31 December 2016

In Nepal: Bardia and Mahendranagar

I stayed five days and six nights at Bardia Jungle Cottage, and for the first two days struggled with a bad headache that took a little of the edge off the full-day jungle walks. But, on the first day, walking with Shiva the guide, Subash, Jorn from Holland, and Flo, from France, we heard a male tiger calling in the jungle a little further upriver.  The evening I’d arrived, Jorn and Shiva had returned at dusk having just seen a tiger at close quarters: just fifty metres away. Jorn’s camera had seized up, but he showed me the photograph he’d made with his phone. It was excellent.

Shiva and I spent the second day in the jungle and neither saw nor heard tigers. We saw rhinos, though: close – almost too close. We could hear the giant animals feeding, and I saw the horn and muzzle of one as it browsed in the metres-high grass, then the sudden snort as one winded us and they crashed away – fortunately, not in our direction. For a while I forgot the headache.

But things other than the headache afflicted me, too. I’d woken that morning from a dream full of nostalgia, of yearning for the best of the days of my childhood, when the world was still large and mysterious; when a person could vanish for months or years and return with tales of people who had never met anyone from a strange and distant land, people whose customs seemed to us strange and different; when vast areas of the planet were still unmapped or at least untrodden by western feet, or even any human foot; when not everything felt known. I knew as I woke that the yearning was romanticism, but I still couldn’t completely shake the sadness.

Perhaps I’d been affected by the events of the last two days. Even in that moment of wildness when I’d heard the tiger calling, the background was suffused not with the roaring of the void, but by the faint, far-off roaring of traffic and towns. I’d grown up with tales of Jim Corbett’s time in the jungles of India, and some of my nostalgia must have been for those tales and the imaginings they conjured. As I’d stood in the dust of the river bed and studied the pug marks of a male tiger, I’d thought of Corbett. But even when I’d first read his stories as a child, those times had all but gone, just as Corbett even then had long gone from India to spend the rest of his life in Kenya. The past had gone; the past is irretrievable except through memory and imagination, and both are hopeless guides to what actually happened. Maybe this, then, is one of the reasons I keep these journals: as a safeguard against the short-comings of memory and a reign on misleading imagination.

By the third day I needed a rest. The headache had almost gone but that and two long days of heat and dust had left me worn down. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I took a rest day, that would be the day I’d have seen the tiger, but I also knew that if I didn’t skip a third consecutive jungle walk I wouldn’t see one. Convinced by this irrefutable logic, I told myself I’d come to Bardia to see lots of animals and birds and a tiger would be a bonus, and I took a rest day.

Taking it easy, I walked slowly down the dusty road towards the Wild Trak lodge where Joe was staying, passing most of the other lodges on the way. I asked after him but he was in a jeep in the jungle. The place seemed well maintained, but the room I was shown stank of mould. The double duvet in my room had needed a good airing too, but the room itself was OK, and the single duvet I’d used instead didn’t suffer from the mouldy smell.

Along the road I’d seen little to start with, but, as is usually the way, the birds began to show themselves. I photographed red-whiskered bulbuls and managed some distant but adequate record shots of Indian pond herons, lapwings, a common kingfisher, greenshanks, and a redshank, but my heart wasn’t entirely in it and I wasn’t sure why. I was going through the motions.

Hans and Mirian, the Dutch couple who’d arrived the previous day had rented bicycles and had met a young German couple who, coincidentally, I’d spoken with at Wild Trak. Back at Bardia Jungle Cottage, we sat at one of the outside tables and talked about travelling. Hans ordered a beer, a Tuborg. I felt comfortable with my new friends, so I thought ‘Why not?’ and ordered one too.

I explained my predicament. I could carry on to Mahendranagar in the far west of Nepal and cross the border to Banbasa, but that would return me to India sooner than I intended. Alternatively, I could return to Kathmandu, but that also had problems. I’d scored a cheap flight from Delhi to India, but all the return flights were expensive, and I’d already spent a substantial sum on the flight from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj. I could cross the land border, but that would put me well out of my way and I’d waste days getting back to Delhi, then have to head up to Uttarakhand – a roundabout way to get where I wanted to go.

