Monday, September 27, 2010

The Man Called Mahatma

His real name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, but the people called him Mahatma or Great Soul. One of the foremost spiritual and political leaders of the 1900’s, he is honored by the people of India as the father of their nation.
Gandhi helped free India from British control by using a unique method of non-violent resistance. This was a method of social action based upon principles of courage, non-violence and truth. Gandhi called this method Satyagraha. In this method, the way people behave is more important that what they achieve. The philosophy appeared strange to both European and English-educated Indians, but it appealed to ordinary people.
Gandhi was born in Porbandar, India on October 2, 1869. The Gandhis were middle-class Hindus belonging to the Vaisyas (merchant) caste of Hindus. This caste ranked just below the Brahmans, (priests and scholars) and the Kshatriyas (noble men, warriors).
The young, shy and serious Gandhi got married at the age of thirteen. This was an arrangement made by his parents in accordance with the Indian tradition. The young couple had four children.
Gandhi studied law in London and returned to India after passing the examinations.
In 1893, a Moslem company sent him to South Africa to do some legal work. At that time, South Africa was under British control. Almost immediately, he became a victim of discrimination.
It happened this way: For his travel to South Africa, his employer had purchased for him first class tickets. But at the first stop of his journey, a European entered the compartment where he was in. The European was furious at sharing a compartment with a “colored.” He summoned the conductor to order Gandhi to the baggage compartment. Gandhi refused and he was forcibly taken off the train.
According to Gandhi, the humiliation proved to be the “most creative experience” of his life. He said, “My active non-violence began from that date.”
Gandhi saw that most Indians suffered from discrimination. While at South Africa, he led campaigns for Indian rights. As part of Satyagraha, he promoted civil disobedience campaigns and organized a strike among Indian miners. He was arrested many times by the British but his efforts brought important reforms.
Gandhi also worked for the British when he felt justice was on their justice. He was decorated for paramedic work in the Boer War (1899-1902) and the Zulu Rebelliion (1906).
When Gandhi returned to India in 1914, he became the leader of the Indian nationalist movement. He began a program of hand spinning and weaving, believing that the program aided economic freedom by making India self-sufficient in cloth. He also believed that it promoted social freedom through the dignity of labor aside from advancing political freedom by preparing the Indians for self-government.
Meanwhile, he continued his Satyahgraha campaign, In 1930, he led hundred of followers on a 386-kilometer march to the sea where they made salt from seawater. This was a protest against the Salt Acts, which made it a crime to possess salt not brought from the government. During World War II (1939-1945), Gandhi continued his struggle for India’ freedom through non-violent resistance. He spend several years in prison for political activity. But he believed that it was honorable to go to jail for a good cause.
India was granted freedom in 1947. But the partition of the country into India and Pakistan grieved Gandhi. He was saddened also by the rioting between Hindus and Muslims that followed for he had wanted to see a united country. He urged the Hindus and the Muslims to live together in peace.
On January 13, 1948, at the age of seventy-three, Gandhi began to fast. His purpose was to end the bloodshed among the Hindus, Muslims and other groups. On January 18, the leaders of this group pledged to stop fighting and Gandhi broke his fast. Twelve days later, in New Delhi, while on his way to a prayer meeting, Gandhi was assassinated. A Hindu fanatic who opposed Gandhi’s program of tolerance for all creeds and religions, shot him three times.
A shocked India and the rest of the world mourned Gandhi’s death.
Gandhi’s great disciple and chosen successor Jawaharlal Nehru, spoke for millions when he said, “The light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere.” The great scientist Albert Einstein, said of Gandhi, “Generation to come will scarcely believe that such a man as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.”

Guide Questions:

1. What is Satyagraha?
2. What specific event for Gandhi started this Satyagraha?
3. What social and political events did Gandhi apply Satyagraha? Describe each.
4. What do Nehru and Einstein say about Gandhi?
5. What do you think they mean about it?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Summary: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

In a series of letters, Robert Walton, the captain of a ship bound for the North Pole, recounts to his sister back in England the progress of his dangerous mission. Successful early on, the mission is soon interrupted by seas full of impassable ice. Trapped, Walton encounters Victor Frankenstein, who has been traveling by dog-drawn sledge across the ice and is weakened by the cold. Walton takes him aboard ship, helps nurse him back to health, and hears the fantastic tale of the monster that Frankenstein created.

Victor first describes his early life in Geneva. At the end of a blissful childhood spent in the company of Elizabeth Lavenza (his cousin in the 1818 edition, his adopted sister in the 1831 edition) and friend Henry Clerval, Victor enters the university of Ingolstadt to study natural philosophy and chemistry. There, he is consumed by the desire to discover the secret of life and, after several years of research, becomes convinced that he has found it.

