Archive for November, 2013

Pen Portraits- RL Stevenson
Beset for much of his life by ill health, it would have been excusable if Robert Louis Stevenson had retreated into imagination and lived his days in story and poem. He chose another route, travelling the Cévennes accompanied by a donkey, living in an abandoned mine in California with a divorcee 10 years older than him, and settling eventually with her in Samoa, where the locals christened him “Tusitala”, the teller of tales.

Stevenson had been born into smothering conformity. The rationalism and propriety of Edinburgh’s New Town were not to his liking, and he did not want to enter the family business of lighthouse engineer. Having qualified as a lawyer, he found his true self in writing, and proved a master of diverse forms such as poetry for children (A Child’s Garden of Verses), adventure stories for all ages (Treasure Island, Kidnapped) and chilling psychological horror (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). He trusted to reveries, saying “brownies” (spirits) had brought Jekyll and Hyde to him in a dream – albeit a dream affected by the experimental medication he was on at the time.

His most famous book owes a debt to a real-life Edinburgh character, William Brodie, who was gentleman by day and miscreant by night. The young Stevenson knew that a wardrobe in his bedroom had been crafted by Brodie. Bed-bound by childhood ailments, he had also peered down into the gardens below, imagining seas and islands and mysteries to be unravelled.(ack: RLS- My Hero/Ian Rankin-The Guardian of June,8.2012)
When one reads the nonfiction work of Robert Louis Stevenson along with the novels and short stories, a more complete portrait emerges of the author than that of the romantic vagabond one usually associates with his best-known fiction. The Stevenson of the nonfiction prose is a writer involved in the issues of his craft, his milieu, and his soul. Moreover, one can see the record of his maturation in critical essays, political tracts, biographies, and letters to family and friends. What Stevenson lacks, especially for the tastes of this age, is specificity and expertise: he has not the depth of such writers as John Ruskin, Walter Pater, or William Morris. But he was a shrewd observer of humankind, and his essays reveal his lively and perspicacious mind. Though he lacked originality, he created a rapport with the reader, who senses his enthusiastic embrace of life and art. If Stevenson at first wrote like one who only skimmed the surface of experience, by the end of his life he was passionately committed to his adopted land of Samoa, to his own history, and to the creation of his fiction.(www.people.brandeis.edu)
He died on Dec.3,1894


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Up  in the north in a castle lived a baron who had everything he could wish for. His estate was so vast one had to ride well and hunt well in order to be at home. Baron Tally-ho was always on horseback joining in hunt with dogs or drinking with cronies after a vigorous workout. Baroness was no less behind him. They were very sportive and muscular, and in pleasure coarse and earthy. They were loved by all.

Their only sorrow was their son who had no interest in hunting nor the pleasures of outdoor life.  Despairing for the boy who spent days curled up in some book, reading or in solving puzzles, his father thought it best to send him out to the world. Baron Tally-ho sent his son Johan to Switzerland to learn something new. One year later he returned with a certificate. A certificate signed by the Dean of the Basle University for Abstruse Languages.  Baron Tally-ho received his son with great delight and asked how did he find life in the open. Johan replied but not a word he could understand. His language was dead and the idea he wanted to convey was very abstruse. ‘This will not do!” said the father with a shudder. He sent him to another university and this time to Paris. One year later he came with his body all carved up. “What came over you son?” his parents queried shocked to their core. The boy spoke in argot and also the language of cut-purses and drunkards. “How dare they carve their names or who branded you with the letter V on both  shoulders?” The parents were aghast. The boy said, he spent the year, with some scapegraces, a hectic year under the shadow of gibbet. “”Our master was none other than Francois  Villon.”

“This is disaster!” thought the parents. Next he was sent far far away crossing the sea to a strange continent. “Honest to God, if Silicon Valley cannot straighten you nothing will”.

One year later the young man came and said whatever was to be learned was in the strange device he brought along.  Thus Johan introduced his parents to the wonderful  world of computing.  
Internet Age it was. Proud parents as soon as they mastered the language said it was abstruse through and through. ” but it is easier to understand than Johan.” After they learned to navigate through Silk Road they said, ” In cyberspace we meet the murderous crew just as our son did in Paris. Well into the age of 600 years they lived never for a moment concerned about outdoor life. Father, mother and the son with their iPads ever after lived cocooned.  

(ack: adapted from Brothers Grimm tale, ‘The Three Languages.”)


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There was a king who had a strange habit. He would dine in full view of his courtiers. But when dessert  was served it was served covered and the hall was cleared of all, including his queen. He partook his dessert alone. One day his servant who was new to the job took the dish and on the way being curious took to his room and peeked. It was a dictionary! He replaced it with Rubik  cube. The king looked at it and thought he found something fantastic. Never more he required dessert but twiddled his thumb with the cube that made him shed his extra pounds and gave him something to focus.