Then there was the problem of getting from Bardia back to Kathmandu. The thought of a thirteen-hour bus trip to Pokhara was more than I could bear – I’d done that trip in the other direction in 2014 and had sworn never again – but flying back from Nepalgunj was out of the question. Then the German woman suggested breaking up that trip with a stop at Tansen. Hans and Mirian agreed immediately; they’d stayed at Tansen and liked it. The Germans jad liked it too. However, that still left the problem of how to get from Kathmandu, which I’d have liked to return to for a few more days, back to Delhi – flying to Kathmandu had been cheap, but the flights back to Delhi were proving to be exorbitant.

But I had food for thought and a few more days to think about it, so I didn’t need to make a decision right then.

I walked the other way along the road in the evening but didn’t feel like going far. On the way back, a family called out to me. I replied and walked over to see them and ask if they’d like a photograph. The young man straddling his motorbike nodded and gave instructions to what I assume were his younger siblings. The toddler burst out crying, and a woman came out of the house, laughing, to pick the child up. The younger of the two girls, though, followed instructions and posed for me, and after a couple of attempts and a little teasing, I managed to get her to smile. I showed them the result and they seemed pleased.
I introduced myself.
  ‘I’m Pete,’ I said.
The young guy’s name was Ahmeed. I thanked him for letting me photograph his sister.
  ‘Danyabad,’ I said.
  ‘You speak Nepali?’
  ‘No. Only danyabad. Namaste.’ I paused. ‘Aloo ghobi.’
We laughed. I’d used the joke before, but it always worked. I asked if he spoke English and he shook his head then held his finger and thumb fractionally apart.

We’d managed some communication, though.

On the way back, I came across a tall Dutch man, with short grey hair, crouching at the side of the road photographing a couple of tethered buffalo. He, too, had seen a tiger in the park, albeit briefly because everyone had got excited and started making a lot of noise. I was beginning to get the impression that everyone who visited Bardia saw a tiger except me. I could only dream of a sighting as good as Jorn’s, and the young German couple had seen one across the river; the photographers with big lenses got excellent pictures, they said.

Ronald, the Dutchman, had also encountered a cash problem of a different sort. He’d expected to be able to use his credit card to pay for his jeep safaris and jungle walks and hadn’t brought enough cash. No problem, his lodge manager had said, you can pay when you get home; I trust you; why should I not trust you?

The account was good to hear. I’d expected Ronald to say the manager had offered to drive him to Nepalgunj to get cash from an ATM, but I suppose the economics of that would have been marginal, and the advantages in terms of goodwill and reputation were more important.

My last day in the jungle failed again to deliver a tiger sighting. I’d said I was philosophical about it, but after hearing about some excellent sightings during my stay, I had to admit some disappointment. Even the rhino encounters had been either more distant or less visible than at Chitwan ten years ago. That was no reflection on Bardia; I’d just dipped out this time. I did see giant hornbills, though, and sightings of those were reputedly rarer than tiger sightings. Somehow this didn’t entirely compensate, though, because if tiger sightings were as common as reputed, I’d been unlucky not to have seen one.

Breakfast was banana pancakes with honey and no banana. This was usual. The menu listed green tea, so I ordered some, but there was no green tea. I asked for a small pot of black tea without sugar; the tea was indeed black – almost lethally so – and it came with a bowl of sugar. I liked the initiative: to have asked for no sugar and received some, fortunately not already added to the tea, was better than asking for sugar and not getting it. The previous day I’d said to Hans and Mirian that when ordering food here you expected what you got. They hadn’t understood at first but soon learned, and any inconvenience was more than compensated for by the good humour of the staff.