Armed with the knowledge he has long been seeking, Victor spends months feverishly fashioning a creature out of old body parts. One climactic night, in the secrecy of his apartment, he brings his creation to life. When he looks at the monstrosity that he has created, however, the sight horrifies him. After a fitful night of sleep, interrupted by the specter of the monster looming over him, he runs into the streets, eventually wandering in remorse. Victor runs into Henry, who has come to study at the university, and he takes his friend back to his apartment. Though the monster is gone, Victor falls into a feverish illness.

Sickened by his horrific deed, Victor prepares to return to Geneva, to his family, and to health. Just before departing Ingolstadt, however, he receives a letter from his father informing him that his youngest brother, William, has been murdered. Grief-stricken, Victor hurries home. While passing through the woods where William was strangled, he catches sight of the monster and becomes convinced that the monster is his brother’s murderer. Arriving in Geneva, Victor finds that Justine Moritz, a kind, gentle girl who had been adopted by the Frankenstein household, has been accused. She is tried, condemned, and executed, despite her assertions of innocence. Victor grows despondent, guilty with the knowledge that the monster he has created bears responsibility for the death of two innocent loved ones.

Hoping to ease his grief, Victor takes a vacation to the mountains. While he is alone one day, crossing an enormous glacier, the monster approaches him. The monster admits to the murder of William but begs for understanding. Lonely, shunned, and forlorn, he says that he struck out at William in a desperate attempt to injure Victor, his cruel creator. The monster begs Victor to create a mate for him, a monster equally grotesque to serve as his sole companion.

Victor refuses at first, horrified by the prospect of creating a second monster. The monster is eloquent and persuasive, however, and he eventually convinces Victor. After returning to Geneva, Victor heads for England, accompanied by Henry, to gather information for the creation of a female monster. Leaving Henry in Scotland, he secludes himself on a desolate island in the Orkneys and works reluctantly at repeating his first success. One night, struck by doubts about the morality of his actions, Victor glances out the window to see the monster glaring in at him with a frightening grin. Horrified by the possible consequences of his work, Victor destroys his new creation. The monster, enraged, vows revenge, swearing that he will be with Victor on Victor’s wedding night.

Later that night, Victor takes a boat out onto a lake and dumps the remains of the second creature in the water. The wind picks up and prevents him from returning to the island. In the morning, he finds himself ashore near an unknown town. Upon landing, he is arrested and informed that he will be tried for a murder discovered the previous night. Victor denies any knowledge of the murder, but when shown the body, he is shocked to behold his friend Henry Clerval, with the mark of the monster’s fingers on his neck. Victor falls ill, raving and feverish, and is kept in prison until his recovery, after which he is acquitted of the crime.

Shortly after returning to Geneva with his father, Victor marries Elizabeth. He fears the monster’s warning and suspects that he will be murdered on his wedding night. To be cautious, he sends Elizabeth away to wait for him. While he awaits the monster, he hears Elizabeth scream and realizes that the monster had been hinting at killing his new bride, not himself. Victor returns home to his father, who dies of grief a short time later. Victor vows to devote the rest of his life to finding the monster and exacting his revenge, and he soon departs to begin his quest.

Victor tracks the monster ever northward into the ice. In a dogsled chase, Victor almost catches up with the monster, but the sea beneath them swells and the ice breaks, leaving an unbridgeable gap between them. At this point, Walton encounters Victor, and the narrative catches up to the time of Walton’s fourth letter to his sister.

Walton tells the remainder of the story in another series of letters to his sister. Victor, already ill when the two men meet, worsens and dies shortly thereafter. When Walton returns, several days later, to the room in which the body lies, he is startled to see the monster weeping over Victor. The monster tells Walton of his immense solitude, suffering, hatred, and remorse. He asserts that now that his creator has died, he too can end his suffering. The monster then departs for the northernmost ice to die.

I wandered lonely as a cloud by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed---and gazed---but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

My heart leaps up when I behold by William Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man:
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Indian epic: Mahabharata


Among the descendants of King Bharata (after whose name India was called Bharata-varsha, land of the Bharatas) there were two successors to the throne of Hastinapura. Of these, the elder Dhritharashtra, was blind and gave over the reins of government to his younger brother Pandu. But Pandu grew weary of his duties and retired to hunt and enjoy himself. Again Dhritarashtra took control, sided by the advice and example of his wise old uncle, Bhisra. Upon Pandu’s death, his five sons were put under the care of his younger brother, who had one hundred sons of his own.

At first the king’s household was peaceful and free from strife, but gradually it became apparent that Pandu’s sons were far more capable of ruling than any of Dhritarashtra’s heirs. Of the Pandava’s, the name given to the five descendants of Pandu, all were remarkably able, but the oldest, Yudhisthira, was judged most promising, and therefore was chosen heir-apparent to the throne of the old blind king. To this selection of their cousin as the future king, the king’s own sons took violent exception. Accordingly, they persuaded their father to allow the Pandavas to leave the court and live by themselves. From a trap set by the unscrupulous Duryodhana, leader of the king’s sons, the five brothers escaped to the forest with their mother. There they spent some time in rustic exile.

