Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘selections’ Category

 

(Young Murtius is on the run from a one-camel town and he is heading towards Istanbul but a minor hitch in his travel plans finds him making a hole in the water. He has to make a deal with a great white shark. He promises another one in his place. The selected passage is from the episode How the Pirate Kept His Promise.– B)

“The water was cold, and being a good swimmer he swam for all his worth. Much more was his grim determination since he saw a spectre from underwater bearing upon him.

BHcover-design

 

It was a great white shark, which surfaced as if out of nowhere. The murderous shark didn’t waver but made a beeline towards him and it meant business. He gave a stiff competition to it. He was saved in time. …It was at that moment two pairs of hands had reached out to draw him up. One turned him over slapping till he had spat out the water and he could breathe freely. He also saw a cherubic face peering at him. Through the mists of wakefulness that follows near death experience he saw the face was curious and was holding out something to him. In a trice he imagined, an angel had come down, to save him. Just as what that old monk in Heliopolis had been telling.

The angel in a tarbush was large and he was coaxing him to drink what he held in his hands. He came around after a hot cup of tea he found himself in a strange vessel and the owner of the vessel, a rather stout fellow beaming at his chance find with unconfined joy. The wet bedraggled man in his early twenties was thankful him. While his host was drying him out and chatting to keep him hold to the present he recalled the shark. He shivered to think he had a deal on his hand.  He knew he would come across the shark again.

The sign of the shark did show a crescent moon. A distinctive mark on its dorsal fin.

Murtius thought it meant Istanbul where the streets in his mind’s eye had already acquired a 24- karat look.

His saviour, a stick-in-the mud type however didn’t have plans to take him to Istanbul but to his home in Izmir. He asked the youth what his name was. He said, “Black Hand.” Those five fellows, who had revenged on him by throwing him overboard, called him Black Hand as they dumped him into the waters. Murtius said simply, “Black Hand”. The name stuck.

Murtius was thus in the boat of Tayyab whose wealth had made Izmir synonymous for watermelons. His savior as he could see was still ecstatic of casaba (a variety of winter melons) of which everything that was to be known he had imparted to his ward; the young man realized in whichever way he changed the subject, it somehow rolled back to casaba. He had nothing personal against watermelons. But. If anyone did think of forming an Anti-Casaba League, he was sure he would have put his name down in the first place.

Naturally his biggest let down was yet to come. In that little effusion of the milk of human kindness Tayyab had acquired a slave for nothing.

“I have been greatly mistaken!” Black Hand exclaimed as he set his foot on the soil of Izmir. Instead of gold he was picking watermelons for his master who made him work from sunrise till sundown. Whom he had thought was an angel made sure he worked till he dropped off in fatigue; where he believed in divine intervention from an untimely death, his master believed in the redeeming nature of work. He had cucumbers and sour yogurt day in and day out. Tayyab intended to get the worth of every ounce of food he doled out to him. He had no choice but eat what little he got to stay alive. All work and no play made him cunning, inhumanly cunning. He knew he needed to lie low as low as his spirits. Before long his rock-hard belief in destiny was floundering. “By the beard of Mar Chrys-o-stom,” he asked in disgust, “what Destiny were you talking me into?”

Two years of hard labour however paid dividends. In his case he was taken out from dirt and put in a not so seaworthy felucca. He was all for a watery grave than rubbing his nose any more in the dirt. So he happily took control of the Casaba. The first time he smelled the sea after two years of drudgery and felt its salty spray on his cheeks he thought it was time he gave Destiny a not so gentle nudge…”

Selected from the Horrible Adventures of Captain Black Hand by Q-bitz available through Amazon

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Catholic and Protestant theologians were at the forefront in the attempt to resolve the moral dilemmas posed by the changing economies of the Mediterranean, the Atlantic world, and the Baltic. They notably agonized over how to square Christian doctrinal and legal positions with banking ethics and the prohibition of usury. Figures as diverse as Calvin and Cardinal Cajetan did not reject the emerging banking houses and their place in society, with their increasingly sophisticated forms of credit, but they strove to define what constituted ethical commerce.

Thinkers of that era grappled as well with anxiety. It lay at the heart of the Protestant Reformation, and of Calvinism in particular, and formed the basis of Max Weber’s understanding of the “Protestant work ethic.” Weber shrewdly perceived that the radical separation of the spiritual and material in the Re- formed tradition, a “disenchantening” of the world, left humanity worried that there was no discernable path to the divine. He saw the anxiety engendered by this shattering realization as transformative.

Signs of Salvation

Weber primarily looked to seventeenth-century Puritans, but the story begins earlier. Following Martin Luther, John Calvin’s conversion experience in the 1530s arose from a deep sense of spiritual anxiety. Calvin never questioned his own election, though he chose not to write about it, and when dealing with parishioners wracked by doubt he directed them to the love of Christ. Outward actions and events – he was emphatic – could never be taken as signs of salvation. Pastorally, however, this proved deeply troubling to the Reformed faith, and Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza, made greater accommodation by allowing human deeds to be at least partial indicators of God’s love.

