Geneva Diaries #34

Tiger – The Soldier, Oscar Wilde, India, Mythology Greek, Evangeline


Dear Roger,

It was fabulous seeing you the other day. I felt closer than ever before, like a best (boy) friend (the girl one is taken) or even family, perhaps a past life connection?? I truly felt I could “unload”, and I’m afraid I did (with out without your white collar). However, upon revisiting the scene of the crime (no better description comes to mind) our conversation over that hour and a half, I realized that I had made some gross generalizations about men from my VERY limited experience (which I have every intention of modifying the minute I’m released from jail) and you responded with the same look of wry amusement perhaps like a scientist studying an exotic specimen that has decided to preen in the petri dish. 

To clear the record, I wish to revert with the following statement: No, NOT all men swing in all directions! I was just visited by my grand father last night (in my dreams) who gave me a hard knock on my head to set my brains back in order, reminding me of the poetry and verse recited in my home in praise of woman, covering both the exotic and erotic facets of women (so integral to our culture) from the fullness of her lips to the curves of her hips to the long dark tresses that frame her face and snake down her back. The representations in art, sculpture adorning our temple walls from the Yakshis (guardians) to the temple dancers who seem to swell out to embrace the devotees, culminating in the scenes of intimate embrace which act as guides for the common public of the pleasurable duties and expectations of a householder (supported and sanctioned by the priest and the temple as it helps maintain social order). Now, Roger, since I belong to the family of the high priests, you must ensure I don’t stray near the Sistine Chapel with my  vivid paintbrush, the restoration might appear alarming to some! I can affirmatively say that if my grandfather was found in your “situation”, the French student demanding favors would have been skinned and stuffed and found hanging with the other wildlife in our entry hall. 

Did I ever tell you about my incredible journey to the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat (which means serrated mountain) in Catalonia and my encounter with Abbot Oliva, the spiritual founder of Catalonian culture and the monastery, known for his penmanship and translations (from Arabic to Latin) whom I persuaded to lend his quill. 

See me below with Abbot Oliva:

VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100

 So Roger, some people are more vulnerable than others and in order to save us from ourselves we have to ensure that someone stands by them, represents them priest or pirate (I of course thrive on the role of the Devil’s advocate, even if it means Assangination!).

On the subject of idealism and standing by what you believe in regardless of the hazards they may pose, I have a story from home which I had started to share with you over our clandestine coffee (there was something distinctly covert about it) but in all my excitement and current state of mind(lessness), I seemed to forget all. Well here it is… As I spent a lazy Sunday with the kids going through the latest book by my bedside, The most famous poems in the English Language, I rediscovered many of my childhood favorites which I proceeded to share with my not-so-enthusiastic kids. So we played a game and I asked them to read three poems each (only effective upon a substantial bribe), they of course chose the shortest and threatened to run. Fortunately the poem selected by my daughter was The Soldier by Rupert Brooke (do see attached poem with the photograph of that foreign field) upon reading which I was immediately reminded of my grand uncle (my grandmother’s brother, the grandmother about whom I talk of endlessly, the one who played a pivotal role in raising me) Tyagarajan or Tiger as he was called by his friends. Tiger, this tall strapping handsome man of 24, was a student in London when the War (WWII) broke out with much to live for and far from his home and family in Madras, fired up by his idealism that he must do everything in his power to prevent the gross injustice that was taking place across Europe, he joined the RAF as a fighter pilot and ironically on the day of the liberation of Paris he was shot down over Normandy. What was even more ironic was that his father, my great grandfather a prominent attorney in Madras supported the revolutionary cause against British colonial rule in India, eventually following Sri Aurobindo and settling in the French colony of Pondicherry in South India. The eyewitness was a young boy who happened to be out in that field on that fateful day and said that he saw a fiery plane crashing into the field. The village people later picked up the unidentified pieces and buried them within their village churchyard. It was only recently that the remains were identified and Tiger was honored (our family was searched and found and invited to this wonderful ceremony by the French and the British with the Indian representative that took place at the church in Normandy in 2007). 

