Wednesday, December 27, 2006


That a woman could conceive and give birth to a child without congress with a man, an idea seemingly contrary to our intelligence, is the very cornerstone of Nativity or the birth of Lord Jesus. Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus gave birth to her Son in a stable at Bethlehem and remained a virgin, is the teaching of the Holy Gospels. Of all the books written on the life and times of Jesus, only four, those of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are accepted as infallible by the Church. There were others, which were rejected and are known today as the Agnostic Gospels or the Suppressed Gospels. All the four accepted Gospels were written by Jewish converts to Christianity except that of Mark’s who was a Roman convert and none of them were contemporary of Jesus. They were written about seventy to a hundred years after Jesus’ Crucifixion.

The Church of Rome with a hallowed history of over two thousand years, the longest uninterrupted institution of mankind, has been persistent in its teaching of the Immaculate Conception. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is portrayed as a woman of incorruptible virtue and although she was married to her husband Joseph she had no carnal knowledge of him. She was fecundated by the Holy Spirit, which the theologians have explained as the Spirit of God, our Father in Heaven. One of the pivotal concepts of Christianity, that of the Holy Trinity, the unity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit is rather difficult for a layman to comprehend. The Father is of course the God in Heaven and the son is Lord Jesus. The Spirit is the essence of God pervading and permeating the whole cosmos.

In due course of time she gave birth to her Son, a human being of normal flesh and bones, in an apparent painless labour. She remained a virgin with an intact hymen even during the actual time of her delivery, analogous to sunbeams passing through glass. This has been glorified in the Bible as the Immaculate Conception. We are led to believe that Mary, although a normal healthy woman, was able to conceive and deliver a child without experiencing the pleasures of sexual intercourse; nor did she suffer the discomforts of pregnancy and the pain of labour. According to the suppressed Gospels, a midwife doubting the strange phenomenon of Parthenogenesis wished to verify, and was instantly paralysed. Incidentally Mary herself is portrayed in some books as being a product of Immaculate Conception but that is a different story.

Thus was Jesus born without the taint of Original Sin, a unique concept of Judeo-Christian Theology. Adam and Eve, our first parents living in primal innocence in the Garden of Eden, transgressed the command of God by eating the fruit of the Forbidden Tree and indulging in sexual intercourse thereafter is the Original Sin of Bible. This resulted in their fall and expulsion from Paradise.

The sex act has somehow been mired in controversy. The male’s, at least those of the ruder ages, incomprehension of the normal physiology of females, the passage of blood during menstruation and the flow of vaginal fluids during intercourse has had some strange effects on the mind. It was an anathema to believe that Adam and Eve did indulge in intercourse before the Fall. The established Church still denies it. However the English poet John Milton, a staunch Puritan, unequivocally asserts in ‘Paradise Lost’ that our first parents did copulate before the Fall, as a mandate from Heaven, obeying God’s command ‘Go forth and multiply’ and it is sheer hypocrisy to think otherwise.

Milton is guilty, according to the elders of the Church, of holding the heretical views of Arianism. Arianism, a theism that held sway in the early years of Christianity, affirms the supremacy of the Father over the Son and that They were not one and the same, has been proscribed by the Church, which upholds that the Father and the Son are one and of the same ‘substance’.

In the early years, when Rome was gradually turning Christian, the esteemed Fathers of the Church were much concerned with the ideas of virginity and chastity. Virginity was not only praised to high heavens but also deified. Pre-Christian Rome, also known as Pagan Rome, did have an institution of virgins consecrated to the services of Vesta but it could hardly boast of six virgins at a time doing the temple duties. The ingenuity and the motivations of the Fathers of the Church were such that many women, even those from the noble families were more than willing to devote their lives to the Church and live as nuns, devoid of any contact with men and practicing rigid celibacy. The nuns were considered to be the spouse of the God. An esteemed Father, later canonised, St.Jerome, with characteristic naivety addressed a mother of a nun with an embarrassing sobriquet ‘Mother-in –law of God’.

The zeal for self mortification and self abnegation among the theologians and Church hierarchs was carried to such ridiculous levels that a most distinguished and learned Father, Origen, had himself castrated to be free from the pleasures of the flesh. Following his example, castration became a rage, sometimes voluntary, sometimes forcible until the obnoxious practice was forbidden by the saner elements of the Church.

To the Church, Lord Jesus on earth was the same as God in heaven. It was only natural then to believe that the body of Jesus, Corpus Christi, was unique and it was never defiled by the excretion of stool and urine and the ejaculation of semen. That the Son of Man, born of a woman, who lived among his contemporaries and shared his meals with his disciples, did not suffer the ‘impurities’ of the flesh is a strange centaur to behold. What are the Church’s views on this point, at present, is not known.

