Monday, May 08, 2017

Book Review: LEOPARD AT THE DOOR

Title: Leopard at the Door
Author: Jennifer McVeigh
Publisher: GP Putnam's Sons
Pages: 400





It is 1952, and 18-year-old Englishwoman Rachel Fullsmith is returning to Kisima, Kenya, the land she considers home, after an absence of 6 years. Much has changed during that time. Things are not the same at her father’s farm, under the cruel rule of her spineless father’s mistress, Sara.

Meanwhile, a new society, the Mau Mau, has emerged in Kenya, with the goal of uniting the Kikuyu and overthrowing the whites. At the beginning, Mau Mau assault local people who refuse to take their oath of violence. Then the situation escalates, and Europeans are added to the toll.

But the violence meted out by the British is even more vicious. It reminds Rachel of her uncle’s bacon factory, the pigs mercilessly slaughtered so Europeans can get bacon.


In many ways, Rachel too has changed. As a child, she had witnessed a horrible crime, the murder of a Kenyan activist by Steven Lockhart, the District Officer. It was a day when the workers at her uncle’s bacon factory were on strike, the day on which she received the news of her mother’s death.

It is a day when her life is altered, because her grandmother, deftly untying the elaborate knot that links a parent to his child, had insisted that Rachel be sent to live in England.


Returning to Kenya, Rachel meets Michael, an educated Kikuyu once hired by her mother to home-school her. He now works in her father’s garage. Rachel’s feelings for Michael are at first vague, but it is clear she wants something more from him.


Rachel slips into the caring role that her mother had assumed vis-à-vis the Kikuyu, unlike the insensitivity of Sara. The action earns the amusement of Michael and the derision of Sara. Sara calls Rachel a sentimentalist and Michael accuses her of turning out good little missionary children.


Sara, a cruel woman, treats the Africans badly, seeing the white race as superior. Ordering the Kikuyu out of their homes to the reserves, miles away, she tells Rachel, The labor can’t simply exist here as a picaresque backdrop to your childhood memories.


Rachel’s feelings for Michael intensify, and she becomes involved with him. The descriptions of sex are so real and painful. Desire is like pain. I feel as though the surface of my skin has been peeled off. Every part of me is raw to his touch.


Being with Michael gives her strength as if He will solder all my edges and absorb me into him.

As though Michael has carved himself in my flesh and left him unwhole.



Michael opens a new world for her. He makes her see the true meaning of imperialism. In the old schools, Kenya was a black man’s country. Now they are telling children that Kenya was virtually uninhabited, before the Europeans discovered it.


She is not sure of Michael’s politics, whether he supports the Mau Mau or not. But her feelings for him cause her to be sympathetic towards him. By not implicating Michael for his role in the strike six years ago, Rachel becomes unwittingly embroiled in the politics, knowing that Michael has taken the oath.

The relationship with Michael is seen as a betrayal and the situation becomes dangerous for Rachel, forcing her to take a stand. But there can be no shared future for them. As Michael tells her, There is no room in either of our cultures for people who cross over and The ground is shifting – it leaves no room for us.


Michael, like other Kenyans, longs for freedom. As a Kikuyu woman tells her, We cannot be both Kikuyu and British. But the British term them terrorists, refusing to see their political motivation.


When Lockhart visits the home, Rachel remembers the horrors of the past. Lockhart, a very powerful bully, takes perverse pleasure in troubling the Kikuyu. He also assaults Rachel sexually almost repeatedly, demanding his price in return for his silence on her relationship with Michael. But she cannot bring herself to tell her father, who is lost to her, putty in Sara’s hands.


Slowly she finds herself lying to Lockhart, despite knowing the danger, letting him know what true Christianity is. 

Whoever says he is in the light and does not love his brother is still in darkness. 


She realizes that If he is the spokesman for empire, then empire is an ugly, dissolute thing…Listening to him is like listening to the clean, efficient turning of the wheel at my uncle’s bacon factory.


