The Chinese Statue by Sir Jeffrey Archer Summary

March 13, 2018 at 8:39 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Chinese Statue by Jeffry Archer

About the author … Jeffrey Howard Archer (born 15 April 1940) is a colourful personality who has hugged the British political and literary scene for decades. During his life, he has urchied from one scandal to another, but his fan following has grown with time. He was a Member of Parliament, then got caught up in a financial scandal, went to jail, jumped parole and again was thrown behind bars. But, strangely, non of these setbacks robbed him of his penchant for writing. He has written novels, and short stories with outstanding literary brilliance. Countless readers adore his work, and easily ignore the flip side of his life. Among his most popular works are Not a Penny more, Not a Penny Less, Kane and Abel, The Prodigal Daughter, Amatter of Honur, and many more.
The Chinese Statue grips the readers’ attention by its accurate depiction of Chinese art of deception, and the British love for the exotic Orient.
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The story … The scene is set at Sotheby’s, an auction house of considerable repute. Here, an antique Chinese porcelain statuette had gone under the hammer in the presence of a motley crowd of some serious and not-so-serious bidders. The item carried the number ‘Lot 103’. To apprise the bidders about the nature and source of the porcelain piece, the auctioneers had made available a fact-sheet about the item to the bidders. The brochure said that the statue had been purchased in China from a place called Ha Li Chuan in the year 1871. The owner, who sold off this precious item, was described as a ‘gentleman’, apparaently to hide the name of the aristocrat owner who had, perhaps, fallen in bad times. The ‘gentleman’ had likely been compelled to sell this family heritage item to get some money for his dire needs.
The author, seated amidst the bidders, was intrigued by this item’s lineage and decided to delve into its past to get a clearer picture of its origin and ownership.
Long time back, the antique statuette had been originally bought by Sir Alexander Heathcote, a diplomat-gentleman of great acclaim. He was a very fastidious person whose daily routine was set to the accuracy of a minute. His breakfast, taken exactly at the same time in the morning, had the same ingrediets in the same quantity. He reached his desk at the Foreign Office sharp at 8.59am, and left for home when the clock stroke six in the evening.
Second page .. Sir Alexander Heathcote had perhaps imbibed his penchant for punctuality from his father who was a General. The young Alexander joined the diplomatic corpse, and rose steadily from a clerk’s level through various ranks to represent Her Highness in Peking (now Beijing). For his kind of job, his punctual habits suited well. He had been an avid follower of Chinese art scene during the Ming dynasty. Perhps, this interest in China’s artisan history made Mr. Gladstone to offer him the top diplomat’s job in Peking. Sir Alexander was overly delighted.
After a two-month sea voyage, Sir Alexander arrived in Peking and handed over his credentials to Empress Tzu-Hsi in a traditional ceremony. The ceremony took place in the Imperial Palace where the Empress, standing in her white royal robe with gold embellishments, received the Ambassodor of Queen Victoria. Sir Alexander went through the ceremony with great finesse and aplomb.
When he was being escorted back by a Mandarin, his eyes fell on a disorderly kept collction of statues in the palce compound. Each of these pieces appeaed to be of beguiling beauty. Sir Alexander was clearly excited to notice these. The ivory and jade statues aroused his intense curiousity. It left his imagination awhirling.
Third page … Sir Alexander’s tenure in China was to end in three years. So, he lost no time on leaves. Instead, he went on a spree to explore the outlining countryside around Peking. Accompanied by a mandarin, he went on a horse back understanding the culture and life in China. The mandarin helped him to overcome the language barrier, and also to interpret the complex socio-economic landscape in his hst country.
On once such outings, he ran into a craftsman’s workshop in a sparsely populated village named Ha Li Chuan, about 50 miles away from Peking. With curiousity gripping his mind, he disembarked from the horse and ventured into the workshop that looked so primitive and pedestrian. There were ivory and jade pieces strewn all over. Notwithstanding the chaotic environment of the work place, the small artefacts looked mindblowingly exquisite. His mind yearned to acquire a souvenir as a memento. He was a tall man, and found it difficult to squeeze in his big frame into the inner portion of the workshop.
Sir Alexander could smell the aroma of Jasmine oil that wafted through the air. He was spellbound to see such a collection of precious art pieces. An old Chinese man, looking very ordinary in his very ordinary robes, stepped out to meet the distinguished visitor in a deferential manner. The Mandarin began to convey to the old artisan the fact that his boss wanted to look into the collection of the artefacts in the shop. The old man was more than polite in giving his eager assent. Sir Alexander feasted his eyes with the magnificent art pieces, and returned to the old man to say how pleased and taken aback he had been to see his work. The old man reciprocated the visitor’s appreciation with subdued glee and gratitude. He then ushered the visitor duo to an inner chamber which appeared so intriguing with its collection of miniature statues of emperors and classical figures. Sir Alexander was blown off his feet to see the marvellous pieces of rare beauty and perfection. A conversation ensued between the visitor and the master artisan, with the mandarin acting as the channel. The conversation had a generous component of Ming Dynasty’s rule in China. Sir Alexander was in his own turf.
Fourth page .. The old artisan proffered to show a statue belonging to the Ming dynasty that he said had been with his family for generations. Sir Alexander was only too pleased to hear this. Leaving the two men behind, the little old artisan ran to his tiny house nearby to fetch the statue. After a while, he returned holding the ‘Ming dynasty’ artefact close to his chest. His body language showed that he was in fact holding somethng very precious.