The much-debated stories of the ‘Shining Star’ and the ‘Adoration of the Magi’ are, unless proven to the contrary, symbolic. It emphasizes Divine approval to the birth of Jesus as per the opinion of the devout believers. The Magi, also known as the Wise Men of the East, were possibly Zoroastrians from Persia and were well versed in the esoteric arts of astrology, necromancy etc. They came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus. The gifts were certainly expensive in the material sense, as befitting an Emperor. That an infant born in a humble stable to parents of modest means should be worthy of adoration by men, rich in years and erudition, is an uplifting story of redemption.

All said and done the teachings of Jesus, initially meant for the Jews only but later spread far and wide by the genius of St.Paul, metamorphosed the tribal God Jehovah, a god of strict uprightness and capable of extreme vengeance, to a God of mercy and compassion. The old Testament, pregnant and heavy with the Ten Commandments which were more often obeyed in the breach, gave way to the New Testament of Jesus Christ with only two Commandments: Love thy God and Love thy neighbour. And what a sea change it brought about in human history.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006



It was a delightful evening and my daughter, the perfect hostess, desired to give us a treat. What could be more romantic than to have a gala dinner to celebrate our Independence Day [evening?] in one of the famed restaurants of our cyber city, Hyderabad, with the weather playing a perfect goddess? Not too hot and not too cold. But the problem lay elsewhere; no autos were available for quite some time and the one that was available was reluctant to take us there as it entailed an uphill climb. After some persuasion he was willing to take us provided we paid him something extra for his troubles. Are all the Indian auto drivers invariably menopausal?

So we headed for ‘Shikaar’ on road number 2 on Banjara Hills. Being absolutely novices or shall I say ‘innocents abroad’ we were undecided to turn left or right from the crossing. My daughter told me it was near Melting Women, [or so I heard] an ice-cream parlour. I asked a lady who was walking with her husband on the footpath where Melting Women was. She made a face which was certainly not amusing, which I was unable to fathom [as if women never melt, all have gazed upon Medusa’s face], and corrected me that it was Melting Moments and gave me the proper direction. Thus fortified we made it to Shikaar before you can say hello.

She opted for the Mexican Section and guided her mother and me to a secluded corner of the restaurant. And true to form she refused to sit until her mother and I were comfortably ensconced in our seats. The starched and moustachioed waiter, who could have easily doubled for Amir Khan, the Bollywood hero, produced the menu. It was all Greek and Latin to me, but my daughter was more resourceful. No, she doesn’t know Spanish but she had been there before and she was keen to have seafood. She chose Nachos, which happens to be crisp corn tortilla wedges splashed with refritos, melted cheese, tomatoes, onions and a choice of toppings. Surely a musical dish. The waiter rose to the occasion and promptly served us with aplomb. I asked him why he didn’t have a Mexican hat and carried no guitar and could he do us a Salsa to which he was modestly evasive. The dish was delightful and we did justice to it with relish.

We next had Mixed Fajitas. More used to mixed fried rice and mixed chow mien, mixed Fajitas was altogether a novelty worthy of a champion
Epicure. Fajitas is a style of cooking handed down for generations [which style of cooking is not?] made of marinated strips of tender lamb or chicken or fish, grilled with sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions and spices. Sancho Panza would have been delighted; specially when served sizzling on your table with salsa fresca and fresh hot tortillas. The lamb was tender and succulent, which a Dubliner would have approved, and we ate to our hearts fill.

Now we were feeling hot and the waiter promptly upped the A.C.

