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.

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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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Dream Children by Charles Lamb

August 18, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Dream Children by Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb(1774-1834) didn’t live long, but he made stellar contribution to English literature through his essays, short stories, and poems. His personal life was beset with many problems. A lunatic elder sister, a futile romance, and his struggle with mental illness didn’t, however, dim his creativity with the pen. He courted a girl named Ann Simmons for seven long years, but she broke his heart by marrying a silversmith. The broken affair cast a long shadow over Lamb’s life, and he decided to remain a bachelor for the rest of his life. His sister Mary, older than him by eleven years, was bit of a mentally deranged woman. In a feat of rage, she once impelled a kitchen knife into her mother’s chest, killing her on the spot. Charles Lamb, despite his meager earnings, never left his sister Mary t fend for herself. He took good care of her arranging for her treatment from time to time as she swung between normalcy and instability periodically. Even Charles Lamb had a six-week stint in a mental hospital to rid himself of his partial lunacy.
He worked for a living in East India House as a clerk. In his free hours he wrote his pieces.
Charles Lamb was fortunate to have literary icons like Samuel Taylor Coleridge as his close friend. Lamb poured out his grief to Coleridge through many pensive letters.

About ‘Dream Children’ ….Dream Children is a short that formed part of Lamb’s ‘The Essays of Elia’. Lamb wrote under the pen name of Elia. It is an autobiographical account of the author’s life that was riddled with so many tragedies. As the name of the story suggests, it is a ‘reverie’, meaning that it is nothing but a short day dream conjured by the author. The dream comes to an abrupt and sad end. Almost all characters are real except Alice, who is none other than Ann Simmons, who married another man leaving Charles in a sea of agony.

The characters .. Mrs. Field .. Charles Lab’s great grandmother
Uncle John … The elder brother of the author who was older than him by about 14 years
Alice .. An imagnary girl, through whose eyes Lamb saw her beloved Ann.
John .. A boy imagined by the author

Background to the story and Lamb’s character sketch .. Charles Lamb was undoubtedly a benign man. He bore his misfortune with remarkable fortitude. To see one’s mother fatally stabbed by one’s own sister for no great reason would devastate anyone. Lamb, too, was shaken by this grim tragedy, but, far from being vengeful towards his sister Mary, he strove to see that the minimum punishment was awarded to her. Later, he took Mary to the mental treatment clinic multiple times to nurse her back to normal life. Even Lamb had his bouts of mental illness followed by a short stay in a hospital. Although the girl he loved so much ditched him after seven long years, he showed no vengfulness. He dedicated his time, money and energy to serve his sister Mary. He chose to remain a bachelor —  a great sacrifice for such a talented young man.

Charles Lamb yearned to marry, raise a family and lead a full life, but fate ordained otherwise. Obviously, he loved children and must have spent countless nights pining for a wife, and his own children. This reverie bears testimony to the cravings of his heat and the trauma of his soul.

The story (A fictional one) .. In the opening lines, Charles Lamb finds himself surrounded by two lovely children, Alice and John. The duo pleaded with their father Lamb to narrate a story about his ancestors and his bygone days.

Lamb talks about his great grandmother Mrs. Field. She was a devout Christian and a woman of great piety. Due to her sterling character, a wealthy man had asked her to live like a caretaker in one of his sprawling villas in Norfolk. Field, lived in just a lonely corner of the huge use, but attended to the upkeep of the house with attention and sincerity.

The house had some connection to a horrible episode of a very cruel uncle who had smothered some children, sometime in the past. The details of this horrific massacre were carved as ‘ballad of the woods’ in the body of a wooden chimney inside the Norfolk mansion. Sadly, the owner of the house chose to have the wooden chimney replaced by a marble one. With the renovation, the wooden chimney was gone, so was the inscription of the tragic story.

Alice and John were listening to their father’s (Lamb’s) account with attention. Lamb spoke eloquently about his great grandmother Ms. Field. When she passed away, her admirers from far and wide converged on her house to pay their tributes.

After her death, the owner of the house had all the ornate fixtures and furniture removed to another house of his. These items ill fitted the new house, looking so incongruous, and out-of-place. John, listening to the story seemed to appreciate the fact that the decision to cart away the furniture to a new house had not been a wise one.

Ms. Field was a gifted dancer too. Unfortunately, she was afflicted with cancer, and her zest for dancing took a beating. This crippling disease, however, failed to diminish Grandma Field didn’t allow her spirits to droop. She was a brave lady who slept in a solitary room in the large house. Even John chose to sleep beside the maid to ward off fear. Ms. Field saw dreams, but there was nothing to fear. In the dreams she saw two babies with wings gliding down the stairs. The nocturnal visitors had no bellicose intent.

Ms. Field’s affection towards her grandchildren had still remained vivid in his memory. She allowed them a free run over the house garden that had fruit trees of many types. There were peach trees, nectarine and orange trees, and many others. The house had busts of Roman royalty, which Lamb loved to observe with interest. The visiting children didn’t pluck any fruit from the trees perhaps because they were advised not to. Hearing this account, Alice and John seated near their father desisted from partaking of the oranges kept before them. The story appeared to have a great sway over them.

Lamb told his listeners Alice and John that his brother John L (their uncle) was a handsome, well-built, and athletic young lad. He was the favoured grand child of Ms. Field. When other children roamed around in the mansion and the garden, John L would go horse riding to nearby woods. He lavished his affection on his younger brother (the narrator and the two children’s father). At times, John L would carry his younger brother (the narrator) in his back despite an injury in his foot. His death made the narrator very sad indeed.

Soon, Alice and John lost interest in the sad account of their father’s earlier years. They prodded him to talk about days of his childhood instead of going so far down the memory lane. Particularly, they wanted to hear about their mother.

Charles Lamb proceeded to name her. She was Alice W—n. The narrator held back the true name ‘Anna Simmons’. He rued that he had courted her for seven long years, but the romance and the effort were futile. He made no effort to conceal his dismay at her refusing to marry him. Just around this time, Charles Lamb, in the role of the father of his two imaginary children Alice and John, saw some uncanny resemblance n the faces of Ann Simmons and Alice. It seemed as though Ann as speaking to him through Alice.

At this point, the story takes an abrupt turn. Lamb wakes up from his sleep and finds himself lying on his arm chair. Curtains come down on the author’s lovelorn past. Hard reality prevails. Charles Lamb honestly states that James Elia, the author, no longer lives in this world.