With gaping eyes, Sir Alexander looked intently at the six inch tall statuette. It was that of the Emeror Kung. Sir Alexander was thunderstruck. He cocluded that the piece belonged to the fifteenth century and the artisan who crafted it was Pen Q, who was patronized by the Emperor. Sir Alexander was flummoxed and nonplussed. The ivory base was missing, but Sir Alexander ascribed it to its antique past. Surprise, excitement and pleasure were writ large in his face. Standing at a distance, the old artisan saw his guest’s wonder, and was both happy and content.
Fifth page … Sir Alexander made no attempt to conceal his excitement. The little old man marked all this with subdued elation. While handing back the statutte to the artisan, Sir Alexander inadvertently blurted out, “How much I wish the piece was mine.” As a career diplomat, he must not have been so indiscreet to utter these words. In the next moment, he realized he had thrown all caution to the air and said this. But, by then, the Mandarin had translated the distinguished visitor’s wish to the old man. It was too late.
The old artisan looked pale as he handed over the statuette to his visitor. No amount of protestation by the diplomat could reverse the course of action. The old man beseeched his honoured guest to accept the item. Sir Alexander, befuddled momentarily, stood there unable to decide how to respond to the situation. He was both confused and perplexed at the turn of events. ‘Seeking a gift is a very un-diplomatic act,’ he thought.
Sixth page … The supplicant artisan proposed to fix a base to the artefact so that his guest could display it properly. From inside a chest full of bases, the old man selected a befitting one for the gift he was going to part with. Quite apologetically, he expressed his ignorance about the year of making of the base, but he assured Sir Alexander that it would be a good fit for the tiny statue of Emperor Kung. The British diplomat was overwhelmed with a sense of embarassment and guilt. He struggled to find words to thank the humble artisan.
As they headed back home, the diplomat was lost in thoughts. The Mandarin knew his boss’s predicament, and the feeling of impropriety that had overtaken him. To assuage his boss’s troubled mind, he told him about a Chinese tradition that made it imperative for the recipient of a gift to pay the cost of the item to the giver within a year of getting it. So, the dilomat had one full year to pay the cost of the rare artefact to the humble old man. By doing this, he could absolve himself of the moral turpitude that was haunting him for accepting the item from the stranger.
The Mandarin’s words brought instant relief to his master’s mind. As soon as Sir Alexander reached his office, he went straight to the well-stocked library to find some clue about the possible cost of the materpiece he had just come to posses. He did find a sketch of a similar statue, and its possible cost. But, the cost was almost astronomical. The amount equalled his three years’ salary! He went into a huddle with his wife to decide what to do next. The duo agreed that the amount had to be found and paid to the artisan. It meant that a large part of his savings would go to pay for the six-inch statuette of Emperor Hun.
Sir Alexander lost no time in asking his banker in Lndon to withdraw the required amount from his account and send it to Peking with the maximum haste possible. It took nearly nine weeks for the amount to reach Peking. Sir Alexander made inquiries from the Mandarin about the next course of action. The latter took a week’s time to furnish the answers.
Seventh page … The Mandarin delved into the ancestry of the artisan and dug up some interesting facts. The master craftsman’s name was Yung Lee, and he was the descendant of a long line of highly skilled craftsmen of Yung Shau fame, who all excelled in the art. It also emerged that the artisan Yung Lee’s ancesters had the privilege of having their creations exhibitted in the palaces of Manchu royals. Yung Lee, was planning to pass on the trade to his son, and retire to live in the hills in his dotage. That place had been the abode of his ancesters. With all these information, Sir Alexander felt reassured and happy. ‘The Mandarin had done a good job,’ he reasoned. He asked the Mandarin to go and seek an audience with the Empress on his behalf.
A few days later, the Empress’s permission was received.
Almost on the day of completion of the one-year period, the British diplomat, accompanied by the Mandarin reached the village, Ha Li Chuan, where the generous artisan lived. Sir Aexander quickly got down from his horse and went into the decrepit shed. He found the master craftsman seated on a bench and poring on his work. Initially, the artisan couldn’t recognize the visitor, until he got very close. As usual, he received his distinguished visitor with the utmost courtsey and humility.
Sir Alexander announced that he had come to redeem his committment to pay for the priceless artefact within the mandatory period of one year. The old artisan replied almost re verentially that he was indeed honoured to see his possesion exhibitted in the British embassy. Fumbling for words, Sir Alexander requested the old man to come with him for a short errand around the place.
Eighth page … Seated on donkey back, the three men headed towards the north. In about two hours, travelling along a narrow mud track, they reached the village Ma Tien where the craftsman’s workshop stood. There they met another Mandarin who very respectfully asked the trio to acompany him for a short walk. They reached a point atop the hill that gave a panaromic view of the vast plain below. In that small valley on the hill, they saw a beautifully crafted house. Two dogs made out of white marble guarded the house.
Till then, the escort who had brought the guests here didn’t know why they had come there. It was the turn of Sir Alexander to break the silence. Most humbly, he set out to offer the money he had brought towards the cost of the artefact he hdad received about a year ago.