The book is written in the first person present tense voice of Rachel. The frequent flashbacks, which connect the past and present for us, are also written in the present tense.

The characters are dynamic and alive, influenced by the events around them. In the beginning, Rachel subscribes to the imperialist view. Then Michael teaches her about the subtle racism of The Tempest where Prospero assumes that Caliban is gabbling when he doesn’t understand his language, just as the Europeans look down on the Africans, denigrating their culture and customs.


Michael encourages Rachel to think and question. It is as though all the people I have known up until now have been like toy soldiers with their feet set apart on a lead base, and he is real; in movement, on a course that I am compelled to follow.


Seldom have I seen a character change so completely. As Rachel says, I have moved over to the other side and there is no going back.


Michael is a complex character. From thinking well of the Europeans, he realises that the white man had no prerogative over the Word of God. No prerogative over the idea of what it is to be civilized.


The descriptions are beautiful, as Africa, I’ve heard, is. The writing acquires a decidedly more vibrant hue when the author describes Kenya, yet much of it seems like a Westerner’s fascination with a third world country, seeing beauty in noise and chaos, things that the Third World would not be charmed by.


The book is set in the historical context. In 1952, five years after India has gained independence, while the Kenyan nation is struggling under British rule. The worst excesses of imperialism are visible.


There are a lot of stories intertwined. Rachel’s own reference to Briar Rose, the princess who wakes up after 100 years to find everything exactly as it was. Unlike her own situation which has changed so drastically. At another time, Rachel remembers the cruelty of the father of Hansel and Gretel, who was convinced to abandon his children twice, not unlike her own situation. What is love if it can change so easily, under a stranger’s persuasion?


The language is poetically beautiful. The Swahili peppered all through makes it more real. I liked Rachel’s description of meeting a European child of her own age in Africa, staring as an ape does when it is shown its image in a mirror for the first time.


The writing leads us to the climax, the final inexorable conclusion, escalating the tumult in the characters’ lives. Things finally come to a head on the night when Elizabeth is crowned Queen.



Born in a nation that was once one of England’s richest colonies, I could relate to what the Kenyans were going through, even though these events happened decades before I was born.

Author Jennifer McVeigh writes her way into our admiration with this one.




Sunday, April 30, 2017

Zeg

We’ll bring down the curtains with a word that is so small, yet capable of displacing a set of words that is six times bigger, in terms of the number of letters. I am talking about the Georgian word, Zeg, which describes the day after tomorrow.

All this time, English has lacked a single word to describe this great day. Of course, we had overmorrow in the Middle Ages, but for some reason it never caught on, and people were forced to resort to the awkward the-day-after-tomorrow to express themselves.

Right now, I am thinking about what a great addition Zeg will be to the English language. Think of the number of precious seconds, not to mention ink and paper, we could save if we could simply say and write Zeg, instead of the never ending day-af-ter-to-mor-row.

What could we not do with all that time we managed to save? 

Methinks I could start thinking about next year’s A to Z Challenge so that the Xs and Zs and Qs of this world don’t try to catch me off-guard.

Of course, we still face the problem of the day before yesterday.

What do we do about it? Would any language like to help us out?

Meanwhile, I'd like to take some much needed rest. I'll see you on Zeg or the day after Zeg, when I'll tell you what I learned from this A to Z April Challenge 2017.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ya’burnee

Love, as some song-writer said, is a many-splendoured thing, and we’ve all faced one or more of those splendours at some point or the other in our lives. 

The word I have for you today is one that, I think, transcends those splendours. It’s when you love someone so much, you cannot imagine a life without them. And so you wish that death might come for you before it comes for them.


Presenting Ya’burnee, an Arabic word that is the literal translation of the phrase, ‘You bury me.’ 

In other words, Ya’burnee describes the emotion of loving someone so much that one would rather die than lose that much loved person.

