaint made the author uneasy.

Gessler said that some boots made by him had defects from the beginning. Quite sportingly, he offered to refund the cost f the shoes, if they were really bad. The refund offer came after the author had worn them for long!

On another occasion, the author went in to order a new pair of shoes. He was wearing a pair of shoes procured from some other shop. While taking the order Gessler had noticed that his customer wore shoes made by someone else. He eyed the author’s footwear with incisive keenness. With a mixture of hurt pride and subtle disapproval, he commented that the pair of shoes in the author’s feet were not his products. By a feel of his finger, he could ascertain where the shoe hurt the wearer.

The author’s ready-made pair of shoes had struck a raw cord in Gessler’s heart. He began a monologue deriding the large shoe making companies who mass produce the items without adequate attention to the comforts of their customers. Quite clearly, Gessler was annoyed at the commercial approach of the big firms. He railed against their advertising, sales promotion, and everything else they did to entice the buyer at the cost of quality. Their ultimate aim is to maximize their profits. Such derisive comments seldom came to Gessler. Displeasure and annoyance were palpable in his face, wrinkled by years of toil in his trade.

The author was moved by the commitment and dedication of Gessler to his trade. He felt bad that he had some time back complained about the boot he had bought from this master artisan. To make amends for any feelings of hurt he might have caused to the embittered artisan, the author ordered quite a few pair of shoes on him. The shoes were so well made that they lasted for ages, almost driving the author to the point of boredom. For two years, the author couldn’t think of buying any more shoes.

When he went there after the lapse of two years, the author was surprised to see that one of the two windows of the old shop bore a signboard. It brazenly claimed patronage of the royal household. It was a brutal and shocking makeover. It became clear that another business had started operating from the premises.

It soon emerged that Gessler had rented out a part of the shop to curtail cost.

The author came back gain to order more shoes. He ordered three pairs instead of two. 

The author had developed a sentimental bonding with Gessler’s shop that made him return there again and again.

The visit had some unpleasant surprises for the author. He learnt that the elder of the duo had died. The author was indeed quite sorry to know of this. Worries borne out of slack business and the resulting difficulties had forced the two brothers to give up one shop. The loss apparently drove the elder brother to death.

The author ordered a few more pairs of shoes. This time, the supplies came late. The author wore them to great delight. Soon, he left for abroad. He returned to London after a year.

He went to see his favourite shoe-maker, but the encounter was not  very pleasant. Gessler had battled poor business, loss of his brother, and despondency. The continuing distress had taken a toll of his physical and mental condition. He looked so haggard, and broken. He had aged fifteen years in just one year of dull business. At first, he failed to recognize the author.

The author started his conversation by heaping praise on the boots he bought from the old shoe maker. 

Quite characteristically for Gessler, his attention fell on the author’s shoes. He felt it by his own hands and lovingly remembered that he had put in a good deal of effort to make it.

The shoemaker had practically. So, he was glad to take the author’s orders for fresh pairs of shoes. He felt the author’s feet and toes with the utmost care to determine how he was going to get a perfect fit.

The four pairs of shoes arrived at the author’s place one evening. The author tried them one by one. In fit, finish and workmanship, these were perfect. Strangely, although a long time had elapsed, the shoe man had charged the same old rate. The author paid off the amount.

A week later, the author went to Gessler’s place to talk about the excellent shoes he had made. But, what he discovered devastated him. Gessler’s name board had vanished, although other items were still there. With heart pounding, the author stepped in. A completely different man met him, not Gessler. He started soliciting order in the usual salesmanship ways.

When the author demanded to know where Gessler was, the man disclosed that he was dead. It sent a chill down his spine.

To add to the author’s horror, the man disclosed that Gessler had starved himself to death. Towards his final days, orders came few and far between. Gessler found the going hard. When any order came, Gessler worked very hard without rest or food to supply the orders in time. His body couldn’t cope with the punishing schedule. Despite his failing strength, he poured his heart out to the shoes he made. He was a shoemaker par excellence, but was poorly equipped to stand up to the commercial monster farms that dominate the trade. With the demise of the man, the fine art of shoe-making was lost forever from the face of the earth.

The curtains had come down on the life of a shoe maker of astounding dexterity and dedication. The passing away of this remarkable man left a wound in the heart of the author because he adored the humble shoe maker so much.

————————————END——————————

Question .. Write the character sketch of Gessler listing his strengths and failings.

