The Liebster Questions: Part Two

Right, let’s start Part 2 of this (see here for Part 1).

There are eleven questions Melanie has set, so here goes.

1) Why did you start blogging?

Sheer vanity, I suppose. The conceit that complete strangers would be interested in what I may have to say or think.

I had long been contributing to various message boards on books, and, unable as I appear to be to talk about anything in only a few sentences, I soon found my posts becoming, in effect, miniature essays more appropriate for a blog.

Furthermore, when I found myself reading anything with which I strongly disagreed (and that, sadly, was, and remains still, often) I had an irresistible urge to put together a counterblast: I even found myself phrasing replies in my head! Basically, I am argumentative by nature.

So, a blog of my own seemed the best way to go.

On top of all this, I enjoy writing. I could, of course, try to write that novel that would never get published and never get read even if it did; and which, if I worked hard enough at it, might just about pass for mediocre. But no – there are too many people doing that sort of thing already. The world really, really doesn’t need yet another mediocre novel.

2) You’re going on an once-in-a-lifetime expedition to a far flung part of the planet. Where would you go? And what would be the one luxury item you would pack in your rucksack?

Into the Arctic Circle in winter to see the Northern Lights. This is unlikely right now, as our holidays are currently restricted to summer breaks only; and, in addition, my wife will take an awful lot of persuasion to go into the Arctic Circle in winter. But some day, I’m sure …

3) If you lived in the same parallel universe as Lyra in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, what animal would your daemon be? Or, put another way, what settled form would you hope it would adopt, and why?

I’d like to give an exciting answer to this – a tiger, say, or a shark. Sadly, a giant sloth is possibly nearer the mark!

4) If you had the chance to step into a painting, and to spend a magical hour wandering its world, which painting would you choose? Maybe it would be Constable’s Hay Wain? Van Gogh’s Starry Night? Or, perhaps you’d like to join in with Edvard Munch’s Scream?? Or – much more light-heartedly – maybe you’d prefer to go trip-trapping over Monet’s bridge? The possibilities are endless. It’s your choice…

There is a wonderful landscape by Rubens in the National Gallery that I pop in to look at whenever I am in Central London. The landscape is of Rubens’ native Flanders, and is very, very flat. But it doesn’t appear dull at all, because Rubens bathes it in the most glorious autumn light. Yes, I could happily walk into this.

rubens

5) The Doctor has invited you to time travel with him on board the Tardis. Which period in history would you most like to visit and why?

I’d like to good doctor to take me to Vienna in the late 1780s, when Mozart was playing one of the violin parts in a performance of his G minor string quintet. The other violin part was played by his friend, Franz Joseph Haydn.

Surely no explanation is necessary!

6) If Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Will Shakespeare were alive today and were regular tweeters, I’d definitely be persuaded to join Twitter! Is there anyone from pre-internet days who, if they were alive today, you would love to see dazzle us daily with tweets of sheer brilliance and delight? Or are you glad they never had to suffer the tyranny of 140 characters?

The writers I most love lived in a time when concision was not necessarily considered a virtue, and their writing frequently displays a prodigality springing from a love of language. I suppose Sam Beckett might have taken to Twitter, but he is an author I respect more than I love.

7) Which three books and three pieces of music would you take with you to a desert island?

I would take a piece each from my two favourite composers, Mozart and Schubert.

For Mozart, I’d take the opera Le Nozze di Figaro: it is a fast-moving comedy, full of class politics and sexual politics, but, while short-changing neither the hard realities of these politics nor the hectic sparkle of farce, Mozart (with his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte) presents us with a depth of humanity and an unsentimental compassion that melt the very heart. And in that miraculous ending, Mozart gives us a glimpse of heaven itself.

For Schubert, I’ll go to the other extreme: the song cycle Winterreise is a chronicle of grief, of despair, of isolation, and even, seemingly, of madness. Where Le Nozze di Figaro warms the heart, this freezes the blood. I do not know what perverse element it is in me that makes me return to this piece, but, perhaps, blood-freezing is as necessary to us as heart-warming.