It reminds me of this quote from Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.” 


Is there anyone you feel strongly Ya’burnee about?


Friday, April 28, 2017

Xenomania

This is a warning. Today’s post is a cheat post.

I scoured the Internet and pecked at friends’ minds in the hope of finding a word starting with the letter, X, in another language. A word that had no equivalent in the English language.

And came up with nothing.

And so, this post is a place holder, a hope that I will not drop out of the A to Z April Challenge 2017 so close to the finish line. 

And so, here's my grateful thanks to Denise, for suggesting today's X-word. Her blog, My Life in Retirement, is where I go when I want to do some mouse-travelling. She also has a beautiful garden that keeps her busy.

Xenomania, a word with Greek origins (it’s a foreign word, even if it’s recognized by English now) that describes a fascination with all things foreign.

Not unlike my theme for this year’s challenge.


If any of you can think of any word beginning with X, hailing from any language in the world, that has no equivalent in English, I’d be happy to write another post.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Wai-wai

As I write this post, I can hear the sound of children playing outside my window. 

They shout and yell and laugh. They make rules and break them. Small victories are celebrated by slapping their friends enthusiastically on their backs, and whooping loudly. While slights, real or imagined, see them take sides on behalf of the misunderstood aggressor or the aggrieved victim.

The games leave them dusty, yet the sweat washes their hearts clean, teaching them about fair play and the importance of giving the game your all.

English doesn’t have one word that could conjure all of the above, but Japanese does. That word is Wai-wai and it stands for the sound of children playing.

Kids hardly ever understand the larger-than-life significance of these games. It is left to us grownups to ponder over the deeper meaning of Wai-wai and what it represents.

Long after we have ceased to play these games.


Do you like Wai-wai?


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Vybafnout

Some joys are priceless, and all children, regardless of which cultures they hail from, learn to enjoy them. 

One such joy is Vybafnout, Czech for the act of jumping out from a hiding place or from behind a wall or a door and surprising someone by saying ‘boo’.

I can remember when Vybafnout was a whole lot of fun. Sadly, in growing up, I traded Vybafnout for a frown on the forehead and a serious, long face. Not a good trade at all.

Today, my kids practice Vybafnout every chance they get.

To keep the fun quotient high, I ensure that I act suitably startled, clutching my hand to my chest and acting as if the boo has caused me to lose my equilibrium. The kids like that, even though they know I’m only kidding.

I know that, because once I was so preoccupied, I didn’t put on my act, and they told me that it is better when I act frightened out of my wits. Since then I oblige.


I hope you’re not too old to enjoy Vybafnout.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ungdayee and Uitzieken

I’ve always wondered why English didn’t have a word for that slow, languorous stretch with which many people begin the day.

Cats do it all the time, after every nap. And even dogs are not averse to stretching themselves, in an attempt to restore activity to their limbs.

And yet English has lacked a word for this important activity.

Enter: Hindi with its helpful Ungdayee, a word which describes the stretch that you do first thing in the morning, soon after waking up.

I believe that an Ungdayee represents the perfection of a satisfying night’s rest. It contains neither hurry nor restraint.

You wake up, and stretch yourself, pulling yourself to your full length, as you seek to lose the hold that sleep has had on you, and become fully alive to the new day and all it has to offer.

Over the last few years, I’ve allowed myself to become so occupied, and preoccupied, that I wake up and rush out of bed, eager to complete all my chores before leaving for work.

It is only, of late, that I have begun to understand what a luxury an Ungdayee could be, what a rare treat.

Did you give in to the urge to enjoy an Ungdayee this morning?


Of the many things I have inherited from my father, the one thing that used to drive my mother crazy was our shared tendency to Uitzieken, Dutch for nursing one’s illness in the hope that it will run its course if you just take some rest and wait for it to leave.

In practice, things aren’t easy. Some illnesses are obstinate things and Uitzieken doesn’t prove effective against them.