Then was the time when an old woman sat cross-legged at the crossing of Dharmatolla Street and Chowringhee in Calcutta, as only an Indian can. She was massive, really massive, as the mountains, and as old as the Vedas. She was facing west toward the Ganges and her eyes were shut, contemplating. She had a white wrinkled sari on and nothing else and her ponderous breasts were exposed to the elements. A herd of cow-elephants could easily have played on one of them and her arms, which hung limply by her side, resembled the boulders that Polyphemus the Cyclops hurled at Odysseus’ ship. Her feet looked like the Twin Towers of Word Trade Centre of New York. Her face remained the ultimate enigma: serene, benevolent and full of piety with a smile worthy of Socrates. Her locks were whiter than snow. Then was the time when all our heroes came to her bearing presents and to pay their respectful obeisance to this eternal mother. There was Subhas Bose who offered her his sword and Rabindranath Tagore who gave her his manuscript of Gitanjali. Satyen Bose, Acharya Mahalonobis, Khudiram Bose, Matangini Hazra, Satyajit Ray, Chaitanya Mahapravu, Mother Teresa, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Bidhan Chandra Roy, Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, Bhaichung Bhutia, Saurav Ganguly, Sailen Manna, Uttam Kumar, Suchitra Sen, Chhabi Biwas, Bhanu Bandyopadhaya, Bikash Roy and host of others waited patiently for their turn. Then was the time when her fame had spread beyond our borders. Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Amitabh Bachhan, Maulana Azad, Lokmanya Tilak, Jamshedji Tata, C.V.Raman, Ramanujam, Homi Bhabha, Sachin Tendulkar, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Homi Sethna, Rani Laxmibai, Chatrapati Shivaji, Sam Maneckshaw, Alama Iqbal, Kalidasa, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Jalaluddin Akbar, Mumtaj Mahal and Kapil Dev sought her benediction. Then was the time when her fame had soared across the seven seas and over the mountain ranges. Abraham Lincoln came carrying his log cabin and Mao Zedong brought his Red Book. Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare, Henry the Eighth, Nelson Mandela, Leo Tolstoy, Czar Nicholas, Vladimir Lenin, Victor Hugo, Michelangelo, Charles De Gaulle, Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Rabelais, Haroun Rashid, Vivien Leigh, Richard the Lionheart, Diana Windsor, William The Conqueror, Isaac Newton, Somerset Maugham, Patrice Lumumba, Enid Blyton, Orson Welles, Agatha Christie, James Joyce, George Washington, Babe Ruth, Washington Irving, Confucius, Gustav Flaubert, Timur the Lame, Elizabeth Tudor, Frank Worrell, Captain Cook, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Donald Bradman, Chengiz Khan, Marlon Brando, Wallis Simpson, Mae West, Papa Hemingway, John Steinbeck , Charles Dickens, Santa Claus, Alfred Nobel and a host of others made haste to her side.

Chic Macho Mam was our last port of call. Not exactly; it was the conjuror’s last trick, as the saying goes. It is grilled chicken served with Mexican rice and potato fries. Very delightful, very refreshing. A far cry from the grilled chicken we have in Kolkata. These were free ranging chickens that were well cut, well dressed, well and truly seasoned. I could spot a twinkle in my daughter’s eyes when she put the succulent pieces in her mouth.

The tables all around us were occupied but there was no din and bustle to rob us of our serenity. We relished our dinner as the occasion demanded with a song in our hearts and a smile on our lips. We simply could not expect more. Time to say goodbye and step out into reality.

The waiter brought us our bill and we appreciated his effort with a generous tip. The night was black as black can be, and the stars, shining brightly, showered their benedictions on us. We had ice creams from ‘Melting Moments’ as we strolled down Road number 2 of Banjara Hills. We did not have any problem on boarding an auto on our way back.

Merci Beaucoup Shikar.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Yes Poldy still loves to eat the inner organ of beasts and fowls which saves him from erectile dysfunction although he still receives plenty of emails from gonorrheal ladies with outlandish names such as Fresh Nelly
Marlene Barnacle not to mention Pussy Galore advocating the use of various penile enhancement techniques although we have not done it ever since Milly had her Catamenes but I have noticed that Poldy gives a sly look when he sees Gerty Macdowell passing by possibly he remembers the time when he had seen her lower drawers and had experienced a certain wetness there and even nowadays he goes walking the length and breadth of Dublin with Stephen Dedalus who is presently the Lecturer in French Letters to the youth of Dublin but men are never to be trusted yes as our bonny Prince Harry was recently caught on camera squeezing the ample breast of a blonde in a night club who knows what mischief they will be upto when their wife’s back is turned but Poldy knows that if I ever find out I will cut off a certain part of his anatomy so that unlike Lord Nelson the one handled adulterer he will become man noman but that is neither here nor there for English bottoms are different from Irish bottoms as any bottompincher bottomkisser bottomgrabber bottomhandler bottomcleaner knows we are devout the way we take care of our bottoms but Stephen could have slept here last night yes no trouble for me for Stephen still has a nice and clean mickey and always takes the care of washing it before going to bed and iam sure his woman will never grow mustache but a woman needs to be cuddled atleast 20 times a day no matter by who as long as she is in love it makes her feel and remain young and I always say yes to Poldy when he comes to me with that thing of his hard and strong but so calm and smooth to touch and play and imiss him but he can stay in millis room as for long noone has slept there and iwill give him his breakfast in bed and he can tell me allabout the history of different nations and poldy dear can again come at blueoclock in the morning without putting his body through the window O and iwish poldy takesme out to the lakes where we can enjoy a nice summer day with the flowers blooming and the swans swimming and the children playing and we can have a delicious boatride and ican show poldy my old drawers and make him salivate but what dress shalli put on O ican remember the time when we first kissed an cuddled and poldy fondled my breasts it was so heavenly not like the time in gibraltar and thalatta thalatta and yes he puthis hands all around me and asked me and isaid yes and ikissed him yes isaid yes