See below an image of the field in Normandy where Tiger’s Typhoon crashed:

I must admit I sobbed as my daughter read out these lines for the story was dear to my heart as it was my father who first read out these verses and my grandmother reminisced about her childhood and her brother all the time. 

If I should die, think only this of me: 

That there’s some corner of a foreign field,

That is forever England (Pondicherry)

Of course, in our story, England is exchanged with Pondicherry, India, for it is a Tamil boy who is forever melded with that earth.

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed

The idealism and passion of this young man from far away fighting for neither wealth nor glory, nation nor home but to uphold an idea, the idea of justice, without which neither nation nor home has much meaning reflected in the following words of this enigmatic poem.

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England (India) given

Interestingly, as I translated this poem to reflect India for England, my daughter replaced the words America (New India) for England as she recited the same. It was beautiful, i sobbed again.

And, talking about India, I AM finally escaping from jail, even if it is for a brief respite (as you aptly put it), for my current state of being or non-being, is nothing but a mindless endless incarceration that defies all logic and rationale. I leave for India for a short break this Tuesday and am holding my breath until then!

As I progressed through the book of poems I encountered some familiar poems and other favorites, one gripped my wrist with his hand and led me through the book into the cyber realm. It was my wild old flame Oscar. As we journeyed through time and space he brought me to the place he reached (a place found not in my poetry book), a wretched place, a place he languished, where he suffered and toiled. Oscar Wilde wrote these dramatic lines during his horrific time in jail for the crime of homosexuality and seeing my similar predicament (despite the allure of moto moto, I’m straight), dragged me through the cyber realm back to Guttenberg (The Guttenberg Project) to reread The Ballad of Reading Goal. These lines taken from the Ballad of Reading Gaol were written for me, for my time in chains:

 I know not whether Laws be right,

                 Or whether Laws be wrong;

               All that we know who lie in gaol

                 Is that the wall is strong;

               And that each day is like a year,

                 A year whose days are long.

               But this I know, that every Law

                 That men have made for Man,

               Since first Man took His brother’s life,

                 And the sad world began,

               But straws the wheat and saves the chaff

                 With a most evil fan.

               This too I know- and wise it were

                 If each could know the same-

               That every prison that men build

                 Is built with bricks of shame,

               And bound with bars lest Christ should see

                 How men their brothers maim.

               With bars they blur the gracious moon,

                 And blind the goodly sun:

               And the do well to hide their Hell,

                 For in it things are done

               That Son of things nor son of Man

                 Ever should look upon!

               The vilest deeds like poison weeds

                 Bloom well in prison-air:

               It is only what is good in Man

                 That wastes and withers there:

               Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,

                 And the warder is Despair.

               For they starve the little frightened child

                 Till it weeps both night and day:

               And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,

                 And gibe the old and gray,

               And some grow mad, and all grow bad,

                 And none a word may say.

               Each narrow cell in which we dwell

                 Is a foul and dark latrine,

               And the fetid breath of living Death

                 Chokes up each grated screen,

               And all, but Lust, is turned to dust

                 In Humanity’s machine.

               The brackish water that we drink

                 Creeps with a loathsome slime,

               And the bitter bread they weigh in scales

                 Is full of chalk and lime,

               And Sleep will not lie down, but walks

                 Wild-eyed, and cries to Time.

               But though lean Hunger and green Thirst

                 Like asp with adder fight,

               We have little care of prison fare,

                 For what chills and kills outright

               Is that every stone one lifts by day

                 Becomes one’s heart by night.

               With midnight always in one’s heart,

                 And twilight in one’s cell,

               We turn the crank, or tear the rope,

                 Each in his separate Hell,

               And the silence is more awful far

                 Than the sound of a brazen bell.

               And never a human voice comes near

                 To speak a gentle word:

               And the eye that watches through the door

                 Is pitiless and hard:

               And by all forgot, we rot and rot,

                 With soul and body marred.

               And thus we rust Life’s iron chain

                 Degraded and alone:

               And some men curse, and some men weep,

                 And some men make no moan:

               But God’s eternal Laws are kind

                 And break the heart of stone.

               And every human heart that breaks,

                 In prison-cell or yard,

               Is as that broken box that gave

                 Its treasure to the Lord,

               And filled the unclean leper’s house

                 With the scent of costliest nard.