Sometimes I discover that the hard way. 

But there are many times when Uitzieken does prove its efficacy.

The ancients used to say that the body was capable of healing itself. They have to be right some of the time.

Do you consider Uitzieken effective?


Monday, April 24, 2017

Tartle and Tenya Wanya

Memory is a fickle thing. You can rely on it most of the time, except when you are called upon to introduce someone, at which point instead of helpfully throwing up the name of the person you are introducing to another, it promptly pulls the sheets over its head and nods off to sleep.
You know the feeling? You are about to introduce person A to person B, and at the crucial moment, you can’t remember person A’s name. That’s Tartle, Scottish for the act of hesitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.
Generally, I’m very good with names. But if I met you once over a year ago, and the interaction lasted for less than a minute, you must forgive me for going Tartle on you.
So I do the honest thing. I admit that I don’t remember the person’s name, and then the person introduces himself or herself.
I have no patience for those who suffer from Tartle and won’t admit to the truth. When I catch someone afflicted with Tartle, particularly someone who can’t remember my name, I let them stew in their discomfort for a while, before putting them out of their misery.
Have you ever suffered from Tartle?

Tenya Wanya is Japanese for the act of runnng around like a chicken with its head cut off.
As a rule, I rarely panic. But when I do, I panic to the fullest, exhibiting complete Tenya Wanya.
In India, people display Tenya Wanya while crossing the street, darting hither and thither between lanes and cars, often raising their hands, to signal to the drivers and motorists that they should slow down or halt so that the practitioners of Tenya Wanya can cross the street.

Have you ever displayed Tenya Wanya?


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Szimpatikus, Sobremesa and Solarfri

The S words I have for you today are linked by one thing, sheer goodness.

We’ll start with Szimpatikus, a Hungarian word that describes the good vibes you get when meeting someone for the first time.

Some of my closest friends today are people about whom I had a ‘good’ feeling, the first time I saw them. It’s not the basis upon which I embark on new friendships, but in hindsight, I have realized that there are some people that I simply did feel extremely positive about, the very first time I met them.

I don’t know the reason for Szimpatikus. Maybe it might have to do with the feelings with which we approach others. Maybe we can tell when someone has good intentions towards us, and maybe that translates into those good vibes.

Of course, I have never had bad vibes the first time I met someone, so I’m glad about that. I hope that means that I keep a positive attitude towards others.

Have you ever experienced Szimpatikus?



The Spanish have yet another interesting word that English could adopt. Sobremesa describes the particularly happy state of affairs around a table, when the food is long since eaten, and the appetites are all satisfied, but the conversation keeps flowing.

I love Sobremesa. I’ve enjoyed it with family and friends alike.

Once the hunger pangs are stilled, you talk about other good times that this Sobremesa reminds you of, of the folk you miss who should have been around this table, of your dreams and hopes.

There’s a lot of laughter and deep and fulfilling conversation.
The clock ticks swiftly while a Sobremesa is on, but the loud laughter and song, and the endless conversation prevents anyone from hearing its ticking, and when someone finally realizes how much time has elapsed, it is with a faint sense of regret, wishing these moments could be stretched further. But nay, life’s struggles and compulsions intrude.

Do you enjoy Sobremesa?


The fun word of the day is Sólarfrí, an Icelandic word that describes an unexpected holiday that workers are granted so they can enjoy a particularly sunny/warm day.

Good to know they have their priorities right.

In India, we get a Sólarfrí when it rains, so of course, technically, we can’t call it a Sólarfrí, but you get what I’m trying to say. Schools are shut when there is a heavy downpour.

A few companies in a couple of states in South India declared a holiday on the day that Kabali, a film, was due for release. The leading man of Kabali has a huge fan following, and it was expected that thousands of people would play truant from work and keep their phones switched off in order to avoid being disturbed by their workplaces.