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ICSE Poem Enterprise by Nissim Ezkiel

July 27, 2017 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Enterprise by Nissim Ezekiel

It started as a pilgrimage
Exalting minds and making all
The burdens light, The second stage
Explored but did not test the call.
The sun beat down to match our rage. 5

Meaning. A group of intellectually-oriented sets out on foot on a journey to explore the unknown. The author is one among them. The intrepid explorers are agog in excitement. The hazards of the journey, the wrath of the elements, and the perils of the unknown land they are venturing into do not deter them a bit. They are determined to overcome the odds to reach their destination. However, some way into their journey, they get to see the harsh realities of their voyage. The Sun’s scorching heat challenges the grit and doggedness of the itinerant knowledge seekers. The going gets tough. In other words, the vagaries of journeying into un-trodden terrain take its toll on the travelers.

We stood it very well, I thought ,
Observed and put down copious notes
On things the peasants sold and bought
The way of surpants and of goats.
Three cities where a sage had taught 10

Meaning .. The travelers were undaunted by the brush with the elements. In their travelogue, they noted down all the new things they encountered. The life in the countryside was interesting. The travelers saw the way the peasants traded in their farm produces. They also saw the curious ways of the serpents and the goat herds walking in the rural tracks. They pass through three cities where sages of great renown had given their sermons. What exactly they preached is all lost in time.

But when the differences arose
On how to cross a desert patch,
We lost a friend whose stylish prose
Was quite the best of all our batch.
A shadow falls on us and grows . 15

Meaning …. In their way, they come to see a desert. Traversing through it appears fraught. The members of the group argue over the ways to cross it, but can’t reach a consensus. A distraught member of the group brakes rank, and charts a different course for himself. He was a prose writer of great flourish – possibly the best in the group. His loss is painful. Hard times seem to approach the rest of the group. Things get worse. All round gloom sets in.

Another phase was reached when we
Were twice attacked , and lost our way.
A section claimed its liberty
To leave the group. I tried to prey.
Our leader said he smelt the sea 20

Meaning .. A difficult phase has begun. On their way, they are twice waylaid by bandits. In their effort to evade the thugs, The members of the group run in different directions. Soon, they lose their way. Misery befalls the group, as a few members decide to drop out and go their own ways. The group is thus further depleted. The leader of the truncated group tries to instill some optimism among the distraught members. He says, the sea (implying their final destination) is not very far off. He can sense it.

We noticed nothing as we went ,
A straggling crowd of little hope,
Ignoring what the thunder ment ,
Deprived of common needs like soap.
Some were broken , some merely bent. 25

Meaning .. Crestfallen and sapped, the members of the group trudge on, unmindful of the comrades. They have no hope, and no energy. The trauma of the past days has robbed them of all life and cheer. The hardly take notice of other calamities along the way. The thunder means no danger to them. Inured to the past sufferings, they have become surprisingly stoic. They have run short of even the basic necessities of life – like a cake of soap. Some are weighed down by the grind and the despair. They are virtually down on their knees.

When, finally , we reached the place ,
We hardly know why we were there.
The trip had darkened every face,
Our deeds were neither great nor rare.
Home is where we have to gather grace.

Meaning .. At last, they reach their destination. By then, they have endured so much misery that their senses have been numbed. They feel no elation, no exuberance. The satisfaction of finally making it brings them little cheer. The trip has inflicted untold misery on the members. They look so dull and emaciated. To add to their frustration, they find that their exploration, undertaken with so much sacrifice, was not unique. So many others had successfully undertaken similar ventures earlier.
The realization dawns upon the group member that home sweet home is possibly the best abode for humans.
[Additional notes, question-answers and analysis will be added soon.]

——————————–END—————————-

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The Merchant of Venice Act 3

July 27, 2017 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Merchant of Venice
Act 3, Scene 1

Salarino and Solanio get into a conversation. The prospect of Antonio facing an irreversible financial calamity cast a gloom on them. Salarino says he heard the news of one of Antonio’s cargo-laden ships running aground in Goldwin Sands in the English Channel. He was shaken by the turn of events.
Solanio dismissed this story as baseless speculation. He assumed that his honorable friend Antonio was too good and honest to deserve such a fate.
The duo hope that no more news of calamity would follow.
Around this time, Shylock, the Jew whom both the friends detest, enters the scene. He is still angry about his daughter eloping with a local Christian boy. Shylock seethes at the way his daughter whom he had brought up with such tender care deserted him so unceremoniously.
Salarino asks Shylock if he had ews of Antonio’s ships. Instantly, Shylock erupts into a venomous tirade against his debtor Antonio. He assumes Antonio’s default is imminent and he was almost certainly staring down a barrel.
Seeing the way Shylock bristled at the mention of Antonio’s name, Quite alarmed, Salarino asks if Shylock would insist on Antonio’s flesh if the latter indeed defaulted.
Shylock explodes with anger and revenge. He recalls how Antonio had caused business losses by giving interest-free loans and had humiliated in the Realto. He was a Jew, after all a human deserving the same dignity and respect which a Christian deserves. ‘Why did Antonio berated him so badly’, Shylock demanded to know. Jews were people of flesh and blood –the same material Christians were made up of. Jews experienced the same sense of pain and joy as Christians. So, why such discrimination?, the red-faced Shylock roared in disgust.
Just at that time, the servant enters to announce that Antonio was at his house and wanted to speak to the two friends, Solanio and Salarino.

Solarino seems to be on the look-out for Antonio too. Tubal comes in around this time. Solanio too mocks Tubal for his Jwish blood.

Solanio, Salarino, and Antonio’s servant exit.

Shylock asks Tubal if he has news about his daughter. The latter disappoints Shylock saying that he could get no information on hr whereabouts.

Shylock is heat-broken. His daughter has taken with her a costly diamond. The loss of this precious piece causes him immense grief. It robs salt on his mind’s wound. In desperation, he bemoans that he is enduring the curse all Jews have been collectively condemned to.

Tubal tries to assuage Shylock saying that misfortune befalls others too. He cites how Antonio is staring at very bad news at Genoa.

That instantly peps Shylock up. He is eager to know what has come on Antonio. Tubal says that one of Antonio’s vessels has suffered a shipwreck near Tripoli.

All feelings of despondency vanish from Shylock’s mind on hearing this. He is all charged up. His vengeful mind gets a shot.

Tubal tempers Shylock’s rejoicing by disclosing that his now disgraced daughter had spent eighty ducats in Genoa post her elopement. It was a princely sum for the miser Shylock. Again he relapses to his sullen mood.