 

 

 

——————————-To be continued——————————–

ISC English –The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

August 27, 2017 at 11:01 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Darkling Thrush
by Thomas Hardy

About THE AUTHR … Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was born in a not so well-to-do family. His father worked as a stone mason. His mother, however, was a gifted woman who took charge of Hardy’s education from the beginning. Hardy’s parents lacked the means to send him to university, so he was made to work as an apprentice with an architect. Hardy flourished in this field and, in due course, earned a name as an architect of repute. His heart, however, lay in literature. In later years, he devoted his time wholly to writing. He wrote poems, short stories and novels.

Reading Hardy must include his novels like ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, and ‘The Return of the Native’. Among his poems, one might choose ‘Poems of Past and Present’, and ‘Moments of Vision’. In short story writing too, he excelled winning the admiration of countless readers. ‘A Tragedy of Two Ambitions’, ‘A Mere Interlude’ and ‘Alicia’s Diary’ are just a few of the long list of Hardy’s short stories.

The poem ..  

Hardy wrote this poem in 1900. It was the end of twentieth century. By then he has 60, and the old age was beginning to ravage him. Life expectancy in England was around 40 then. Was it his old age, or the depressing social conditions of England that bothered him? Perhaps, both. Hardy was ill at ease with the class-ridden, tradition-trapped Victorian age. He was born in a humble family, and his modest upbringing made him rail against the power and privileges of the elite class. The deeply-entrenched moral values stifled free thinking, and filled the average person’s life with needless misery. Hardy loathed such an archaic set up, but he could do nothing to reverse it, other than venting his desperation through his writings. The Darkling Thrush, perhaps, bears the marks of Hardy’s anguish and pessimism.

Stanza 1 …  

I leant upon a coppice gate 

      When Frost was spectre-grey, 

And Winter’s dregs made desolate 

      The weakening eye of day. 

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky 

      Like strings of broken lyres, 

And all mankind that haunted nigh 

      Had sought their household fires. 

Meaning … The insufferable winter is drawing near. There is snow everywhere. Life on earth is grinding to a halt. The landscape looks so lifeless, so ghoulish. The speaker leans over a gate that stood amidst shrubs and plants. His eyes fall on the tree that stands bereft of its foliage. The winter’s chill has stripped the tree of its leaves. Only the twigs and stems are left to peer skywards. They look like a derelict musical string instrument, whose strings are cut. Folks have retreated to their homes to escape the biting cold outside. Daily activities have been cut to the minimum in such a forbiding environment.

Stanza 2 …

The land’s sharp features seemed to be 

      The Century’s corpse outleant, 

His crypt the cloudy canopy, 

      The wind his death-lament. 

The ancient pulse of germ and birth 

      Was shrunken hard and dry, 

And every spirit upon earth 

      Seemed fervourless as I. 

Meaning .. The whole place looks so devoid of any activity. There is no hustle bustle, no exuberance, and nothing to cheer for. The town’s mortuary stands silent and alone. A dark cloud hovers over it to further accentuate the gloom and doom feeling. The wind blows with a deadly howl. There is no birth, no regeneration and no revival. Life seems to be trapped in an ice age. The speaker’s mood, like that of every other  denizen, appears so insipid and lackluster.

Stanza 3 …

At once a voice arose among 

      The bleak twigs overhead 

In a full-hearted evensong 

      Of joy illimited; 

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small, 

      In blast-beruffled plume, 

Had chosen thus to fling his soul 

      Upon the growing gloom. 

Meaning ….Amidst this deafening silence and graveyard-like  doom and despondency, the speaker hears a strange loud sound emanating from the background of the dry lifeless twigs and stems of the nearby tree. It catches the speaker by surprise. The strange sound seems to announce that hope and health is returning. The speaker discovers that an old, enfeebled thrush with frayed plumes is crying out.  But, the intent of the thrush in making the cry, when all life forms are on the verge of eternal silence, baffles the speaker. ‘What could be the bird’s motivation?, wonders the speaker.

Stanza 4 …

So little cause for carolings 

      Of such ecstatic sound 

Was written on terrestrial things 

      Afar or nigh around, 

That I could think there trembled through 

      His happy good-night air 

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew 

      And I was unaware. 