The question of certainty and its attendant pastoral issues remained in tension within the Reformed churches as they emerged in the Netherlands, England, and New England. The matter was not abstract, but hotly contested in terms of how the Bible was to be read, of relations of the church to temporal authority, and of the Christian in the secular world. The Reformation principle of sola scriptura had thrown open the question of how the Bible should be interpreted. Calvin and the Reformed leaders sought to ground interpretation once more within the church, but in so doing they faced fierce criticism that they were doing little more than restoring Roman authority. The Reformation made Christianity’s sacred text a battleground over contesting claims to authority – another source of the new anxiety.

With regard to the state, the issues were no less momentous. Although Calvin did not anticipate the separation of church and state, there can be little doubt that in Geneva during his lifetime significant developments began the process of secularization. Drawing on the Augustinian model of the separation of the two kingdoms, Calvin passionately believed that the church should be free in questions of doctrine and discipline. He fiercely resisted what he regarded as the unwarranted intrusion of the magistrates in the central affairs of the church.

In Geneva, however, he lost this battle. The Swiss model of churches ruled over by secular authorities prevailed, and Calvin was bitterly disappointed. Nevertheless, what emerged from his thinking is highly significant for modernity. Calvin increasingly conceived of a state where the rulers were limited in order to ensure protection of religion. They were expected to preserve the circumstances in which true religion could be practised. This was the resolution of the devastating Thirty Years’ War in 1648 when the Peace of Westphalia essentially removed religion from the political equation.

Building on medieval models, Protestantism of the sixteenth century named and sanctified work and commerce as part of the godly life. Calvin viewed economics as a way of linking the life of the community with the divine will. In many respects his perspective was entirely practical: as the leading author in Geneva he was responsible for the growth of its printing industry. He involved himself in the commercial life of the city, while his brother Antoine controlled his financial affairs. Calvin understood that loans and lending were an essential part of the market and of Geneva’s place as a trading center at the heart of Europe. He approved of the charging of interest and rejected older notions of usury on the condition that it not be abused. The poor, for instance, should not be forced to pay interest.

Theology of Work

Calvin argued for moderation in business ethics. Lending and profit-making should be permitted only insofar as they were useful, never simply to build personal wealth. All of this fell within his understanding of work and labor as vocations. In performing useful work a person served both God and humanity, and the rewards should be commensurate. His arguments were not new or radical in themselves, but they formed part of his larger theology that sought to understand the relationship of the human and divine. Work and service were for the honor of God, but once more the door was opened to a new, more secular view, that work might exist for its own sake.

This gathering tension in the relationship between the fruits of labor and vocation became explicit after Calvin’s death, during the golden age of the Dutch Republic. In his magisterial account, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Vintage, 1997), Simon Schama has related how the prosperous Calvinists of the Republic were deeply unsettled about their material success, seeing it less as a sign of election than as a form of reprobation. The enormous wealth generated by the Republic’s trading empire financed the nation’s protection against enemies. At the same time, however, it brought material temptations that could destroy the godly society from within. The result was an unresolved anxiety that, in Schama’s interpretation, deeply troubled any sense that capitalism and Protestantism were easy companions.

In performing useful work a person served both God and humanity, and the rewards should be commensurate. His arguments were not new or radical in themselves, but they formed part of his larger theology that sought to understand the relationship of the human and divine.

Revisiting Weber

This returns us to Max Weber’s famous account Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904/5), in which he interpreted the Calvinism of the seventeenth-century as an important source of modern economic practice. The broad outlines of the argument are familiar, though more often than not crudely caricatured. Weber was a subtle and perceptive student of history, theology, and economics. He never argued for a simple causal relationship between Protestantism and capitalism. Rather he identified the ways in which Calvinism contained a “spirit” or “ethic” that made possible the rise of capitalism and granted it legitimacy.

In brief, he wrote that the God of Calvinism is remote and inscrutable, leaving humans uncertain of their salvation. He focused his analysis on the doctrine of predestination and its effects. It is salvation anxiety that drives the desire to pursue with rigor a secular calling in the world. The pastoral literature of English Puritans revealed to him the depth of this uncertainty. The unknowable nature of God pushed Calvinists to seek signs of election in the world,

(Selected from: Calvinism and Capitalism: Together Again? byBruce Gordon/Yale Divinity School)

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Illustration from The Life of Aesop

(Aesop at the age of 12 is brought to the House of Iadmon, a Samoan and he wants to find out more about his new purchase.-b)
Next day Iadmon called Aesop to a room where beautiful musical instruments were kept. “Boy, I am in a mood to be entertained. What instrument will you choose?” There were many wind and stringed instruments. Aesop took a cither saying, “Oh my last master loved this. He would play on for hours.” He expressed he was sorry he did not take up music lessons then.
“So my choice has to be this.” Aesop had a flute in his hands and he made such strange sounds with it. His master winced and stopped him. “Why didn’t you tell me you are such a dunce with a flute?” “Oh master I spared you from my rendition of ‘Oh the mists of Olympus’ on a cither. Had you heard me you certainly would have complimented me to say: ‘I have a way with the flute.’ ”
The master had a hard time to contain his laughter. Managing a very grave demeanor he said, “‘If I ever hear you play flute within my earshot you shall be sorry.” He waved the young slave away.

Read Full Post »

Just for Laughs!

