Sunday, May 18, 2014

Kingfishers Catch Fire, Rumer Godden, 1953

"Two little bulbuls were sitting on a wall,
Quarrelling and pecking, quarrelling and pecking,
Quarrelling,
Quarrelling,
Pecking pecking pecking pecking.
This is more than flesh and blood can stand.
Now all that is left
Is the tail of one bulbul
And the beak of the other."


A white woman takes an old house of a pandit on lease and decides to live 'poor' in Kashmir with her two children.  She loves Kashmir and its people. She thinks she can make a new beginning here. But the British woman is too 'meddling', too 'uncontrollable' and can't help herself trying to correct the locals and their ways. Soon enough the alien community in which she lives is vying for her attention, everyone wants 'mem' on their side. The age old rivalry between the clan of Dars and Shiekhs burn even more feverishly and leads to new polarizations. Unknown to the foreigner, the simple fact of a white woman living alone by herself in a house in Kashmir causes tiny ripples in social fabric of the natives, soon enough a wave of inane violence engulf her 'Dilkhush' world. It is a Kashmir in which no one person truly understands another person, or even tries. Or rather, it is a world where there are only frivolous misunderstandings which lead to serious tragic consequences. A Kashmir where everyone is innocent but also guilty. Guilty of an undefinable vaporous thing called simple human emotions of beings living in a complex modern world. A world where a person can poison you in a mistaken attempt to make you love them.

The novel came out of personal experiences of Rumer Godden when she moved with her children to a place called 'Dove House' in Kashmir in 1941. She went on to live there for three years. 'Kingfishers Catch Fire' is also one of the few works which she later went on to disown a bit. The work seems to be a product of pure raw emotions of living in an alien society that can appear hospitable as well as threatening at the same time. The finale of the novel comes out of a true incident in which Rumer Godden's (in her words 'mad') cook tried to poison her.

The depiction of Kashmiri society by Rumer Godden is brutal. It is as if no one cared for anyone, everyone seems mean and indifferent. Pandits don't get along with Muslims, Muslims don't get along with each other. Everyone is worried about their relative poverty. The only redeeming quality they all seem to possess is their simplicity. Which of course if accidental because the modern world hadn't caught up with them. It is a simplicity that Rumer Godden's main character Sophie wants to emulate, it the modernity that Sophie wants to escape, she wants to be poor, she wants them to see how rich their really are, but all her attempts are bound to fail. 

The way the story unfolds with its stages of innocent enamourment with Kashmir, trying to adjust and change the place for better, and the creation of mess in which everyone wishes you were never there in the first place, it does make one think that the story is an allegory on British engagement and disengagement with the Indian Sub-continent. 
-0-

The Dove House, the model for Dhilkusha, Sophie's mountain bungalow.
[I believe it is the 'Ishber' area, which finally became more inhabited in the late 60s and 70s]

Photo from: Colonial Strangers: Women Writing the End of the British Empire By Phyllis Lassner (2004)

-0-

You can read the book 'Kingfishers Catch Fire' for free here at Open Library

-0-

Previously: The Anita Desai's parallel story that takes place in a house of a pandit in Kasauli when pandits were the new 'angrez' of recently independent India: Fire on the Mountain, 1977


-0-

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Content protected by

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. Which it basically means is: You are free to share anything you may find here. No need to seek permission explicitly. Also you are free to re-use it for non-commercial purposes provided you let others use your work for free non-commercial purposes. This blog was started with the intention of sharing information for free. But, in case of commercial use, do seek a permission first. In all cases, giving proper credit to the blog/source is the proper decent thing to do, let other people know where you found it. Do not stifle information.