               Ah! happy they whose hearts can break

                 And peace of pardon win!

               How else may man make straight his plan

                 And cleanse his soul from Sin?

Roger, as I run through this open gate for my brief respite I find myself glancing back to through the last decade, I find a tragic reminder of the irony and injustice of life in the lines (of Oscar Wildes The Reading Gaol), which say: 

For each man kills the thing he loves, Yet each man does not die

How justice meted out by nature is so selective, irrational, unfair, where one man finds himself hanging in the gallows, while the other for a similar crime (of destroying the one he loves) walks away unscathed without a scratch or a smear, humming as he walks away into the sunset. 

He did not wear his scarlet coat,

                 For blood and wine are red,

               And blood and wine were on his hands

                 When they found him with the dead,

I’d like you to share my journey as my spirit traces these lines (from the above mentioned poem)leaving my form lying in my bed:

               Yet each man kills the thing he loves,

                 By each let this be heard,

               Some do it with a bitter look,

                 Some with a flattering word,

               The coward does it with a kiss,

                 The brave man with a sword!

               Some kill their love when they are young,

                 And some when they are old;

               Some strangle with the hands of Lust,

                 Some with the hands of Gold:

               The kindest use a knife, because

                 The dead so soon grow cold.

               Some love too little, some too long,

                 Some sell, and others buy;

               Some do the deed with many tears,

                 And some without a sigh:

               For each man kills the thing he loves,

                 Yet each man does not die.

               He does not die a death of shame

                 On a day of dark disgrace,

               Nor have a noose about his neck,

                 Nor a cloth upon his face,

               Nor drop feet foremost through the floor

                 Into an empty space.

Good night and I hope to hear from you while i’m in Delhi.




Dear Purnima,

Already gone !  😦   I didn’t realize that you were leaving so soon for Delhi.  Thanks so much for your email from the airport.  Hope you had a great trip, and I can imagine that the joy of being back among friends and family must be overwhelming for you.

I loved your last email.  I agree that it was wonderful to see you last week, and I thought our chat was one of the best we have had in a long time.  We seem to always be on the same wave length.

I’m reading another Murakami novel after several months of not reading anything by him.  The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and it is really marvelous.  I’m only a hundred or so pages into it, but so far I think he captures better than in his other novels his concept of a different and secondary reality.  He writes some things that just simply blow me away.  For example, the main character is a young man who is trained in the law but doesn’t enjoy working for a law firm, so he has quit his job.  In the process of looking for his wife’s lost cat (she eventually runs off with another man leaving him alone sans chat but with lots of questions), he encounters several other characters, one of whom is a young woman who is a former prostitute.  He has some rather vivid fantasies and dreams about her, and on two occasions dreams of making love to her (or rather of her making love to him)  On a subsequent meeting with her, she at one point tells him that they have indeed had relations (those were her terms). To his great astonishment, she recounted all the details of both of his dreams, even the clothing that she was wearing and also the fact that in his second dream, the woman he was making love to suddenly turned into an entirely different woman that he didn’t know (He had been getting strange phone calls from a woman claiming to know him and wanting to talk to him for ten minutes).  She then explained that they hadn’t actually physically made love, but that it was in his consciousness that it all occurred.  I can’t wait to read further and see what else develops.

I’ll write more later when I have more time.

Have a wonderful time and soak up all that love and warmth and caring so you can make it through to spring here in Geneva.

Hugs and gros bisous,


Dear Purnima,

I heard a short piece on the BBC today about India and the things that brought the Indians and the British closer together and those things that didn’t.  The big bone of contention between the two countries, according to this journalist, was the complete disparity between the two countries and their respective approaches to making tea.  While tea was introduced in India by the British colonizers, the Indians, according to the report, soon adapted the British national drink by adding some home brewed techniques and practices, resulting in Tchai, originally served in clay cups that were then thrown away and which degraded in the hot Indian sun very quickly.  With the advent of plastic, the clay Tchai cup has almost disappeared.  Well, of course, while listening to this fascinating report, I thought of you and wondered if you might be sipping a cup of Tchai at that very moment.