Meaning … The thrush’s energetic cry obviously was not announcing the advent of cataclysm and death. ‘Then, what was it?,’ ponders the speaker. He concludes that the thrush perhaps knew that everything in this world was not doomed yet, and there was still hope. May be, good times would soon return, but the speaker was unaware of any such good tidings.

—————————–END————————

ISC English literature — Salvatore by W. Somerset Maugham

August 25, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Salvatore by W. Somerset Maugham

About the author .. Rarely has English literature produced such a prolific short story writer, playwright, and novelist as Dr. Somerset Maugham(1874-1965). This literary genius, born in a family of legal luminaries, spurned a career in law, although it offered him assured success. He studied medicine, and qualified as a doctor, but rarely practiced what he had been trained for. Except a stint with the Red Cross, Somerset Maugham never took to treating patients. However, his encounter with many poor suffering patients during his medical education had a profound influence on him. He began writing when he was in college studying to become a doctor. His first novel, ‘Liza of Lambeth’ dealt with infidelity prevalent among middle class men and women during those times, and the painful consequences of such unfaithfulness among spouses. The book soon flew off the shelves, giving Maugham a flying start to Maugham’s literary ambitions.
Maugham was born in France, educated in England, and lived in Spain. He travelled extensively throughout South East Asia and India observing the ways of the Eastern societies. In his six decades of writing life, he turned out many spectacular novels, short story collections and even thrillers. ‘The Magician’ (1908) captivated thriller-loving readers. At one time, London’s four opera houses were simultaneously running four of Maugham’s plays. This speaks volumes about the way the readers loved Maugham’s writings.
Maugham had a flawed romantic life, that raised eyebrows in the contemporary Victorian society, but his literary brilliance overshadowed this little distortion.

About this story ‘Salvatore’ .. This short story is set in a tiny remote fishing village in Italy. It centers around Salvatore, a young 15-year-old happy-go-lucky lad who has grown up in a fisherman’s family. He whiles away his time blithely in the sea beach. Salvatore had two young siblings, who gamboled in the shallow waters of the sea. When they went a bit far, Salvatore used to yell at them to come ashore.

The scrawny Salvatore stepped into his adulthood sooner than later. He was enamoured of a girl from Grande Marina who bore her charm with dignity. The courtship went on, but Salvatore couldn’t marry his sweetheart. He had to complete his conscription in the navy, before he could settle down. It was a daunting, but inescapable obligation that made Salvatore nervous and fearful. It was not the horrors of battle, but the prospect of leaving home that made Salvatore anxious.

Aboard the naval ship, in sailor’s uniform, Salvatore gazed at the horizon and remembered the sunset over Ischia that he used to watch every evening. This island situated to the north of the Gulf of Naples looked majestic when the sun dipped into the horizon. Salvatore yearned for Marina. The pangs of separation from her filled his mind with gloom. Salvatore was very forlorn.

His ship passed through Spezzia, Venice, and Bari before reaching China. Misfortune awaited Salvatore at China. He was afflicted by a debilitating disease, and had to be admitted to a hospital in that distant country. The doctor said that Salvatore had contacted a virulent strain of rheumatism, and wouldn’t be able to do heavy manual work for the rest f his life. The hospital’s findings came as  bolt from the blue for Salvatore, but it brought a huge relief to the home-sick and love-sick young man. He knew he would be discharged from the navy forthwith. That meant deliverance from the battle ship, and most importantly, an early return to his lady love. It cheered Salvatore to the point of being ecstatic.

Salvatore headed home. In the final lap of his journey, he was rowed ashore to the beach where his parents, friends and a whole crowed waited for him. Salvatore looked at them gleefully, but there was one person missing. Grande Marina was not there to welcome her darling home. It puzzled Salvatore. The waiting crowd kissed and hugged Salvatore, but he missed the kiss he most wanted. His fiancee’s absence filled Salvatore’s mind with angst.

Salvatore’s mother said that she had not seen the girl for two or three weeks. It added to his anxiety. He couldn’t wait any longer. As dusk fell, he went to his beloved’s house the same evening to meet her. To his great distress, he got a cold stare from her. She stood detached. He asked her if she hadn’t received the letter he had written about his return. He told her reassuringly that the doctor’s diagnosis was a bit exaggerated, and he would soon be fit and fine. Again, the maiden showed no emotion. Salvatore looked quizzically into her eyes, but she remained aloof. Finally, she dropped the bombshell. In clear terms, she told Salvatore that he was crippled, and couldn’t work hard enough to earn a living. So, she has decided to go by her father’s decision that she must marry someone else fit enough to be the bread earner of the family. She told that it was her family’s unanimous decision. Her father simply couldn’t give her to a man who can’t slog like an able-bodied fisherman.