Categories

10th century (1) 12th century (1) 15th century (1) 1760 (1) 1770 (1) 1821 (1) 1823 (1) 1835 (1) 1840 (1) 1851 (1) 1854 (3) 1858 (1) 1859 (2) 1862 (1) 1864 (2) 1866 (1) 1868 (2) 1870 (2) 1874 (2) 1875 (1) 1877 (4) 1879 (1) 1881 (3) 1882 (1) 1883 (1) 1884 (1) 1885 (1) 1888 (1) 1890 (1) 1891 (2) 1892 (2) 1893 (1) 1895 (6) 1897 (1) 18th century (1) 19 January (2) 1900 (2) 1901 (1) 1902 (2) 1903 (5) 1904 (2) 1905 (1) 1906 (5) 1907 (4) 1908 (4) 1909 (2) 1910 (1) 1911 (2) 1912 (2) 1913 (2) 1914 (1) 1915 (6) 1916 (2) 1917 (2) 1918 (1) 1919 (1) 1920 (10) 1920s (10) 1921 (1) 1922 (3) 1923 (1) 1925 (2) 1926 (4) 1927 (2) 1928 (1) 1929 (2) 1930s (4) 1931 (3) 1933 (1) 1934 (3) 1935 (2) 1938 (2) 1939 (1) 1940 (1) 1940s (3) 1944 (4) 1945 (2) 1946 (4) 1947 (13) 1948 (13) 1949 (1) 1950s (9) 1951 (2) 1952 (3) 1953 (2) 1954 (1) 1955 (2) 1956 (5) 1957 (8) 1958 (3) 1959 (1) 1960 (2) 1960s (6) 1961 (1) 1962 (1) 1963 (1) 1964 (1) 1965 (1) 1967 (1) 1969 (5) 1971 (1) 1973 (1) 1975 (1) 1976 (1) 1977 (2) 1978 (2) 1979 (1) 1980 (1) 1980s (3) 1981 (1) 1982 (1) 1983 (4) 1987 (1) 1988 (1) 1989 (4) 1990 (17) 1992 (1) 2010 (2) 2014 (11) 21 January (1) 26 January (1) 70s (1) 7th century (1) 90s (1) 9th century (1) A Kashmiri Tourist in Kashmir (66) A Kashmiri Tourist in Ladakh (7) abhinavgupta (3) afghan (3) aishmukam (1) Akhnoor (3) Ali Kadal (3) all Kashmiris (1) amarnath (4) Amira Kadal (2) ancient (12) angrez (68) angry (2) animals (2) anomalous dreams (55) archeology (4) architecture (21) arnimaal (2) art (49) astronomy (1) audio (1) autumn (3) avantipur (5) azad (2) baazigar (3) back log (1) bagh-i-sundar balla Chattabal (16) Bakarwal (1) bakers (1) Balti (1) bandipora (1) bangladeshi (1) Banihal (2) baramulla (6) bc road (1) bekal kalaam (45) Bhaderwah (2) Bhand Pather (7) birds (3) Biscoe School (10) bits and pieces (88) boatmen (6) bookmarks (1) books (67) border (1) bot (3) bridges/kadal (16) british raj (1) Bu'nyul (2) buddhism (5) budshah (6) bulbul (1) bund (2) Burzahom (3) cave (1) census (1) chanapora (1) change log (4) chapyin khor (2) cheen (3) Chenab (4) children (3) children's books (5) Chinar (7) Cinema Hall (3) collectible (11) comedy (5) comic (7) communists (2) confused art (5) confused ethnicity (2) confused geography (6) confused history (5) confused language (1) confused names (2) confused people (1) confused religion (2) copy for tourist brochure (12) culture (10) dal (4) Dal Lake (17) dance (17) darbarmov (1) days (2) death (1) dilli (2) discovery (1) doon (3) downtown (2) drama (1) dress (8) duggar (1) engineering (1) environment (1) erotica (5) fakir (4) family albums (7) family histories (14) farmer (2) farsi (23) fashinas'foo't (3) Fateh Kadal (3) feast (2) festival (3) first war (6) flowers (1) folkdance (1) folksongs (9) folktales (8) food (58) forts (1) free books (29) fruits (1) funny (19) Gabba (3) gad (5) game (7) Ganpatyar (2) Garden (28) ghat (2) Ghost Stories (7) Gilgit (1) glass (1) Good man the Laltain (1) gor boi (1) graffiti (2) guest posts (107) guide book (5) gujjar (1) Gulmarg (19) Haar (2) habba kadal (11) Habba Khatoon (6) haenz (4) hair (1) hakh (1) Harwan (5) hazratbal (7) Henri Cartier-Bresson (1) herat (5) hindustaan (21) hindustaantiPaekistaan (8) History (124) hoho (2) hoon (2) house (18) houseboat (13) Hunza (1) hypertextuality (5) hyundTiMusalmaan (13) id (1) idols (1) illustrations (29) immigrant tales (18) in Kashmir (20) index (1) indus (1) inscriptions (1) interview (2) iran (3) Ishber (2) Jammu (74) jeeliDal (5) jesus (1) jewiz (1) jhelum (13) kabalis (2) kafirs (1) kakaz (2) kalheer (1) Kali Mandar (1) kandur (14) kangir (9) Karan Nagar (1) karewa (1) kargil (2) karr'e (2) kashmir in summer (2) Kashmiri Beauty (28) Kashmirispotting (18) kashmiriyat discourse (1) kashmirstrotram (1) kaula charsi (1) Kausar Nag (1) Kaw (3) khandar (3) Kharyaar (3) Khilanmarg (1) khos (1) khrew (1) kirkyet (1) Kishtwar (2) kitchen (1) kong posh (1) Kongdoor (1) kotar (1) kral (1) kralkhod (3) kul (1) Ladakh (25) lafaz (1) Lake (4) Lal Chowk (4) Lal Ded (18) land (1) language (45) leelas (1) leh (1) letters (1) liddarwat (1) list (3) location (1) love (7) lyek (5) lyrics (37) maaz (1) madin sahib (2) Mahjoor (5) Mahmud Gami (5) mahrin (1) manasbal (3) mapping Rajatarangini (5) Maps (36) marriage (18) martand (8) mas (1) masjid (2) mattan (1) me'chu'na'koshur'tagaan (3) mekhal (1) metaphysical star wars (16) migrant (9) Militia (1) missionaries (7) Mix Bag (8) Mohra (1) money (2) Morning (1) mosque (2) mountains (5) mout (1) mughals (18) museum (3) Music (53) naag (3) naav (1) Nadim (7) nadru (2) naga (2) nagin (5) nalla-e-mar (2) namaaz (1) Namda (1) nautch (9) news (5) newsreel (1) NH1-A (13) nohor (4) nostalgia (3) notes on Shalimar the Clown (4) numbers (2) Nund Ryosh (8) odd (21) old hotels (2) oral bits (16) originals (1) ornament (9) pahalgam (1) paintings (53) Pakistan (3) pampore (2) pandit affairs (7) pandits (60) Pandrethan (1) panjyeb (1) parbat (10) Pari Mahal (1) parihaspora (1) parsi (2) partition (1) pashmina (1) pattan (1) pawer'cha (1) persons (3) phaka (2) pheran (1) philim (48) photo (120) pilgrimages (1) pir panjal (3) poem (26) polo (1) poonch (1) posh (1) posha (1) postal (2) postcards (20) Prem Nath Bazaz (1) prePaekistaan (2) project (7) proverbs (6) puj waan (2) qazigund (1) questions (1) radio (3) Rajatarangini (15) Rajouri (2) ramayan (1) rare articles (1) rare out-of-print (6) rasul mir (2) read (5) recording (1) reenactment (8) religion (19) remembrance (4) renovation (1) reshi (1) Residency Road (1) retracing (1) riddle (1) riddles (3) rituals (2) river-life (9) rivers (9) road (1) roos (3) rop bhavani (1) ruins (5) sacred spaces (1) saints (4) salesmanship (1) samad mir (1) samawar (1) sangam (1) sanghi batta (1) sanskrit (6) saqi (1) saruf (1) School (9) sculpture (6) second war (1) See (3) Shadipur (2) shafa (3) Shah Hamadan (1) Shalimar Bagh (7) Shankracharya (3) sharda (4) shaveratri (2) shawl (7) she (1) shikara (1) shikari (2) shiraz (1) shiv (6) shivratri (4) Shorab (2) shrine (4) Sikandar (1) sikhsardar (2) snakes (6) snow (6) Sonamarg (2) songs (12) songsforexile (4) sound (3) spring (1) srinagar (12) stamps (2) stones (3) Strange Tales from Tulamula (4) stupa (1) Su (1) sufi (1) swim (5) sylab nama (11) t'song (1) tailor (3) talav (1) talk (7) tanga (1) tcharpoke (1) tchoor hasa hey (2) tea (8) temples (29) The Eternal Pandit (3) then-now (19) they write (1) things that crossed over (13) thingsthatremindmeofkashmir (11) tibet (4) top (1) tradition (7) travel routes (1) travellers in time (2) trees (1) trekking (1) tulmul/khir bhawani (20) tv tyeth (1) udhampur (1) undated (1) Uri (3) vakh (2) valley (1) varmul (1) Vejibror (2) verses (9) Video Dastangoi (3) village (1) Vintage (37) Vintage audio (2) vintage magazines (2) Vintage photos (153) vintage video (13) walnut wood (1) wasteland (1) wazwaan (1) weavers (3) wildlife (2) window (3) winter (8) wodwin janawar (2) wolar (3) women (8) words for paradise (10) Workmanship (35) ya ali (1) ya-khoda-ti-bhagwaan (2) yaarbal (1) yach (1) Yarbal (1) you tube (26) zaar (2) zabarwan (1) zafur (2) Zaina Kadal (5) Zeethyaar (4) zenana (1) zoon (2) zor-e-talwarTiBandook (2) zu (2)