Geneva is an increasingly staid and boring city, especially without you here to liven up the place.  Every time I go downtown to the area around Globus and the Place Mollard, I feel like I’m walking in some kind of fantasy world where everyone is beautiful, exquisitely dressed, and completely self-centered.  I keep wondering what Murakami would have to say about Geneva, at least that part of the city. He would probably far prefer the Paquis.

And speaking of Murakami, I’m almost through with “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” – one of his best to date, and now I can’t wait until 1Q84 comes out in an English translation

I’m watching “Black Swan” through a streaming site on the internet, and it’s a fascinating film about ballet, self-consuming visions and veering off the beaten path of sanity, not to mention a totally overbearing, possessive and nearly demonic mother.

I hope you haven’t been swept away by a Tibetan Yeti (you’re so much closer to the Himalayas now) and held prisoner in his ice cave.

Big hugs.  Looking forward to hearing all the details of your trip,



Dear Roger,

My apologies for a very abrupt response to your warm and concerned email, I was truly in pieces. I returned from a tale of high adventure to an atmosphere of gloom and despair. 

This trip back to India was unusual in the fact that this time back I appeared to have completely lost all traces of my Indian immunity, I was afflicted with every bug that the routine Western tourist suffers from and subsequently found myself on all kinds of medicaments which they give in “horse strength” in India over the counter! Now, despite my various ailments, which I kept concealed most of the time (disappearing stealthily around the corner every time I swallowed or drank) so that my friends don’t do the “ha, ha, ha”, My system finally gave out on the last day and I prayed Swiss Air would get me back home to Geneva in one piece. Miraculously, as soon as I touched down the stomach related ailments evaporated (true story) and was only left an Ogre to deal with.

Now that i have cut my long nails and have my breath back,  I find myself revisiting and assimilating all the pieces of this whirlwind trip to share with you its vibrant hues and multifaceted odors. The energy, the excitement and the enthusiasm especially of the women I met and I knew, blew me away. I found my girlfriends buzzing with dynamism and energy that would make most men gasp, like the old friend (few keep count of the years beyond the respectable 10) who uncannily manages to smile perfectly through three screaming babies, work, home, travels across three continents with the entourage and offices in tow, and manages to metamorphose onto center stage(her dinner) in a perfectly draped kanjivaram silk sari. Then there is the other gal who is as passionate about her social life, work and trio, as she is about her cooking and still leaving all men between 14-94 sizzling on the platter. The inspiration was endless… friends who were in fashion are now the icons themselves( universally size “0” , I was grateful for my diarrhea which left me for a brief moment with the “in”( emaciated) look ). The writers were writing, the designers were designing and the cooks were cooking, everyone seems to be living their dream, ideas we had discussed eons ago were being realized in a frenetic frenzied pace. I was thrilled for my girlfriends, Go Girls!

However, there were some meetings that left me with a pang of jealousy, it’s incredible how that silently slithers onto the picture: I attended the much heralded Art Summit in Delhi and found (to my surprise), it was even better that it had been projected. The location was superb , the facilities, service excellent, it seemed to be well represented by galleries from across the globe, art on display was spectacular and I got a chance to meet everyone under one roof… awesome opportunity to socialize! Then I met a dear old friend, one who was an architect turned fledgling artist in Singapore when i last left her over a decade ago, who had morphed into this creative Kraken making her splash all over the summit from the brilliantly contrived car at the entrance to the profusion of colors, images collages representing cultures across Asia on her canvasses/installations. See below a glimpse of The Creative Kraken who so brilliantly fuses East and West to drum roll of Africa:

Of course she jumped and hugged and kissed and then through all the din I heard the dreaded words, once again, “so, what are you doing now Purnima?”…I used the din as camouflage and slunk away hiding in the shadows so that I was not accosted by another superstar and asked the same question. I had already dodged offers of faith healers, get aways to no where, priests, astrologers and a trip to the Osho ashram in Pune (I remembered you). But we met again and had a chance to reconnect, this was where I was told about my girlfriends incredible trip to the Kumbh mela and how she was invited by the Naga Sadhus to share their tent with them. Yes, the same Indian holy men who walk naked, smeared in ashes with long matted hair, their ultimate sacrifice, the absolute relinquishment of the ego. I heard tales of the Naga Sadhus morning ritual of stretching their penises around a stick as my friend “sparkly eyes” viewed on in wonder and amazement, in addition to other incredible adventures across Asia and as the logs in my fireplace were dwindling my Envy-o-meter had shot sky high and I just about held myself back from adding her to the logs, so with a strained smile I said “dinner is served”. 