“I assure you, sir, I am open minded”
(Selected-Mad Goes to Pieces)

Read Full Post »

Chapter- 4

The Mayor Parleys With The Grand Mufti-

The Mayor and Prince compare notes and Al-Wa’sik offers freedom on condition.

 

Prince Al- Wa’sik (meaning Terrible Eyes) was the grand mufti of the Turks. Never was he known to have laughed. He had always known that he was different from others. When he got angry he wore flaming red, which to any Turk meant bad news. It meant that some one would have to pay the price.

Head will roll!” It was the case so far. Because of it he was also called Kismet or Fate.

On that day in April he discovered he could laugh. It was priceless. The discovery made him very happy. It had taken some forty years and the prince could not believe it would have come as it did, far away from home and in one of the strangest places. Laughter was not what his father the most dazzling figure of his age could give him. Having learnt many things from the sultan, of which duty was preeminent, he had kept going never realizing he lost what was of necessity a precious gift.

 

As a young prince he did not laugh; neither did he let himself go. Why? He did not like being thought as irresponsible. He had cultivated gravity, which he had been told by the so called wise men of his age, as appropriate for the movers and shakers of the world.

His tutor let him mix with other children of princely blood. They helped him hone up his skills in hunting and riding. Laughter wasn’t one quality, which they cultivated. ( Isn’t laughter at the right time and in right places sure sign of humanity in its pure form? In that spontaneity it seems to tell all,’Here I am with all defenses down!) The princes took themselves seriously. So did Al-Wa’sik.

So seriously the prince took himself that others for fear of displeasure could not have done otherwise. Had anyone in his suite was in the middle of telling a joke he would have instantly killed it hearing his master’s foot steps. The prince allowed people come to him with their problems and they never laughed to show how he had relieved their distress. His seriousness must have given warning signal to all: “I am Terrible Eyes! Laugh at your own risk!”

In the process what had he become but a human machine to which men in fear paid their respects?

It took a scrappy but lively human being who was in no way his equal in form, advantages or in rank to undo the damage. That day he laughed hard before he could realize what had come over him. In the end he had to agree it was very pleasant.

So naturally he esteemed Calisthenics highly as someone special.

After having spent some time alone disposing of many supplicants and writing orders the prince whispered to his bodyguards to call the mayor. During their first round each wanted to know the other. So they chatted this and that. When it was time for his evening prayer he excused himself. Before parting the grand mufti asked,“ What makes a smile the same as a tear?” “ By facing up to it, of course.” the mayor replied with a laugh.

2.

The next day the prince received the mayor and he was seated in a princely tent erected on the beach. Above the tent flew the prince’s personal standard and around the tent were many janissaries who watched the crowd with suspicion. The grand mufti was still friendly and said,“ As a mayor what sort of problems do you face?”

People are fine O grand Turk. It is just what they have to put up with is the problem. We are called the Sleepy Heads. Do I look sleepy?” The mayor asked. “ No, not by any means.” The prince said with a polite emphasis. “Do you know another joke?” the host asked eagerly.

O Prince why does a peanut come in a pod?” The grand mufti thought for a while and gave up. “You tell me.” The mayor replied, ”Because there are too many nuts jumping the queue.” The Turk laughed. ‘You know what makes a Turk tick?’ the mayor asked. The prince waited eagerly for a surprise. ”Because he is Turkeyed up!”

In the meantime the admiral came in with letters of request from various officials.

The mayor took care not to distract Prince Al- Wa’sik while he worked. He could see so many people with different insignias were cooling their heels to have a moment to speak their cases. Having disposed of the letters the prince stroked his beard, which was neatly trimmed and he turned towards him. His face showed a touch of regret as if he could not call that moment as his own. The mayor was about to rise up and go but he restrained him. ‘This shalln’t take much time’, he seemed to say. He beckoned his personal secretary to let the people come one after the other. Calisthenics had a new respect at the way he disposed them. A look said volumes; a gesture in place of so many words saved him time and effort; it put one in a dither and another cheery eyed. Where comfort or encouragement merited the prince spoke softly and as the mayor could hear, his voice acquired a peculiar timbre. His authority expressed with his proud gaze combined with such clear-cut enunciation of syllables so softly spoken was unmistakable. In him was power and gentleness. Even while walking tightrope between duty and mercy neither did betray the other. He had learnt how to perform as a prince who must at all times be just.

Each went off kissing his hand as if he were a holy relic. After he had sent the last man he turned to his guest and the seriousness, which had made his sharp features points of steel gave way to ease. His eyes seemed to say,”Where were we?”

Mayor Calisthenics began. He spoke concisely the history and cultural traditions, which he said if he should write it all down it could be done in one sitting. ” But the Sleepy Heads are known for breaking all such classifications. We have a saying among us, which goes thus:’ In a world of right-handed traditions we are left handed.’ Even there they do not strictly adhere to the rule.”

Really?” the prince could not imagine such a lawless society did really exist.“ If the Sleepy Heads hate to work with me or my council it is the tradition of the ruling class to make the work simplified in a manner the people can understand.”

Must you descend to their level?”

Yes,” the mayor replied seriously,” I am sent to bring order among the Sleepy Heads. Imposing it from the top I think is not a permanent solution.”

