Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Run to Sumeru

Shoshee Chunder Dutt (1824-1885) was one of the most anthologized of Indians writing in English "back in the day". Apart from writing some mimic-poetry that is not altogether lacking in points of interest, as John Watson would say, he wrote The Reminiscences of a Kerani's Life. His prose essays, and his accounts of the 1857 war, offer insights into the times. Among Shoshee Chunder's best known poems is "A Vision of Sumeru", which narrates in classical form tales of the Hindu deities.

Recently I came across one of his more frivolous pieces, "A Run to Sumeru", where the author is whisked away by a Flibbertigibbet to Sumeru, where the Gods are acting in a most ungodly manner.
The Flibbertigibbet, or Imp of Satan, appears to be the personification (or impification) of the evils of Western culture. Not only does he quote Shakespeare, at the end of the story we find the author lying in a drain--the classic image of the Young Bengal wastrel--and looking for the mischievous influence.
The gods are consuming pork vindaloo, goose dumpoded, and Irish whiskey, in this drunken vision, as Saraswati flirts with Mahadeva. Bottles of Cordial Old Tom of the finest quality change hands, and Parvati ogles Vishnu.

The (clearly drunken) conversation about Shakespeare goes thus:
"Trust my wisdom once for all, and believe with old Will that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
"Well, really, this passes all bounds. You, Flib, have you the audacity to quote Will?"
"Audacity be hanged. I dined with him three hours ago in the groves of Chaitra-ratha; and were not we boon companions, both of us?"
"Now take care, Flib, or I shall break your head in earnest. You have been snarling over a bone with some dog, I suppose, named after the immortal bard of Avon."
"I have been drinking nectar (amrita) with the whole club of them, man; with Shakespeare, Milton, Homer, Vyasa, and Valmiki. Just trust your precious self with me for sixty minutes, and see if I don't get you into better company."
While this is suitably scandalous and impressive in its inappropriateness for its time, what struck me most is the opening passage.

The exact date for "A Run to Sumeru" is not given, but it was published in a volume titled Bengaliana: A Dish of Rice and Curry, and Other Indigestible Ingredients, in 1878. Do the first few paragraphs ring a bell?
After a hard day's work I was taking my siesta at the foot of my favourite citron-tree, having liberated my mind to divert itself for a while by a sentimental ramble over the vanities of existence. A slight rustling of leaves betrayed an intruder, and turning myself in that direction I saw, peering through the leaves, the mischievous face and leering eyes of that little rogue, Fliberrtigibbet, who tried to hide himself the moment he was seen.
"Come out from the copse, you little devil. What are you doing there now?"
"A cowrie for your thoughts, nuncle!" said he, grinning. "You are moping over the vanities of life, and would like to have a run to Sumeru."
"To Sumeru, you stupid? What for there?"
"Why, to see how the gods dispose of themselves to be sure."
Just for easy reference and cheeky speculation:
বেজায় গরম। গাছতলায় দিব্যি ছায়ার মধ্যে চুপচাপ শুয়ে আছি, তবু ঘেমে অস্থির। ঘাসের উপর রুমালটা ছিল, ঘাম মুছবার জন্য যেই সেটা তুলতে গিয়েছি অমনি রুমালটা বলল “ম্যাও!” কি আপদ! রুমালটা ম্যাও করে কেন?
চেয়ে দেখি রুমাল তো আর রুমাল নেই, দিব্যি মোটা-সোটা লাল টক্‌টকে একটা বেড়াল গোঁফ ফুলিয়ে প্যাট্ প্যাট্ করে আমার দিকে তাকিয়ে আছে!
আমি বললাম, “কি মুশকিল! ছিল রুমাল, হয়ে গেল একটা বেড়াল।”
অমনি বেড়ালটা বলে উঠল, “মুশকিল অবার কি? ছিল একটা ডিম, হয়ে গেল দিব্যি একটা প্যাঁক্‌পেঁকে হাঁস। এ তো হামেশাই হচ্ছে।”
আমি কিছুই বুঝতে পারলাম না, কিন্তু পাছে বেড়ালটা আবার সেইরকম বিশ্রী করে হেসে ওঠে, তাই সঙ্গে সঙ্গে হুঁ-হুঁ করে গেলাম। তার পর বেড়ালটা খানিকক্ষণ আকাশের দিকে তাকিয়ে হঠাৎ বলে উঠল, “গরম লাগে তো তিব্বত গেলেই পার।”
আমি বললাম, “বলা ভারি সহজ, কিন্তু বললেই তো আর যাওয়া যায় না?”
বেড়াল বলল, “কেন, সে আর মুশকিল কি?”
আমি বললাম, “কি করে যেতে হয় তুমি জানো?”

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