In the meantime, Kind Draupada had announced that the hand of his daughterm Princess Draupadi, would be given to the hero surpassing all others in a feat of strength and skill, and had invited throngs of noblemen to compete for his daughter’s hand. In disguise, the Pandavas set out for King Draupada’s court.

More than two weeks were spent in celebrating the approaching nuptials of the princess before the trial of strength which would reveal the man worthy of taking the lovely princess as his wife. The test was to grasp a mighty bow, fit an arrow, bend the bow, and hit a metal target with the arrow. Contestant after contestant failed in the effort to bend the huge bow. Finally, Arjuna, third of the sons of Pandu, came forward and performed the feat with little effort to win the hand of the princess. But in curious fashion, Princess Draupadi became the wife of all five of the brothers. At this time also, the Pandavas met their cousin on their mother’s side, Khrishna of Dvaraka. This renowned Yadava nobleman they accepted as their special counselor and friend, and to him they owed much of their future success and power.

Hoping to avert dissension after his death, Kind Dhritarashtra decided to divide his kingdom into two parts, giving his hundred sons, the Kauravas, one portion and the Dhritashtra’s sons ruled in Hastinapur and the five sons of Pandu in Indraprastha.

The dying king’s attempt to settle affairs of government amicably resulted in peace and prosperity for a brief period. Then the wily Duryodhana, leader of the Kauravas, set another trap for the Pandavas. On this occasion, he enticed Yudhishthira, the eldest of the brothers, into a game of skill at dice. When the latter lost, the penalty was that the five brothers were to leave the court and spend the next twelve years in the forest. At the end of that time they were to have their kingdom holdings once again if they could pass another year in disguise, without having anyone recognize them.

The twelve year period of rustication was one many romantic and heroic adventures. All five brothers were concerned in stirring events: Arjuna, in particular, traveled far and long, visited the sacred stream of the Ganges, was courted by several noble ladies and finally married subhadra, sister of Krishna.

When the long time of exile was over, the Pandavas and Kauravas engaged in a war of heroes. Great armies were assembled: mountains of supplies were brought together. Just before the fighting began, Krishna, stepped forth and sang the divine song, the Bhagavad-Gita, in which he set forth such theological truths as the indestructibility of the soul, the necessity to defend the faith, and other fundamental precepts of the theology of Brahma. By means of this song, Arjuna was relieved of his doubts concerning the need to make his trial by battle.

The war lasted for some eighteen consecutive days, each day marked by fierce battles, single combats, and bloody attacks. Death and destruction were everywhere – the battlefields were strewn with broken bodies and ruined weapons and chariots. The outcome was annihilation of all the pretensions of the Kauravas and their allies to rule over the kingdom. Finally, Yudhisthira came to the throne amidst great celebrations, the payment of rich tribute and the ceremonial horse sacrifice.

Later the death of their spiritual and military counselor, Khrisna, led the five brothers to realize their weariness with earthly romp and striving. Accordingly, Yudhisthira gave up his duties as their ruler. The five brothers then banded together, clothed themselves as hermits, and set out for Mount Meru, the dwelling place of the gods on high. They were accompanied by their wife Draupadi and a dog that joined them on their journey. As they proceded, one after the other dropped by the way and perished. At last only Yudhisthira declined to enter without his canine companion. Then the truth was revealed – the dog was in reality the god of justice himself; sent to test Yudhisthira’s constancy.

But Yudhisthira was not content in heaven, for he soon realized that his brothers and Draupadi had been required to descend the Lower regions and their expiate their mortal sins. Lonely and disconsolate, he decided to join them until all could be united in heaven. After he had spent some time in that realm of suffering, and torture, the gods took pity on him. Along with his brothers and Draupadi, he was transported back to heaven, where all dwelt in perpetual happiness.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bread of Salt by NVM Gonzales