The prince was sure an iron fist would make order among the lawless at which the mayor showed in mock-seriousness his agreement. “Only that my Venetian Masters themselves are losing their grip. What avails me then to mould the Sleepy Heads according to their ideals once power itself has changed hands?” After a pause he added,” People friendly that is how the ruling class should be.”

So easily you give in to the mob?”

No, not at all.”the mayor was sure,”I can only work as one who respect the people who are governed. I govern better, so it seems to me, O prince, by turning their natural inclinations into something worthwhile. A catalyst perhaps.”

He defended his people by saying they were yet to divide people according to haves and have-nots.”He paused and the prince was impassive. “Yes it would seem so, we are backward not to let the things rule us.” the mayor added.

So the Sleepy Heads do not put things above the people?” Calisthenics nodded and said,”People come first. Always!”

You rule and your power..”

The mayor replied,” Our power is good up to a point. With such power as I have to hurt, will the ruled trust me freely?”

But should you not correct those over whom you have authority by setting a good example?” “If I set an example to the one lower in rank all that benefits me would be his ill will. Who knows he may complain to the king that I am itching to stand in his shoes. Or some other report to damn me.” “Come, come you are being cynical!” the prince said. “I said from what human nature is capable of,”replied Calisthenics simply, ”I am only human, I am only a Sleepy Head’ as our prayer to the Great One goes.”

I can appreciate you to some extent. But being good… “ “Good in some parts and spoilt in some others ,sir. None of us are perfect. You shall not convince me, prince that you are perfect.”

The prince solemnly admitted he was far from perfect. ‘O Allah kerim!’ and he was quick to add, “ I will not think of using my power for any thing other than to correct…”

By correcting do we change their basic nature or by arm-twisting do we achieve lasting results?” replied the mayor. The prince was deep in thought. Calisthenics asked,” What makes you think you know better how a matter leads to? Did not your prophet, as you believe the truth is, speak the last word on the subject?”

Yes Truth,”the grand mufti said reverentially, ”Nabi-mursil (Prophet-apostle) spoke the truth.”

You revere his message. Don’t you? If that be the case why Shi’ites or Sunnis?” The prince suddenly stiffened. “ Surely we can keep the matters of religion out of our discussion?” The mayor bowed and he soft-pedaled to say, “Merely because I have the power, would it mean I can see the outcome of things better? Or what I say to be the truth will be the last word on it? You may win an argument at the sword point and make the ‘infidel’ retract his stand. He who so retracts does only because he sees some perceived advantages. He is only human.”

You may see it well, O prince,” the mayor explained, ”from the manner a thing is done.” The prince heard him seriously. “You may teach your camel to carry you but he must stop whenever he has come to end of his tether. No amount of your truth or words of wisdom shall suit him if his legs are too tired.”

So human weakness in the end dictate truth?”

Not really,”Calisthenics replied,”the one who dictate what is the truth is as human as the one who must show what it is to be true.”

Whom I rule have their own viewpoint as we who make rules,” the prince said,”is it what you wanted to say?” The mayor nodded and explained by letting the people decide how they wish to be led ‘makes my office easier and leaves me enough time for my own

things.’ The prince frowned at times but he listened to him without interruption.

Somewhere along the line the topic about the Great One came up. Immediately the face of the prince lit up,” We have something common there. Allah the compassionate, Merciful and Just!” The grand mufti spoke the name reverentially and with great wonder. “But I was given to understand we should keep religion out of our discussion?” Calisthenics asked with a mischievous glint in his eye. ”Yes,”the grand mufti said, “My fault. I forgot myself for a moment.” “No, “replied the mayor,”Belief is so essential part of our nature. As easy as we walk. Do we ever wonder if our legs are adequate enough? No, faith is sufficient. If we did not think our legs would hold up would we walk? It is faith.”It surprised the prince. “That faith which we possess sometimes makes us just as you admitted a moment ago, forget ourselves. We are, as I said earlier, humans and imperfect too.”

That is why Allah has kept the paradise for those who trust in his mercy and do good.” Al-Wa’sik declared. “Paradise is an idea.” The mayor replied,”We have to think of what is so basic, in

terms of ideas. Whereas my dog will approach the same differently.”

Why bring a dog into discussion?” the prince snapped with a frown,”so many other examples would have equally fitted.” Calisthenics excused and said he had a dog which he considered was his trustworthy companion. “I did not know it was a contemptible animal according to your beliefs.”

Where were we?”the mayor asked and he got back where he had been diverted,” We make sense of our world in terms of ideas. If I do hold an idea others will also be at liberty to hold their ideas and of course some may hedge it with some special meanings.”

Touché.” The prince said with a smile and added,

Yes we are ready to fight for our faith and guard it with our lives.” ”Yes, your standpoint is different from mine. As different as your paradise.” the mayor observed.

Still such a vast difference? How is that possible? ” Calisthenics had thought on such things and he explained, “If we believe we live on solid ground it shall lead us to an idea so we may make our house also permanent. Another who loves a life of the open spaces may only want to spend the night under a tree or snuggle into a cave and move on with the first light. My brother is a nomad whereas I love a laid-back and sheltered life style. If my brother cultivate a life devoid of all luxuries and I a sybarite, O prince our standpoint is yet again the cause. Each of us with each day, from cradle to grave, merely adds to that essential self. O prince!”