At this, the craftsman, overcome with consternation, fell at Sir Alexander’s feet and begged him not to offer him anything at all, as it was against law to accept money from a foreigner for a piece of craft. The Mandarin intervened and helped the contrite old artisan to his feet. To remove misgivings from the old man’s mind, the Mandarin assured him that the Empress herself had approved the payment of the cost of his statuette to him by the British ambassodor. The oldman regained his composure. He appeared relaxed and somewhat happy. He paced towards the door of the house, and caressed the two marble dogs standing as sentries. The visitors spent about an hour inside the equisite house before returning to Li Chuan, the village of the artisan.
Sir Alexander returned to his quarters, content and relaxed. He had paid for the gift in the true Chinese tradition, and, most importantly, had obtained his wife’s endorsement.
Sir Alexander’s term in Peking was drawing to an end. He had discharged his duty with great aplomb, that got him the award of ‘Silver Star of China’ from the Empress, and the honorific ‘KCVO’ from the British Queen. Back in London, Sir Alexander retired from service and settled in his country home in Yorkshire.
Nineth page …. Sir Alexander lived his twilight years in his ancestral home. Giving him company were his wife, and the Chinese Emperor, albiet reduced to a stature of just six inches, and frozen in marble. Visitors saw the statuette and admired it. Its present owner got a fair share of the adulation for his fine understanding of antique’s intrinsic worth.
In his meticulously drafted will, he made elaborate mention of the way the statuette would be passed on from one progeny to his successor. ‘Only the first son or the daughter woud won it,’ he willed. He forbade its sale, unless under very pressing financial difficulties. Sir Alexander Heathcote breathed his last at the age of 70.
The Ming Emperor’s custody passed on to Major James Heathcote, the first son. He had seen action in the Boer War fighting at Her Majesty’s service. Although not an antique enthusiast, Major James felt the Emperor deserved to be exhibitted in the Regment’s mess in Hallifax. When Major James became Colonel James, he kept the Emperor on his table where the many trophies he had won in battles were so proudly exhibitted. On retirement, Col. James returned to live in his ancestral home where the Emperor also stood majestically. Col. James remembered very well that the artefact has to go to the next in the lineage.
Tenth page…… Col. James died peacefully at his ancestral home in Yorkshire. The family baton passed on to Reverend Alexander Heathcote. The Ming Emperor found a new pedestal. The Reverend placed it on a mantle in his vicarage. Not many paid much heed to the Emperor from China. In due course, the Reverend became the Right Reverend, and he moved to the Bishop’s quarters. In this new abode, the Emperor got many visitors to adore him. The visitors heard about the origin of the statue, the high cost the Bishop’s grandfather had paid for it, and the way the base was retro-fitted to the statue just before changing hands. In all, the Emperor got all the attention he deserved. In the opportune time, the Bishop made his will that made his son, Captain James Heathcote, the custodian of the precious heirloom in future. Captain James was the grandson of Sir Alexander. Like his father, he was a military man. Soon, the Emperor left the Bishop’s palace and found its way back to the Hallifax officers’ mess.
Sadly, Captain James fell in the battlefields of Dukirk. His premature death made his two-year-old son the inherior of the artefact. The young child’s name was Alex Heathcote. Unfortunately, he grew up to be a wayward and immoral person, in complete reversal of the family that gave the society men of such sterling character and distinction. Alex’s mother fawned over him, pandering to his demands. This spoiled the young lad even more.
Eleventh page … Alex was a nuisance at school, and had to leave it to avoid being thrown out. He was a spendthrift, and a reckless man. He owed money to many, who began to use coercive means to collect their dues. On one occasion, he received a stern call from his creditors to repay them six thousand pounds in a fortnight’s time. Somehow, Alex had to arange six thousand pounds. He mulled over the idea of selling the Ming Emperor. After all, his great grandfather had allowed its sale when the family’s honor was at stake.
He looked at the Ming Emperor with poignant eyes. ‘I am undone,’ he reasoned to himself. With the Emperor, he went to Sotheby’s where he thought he could get it auctioned for a good amount to pay off his creditors.
Twelveth and last page … The expert at Sotheby’s scrutinized the stauette and appeared to be initially appreciative of its worth. However, he said it would take a few days for the detailed examination of the artefact to be over. Till then, he reserved his judgement. Alex was pleased, as the estimate about its worth, if received before the 14-day deadline, could keep his tormentors at bay.
He called his creditors to tell them that the statuette is under evaluation at Sotheby’s and they could expect some good news before their 14-day deadline ended. The creditors agreed to wait. Deep in his mind, Alex paid his gratitude to his great grandfather.
After a few days, agog with an expectant mind, Alex headed to the Sotheby’s to get a sense of the windfall he was to get for the statuette. But, he was in for a rude shock. With a cold and indifferent expression, the lady at the counter told Alex that the artefact was a fake. It was just about two hundred to two hundred fifty years old. It could fetch something like seven hundred to eight hundred pounds at the best — a fraction of Alex’s debts.
Dejected and shattered, Alex began to head back home, contemplating to buy a gun to kill himself. He casually told the person at the counter to sell it off for watever it was worth. Curiously, the base was found to be a fifteenth century masterpiece.
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At Sotheby’s, the author was looking at this combination of a fake statuette fixed on a genuine base in Lot no. 103. He won the bid for the Emperor sans his base for seven hundred twenty guineas. The base was won by an American collector for twenty-two thousand guineas.
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Questions ….
1. Describe the haracter of Sir Alexander.
2. Do you feel the Mandarin serving Sir Alexander had a hand the way his master was fleeced?
3. Do you feel Yung Lee, the old artisan knew he was passing off a fake to the British ambassador?