My third choice of music would be an anthology of Rabindrasangeet – songs by Rabindranath Tagore. I’ve grown up with these songs: they provided the soundtrack to my childhood, and are, I think, the first songs I ever remember hearing. At least, I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know these songs: they are an integral part of my childhood. (Well, these songs and “Tiger Feet”, I suppose.)

Tagore wrote both the words and the music of these songs, and the lyrics are great poems in their own right. Here, as a taster, is one of my favourites, sung here by Kanika Bandapadhyay:

I have tried to translate the lyrics, but the Bengali text is knotty and elliptical in its syntax, and the compound words Tagore puts together so difficult to unpack (imagine trying to translate, say, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “dapple-dawn-drawn falcon”) that a completely literal translation becomes impossible. However, this is about as close as I can get.

Your vina plays its song of grief, ah, from afar,
from where the ground kisses the soles of your feet…
My mind is made restless, it yearns to wander,
but to what purpose, I do not know.
The troubled air carries the scent of jasmine
in anxious, impatient ecstasy –
And so it carries my distracted mind
in this darkest midnight of separation.

(Please do not pass judgement on the poetic qualities of the original merely from this: I have made no attempt to reproduce Rabindranath’s poetic qualities – that would be well beyond me. This translation is merely to give some indication of what the song is about.)

Now for the books. The Complete Works of Shakespeare and the Complete Sherlock Holmes Stories are automatic choices. For my third choice, I suppose that as a Bengali I should choose the poems of Tagore, but Tagore is already represented in my music choices. However, a large part of my cultural world is Russian: it’s a country I have never been to, and its language I cannot speak, but nonetheless, I find myself endlessly drawn to its music and literature. So my third book choice is a good translation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

8) Out of all the species of wild animals or birds you have yet to see, which one would you most like to encounter?

None face to face – as I am rather zoophobic! But from a suitably safe distance, I would love to see a tiger, surely the most beautiful of all creatures. When Blake wanted to depict the concept of terror and beauty co-existing, no wonder he chose a tiger!

9) Which of the following would most closely correspond to your natural habitat?

a) Out on the moors with Heathcliff.

b) In the Forest with Robin Hood.

c) Out at sea with Long John Silver.

d) Cosy by the fireside with a Pickwickian gathering of genial folk, sharing a bottle of your favourite tipple.

e) The bookish calm of a country house study – in mutual retreat with Mr Bennet.

f) Striding across the meadows with Elizabeth Bennet, a healthy glow in your cheeks and mud caking your boots.

g) In the Attic with Jo from Little Women, scribbling stories and dreaming of adventure.

h) Absorbed in the life of the city streets – in the company of a fictional detective of your choice.

i) Roaming Manderley – and the windswept Cornish cliffs – with the second Mrs de Winter.

j) Wandering alongside William and Dorothy Wordsworth, pacing out poetical rhythms on the Cumbrian fells, and waxing lyrical about wild daffodils.

k) In a cave with Gollum.

l) Hey, Mel – I’m an incredibly complicated human being – a mix of all the above holds true. It depends on my mood…

m) I wouldn’t be seen dead with any of them – Bah! Humbug!

I love the Yorkshire moors, but I don’t know that I’d choose Heathcliff as companion: the man’s a psychopath!

Had I been some forty and more years younger than I am now, I would have been torn between being one of Robin Hood’s merry men, or voyaging out at sea with Long John Silver. I suspect I would have chosen the latter, as Treasure Island was (and remains) a particular favourite of mine. But I am too old for such hectic stuff these days. And while going down those mean streets with Philip Marlowe would be exciting, it would be, perhaps a bit too exciting for someone like myself who likes dangers strictly from the pages of a book.