The Bread of Salt
by NVM Gonzalez (1958)
sually I was in bed by ten and up by five and thus was ready for one more
day of my fourteenth year. Unless Grandmother had forgotten, the fifteen
centavos for the baker down Progreso Street - and how I enjoyed jingling
those coins in my pocket!- would be in the empty fruit jar in the cupboard. I
would remember then that rolls were what Grandmother wanted because
recently she had lost three molars. For young people like my cousins and myself,
she had always said that the kind called pan de sal ought to be quite all right.
The bread of salt! How did it get that name? From where did its flavor come,
through what secret action of flour and yeast? At the risk of being jostled from the
counter by early buyers, I would push my way into the shop so that I might watch
the men who, stripped to the waist, worked their long flat wooden spades in and
out of the glowing maw of the oven. Why did the bread come nut-brown and the
size of my little fist? And why did it have a pair of lips convulsed into a painful
frown? In the half light of the street, and hurrying, the paper bag pressed to my
chest, I felt my curiosity a little gratified by the oven-fresh warmth of the bread I
was proudly bringing home for breakfast.
Well I knew how Grandmother would not mind if I nibbled away at one piece;
perhaps, I might even eat two, to be charged later against my share at the table.
But that would be betraying a trust; and so, indeed, I kept my purchase intact. To
guard it from harm, I watched my steps and avoided the dark street corners.
For my reward, I had only to look in the direction of the sea wall and the fifty
yards or so of riverbed beyond it, where an old Spaniard's house stood. At low
tide, when the bed was dry and the rocks glinted with broken bottles, the stone
fence of the Spaniard's compound set off the house as if it were a castle. Sunrise
brought a wash of silver upon the roofs of the laundry and garden sheds which
had been built low and close to the fence. On dull mornings the light dripped from
the bamboo screen which covered the veranda and hung some four or five yards
from the ground. Unless it was August, when the damp, northeast monsoon had
to be kept away from the rooms, three servants raised the screen promptly at
six-thirty until it was completely hidden under the veranda eaves. From the sound
of the pulleys, I knew it was time to set out for school.
It was in his service, as a coconut plantation overseer, that Grandfather had
spent the last thirty years of his life. Grandmother had been widowed three years
now. I often wondered whether I was being depended upon to spend the years
ahead in the service of this great house. One day I learned that Aida, a
classmate in high school, was the old Spaniard's niece. All my doubts
disappeared. It was as if, before his death, Grandfather had spoken to me about
her, concealing the seriousness of the matter by putting it over as a joke. If now I
kept true to the virtues, she would step out of her bedroom ostensibly to say
Good Morning to her uncle. Her real purpose, I knew, was to reveal thus her
assent to my desire.
On quiet mornings I imagined the patter of her shoes upon the wooden veranda
floor as a further sign, and I would hurry off to school, taking the route she had
fixed for me past the post office, the town plaza and the church, the health center
east of the plaza, and at last the school grounds. I asked myself whether I would
try to walk with her and decided it would be the height of rudeness. Enough that
in her blue skirt and white middy she would be half a block ahead and, from that
distance, perhaps throw a glance in my direction, to bestow upon my heart a
deserved and abundant blessing. I believed it was but right that, in some such
way as this, her mission in my life was disguised.
Her name, I was to learn many years later, was a convenient mnemonic for the
qualities to which argument might aspire. But in those days it was a living voice.
"Oh that you might be worthy of uttering me," it said. And how I endeavored to
build my body so that I might live long to honor her. With every victory at singles
at the handball court the game was then the craze at school -- I could feel my
body glow in the sun as though it had instantly been cast in bronze. I guarded my
mind and did not let my wits go astray. In class I would not allow a lesson to pass
unmastered. Our English teacher could put no question before us that did not
have a ready answer in my head. One day he read Robert Louis Stevenson's
The Sire de Maletroit's Door, and we were so enthralled that our breaths
trembled. I knew then that somewhere, sometime in the not too improbable
future, a benign old man with a lantern in his hand would also detain me in a
secret room, and there daybreak would find me thrilled by the sudden certainty
that I had won Aida's hand.
It was perhaps on my violin that her name wrought such a tender spell. Maestro
Antonino remarked the dexterity of my stubby fingers. Quickly I raced through
Alard-until I had all but committed two thirds of the book to memory. My short,
brown arm learned at last to draw the bow with grace. Sometimes, when
practising my scales in the early evening, I wondered if the sea wind carrying the
straggling notes across the pebbled river did not transform them into Schubert's
At last Mr. Custodio, who was in charge of our school orchestra, became aware
of my progress. He moved me from second to first violin. During the
Thanksgiving Day program he bade me render a number, complete with pizzicati
and harmonics.
"Another Vallejo! Our own Albert Spalding!" I heard from the front row.
Aida, I thought, would be in the audience. I looked around quickly but could not
see her. As I retired to my place in the orchestra I heard Pete Saez, the
trombone player, call my name.
"You must join my band," he said. "Look, we'll have many engagements soon. It'll
be vacation time."
Pete pressed my arm. He had for some time now been asking me to join the
Minviluz Orchestra, his private band. All I had been able to tell him was that I had
my schoolwork to mind. He was twenty-two. I was perhaps too young to be going
around with him. He earned his school fees and supported his mother hiring out
his band at least three or four times a month. He now said:
"Tomorrow we play at the funeral of a Chinese-four to six in the afternoon; in the
evening, judge Roldan's silver wedding anniversary; Sunday, the municipal
My head began to whirl. On the stage, in front of us, the principal had begun a
speech about America. Nothing he could say about the Pilgrim Fathers and the
American custom of feasting on turkey seemed interesting. I thought of the
money I would earn. For several days now I had but one wish, to buy a box of
linen stationery. At night when the house was quiet I would fill the sheets with
words that would tell Aida how much I adored her. One of these mornings,
perhaps before school closed for the holidays, I would borrow her algebra book
and there, upon a good pageful of equations, there I would slip my message,
tenderly pressing the leaves of the book. She would perhaps never write back.
Neither by post nor by hand would a reply reach me. But no matter; it would be a
silence full of voices.
That night I dreamed I had returned from a tour of the world's music centers; the
newspapers of Manila had been generous with praise. I saw my picture on the
cover of a magazine. A writer had described how, many years ago, I used to
trudge the streets of Buenavista with my violin in a battered black cardboard
case. In New York, he reported, a millionaire had offered me a Stradivarius violin,
with a card that bore the inscription: "In admiration of a genius your own people
must surely be proud of." I dreamed I spent a weekend at the millionaire's
country house by the Hudson. A young girl in a blue skirt and white middy
clapped her lily-white hands and, her voice trembling, cried "Bravo!"
What people now observed at home was the diligence with which I attended to
my violin lessons. My aunt, who had come from the farm to join her children for
the holidays, brought with her a maidservant, and to the poor girl was given the
chore of taking the money to the baker's for rolls and pan de sal. I realized at
once that it would be no longer becoming on my part to make these morning trips
to the baker's. I could not thank my aunt enough.
I began to chafe on being given other errands. Suspecting my violin to be the
excuse, my aunt remarked:
"What do you want to be a musician for? At parties, musicians always eat last."
Perhaps, I said to myself, she was thinking of a pack of dogs scrambling for
scraps tossed over the fence by some careless kitchen maid. She was the sort
you could depend on to say such vulgar things. For that reason, I thought, she
ought not to be taken seriously at all.
But the remark hurt me. Although Grandmother had counseled me kindly to mind
my work at school, I went again and again to Pete Saez's house for rehearsals.
She had demanded that I deposit with her my earnings; I had felt too weak to
refuse. Secretly, I counted the money and decided not to ask for it until I had
enough with which to buy a brooch. Why this time I wanted to give Aida a brooch,
I didn't know. But I had set my heart on it. I searched the downtown shops. The
Chinese clerks, seeing me so young, were annoyed when I inquired about prices.
At last the Christmas season began. I had not counted on Aida's leaving home,
and remembering that her parents lived in Badajoz, my torment was almost
unbearable. Not once had I tried to tell her of my love. My letters had remained