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Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

February 12, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Dover Beach -Explanation stanza-wise
By Mathew Arnold
Introduction .. Mathew Arnold had written this poem possibly some time towards the middle of the nineteenth century. It was published in 1867.
The Dover Strait in the English Channel separates the United Kingdom from France. Dover is the English port, and its counterpart in the French shore is Calais. This two ports are the closest points between the two countries. The beach in the Dover Strait is a quiet retreat for lovers, thinkers and those with a contemplative mind. Unlike other beaches, small pebbles make up the bed. The sea water gushes past these rough stone pieces making a roaring sound. On moonlit nights, the beach looks particularly lovely.
Mathew Arnold had come to this beach with his young wife for honeymoon. The place, the moon light, and his young wife beside him, all combined to make the speaker thoughtful and somewhat pensive. This is why the poem suffuses with deep reflective thoughts.
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The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Meaning … The speaker describes the setting in rather plain words. The sea is quiet, tides are full, and the light from the French port city Calais is just gone off after shining for long. In the Dover side, cliffs make the backdrop. The poet asks his young wife to come to the window to breathe the fresh night air. Possibly, the couple live in a seaside cottage.

Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Meaning … He draws the attention of  his wife to the churning waters of the sea that rub against the pebbles casting them away in all directions. He feels spray-laden air, and looks towards the horizon where the sea meets the land. The sea emits a groan as it rubs against the pebbles. The water comes ashore, recedes, and repeats the back and forth motion incessantly. It seems it is ordained to do it over and over again with no respite. The darkness, the solitude, the towering cliffs, and the ceaseless groan of the sea water make the poet sad.

Sophocles long ago 

Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought 

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow 

Of human misery; we 

Find also in the sound a thought, 

Hearing it by this distant northern sea. 

Meaning .. The speaker’s mood is gloomy. He recalls Sophocles, the ancient Greek playwright who based is plays with a clear undertone of tragedy. Sophocles, while roaming in the beaches of the Aegean Sea, was underwhelmed to observe the relentless surge and retreat of the sea water.  For the philosopher-writer, the humans have to endure constant hardship, punctuated by short spells of happiness, as they live their lives in the world. The roar of the Northern sea appears to be a groan of pain that the sea never gets respite from.

The Sea of Faith 

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore 

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. 

But now I only hear 

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, 

Retreating, to the breath 

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear 

And naked shingles of the world. 

Meaning …. It needs to be understood that the speaker conjures The Sea of Faith as one all-encompassing swathe of water that once existed on earth. It is only an imagination, and a metaphor to describe the principle of ‘faith; that once guided the humans on earth. Like the receding of water in the ocean during the ‘ebb’ phase, ‘faith’ has suffered gradual erosion, and no more guides human in their lives. This has brought misery and gloom to the mankind. The speaker is saddened by this thought.

Ah, love, let us be true 

To one another! for the world, which seems 

To lie before us like a land of dreams, 

So various, so beautiful, so new, 

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, 

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; 

And we are here as on a darkling plain 

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, 

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Meaning ……The speaker now tries to cast off those depressing thoughts, and returns to his young wife at his side. He tells her that they should live like loyal, loving, and happy couples in the world that appears to hold so much opportunities for them. However, he cautions his wife that all these mean little when ‘faith’ is in the retreat and the environment is changing so fast. Perhaps, he was alluding to Britain’s fast-changing socio-economic climate. He thinks, the world has become a love-less, immoral, selfish, and materialistic place with no true lasting love between a man and a woman.

  He is perhaps alluding to an ancient battle where the invaders came charging at night. The darkness proved disaster where soldiers killed fellow soldiers, and confusion proved catastrophic. Without ‘faith’ and love, human existence has degenerated to the level where disharmony and discord bight human lives.