Hans the servant meanwhile took the dictionary and learnt the whole book to memory. When he was caught with his pants down he entertained the soldiers by naming the parts that didn’t go well with them. They clapped him in irons and took him to the king who said he would be spared if he could find a white snake that he saw in his dream. “Does it have a head, sire?’ The poor Hans asked, The King while struggling with the cube said, “The letter A.” Poor Hans hazarded ,”Does it have a tail?” The King said hardly taking his eyes from his toy, “Z”. Hans assured he would prove his innocence. He produced the dictionary and said, “The white snake in your dream hides in this magic book.”. He gave the book to his master.

As Hans proved it the king let him go. Poor Hans hardly reached the border soldiers came with an urgent message from the Queen who wanted to see his great skill in naming the parts.. Stepping on the other side of the border he said,” Please ask the Queen to borrow the magic book from the king and name the parts herself” . He ended by saying,” It is simple really as the cube. Any one can do it.”He rode off.

(Adapted from the Brothers Grimm story, “The White Snake.”)



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I am the one who made a hole

In the dark river of wasted splendor:

I would have made an end

But was too light to dimple

The infinite passage of time-

Time goes on and on, impervious

To wails of wasted souls

fed on senses ephemeral;


I could have made a run for high,

But clouds were forests on fire

Afloat and ever willy-nilly

Lit up by something far beyond my grasp;

Blanched before the incandescence

My eyes got used to settled

Habits of flowing as day will:

Ah  I creep back to my paper and slippers

I will neither go up nor down

Time’s wary watch must

From its own ranks find relief.



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Bless’d be the One who with grace infinite

Steel’d a heart to hear and do what is right;

Whence did then come this thirst to pass the hour

Or look upon death’s icy cold hands with fright?

(freely translated from Edward FitzGerald-The Rubaiyat)



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Mild is the weather and yet death has come:

You did think life was a wheel on the go,

Run run run, hitch a ride till kingdom come


 If death is at the door ask not where from:

Break up the wall, let space from within flow

Outwards till cosmos be plumbed: your home.


Seek not how you found life nor left for whom:

Death is a damn fool who shall never know

Taste from touch, much less dram from dream.


Mild is the weather and yet death has come:

You did think life was a wheel on the go,

Run run run, hitch a ride till kingdom come

Hasten not to look for your dream nor home.


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The universal soldier came back in the middle of winter. If you thought he was quite done with war you are mistaken. The fort he came to was as true to a castle complete with moat, donjon and turrets. From far it caught his eye and marched he as though he would even skewer the devil for his right of entry. He just stopped to see if his entry was contested or not. No he was no mouse nor carried milk in his veins to balk even before the gates of hell.
Battle scarred he was and the sword clanked with every step to warn the folks to make themselves scarce.
The castle was ajar. He could see a blazing fire burning in the hall as he turned to cross drawbridge. He did not have to wait. The doormat carried a superscription across the unspotted width, “Take Rest”
So went he in as lord of the manor from hunt. He plopped into the large divan and without bothering to remove his boots he slept. How long did he sleep he would not recall but he just heard his name spoken and he instantly obeyed. It was familiar voice. His major had demanded him to check out the mirror on the south wall for further orders.
He found the wall and there was a mirror. The Army was definite in its facts. Did it ever fail him? No he went closer to read the instructions.
He saw the wall and as instructed he addressed in code for instructions.  The mirror was specific where his company was to join battle. Instantly he marched to the place. He came back all the more bloody. He saw winter had given over to spring and he came back to the fort every time for further instructions.
Once he was somewhat taken aback by the bed of snow drops around the moat was as red as blood. He shrugged his shoulders and said that all the blood spilled must show up some place. “It cannot be helped.” He did not give it another thought. 
Just as before he straightaway went to the divan neither looking to the right or to left. He fell asleep. The major once again called him up to say that there were seven knights who were to be taken out by single combat. He was to check the mirror for details.  
“Terror, terror on the wall, / who is the bravest of all?”
For all the blood the soldier could not  see the mirror. He took it that there was some snafu and he went back to sleep.
When he opened his eyes he saw seven dwarves around his divan. One said in an accusative tone,” You didn’t wipe your feet of blood. ” another one said, “You left blood all over the parquet floor. The third dwarf said, “You ruined the western wall! So did three other dwarves carp at the drowsy soldier.” The seventh dwarf came forward and said “where is my mirror? I cannot see my face for all the blood you shed.” 
“It cannot be helped.” said the universal soldier.
The seven dwarves deliberated and the leader stepped towards him and said, ” We are not flesh and blood and this is an enchanted castle.” One dwarf anticipating violence said, “No blood letting, please.” The third one explained they were immune to his rage, Another dwarf offered him bread and water till his service ended.
“Service? You demand of me amends?” the soldier cried. “Yes”, replied the fifth gnome, “the mirror must be set to its pristine condition”
“Is this a dungeon then?” the soldier screamed, “You said it.”
answered the sixth little creature.
“Don’t try to follow us” cried the last dwarf with a wink, “doors, gates,windows,transom, clerestory windows, fan-light are all doing their job. ”
In that womb of silence the seven dwarves melting into thin air was imperceptible.
The soldier sat on the divan. Looking about he saw a thin beam of light falling on the south wall. But for that the outside world had shut itself on him.

(Adapted from Brothers Grimm) 

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