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Come Sunday evening, Howrah station beckons us once again to her ample bosom. After having the customary dinner of rotis and vegetables with a fish occasionally thrown in, I leave for the station by 8.30pm, availing myself of public transport. Some of my colleagues are already assembled there by the time I reach and some follow me. By 10pm we are all assembled for our journey and we while away the time discussing any topic this side of Jupiter.

Mr. S. also nicknamed ‘the manager’ is a jovial pathologist of some fifty summers. It was he who informed us that the Professor of Pathology, Mrs. K.M. has developed a new stain which is identical to Gentian Violet but called Genital Violet instead! Mr. A.G., who continuously chews ‘paan’, nods his head approvingly to all manner of ambiguous propositions; it is difficult to decipher what exactly are his views on any question. Once while discussing the immortal passage from Kalidasa’s ‘Meghdoot’ where the forlorn lover remembers the time when he had laid his wearied head on the naked thigh of his mistress after a vigorous bout of love-making, Mr. A.G gave the rather recondite analysis that a woman’s thigh was a much better resting place than anything farther north. Talking about women’s thighs, wasn’t it Hamlet who was desirous of laying his head on Ophelia’s thigh?

Our resident humour-monger, the slattern Sabitri, who earns her livelihood by begging, drops in to ask of the manager about his latest matrimonial conquest. She habitually teases him of his polygamous behaviour [not true of course] and the hapless manager has no other recourse but to send her off with a one rupee coin. The rest of us simply relish and devour the manager’s discomfiture.

Its time now to board the train 315UP and our convoy proceeds toward platform number 11. All of us are accommodated in coach S3 and we head for our respective berths. By 10.40 pm our train is on the move
and we make our beds to lie down. Very little is required for our comfort but winter necessitates woolens to keep ourselves warm. Our journey is more or less hassle free except on those occasions when a political party holds a rally in Kolkata on a Sunday. Then the rabble of ticketless travellers tries to get in our compartment and we labour to keep them out. We are ably helped in our endeavour by Mr. Choudhury, the T.T.E.
Mr. Choudhury, very dear to us, rather short in height but wide in the midriff [like Caesar we do not favour “lean and hungry” T.T.Es] is a veritable Good Samaritan and never fails to wake us up at Onda, which is a ten minutes traveltime from Bankura. That reminds me of the occasion, when, during my absence, most of my colleagues were carried beyond Bankura. Mr. Choudhury was not on duty that evening.

There is a bit of excess rush in winter when many board the train for an excursion to the hills of Purulia. Youngsters from college go as a group and keep us awake the whole night singing songs and making merry. It happened once when a bumpy jolt forced a traveller on the middle bunk to tumble down. Mercifully he was unhurt. On the 25th of December last, only three of us were travelling by train, the others were having their annual vacation; and the train was as punctual as usual. We reached Bankura at a quarter to four in the morning. There were no taxis available on that frightfully chilly night with the wind biting and blowing, and the three of us had to walk the whole distance to our quarters braving the scrotumtightening cold.

Bankura is indeed pleasant in winter but summers are horrible. In the nacreous morns of winter, when sunlight and shadows dapple the city, Bankura is at her pristine best. It is a thousand pities that very few venture out for a morning walk; the cold, it seems, is formidable and forbidding. But for those bold enow to face the elements there is no time like a wintry morning to seek inner solace and to stand upright in the sight of our Maker. We are rewarded adequately; we are able to experience the tectonic shift occurring in our lives between the drudgery of our existence and the sublime bliss that awaits those who keep the covenant; the fast approaching andropause of the flesh and the long delayed andropause of the mind. Summer is an altogether different kettle of fish; a sizzler, if indeed there be one, and there is water scarcity to boot.