Hugely experienced travellers everywhere except South America, Hans and Mirian had decided to take the bus all the way from Bardia to Kathmandu. I couldn’t imagine how uncomfortable that would be – I didn’t want to imagine it – but Mirian insisted she’d sleep most of the way. She could sleep anywhere, she said, and being a couple, they’d have seats together so they wouldn’t have a greasy-haired stranger using them as a pillow the way I’d had in 2014 on my 13-hour bus journey from Pokhara to Ambassa.

They were leaving in the middle of the afternoon, and I’d miss their company. Once again I’d be on my own, with the freedom that confers, tinged with the slight melancholy of being anonymous once more in a strange land. For the last few hours together we sat at the only outside table with an umbrella for shade, and we talked and read and ate lunch, and later Hans and I shared a beer and then another. Finally, the time came and, on the spur of the moment, I joined them in the jeep to Thakurdwara just a few minutes down the dusty road.
  ‘Come and stay with us in Holland,’ Hans said, and although I knew he meant it, I knew I never would – not, at least, unless my life changed radically. I walked back to Bardia Jungle Cottage, stopping to talk briefly to some local people and sometimes photographing them, and slowly getting used to yet another change.


My turn came, and I was pleased to be moving on and sad to be leaving. After five days and six nights, I’d become used to the routine and had even begun to think of my room with its minor shortcomings, including the only mosquito in Thakurdwara (it constantly woke me on my last night until I finally and deliberately extirpated the species from the region), as a kind of home. I’d liked the helpful, welcoming staff, even though my attempts to photograph them mostly failed to reflect their character. The jeep driver in particular had an excellent sense of humour and was clearly knowledgeable about the animals; when he and Subash had collected Joe and me from Ambassa, he’d heard me say to Subash that I’d like to see a Bengal florican, and although he had almost no English he recognised the species name and immediately explained to Subash that now was the wrong season – no Bengal florican. He laughed a lot, but in the only photograph he looked as grim as if I’d told him he’d just lost his entire family.

Premi accompanied me in the jeep and saw I got on the right bus. He wanted to know when I’d come back, and I felt touched by his appreciation of my stay, but I couldn’t say when I’d be back. Still, the time at Bardia had turned out to be more enjoyable than I’d expected and the thought of returning appealed. I hadn’t seen a tiger. But I had heard one calling, and on my last night at a quarter past eleven a chital had begun an alarm call, and soon after that another joined in. Perhaps a tiger had been prowling not far from where I lay, half awake, thinking of Jim Corbett and my family. We all grew up on Corbett’s tales; they’re part of the family folklore, and I hoped that in a few days’ time I’d be able to add to that folklore by visiting Champawat, where Corbett finally killed the most notorious man-eating tiger in history.

But, in just the two years since I’d first visited Bardia, Premi seemed to have grown noticeably older. It was the kind of aging that made me wonder whether I’d ever see him again, and I wasn’t sure I could visit Bardia knowing he was no longer there.
Already I missed Thakurdwara, too. I’d had just one reason for visiting Bardia: the wildlife. Yet, in the short time I’d stayed, I’d realised one of its main attractions was the way the local people so warmly and genuinely welcomed visitors. I hadn’t counted the number of smiles and waves and namastes, but if I had, I’d have lost count. Several times I was invited to come and photograph, or just come and talk, and never once did it feel as if anyone had an ulterior motive.

A few hours squeezed into a minibus and another hour on a slow but more comfortable local bus got me to Mahendranagar, the small border town for crossing into India, where I checked into the Hotel Opera. The room would have been comfortable if my back hadn’t been causing problems. The minibus ride, squashed in with too many people in a position that meant I was sitting twisted for much of the time, had affected me more than I’d thought, and this confirmed my intention to stay another day and hope my back came right.

The room had some minor inconveniences, like wifi that kept vanishing, but the staff were thoroughly professional and accommodating. This was a risk: it was so easy to relax that I was tempted to stay there and not venture into town. I had nothing in particular to do, and the hotel restaurant turned out to be excellent, with cheap beer, too.