Bliss it would be to wander around the Cornish cliffs with the second Mrs de Winter (especially if she looked anything like Joan Fontaine) but wandering around the Lake District with William and Dorothy Wordsworth would be Heaven itself! A bookish retreat in a country house also sounds most attractive. But no – if I had to choose just one of these, it would be that cosy, Pickwickian gathering with genial friends around the fireside, drinking and chatting, and indulging in what we Bengalis, even expatriate ones, refer to as adda. There is nothing quite so delightful as convivial conversation with friends. (And with whisky – don’t forget the whisky!).

10) Where would you rather live and why:

Toad Hall

Bag End

Green Knowe

Little House on the Prairie

Green Gables

Kirrin Island

221B Baker Street

Oh, this one’s easy! 221b Baker Street. I distinctly remember, aged eleven, checking out from the Bishopbriggs Public Library The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and since then, Holmes and Watson have become lifelong friends, and 221b Baker Street has become my spiritual home, a permanent and most welcome fixture in my mind.

11) If you had to go on a long journey with a fictional character, who would you choose? And what form of transport would you take – ship, hot air balloon, train, canal boat, motorbike, bicycle, gondola, skateboard, horse drawn gypsy caravan? Space ship?

Anna Karenina on a train? Sorry – I’ll stop being silly.

Of course, there are the various sexy ladies of literature: Shakespeare’s Cleopatra on a barge down the Nile, Emma Bovary in a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Rouen … But such things, I fear, are not for married, middle-aged men like me.

But – what the hell – Cleopatra on a barge it is!

(Some time ago, some of us were playing that old parlour game of nominating three people from history we’d most like to invite to dinner. We had all the usual answers – Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, etc. – but, after giving the matter much thought, I decided to invite Cleopatra, Lola Montez, and Ava Gardner.)

Now for eleven questions of my own. As I said, I do not wish to select specific blogs, but if any blogger reads this, please feel free to have a go. (And this applies to past recipients of the Liebster Award who have already answered eleven other questions.)

And if any non-blogger reads this – there’s always room in the comments section below!

1. Do you believe in ghosts? If you were to see something which you could not explain rationally, would you put it down merely to a hallucination or to an optical illusion, or would you be prepared to consider at least the possibility of the supernatural?

2. Is there any area or region of natural beauty to which you feel particularly drawn?

3. Is there any piece of horrendously bad taste to which you would care to own up?

4. Is there any teacher from your schooldays whom you remember fondly, and who has left an influence on you?

5. If you could own any single work of art, which would it be?

6. What ability or skill would you like most to possess?

7. If a revolution were to break out, would you:

(i) Remain loyal, and fight against the mob that threatens anarchy and disorder?

(ii) Man the barricades, singing “La Marseillaise”?

(iii) Go to the pub, have a drink, and wait for the whole thing to blow over?

8. A national television broadcasting network has given over its entire Saturday evening schedule to you to show whatever you want – favourite television programmes, favourite films, etc. – from, say, 5 in the afternoon into the early morning hours. How would you fill this schedule?

9. If you could live in any kind of house anywhere in the world, which would you go for?

10. Is there any major issue – political, moral, religious – on which you have radically changed your mind over the years?

11, If you could play any Shakespeare character on stage, then which would you most like to play?

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6 responses to this post.

  1. The Rubens and Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne are the two pictures I always make sure I see when in the National. I don’t want to appear to overdo the mortality bit (what with Taylor’s Holy Dying and everything!), but these late Ruben’s landscapes are, I find, strangely haunted with a sort of warm sense of the close of life. I trained as a painter, and I remember a distinction one of my tutors made between the subject of a painting and its content, and I certainly feel that strongly here. I do wonder if it’s just because I know it’s a late painting, or maybe it’s simply the effect of autumn; but just as Eliot said ‘Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood’, so I think the same is true of art: something to do with the feel of the look of it. But your ‘Late Greats’ post from some time ago discussed this more comprehensively and more eloquently than I can manage.

    That’s his own house on the left, isn’t it? Lad done well for himself.