Tubal has some news to cheer Shylock again. He says that a group of Antonio’s creditors have come to Venice to collect their dues from the now-distressed Antonio. The latter is staring at his ignominious bankruptcy.

Tubal discloses that Shylock’s daughter had pawned a costly stone-studded ring to a wealthy creditor of Antonio. The news shocked Shylock. It was a reckless act on the part of his daughter to give away his treasured possession like that, he reasoned.

Shylock was gripped by a feeling of indignation and disapproval.

In the midst of this calamity, Shylock found instant relief in Tubal’s account of Antonio’s ship capsizing. The news lifted Shylock’s drooping spirits. Tubal added the news of Antanio’s ship capsizing was true, as a few sailors who had escaped the disaster had vouched for it.

The news dispelled Shylock’s grief instantly. He rejoiced at Antanio’s misfortune. The fact that his bête noire was inexorably sliding towards penury and humiliation brought him instant cheer. He asked Tubal to go and get a police officer who could take Antonio to custody.

Basanio, Portia, Gratiano, and Nerissa enter with all their attendants, including a singer.

Portia advised Bassanio to do his utmost to win the contest set up to choose her husband. She was enamoured of him, and wanted him to win the contest. She advised him not to hurry and make a mistake. Instead, he should pause for a day or two, and make a judicious, winning choice. So strong was her urge to have him that she even toyed with the idea of giving away the secret to the riddle, although it meant breaking the oath of not divulging it to anyone under any circumstances. But, she managed to rein in her wild impulse for such an unethical choice. Instead, Portia decided to prod Bassanio to exercise enough diligence to hit the right choice and win her in a fair way.

Quite unabashedly, Portia let Bassanio know that she had already succumbed to him, and couldn’t think of a life without him. But, she rued that she had no freedom to make her own choice about her life.

Portia’s doleful outpourings pierced Bassanio’s heart. He could wait no longer to go for the choice-making decision that would settle the duo’s destiny.

On being questioned by Portia, Bassanio reiterates his love for, and the fire of passion that is burning inside him for winning her.

Portia makes light f her lover’s commitment.

Bassanio skirts any frivolous comment from his lady love. He says that he can wait no more as the delay seems to consume him bit by bit.

Portia finally gives her nod to Bassanio’s request to let him try his luck. She asks Nerissa and other attendants to clear the area. She wants some music to be played to mark the solemnity of the occasion. In the event of Bassanio making the wrong choice and losing her for good, thye music would be assumed to be the Swansong for Bassanio. She would then cry so much that her tears would turn to a stream in which the Swan could swim. Portia used these metaphors to portray the angst and suspense that had gripped her mind at that time.

On the other hand, if Bassanio made the right selection, and won Portia’s hand, the music must reflect the joy and jubilation of ‘victory’, and be akin to the martial music played during the coronation of a king.

Prodded by Portia, Bassanio steps forward for the ‘ultimate’ gamble that could either ruin or enthrone him as her heart’s monarch.

He looks dignified, and petty much surefooted. Portia’s mood is expectant. She says, “Go, Hercules! If you survive, I’ll live. I’m more anxious watching you fight than you are in the fight itself.”

A musical interlude follows.

Bassanio is circumspect. He is in a contemplative mood. He thinks of many examples where deception leads to disaster. He thinks of a really good book bound by a frayed cover. He thinks of dishonest men lying before a judge hiding their perjury with sweet voices. Even pious men resort to falsehood to make their points. So, reasoned Bassanio, the world can be treacherously deceptive. Bassanio reflects on the beautiful beaches that hide danger under their belts. He thinks of the heavily made-up women and the jeer they face. Like this he made up his mind not to fall a prey to the look of things. The gold casket, thus went out of contention. Quite judiciously, he scorns the silver casket thinking silver to be too commonplace. He thinks the lead casket would be a good choice

Portia is gripped with uncontrolled torrent of emotion. She feels disconcerted and very edgy. She makes efforts t remain calm, so as not to distract Bassanio.

Finally, Bassanio makes his choice. He opens the lead box. Inside it there is an immaculate portrait of Portia. The painting looks breathtakingly beautiful, almost true to life. Bassanio is dumbstruck with the exquisite picture of Portia he gets to see. He reads..

“You who don’t judge by looks alone,

Have better luck, and make the right choice.

Since this prize is yours,

Be happy with it, and don’t look for a new one.

If you’re happy with what you’ve won

And accept this prize as your blissful destiny,

Then turn to where your lady is,

And claim her with a loving kiss.”

Most graciously he begs the woman of her dreams to declare that she finally belongs to him.

Indigo by Louis Fischer Class XII CBSE

July 23, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Indigo by Louis Fischer

About the author … Louis Fischer (1896-1970) was a prolific writer who wrote highly acclaimed books on Gandhi and Lenin. He fought in the British army during the First World War, and as a journalist, lived through and reported about the Second World War, and the epoch-making rise of the Soviet Union. He was a Jewish American who was greatly influenced by Gandhiji’s use of non-violence and spiritualism as political tools. He observed Gandhiji’s work to fight the cause of the voiceless, downtrodden Indians who reeled under the rule of the indifferent oppressive colonial British rule. ‘Indigo’ is one of the many episodes of Gandhiji’s long political struggle. Fischer reported these tumultuous events very succintly for the American press.

The story …..

An encounter with a non-descript Indian brings Gandhiji to Champaran’s cauldron of woes and exploitation.

Louis Fischer happened to meet Gandi in the Sevagram Ashram in 1942. During a conversation, Gandhi told the author how the idea to ask the British to leave India dawned on him way back in 1917.
The annual convention of the Indian National Congress was going on in Lucknow. Scores of delegates from all over the country had come to the venue. Some visitors from abroad were thee in the audience too. A man looking pale and drawn came up to Gandhi and urged him to visit his home place Champaran, a place in northern Bihar. Apparently, he had a grievance and wanted Gandhi to see it first hand.
The man was Rajkumar Shukla, who had been a share cropper by tradition, not by choice. He was illiterate, and so voiceless. Although he languished under the exploitative Land lord-tenant farmer system, he was powerless to fight back. But, the voice to rebel burned alight in him and he was determined to stand up to his tormentors. When someone suggested him to approach Gandhi, the poor Rajkumar Shukla made up his mind to approach the perceived messiah, Gandhi. That is how, he was there standing before Gandhi.