The other day I had a lesson in humility. It was early in the morning, at daybreak; I was up and about taking a morning walk, as is my custom, when I felt like having a cup of tea from a roadside stall. Few stalls were open then and in only one someone was fanning the flames of his coal oven. The shopper- keeper’s assistant brought out a dish containing the previous night’s leftovers of potato fries [known locally as Aloo Chop ] which he scattered to the pigs and dogs scavenging the ground in front of the stalls. There was a mad scramble between the dogs and the pigs for the leftovers with a murder of crows pitching in. I can hardly believe my eyes now, for I saw a woman emerging out of nowhere, as if a psychopomp, shooing away the birds and mammals alike and partaking herself of the food from the ground however besmirched with dust they might have been. She put them to her nose, sniffed it, found they were not all that putrid and promptly wrapped them in the folds of her saree and vanished from where she came. She never came to me begging for alms and I am not certain if she was not in the Lord’s mind when He said “I was hungry yet you did not feed me.”

An early morning walk before the crack of dawn is invigorating, refreshing and rejuvenating. There are very few vehicles on the street at that hour; only a few bullock carts and buffalo carts ply loads of hay. I really pity these magnificent beasts, the mainstay of our rural economy. Underfed and underkept, they are made to lose their ballocks to our cupidity and ungrudgingly carry out their master’s service till their dying breath. Shall Maneka Gandhi do something? The word ballocks reminds me that Hitler had only one, which is neither here nor there; but just imagine what would have happened if he had the customary two?

Near the Bankura Police Station I often come across a robust, auburn haired he-goat rummaging the dustbins who stinks horribly of a provocatively erotic stench. Quite a fine specimen he certainly is and must have sired innumerable progeny by now; a cheeky Satyr that would have given Casanova a run for his money.

The free ranging pigs are everywhere goring the earth for juicy tubers and occasionally harrassed by the mongrels. Being chased by a vicious canine, a pig once bumped into me and was bewildered at the impact: he raised his face and the moon shone brightly on him. I realized I had seen this face before; in fact his was the most recognisable face of my childhood: the face of Albert Einstein. I had a feeling he understood the mystery of the universe, he knew who built the pyramids, but alas! If only he could talk.
Bankura like all cities surely has its vices but unlike Kolkata there is very little extortion. Street smart thugs do not approach house builders for donations nor do they insist on supplying the building materials however of poor quality they may be. This is in stark contrast to the browbeaten Kolkatan who is left to fend for himself and who has no freedom to choose his own hardware store. I only pray that Bankura keeps alive her undefiled virtue for all eternity. During the Autumn festival, Durga Puja, there is hardly any arm twisting or furburger tweezing by the roving gangs of subscription collectors. Even the small transport operators, men who run aoturickshaws and trekkers, are courteous with modest auri sacra fames.

In the field of education Bankura is a shining beacon. The students do exceptionally well in the school leaving examinations. The Christian Mission Schools for boys and girls have a reputation to keep and they do their job sincerely. The Christian College with its sylvan surroundings is a landmark in Bankura and I was delighted to know that they impart education to a significant number of tribal children at concessional rates.
The Pricipal Mr. Richard Bajpaie, is a self-effacing gentleman [no stiff upper lip, no putting on airs] and also a minister of the church. No, I did not ask him his views on the doctrine of trans-substantiation, gays in church service or same sex marriages; reckon, I shall ask when I meet him next.

There is a laid back lifestyle, reminescent of the early 1950s, and the men and women are not glued to their idiot boxes as is common in Kolkata. People do pay courtesy calls and there is much time for a tete-a tete and a family get-together. Come to think of it, home grown Bankuraites are very civil in their approach to strangers and the aged are shown due respect and decency.

It is a marvellous fact that though a district capital, Bankura does not boast of any redlight area. It doesn’t have a proper brothel, in a manner of speaking, although a few savvy whores can be had for the asking in the seedier areas of the city. I am informed by my dermatologist friend that the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases is unbelievingly low in this jewel of a city. The answer certainly lies in the rather simplistic reason that Bankura is far from the National Highway and the floating population of truck drivers and fellow travellers is remarkably scanty.

Bankura is a strong contender for the last bastion of innocence in West Bengal. I was astonished to learn from quite a few women that the nearly-vanished Edwardian art of coitus-interruptus is still practised as a method of family planning : “he always withdraws in time, he is such a sweet darling”.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


At the very onset I must apologize to the shade of Ms. Virginia Woolf for writing on a woman without being the least qualified to do so: I am not a woman, I am not a feminist and I have never immersed myself in anthropology. Not that I am a misogynist but I have seldom come across an article on Circe written by a man or a woman who depicts her without horns and a broomstick.