    Reply

    • Those paintings in the National Gallery are like old friends. I love the idea that, as a taxpayer, these paintings actually belong to me (and to all other taxpayers, of course!) and that we can all drop in whenever we’re around to view them. (It’s a bit tough for those who live far from London, mind you…)

      I know what you mean – there’s something about the air of that painting, the light, that seems to suggest more than it says. I don’t know that it’s possible to explain it in words, any more than it’s possible to explain the meaning of music in words. Rubens did, I think it can be admitted, churn out a lot of ordinary run-of-the-mill works (or, at least, his studio did: as I understand it, his studio was a veritable factory, with an army of “assistants” mass-producing paintings) – but at his best, as here, he does touch on something special.

      A few years ago, we had a great time wandering around Antwerp to view various paintings by Rubens scattered around the churches. This included, of course, the divine “Descent from the Cross” in Antwerp Cathedral. And the main gallery in Antwerp also has, unsurprisingly, a superb Rubens collection.

      Reply

  2. Another absorbing post, Himadri! Thanks so much for your eleven fascinating answers to my questions. As ever, you bring such a deep blend of humour, thoughtfulness, interest, investigation, memory, insight, fascinating detail, entertainment and considered response to the table… I hope the task of answering my questions wasn’t too onerous – and that you had some fun along the way!

    I’m finding as I’m writing this that I can’t quite tug my mind back from the reflective, dream-like and haunting effect Tagore’s song and Kanika Bandapadhyay’s beautiful performance has had on me…

    Thank you for that eye-opening and affecting experience – and for your help in guiding us through the main purport of the words. Isn’t it strange how, even if we don’t know a language, some essence of its meaning reaches us anyway – especially in the case of music, and the emotional cadences of the voice. I listened to the song first, then read your words – and my initial reaction settled in accord with what your loose translation explained the song was about…

    By the way, “Tiger Feet” is a favourite of mine too – as you would expect from someone with a penchant for bright yellow 1970s platform boots! (I think, with that earlier revelation on my blog, I may have already answered your Question No. 3 – Is there any piece of horrendously bad taste to which you would care to own up?! 🙂 ) What a great selection of questions you’ve set!

    I love your choice of the Rubens painting – and Samuel Beckett on Twitter is an intriguing thought! No doubt we would be pondering forever what each tweet meant – and he would keep us waiting, and waiting… and waiting for that Godot-of-a-Tweet that would finally explain all!

    I can’t help thinking that the showman side of Dickens would have loved social media, television and radio. All those chances to be in touch with his readers – and to put into effect all those theatrical mediums for his craft! We’d probably all be following his blog right now, if he were alive today!

    Glad you chose to stay safely out of Heathcliff’s way! I included him because he’s one of those characters who just epitomises literary moorland – and maybe, on a good day, (when he’s not hanging puppies or having dark, murderous moods, that is…!!) he might not have been *too* bad! Probably a vain hope though; I think you made a wise move to plump for a Pickwickian gathering, sharing a dram!

    Thanks again for such a great read!

    All the very best,

    Melanie

    Reply

  3. Not a tiger, but a Panther (R.M. Rilke) – hope you’ll enjoy it:

    His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
    has grown so weary that it cannot hold
    anything else. It seems to him there are
    a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

    As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
    the movement of his powerful soft strides
    is like a ritual dance around a center
    in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

    Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
    lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
    rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
    plunges into the heart and is gone.

    Reply

    • Hello Anna, thank you for this. I think I have encountered this poem before – I have a German friend who is very keen on Rilke – but not, I think, in this translation. It’s difficult getting to know poets in translation: I really should read what I can find in translation.

      And this reminds me … I was going to write about a poem each month, wasn’t I? I missed out on May…

      Reply

      • Translations are always problematic. Poetry translations very much so. But, what is to be done.. When the original is not accessible we are, generally, left to compare and to try to find the most satisfactory translation relying on our best judgment..

        Yes, you are right – we didn’t get the May’s dosage!

        Kind regards,
        Anna

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