Ganghiji’s altruism, character, and charm seemed to cast a spell on Rajkumar Shukla. He followed the leader to Cawnpore and many other places of India, and finally to the Sabarmati Ashram. He beseeched Gandhiji to fix a date to visit Champaran. Rajkumar Shukla persisted in seeking Gandhiji’s nod to make him visit Champaran. Finally, Gandhiji relented and told Rajkumar Shukla that he would be in Calcutta on a certain date, from where he would have to escort his leader to Champaran.

A few months elapsed. Rajkumar Shukla finally met Gandhiji in Calcutta. As usual, Gandhiji had a hectic schedule, but Rajkumar waited doggedly till his leader was free. The duo made a train trip to Patna to meet a lawyer named Rajendra Prasad. [This lawyer later rose to be the President of India.]

Rajendra Prasad was out of town. His household staff knew Rajkumar Shukla as a regular visitor to the lawyer. He was a litigant deeply involved in endless legal battles pertaining to share cropping disputes. They allowed Rajkumar to stay there in the house till Rajendra Prasad returned. Gandhiji, too, was allowed to stay, though condescending manner. Little did the housekeepers know that that had such a distinguished guest with them. Thinking Gandhi to be one from the untouchable  class, they forbade him to draw water from the well, lest a drop from the bucket contaminated the whole well.

From there Gandhiji decided to go to Muzzafarpur first to collect more first-hand information about the plight of the sharecroppers. He sent a telegram to Acharya Krpalini who taught in the Muzzafarpur Arts College. Gandhiji’s acquaintance with Prof. Kripalini had started when they were together in Tagore’s Shantiniketan School.

Their train arrived in Muzzafarpur on April 15, 1917. Gandhiji was duly received at the station by Prof. Kripalini and a large group of students. Later, he stayed at the house of Prof.Malkani, who taught in a government school. Gandhiji was overwhelmed by the hospitality and courage of his host. During those days, any one openly extending patronage to a anti-colonial rule invited the wrath of the authorities. Such threats didn’t deter Prof. Malkani from extending hospitality to Gandhiji.

News of Gandhiji’s arrival and his mission spread like wild fire in Muzzafarpur  and Champaran. The peasants were agog with excitement. They poured in from all directions to see Gandhiji.  Quite a few lawyers who had taken up the cases of the sharecroppers came to brief Gandhiji. All looked upon him as a one-man army who could bring them deliverance from the age-old suffering and oppression.

The abject poverty and impoverishment of the indigo sharecroppers overwhelms Gandhiji.

Gandhiji was struck by the gloom and helplessness of the peasants. He pulled up the lawyers for  charging fat fees from the distressed share croppers. He knew the landlords had both money and muscle in their side. The law courts could do little to bring justice to the peasants when the dice was so heavily loaded against them. A poor peasant simply couldn’t stand up to the clout and might of the landlord. Fear of the landlords and the administrative set-up was so pervasive. As the first step of the journey to undo the wrong, the peasants must collectively banish ‘fear’ from their minds, suggested Gandhiji.

The avarice of the British landlords, and a compromised justice system perpetuate peasant distress.

A handful of English landlords had managed to usurp the vast arable land of Muzzafarpur. The peasants toiled in the sprawling farms of their British landlords. Indigo was the cash crop of Muzzafarpur. As per a one-sided contract thrust on the peasants by their colonial landlords, the poor farmers had to grow indigo in 15% of the land leased to them. The entire harvest of Indigo had to be given up to the British landlords. The decades-old contract perpetuated exploitation and the resultant poverty. With Englishmen as judges, n great victory could come for the peasants in their legal battle against Englishmen landlords. It was a lost cause for the peasants.

Synthetic Indigo of Germany makes Bihar’s farm-grown indigo un-remunerative — a revolution in the offing

An innovation in far-away Germany brought the days of gloom right to the peasants’ door steps. The Germans succeeded to make synthetic blue. In one stroke, they managed to push the farm-grown blue out of market. The Englishmen owning the lands lost interest in Indigo farming. However, instead of freeing the farmers from the contracts gracefully, they demanded money from the sharecroppers to release their lands. It was clearly an atrocious demand. The peasants, already enfeebled by years and years of exploitation couldn’t garner the amount demanded by the colonial landlords.

Gandhiji arrived in Champaran when the whole district was simmering with discontent. The Englshmen had managed to smother any open show of defiance. Gandhiji, being a trained lawyer himself, thought it roper to ascertain facts from the other side first. He went and met the secretary of the British Landlords Association. The secretary skirted any query from Gandhiji maintaining that the latter was an outsider. ‘I am not an outsider’, quipped Gandhiji.

Gandhiji receives a cold welcome from the local British administrators.

Then he went to meet the British Commissioner of the Tirhut Division under which Champaran fell. The Commissioner was rude and evasive. Even he ordered Gandhiji to leave Tirhut with no more delay.

Gandhiji didn’t heed the Commissioner’s dictat. Instead, accompanied by a n entourage of lawyers, he proceeded to Motihari, the capital of Champaran. He began to ascertain facts n the fied. Staying in a house, and using it as a base, he began to collect facts and see the trail of misery the share-cropping system had left. He came to know that in a nearby village, a peasant had received some heavy-handed treatment from the authorities. He decided to see him.

Mounted n an elephant, he made his way to the village. A messenger of the British police cmmisioner pulled up from behind and accosted Gandhiji asking him to accompany him to his office. There the police official served an order on Gandhiji that asked him to leave Champaran forthwith. Gandhiji received the order formally, but wrote that he would disobey the same.

Gandhiji faces the law, but refuses to be cowed down.

Gandhiji received a summon from the court to appear before it the next day. This was the first time the British-trained barrister was facing the long arm of colonial law. Gandhiji was distraught, but determined. He remained awake the whole night. He summoned his lawyer-friend Rajendra Prasad to come to the court with some of his influential friends. Through a telegram, he kept the Viceroy posted of the goings-on in Champaran.

Unprecedented support from the peasantry and a resolute Gandhiji  confound the British administration.

Showing solidarity with their beleaguered benefactor, scores and scores of peasants converged around the court area. Little did they know that their leader had returned from South Africa after waging a successful peaceful battle against the oppressive white colonial powers. All that they knew was that their tiny-framed ordinary-looking was confront the might of the British. They wanted to extend their support to him. For Gandhiji, it was the first successful mobilization of the public for an anti-colonial cause. The turn of events in that small remote town Motihari on that day would mark a watershed in Indo-British history.