Do not feel shocked. O prince,” the mayor said.

God is in the laws of Nature and in everything which serve a purpose. As proper for imperfect beings we are, we see Him as some one to serve our purpose. The Great One!”

The grand mufti imperiously waved his hand to desist the mayor from saying something awful. The guest took the hint and said, “In our respect and our love for one another we may still prove all such ideas as coming from one source.”

The prince asked,” The Great One?” The mayor nodded,”Or Allah, since we are calling names!”

Love and other romantic notions serve for a brief wink of time,”the prince commented,”where shall you be hereafter?” “You talk of paradise as if it is not yet come. We believe in the present.”

We Sleepy Heads live for the day,”Calisthenics added,” and we fear neither man nor their rank. For all that we do not consider ourselves as perfect or good. They pray to The Great One. So what? They pray for gifts. I expect their asking for gifts is not for improving their lot but merely a childlike curiosity. They seem to tell the Great One, ’Surprise me!’ The gifts are for the present and not for hereafter as you believe.” Al-Wa’sik heard him out patiently.

 

They talked of this and that. Calisthenics explained they had come to adopt customs on from hearsay. The mayor spoke about Santa Claus and of Sandman who came nightly to give them sound sleep and the prince thought were old wives tales. The mayor quoted Doctor Jerry Can who the prince thought was a dunce beyond belief.

Dismissing what the mayor said as something of a joke he could not understand, he moved to other things. At the end of their meeting he asked the mayor, “You shall dine with me tomorrow?”

At this point the mayor could hear a low roar, which came in waves from outside. It sounded as if people were all shouting and screaming. The grand mufti heard it too. He clapped once. A guard came to whom he spoke in whispers. After a while the same guard returned and spoke in whispers.

After he was dismissed the Turk laughed. “ Do we look like angels sent by Santa Claus whoever he is?” Calisthenics explained, “ Pardon me. Santa Claus is what we call our Great One. It is what our Doctor Jerry Can swears by.”

Outside your people are getting very restless. They want gifts.” The grand mufti said. “If Santa is an angel and one of them happens to take your shape I could believe in Santa as I believe in you.” the mayor answered. “Funny you believe in angels bearing gifts? And you expect me to give them gifts!” The Turk exclaimed.

So what you propose to do?”

Calisthenics knew that the Turk had friendly feelings towards him. So he dared to ask him questions as if he were his equal. “ You, my friend tell me. What sort of gifts you want some cash, clothes or freedom?” “Freedom of course “ the mayor replied.

You made an excellent choice.” The Turk said,” But no one is going to hand it over to you in a platter.” The mayor nodded.

I shall make it easier for you. Prove me your way of life has something good.” “ That is easy.” Replied the mayor, “ There was nothing to laugh for with your way of life. Was there?” The prince gravely nodded. ” The fact that you could laugh now proves the point.” After a pause Al- Wa’sik said, “ Perhaps you are right. I shall make my intentions clear.”

Prince Terrible Eyes wrote an order and folded it many times till it was no wider than an inch. Having folded it crosswise he sealed where the edges met. While the red wax was hot he pressed his signet ring. He instantly brought his guard to whom he commanded,” Here take this to the admiral.” “Hearing and obeying!” the guard went off quickly. The prince had let word around that the Sleepy Heads were under his personal protection.

3.

That night the mayor on reaching home asked his son if he knew two boys of 14 with strange accents. “One is called Rufus and the other a twelve year old, Nevis is his name.” His son replied they were as mysterious as the west wind. After a pause Maxim who was his firstborn wanted to know what was the matter with them. The father with a chuckle answered,” My lips are sealed. Act of Official Secrets and all that.”

He knew his son knew much more than he was willing to tell. So he played dumb in his turn. Like son, like father.

 (To Be Cont’d)

Read Full Post »

Chapter- 3

Captain Kous- Kous Asks A Favor

Captain of the Golden Dawn gives a tip to the Mayor; he also wants the favor returned if he succeeds with the Grand Mufti.

 

It was the month of April.

When the Turkish fleet landed there was a great rejoicing among the Sleepy Heads who had never seen so many ships all together. The ships were moored in the open sea and the Turks came in so many boats to the Bay of Morphou. They awaited their grand mufti to make his entry.

The Sleepy Heads did not see Turks but as so many Santa Claus whom they had only heard of. If those Turks strutted and preened themselves, so much the better said they. They knew in that case their gifts would be handsome too. Being Sleepy Heads they were waiting to be surprised; and they wondered what kind of gifts would come their way. ’What did it matter? If only we got something free!’ Ask a Sleepy Head if Santa were rich he would say without batting his eyelid, “ Of course he is rich. If he is not, can he give gifts?” They were reasonable people.

 

From far and wide people came. The musicians brought their instruments to play loud. They played a cheerful melody and then another. The Sleepy Heads kept on playing their instruments while the crowd watched. They were all the time gawking at the great wealth and richness of their ships. Whereas they were dressed in coarse goatskins and wore clogs, the Turks were all dressed in muslin and calf leather. They were a sight to see. So many hours went by and still the Sleepy Heads kept playing. In the end captain of one of the ships motioned the mayor to come closer. He asked the mayor, “ Say fellow, are they musicians?” The mayor proudly answered “ Yes, they are. Every one of them!” He added, “ They belong to The Sleepy Heads’ Band.”