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ISC English Literature –Birches by Robert Frost — Explanation

February 4, 2018 at 8:57 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Birches by Robert Frost

Robert Frost (1874 –1963) was an American poet having his roots in New England. Ho loved Nature with great passion. He would walk in the country side for long hours reveling in the small things he saw along his path – the woods, the streams, the meadows, and the snow-capped landscape in winter. Frost saw what we all see when we roam around, but he noticed many things that we all miss. Frost discovered rare beauty in the ordinary things he saw. However, as he walked, his deeply contemplative mind took him through the many trials and tribulations of the mundane humdrum life. It is difficult to ignore the philosophical undertones, the sense of resignation, and the streaks of optimism in Frost’s poems. In ‘Birches’, the poet looks around the snow-covered landscape where the birch trees sway back and forth carrying their burdens of snow. They stoop, rise, bend, and yet they tenaciously survive the onslaught of the harsh winter. ‘Birches’ must be read and re-read as it bristles with life’s many lessons.
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The poem.. Birches are a type f trees seen in the cold northern areas of the Northern Hemisphere. Since Robert Frost lived in New England, and wandered around the area leisurely, he must have come across clusters of Birch trees. Winter brings down loads and loads of snow that weigh down the Birch trees. Wind blows relentlessly swinging the burdened tress back and forth. As Sunlight falls n the foliage, snow melts and drops off the leaves, temporarily bringing respite to the trees.

Meaning of first ten lines …

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice storms do. Often you must have seen them 5
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells 10

The poet surveys the woods. There are so many species of trees. His eyes fall on the bent-down birch trees.  In contrast, the other kinds of trees in the background stand erect. The poet wonders if this is the handiwork of some boys who have playfully tried to bend the trees. Soon he reasons that it can not be so, because the tree would spring back to stand erect again. ‘Obviously, the birches have bent down due to the snow storms,’ he concludes.

The weight of the falling ice has bent the birches down and frozen the leaves and branches making them motionless. When sunlight falls on the trees in a winter morning, the ice begins to thaw. The melting ice sparkles emitting reflection of different hues. It is a fascinating sight.

Meaning of lines 10 to 20…

Shattering and avalanching on the snow crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed 15
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun. 20

The half-molten ice crystals fall off the branches and collect on the ground. It seems like someone has swept broken glass pieces and gathered them in a heap. The pile of snowflakes get carried to the nearby fern bushes.

The birch trees, after remaining bent for long without breaking, can’t regain their erect posture after the ice load is gone. They assume a somewhat hunched posture. For long years they remain bent when their leaves from the upper branches grovel on the ground. Frost likens this sight to the way girls kneel forward on their hands to let their hair hang to dry. Such Birches stooped by the weight of ice storms can be seen all over the woods.

Meaning of the lines 20 to 40 …

But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter of fact about the ice storm,
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball, 25
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them, 30
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise 35
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground. 40

The poet is possibly lost in a momentary reverie. He thinks it would have been much more enjoyable to see a cowherd boy bending the birch trees for sheer fun. Even he imagines a rich man’s son from town coming to play baseball in the area. The lad could expend his energy in bending down all the birch trees in the forest. He could do it with no fear as the woods belong to his father. The boy would have immensely enjoyed overpowering the trees one by one, until he was done with all the trees in the forest. In his enthusiasm, the boy labouriously climbs to the upper reaches of a tree only to slip and slump on to the ground. However, the boy takes the mishap in his stride and bears the pain stoically. The poet’s imagination is in full view here.

Meaning of the lines 40 to the end ..

So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs 45
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May not fate willfully misunderstand me 50
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk 55
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

 

Frost reminisces about his young childhood days when he used to play with the birch trees. He becomes nostalgic thinking of those carefree days when life was so easy-paced and joyful. Now, he has grown up. Life’s cares constantly gnaw at him robbing him of innocence and happiness. The burden of adult life has weighed him down. He imagines, he is wading through a thicket of birch trees, when a twig rubs against his eye.

He yearns for his childhood days. He wants to bid adieu to this crooked unkind world, and be reborn as a child, so that he can enjoy life with gay abandon in the lap of the woods, the birch trees, and the countryside.

If this is not possible, he wants his wishes to be fulfilled at least by half. ‘This love-less, stressful world is not his place of living,’ he bemoans. He wants to be a child again, and climb the birch tree till its top where the branches can’t support his weight, and he slumps back on the ground with a thud. He could repeat this climb-and-fall ritual over and over again enjoying every moment of it. With a sense of resignation, Frost feels that nothing on earth can be better than this innocent fun.

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Civil Service essay — Budget 2018 –Farm sector expectations

January 21, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Budget 2018 — Can it bring any succor to the farmer

Distressed potato growers in U.P strewed their unsold produce in the vicinity of the Chief Minister’s quarters. Cotton and groundnut growers in Saurashtra region, reeling under the weight of a bountiful harvest and plummeting prices, stare down a tunnel of piling debts, no money for the next crop, and impoverishment at home. The question arises why in a country where per capita calorie intake is one of the lowest in the world, why and how a bumper crop causes such widespread distress. It has to be borne in mind that cotton, groundnut and even potato are not perishable commodities like fruits and vegetables. Obviously, the excess produce could not be bought from the farmers and moved quickly to large consumption centers in other parts of the country.