I was aware of the temptation, though, and avoided it. I did spend some time in my room finishing the first blog post, but I thought of how Hans and Mirian would have spent time exploring Mahendranagar and not sitting around. I’d thought of the young German couple too: they were travelling around India on a rented Royal Enfield and were exploring central Asia in a van they’d outfitted themselves. Both couples made the most of wherever they were, and my own travelling seemed low-key and unadventurous in comparison.

I did wonder, though, how much their friends got to share of their experiences. By the time they got home, they’d have a huge store of stories, but how much would they remember, and how much would they remember accurately? Most importantly, would they remember accurately what they felt? Most travellers know the effect someone so aptly called ‘rosy retrospection’: the tendency to remember the good times and subconsciously downplay or forget completely the times of despondency and loneliness. Even difficult but eventful times can be easier to remember than those times when, alone, out of contact with friends and family, and in unfamiliar and uninspiring surroundings it’s easy to look forward to the end of the trip.

As experience accumulates, a traveller learns to recognise this and can therefore deal with it better, understanding its causes and realising it’s usually fleeting. None other than one of the greatest travellers, Colin Thubron, admitted feeling worn out and dejected at one stage of his journeying through China, and when I’d read that I’d felt the twin pangs of empathy and relief. Empathy because I’d felt like that often on my early travels and sometimes on my later ones. Relief because suddenly it had seemed OK to admit those feelings. So many people apparently need to project the persona of the vastly experienced traveller who does ‘authentic’ things and never feels worn down or in need of the company of friends, but if this persona represents them honestly, they’re either rarer than snow leopard sightings or utterly absorbed with their own significance.

I couldn’t imagine any traveller deserving more respect than Colin Thubron, and if it was OK for him to have down periods on his travels, it was OK for me too. I wondered, too, how much time he spent writing when he was travelling. Travelling is always a matter of drawing a line between living a life and recording it, and each of us draws that line differently, and for different reasons. I had decided long ago that travelling mainly to experience the travelling for myself was unjustifiable – for me, at least – and I wanted to share a life that – again, to me – seemed worth documenting.

But this ignored the fact that the major benefit of travelling is not what you do, but who you become. I hoped I was becoming a better person, but that wasn’t going to happen if I spent most of my time sitting in hotel rooms. The irony was that I was thinking about these things when I wasn’t experiencing them. I wasn’t feeling down and dejected, and although plunging into the madhouse of Mahendranagar felt a little daunting, I knew I’d end up glad I’d done it.

And that’s exactly what happened. Mahendranagar was resolutely non-western except for the ubiquitous advertising in English for Samsung and mobile network companies – a decade ago, Coca-Cola had been the inescapable presence in English but that had faded like the signs themselves – but 95% of everything written was in Hindi, which made even less sense to me than Chinese, in which the characters are at least separated.

But most of the people were friendly and welcoming, with an abundance of smiles and namastes. A great many wanted to practise their limited English, too, and I lost count of the number of times I heard the three-phrase greeting, ‘Hello. How are you? Where are you going?’
‘How are you?’ always  had the stress on the last word: ‘How are YOU?’

I stopped for chai and became the centre of attention for a group of young guys who looked as if they’d enjoy being photographed. They looked pleased with the result, and I thought about trying to find somewhere to get the photographs printed. I already had some photographs of a couple of men sewing mattresses outside their shop and no doubt would have others before I left Mahendranagar.

Photographing wasn’t the only form of interaction, though – far from it. I had a great many brief conversations and some longer ones, including one with an off-duty policeman.
  ‘On duty at two o’clock,’ he said.
He wanted to know whether I liked Nepal.
  ‘I love Nepal,’ I said, truthfully.
He beamed, and later he asked me the same question, presumably for the enjoyment of hearing me say I loved his country.
  ‘Any problem, you go to police station,’ he said, and pointed down the road.
I assured him I’d go to the police station if I had any problem, and I thanked him, genuinely. I couldn’t envisage any problems, but I felt looked after, as if I had a friend who would make things happen if I asked for help. It was a good feeling.