Captain Kous-Kous commanded the ship the ‘Golden Dawn’. He was a man of medium height and with pleasant features. He looked a little down in the mouth as if he was in pain. He wearily asked the mayor,“ What are they playing?” “ Deadbeat” replied the mayor with a flourish.

Yes, yes, if you say so” the Turkish captain said,“ but are they keeping time?” “ Sure. “ said the mayor airily. “ Watch how the second fiddle tries to catch up with the kettle drum? Normally the drummer wins hands down. Have no fear sire, the fiddler will get to finish it sooner or later.”

I wanted to speak to the mayor. Where is your leader?” “ I am the mayor,” Calisthenics bowed politely. The captain introduced himself.” Captain Kous-Kous at your service. The grand mufti wants to have a word with you.” The Turk said.

The mayor of the Sleepy Heads followed him to the boat and there they went together friendly and chattering of this and that. If two total strangers on their first meeting could so freely talk and put each other at ease any talk of war must seem incredible. Is it not? Why would a nice captain like Kous-Kous want to slash a jolly mayor with his scimitar? Or mayor stick the Turk with a stiletto, which he carried only as a part of his Mayoral office? Had any one asked either of them each would have answered, ’No way!’

The captain let himself easily into the ship and helped the mayor to come in. Before the mayor was let into the suite where the grand mufti sat the captain said to him in a whisper, “ Do not ever look at the turban of his Lordship”. The mayor looked at him somewhat confused.

Why then is he wearing one?”

I don’t know,” the Turk replied, “But I have seen many who have come to grief on account of his turban.”

Is it OK if I laugh to his jokes?” asked the mayor and the sea captain stopped in his stride, “laugh! Never!”

The Turk explained the prince had never laughed and death was to anyone who displeased him. He added, ”If he smiles you have nothing to fear. If he frowns of course it would not be the end. But if he is angry, brother I shall not be there to help you!” The captain seemed nervous as they approached the Hall, which led to the suite of the grand mufti.

Prince Al-Wa’sik was a prince by birth. The mere mention of his father would have made many breathless. His father was none other than Suleiman the magnificent and the present sultan had entrusted the entire operation to his half brother. Selim ‘the Sot’ knew the prince, truly enlightened and pious that he was, did not covet his throne. Still, he had in a matter of precaution given him charge over state affairs, which kept him away from the power center. Thus throughout the year he was fighting wars overseas or negotiating with powerful rulers for the weal of the empire. He had acquired sensitivity from his mother an Arabian princess who safely kept herself out of harms way while the sultana held sway. She had pulled her strings from long distance to preserve him as he rose steadily in his career. He rose in time to be recognized by his sire, who elevated him to the powerful rank of grand mufti. After the death of his father he had kept rising without attracting the envy of the powerful. He was given charge of the Operation Stymie. The captain who briefed the mayor as to the many qualities of prince cautioned him, ” Under pain of death do not make any comment about the shape of his head. Death is for any one who displeases him. Understand?” “What makes his head special?”The captain said,”His head is OK. But his turban. Ooh!” Without stopping in his stride he continued,”Don’t ever stare at the turban of his Lordship.You know what is an onion like. And I have seen many. But you take a look at his turban; what does it bring to your mind, but an oversized onion?”The mayor was impressed. “Oh, brother how terrible! A word like ‘onionhead’ can cost your life, He is all too powerful.”

The mayor nodded. “ Is there something which will please the grand mufti?” He asked feeling a little afraid. “ Oh yes,” said the captain with a knowing smile. “ Tulips are his passion. A mere word will make him break out in goose pimples.” The mayor rubbed his hands as if he knew he could get away. “ My neck is in no danger of being broken.” The mayor said with obvious relief. “ I know of a thing of two about tulips. I am a tulip fancier myself.” The captain felt somewhat relieved, “A tulip fancier ah! What do you know of tulips?”

You have lips. So have I. We have two lips” said Calisthenics grandly. “ That will do.” Kouskous for the first time smiled, “ I am impressed. “ Do you grow tulips around these parts?”

O Brother, Don’t you have eyes?,” the mayor asked, “Look at my lips. How well they fit. Can you imagine me without two lips. They grow well here.”

Before this information could sink in Calisthenics added, “We wet it with our wines and wipe it clean with bread.”

The captain sniffed and said, “ I guess you are right. But I thought tulips were something of a horticultural talking point?” “A point well taken!” the mayor said with a bow. Kous-Kous said, “Fancy meeting a tulip grower here. You have to make an impression on the grand mufti. That is what counts.”

Not my two lips?” The mayor played it up.

Captain Kous-Kous suddenly became nervous and he said, “ He in there,’ pointing to the Hall,’ is very dangerous. His name means Terrible Eyes. There is death in them eyes.” The captain stopped short and turned to the mayor, “Let us be positive. If he is happy with you, Ah, then your fortune is made.” The captain whispered, “ If every thing goes well you can do me a favor.”

Come, ask me?” Calisthenics asked. “Do not forget to say something good about me during the interview. I am waiting for a promotion which is long over due.” He added,“ I Captain Kous- Kous believes in returning the favor. Scratch me I shall scratch your back.”