Prime minister Modi plans to take agricultural income to double its present level by 2022-23. It sounds so exciting to hear such grandiose thinking. With agriculture contributing 17% to GDP, such a quantum jump in farm income  is bound to spur GDP growth rate close to 10%.  But how can it be achieved in just about four years? NITI Ayog has come out with its set of policy revamps to achieve this objective. However, each of the steps NITI Ayog prescribes appear so daunting. Keeping aside all other problems, how will the glut resulting from high production be managed? Where is the buying power of the consumers to consume so much produce. Export is a possibility, but in most commodities, Indian farmers will find themselves utpriced by other countries. Will enhanced production lead to more acute farm sector distress and more farmer suicides?

Keeping aside the cynicism, let us examine the many issues that plague the agricultural sector today and how to address them.

What are the present government’s flagship schemes for the farming sector? .. These are

1.eNAM,

2. Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bhima Yojana, and the

3. Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayi Yojana.

All these initiatives did bring some benefit, but appear to have lost much of their steam. Fresh vigour has to be injected into them so that they don’t falter.

Falling commodity prices —The trauma of 2017 ..

Although India received 95% of the projected rainfall last year, the agricultural output growth, projected to be in excess of 4% fell below 2%. Well, this is for the planners and the statisticians. What hurt the farmers hard was the falling prices of Kharif crops like maize, arhar, moong, urad, soyabeen and cotton. The farmer, driven to distress sale due to sliding prices at the mandis, just managed to recover the input costs. The fall in income has broken their will and confidence in farming.
Policy flip-flop by the government in 2016 was largely to blame for this sad situatin. The government initially aggressively pushed the farmers to grow more pulses through policy pronouncements and announcement of higher MSP for pulses. When to bumper harvest reached the market, prices began to fall. Instead of mopping up the surplus crop through brisk buying, the government pegged its procurement of pulses at 2 million tons, way below the 20 million tons of stocks on offer. The crisis reached the farmers’ doors as cunning traders shoe-horned the farmers to distress sale counters. An inept government mechanism exacerbated the plight of the farmers saddled with unsold commodities and overdue loans. Curiously, even when the country had so much of pulses, the government allowed imports of the item. Some six million tons of pulses entered the market through this route.

The government did curb imports as the Kharif crop of 2017 was ripening, but the move was too late. The hike in import duty on soyabean was direly needed to protect the domestic growers from cheaper soyabean prices in the international market. The first hike of import duty to 12.5% was in fact announced in August, nearly three months ahead of September when the first soyabean harvest reaches the market. But, the hike was not enough, and the growers found it hard to get a lucrative price for their harvest. Expecting no reprieve from the government, they sold off all their stock by October. Pricing pressure posed by unbridled imports broke their backbones. Surprisingly, the government again hiked the import duty taking it to 30% in the last week of November, but by then, the damage had been done.
The traders, the horders, and the middlemen enriched themselves at the cost of the toiling farmers.
The Rabi crop of 2018 will enter the market in a few weeks. The government has this time hiked the import duty on Chanaa and Masoor to 30%. Although announced in December, it does not seem to have made any dent on market prices.

What can be done to address this recurring crisis?
The quick-fix solution to the quagmire is often assumed to be recourse to MSP. But, MSP is a deeply flawed tool to address farm sector woes. At best, it can work like a palliative for the farmer who has the debt-collector at the door, and a sick wife needing costly medical care. Implementing MSP for all crops across the country is a logistical challenge, and poses an awesome burden on the exchequer. Food has to be bought at high prices, held for some months, before it is sold at very low prices. The shortfall has to be made good by tax-payers’ money. The problem returns for the next season. The cycle continues. Buy at high prices, sell at low prices, collect the shortfall through taxes. It is time, we think of doing away with this expedient solution.

eNAM(Electronic National Agricultural Market) is a smart IT solution that can link the producer in any corner of the country to the seller at another corner through the internet. On the face of it, it looks like a modern day solution to an age-old malaise. However, the progress so far towards a pan-India roll out of this scheme has been very patchy. Apart from this, we all know that all agri products come in various sizes, grades, and looks. For a buyer to bid, he must inspect the item he intends to buy. In other words, a buyer in Nagaland has to come and see the mangoes being grown and offered in Tamil Nadu. Even if we get around this problem through electronically generated photos and quality certificates, how do we quickly move the stock from state to state? India’s road network is too primitive to take this additional burden.
But, all is not gloomy in this front. Already 14 states and some 470 mandis have come under the eNAM umbrella. What the government needs to do now is to bolster the e-NAM network through legislation and more funding.