I returned to the town in the afternoon, looking for a photo lab, but the man at reception had pointed out they’d be closed because it was a holiday: Saturday. Tomorrow morning they’d be open, he said.

Another reason to stay another day.

Mahendranagar almost trapped me. I’d grown to like it; my few days there quickly became comfortable. The hotel staff knew me, and one of the waiters in the restaurant got to know my breakfast order.
  ‘Banana pancake,’ I said, and he repeated it.
  ‘Cornflakes …’
  ‘With COLD milk,’ he said: for some reason, hot milk was standard on cornflakes.
I paused.
  ‘Cup of black tea,’ he said, and I laughed and congratulated him. He grinned and disappeared to the kitchen.

One morning I visited the meat and vegetable market. The vegetables were beautifully displayed, bright, and diverse. The meat, mostly chicken, was either still alive or already executed. A cluster of filthy white chooks huddled on the ground, apparently unable to escape although I saw no sign they were tethered. Perhaps they were unable to walk after having been confined their entire, short lives in overcrowded cages, or maybe they were paralysed with the horror of their situation. I didn’t know and didn’t want to do too much guessing.

Further on, a man waved all of India’s flies from a row of plucked and gutted chicken carcases. With each pass of his whisk, the flies roared into the air then settled again. Another man brought a cleaver down accurately onto the joint of a chicken leg that was either smoked or old enough to look like it. The chopping block was well stained with countless dismemberments. The place looked mediaeval and horrific.

Late in the afternoon, I walked down City Hall Road past the small slum to the highway. As I passed the slum, four men held down a screaming pig. I walked on, and the screaming suddenly stopped. I looked across and the men still held down the pig as another pig stood close by, watching. A tiny, scrawny puppy trotted along the middle of the road, and no one paid it any mind other than to avoid hitting it with their scooters and motorbikes. The puppy stopped by a large, well-fed dog that clearly wasn’t one of its parents and looked hopeful, but the big dog didn’t acknowledge its existence. I had a bad feeling about the puppy’s future but could do nothing, so again I walked on.

Ahead, a man limped along the road, his right leg loose and his foot turned outward. On the side of the road, black, foetid water oozed towards who knows where. It stank in the late afternoon. The heat had gone out of the sun, although it still hung high in the sky; now it had to struggle through the grey-brown haze, so it looked like an orange disc. Two sacred cows fought, clashing heads on the side of the highway, but no one paid them any mind, either.

In the smoggy dusk, a small, quiet man tried to interest me in a room in his guest house. It was the most polite, gentle, timid attempt I’d ever encountered, and I was almost tempted to stay another day just to bring him some happiness. But his guest house was near the bus station, the main highway, and the busy Campus Road, and the night would have been sleepless.

I didn’t know why I was beginning to develop a real affection for Mahendranagar.

I’d photographed the chai wallah, who I now knew better than anyone in Mahendranagar outside the hotel, and I couldn’t leave without giving him a print. He had a calm, gentle manner that extended to the thin little kitten living under his counter and occasionally venturing out into the sun during quiet periods. It resisted the urge to investigate my wiggling fingers, but the chai wallah saw my attempts and smiled.

I’d had some prints done at a small hole-in-the-wall shop in the main bazaar and had given them to one of the mattress-makers. The prints were muddy and awful but I had no choice, and the man’s expression when I handed him the prints was priceless. He didn’t know what to say and had no English to say it anyway, but he kept looking at the prints then looking at me and smiling as if he’d won the lottery. He held out his hand, and I shook it and said ‘Danyabad’ – I wanted to thank him for letting me photograph him – and he looked again at the prints and made the ‘OK’ gesture, still smiling madly.

I had to leave before I choked up.