Salvatore trudged back home with the grief gnawing at his heart incessantly. Back at home, he discovered, to his dismay, that his family members were aware of the girl’s decision, and they had held back the news from him.

Clearly, Salvatore was devastated. He let his tears wet his mother’s bosom. But, the rancor and the indignation were not there in his mind. Unlike what most young lovers would do, he didn’t blame her for her decision to abandon him. He understood marrying a semi-crippled young man would have been untenable for a working class fishing family. He bore his misfortune with remarkable fortitude.

Months rolled by. Salvatore resumed his toil in his father’s vineyard and fishing trips. He soon came to terms with his life without Marina.

His mother had a news to break for her lonely son. She said there was a young woman by the name Assunta in the community who was willing to marry him. Salvatore’s initial comment about the girl was rather disparaging. She had no great looks, and was older than him. Her fiancé had died in battle somewhere in Africa. Assunta was ready to tie the knot, if Salvatore agreed.

Apart from this, his mother disclosed that Assunta had some money with her. After marriage, she could buy a fishing boat and rent a vine yard, so that the couple could make a living with ease. Moreover, Assunta had developed a fascination for him after she saw him at the festa. 

Salvatore decided to see the girl. The following Sunday, he dressed himself smartly in black to look robust, and sat in a vantage point in the Church from where he could see Assunta properly. Salvatore agreed to make Assunta his wife. He told his mother about it.

The couple lived in a tiny white-washed cottage at the middle of the vine yard. Salvatore had become a stout, jolly, and hard-working guy. He had retained his childlike air, his pleasing eyes, and his cool demeanour. He, accompanied by his younger brother, went into the sea at evening, caught the lucrative cuttlefish, and rowed back early so that he could sell the catch to the ships bound for Naples. During the days he didn’t go out fishing, he worked in his vineyard from dawn to dusk, with a short break in the afternoon.

The rheumatism returned sporadically making it very hard for him to work. He would then indolently lie on the beach, smoking cigarettes and gazing at the sea. He bore the rheumatic pain stoically, and had a friendly chat with those passing by him.

On some occasions, he brought his children to bathe them in the sea waters. The two boys abhorred being pushed into the waters. The elder demurred lightly, but the younger one screamed with fright. Salvatore was a genteel loving father who poured affection on his two sons. It was remarkable how the trio enjoyed their beach outings with warmth and togetherness.

Maugham’s account of Salvatore has no heroics, no chivalry, no melodrama. Yet, Salvatore’s character exudes the values that make a person adorable. His life, very ordinary and mundane, radiates goodness, at every step.

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Question …

Look into Salvatore’s life through Maugham’s eyes, and discover the goodness of his character that impressed the author.

[Answer will be posted soon.]

 

 

ISC English literature –Fritz by Satyajit Ray

August 21, 2017 at 11:57 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Fritz by Satyajit Ray

A word about Satyajit Ray .. Satyajit Ray(1921-92) was a man of cinematography and all other art forms that go with it. Born and brought up in Calcutta, Ray started his career as a low-paid commercial artist. Despite such a humble beginning, the flame of creativity burned in him from the very beginning. His chance encounter with the French film maker Jean Renoir marked a watershed in this master artist’s life. He saw the film Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio de Sica, and from then on, Ray plunged into the world of cinema with all his gusto and verve. Paucity of finance, and many such odds came his way, but he overcame them with remarkable tenacity. He was determined to experiment with film making, because there was no way he could put a lid his restive genius bemoaning his lack f resources.
Satyajit Ray soon rose to fame like a Phoneix. His first film Pather Panchali (1955) based on a middle-class Bengali family won him eleven international awards. With this debut Ray had arrived in the international film-making arena. He wrote stories, their screenplay, music, and directed them to the minutest detail. Among his later day films are Aparojito, Apur Sansar, and The Apu Trilogy. His film Devi and Charulata are acclaimed as two of the best art films ever made anywhere in the world.

Satyajit Ray was a brilliant writer too, who could conjure up complex plots out of very ordinary situations. ‘Fritz’ set in a British-era rest house in a small town named Bundi in Rajasthan grips the reader’s attention till the last scene when it plunges him to a cauldron of fear, confusion, and chimera.

