Sunday, November 15, 1998
By Darshan Singh Maini
THE world of love and romance and sexuality has had a primordial fascination for man, and each country, nation or race has scores of such fables and stories to feed the imagination of both the lords of life and the dreaming kitchen-maids. Indeed, such chronicles of erotic love often acquire strange and fabulous dimensions en route, and begin to inveigle the minds of the youth into arbours of fantasy, reveries and sweet fancy. In other words, such exotic indulgences could be styled as the "wilding" of the imagination, and in proportion as the "fairy tale" or love-tragedy becomes a part of the corporate cultural consciousness, it holds and compels in that measure. And if such a story has the elements of wonder, disbelief and incredibility, it seems to exercise a greater spell.
The story Im going to tell hasnt the grandeur or awesomeness of the classical love romances, but its intriguing enough to engage the modern imagination, and suggest the poetry of the human heart when polarities a young British woman architect and an unlettered, uncouth Sikh youth from the Punjab countryside collide, as it were, in a Calcutta gurdwara and achieve a consummation quite beyond their own ken. Its not a romance that would make a Bollywood extravaganza, for in some respects its too earthy, too confined to give the imagination a large play. But since it happened not in some remote period of history, but around the time of Punjabs slide into terrorism and tragedy, its appeal needs to be understood partly in terms of the Freudian romance. And I hasten to add that there are no overt political overtones in the tale, though, as we know, politics of a messianic nature have a way of reaching down to the grid of sexual of power.
However, before I revert to the story told in utter sincerity and authenticity by the "heroine" of this extraordinary extravagance, Sarah Lloyd, in her book, An Indian Attachment, I wish to touch upon the deeper and universal aspects of certain types of emotional or passinate infatuations. To begin with, we may remember that the orient has had a mysterious, arcane and primordial affection for a certain type of Western mind for centuries, a thing well-documented in a rash of diaries, travelogues, novels, philosophical and religious dissertations. And this fascination has a paradigmatic character certain aspects ranging from the mystic and the subliminal to the exotic and the erotic have a way of pulling the "pilgrim" imagination. Thus, The Passage to India (from Whitmans poem) to EM Forsters celebrated novel) is, at bottom, a quest for the distant and the unknown, a romantic drive into the heart of a mystery beyond the bounds of positivist or pragmatic thought.
Where the quest is for the essence of reality as envisioned in oriental philosophies, religions and practices as, for instance, in the novels of Herman Hesse, the sexual side is subsumed to become a constitutive part of the visionary hunt. His Siddhartha does that in a subtle, aesthetic manner. But where, hungers of the heart or the foraging fires of sexual romance become the theme, the elements of the irrational and of the inexplicable, or of the ineluctable, alone make a sense of an otherwise enigmatic tale. And in this connection. Im reminded of a fascinating definition of poetry given by the great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats. "The muses", he wrote in A Vision, "resemble women who creep out at night and give themselves to unknown sailors and return to talk of Chinese porcelain." That, indeed, is the deepest mystery of sex its sudden and perilous and compelling deviations into the forbidden gardens of the golden fruit. Sarah Lloyds "affair" with her Jungli, as she lovingly called him does carry echoes of an Edenic romance though it all turned to ashes in the end. The union of the cultured and civilised with the wild and untamed is to be found in the Western tales of passion also.
The story, for instance, of the high born Kathy and that wild demon lover Heathcliff, a waif of the dark moors and marshes, a son of the raging storms and rugged cliff in Emily Brontes immortal Wuthering Heights, comes under the rubric of such ordeals of the imagination of the three archetypal aspects sexual love sacred-cosmic-elemental, romantic and married the first answers to the description of hierogamous marriage. To quote Evelyn J. Hinz, "The paradigmatic marriage for archaicman is the hierogamy, the sacred marriage, and the prototype of the sacred marriage is the union of earth and sky." It appears to me that the Sarah-"Jungle" plunge into the deep waters of sexuality had ingredients of the union in question. That it turns sour in the end robs it of the power and glory that normally belong to such "attachments". Hence, the broken nature of this modern romance.
An Indian Attachment opens like a novel, and the aim is to create an ambience of the place, person and poetry of the moment. A Sikh temple of worship in Calcutta in that hour with its utter simplicities and aura of holiness, is the unlikeliest place for an ordained rendezvous of this kind. Its almost a sudden meeting on some other planet. Sarah Lloyds epiphonic moment of destiny arrives as though in a dream.
"He sat crossed-legged in a brown blanket. It was a powerful face that instantly registered fine mouth and skin the colour of almonds. And there was Jungli sitting on his blanket with his long black beared of the tenth Sikh Guru and the eyes of Buddha sweeping up at the corners...."