unwritten, and the algebra book unborrowed. There was still the brooch to find,
but I could not decide on the sort of brooch I really wanted. And the money, in
any case, was in Grandmother's purse, which smelled of "Tiger Balm." I grew
somewhat feverish as our class Christmas program drew near. Finally it came; it
was a warm December afternoon. I decided to leave the room when our English
teacher announced that members of the class might exchange gifts. I felt
fortunate; Pete was at the door, beckoning to me. We walked out to the porch
where, Pete said, he would tell me a secret.
It was about an asalto the next Sunday which the Buenavista Women's Club
wished to give Don Esteban's daughters, Josefina and Alicia, who were arriving
on the morning steamer from Manila. The spinsters were much loved by the
ladies. Years ago, when they were younger, these ladies studied solfeggio with
Josefina and the piano and harp with Alicia. As Pete told me all this, his lips
ash-gray from practising all morning on his trombone, I saw in my mind the
sisters in their silk dresses, shuffling off to church for theevening benediction.
They were very devout, and the Buenavista ladies admired that. I had almost
forgotten that they were twins and, despite their age, often dressed alike. In
low-bosomed voile bodices and white summer hats, I remembered, the pair had
attended Grandfather's funeral, at old Don Esteban's behest. I wondered how
successful they had been in Manila during the past three years in the matter of
finding suitable husbands.
"This party will be a complete surprise," Pete said, looking around the porch as if
to swear me to secrecy. "They've hired our band."
I joined my classmates in the room, greeting everyone with a Merry Christmas
jollier than that of the others. When I saw Aida in one corner unwrapping
something two girls had given her, I found the boldness to greet her also.
"Merry Christmas," I said in English, as a hairbrush and a powder case emerged
from the fancy wrapping. It seemed to me rather apt that such gifts went to her.
Already several girls were gathered around Aida. Their eyes glowed with envy, it
seemed to me, for those fair cheeks and the bobbed dark-brown hair which
lineage had denied them.
I was too dumbstruck by my own meanness to hear exactly what Aida said in
answer to my greeting. But I recovered shortly and asked:
"Will you be away during the vacation?"
"No, I'll be staying here," she said. When she added that her cousins were
arriving and that a big party in their honor was being planned, I remarked:
"So you know all about it?" I felt I had to explain that the party was meant to be a
surprise, an asalto.
And now it would be nothing of the kind, really. The women's club matrons would
hustle about, disguising their scurrying around for cakes and candies as for some
baptismal party or other. In the end, the Rivas sisters would outdo them. Boxes
of meringues, bonbons, ladyfingers, and cinnamon buns that only the Swiss
bakers in Manila could make were perhaps coming on the boat with them. I
imagined a table glimmering with long-stemmed punch glasses; enthroned in that
array would be a huge brick-red bowl of gleaming china with golden flowers
around the brim. The local matrons, however hard they tried, however sincere
their efforts, were bound to fail in their aspiration to rise to the level of Don
Esteban's daughters. Perhaps, I thought, Aida knew all this. And that I should
share in a foreknowledge of the matrons' hopes was a matter beyond love. Aida
and I could laugh together with the gods.
At seven, on the appointed evening, our small band gathered quietly at the gate
of Don Esteban's house, and when the ladies arrived in their heavy shawls and
trim panuelo, twittering with excitement, we were commanded to play the Poet
and Peasant overture. As Pete directed the band, his eyes glowed with pride for
his having been part of the big event. The multicolored lights that the old
Spaniard's gardeners had strung along the vine-covered fence were switched on,
and the women remarked that Don Esteban's daughters might have made some
preparations after all. Pete hid his face from the glare. If the women felt let down,
they did not show it.
The overture shuffled along to its climax while five men in white shirts bore huge
boxes of goods into the house. I recognized one of the bakers in spite of the
uniform. A chorus of confused greetings, and the women trooped into the house;
and before we had settled in the sala to play "A Basket of Roses," the heavy
damask curtains at the far end of the room were drawn and a long table richly
spread was revealed under the chandeliers. I remembered that, in our haste to
be on hand for the asalto, Pete and I had discouraged the members of the band
from taking their suppers.
"You've done us a great honor!" Josefina, the more buxom of the twins, greeted
the ladies.
"Oh, but you have not allowed us to take you by surprise!" the ladies demurred in
a chorus.
There were sighs and further protestations amid a rustle of skirts and the glitter of
earrings. I saw Aida in a long, flowing white gown and wearing an arch of
sampaguita flowers on her hair. At her command, two servants brought out a
gleaming harp from the music room. Only the slightest scraping could be heard
because the servants were barefoot. As Aida directed them to place the
instrument near the seats we occupied, my heart leaped to my throat. Soon she
was lost among the guests, and we played "The Dance of the Glowworms." I
kept my eyes closed and held for as long as I could her radiant figure before me.
Alicia played on the harp and then, in answer to the deafening applause, she
offered an encore. Josefina sang afterward. Her voice, though a little husky,
fetched enormous sighs. For her encore, she gave "The Last Rose of Summer";
and the song brought back snatches of the years gone by. Memories of solfeggio
lessons eddied about us, as if there were rustling leaves scattered all over the
hall. Don Esteban appeared. Earlier, he had greeted the crowd handsomely,
twisting his mustache to hide a natural shyness before talkative women. He
stayed long enough to listen to the harp again, whispering in his rapture:
"Heavenly. Heavenly . . ."
By midnight, the merrymaking lagged. We played while the party gathered
around the great table at the end of the sala. My mind traveled across the seas to
the distant cities I had dreamed about. The sisters sailed among the ladies like
two great white liners amid a fleet of tugboats in a bay. Someone had
thoughtfully remembered-and at last Pete Saez signaled to us to put our
instruments away. We walked in single file across the hall, led by one of the
barefoot servants.
Behind us a couple of hoarse sopranos sang "La Paloma" to the accompaniment
of the harp, but I did not care to find out who they were. The sight of so much
silver and china confused me. There was more food before us than I had ever
imagined. I searched in my mind for the names of the dishes; but my ignorance
appalled me. I wondered what had happened to the boxes of food that the
Buenavista ladies had sent up earlier. In a silver bowl was something, I
discovered, that appeared like whole egg yolks that had been dipped in honey
and peppermint. The seven of us in the orchestra were all of one mind about the
feast; and so, confident that I was with friends, I allowed my covetousness to
have its sway and not only stuffed my mouth with this and that confection but
also wrapped up a quantity of those egg-yolk things in several sheets of napkin
paper. None of my companions had thought of doing the same, and it was with
some pride that I slipped the packet under my shirt. There, I knew, it would not
"Have you eaten?"
I turned around. It was Aida. My bow tie seemed to tighten around my collar. I
mumbled something, I did not know what.
"If you wait a little while till they've gone, I'll wrap up a big package for you," she
I brought a handkerchief to my mouth. I might have honored her solicitude
adequately and even relieved myself of any embarrassment; I could not quite
believe that she had seen me, and yet I was sure that she knew what I had done,
and I felt all ardor for her gone from me entirely.
I walked away to the nearest door, praying that the damask curtains might hide
me in my shame. The door gave on to the veranda, where once my love had trod
on sunbeams. Outside it was dark, and a faint wind was singing in the harbor.
With the napkin balled up in my hand, I flung out my arm to scatter the egg-yolk
things in the dark. I waited for the soft sound of their fall on the garden-shed roof.
Instead, I heard a spatter in the rising night-tide beyond the stone fence. Farther
away glimmered the light from Grandmother's window, calling me home.
But the party broke up at one or thereabouts. We walked away with our
instruments after the matrons were done with their interminable good-byes.
Then, to the tune of "Joy to the World," we pulled the Progreso Street
shopkeepers out of their beds. The Chinese merchants were especially
generous. When Pete divided our collection under a street lamp, there was
already a little glow of daybreak.
He walked with me part of the way home. We stopped at the baker's when I told
him that I wanted to buy with my own money some bread to eat on the way to
Grandmother's house at the edge of the sea wall. He laughed, thinking it strange
that I should be hungry. We found ourselves alone at the counter; and we
watched the bakery assistants at work until our bodies grew warm from the oven
across the door. It was not quite five, and the bread was not yet ready.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Soul of the Great Bell by Lafcadio Hearn