It was in the early 1960s when Nirad Choudhury wrote an award winning non-fiction called the Continent of Circe that aroused my interest in this charming lady. Not that I understood much of what he wrote but I gathered from my English teacher, who always donned a three piece suit even in the torrid summer, that Circe was an enchanting woman in Homer’s Odyssey who made animals out of men and held them in captivity. Like other school boys in quest of esoteric knowledge I asked some of my forward looking seniors what Circe was all about and the inevitable reply was “Don’t waste your time on that bitch, read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ instead”. I was in junior high school then and the hormones of those pubescent days had stirred inquisitiveness in me to the opposite sex; what girls did in their spare time, what books they read at leisure, how they did their coiffures, who were their heroes etc: in short what was it to be a girl. Like many boys of my class I had a crush on my mother, which I later understood to be a quasi-fatal manifestation of Oedipus complex and I imagined Circe to have bountiful breasts, not necessarily pendulous, delightful to behold and more delightful to play with and the nipples oozing milk and honey. As years rolled by, Circe remained deep in my brain and on reading E.V.Riew’s translation [in Penguin Classics] of Odyssey; I once again forayed back in time to the magic moments of my childhood to pay homage to this fascinating enchantress.

Odyssey is the story of the Greek hero Odysseus who is homebound after the fall and sack of Troy. Next to the great Achilles he is the most charismatic of the Greeks and Homer describes him variously as the resourceful, of the nimble feet and the nimble wit, the sacker of cities, the favourite of Zeus or in other words he was the quintessential male: bold in spirit and daring, and master of stratagems. For those of us who hardly ever brought any prizes from the school games he was all that we wished to be. His travails across the sea, hopping from one island to another, surviving encounters with cannibals and standing up to the very wrath of gods were all heady wine to the awe struck neophyte.

Circe, Κϊρκη in Greek, is mentioned in book 10 [chapter 10] of the Odyssey and also in book 12. Odysseus and his crew land in Circe’s island Aeaea after narrowly escaping the cannibals of Laestrygonian land. Only a solitary ship remains of the mighty flotilla that left Troy. Homer introduces Circe as the beautiful goddess with a woman’s voice. She is the daughter of the Sun, sired on Perse, offspring of the Ocean. On the third day Odysseus sets off to reconnoiter the island when he descried smoke arising from Circe’s house which stood in a clearing of the forest of oak trees. The colour of the smoke is relevant; it is red, which prompts Odysseus to return and send a team to investigate the house. Why the smoke is red in colour, Homer does not explain but surely it has something to do with Circe’s enigma: sorcery.

Next day Odysseus divided his crew into two parties and by lottery it fell on the party led by Eurylochus to explore Circe’s house. Eurylochus and his team of twenty-two men approached Circe’s house which was built of stone and were surprised to see mountain-lions and wolves roaming freely about. But instead of attacking the men, the ferocious animals came fawning to them, wagging their tails like pet dogs greeting their masters. They heard Circe singing inside the house while she was working on the loom and the music must have been seductive.

One of them called out to her and Circe appeared at the door and invited them in. Only Eurylochus, the sceptic, suspected a trap and remained outside. Circe offered the visitors chairs to sit on and then prepared their victuals. To this she added a drug she had prepared and served her guests. The unwary Greeks devoured the food with relish and promptly lost all memory of their native land. Circe took a stick in her hand and goaded them to the pigsty: the men were all turned into swine with bristles and snouts; however they retained their human intelligence. Here lay double tragedy: a human mind in an animal’s body.

Eurylochus had observed everything from the outside and he rushed back to the ship and narrated his dismal story. Odysseus and the remaining members of the crew were deeply troubled by what they heard. Odysseus girding his mighty sword on his shoulder decided to visit Circe’s house to rescue his comrades but least knew how to do so. Here Providence or, as the Greeks say, Almighty Zeus helped him. On his way he met Hermes, the messenger of the Gods, walking the other way and looking a lot younger and attractive. [Incidentally Hermes is remembered in mythology for fathering a child on Aphrodite- Hermaphrodite, a child of dubious genitals.] Homer does not mention where Hermes was coming from but the description alludes that Hermes was heading back from Circe’s where he might have shared her bed.

Godsend Hermes cautions Odysseus about Circe’s bewitching powers and gives him a potent antidote: the herb ‘moly’ which is forbidden to a mortal to pluck but Hermes being a god is empowered to do so. Furthermore Hermes tells Odysseus that on escaping transmogrification he will be invited by Circe to share her bed which he must not refuse if he wishes to bring back his fallen comrades. But Circe will have one more trick up her sleeve; that on stripping him naked she will rob him of his courage and manhood. He must immediately unscabbard his sword and rush at Circe who will then fall at his knees and plead mercy. Odysseus should make her promise by the very gods of high Olympus not to play any more tricks and to liberate the captives from her bondage.