The story … The short story is set in a circuit house (a dak bungalow generally used by senior government officers for short stays). It is situated in Bundi, a small town in Rajastan. Two visitors, the author Shankar, and his childhood friend Jayanto have come to explore Bundi, and are put up in the guest house. Jayanto works in a newspaper office and the author teaches in a school. After so many misses, they have managed to get a time slot when they could go out on a journey together.

They are having tea in the circuit house. Jayanto appears lost in some thoughts. The author inquires to know what bothers Jayanto so much. He replies by saying that the faint memories of his first visit to Bundi are rushing into his mind.

Jayanto’s father Animesh Dashgupta used to work in the Archeological Department. His work brought him so many times to Rajasthan – the repository of India’s ancient monuments. Although he was a young child then, the sojourn to Bundi had not quite faded from Jayanto’s mind. The magnificent building stood still there. A few items of furniture he saw then are there too giving an impression of timelessness of the place. Jayanto becomes nostalgic as he recollects the tall rooms, the ventilators tethered to strings, the rose plants outside. The trees stood tall giving refuge to parrots and so many other birds. Jayanto remembered these vividly.

The two friends stepped out sightseeing. They go to see the famous fort of Bundi standing aside the hills. 

Time seemed to stand still in the Fort’s vicinity. Everything looked so antiquated, belonging to the bygone era. Only the electric pole standing by the road declared that the old times had yielded place to new age. In the old buildings along the roads, there were unmistakable signs of the old Rajputana’s fabled craftsmanship. The doors and the balconies had intricate designs made on them. The old golden age of master craftsmanship appeared to come alive.

Jayanto was an emotional man by nature. After he landed in Bundi, he seemed to be unusually quiet, and somewhat absent-minded. Perhaps, the sights and sounds of Bundi had stirred a delicate chord in his heart. Jayanto’s palpable sadness didn’t escape Shankar’s notice.

Jayanto reminisces about the large rooms and the over-sized chairs of the circuit house. He used to sit cross-legged on those big chairs. Now, everything seems to have shrunk in size. Shankar dispels his confusion by stating that he has grown in size over the years and that makes him feel so.

Jayanto and Shankar decide to take a stroll outside in the open. After a while, Jayanto seems to be struck by the memory of a Deodar tree that used to stand around that place. He looks somewhat bewildered, and looks around to find the tree. He finds it after a few moments and appears quite excited to discover the Deodar tree there.

Jayanto’s euphoria takes his friend by surprise. Jayanto fixes his gaze on the trunk of the tree and looks into it searchingly. He exclaims that he had an encounter with an European here. The author’s surprise mounts.

Jayanto struggles to recollect what really had happened then.

The two friends return to their room. Dilwar is there to cook food for the guests. Dilwar was red-eyed, with a scarred face, but in culinary skill, he was quite adept.

Jayanto had in the meanwhile re collected a fair portion of his faded memory – about the place and the ‘European’.

It emerged that Fritz was a doll brought from Switzerland by his uncle during his visit to a village there. Fritz was an one-foot tall Swiss gentleman attired in Swiss clothes. It look so real as a living being. The stuff it was made of rendered it very flexible and elastic. One could bend it or twist it at will.

Jayanto, as a child, took great fancy with Fritz. He treated the Swiss gentleman as his friend. Jayanto’s parents frowned to see their little son so attached to the doll. 

Shankar heard out his friend’s infatuation with the Swiss doll amusedly.

 Jayanto was however deeply engrossed in his memories of Fritz. A shocking tragedy befell Fritz. On one occasion, Jayanto had kept him on the floor while taking tea. For a moment, he had taken his eyes off the doll. A group of stray dogs came from nowhere and snatched the doll. They bit and dragged Fritz with savage force. Poor Fritz endured the excruciating pain silently. By the time Jayanto saw Fritz again just minutes later, Fritz had been ripped apart badly. He was scarred and bruised beyond recognition. With great disbelief and shock, Jayanto looked at his dear Fritz, and assumed he was dead.

Jayanto decided to bid his friend a final good-bye. He arranged to have him buried in the compound of the Circuit House, under a Deodar tree.

Shankar, now, realized why his friend was so agitated about speaking about the Deodat tree.

The two friends retired to their beds as the night deepened. 