Oh sure!” The mayor said, ” Consider it as done.”

Captain Kous- Kous was a sea captain and not one blessed with a bright mind. Just the same he had a mind always to help those who needed help. Kous- Kous walked over to the guards who stood before the anteroom. “ The mayor is here.” One of the guards went inside and after a while returned. The captain before he took leave said,” Put in a word for me. Captain Kous- Kous is the name. Remember, on pain of death no mention of the word, Onion Head. That is one word, which makes him mad. Understand?”

At his point the gong struck. Hearing the sudden sound the captain almost panicked. He just made off. The guard motioned the mayor to enter. Before he could recover from his daze he was in. He reeled to step on rich Persian carpets and the sight of the grand mufti made it still worse. He did not for a moment or two know whether he was going or coming. So confused he was. The figure who sat on the carpet at the far end of the suite, with his elbow leaning on a large cushion was fierce and he said, “Enter!” His heart sank a little to realize that he had forgotten that word which he was not supposed to say. It was a long walk and he was careful not to stumble. At every step he was searching his memory for that one word. “Bulkhead? Minion? Or is it Dome? He rattled many words and discarded them all. “Oh no. it may never come back. I lost it.” The grand mufti was fair of form except for his turban, which was unusually large. Quickly he noted that his turban gave his head the shape of an onion head. “ Ah I got it!” Calisthenics exclaimed, “ Onionhead ! That was the word I should not speak on pain of death. The captain said so.” All the way to the platform where the grand mufti sat he kept reminding himself, “I must not say Onionhead whatever happens. Onionhead is the word.”

The prince beckoned him to approach still closer. The mayor did. He bowed politely. The Turk asked him to sit. He introduced himself. “Who are you?” Mayor Onionhead, sire!” The hapless mayor realized his mistake only after the words flew out of his mouth. It was out. ‘Nothing can get it back. Awful.’ The mayor blanched. He dared not look at the eyes of his host. ‘They must be like daggers now!’ Calisthenics shuddered,“ But I am a tulip fancier.” He bellowed with all his might. He thought that by shouting the word ‘tulip’ he might drown the words he had mistakenly said. There fell a dead silence. Then the grand mufti laughed. He laughed so hard that the wooden beams of the hall echoed it. The guards peeped. So did the executioner who had a large broad sword. He was laughing which burst out all at once. A full blown laughter and it shook his lithe muscular princely frame. “ This is a scream,” The Turk said, “ You made me laugh for the first time!”

So this is what it is to laugh?” The Turk asked loud. Being unused to laughter he tried a few more times.” No it does not sound good.” Of course the prince felt laughing but laughing for nothing was not good. ‘Laughter and jokes go together; like horse and carriage!’ the grand mufti mused.

Go on tell me another and make me laugh!” the Turk urged the mayor. “What can an Onionhead do that a coat of paint cannot do? The mayor began.

You tell me, make me laugh, Go on.” The Turk interrupted waving his hand as if he could not wait. The mayor said,” A coat of paint you can peel but you try peeling an Onionhead,” Calisthenics took time out and added the punch line,” you are sure to lose your head.” Did that make the Turk laugh? Of course he laughed harder and he almost doubled with it till he thought his stomach would burst. He thought laughter was all the time hiding within. He thought it was not his fault he never could laugh. ‘Only if I had heard something funny before’. He was in a wonder.

The mayor was sure enjoying himself. “What is the difference between my bald spot and my arm?”

You tell me,” the prince said straightening up.

The mayor could see the prince was in a good mood looking forward to let himself go. Showing his crown Calisthenics said,” On my head there are no split ends but,” shaking his hand loosely he continued,” my arm has a split end!” he said. “Ho Ho your fingers!” The Turk got the joke. The mayor stopped. He thought too many jokes in one go were as a no go. So he waited now for the Turk to say something.

The grand mufti asked finally, ” Do you sleep with all these jokes?” “Who wants to go to bed with a bagful of jokes?” Calisthenics asked, “ Give me a good night’s sleep and it is in the bag!,” He said snapping his fingers “just like that!” The mayor thought it all a dream. He pinched himself to make sure. It was real. He made the grand mufti laugh for the first time. He could not believe it. “Onion head, uh,uh” The Turk rolled again in mirth. He said,” My physicians said it was impossible”. He excused himself to inform his wives who were in another part of the ship.

When the Turk had gone a fellow in dirty clothes and with a clean-shaven head adorned only by a felt cap peeped in. Looking around to see that the grand mufti was out he entered boldly and said, “Who are you?” “Mayor Calisthenics. And who are you?”

Mullah Murad Mahoud, “ said the stranger,” I wasn’t expecting interruption.”

That makes two of us.”

You know who I am?” he glared.” I can smell your presence.“ the mayor said under his breath. The newcomer asked,“ Where Grand Mufti Al- Wa’sik has gone to?” “I have no idea. He did not tell me.” Mayor Calisthenics replied.

Did he go in long strides or with short steps?”

With a laugh he went.” Calisthenics replied.

Laugh? Impossible!” Mullah Murad was sure, “ He has no use for laughter. He is a Turk!” The mullah was angry. “Laugh once, Allah hears you O stranger, But laugh twice, you are committing blasphemy. So watch out!” Hearing footsteps he hurriedly disappeared.