Gandhiji was polite, but firm. While he helped the British police to control the surging crowd, he didn’t extend any help to the British prosecution team. To them, it was the first demonstration of the will and ability of Indians to stand up to the colonial might.

The unexpected situation caught the prosecution off guard. Apparently, they needed to consult their superiors as to handle this gritty and defiant challenger. They asked the Judge for postponement of the cse. Gandhiji immediately protested.

In a written statement that he read out before the judge, Gandhiji admitted his guilt as a ‘law-breaker’. At the same time, he maintained, he was doing his duty to ameliorate the suffering of the vast mass of peasants so grievously wronged by the British landlords. He was doing ‘humanitarian and national’ service for which he had come to Champaran. He told the court that he was caught in the ‘conflict of duties’.

Gandhiji opts to go to jail.

Gandhiji, stood still in the court, asking the judge to inflict whatever punishment the law prescribed for an offender who breaks the law. He said, he had no desire to break the law, but he must never ignore what his conscience dictated.

It was a piquant situation for the judge. He told the defendant that he would pronounce the verdict in two hours. For this short period, Gandhiji must submit a bail bond, said the judge. Gandhiji flatly refused to sign any such bond. Determined to endure the worst ignominy, Gandhiji was determined to take the might of law, head-on. The judge reflected for a while, and restored the liberty of the accused, provisionally. He said, he would need a few more days to pronounce his final judgment.

A battery of local lawyers gather, but fear to take on the law.

A galaxy of eminent lawyers had come to the court from all corners of Bihar. The legal team included Rajendra Prasad, Brij Kishore Babu, Maulana Muzharul Huq, and a few others. They spoke to Gandhi. Gandhiji wanted to know what they would do if the authorities did jail him. The lawyers said, quite foolishly, that they would go home as there would be no one to defend.

Gandhiji wanted to know what would happen to the cause of the share-croppers. The lawyers withdrew to hold discussions. As Rajendra Prasad recorded later, he told his colleagues that Gandhiji was a total stranger to the area. He had come there to fight a cause which most of them fought in the courts with negligible success. In such a situation, it would be utterly selfish to abandon Gandhiji to his fate and retreat. It was morally indefensible.

Rajendra Prasad intercedes and makes the lawyers to listen to their conscience.

Chastened by Rajendra Prasad’s reprimand, the lawyers returned to Gandhiji to tell him that if need be, they would follow him to the jail. Such show of comradery encouraged Gandhiji. He exclaimed, “The battle of Champaraon is won.” He took a piece of paper, and jotted down the names of the lawyers in pairs. This was the sequence in which the lawyers would court arrest and go to jail.

The Lieutenant-Governor drops the charges.

Some days later, Gandhiji received an order that said that the Lieutenant-Governor had ordered the case against him to be dropped. It was the first successful experiment of civil disobedience as a political tool. A great idea was born in modern India.

Gandhiji asks hard evidence of injustice to be gathered through field work.

What followed was a massive exercise in evidence gathering. Lawyers fanned out to their respective areas to meet the aggrieved peasants to record their depositions. Some ten thousand peasants were covered under this exercise. The peasantry in the whole district was electrified, and quite expectedly, the British land lords were very infuriated.

In June, the Lieutenant Governor Sir Edward Gait summoned Gandhiji to his office. Before leaving for the meeting, Gandhiji confabulated with his trusted confidantes to decide how the campaign could go on in the event if the LG’s ordered his detention.

Gandhiji holds parleys with the LG, and a fact-finding commission is set up.

Gandhiji held detailed meetings with Sir Edward. It was decided by the later that a commission of enquiry would be constituted to go into the grievances of the share-croppers. The commission had British land-owners, government functionaries, and Gandhiji as the sole representative of the downtrodden and dispossessed indigo growers.

Gandhiji had to stay for as long as seven months in Champran for the Commission’s work. Later, he had to return to Champaran several times in course of this work. Thus, a reluctant meeting in Rajkumar Shukla culminated in a long-drawn commitment of Gandhiji – the crusader.

The British concede, but haggle over compensation amount.

So meticulously was the evidence gathered , and so morally reprehensible was the landowners’ stand that the colonial landlords thought it wise to give up their rights and monetarily compensate the aggrieved peasants. Protracted negotiations followed to arrive at the quantum of compensation to be paid to the peasants by their masters. The negotiation made little headway with the British landlords didn’t cede any concession. Gandhiji reduced the farmers’ demand by 50%.  Yet, the other party haggled and haggled. Finally, they offered to pay 25% of the original amount, expecting Gandhiji to bargain further. To their surprise, Gandhiji accepted the offer bringing the long negotiations to a quick end.

A small victory for Gandhiji, but a giant stride towards eventual freedom..

For the first time, the Indian subjects of the British Empire realized that their colonial masters can be called to justice for their wrongdoings. They couldn’t do illegal things with impunity any more. For Gandhiji, it was a symbolic victory that set the stage for grander struggles in future.

Within the next few years, the British landlords relinquished their rights over their vast estates. The peasants got back their lands. Curtains came down on Indigo farming and the exploitation that went with it. Gandhiji stood vindicated.

The tryst with the Indigo farmers had shocked and saddened Gandhiji. Their backwardness and prejudices appalled him. For Gandhiji, combating such backwardness was perhaps more urgent and important than fighting for victories in the political arena.

The darkness of Champaran’s backwardness and deprivation stares Gandhiji in his face. He decides to act.

Quite clearly, Gandhiji realized that the masses needed to be educated first, as illiteracy seemed to blight the entire population. For this, he needed volunteer teachers – a whole army of them. Mahadev Desai and Narahari Parikh came to join him, along with their wives. Heeding the call of Gandhiji, many more volunteer teachers came from far off places like Bombay, Puna  etc. Mrs. Gandhi, and their youngest son Devdas joined Gandhiji in this campaign to bring literacy and light to the dark Champaran area. Kasturba taught the students the discipline of the Ashram, and the ways to keep clean.

The next daunting task was the pervasive illness of the people. A doctor joined him torender free service for six months. There were just three very basic medicines —  castor oil, quinine, and sulphur ointment. For patients with coated tongue, castor  oil was given, Quinine was given for malaria patients and sulphur ointment was administered to those with skin eruptions.

The next unpleasant sight that evoked Gandhiji’s attention was the tattered dirty clothes of women. On being told by Gandhiji, Kasturba went to speak to the womenfolk. One woman escoerted her to her hut and told her that the sari she wore was her only possession, and she had no cupboard or almirah to store anything. The poverty was stark and shocking.