2. Crop failures – another danger the farmer has to grapple with ..
Pest invasion, drought, inability to buy fertilizers, and climatic aberrations– all collectively hamper good harvest. Drought is a phenomenon on which man has no control, but covering all arable land under irrigation is not. If the canals run dry, the farmer can switch to drip irrigation, dig his own well, or cultivate crops that need much less water. All these are doable tasks, but it needs massive government intervention through loans, incentives, education, and lots and lots of field work by trained agricultural science graduates. Irrigation projects have stalled over the years due to lack of funds. Even the projects where only the last-mile linkage is to be done have stood incomplete.

Since independence, we have tried, but have managed to bring just 41% of our total of 160 million hectare of agricultural land under irrigation. Farmers in the rest of the areas are at the mercy of the rain god.
Another disturbing trend is the under utilization of the irrigation capacity created at such enormous cost. Due to some skewed planning, farmers fail to utilize the water flowing in the canals. This trend is worsening gradually. As regards micro irrigation, where the farmer creates his own water management scheme, the share of such facilities stands at a low of 12% of the total irrigation capacity created.

How grave is this issue of water shortage?…

By government’s own admission, nearly one third of India’s farm land routinely receive less rainfall. Coupled with is, droughts have begun to visit Indian farmers more often. We had droughts in 2001, 2002, 2014, and 2015. Back to back droughts are particularly destructive.

One way to insulate the farmers from the vagaries of monsoon is Insurance. The much tom-tommed Pradhanmantri Fasal Bhima Yojana has brought some succor, but it is far too little. Government statistics reveal that only 30% of the total crops were covered under the Inurance scheme last year. No doubt, it s an improvement over the figures for the previous years, yet there is nothing much to cheer with 70% farmers still left without cover. Settlement of crop failure claims are processed with no great alacrity, the survey process is opaque, and disbursement paraphernalia is too cumbersome for the illiterate farmers to contend with.  But, giving insurance cover to the whole farming community at affordable cost is a good idea. What is needed is a more robust, and efficient insurance coverage campaign, and an IT-enabled loss survey and claim settlement process. Private sector management expertise will deliver the goods better than the government bureaucracy.

The panacea for the water woes ..

The obvious solution is to expedite completion of irrigation projects in different stages of construction. Particularly, those projects where the last-minute linkage is pending must be fast-tracked. When presenting the 2016-17 budget, the Finance Minister had declared that 23 out of the 89 irrigation projects under execution will be given high priority (under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme, AIBP), so as o make them fully functional. Almost till date, these top-priority projects are far from being completed.

So, the attention needs to be on complete the on-going projects by infusion of more funds and vigorous monitoring.

There are so many other solutions that need much less government intervention, such as drip irrigation, ensuring reliable power supply to lift irrigation projects, discouraging water-intensive crops like sugarcane and certain varieties of paddy, encouraging cultivation of crops that need less water, encouraging farmers to dig collective ponds etc. etc. These efforts lack the necessary urgency at all levels f implementation.

Prime Minister Modi has built up an excellent rapport with his Israeli counterpart Netenyahu. Israel has the world’s best water management knowhow. Just as India has made impressive strides in developing solar and wind power through government initiatives, it would be a good idea to invite Israeli companies and water experts to invest their money and time in setting up model facilities in areas where water is so scarce.

Another idea, already discussed, but shelved, is to link the rivers. We can start in a modest scale by linking just two or three rivers, assess the impact and then proceed to link more rivers. This single step will banish floods and droughts, boost hydropower generation, give a fillip to inland water transport, and increase fishing activities. We need the Prime Minister’s bold leadership all these to come to fruition.

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(Materials for this essay are drawn from Hindu and QuintBloomberg)

VOCABULARY BUILDING FOR GOOD WRITING

January 19, 2018 at 7:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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You will find below a collection of common words and phraes picked up from today’s Hindu — the newspaper considered to the gold standard in English language journalism.
There are in all 13 words, and 14 sentences. You are to spot the right word/ phrase for the gaps in the sentences to complete them. One or two words have no sentences corresponding to them, where as one or two words have been used mre than nce for their different usages. This makes the task a little harder, but highly rewarding.

Take recourse to any good online dictionary to get the correct sense of the words / phrases.

You may send your answers to

broadbase.knowledge@gmail.com

You will receive your feedback within a day or two of your sending your answer.
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Hindu words January 19, 2018