I wanted the chai wallah to have a print, and I’d found a Fuji lab, but this was apparently where the first set of prints had been done: the second set was identically muddy and just as awful. The chai wallah didn’t mind, though. I gave him the print; he took and looked at it, then recognised himself and looked up in sheer amazement and delight. A bystander took it from him and handed it around, and I began to wonder what state it would be in by the time he got it back, if he ever did. Eventually it returned, safely but no doubt covered in fingerprints. He wouldn’t let me pay for my chai, and he shook my hand. I’d grown fond of his gentle, efficient, unhurried manner, and I liked him even more for his appreciation of the little kitten.

While I’d waited for the prints, I’d had a professional shave. A young barber had called out to me from his doorway. He wanted a hundred rupees for the shave, but that sounded like a lot, and I started to turn him down.
  ‘OK, fifty rupees,’ he said.
It was the easiest haggling I'd ever done.

One of the other men in his shop sat me down and began the prep. He shaved me carefully and precisely, then trimmed my beard, just as precisely. He even used long, muderously sharp scissors to trim my nose hairs. To flinch was unthinkable. I admired his professionalism, the way he appeared to take pride in his skill at snipping the nose hairs of his clients. In New Zealand, the idea of a job like that would have been either hilarious or depressing, but, having experienced it here, I felt humbled.

He was desperate to barber my hair, too, but having seen the trend, which was even at that moment being executed in the chair next to mine, I had no intention of letting him near my hair with any sharp instrument. It was too much for him, though, so he wet my hair, applied some styling cream, and massaged my head so hard it felt like being beaten up. When I walked out of the shop, I felt a little unsteady on my feet. I think I was mildly concussed.

The style was dreadful, as I’d known it would be. He’d swept it back then added an extreme part on the right-hand side. This, I knew, was one of the trends, but he had no idea about fitting a style to a client. He only charged me 50 rupees, though, and thanked me for my custom. I made a beeline to my room and restyled my hair to its usual unkempt state. The beard trim was excellent, but I could detect no difference in breathing through my nostrils.

I’d spent four nights in Mahendranagar and had grown to like it, but three days was enough. I was restless. I wanted to be moving again. I’d be sad to leave my friends – the hotel staff, the chai wallah in particular, others I’d spoken to and who now at least recognised me – but I wanted to travel through Kumaon and Garwhal again, then rejoin my friends in Delhi and Chandigarh; I wanted to visit Bharatpur for the third time; and I wanted eventually to get to Jamnagar in the hope I could meet once more with Jam Sahib. After that, who knew, but those people and places were calling me, and I needed to answer.

1. The photographs have mostly been prepared in haste so I could get this post published before the end of the year. Some have appeared already on my Instagram account, along with many others.

1. Premi was one of the original guides at Bardia and is something of an institution there. 
2. Not sure precisely what this is, but Shiva called it a flycatcher.
3. Common kingfisher.
4. Some of Bardia's smaller inhabitants were impressive, too. The webs of these big spiders were everywhere.
5. Hans and Mirian wait for the bus at Thajurdwara.
6. Subash at Bardia Jungle Cottage on the morning I left.
7. Scaly-breasted munia at Bardia
8. The chai wallah at Mahendranagar.

Photos and original text © 2016 Pete McGregor


Joy said...

Just became a new 'Follower'. Traveling is not my cup of tea, so I'll sit back here at my computer and enjoy your adventures. Looks like I have a lot of archived articles to cover. I enjoyed the record of your trip. Happy New Year!

Zhoen said...

Thank you for traveling for me, as well. Your miseries, that grow such great stories, would swamp me. Nowadays, anyways.

Your attention, with photographic proof, is much more of a gift than you imagine. Especially given your skill and talent.

robin andrea said...

I love reading this. The details are so evocative, some even hard to think about like the butchering of the chickens and pigs. All there on the streets. As it should be, life and death in the open. Sometimes I wonder how all of this is happening at once on our planet. You there hoping to see tigers, we here on the north coast of California waiting for the first storms of 2017 to pass through. By now you are in India walking a different road. I look forward to your next post. The photos are stunning. I am transported by them.

pohanginapete said...