See below the ash smeared Naga Sadhus (The fabled Naga Holy Men of India):

Conversation over dinner continued in the same exotic strain but this time we were visiting the east coast of Africa. She is part of the incredible Indian diaspore (three generations removed) that has settled in east Africa and maintained their (Indian) language, customs, food and habits. Her journey continued to England (architecture) and then East Asia and now finally, perhaps back to India, a full circle! Since we were talking about journeys (and not exotic men and penises) I found I could participate and especially since it was my favorite topic of journeys/migrations. I discovered, as I suspected, upon a little digging, that Swahili, the local dialect had infact entered covertly into her mother tongue which was Gujarati (the western Indian state where most of the Indian migrants to East Africa are from). She was completely unaware that the language she knew to be Gujarati had assimilated these African words. It was only when she spoke to the Gujaratis in Gujarat that she realized they had no such word (for pressing), the ones she had grown up with. These incredible milestone or markers are what remain in language marking the journeys of man and the discovery of such I find mind-blowingly exciting almost as much as the sharing of “chillum” with the sadhus (which I can’t say I did not… only some different kinds of sadhus)!

Check out the Naga Sadhus at the Prayag Kumbh below:

My journeys in India continued to breezy Bangalore and more friends, fun and food. The outdoor cafes, fabulous weather and very international community made me think of California, of home(?). I decided immediately that this was the city for me in India and I had to find my way back there. The trip ended with a cracked tailbone, but that is much too long a tale to tell, ridiculous really. The more interesting piece was reconnecting with my (cute) yoga instructor who is also my confidant and spiritual guide. I met him with pleading eyes showing him how over the last two years I had turned to stone, begging him to reverse the process as I am convinced only he knows. So we started our sessions, and midway I felt a pulse, then a heartbeat and then I found I almost jumped him! He seemed to read my mind and deftly handled the situation continuing with the close body contact ensuring every muscle was stretched and seemed to smile when I looked at him saying “what am I supposed to now do with this heartbeat?”. The tale of the yoga master is certainly To Be Continued…

Before leaving Bangalore, I stumbled into a old shop in an old alleyway with a bearded old (wise) man, dim and musty, filled with lanterns, brass objects, bells, sculptures and stuff with just about enough space to turn your head praying nothing would fall on it. It was there that I spotted it, a magnificent bronze, a sculpture of Varaha (you might remember this Vishnu avatar from my last email and our dinner, the one who returns to vanquish the demon in the form of a wild boar). I absolutely had to have it, it spoke to me, it was waiting for me, it had to have me! So, I went through the motions of the routine haggling, disinterest walking out and returning. I did get my Varaha, and was informed by the shopkeeper that this Kerala sculpture was sold to him by a seller who was in distress and anxious to sell his bronzes at any price. Ironically, that bronze sculpture left a Kerala temple to enter the home of someone from Kerala whose ancestors may have been the priests in those very temples. lt now sits proudly in my living room awaiting its long journey  back perhaps one day to the new world, the New Kerala! Varaha, the wild boar Vishnu avatar, after vanquishing the demon rescued the Earth from the (ocean) deluge, this is one of our Vedic deluge stories (akin to Noah and his Ark) and thus would be appropriate as the mascot for our ship as it sails through the deluge eventually finding its way back home.