The author slept off as he was tired after the long walk during the day. Sometime later, he woke up abruptly to find that his perplexed friend sitting on the bed. Apparently, he had switched the bedside lamp. Tension was writ large in his face. He didn’t answer to Shankar’s query.

Quite abstractly, he asked the author if the bungalow had small creatures like rats and cats. Jayanto had felt a small creature walking over his chest when he was asleep. This had woken him up. No doubt, he was frightened.

He told the author that this was the second time he had got up from his sleep. He had heard an unusual shuffling noise the first time. At this, Shankar looked around the room to spot the nocturnal intruder, but the search was futile. Jayanto was still disturbed. To prove his point, he showed his pillow that had some faint marks pointing to the fact that a small animal had walked over it.

Shanker felt his friend’s anxiety exaggerated. He told his friends some reassuring words to soothe his nerves. After a bit of coaxing and pleading, Jayanto went to sleep again, so did the author.

Next morning, they finished their breakfast by 9, and went to the fort. Jayanto again seemed immersed in his old memories of the place. He looked excited to re-discover the statutes of the elephant, the royal throne and the beds. All the while, he appeared a bit lost too. 

The two friends began to walk back very leisurely. After a while, Jayanto had quietly slipped and gone to the corner of the terrae. With a little effort, Shankar found his friend, but the latter seemed to be fully plunged in some thoughts. He stood absent-minded.

The two friends decided to return, although Shankar (the author) had wanted to stay in the fort a little longer. Jayanto was perturbed by some unknown thoughts. He was not at all his usual self.

Jayanto asked his friend persistently to tell him what lay behind his disturbed mind. After a of effort, Jayanto opened up. He told that Fritz, the long-lost doll, had come to their room the night before. He ascribed the marks on his quilt to Fritz’s footprints.

The author was beginning to feel annoyed at his friend’s irrational fear. He thought, he needs to be given some medicine to calm his troubled mind.

The author (Shankar) hit upon an idea that could dispel the fear of the ‘dead and destroyed’ Fritz from his friend’s mind. He felt exhuming Fritz’s remains from his grave would rove to his troubled friend that the doll had simply vanished into the oblivion. After thirty long years in contact with soil, everything of Fritz would have been eaten up. At the best, rusted and corroded remains of his metal buckle would be there. This should convince Jayanto that Fritz  is gone for good from the face f the earth.

The idea of exhuming Fritz appealed to Jayanto. With the help of the gardener of the bungalow, they went to the exact spot where Jayanto felt his Fritz was buried.

After not much digging, the gardener hit upon the obect the duo were so keenly looking for. But, a nasty surprise awaited them. What the gardener retrieved from the soil was not some rusted metal piece, but a tiny human skeleton of a foot length. It was so real, but so frightening. The two friends recoiled in horror in seeing a foot long human skeleton.

Disturbing thoughts rushed into the two friends like a torrent. Was Fritz a human who still yearned for Jayanto’s company?


Questions …

a. Why was Jayanto appearing so absent-minded during the trip to Bundi?

Answer .. Jayanto had lived in Bundi in his childhood days. During this period, he had developed an enduring relationship with the doll named Fritz. The two bonded very well, and Jayanto  treated Fritz like a real human being in flesh and blood and an endearing charm. The relationship ended tragically when Fritz was brutally shredded by a pack of stray dogs. Fritz was buried, but his memory clung to Jayanto’s heart. The visit to Bundi rekindled these memories leaving Jayanto engulfed with memories of Fritz. This was the reason why Jayanto looked so absent-minded.

b. How did the author try to assuage Jayanto’s mind during the night?

Answer .. The author rightly judged Jayanto’s angst about some nocturnal visitors to their room as un-founded and irrational fear. He tried to calm his friend’s nerves by reassuring him that nothing untoward had happened and there was little to lose one’s sleep on. The author looked around the room himself to see if indeed any creature had made his way in, and there was none. Even he toyed with the idea of giving his perplexed friend some tranquilizer tablets to enable him to regain his composure.

c. How the story comes to a bone-chilling end?

Answer .. The story was heading towards a lame end until the discovery of the remnants of the toy Fritz were exhumed. The author perhaps expected to see nothing except some rusted buckles or some such scrap. But, what was found was so outworldly and bizarre. The discovery of a tiny human skeleton from the grave of a supple-bodied doll was so horrifying and grisly. Was Jayanto right in treating Fritz like a living human? The question defied any answer.

 

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