Joy, welcome, and I hope you find plenty here to enjoy and think about :-)

Zhoen, my miseries could swamp me, too, but when you have no choice but to deal with them, ... well, you do. Thanks for all your thoughtful and encouraging comments over the past year (and more), and Happy New Year.

Robin, thank you, and it's a good feeling to know you're reading and appreciating the posts. :-)

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pete,
I don't mean this in the wrong way but think in ways it better you didn't see the tiger. I'm glad I finally had time to sit with a coffee and read your words and observe the photos. The coffee grew long cold as so many times I just sat back and found myself pondering one thought or another you invoked, or imagined you sitting in that barbers chair or sharing an emotional motive through such a simple gesture. I choked up a bit myself. Sending you, along with Tara, a large and embracing hug. Kia kaha e hoa!

Ruahines said...

"emotional moment"

pohanginapete said...

Robb: kia ora e hoa. I know what you mean about not seeing the tiger, and I also console myself by remembering Matthiessen never saw the snow leopard in the wild. I've had more than my share of luck on my travels, and I'm grateful for what I've been granted. I'm also hugely grateful for having friends like you and Tara back in New Zealand. Knowing you're there and I'll see you again in a couple of months adds a huge amount to my enjoyment of this journey.

naf said...

The bird in the second photograph is probably a plain prinia (Prinia Inornata).

pohanginapete said...

naf, thanks for that. It didn't look like a flycatcher to me, but all I knew was that it was another LBB :-)

Roderick Robinson said...

Proust would argue against such despairing adjectives as "irretrievable" and "hopeless" (your para beginning "Perhaps I'd been affected..."); you are no longer the younger person who read about Jim Corbett and are therefore incapable of re-creating those exact sensations; the relationship, by definition, cannot re-exist. The notes you make about now will be alien to the future you; must be. To mourn by implication is like regretting the body cells your body shed in arriving at the present-day you. Existence is a process and time makes it irreversible.

But of course you are entitled to take an advantaged view of the past. To take rough measurements of the distance you have travelled and to revel in the accrued benefits. Too often we dwell on the concept of early innocence as if it were preferable to a better informed adulthood. But it is adulthood that allows us to identify that early innocence; at the time we were unaware of it.

I have read Proust twice and some time last year decided to read it a third time. Then put it to one side. (One of the translations is available as a free download to Kindle) I may not read it again and old age may be the major reason. The trick seems to be to make the present more vivid. At eighty-one I am (foolishly perhaps) learning to sing, have just completed one year's lessons. This is not only exciting but it rearranges my experiences of music; I relive the past not as it was but in a new informed light. Making up for the fact that Nepal would be beyond me.

This doesn't invalidate Proust. He died aged 51 and thus his narrator was denied the perspective of old age. You are moderately adventurous and are clearly capable of making the best of this. Your stuff is vivid, of the present, and I enjoy the laconic style you cultivate. Perhaps I've over-reacted. I thought I detected nostalgia (which I regard as debilitating) but I could easily be wrong. I've been wrong about many things but not - for the moment at least - singing. Bonne route.

pohanginapete said...

Roderick, it's possibly ironic that Proust is often considered a great travel writer despite having gone almost nowhere (geographically speaking) later in his life. He had the knack of travelling in his head, though, which is far more important. (I'm making these claims based on what I've read about him, because, unlike you, I haven't read his work, even translated. Maybe that will happen one day, particularly now you've piqued my interest.)

I don't see anything inherently wrong in mourning the past provided it's only a mild affliction and doesn't interfere with living in the present. In that respect, I'll take a lead from the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which seems to incorporate a refined, healthy way of acknowledging the passing of time without denying it. (Again, I have only a small understanding of it, which I hope isn't wildly off the mark.)

Glad to hear you're enjoying the singing. I won't follow your lead on that one, though; I fear my singing voice would sound, as Leo Kottke put it, 'like geese farts on a muggy day'.