Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip. – Great Expectations
Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens. The great Victorian novelist. The greatest of them all. He never came to Kashmir.He should have. He would have joined the ranks of the many British officers, travellers and writers who came to the valley. And would have left us a wealth of quotations about our place. Travel to Kashmir that time didn’t involve sitting in an overcrowded bus or plane, and landing in an overcrowded city. Dickens wouldn’t have minded that though, I am sure.
Once upon a time Presentation Convent High School at Raj Bagh used to have Oliver Twist’s abridged, easy English version, in their fifth class syllabus. As of now, I am not sure. But that was an excellent thing to do. To introduce students to classic literature. It was perhaps the only school to do it. And because of them, I had my first ever encounter with Dickens.
The whole world today (including Google) seems to be celebrating the genius writer’s bicentenary. In UK, Prince Charles is expected to lead the celebrations which include wreath laying at Dickens’s house and grave. While Kashmir may not be warm to this idea, this blog should be. As anyone who has like me read a little of Dickens will tell you that he wrote mostly of the zoi se zulm on children during his time, you would think that he must have been a controversial author. But actually during the time of his life, and surely never after that, Dickens never courted controversy on political matters. That even though he was harshly critical of England’s judicial and social system. He was once accused of being anti-Semitic when he referred to Fagin (in Oliver Twist) repeatedly as ‘the Jew’. But that was pretty much it.
I wish the great author nothing (for the impossibility of wishing him a life on his birthday), but I do wish his works a life of eternity, and his characters immortality.
Quite in recent memory Dickens made it to the front pages of Kashmiri newspapers. The quotation was authentic, as it was official. And it made one wonder, WHY? Why would anyone bring the ‘Tale of Two Cities’ to Kashmir? The comparisons would be far reaching.
“The last three years of our Lord, no pun intended, have been —in short, so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
There was a king with a balding head on the throne of Kashmir; there was a king with a turbaned head on the throne of India. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.
It was the year of two thousand and ten. Political revelations were conceded to India at that favoured period, as at this. The old King had come to power, again.
Kashmir, less favoured on the whole as to matters political than her sister of the wheel and tricolour, rolled with exceeding smoothness downhill, making young blood and spending it. Under the guidance of her coalition pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to prison under a certain Public Safety Act, his nails torn out with pincers, and his body burned with bullets, because he had been suspected of pelting stones at a dirty procession of armoured men and cars.
It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.
All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year two thousand and ten. Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the described heads, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures—along the roads that lay before them.”
The passage is from the first chapter of Tale of Two Cities by CharlesDickens – with some modifications, of course.
The title of the post is from Martin Chuzzlewit.