And as Lloyd proceeds to map out the inscape of a British female consciousness, and the progress of her roused soul as it responds to the strange, exotic attraction of a youthful Sikh male in piety and plumage, the resonances begin to gather a hum of meanings. It was, as she tells us, a sad face, lit up from within, and suggested an infinite tenderness. It may be of interest to some readers that D.H. Lawrence had at one time wanted to call Lady Chatterley Lover, "Tenderness". That too is a story of the sexual congress of two wildernesses, one a lady and the other a gamekeeper. There was, no way she could resist surrender. To quote her again," I was transfixed. I could no more avert my eyes than the enchanted sailors could cease gazing at the mermaid on the rock......I wondered how I was ever going to live without him...".
From the metropolitan Calcutta, a massive metaphor for the complexity, misery, populousness and gigantism of the Indian scene to a Punjab village in the back o beyond is something so utterly baffling as to demand a huge leap of the imagintion. And thats precisely, what the British woman valiantly tries to achieve in the midst of cultural shocks and confusion and chaos. And soon her story becomes IPSO FACTO, a keen-eyed, clear, emphathetic portrait of a Sikh home and a Punjabi village.
The village life where she lives under the roof of the Junglis parents simple, honest, God-fearing souls at once charms and distresses her. While "a Flemish tapestry of English wild flowers" cannot but please the senses, she is quick to see a certain beauty and blessedness in the midst of "honest" dirt. In that Jat household where they live as an unwedded couple, it was difficult to negotiate a passage to the peace her spirit sought. But the Junglis parents did not allow their religious sentiments to block the vision. Nor was the foreign syndrome "allowed to distress the imagination. Though Sarahs English eye is disturbed to see tawdriness of calendar art and of other country baubles and gewgaws, the cool, kutcha mud-house and its functional layout and beauty do not fail to please the architectural eye, while she pricks up a few Punjabi phrases soon enough, her experience and her commerce are "largely sensory."
Few foreign writers have had the will to immerse themselves so lovingly in the diurnal, unhurried rhythm of rural life in Punjab. She describes in full measure the drama and the dialetic of family feuds, codes and country protocols. The new kitsch culture is contrasted with the deep structures of life still in tune with nature. The only thing that does disconcert her reticent English sensibility is the long, lustful staring of men, and the amused, quizzical, gaze of womenfolk in general. Nor is she upset to learn that her noble savage had once been, before he became a Nihang, a small-time, opium-eating smuggler who had spent a four-year jail term in Pakistan. Somehow, nothing in his sad, skimpy, unpleasant past can disturb her faith in the beauty and generosity of his spirit. Theres a certain magnanimity about him, and an aura of deep compassion.
As we draw to the close of Sarah Lloyds fascinating narrative, we know things are not going to turn out according to the story-book in the end. The Junglis shifting to a Sikh dera in UP, and the distressing scenes of cupidity, religiosity and fake "gurudom", eventually break the long spell. She finds herself choked in that regimen of cunning, vice and deceit, though even then she does not miss those radical and soulful aspects of Sikhism which have made it a modern religion with a strong egalitarian and humanistic world-view.
Thus, it would have been a miracle if in the end she had not abandoned her Jungli, and gone back to her 17th century cottage in Herefordshire. As she wrote "It seemed to me that Jungli and I were no longer being vitalised by each other". At any rate, Sarah is not Lawrences "woman who rode away" into a haven of wilderness and oblivion out of some deep and dark desperate in her unconscious. Despite her compelling romantic urges, and her desire to get away from the fuss and frills of modern European life, and from a life of the needling mind and the restive intellect to the sensuous apprehension of reality somewhat in a Keatsian vein, shes the type that is destined to return to the greener pastures at home after a big "browse" abroad.
And this leaves us musing over the poetries and the perversities of the female heart. Theres no doubt about her deep and desperate "attachment". So long as her experience and her vision last. Could she be, however, at a deeper level, deceiving herself? Who can tell? As Joseph Conrad affirms repeatedly in his fiction, theres no deception more artful and destructive than self-deception!
What has become of this
tale, true in seed, leaf and branch, since The Return
of the Native, I do not know. How has her Jungli fared
after that separation, living perhaps in a glass-house of
nostalgic memories, or perhaps come out of them, thanks
to his Punjabi sense of reality and robustness, is a
question too deep for musings. In its uncertainty perhaps
lies its truth, its meaning.
| Interview | Bollywood Bhelpuri | Living Space | Nature | Garden Life | Fitness |
| Travel | Modern Classics | Your Option | Time off | A Soldier's Diary |
| Wide Angle | Caption Contest |