Thus forewarned and forearmed, Odysseus reached Circe’s house and called out to her. As foretold by Hermes, Odysseus is entertained by Circe and offered a wholesome repast which the antidote moly renders harmless. Circe is astounded and she recalls a prophecy that one Odysseus returning from Troy will be proof against her ministrations. She now invites Odysseus to share her bed and understand each other better during the intimacy. Odysseus sees through Circe’s plan and as urged by Hermes rushes at her with his naked sword ready to strike. A terrified Circe falls on her knees and pleads mercy to which Odysseus agrees provided she promises not to play any more tricks and to release her captives to which she promptly consents. Circe is now a changed woman, she uses her stick and herbal paste to make the captive swine humans once again and there is a happy reunion of the crew of Eurylochus and the remaining men.

Odysseus spends one whole year in Circe’s company; Homer says ‘as noted by the change of seasons’. Odysseus the champion at Troy is treated majestically by Circe and sleeps with her during his stay at Aeaea. After a year he is reminded by his crew to return to their native Ithaca. And Odysseus sought Circe’s help for his onward journey. Circe does not hesitate to render help; she is not annoyed nor is she sad but wishes well of Odysseus and his tempest-tossed crew.

Homer’s book on Circe raises many questions the primal one being ‘was she really a witch? Witchcraft as we understand today was unknown to the ancient Greeks. A woman dabbling in decoctions and concoctions was said to possess magical powers, the power to rejuvenate the old and infirm and also bewitch unsuspecting humans. The appearance of Hermes as he passes Odysseus is that of a young boy when the beard first darkens the face. Homer does not tell us whether Hermes ate at Circe’s table or he also bedded her but as Hermes cautions Odysseus about Circe’s guiles, it may be understood that Hermes had his carnal knowledge of her.

Odysseus first has a feel of the supra-natural on seeing red smoke billowing from Circe’s house. Why the smoke was red, remains unanswered. Could it mean to symbolize something definitely Primaeval? Odysseus was no novice to blood, having fought at Troy and partaken in its sacking. Or Odysseus thought it had something to do with ‘katamene’, the blood issuing from the female without violence and said to possess mystic properties which the ancients in their innocence understood so poorly. Homer the master story-teller does not elaborate.

Why should Circe ensnare humans and turn them into animals remains a mystery. She was a goddess, a lot more powerful than any mortal and had nothing to fear from anyone. She lived in a lonely island and had only three maids for company and was totally destitute of any masculine
attention. However to those whom she was pleased to offer her sexual favours, Odysseus for example and possibly Hermes too, she bestowed an invigorating youth. It is quite possible to believe that she found most men unworthy of her bed, or to say it in plain terms, unfit to fertilize her and produce an offspring of her choice. Homer does not mention it but some other Greek playwrights tell of a son of Circe by Odysseus.

Let us look at it from another angle. Circe symbolizes the eternal woman, created at the very beginning of life, ever vigilant and ever patient, waiting and watching, relentlessly, over the shifting sands of time, like some silver crested mountain, to produce the perfect ovum which on mating will form the Super Male, the ultimate conqueror and benefactor of the Universe. What else can explain her mischievous propensity to turn men into swine or to castrate those who escaped her first attempt at bewitchment? She was searching for the perfect man, the alpha male of modern terminology, whose seed would fecundate her to produce a Son she was hoping for all these millennia.

Homer was indeed in love with this beautiful woman and like all men he was unable to understand the woman he loved. His infatuation is evident when he fails to give us any idea what Circe looked like: the shape of her head , the colour of her hair, the angle of her nose, the rondure of her breasts, the flatness of her abdomen, the music of her voice, the serenity of her eyes or the silkiness of her alabaster thighs. He gives himself away when he makes Circe do a redoubtable about turn, from being viciously evil to being simply divine and benevolent. Odysseus was no novice to the charms of a woman and had spent ten years in the tumult of a camp; he had partaken in the sack of Troy where the vanquished women were taken as war trophies. Yet he was destined by Providence to guard against the wiles of a woman who chose her bed-mates with maturity and caution. He was born to the gore and to the wanderlust as Circe was born to produce the unimpeachable offspring. Circe later on advises Odysseus to make the dangerous journey to the under-word ‘Hades’, from whose bourne no traveller returns, to seek out the soul of the prophet Tieresias and to know his destiny. She knew the answer to Odysseus’ questions yet she sent him on an arduous journey. She wanted him to see for himself the outcome of war: its total futility, its misery and its rapacity. For Circe indeed was immortal; she belonged to the past, she is in the present and she will be in the future. She understood that the male principle will, throughout its tenure on earth, be bent upon destruction of the species whereas she, the very epitome of the female principle, will be called upon to produce the perfect man who will be the repository of empyreal wisdom, [LOGOS in Greek] and our saviour. Her womb will be given the pride of place: it shall nurture and nourish Him who will recall humankind to sanity and prevent the world from utter destruction.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