From his camp in Champaran, Gandhiji maintained his superintendence of his Ashram through letters that carried instructions. He kept an watch on the accounts too. On one occasion, he asked the existing latrine pits to be abandoned and new ones built to avoid the old ones getting filled up and smelling foul.

Small success in Champaran’s camp gives Gandhi a big boost.

The brush with poverty that shrouded Champraran and most parts of India spurred Gandhiji to action. The small experiments he conducted to fight illiteracy and disease filled him with confidence. He became convinced that Indians can take the reins of their destiny onto their own hands, and the British couldn’t lord over them.

What triggered the Champaran experiment was not the urge to defy the Colonial rulers. Instead Gandhiji wanted to bring succor and justice to the downtrodden exploited Indigo farmers. Gandhiji realized that politics can’t be excluded from the efforts to dispel illiteracy and social backwardness. Lofty political goals must be pursued hand in hand with efforts to address mundane issues.

Gandhiji was a great motivator, and a team-builder. With relative ease, he managed to build a large group of inspired volunteers.

Gandhiji decides to do without Andrews’s help.

Charles Freer Andrews was an Englishman. He was a pacifist who found great convergence in his and Gandhiji’s idealisms. Some inmates in Gandhiji’s Champaran camp wanted Andrews to stay with them to bolster their struggle against the British. Gandhiji surned the suggestion saying that their cause, being so justified, didn’t need an Englishman’s involvement as an enabling tool. He let Andrews proceed to Fiji on his work.

Self-reliance and yearning for freedom are the two sides of the same coin– Gandhiji realizes.

Later, while writing on Gandhiji, Rajendra Prasad so rightly commented that the Mahatma had correctly judged how self-reliance was key to the people’s efforts to seek deliverance from so many scourges that enfeebled them. 

Like this, the lamp of self-reliance burned with the sharecroppers’ cause as oil.

————————-END——————————-

Letter writing —Complaint about poor bus service

July 23, 2017 at 2:44 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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From
Name of writer …
H.No. 565
Rajinder Avenue
Ludhiana
                                                                                                                                 June 21, 2017
To
The Chairman
Public Transport Association
Amritsar

Subject – Regarding the deplorable condition of the public road transport services in Ludhiana

Sir,

At the outset, I must express my gratitude to you for keeping the buses of your Corporation running in Ludhiana. This cost-effective public transport is a boon to the general travelling public.
However, the services have deteriorated in recent years. reached an can be greatly improved through diligence and motivation of the staff. The complaints of the commuters are mainly with regard to poor punctuality of the buses, bad condition of the seats, rude behaviour of the staff, frequent accidents, rash driving and high emission of black obnoxious gases. So appalling is the condition that the passengers have come to dread going in Corporation buses as an ordeal.
Nothing can be achieved in only complaining or letting matters drift further.
By procuring some more new high-tech buses that run on gas instead of diesel, many of the above-mentioned problems can be addressed. Additionally, through a system of reward and punishment, the conductors and the drivers can be motivated to behave responsibly, and show courtesy to old people and children.
The buses that have already run for more than 10 years can be discarded in phases. The rest can be refurbished to get more comfortable seats and better interiors.
Ludhiana is a bustling industrial city which is a pride of India. It should have a befitting public transport system. I can assure you that the public will enthusiastically support you if you take suitable steps to make bus travel comfortable, safe, and popular.

Thanking you,

Yours sincerely,

The Rat Trap ICSE Class XII

July 19, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Rat Trap

Introduction This story by the Swedish story teller Selma Lagerlof has an ending that can silence even a diehard cynic to look within and rediscover the sparks of goodness and compassion that lie under a heap of frustration and negative emotions. In a way, the act resembles the benignancy of the Bishop in Victor Hugho’s Les Miserables. A drifter with no shelter, no steady earning is the protagonist of the story. Through his misery and humiliation, he brings into light the innate goodness of humans, no matter how harsh or kind fortune has been to them.

The story … A tramp scratches a living by making and peddling rat traps. So measly is his earning that he can ill afford to buy the wires needed for the rat traps. He scrounges them from shops and farms. The rough and grind of this mundane profession often pushes him to small acts of stealing. In the eyes of the society, he is a misfit, a petty criminal.
The tramp trudges on along the street, lost in his thought of despondency and resignation. One day, while reflecting on his miserable fate, a delusory idea struck him. He felt, the whole world is a huge rat trap. Humans, drawn by its comforts and joy, enter it, only to be trapped inside for life. For these captives, misery and sorrow become a part of life. There is no deliverance for them. The rat trap is a world in miniature. The rats, enticed by the bread crumbs and sausage bits inside, enter it to find the door shut on them. What follows for them is incarceration leading to death.
The tramp drew comfort from this intuitive thought. ‘After all, everyone in the world is doomed, like him’, he concluded. The thought proved to be a boon for him, as it came to his rescue when the cruelty of the world proved to be unendurable.
One day, when darkness had descended on earth, he found himself walking alone in the cold lonely road. He had nowhere to go. His eyes fell on a roadside grey cottage. With heart alternating between trepidation and hope, he knocked at the door. He was mentally ready to be rudely turned away, but a very pleasant surprise awaited him. The owner of the cottage was a lone old man with no wife, nor children. He ushered the tramp in despite his shabby looks. The host was happy to see a companion for the night with whom he could chat his loneliness away. The tramp was relieved to see a welcoming host. The deadly prospect of waiting out the cold night outside had gone.
The host was charming and friendly. He offered his tired guest hot porridge, other items of food and tobacco to fight the cold and revamp his tired limbs. It emerged that the cottage owner had worked in the nearby Ramsjo Ironworks during his youth. After retirement, he made his living by rearing a cow and selling its milk. Quite proudly, the host showed the three ten-kroner notes he had collected on selling the milk. The cottage owner had pulled out the three notes from inside a leather bag that he hung from a nail fixed on the wall. The glass pane below made the bag visible from outside.
The duo sat down to play cards till bedtime. For the tramp, nothing could have been better, but he had clearly marked the position of the leather bag and how only the glass pane separated it from outside. It was a sinister gaze.
Next morning the two men got up early. The guest hurried to milk his cow, locking his house. The tramp said a warm goodbye and left on his errands. The garland of rat traps hung from his shoulders.
Now, the Devil gripped the rat trap peddler’s mind. In half an hour, he retraced his steps, returned to the house where he had rested so comfortably the night before, and decided to give full play to his thievery instincts. He broke the glass pane, put his hand inside, clutched the three ten-kroner notes from inside the hung bag, and decamped swiftly. No regret, no remorse came to his mind. He had made a princely sum of thirty kroners.