My Varaha bronze:

Varaha – The Boar God:

Varaha and The Vedic Deluge Story video: 

I left Bangalore in high spirits and upon reaching Delhi I was greeted by a curious person with a ruffled shirt who embraced me passionately saying all the while that he had waited long for this moment, Sir William Jones, an English ghost! The embrace dissolved within me and I was left standing hugging my shirtsleeves as people passed me by seeming to say “oddball”. Are you familiar with Sir William Jones, the famous Orientalist, philologist, founded The Asiatic Society (I guess the same as the one in NYC which I happened to frequent),  the Englishman who sailed to Calcutta in 1783 as a Calcutta Supreme Court judge and buried in Calcutta in the South Park Cemetery. He also was the first to point out the similarities in the roots of Greek, Latin and Sanskrit (very close to home for me), and furthermore, his articles outlined the Greek, Latin (ancient Roman) and Vedic/Indian mythology had many similarities, with many parallel deities, a story that I have not stopped telling my children. All this I unearthed in a delicious book, Awakenings about the Bengal Renaissance by Subrata Dasgupta (University of Louisiana) which opened up many doorways to explore and pursue, both journeys ahead and back through depths of time, the ideas that were born during this momentous time and bubbled over to the south to excite the minds and spirit of the youth with the novel ideas of freedom and independence but also had a lasting impact upon the members of my family.

Sir William Jones:

Sir William Jones parallel resounds in my experience, the stories I relate to my kids, but with a twist. The stories of Greek and Indian mythology that appear to “happen” for no reason at all (just like my cracked tailbone tale, where my dimpled dentists response was “things happen for no reason”), the is no cause, no purpose, no justification no reason what-so-ever which makes someone who has been raised on “moral science” classes frustrated beyond belief for there is absolutely no “moral of the story”! Invariably the kind, good, pious and innocent fall victim to LIFE and the devious and dastardly go home with the cake. I guess that kind of mirrors “real life” because in real life Sh*t Happens! 

Heracles (Hercules) after valiantly completing his twelve labors weds Deianira and slays the centaur intent on abducting her, instead she tricked into believing Heracles unfaithfulness makes him wear a poisoned shirt which burns through his skin driving him to immolate himself on the funeral pyre. A brave hero who has vanquished all demons dies for no reason at all and tragically. 

Similarly in Indian mythology, one of the stories of the kind and benevolent asura king Bali (mentioned in previous emails) who is know to be just and righteous reigning over a happy and prosperous kingdom happens to expand his kingdom as far as the heavens and the netherworld. Now unfortunately, king Bali is from the wrong camp (asura/demon camp) and even though he has been good and righteous, the Gods are threatened as he has encroached upon their space so they plead with Vishnu who comes down to earth as Vamana, the diminutive brahmin, people in my part of the world are still very wary of the diminutive/humble variety that come knocking on their door especially when it is a brahmin. For unlike Greek mythology where you have the classic wars between the Gods and the Demons, with the poor expendable humans, in Vedic mythology in addition to the Gods and the Demons, we have a third element which is the Brahmin or a member of the priestly class who relinquishes most of the temptations of the material world to lead a life of simplicity and austerity. In our mythology, whenever a brahmin enters the story, he wins the day and of course he would because even though he relinquishes his material goods he retains control of the pen and he writes the stories and he paints the victors. So, in the case of poor king Bali, Vamana was invited to take the three steps he requested at the sacrifice and Vamana grew to the size of the earth, took one step on earth, one on the heavens and the third on King Bali’s head (the “devoted” king had offered his head when there was no other place for Vamana to step upon), so for his devotion king Bali is brought up from the netherworld and gets to meet with the jubilant citizens of his state Kerala, this is celebrated as the festival Onam. Poor, poor, king Bali I say…

King Mahabali:

Vamana The diminutive Brahmin:

Back to the Greeks, Apollo chases Daphne, daughter of the river god who runs for her life to escape his rapacious embrace and end up as a laurel tree. Of course, Apollo continues to wreck havoc with the lives of the other men and women that cross his path. Poor poor Daphne…what did she do? I guess she was desired by a god!