January the sixth being my birthday, my daughter Ananya, a soft ware techie invited us for lunch at Mainland China, a premier restaurant in Kolkata specializing in Chinese cuisine. My wife and I along with two of my uncles [both octogenarians] and their better halves, my cousin sister and my sister –in- law and her daughter made up the team.

The restaurant is quite a groovy place and at lunch time is rather crowded. We were ushered in by smartly attired waiters to our table and on sitting down everyone sang ‘A happy birthday to you’ to me. Not that it was embarrassing but I would have appreciated a quieter welcome. The ambience was sophisticated but not stifling. And who is bothered when one is among one’s very own, the few, the very few whom one loves dispassionately.

Ananya advocated a buffet to which all of us agreed. The waiter served us chicken soup along with mou-mou, both steamed and fried. It was simply divine. Afterwards we lined up for the main buffet. There was a wide range of choice and dish in hand we helped ourselves to each item.

``Oh, Tiber! Father Tiber!
To whom the Romans pray,
A Roman's life, a Roman's arms,
Take thou in charge this day!

Baby corn in sauce, ladies fingers with mushrooms, two types of noodles, rice with shredded chicken, two preparations of chicken, fish in whitish sauce and crabs. Yes crabs; and they were the main attraction. Forgive me, I am not much of a connoisseur of Chinese delicacies and I am unable to give an exact description of the dishes, but the food was indeed delicious. Aditi, my niece, is quite at home with chopsticks and she used them with delectable élan. The rest of us used fork and spoon but when it came to the crunch we had to use our fingers. Yes your guess is right; for the crabs, especially to get at the claw-meat there was no other way. And the crabs, both the corpus and the claws were exceedingly succulent. The elder of my uncles did not try it; his dentures would not permit. Time and again we went to the long table and refilled our dishes and the conversation that flowed was congenial.

There were two ladies, both Indians, in their late fifties dressed in European style eating with chopsticks sitting immediately behind me. Nothing unusual in that but suddenly one of them felt unwell and was comforted by the other. I approached her and thought of saying ‘ete vous malad?’ mistaking them to be well versed in French. However she spoke in chaste Bengali that she was allergic to ajina moto [sodium glutamide] and the food in the restaurant had a generous sprinkling of the same. I further gathered from her that ajina moto was banned in the hotels of Europe when I politely informed her that it was in regular usage in India as an essential ingredient of Chinese cookery. Anyway her vitals were well maintained and I informed the maitre’d who had come running by then to offer her some brandy. She gulped down the drink and quickly recovered and her spirits soared.

Time slipped by as we did justice to our fare. My cousin informed me that ajina moto was indeed banned in Europe; I wasn’t all that certain though. Aditi, the sweet darling, regaled us with tales about Switzerland which she had visited last year. I was intrigued to know that the second and third piercing of her ears were a Swiss affair! Ananya later recounted her life in the information industry at Hyderabad, the pranks they play and the dressing down they receive from the project manager.

My sister–in–law Sharmila, who is Aditi’s mother, is a many splendoured lady. A product of Presidency College, Calcutta, she has an excellent academic record, and wonder of wonders, is a superb cook to boot. Her forte is ice-cream and soufflés. But the drudgery of a home-maker is taking its toll; she says she no longer makes ice-cream on her daughter’s request, on the contrary she hands over the money for ice-cream to her daughter and tells her that all the ice-creams in her repertoire are available in the City Centre. There is wisdom somewhere in this but it overshot me.

Talking of ice-creams, its time to describe what we had for desserts. There were fried crispies dipped in syrup and ice-cream. We had an over generous helping of the dessert.

We ate and ate is if there was no tomorrow, my better half making innumerable bee-lines to the ice-cream table. Talk about watching the calories; its ‘gone with the wind’.

And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods.

It was time to say goodbye; but wait a minute. No we did not sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The waiter brought a cake and a tumbler with an electronic cracker to me and I had to do the honours to blow out the candle. We all shared a piece of cake before we left.

It was an experience worth the visit. Mainland China is indeed a place where good food can be had for the asking at competitive rates. And believe me the clientele there, as it appeared, are well behaved and do not flaunt their wealth and N.R.I manners if any.