The water-clock marks the hour in the Tachung sz’, in the Tower of the Great Bell: now the mallet is lifted to smite the lips of the metal monster—the vast lips inscribed with Buddhist texts from the sacred Fa-hwa-King, from the chapters of the holy Ling-yen-King! Hear the great bell responding!—how mighty her voice, though tongueless! KO-NGAI! All the little dragons on the high-tilted eaves of the green roofs shiver to the tips of their gilded tails under that deep wave of sound; all the porcelain gargoyles tremble on their carven perches; all the hundred little bells of the pagodas quiver with desire to speak. KO-NGAI—all the green-and-gold tiles of the temple are vibrating; the wooden goldfish above them are writhing against the sky; the uplifted finger of Fo shakes high over the heads of the worshippers through the blue fog of incense! KO-NGAI!—What a thunder tone was that! All the lacquered goblins on the palace cornices wriggle their fire-coloured tongues! And after each huge shock, how wondrous the multiple echo and the great golden moan, and, at last, the sudden sibilant sobbing in the ears when the immense tone faints away in broken whispers of silver, as though a woman should whisper, “Hiai!” Even so the great bell hath sounded every day for well-nigh five hundred years—Ko-Ngai: first with stupendous clang, then with immeasurable moan of gold, then with silver murmuring of “Hiai!” And there is not a child in all the many-coloured ways of the old Chinese city who does not know the story of the great bell, who cannot tell you why the great bell says Ko-Ngai and Hiai!
Now this is the story of the great bell in the Tachung sz’, as the same is related in the Pe-Hiao-Tou-Choue, written by the learned Yu-Pao-Tchen, of the City of Kwang-tchau-fu.