Similarly in the case of Ahalya, the most beautiful woman in the world, in Indian mythology, the sage Gautama won her hand as he outwitted Indra the king of the gods to the race of being the first to circumnavigate the world three times, while Indra was flying, sage Gautama walked around a cow who upon giving littler was pronounced as three worlds (you see not only do the brahmins win the day but they also get the Gal… wouldn’t you if you could write it in?). So furious Indra decided to come in the form of sage Gautama to his humble hut and sleep with beautiful Ahalya while the sage was out bathing. Ahalya, who had no clue whatsoever, welcomed her husband. Upon returning to the hut, the sage curses Indra with a thousand vulvas later turned into eyes (Greek mythology has its 100 eyed Argos) and turns lovely Ahalya into stone. Now tell me what was Ahalyas fault in this gigantic drama… she was loved by a god! 

Story of Ahalya in pictures:

Similarly, in real life Sh*t Happens, things happen for no reason… none whatsoever, Sir William Jones probably saw it and So Did I!

So much to say and the night is rolling on… but its my time of day… so I roll on.

I was thinking of you yesterday, it was Valentines day and I had my pen poised in hand to to wish you love and many kisses but it was not to be, so a day later I send you my wishes. I knew February 14th, 2011 would not be a day to remember, in fact possibly one I would prefer to forget but even then it was churningly awful. How could relations disintegrate to this degree… echoes of “how did I get here” were resounding off the walls. I spent the eve of Valentines day immersed in myself, my books, my poems. I came across Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his famous poem Paul Reveres Ride, then I returned to a book which mentioned The Acadians and uncannily enough I found myself surfing through the most beautiful and poignant poem to read on Valentine’s eve: Evangeline. 

Evangeline is an epic poem that outlines the tragic story of the French Canadian settlers of the 17th century in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, who refused to swear allegiance to their new colonist the English and thus resulted the most horrific instance of ethnic cleansing of the 17th century. The Arcadians, apparently 14,000 of them were driven out of their homes and farms, which were burnt along with their fields and livestock and they were packed onto ships, exiled. The ships scattered them across the 13 states who were not all welcoming, many were sent to south America, some to England and some back to France. Many perished during the voyage, the ones who waited in the ships perished of disease and many died on foreign shores. The ones who returned to France we like outsiders with their our peculiar accents and culture and could not easily integrate, many left and went onto Louisiana, merging with the Spanish community and creating the Cajun cultural identity. Some did return to Acadia, but they were but a handful. 

The poem strikes a chord not just for its picturesque scenery and vivid images of Acadia and their pastoral and peaceful lives but the tragedies suffered by these people in the mid 1700’s because of the Grand Upheaval (Les Grand Derangement), where these peace loving French Canadian settlers after having settled for 80 years were driven out of house and home and all that was familiar to them scattering them across the globe and even those fortunate enough to return to their indigenous communities did not find home for they left their ancestral lands long long ago. They were really people who belonged to the New World. The following words from Evangeline ring uncanny true, familiar:

Bearing a nation, with all its household gods, into exile,

Exile without an end, and without an example in story. 

All this told through a love story where Evangeline is betrothed just before the Grand Upheaval and spend the rest of her life searching for her beloved as she passes through strange towns, scenery and habitations chronicling the tale of a people. The heart-wrenching final scene ends with Evangeline finding her beloved at the end of their lives among the dying and deceased. As he hears the sound of her name, her voice, it brings back vivid images of his youth, only to have him die in her arms.

Do see if you can spare the time to read this beautiful poem of love, loss, separation and togetherness. 

Evangeline: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Purnima recites Evangeline (Acadia National Park):

See Evangeline below (some lines on leaving home, familiar shores and exile):

MANY a weary year had passed since the burning of Grand-Pré,

When on the falling tide the freighted vessels departed,

Bearing a nation, with all its household gods, into exile,

Exile without an end, and without an example in story. 

Far asunder, on separate coasts, the Acadians landed;

Scattered were they, like flakes of snow when the wind from the northeast

Strikes aslant through the fogs that darken the Banks of Newfoundland.

Friendless, homeless, hopeless, they wandered from city to city,

From the cold lakes of the North to sultry Southern savannas —

From the bleak shores of the sea to the lands where the Father of Waters

Seizes the hills in his hands, and drags them down to the ocean,

Deep in their sands to bury the scattered bones of the mammoth.

Friends they sought and homes; and many, despairing, heartbroken,

Asked of the earth but a grave, and no longer a friend nor a fireside.