The tramp was unrepentant for having robbed his kind host. Instead, he felt a sense of accomplishment. He knew the crofter would soon find out the loss and would call in the police. He felt the highway was no longer safe as the police might be looking around for him. He turned off to a patch of woods to throw the police off his trails. But, the wood was a vast swathe of trees, with confusing pathways. Soon, he got lost, as his limbs lost power. He prodded on regardless, as he had no other way to come out of the forest. The rat trap he had conjured many times to pity others came to haunt him. He had been trapped. ‘The thirty kroners bait had trapped him in the wild woods’, he rued.

It was December. The interior of the woods was cold and the darkness was foreboding. He felt very miserable. At this time, he heard the distant rhythmic sound. He guessed it came from a nearby hammer mill. He felt hopeful again. Mustering all his strength, he plodded towards the place from where the sound emanated. ‘There must be human beings in the mill’, he surmised. He can ask them for help.

He headed towards the source of the sound. He was right. There was the Ramsjo Ironworks that had been a flourishing steel mill in its happier days. Now, it operated in a truncated scale.

It was Christmas Eve. The tramp saw the hammer mill operator and his helper heating iron slabs in a furnace to make them ready for forging. Occasionally, the operator and helper got up to turn the iron slabs inside the furnace. The heat made them drip with sweat. The heat of the furnace gave them a respite from the outside chill.

The tramp had sneaked in unnoticed as the clutter of the heating and turning of slabs drowned the sound of his entry.

A stranger coming in was never unusual for the mechanic and is helper. Vagabonds did come in at times to enjoy the warmth of the hot furnace. So, the tramp’s coming in didn’t unusually alarm the two workers. After all, the tramp really looked like one living in the rough. He had the garland of rat traps hung from his shoulders. His unshaven beard and his tattered clothes didn’t merit too much attention. So, when he asked for permission to stay for the night, the mechanic gave him a perfunctory assent.

The tramp was shivering in cold under his wet clothes dripping with water. He impulsively edged close to the furnace to draw its heat onto himself. The heat made steam to come out of his wet rags.

The owner of the iron works was a dedicated entrepreneur. He took keen interest in the working of his plant and visited it quite frequently. On that evening, he came in on his regular rounds. Soon his eyes fell on the uncouth shabby looking stranger seated near the furnace.

Due to some inexplicable reason, the owner mistook the tramp to be Nils Olof, a regimental comrade of his. He concluded that his colleague had fallen in bad times to land up like this in his mill. But, he was his regimental colleague, after all – his comrade in arms. Agog with excitement, he welcomed the tramp and asked him to accompany him to his home.

The tramp had a guilt to hide. He dreaded the idea of going to the mill owner’s mansion and expose himself to the prying eyes of everyone there. He treasured his booty, and didn’t want the law to catch up with him. So, he persisted to decline the mill owner’s invites. But, the latter couldn’t leave an ex regimental comrade to be left behind in the mill. He kept on pleading with the sulking tramp to accompany him. He disclosed that he had no wife. His grown-up daughter was the only other inmate of the large house. On the Christmas eve, he wanted company, and his regimental comrade could be the right choice.

Appearing to be a little disappointed, he left for his house leaving the tramp (now known as Captain von Stahle) with the master smith, Stjernstrom.

The owner of the mill had other plans. The master smith knew his boss well.

After about half an hour, a carriage arrived with the daughter of the mill owner. She was Edla Willamson. A valet accompanied her holding a jacket. The generous father had sent her to fetch Captain von Stahle (the tramp). He was lying on the factory floor with his hat covering half of his face. He had kept a pig iron piece as his pillow.

She coaxed him to go to their mansion. The tramp had no option but to relent. Thus, escorted by the lady, the tramp (Captain von Stahle to the host and hostess) reached the mansion. He was quite ill at ease in the new abode. ‘Will he be finally caught?’, he brooded.

Edla had been quite intrigued at the sight of the stranger, at first. She was both kind and incredulous towards him. Her father brushed aside her concerns, and ordered the valet to give the guest a thorough wash, and dress him up like a gentleman – like an ex army officer. The tramp got a thorough make-over at the hands of the valet, and wore a nice suit offered by his host. With a nice well-shaven face and a haircut, he looked true to his appearance. But, the new smart look proved to be his undoing.

His host was shocked to discover that he had mistaken a stranger to be his army comrade. He seethed in resentment. Rather rudely, he told his guest that he has been tricked. Quite apologetically, the tramp stated that he had no intention to come in, in the first place.

The ironmaster was not mollified a bit. He told that he would call in the sheriff (the police chief). A chill ran down the tramp’s spine. But, he composed himself. Quite unabashedly, he began to propound his rat trap theory, and how, everyone including his angry host, fall into this trap unknowingly. It was a silly stand to take when danger of arrest stared him in his eyes. He dared to say that one day, a similar tragedy would befall his host. This was his prophesy.

The Ironmaster was not the least amused. Nevertheless, he no longer wanted the sheriff to be summoned. Instead, he ordered the tramp to get out of his house instantly.

Edla had a kind heart. She interceded on behalf of the beleaguered tramp, and pleaded with her father to let the guest (now disgraced) to stay over for a day more.  

She didn’t want the pleasant atmosphere of the Christmas to be marred by the chicanery of the tramp.

The master of the house was as irate as before. He pulled up his daughter for being so benign to the undeserving deceitful vagabond. However, he agreed to Edla’s suggestions.

Edla offered the mischief maker the food kept ready on the table. He sat down and began to eat greedily ignoring  the taunts of the host. He wondered if some nasty things awaited him.

The Christmas was as quiet for the tramp as possible. He slept the whole day without bothering what else was going on. In the evening, the Christmas tree was lighted. The tramp was woken up from his sleep. He showed no excitement and fell off to sleep again. After about two hours, he was woken up again. He went to the dining rom and ate the fish and porridge.

Quite gracefully, the tramp went to all the guests present and thanked each of them. When he came to the kindly daughter, he was courteously told by her that he could retain her father’s suit for his use. With her heart aglow with Christmas spirit, she told him that he could drop in the next Christmas if he had nowhere else to go. The rat trap man was clearly overwhelmed, but he didn’t show his feelings.

