Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Mystery and Grandeur of India: Part One

It's no surprise that so many mysteries are set in India. One of the first books that made me fall in love with this setting was M.M. Kaye's The Far Pavilions, which contains beautiful descriptions of India, like this one, where the hero as a child is protected by his guardian, Sita, who calls him Ash-Baba.

She comforts him with tales of a place they will one day go, when they no longer need to run, and "the valley among the mountains where they would one day live in a flat-roofed house among the fruit trees, and keep a goat and a cow, a puppy and a kitten . . .

'And the donkey,' said Ash drowsily. 'We must take the donkey.'

'Assuredly we will take the donkey, he shall help us carry water jars from the river; and wood for our fire, for when night falls it is cool in the high valleys--cool and pleasant, and the wind that blows from the forests smells of pine-cones and snow and makes a sound that says Hush--Hush--Hush . . ."

Descriptions like that can make you fall in love with a place you've never seen.

Now, thanks to an e-mail chat with Gloria Feit, who posts wonderful mystery reviews on DorothyL along with her husband, Ted, I have been able to take a vicarious trip to India, because the Feits recently visited that fascinating country and shared their photos. In addition, Gloria provided her observations with me and said that I, in turn, could share them with you here.

Gloria noted that "the overwhelming feeling with which you return is how--not dirty, but dusty, everything is. Whether in the cities [Bombay - now Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur or wherever] most of the roads and streets are unpaved. You find yourself sharing the road, or the city streets, variously with the cows that are everywhere, goats, wild pigs, elephants, camels, and wild-driving vehicles. Hair-raising at times, unnerving at others."

Gloria also wrote of the sad fact of poverty, but worse yet the eventual tendency to overlook it (similar to the reporter from CNN who once wrote of the horror of street executions in the Middle East, but the worse reality of growing immune to them). In any case, Gloria pointed out, the begging becomes ubiquitous. However, she visited one well-to-do family and there were beggars just outside his home.

The man's response surprised her: "When one of our group queried the homeowner about this, being several yards away from his comfortable home, he said that since the land had become so valuable [as in most of the rest of the world], these farmers had received a small fortune for the bulk of their property, but still led the existence they were used to: children in rags, still begging for money or food."

Gloria also noted that their visit was both exhausting and unforgettable, and that the Taj Mahal literally took her breath away.

So tomorrow's blog will focus on: The Taj Mahal.

Thanks so much, Gloria!

(Photos: Top: taken from their boat, returning from the Palace. Picture two: The Feits identify these fellows as a common sight on the roadside. Picture three: A street scene in Jodphur. Picture four: Gateway to India at left; Taj hotel at right. Picture five: here is the elephant right before they "boarded" for their journey to Amber Fort.)


Anonymous said...

M.M. Kaye wrote some wonderful mysteries. You know, I never read THE FAR PAVILIONS, even though it was so popular a number o years ago. I did read all her mysteries.

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Julia Buckley said...

Well thanks, Ayesha.

And Kay, I read The Far Pavilions as a teen and simply fell in love with it, but never wanted to re-read it because it was so long. However, when I paged through it yesterday to get that quote, I got totally caught up in the story again. She's brilliant in the way she involves you in both the plot and the history and setting.