Written their history stands on tablets of stone in the churchyards.

Good night!


Dear Purnima,

Absolutely no need to apologize.  Your lengthy missive was most welcome and I stared at my computer screen, mesmerized by your tales and vivid descriptions of your adventures.  Although, I was sorry to hear of your debilitating mishaps.  You must indeed have been Westernized.  You have obviously spent too much time away from your beloved India, and now your immune system is susceptible to various little bugs (It sounds like a case for Dr. House).  But the tailbone incident sounds a bit painful also.  Are you sure it didn’t happen during your reunion with your Yoga master ?  Your description of that encounter was absolutely delicious, and I’m glad he was able to restore a heartbeat.

Your descriptions of your journeys and encounters made me want to visit India all the more.  Actually, Celine and Vincent are this very moment as I write en route from Kuala Lumpur to Bombay.  They will be in India for about ten days, including four days in Goa.  I think the closest that I will get to India in the very near future will be next month.  We are going to Kuala Lumpur for a week to hook up with them (we got an incredible special promo price on Air Asia from Paris to Kuala Lumpur).  I can’t wait.

It was really unfortunate that your experiences were hampered by the little bug you caught.  I remember returning from Egypt many years ago and being hit by nausea and stomach cramps in a restaurant in Italy.  It didn’t last too long, but was really distressful.  And to overcome those pangs of jealousy when you encounter your successful girlfriends, just wait until you publish your bestselling novel.  I’m very serious !  I am constantly dazzled by the depth and scope of your mythological references and your wonderful prose and imagery (jealousy that “silently slithers” — that’s absolutely delicious !).

Thanks for the link to the images of the Naga Sadhus, but I didn’t see any penis stretching in them.  Does it really work ?

I can’t wait to see your newly acquired bronze from Kerala.

I’ve been biding my time waiting for some new snow to go give my new skis a better workout, but, alas, there isn’t much on the slopes.  I did take advantage of the clement temperatures last week to go for a couple of delightful bike rides.  We also saw an incredible film last week, Incendies which is playing at Les Scala.  I also watched the new film everyone is raving about, Black Swan.  (watched it on streaming on internet, so the quality wasn’t as good as in a cinema), and Nathalie Portman is absolutely fantastic in the role.  You should definitely see it.  I’m not sure if it is playing in Geneva yet, but it is bound to be here soon.  All the major newspapers and film guides in France have done lengthy articles on the film and on her as an actress.

Let’s try and connect next week.  Can’t wait to hear more of the details of your fantastic (in spite of the bug) trip.  I have a light schedule and should be able to get into Geneva for coffee, or are you going skiing with your kids during the winter school break ?

Lots of gentle hugs,


Dear Purnima,

Is this minimalist franglais ?  “tue in geneva” ???

Actually, tomorrow, Monday, won’t work for me.  Maybe Weds. or Thurs, but you are going to Chamonix on Weds, right ?  I’ll let you know as soon as I can work something out.

Hope you had a good weekend.  Do anything interesting ?


Dear Roger

I’m afraid an omission, a missing “/” caused the “tue” to sound Franglais, it was a plain simple “Tuesday” meant to be sent as an sms being sent instead as an email, my apologies. However, being my French teacher, you would be pleased to know that i include some French words in my notes, the outlines i create before i set out on my marathon letter sessions and I’m not quite sure why but some words seem to pop up in French and some in Urdu, love to invite u into that inner parlor one day! 

So, do you think you will be able to join me and my friend for dinner in Chamonix? I can’t wait to explore the area, perhaps the Pirate of the High Seas will finally get to meet with the famed Pirates of the High Snows. I know they lurk there in the recesses of the White Mountain. 

Hope to see you next week. 



Dear Purnima,

I also watched the new film everyone is raving about, Black Swan.  (watched it on streaming on internet, so the quality wasn’t as good as in a cinema), and Nathalie Portman is absolutely fantastic in the role.  You should definitely see it.  I’m not sure if it is playing in Geneva yet, but it is bound to be here soon.  All the major newspapers and film guides in France have done lengthy articles on the film and on her as an actress.

Lots of gentle hugs,


Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto.

Purnima Viswanathan 

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