Believing that “if you can’t beat ‘em, you must join ‘em,” the companies declared a Sólarfrí, earning tremendous goodwill from their employees in the process.


Were you ever given a Sólarfrí?


Friday, April 21, 2017

Resfeber and Estar de Rodriguez

Today I bring you two words that English should welcome enthusiastically. I have a selfish, rather personal, reason for wanting the second, of course.

Resfeber, courtesy Swedish, describes the restless beat of a traveler’s heart before the journey begins, the anticipation and the anxiety, the desire to get going, to begin the adventure that they have no doubt awaits them, not just at the end of their journey, but at every step along the way.

When did you last experience Resfeber?



The second word I have for you today is actually a phrase, but it is interesting, and personal, and that is why it is here.

Estar de Rodriguez is Spanish for the state of being left home alone while the family goes out on vacation. Isn’t that cute?

If you haven’t guessed why I want this phrase, let me remind you that Rodrigues is my family name, though as Rodrigues go, only my Dad was ever Estar de Rodriguez. When we went on extended vacations during our school holidays, it was Mum, my brothers and I that had a good time at our ancestral home in Goa. Dad would not be able to take off from work for all that time, so his vacation would be reduced to a week.

The rest of the time, Dad (poor guy) would make his own meals, try to keep the house as clean as he could, and leave for work in the morning, returning home to a locked and empty house in the evening. I always felt sorry for him, having to live alone, without us to brighten up his life.

Now that I think of it, Estar de Rodriguez was what Kevin McAllister was in the three Home Alone films.

It’s good to know that it was our surname that was used, though I have no idea why. Maybe it is a common family name in Spain.

Or maybe some chap called Rodriguez went berserk when his wife and kids left him alone while they went on holiday. And the rest of the Spaniards thought they’d make an example out of him.


Have you ever been Estar de Rodriguez?


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Qarrtsiluni and Querencia

When it comes to Q-words, the English language is rather lean, so I was wondering if I would find anything worth sharing in other languages. To my surprise, I came across two words that not only felt right to my vocabulary, but also seemed to answer some deep need within me.


Qarrtsiluni is an Inuit word that describes the act of sitting together in the darkness, waiting for the light.

I just love it when a word lends itself to metaphorical usage, and Qarrtsiluni does that in ample measure.

I am reminded of how so often in life, we are Qarrtsiluni, waiting for something better to happen, for some way in which our lives might be brightened.

In many ways, Qarrtsiluni hints at the dark just before the dawn, at how if we but wait patiently, at a time when all hope is gone, we will be rewarded by the bursting forth of light.

But even more than that, I guess it means that we can nudge Qarrtsiluni along. If you are in darkeness right now and waiting for the light, perhaps we could stand up and light a lamp or a candle to dispel the darkness ourselves. Give hope a chance to breathe, and be rewarded when day finally breaks.

Have you ever been in a stage of your life in which you found yourself Qarrtsiluni?


Querencia is a Spanish word that describes a place where one feels secure, a place from which one draws strength, a place that feels like home. But that place doesn’t have to be four walls standing together or even a physical location.

My Querencia are my parents. They are aging, and I cherish each moment I spend with them, or speak to them over the phone. Knowing that I have them on my side gives me tremendous strength.  

Strangely, I consider my children my Querencia too. Their ages are in the single digits, and they both need all the protection and encouragement that the Husband and I can give them. And yet, ironically, they prop me up in turn. I feel deeply honoured to be their mother, and every time I see them, I feel renewed.

My books are my Querencia too. As is my Rosary. In my most desperate moments, I turn to God in prayer, and feel uplifted.

Where is your Querencia? Is it a person or a place?




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pelinti Bula and Pilkunnussija

Today I want to share with you two new words that I didn’t even know I needed. 

The first of these is Pelinti Bula, from Ghana. It’s a word that describes the instinctive, involuntary action we end up doing when we inadvertently eat something piping hot. 