Scoff, Synagogue,        Override,        To keep a close tab on,        Mole (not related to Chemistry),        Clandestine,       Classified,       Ward off, Prevail over,        Thump as verb,       To show someone the way,       Weary,          Decry
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1. While describing the gadget addiction of her son to the school teacher, the mother broke down. Clearly, she felt ——- about the matter.
2. All ———— documents in the Reserve Bank of India are kept securely in a huge iron vault with electronic lock.
3. After the convict heard his 10-year sentence, he gave a long, ——— laugh. He had no strength to look at his wife seated nearby.
4. The Pakistani spy used to meet the Indian army man in a ————– manner in a wayside dhaba dressed like truck drivers. The exchange of cash and secret maps used to take place there.
5. When the defence lawyer began to argue noisily with the judge, the latter had no option but to ———- him —————.
6. The doctor was ——– to see the patient’s unresponsiveness to even very strong antibiotics.
7. When the student suggested that a trench could be built around the school building to keep snakes away, the head master —— at the suggestion. Only a day after, a deadly cobra was found hiding in the file cabinet in the office.
8. The Jews maintain their ——— with far more care than we, Hindus, do for our temples.
9. After receiving an intelligence input, plainclothes policemen are ———————— on all strange-looking visitors to the Jagannath temple.
10. The angry manager ———– his fist on the table to describe how lack of punctuality in the office has affected working.
11. Terrorists keep packets of dates in their possession to ————- — hunger during their long secret missions.
12. Judges must not allow their political sympathies to —————– over their legal sense while deciding a case.
13. Kohli will like to forget the way South Africa ——- his side recently.
14. The Supreme Court has ——— the way some groups of people have resisted the release of Padmavati describing their intolerance as deplorable.

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ISC -ICSE Precis writing

January 16, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Write the précis of the following passage.

The passage …[253 words]

For centuries, people have been playing kicking games with a ball. The game of soccer developed from some of these early games. The English probably gave soccer its name and its first set of rules. In European countries, soccer is called football or association football. Some people believe that the name “soccer” came from “assoc.,” an abbreviation for the word association. Others believe that the name came from the high socks that the players wear.
Organized soccer games began in 1863. In soccer, two teams of eleven players try to kick or head the ball into their opponents’ goal. The goalie, who tries to keep the ball out of the goal, is the only player on the field who is allowed to touch the ball with his or her hands. The other players must use their feet, heads, and bodies to control the ball.
Every four years, soccer teams around the world compete for the World Cup. The World Cup competition started in 1930.
Brazil is the home of many great soccer players, including the most famous player of all, Pelé. With his fast footwork, dazzling speed, and great scoring ability, Pelé played for many years in Brazil and then later in New York. During his 22 years in soccer, he scored 1,281 goals and held every major record for the sport.
People in more than 140 countries around the world play soccer. It is the national sport of most European and Latin American countries. Soccer is definitely the world’s most popular sport!
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The précis …[93 words]
The British devised football’s rules. The name ‘Soccer’ is possibly related to players’ high socks or from ‘Association’.
Born in 1863, football is played with two rival 11-player teams who try to push the ball through the opposite goal post outflanking the goalkeeper. Except him, no one can touch the ball by hand.
The World Cup is staged once in four years.
The Brazilian football wizard Pele bewitched football lovers with his superb skill.
As the national game in Europe and Latin America, football, played in 140 countries, is world’s most popular game.

ISC – ISCE English language -Developing a story

January 14, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Wang wins his battle against the elements

Opening lines …. It was a particularly cold morning. The mercury had dipped to minus nine. In his ramshackle home in a remote Chinese village, Wang got ready to walk to his school some four and half kilometers away. No school bus, no parent to accompany him. No winter wear. No protective shoes. With grim determination, and steely nerves, Wang, with large parts of his tiny body exposed to the cold, set out with his school bag hung from his shoulders. His grandparents looked on pitifully till Wang, treading the winding mud track, vanished out of sight.
The ice crystals were gnawing at his exposed tender skin. Wang seethed in pain. But, he knew he had to reach the school, somehow. He summoned all his courage as he trudged along. The snowflakes had turned the landscape white. With no mercy they came down and impinged against Wang’s face. His hair soon turned white as the flakes clung to them. Wang was determined to make the distance because he had done his homework well, and wanted to see his teacher’s smile. The blood flowing in his veins seemed to freeze. His cheek turned pink, and his finger tips began to swell. The chill was foreboding, but Wang was defiant. After nearly an hour, the school building became visible. With sudden burst of energy, Wang quickened his steps and reached his school.
His friends gathered around him, amused to see his pink cheeks, and white hair. Little did they realize the grueling time Wang had gone through. They began to mock Wang for his strange looks.
Yes, he saw his teacher’s approving smile as she glanced through his answer scripts. She was soon overwhelmed by the ordeal Wang had gone through to make it to the school. But, in that remote impoverished corner of China, she could do little for Wang. However, she took out her smartphone, clicked a few photos of the frost-bitten Wang and sent it to her friends.
In a matter of hours, Wang’s photo had become a hit in China’s social media. Sympathy for Wang, anger against the government, and sweeping despair at China’s rural schools’ conditions were evident in the scores of messages that followed Wang in the media. The local Communist Party rushed winter clothing for all the students of the school, and arranged to upgrade its heating system.
Wang had won his battle against the cold, and the impoverishment that mark the life of countless Chinese students in the hinterland, away from the glitz and glamour of the bustling cities. He had long forgotten the warmth of his mother’s caressing hands. She had left him when he was barely a year old. Adversity, at times, brings its blessings. Wang had become stoic and stolid.
India, like China, has to look to its decrepit school infrastructure. Roofless schools, absentee teachers, no text books, and high drop-out rates blight India’s rural schools. It is time, the two countries begin to reverse the rot.
[Adopted from a recent BBC report]
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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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