The next morning the father daughter duo went to the Church rather early. The tramp was asleep.

On the way back from church, Edla sat in the carriage sad and sullen. She had come to know while in church that a robber peddling rat traps had robbed a man of the community the day before. The robber was still at large. She was utterly dejected for her misjudgment. Her father chided her, adding to her misery. He feared for his silver spoons kept in the cabinet.

When the carriage reached their home, the Ironmaster enquired from the valet if the tramp (now, a confirmed thief) was still around. The valet informed him that he had already left taking with him nothing. Instead, he had left a crumpled packet as gift for Ms. Williamson. Opened it with curiousity. Inside, there was a rat trap, three ten kroner notes, and a clumsily written note that read, “The rat trap is a gift from a rat caught in this world’s rat trap if he had not raised to captain, because in that way he got power to clear himself.

“Written with friendship and high regard,

Captain von Stahle.”

———————————-END———————————

Questions invited from readers.

 

 

The Gift of India by Sarojini Naidu (Class XII)

July 14, 2017 at 12:39 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Gift of India
by Sarojini Naidu (India, 1915)

About Sarojini Naidu … Known lovingly as the Nightingale of India, Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) was a patriot, a poet and a crusader for women’s rights. She lived during the time India was in chains, and the British masters came down heavily on any one writing anything critical of their rule. Incarceration of patriotic writers and confiscation of the press the printed the writings were routine. Sarojini Naidu lived under such a regime. Her heart ached to see the exploitation of India’s wealth, and smothering of Indians’ cries for freedom. She gave vent to her resentment through her writings. Her poems had strong patriotic overtones, but their sheer uniqueness, covert style, and high literary worth perhaps dissuaded the British authorities to let them be published for public reading.

Sarojini Naidu came from a privileged family. She studied in University of Madras and later went to Oxford and Cambridge to complete her student career. Undoubtedly, such education honed her literary skills.

In this poem ‘The Gift of India’, she captures the sacrifices of the one million strong Indian army that fought under the British flag in far-off lands like Egypt, Belgium, and Iran. Nearly 70,000 of them fell in the battlefields and an equal number were maimed. She pines for those who did not return home, and bemoans the fact that the colonial authorities gave only perfunctory tribute to the Indian soldiers who fought with commendable valour and grit.

The poem in context.. In the war against the Germans, the British garnered resources from wherever they could lay their hands on. India had plenty of men and materials to offer. There were the Jath and Maratha peasants who were known for their martial traditions. India was a prosperous country then with plenty of farm produce, minerals and metals and a rudimentary road network to move them to the ports.

As many as 10 lakh of India’s rural youth were drafted to the army to be deployed in European, African and Asian theaters. Humungous quantities of wheat, rice, sugar and textiles were procured from India to feed the war machine. So large was the mopping up that not enough farmers were left to do cultivation of lands and prices of goods sky-rocketed.

The Indian soldiers fought valiantly in the battle fields bearing the brunt of German onslaught. No wonder the casualties were high, very high. Thousands perished, and thousands returned home with crippled bodies. Mother India bled.

What made Sarojini sad and resentful was that Mother India got nothing in return. The British eulogized the sacrifices of their own soldiers, but paid only left-handed compliment to the vast number of men who were torn from their farms and families to fight in foreign soils shedding their life and blood. India’s economy was enfeebled by the war, and Indians were impoverished. Yet, the colonial masters gave nothing in return other than some empty platitudes.

The poem …

Portion 1…

Is there ought you need that my hands withhold,
Rich gifts of raiment or grain or gold?
Lo! I have flung to the East and the West
Priceless treasures torn from my breast,
And yielded the sons of my stricken womb
To the drum-beats of the duty, the sabers of doom.
Gathered like pearls in their alien graves
Silent they sleep by the Persian waves,
Scattered like shells on Egyptian sands,
They lie with pale brows and brave, broken hands,
they are strewn like blossoms mown down by chance
On the blood-brown meadows of Flanders and France

Mother India generously contributed to the war effort sending its able-bodied robust young men to join the army and fight in far away battlefronts. She gave her grain and gold unflinchingly.

The men went and fought taking on the might of the Germans and its alleys in very cold and hostile conditions. In the face of the enemy shells, they fought valiantly till the last drop of their blood. Many didn’t return. They were gone for good. Mother India wept, vainly.

The British won the war. They felt proud and happy. Mother India had nothing to rejoice from. She nursed her wounds, grieving silently.

For the soldiers who died in the battle fields, their graves were their resting place. Like a mollusc disemboweled of its contents leaves its shells behind, the soldiers’ bodies rotted in their graves leaving their skeletons behind. Like the shells in the beaches, the soldiers’ bodies lay scattered in the battlefields, un-honoured, and un-sung. Just as flowers fall from the tree after a strong gush of wind only to be trampled and mutilated, the fine young fighters from India sent to fight in Flanders (Belgium), distant France, and the Persian shores (Iran) fell in the battlefield with their limbs severed and their bodies gasping for the last breath. No one cared, no one bothered to give these valiant heroes the honour they deserved.

Portion 2 ..

Can ye measure the grief of the tears I weep
Or compass the woe of the watch I keep?
Or the pride that thrills thro’ my heart’s despair
And the hope that comforts the anguish of prayer?
And the far sad glorious vision I see
Of the torn red banners of victory?
when the terror and the tumult of hate shall cease
And life be refashioned on anvils of peace,
And your love shall offer memorial thanks
To the comrades who fought on the dauntless ranks,
And you honour the deeds of the dauntless ones,
Remember the blood of my martyred sons!

The poet narrates the anguish and pang that Mother India has to endure on the loss of her martyred sons who fell on those distant infernal battle fields. She waited vainly for all her sons to return. Some did, some didn’t. However, Mother India is proud of her gallant sons who responded to the call of duty so willingly, despite the fact that India was neither responsible for start of the war, nor was in any way party to it. She nonetheless sees that the victory is in the distant horizon. In the midst of so much grief, she feels fleetingly jubilant. When the fire and fury of the War would be over, beagles will fall silent. Life will start afresh with new hope, without the corrosive feelings of hate and prejudice. Peace would prevail, applying a balm to the scars of war. At that time, gratitude would pour in on the people who fought and gave their blood, so that peace could eventually return. Mother India beseeches the colonial masters to generously heap praise and recognition on her young warriors who made victory possible.

—————————–END———————————-

Comments and Questions invited from readers.

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