The hot dance that our mouth responds with, the one in which we move the hot food around in our mouth in a desperate attempt to cool it before swallowing, while shouting “Ooooohhhh” and “Aaaahhhhhh,” that is Pelinti Bula, at its finest.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to learn this word.

I have never been sensible enough to check the temperature of food before lobbing it into my mouth like a grenade. And like a grenade, it bursts.

And then I do the Pelinti Bula, tossing the food from side to side, hoping it will cool, when all it does is burn this side of my mouth first, and then the other, while scalding my tongue, and rendering it incapable of tasting anything for the next seven hours. At least.

It’s like walking barefoot on hot sand. You hop about from one foot to another, hoping the ordeal will be over.

Have you ever had to resort to Pelinti Bula?


The second word that is integral to my personality comes to us, courtesy the Finns. The word is Pilkunnussija, Finnish for a person who pays exceptional and unnecessary attention to detail.

I’m a complete Pilkunnussija when it comes to grammar. I’m always editing other people’s writing, in my mind.

But it was only a few months ago that I learned just how far I was taking my obsession with grammar.

La Niña and El Niño were playing with each other. Suddenly they started fighting, slapping and pinching each other. I quickly ran towards them and pulled them apart.

Unable to vent out their anger physically, they began to point fingers at each other.

“He started it,” said La Niña.

“No, Mamma, she bate me first, then I bate her.”

Now any sensible mother would have tried to calm her kids down. But Pilkunnussija can hardly be credited with sense.

So this Mamma said to her five-year-old son, “No, darling, that’s not the right thing to say. The past tense of eat is ate, but the past tense of beat is not bate. It is still beat. And the past tense of the word, meet, is met. Understood?”

El Niño nodded, clearly pleased that his behaviour was not being discussed any more.

I looked up, and saw La Niña, with a disbelieving look on her face. “I don’t believe it, Mamma,” she said. “Instead of scolding him and correcting his behaviour, you are correcting his grammar.”

That was when it hit me. The intensity of my Pilkunnussija.

Have you ever acted like a Pilkunnussija?







Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ohrwurm

Music, they say, is a work of art

that enters your ears and touches your heart.


Not that that’s always a positive experience.

So often you encounter a song that you hear once and then no matter what you do, you can’t get it out of your head.

Before long, you find yourself powerless, held completely in the control of that song, whatever it is.

That’s the essence of the German word, Ohrwurm, literally Ear worm. Ohrwurm describes a song that is stuck in your head so firmly that you can’t get rid of it. It is almost as if it were a worm that has entered your brain through your ear, and now it has taken over your mind.

You hum it in the bathroom, at work, at school, in the middle of a crowded street.

You sing the dimwitted, outrageous lyrics, even as your sensible mind rejects the lyrics, dismisses them as crap.

But still you sing it, again and again, until you succeed in annoying those around you too.

It grows roots in your mind, playing on loop, and you wonder if you will ever get it out. If Ohrwurm will ever lose its hold on you.

It’s much worse when the song in question is an annoying one. You’re still trapped, unable to get it out of your head.

In fact, the power of Ohrwurm lies in the fact that it is an annoying song. If it were something you liked, you might not hate it quite so much.

Have you ever had an Ohrwurm?





Monday, April 17, 2017

Namaste

Namaste.

Today I want to introduce you to Namaste, a Hindi word (from India) which means, I bow to the divine in you.

The word accompanies the action of joining one's palms and bowing to the person one is greeting.


As a Christian, I believe that we were all created in God's image and Namaste takes that thought a step further by acknowledging the presence of the divine in each of us. 

Namaste asserts that each of us, regardless of our financial status or ethnic and racial backgrounds or any of the million things that distinguish us, deserve one another's respect as human beings.

Even the vile deserve a Namaste, considering that we are not called to pass judgments on others.

Do you like the idea of saying Namaste?






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