Nearly five hundred years ago the Celestially August, the Son of Heaven, Yong-Lo, of the “Illustrious” or Ming dynasty, commanded the worthy official Kouan-Yu that he should have a bell made of such size that the sound thereof might be heard for one hundred li. And he further ordained that the voice of the bell should be strengthened with brass, and deepened with gold, and sweetened with silver; and that the face and the great lips of it should be graven with blessed sayings from the sacred books, and that it should be suspended in the centre of the imperial capital to sound through all the many-coloured ways of the City of Pe-King.
Therefore the worthy mandarin Kouan-Yu assembled the master-moulders and the renowned bellsmiths of the empire, and all men of great repute and cunning in foundry work; and they measured the materials for the alloy, and treated them skilfully, and prepared the moulds, the fires, the instruments, and the monstrous melting-pot for fusing the metal. And they laboured exceedingly, like giants neglecting only rest and sleep and the comforts of life; toiling both night and day in obedience to Kouan-Yu, and striving in all things to do the behest of the Son of Heaven.

But when the metal had been cast, and the earthen mould separated from the glowing casting, it was discovered that, despite their great labour and ceaseless care, the result was void of worth; for the metals had rebelled one against the other—the gold had scorned alliance with the brass, the silver would not mingle with the molten iron. Therefore the moulds had to be once more prepared, and the fires rekindled, and the metal remelted, and all the work tediously and toilsomely repeated. The Son of Heaven heard and was angry, but spake nothing.
A second time the bell was cast, and the result was even worse. Still the metals obstinately refused to blend one with the other; and there was no uniformity in the bell, and the sides of it were cracked and fissured, and the lips of it were slagged and split asunder; so that all the labour had to be repeated even a third time, to the great dismay of Kouan-Yu. And when the Son of Heaven heard these things, he was angrier than before; and sent his messenger to Kouan-Yu with a letter, written upon lemon-coloured silk and sealed with the seal of the dragon, containing these words:

“From the Mighty Young-Lo, the Sublime Tait-Sung, the Celestial and August, whose reign is called ‘Ming,’ to Kouan-Yu the Fuh-yin: Twice thou hast betrayed the trust we have deigned graciously to place in thee; if thou fail a third time in fulfilling our command, thy head shall be severed from thy neck. Tremble, and obey!”
Now, Kouan-Yu had a daughter of dazzling loveliness whose name—Ko-Ngai—was ever in the mouths of poets, and whose heart was even more beautiful than her face. Ko-Ngai loved her father with such love that she had refused a hundred worthy suitors rather than make his home desolate by her absence; and when she had seen the awful yellow missive, sealed with the Dragon-Seal, she fainted away with fear for her father’s sake. And when her senses and her strength returned to her, she could not rest or sleep for thinking of her parent’s danger, until she had secretly sold some of her jewels, and with the money so obtained had hastened to an astrologer, and paid him a great price to advise her by what means her father might be saved from the peril impending over him. So the astrologer made observations of the heavens, and marked the aspect of the Silver Stream (which we call the Milky Way), and examined the signs of the Zodiac—the Hwang-tao, or Yellow Road—and consulted the table of the Five Hin, or Principles of the Universe, and the mystical books of the alchemists. And after a long silence, he made answer to her, saying: “Gold and brass will never meet in wedlock, silver and iron never will embrace, until the flesh of a maiden be melted in the crucible; until the blood of a virgin be mixed with the metals in their fusion.” So Ko-Ngai returned home sorrowful at heart; but she kept secret all that she had heard, and told no one what she had done.
At last came the awful day when the third and last effort to cast the great bell was to be made; and Ko-Ngai, together with her waiting-woman, accompanied her father to the foundry, and they took their places upon a platform overlooking the toiling of the moulders and the lava of liquefied metal. All the workmen wrought at their tasks in silence; there was no sound heard but the muttering of the fires. And the muttering deepened into a roar like the roar of typhoons approaching, and the blood-red lake of metal slowly brightened like the vermilion of a sunrise, and the vermilion was transmuted into a radiant glow of gold, and the gold whitened blindingly, like the silver face of a full moon. Then the workers ceased to feed the raving flame, and all fixed their eyes upon the eyes of Kouan-Yu; and Kouan-Yu prepared to give the signal to cast.

But ere ever he lifted his finger, a cry caused him to turn his head and all heard the voice of Ko-Ngai sounding sharply sweet as a bird’s song above the great thunder of the fires—“For thy sake, O my father!” And even as she cried, she leaped into the white flood of metal; and the lava of the furnace roared to receive her, and spattered monstrous flakes of flame to the roof, and burst over the verge of the earthen crater, and cast up a whirling fountain of many-coloured fires, and subsided quakingly, with lightnings and with thunders and with mutterings.
Then the father of Ko-Ngai, wild with his grief, would have leaped in after her, but that strong men held him back and kept firm grasp upon him until he had fainted away, and they could bear him like one dead to his home. And the serving-woman of Ko-Ngai, dizzy and speechless for pain, stood before the furnace, still holding in her hands a shoe, a tiny, dainty shoe, with embroidery of pearls and flowers—the shoe of her beautiful mistress that was. For she had sought to grasp Ko-Ngai by the foot as she leaped, but had only been able to clutch the shoe, and the pretty shoe came off in her hand; and she continued to stare at it like one gone mad.
But in spite of all these things, the command of the Celestial and August had to be obeyed, and the work of the moulders to be finished, hopeless as the result might be. Yet the glow of the metal seemed purer and whiter than before; and there was no sign of the beautiful body that had been entombed therein. So the ponderous casting was made; and lo! when the metal had become cool, it was found that the bell was beautiful to look upon and perfect in form, and wonderful in colour above all other bells. Nor was there any trace found of the body of Ko-Ngai; for it had been totally absorbed by the precious alloy, and blended with the well-blended brass and gold, with the intermingling of the silver and the iron. And when they sounded the bell, its tones were found to be deeper and mellower and mightier than the tones of any other bell, reaching even beyond the distance of one hundred li, like a pealing of summer thunder; and yet also like some vast voice uttering a name, a woman’s name, the name of Ko-Ngai.
And still, between each mighty stroke there is a long low moaning heard; and ever the moaning ends with a sound of sobbing and of complaining, as though a weeping woman should murmur, “Hiai!” And still, when the people hear that great golden moan they keep silence, but when the sharp, sweet shuddering comes in the air, and the sobbing of “Hiai!” then, indeed, do all the Chinese mothers in all the many-coloured ways of Pe-King whisper to their little ones: “Listen! that is Ko-Ngai crying for her shoe! That is Ko-Ngai calling for her shoe!”