The fellow came second time leading a black bear and the mayor was taken aback at its size. “ The bear is under my care. I can make him do what I will!” He had never seen such a beast. “ Can you make the beast laugh, O mullah?” “ What for?” “So I may grin and bear it. Laughing is forbidden, no?”

At that point a rat gallivanted across the carpeted hall and the mayor thought it had no sense of respect; Mahoud saw him too and he said, ”Kill him!” The next moment the bear just reached out its muscular and hairy paw to dispatch the unfortunate rat to the next world. The mayor shuddered to confront the evil glint in the eye of the mullah. He said, ”All I need to give him a command and it is done!” The mayor knew it was a veiled threat. From that point Calisthenics ignored him.

To his relief the grand mufti came in and it surprised the guest to see the way the mullah changed over. The prince told him something and hastily he left the hall with the lumbering giant. Conversationally Al-Wa’sik said the bear was his pet. “I call him No Malice. You don’t care for pets?” “Of course I do.” Said the mayor with a serious face,” Except when I am in a pet.” His host laughed politely. The mayor did not mention about the little drama the animal played in his absence.

Quickly the two got to converse. The prince spoke about his tulips and the mayor was passionate about trekking. Calisthenics realized the prince was hard pressed for time. He was called up again by a guard, who came in and whispered something into his ears. The prince first frowned and smiled weakly to say,” This is a matter of compassion. Allah requite me kindly for this.” He got up and left.

After half an hour he came back. He had the look of a man who had earned his place among mankind by such deeds as worthy of a human being. He said,” Two young boys were almost at the point of drowning. One of my men saved them; and they are even now being attended to. By my personal physician.”

Calisthenics asked if they could speak. “At least their names?” The grand mufti replied,” I will lead you to them and you can satisfy yourself and may be your presence would be of comfort.” The mayor straightaway followed his host into the private chambers of the prince.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

The Sleepy Heads did not believe so much in guardian angels as much as what they could do on behalf of the Great One. Each Sleepy Head believed he or she had a personal Santa Claus. (No one has seen a guardian angel but does that stop us from believing in a personal angel?) There on that afternoon they were pouring out of a fleet of ships before their eyes. They imagined there they had in so many ships come to please them.

They landed at the Bay of Morphou, which was clean and so broad for their purpose. Certainly the Turks looked very impressive even as they with one bound landed ashore. Each Sleepy Head saw how rich their dresses were. Every one of them had turbans of white muslin and red robes. They looked generous in their size and very friendly to wave towards them as if they had not forgotten them after all. Besides all those baggage which passed hands and laid in heaps before one who looked very authoritative, who instructed those two who knelt before him to make sure with the counting. ‘Bulging with goodies’ as one Sleepy Head remarked, “ which one shall be mine?”

The Sleepy Heads waved to them and they waved back. One Sleepy Head exclaimed, ‘I must be dreaming! There are thousands of them’. Another chimed, ‘Our angels have come! Which one is mine?’

There was a great commotion and Sleepy Heads ran pell-mell. “ Gifts! Millions are to be given away.. Oiiks! Free!” They all shouted. Boy, did they love getting presents! They mistook the Turks for Santa Claus of whom Doctor Jerry Can was often talking about.

One was doubtful. It was the month of April. Scrofulos said, “But did not the doctor say Santa pays visits only in the first month of the year?” Another one was too excited and he said, ”So what? The doctor also said the Sandman comes every night. Did he not tell so, otherwise we would have to count sheep?” The mayor who overheard them said with a gasp,” Here we see ships before our very eyes and you are talking of counting sheep. Fine state of affairs!”

To one who asked if Santa ever comes during the month of April the mayor said, “ The day Santa Claus comes with presents is the Day of Visitation. I shall pass an order to the effect if only you all would come to the Town Hall. Tomorrow?.” They just vanished.

The crowd was getting very restless and each one was jostling the other. The mayor said: “This is no way to greet Santa Claus. We will form a queue.” The Sleepy Heads thought it was a good idea. They formed themselves behind their mayor to welcome their angels, so many of them.

4.

Meanwhile the brouhaha on the land was not lost to those who were still in ships. The admiral of the fleet took one look at crowd and asked his captain, “ Why are we landing of all the places on this wild part? The town cannot even afford a decent name board.” Captain Kouskous said, “ May the sun ever shine on my master kindly. May his star rise steady to its bright destiny. What a far seeing vision master has, May that bright gaze remove my ignorance”.

Let us talk turkey, Captain Kouskous,” the admiral said firmly as he laid his telescope aside, “I asked you a question.” The captain kissed the hand of his master and said, “ We are landing here because it is the nearest point to us.” Feeling the anger of the admiral the captain lowered his gaze and said,” Blame it on geography, master. It is our kismet.”

Balderdash!” The admiral was angry.

The Turks meanwhile poured out of their ships and presented themselves to the crowd. It gave rise to a saying among the Cypriots, “When the enemy came the Sleepy Heads formed a queue to receive them.”

But at that moment the Sleepy Heads were all for collecting their gifts. They loved to be surprised.

What could be more surprising than receiving Santa Claus in the month of April?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »