Feb 122019
 

Today is the birthday (1824) of Dayananda Saraswati, an Indian social leader and founder of the Arya Samaj, a reform movement of the Vedic dharma. He was the first to give the call for an “India for Indians” in 1876. Subsequently, the philosopher and president of India, S. Radhakrishnan called him one of the “makers of Modern India”, as did Sri Aurobindo.

Dayananda was born on the 10th day of waning moon in the month of Purnimanta Falguna to a Hindu family in Jeevapar Tankara, Kathiawad region (now Morbi district of Gujarat). His original name was Mul Shankar. His father was Karshanji Lalji Kapadi, and his mother was Amrutbai. When he was eight years old, his Yajnopavita Sanskara ceremony was performed, marking his entry into formal education. His father was a follower of Shiva and taught him the ways to impress Shiva. He was also taught the importance of keeping fasts. On the occasion of Shivratri, Dayananda sat awake the whole night in obedience to Shiva. On one of these fasts, he saw a mouse eating the offerings and running over the idol’s body. After seeing this, he questioned that if Shiva could not defend himself against a mouse, then how could he be the savior of the massive world. The deaths of his younger sister and his uncle from cholera caused Dayananda to ponder the meaning of life and death. He began asking questions which worried his parents. He was engaged in his early teens, but he decided marriage was not for him and ran away from home in 1846.

Dayananda spent nearly 25 years, from 1845 to 1869, as a wandering ascetic, searching for religious truth. He gave up material goods and lived a life of self-denial, devoting himself to spiritual pursuits in forests, retreats in the Himalayan Mountains, and pilgrimage sites in northern India. During these years he practiced various forms of yoga and became a disciple of a religious teacher named Virajanand Dandeesha. Virajanand believed that Hinduism had strayed from its historical roots and that many of its practices had become impure. Dayananda Sarasvati promised Virajanand that he would devote his life to restoring the rightful place of the Vedas in the Hindu faith. He believed that Hinduism had been corrupted by divergence from the founding principles of the Vedas and that Hindus had been misled by the priesthood for the priests’ self-aggrandizement. For this mission, he founded the Arya Samaj, enunciating the Ten Universal Principles as a code for Universalism, called Krinvanto Vishwaryam. With these principles, he intended the whole world to be an abode for Nobles (Aryas).

His next step was to reform Hinduism with a new dedication to God. He traveled the country challenging religious scholars and priests to discussions, winning repeatedly through the strength of his arguments and knowledge of Sanskrit and Vedas. Hindu priests discouraged the laity from reading Vedic scriptures, and encouraged rituals, such as bathing in the Ganges River and feeding of priests on anniversaries, which Dayananda denounced as superstitions or self-serving practices. By exhorting India to reject such superstitious notions, his aim was to educate the nation to return to the teachings of the Vedas, and to follow the Vedic way of life. He also exhorted India to accept social reforms, as well as the adoption of Hindi as the national language for national integration. Through his daily life and practice of yoga and asanas, teachings, preaching, sermons and writings, he inspired India to aspire to Swarajya (self governance), nationalism, and spiritualism. He advocated the equal rights and respects to women and advocated for the education of all children, regardless of gender.

Dayananda also made logical, scientific and critical analyses of faiths including Christianity & Islam, as well as of other Indian faiths like Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Unlike many other reform movements of his times within Hinduism, the Arya Samaj’s appeal was addressed not only to the educated few in India, but to the world as a whole as evidenced in the sixth principle of the Arya Samaj. As a result, his teachings professed universalism for all living beings and not for any particular sect, faith, community or nation.

Dayananda’s Vedic message emphasized respect and reverence for other human beings, supported by the Vedic notion of the divine nature of the individual. In the ten principles of the Arya Samaj, he enshrined the idea that “All actions should be performed with the prime objective of benefiting mankind”, as opposed to following dogmatic rituals or revering idols and symbols. The first five principles speak of Truth, while the last five speak of a society with nobility, civics, co-living, and disciplined life.

Dayanand is recorded to have been active since he was 14, which time he was able to recite religious verses and teach about them. He was respected at the time for taking parts in religious debates. His debates were attended by relatively large crowd of the public. One of the most important debates took place on 22nd October 1869 in Varanasi, where he won a debate against 27 scholars and approximately 12 expert pandits. The debate is recorded to have been attended by over 50,000 people. The main topic was “Do the Vedas uphold deity worship?”

Arya Samaj, condemns practices of several different religions and communities, including such practices as idol worship, animal sacrifice, pilgrimages, priest craft, offerings made in temples, the castes, child marriages, meat eating and discrimination against women. He argues that all of these practices run contrary to good sense and the wisdom of the Vedas. The Arya Samaj discourages dogma and symbolism and encourages skepticism in beliefs that run contrary to common sense and logic.

According to his supporters, he was poisoned on few occasions, but due to his regular practice of Hatha Yoga he survived all such attempts. One story tells that attackers once attacked attempted to drown him in a river, but Dayanand dragged the assailants into the river instead, though he released them before they drowned.[31] Another account tells that he was attacked by Muslims who were offended by his criticism of Islam while meditating on the Ganges river. They threw him into the water but he saved himself because his pranayama practice allowed him to stay under water until the attackers left.

In 1883, the Maharaja of Jodhpur Swami, Jaswant Singh II, invited Dayananda to stay at his palace. The Maharaja was eager to become Dayananda’s disciple, and to learn his teachings. During his stay, Dayananda went to the Maharaja’s room and saw him with a dancing girl named Nanhi Jaan. Dayananda asked the Maharaja to forsake the girl and all unethical acts, and to follow the dharma like a true Aryan. Dayananda’s suggestion offended Nanhi, who decided to take revenge. On 29th September 1883, she bribed Dayananda’s cook, Jagannath, to mix crushed glass in his nightly milk. Dayananda was served the milk before bed, which he promptly drank, becoming bedridden for several days, and suffering excruciating pain. The Maharaja quickly arranged doctor’s services for him. However, by the time doctors arrived, his condition had worsened, and he had developed large, bleeding sores. Upon seeing Dayananda’s suffering, Jagannath was overwhelmed with guilt and confessed his crime to Dayananda. On his deathbed, Dayananda forgave him, and gave him a bag of money, telling him to flee the kingdom before he was found and executed by the Maharaja’s men. He died on the morning of 30th October 1883 at 6:00 am, chanting mantras. The day coincided with Hindu festival of Diwali.

Dal dhokli (Gujarati: દાળ ઢોકળી), is a Rajasthani, Gujarati and Maharashtrian dish made by boiling thick wheat flour noodles (dhokli or phal) in a lentil stew  (dal or varan). It is considered a comfort food. It is widely believed that the Marwaris who had migrated to Gujarat invented the dish. While the dish remains popular in Marwar part of Rajasthan, it is Gujaratis who have made it a staple in their homes. Being meat free and relatively simple to make it seems like a good dish to celebrate a Gujarati Hindu holy man. Here is a video on how to make the dish. It is in Gujarati, but there are ingredients listed in English, and the instructions are easy to follow visually:

Aug 152018
 

Today is Independence Day in several countries: North Korea, South Korea, India, and Congo. That marks this date as of major significance in what has come to be called post-colonialism, the time of liberation of colonial nations from their imperial overlords. The Second World War was the great watershed event. After the war, Britain, reluctantly, started divesting itself of its imperial holdings, and Japan did so forcibly. Japan gave up Korea on this date, because this is the date Japan surrendered to the allies (or yesterday depending on your time zone). Today is called V-J (victory over Japan) Day in Britain, similar to V-E Day earlier in the year when Germany surrendered. V-J Day was very important because British and Commonwealth forces were still fighting in the Pacific after Germany surrendered, but the celebrations were more muted in Britain because the nation was not under imminent threat from Japan in the way it had been from Germany.

The National Liberation Day of Korea is celebrated annually on August 15th in both North and South Korea (the only shared national holiday). It commemorates the day when U.S. and Soviet forces ended the decades-long Japanese occupation of Korea. In South Korea it is known as Gwangbokjeol (광복절; literally, “the day the light returned”), and in North Korea it is known as Chogukhaebangŭi nal (조국해방의 날; literally, “Liberation of the Fatherland Day”).

After the Korean Peninsula was liberated by the Allies in 1945, independent Korean governments were created three years later, on August 15, 1948, when the pro-U.S. Syngman Rhee was elected first President of South Korea and pro-Soviet Kim Il-sung was made first Leader of North Korea.

In South Korea, many activities and events happen during the day, including an official ceremony with the president in attendance that takes place at the Independence Hall of Korea in Cheonan or at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. All buildings and homes are encouraged to display the South Korean national flag Taegukgi. Not only are most public museums and places open free of charge to the descendants of independence activists on the holiday, but they can also travel on both public transport and intercity trains for free. The official “Gwangbokjeol song” (광복절 노래) is sung at official ceremonies. The song’s lyrics were written by Jeong Inbo (정인보) and the melody by Yoon Yongha (윤용하). The lyrics speak of “to touch the earth again” and how “the sea dances”, how “this day is the remaining trace of 40 years of passionate blood solidified” and to “guard this forever and ever.” The government traditionally issues special pardons on Gwangbokjeol.

Independence Day is annually celebrated on 15th August, as a national holiday in India commemorating the nation’s independence from the United Kingdom on 15th August 1947, the UK Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act 1947 transferring legislative sovereignty to the Indian Constituent Assembly. India still retained King George VI as head of state until its transition to a full republican constitution. India attained independence following the Independence Movement noted for largely non-violent resistance and civil disobedience led by the Indian National Congress (INC). Independence coincided with the partition of India, in which the British India was divided along religious lines into the Dominions of India and Pakistan. The partition was accompanied by violent riots and mass casualties, and the displacement of nearly 15 million people due to religious violence. Millions of Muslim, Sikh and Hindu refugees trekked the newly drawn borders in the months surrounding independence. In Punjab, where the borders divided the Sikh regions in halves, massive bloodshed followed; in Bengal and Bihar, where Mahatma Gandhi’s presence assuaged communal tempers, the violence was mitigated. In all, between 250,000 and 1,000,000 people on both sides of the new borders died in the violence. While the entire nation was celebrating Independence Day, Gandhi stayed in Calcutta in an attempt to stem the carnage. On 14th August 1947, the Independence Day of Pakistan, the new Dominion of Pakistan came into being; Muhammad Ali Jinnah was sworn in as its first Governor General in Karachi.

On 15th August 1947, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru raised the Indian national flag above the Lahori Gate of the Red Fort in Delhi. Independence Day is one of the three national holidays in India and is observed in all Indian states and union territories, as well as the Indian diaspora. On the eve of Independence Day, the President of India delivers the “Address to the Nation.” On 15th August, the Prime Minister hoists the Indian flag on the ramparts of the historical site of Red Fort in Delhi. A 21 gun salute is fired in honor of the occasion. In his speech, the Prime Minister highlights the past year’s achievements, raises important issues and calls for further development. He also pays tribute to the leaders of the Indian independence movement. The Indian national anthem, “Jana Gana Mana”, is sung. The speech is followed by march past of divisions of the Indian Armed Forces and paramilitary forces. Parades and pageants showcase scenes from the independence struggle and India’s diverse cultural traditions. Similar events take place in state capitals where the Chief Ministers of individual states unfurl the national flag, followed by parades and pageants.

Flag hoisting ceremonies and cultural programs take place in governmental and non-governmental institutions throughout the country. Schools and colleges conduct flag hoisting ceremonies and cultural events. Major government buildings are often adorned with strings of lights. In Delhi and some other cities, kite flying adds to the occasion. National flags of different sizes are used abundantly to symbolize allegiance to the country. Citizens adorn their clothing, wristbands, cars, household accessories with replicas of the tricolor. Over time, the celebration has changed emphasis from nationalism to a broader celebration of all things Indian.

Today is Independence Day in the Republic of Congo, marking independence from France on 15th August 1960. The Republic of Congo is also informally called Congo or Congo-Brazzaville. It is located on both sides of the equator, and its neighbors are Gabon , Cameroon , the Central African Republic , the Democratic Republic of Congo (from which it is separated, in part, by the Congo River and the Ubangi), and Cabinda ( Angola ). The Republic of Congo is often called “Congo-Brazzaville” to distinguish it from the other Congo, officially named “Democratic Republic of Congo,” informally called “Congo-Kinshasa”.

French involvement in Congo began in the 1870s with Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza. He reached the Congo in 1879 going up the course of the Ogoué, to the mouth of the present island of Mbamou. In 1880, he signed a treaty of sovereignty with Makoko, the king, Tékés in Mbé (100 km north of Brazzaville), and founded the post of Mfoa, named after the river that serves the city. Later it was renamed Brazzaville . At the same time, Lieutenant Cordier explored the region of Kouilou and Niari, and signed a treaty with king Maloango that recognized the sovereignty of France over the Kingdom of Loango, and he, in turn, founded Pointe-Noire in 1883. In 1885, Congo became one of the four states of French Equatorial Africa, with Brazzaville as the capital. The colony of French Congo was created in 1891, with the current Gabonese territory part of it until 1904.

From 1899, the territory was ceded to concession companies, which paid tax to the French administration. These companies mainly exploited rubber on thirty-years contracts for huge tracts ranging between 200,000 and 14 million hectares. These companies paid 15% of their profits as taxes to the French government. Apart from rubber, the companies exploited sugar, ivory, and precious woods. The main defender of this economic system was Eugène Étienne, then Under-Secretary of State for Colonies. Another Under-Secretary of State for the colonies, Théophile Delcassé , secretly granted, without official publication of the contracts, a concession of 11 million hectares (that is one-fifth the area  of France), located in Haut-Ogooué . Then, from March to July 1899 , the Colonial Minister Guillain granted, by decree, 40 more concessions. Many dealer companies were in the hands of numerous shareholders, including Leopold II of Belgium who bought shares under a false name. This fact, discovered after the death of the king, shocked the French authorities of the time, who did not realize that their colony was being exploited by a foreign country. It’s a general rule: mobsters don’t like other mobsters horning in on their turf.

Matsoua

In 1926 , André Matsoua founded a “friendly” group to help skirmishers (veterans who participated alongside the French army in the First World War) in their fight for independence from France. Because of the harsh conditions of exploitation of the colony, nationalism had rapidly spread in the Congo. This friendly group soon developed into a protest movement. The colonial administration was concerned, and incarcerated Matsoua, who died in prison in 1942, under suspicious circumstances. The movement then turned into a church that recruited members from indigenous people.

Congolese nationalism took firmer shape after the Second World War. On October 21st, 1945 Congolese elected the first Congolese deputy, Jean-Félix Tchicaya, to the Constituent Assembly in Paris. In 1946, he founded the Congolese Progressive Party (PPC), the Congolese section of the African Democratic Rally (GDR). Tchicaya was opposed by Jacques Opangault, but both were challenged by Father Fulbert Youlou, founder of the Democratic Union for the Defense of African Interests (UDDIA). Youlou won in the municipal elections of 1956. In 1958 a referendum on the French Community got a 99% “yes” vote for independence in the Middle Congo. The Congo became an autonomous republic, with Youlou as prime minister. In 1959, unrest erupted in Brazzaville and the French army intervened. Then on August 15th, 1960 Congo gained independence from France as the Republic of Congo, with Youlou elected as the first president.

For a recipe for today you could choose Korean, Indian, or Congolese. Within Indian cuisine alone you have a mountain of choices; Korean also. Because I have been a bit light on African recipes I will give you Congolese saka-saka (boiled cassava leaves), and to express my independence from the tyranny of conventional recipes, I’ll talk you through it. Start with enough cassava leaves to fill a big pot. Remove the stems and cut or tear them into pieces. Traditionally the leaves would be mashed and crushed in a large mortar. You can improvise with a rolling pin or a wooden mallet, but do not use a food processor. Place the greens in a large pot, top with water, and bring to a rolling boil. Cook for at least an hour, preferably two. Meanwhile prepare the other ingredients. Peel and chop an onion and a clove of garlic. Deseed and chop a green bell pepper. Peel and eggplant, remove the seeds, dice, and cover with salt in a ceramic bowl. You will also need a piece of dried or smoked fish, and a few tablespoons of oil. Palm oil is traditional, but if you cannot find palm oil from sustainable sources, use vegetable oil. Add all the remaining ingredients to the greens and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for several hours. Do not stir. Simmer until the water is mostly gone and the greens are cooked to a pulp. Serve with rice, and a meat dish if you wish.

Apr 072018
 

Today is the birthday (1506) of Francis Xavier, S.J. (born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta) co-founder of the Society of Jesus, companion of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits who took vows of poverty and chastity at Montmartre, Paris in 1534. He led an extensive mission into Asia, mainly in the Portuguese empire of the time, and was influential in Christian evangelizing, most notably in India.

Xavier was born in the royal castle of Xavier, in the kingdom of Navarre. He was the youngest son of Juan de Jasso y Atondo, seneschal of Xavier castle, who came from a prosperous farming family and had received a doctorate in law at the University of Bologna, and later became privy counsellor and finance minister to King John III of Navarre (Jean d’Albret). Francis’s mother was Doña María de Azpilcueta y Aznárez, sole heiress of two noble Navarrese families. He was thus related to the great theologian and philosopher Martín de Azpilcueta.

In 1512, Ferdinand, king of Aragon and regent of Castile, invaded Navarre, initiating a war that lasted over 18 years. Three years later, Francis’ father died when Francis was only 9 years old. In 1516, Francis’ brothers participated in a failed Navarrese-French attempt to expel the Spanish invaders from the kingdom. The Spanish governor, cardinal Cisneros, confiscated the family lands, demolished the outer wall, the gates, and two towers of the family castle, and filled in the moat. In addition, the height of the keep was reduced by half. Only the family residence inside the castle was left. In 1525, Francis went to study in Paris at the Collège Sainte-Barbe, University of Paris, where he spent the next 11 years. In the early days he acquired some reputation as an athlete.

In 1529, Francis shared lodgings with his friend Pierre Favre. A new student, Ignatius of Loyola, came to room with them. At 38, Ignatius was much older than Pierre and Francis, who were both 23 at the time. Ignatius convinced Pierre to become a priest, but was unable convince Francis, who had aspirations of worldly advancement. At first Francis regarded the new lodger as a joke and was sarcastic about his efforts to convert students.  When Pierre left their lodgings to visit his family and Ignatius was alone with Francis, he was able to slowly break down Francis’ resistance. In 1530 Francis received the degree of Master of Arts, and afterwards taught Aristotelian philosophy at Beauvais College, University of Paris.

On 15 August 1534, seven students met in a crypt beneath the Church of Saint Denis (now Saint Pierre de Montmartre), in Montmartre outside Paris. They were Francis, Ignatius of Loyola, Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Laínez, Nicolás Bobadilla from Spain, Peter Faber from Savoy, and Simão Rodrigues from Portugal. They made private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Pope, and also vowed to go to the Holy Land to convert Muslims. Francis began his study of theology in 1534 and was ordained on 24th June 1537. In 1539, after long discussions, Ignatius drew up a formula for a new religious order, the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).  Ignatius’ plan for the order was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540.

In 1540 king John III of Portugal had Pedro Mascarenhas, Portuguese ambassador to the Vatican, request Jesuit missionaries to spread the faith in his new Indian possessions, where the king believed that Christian values were eroding among the Portuguese. After successive appeals to the Pope asking for missionaries for the East Indies under the Padroado agreement, John III was encouraged by Diogo de Gouveia, rector of the Collège Sainte-Barbe, to recruit the newly graduated students who had established the Society of Jesus. Loyola promptly appointed Nicholas Bobadilla and Simão Rodrigues. At the last moment, however, Bobadilla became seriously ill. With some hesitance and uneasiness, Ignatius asked Francis to go in Bobadilla’s place. Thus, Xavier accidentally began his life as the first Jesuit missionary. Leaving Rome on 15th March 1540, in the Ambassador’s train, Francis took with him a breviary, a catechism, and De Institutione bene vivendi by Croatian humanist Marko Marulić, a Latin book that had become popular in the Counter-Reformation. According to a 1549 letter of F. Balthasar Gago in Goa, it was the only book that Francis read or studied. Francis reached Lisbon in June 1540 and four days after his arrival, he and Rodrigues were summoned to a private audience with the king and queen.

Xavier devoted much of his life to missions in Asia, mainly in four centers: Malacca, Amboina and Ternate, Japan, and China. His growing information about new places indicated to him that he should go to what he understood were centers of influence for the whole region. China loomed large from his days in India. Japan was particularly attractive because of its culture. For him, these areas were interconnected and could not be evangelized separately.

Xavier left Lisbon on 7th April 1541, his 35th birthday, along with two other Jesuits and the new viceroy Martim Afonso de Sousa, on board the Santiago. As he departed, he was given a brief from the pope appointing him apostolic nuncio to the East. From August until March 1542 he remained in Portuguese Mozambique, and arrived in Goa, then capital of Portuguese India on 6th May 1542. Following quickly on the great voyages of discovery, the Portuguese had established themselves at Goa 30 years earlier. Francis primary mission, as ordered by John III, was to restore Christianity among the Portuguese settlers. According to Teotonio R. DeSouza, recent critical accounts indicate that apart from the posted civil servants, “the great majority of those who were dispatched as ‘discoverers’ were the riff-raff of Portuguese society, picked up from Portuguese jails.” Nor did the soldiers, sailors, or merchants come to do missionary work, and Imperial policy permitted the outflow of disaffected nobility. Many of the arrivals formed liaisons with local women and adopted Indian culture. Missionaries often wrote against the “scandalous and undisciplined” behavior of their fellow Christians.

The Christian population had churches, clergy, and a bishop, but there were few preachers and no priests beyond the walls of Goa. Xavier decided that he must begin by instructing the Portuguese themselves, and gave much of his time to the teaching of children. The first five months he spent in preaching and ministering to the sick in the hospitals. After that, he walked through the streets ringing a bell to summon the children and servants to catechism. He was invited to head Saint Paul’s College, a pioneer seminary for the education of secular priests, which became the first Jesuit headquarters in Asia.

Xavier soon learned that along the Pearl Fishery Coast, which extends from Cape Comorin on the southern tip of India to the island of Mannar, off Ceylon (Sri Lanka), there was a group of clans called Paravas. Many of them had been baptized ten years before, merely to please the Portuguese, who had helped them against the Moors, but remained uninstructed in the faith. Accompanied by several native clerics from the seminary at Goa, he set sail for Cape Comorin in October 1542. He taught those who had already been baptized and preached to those who weren’t. His efforts with the high-caste Brahmins were unavailing.

He devoted almost 3 years to the work of preaching to the people of southern India and Ceylon, converting many. He built nearly 40 churches along the coast, including St. Stephen’s Church, Kombuthurai, mentioned in his letters dated 1544. During this time, he was able to visit the tomb of Thomas the Apostle in Mylapore (now part of Madras (Chennai) then in Portuguese India). He set his sights eastward in 1545 and planned a missionary journey to Makassar on the island of Celebes (in today’s Indonesia). As the first Jesuit in India, Francis had difficulty achieving much success in his missionary trips. His successors, such as de Nobili, Matteo Ricci, and Beschi, attempted to convert the noblemen first as a means to influence more people, while Xavier had initially interacted most with the lower classes (later though, in Japan, he changed tack by paying tribute to the Emperor and seeking an audience with him).

In the spring of 1545 Xavier started for Portuguese Malacca. He labored there for the last months of that year. About January 1546, he left Malacca for the Maluku Islands, where the Portuguese had some settlements. For a year and a half he preached the Gospel there. He went first to Ambon Island, where he stayed until mid-June. He then visited other Maluku Islands, including Ternate, Baranura, and Morotai. Shortly after Easter 1547, he returned to Ambon Island; a few months later he returned to Malacca.

In Malacca in December 1547, Xavier met a Japanese man named Anjirō. Anjirō had heard of Francis in 1545 and had travelled from Kagoshima to Malacca to meet him. Having been charged with murder, Anjirō had fled Japan. He told Francis extensively about his former life and the customs and culture of his homeland. Anjirō became the first Japanese Christian and adopted the name of ‘Paulo de Santa Fe’. He later helped Xavier as a mediator and interpreter for the mission to Japan that now seemed much more possible. In January 1548 Francis returned to Goa to attend to his responsibilities as superior of the mission there. The next 15 months were occupied with various journeys and administrative measures. He left Goa on 15 April 1549, stopped at Malacca, and visited Canton. He was accompanied by Anjiro, two other Japanese men, father Cosme de Torrès, and brother João Fernandes. He had taken with him presents for the “King of Japan” since he was intending to introduce himself as the Apostolic Nuncio.

Europeans had already come to Japan: the Portuguese had landed in 1543 on the island of Tanegashima, where they introduced the first firearms to Japan. From Amboina, he wrote to his companions in Europe: “I asked a Portuguese merchant, … who had been for many days in Anjirō’s country of Japan, to give me … some information on that land and its people from what he had seen and heard …. All the Portuguese merchants coming from Japan tell me that if I go there I shall do great service for God our Lord, more than with the pagans of India, for they are a very reasonable people.”

Xavier reached Japan on 27th July 1549, with Anjiro and three other Jesuits, but he was not permitted to enter any port his ship arrived at until 15 August, when he went ashore at Kagoshima, the principal port of Satsuma Province on the island of Kyūshū. As a representative of the Portuguese king, he was received in a friendly manner. Shimazu Takahisa (1514–1571), daimyō of Satsuma, gave a friendly reception to Francis on 29th September 1549, but in the following year he forbade the conversion of his subjects to Christianity under penalty of death. Christians in Kagoshima could not be given any catechism in the following years.

He was hosted by Anjirō’s family until October 1550. From October to December 1550, he resided in Yamaguchi. Shortly before Christmas, he left for Kyoto but failed to meet with the Emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March 1551, where he was permitted to preach by the daimyo of the province. However, lacking fluency in the Japanese language, he had to limit himself to reading aloud the translation of a catechism. Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan as a missionary. He brought with him paintings of the Madonna and the Madonna and Child. These paintings were used to help teach the Japanese about Christianity. There was a huge language barrier as Japanese was unlike other languages the missionaries had previously encountered. For a long time Francis struggled to learn the language.

Having learned that evangelical poverty did not have the appeal in Japan that it had in Europe and in India, he decided to change his approach. Hearing after a time that a Portuguese ship had arrived at a port in the province of Bungo in Kyushu and that the prince there would like to see him, Xavier now set out southward. The Jesuit, in a fine cassock, surplice, and stole, was attended by thirty gentlemen and as many servants, all in their best clothes. Five of them bore valuable articles on cushions, including a portrait of Our Lady and a pair of velvet slippers, these not gifts for the prince, but solemn offerings to Xavier, to impress the onlookers with his eminence. Handsomely dressed, with his companions acting as attendants, he presented himself before Oshindono, the ruler of Nagate, and as a representative of the great kingdom of Portugal offered him the letters and presents, a musical instrument, a watch, and other attractive objects which had been given him by the authorities in India for the emperor.

For 45 years the Jesuits were the only missionaries in Asia, but the Franciscans also began proselytising in Asia as well. Christian missionaries were later forced into exile, along with their assistants. Some were able to stay behind, however Christianity was then kept underground so as to not be persecuted. The Japanese people were not easily converted. Many of the people were Buddhist or Shinto, and did not find concepts such as Purgatory and Hell appealing, especially since Catholic faith confined their dead ancestors to Hell.

Xavier was welcomed by the Shingon monks since he used the word Dainichi for the Christian God, attempting to adapt the concept to local traditions. As Xavier learned more about the religious nuances of the word, he changed to Deusu from the Latin and Portuguese Deus. The monks later realized that Xavier was preaching a rival religion and grew more aggressive towards his attempts at conversion. With the passage of time, his sojourn in Japan could be considered somewhat fruitful in that he established churches in Hirado, Yamaguchi, and Bungo. Xavier worked for more than two years in Japan and saw his successor-Jesuits established. He then decided to return to India. Historians debate the exact path he returned by, but from evidence attributed to the captain of his ship, he may have travelled through Tanegeshima and Minato, and avoided Kagoshima because of the hostility of the daimyo.]During his trip, a tempest forced him to stop on an island near Guangzhou, China where he met Diogo Pereira, a rich merchant and an old friend from Cochin. Pereira showed him a letter from Portuguese prisoners in Guangzhou, asking for a Portuguese ambassador to speak to the Chinese Emperor on their behalf. Later during the voyage, he stopped at Malacca on 27th December 1551, and was back in Goa by January 1552.

On 17th April he set sail with Diogo Pereira on the Santa Cruz for China. He planned to introduce himself as Apostolic Nuncio and Pereira as ambassador of the king of Portugal. But then he realized that he had forgotten his testimonial letters as an Apostolic Nuncio. Back in Malacca, he was confronted by the capitão Álvaro de Ataíde da Gama who now had total control over the harbor. The capitão refused to recognize his title of Nuncio, asked Pereira to resign from his title of ambassador, named a new crew for the ship, and demanded the gifts for the Chinese Emperor be left in Malacca. In late August 1552, the Santa Cruz reached the Chinese island of Shangchuan, 14 km away from the southern coast of mainland China, near Taishan, Guangdong, 200 km south-west of what later became Hong Kong. At this time, he was accompanied only by a Jesuit student, Álvaro Ferreira, a Chinese man called António, and a Malabar servant called Christopher. Around mid-November he sent a letter saying that a man had agreed to take him to the mainland in exchange for a large sum of money. Having sent back Álvaro Ferreira, he remained alone with António. He died in Shangchuan from a fever on 3rd December 1552, while he was waiting for a boat that would take him to mainland China. His relics are preserved in a number of shrines in Asia.

It may seem odd for me as an ordained Christian minister to express my disapproval of Xavier’s, or any missionary’s work, and I could get in trouble for doing so with my superiors. But I am going to do it anyway. The Catholic Church (and others) used conversion to Christianity as one of many vehicles of colonial subjugation of conquered peoples. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Americas. Asia, thank God (literally), was more resilient. Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto religions etc. were much more widespread than local religious traditions in other places, and were supported by rich and powerful rulers. These rulers knew quite well that stripping away centuries-old faiths that had been their own partners in control of the masses would weaken their control, and so they resisted mightily. I also disapprove because the foundation of Christianity is love, and if a Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim preaches love in the name of a religion that is not named Christianity, it amounts to the same thing, and should be left alone.

For Xavier I have chosen the Navarrese dish, porrusalda (literally, “leek broth”) for several reasons. First, it would have been well known to Xavier. Second, in basic form it is a Lenten dish bespeaking humility and simplicity, as befits a Jesuit. Third, I love leeks. It is really a form of leek and potato soup, but with some twists. The leeks should be the dominant flavor, and many other things can be added besides potatoes. Nowadays, carrots are a usual addition, as was pumpkin at one time. You can also add salt cod or meat – as you desire. It’s all up to you as long as the leek flavor predominates.  It is traditional to use water as the cooking liquid, but you can also use vegetable stock.

Porrusalda

Ingredients

3 large leeks
400 gm peeled and diced potatoes
200 gm peeled and diced carrots
2 or 3 spring onions, sliced
olive oil
salt

Instructions

Sauté the onions and leeks in a little olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot until they are soft. Add water (or broth) to cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and add the potatoes and carrots. Continue to simmer until the potatoes and carrots are cooked (another 15 minutes). Add more olive oil to taste and check the seasoning.

Some cooks mash the potatoes before serving to give the soup more body. You can also add a dollop of cream.

Jan 152018
 

Today is the second day of the Tamil Pongal festival, a harvest festival dedicated to the Sun. It is a four-day festival which is usually celebrated from the 14th to 17th of January. Today is known as Thai Pongal, one of the most important festivals celebrated by Tamil people in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry, and the country of Sri Lanka, as well as Tamils worldwide, including those in Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, United States, Singapore, Canada, Myanmar, and the UK. Thai Pongal corresponds to Makara Sankranthi, the harvest festival celebrated throughout India. The day marks the start of the sun’s six-month-long journey northwards (the Uttaraayanam). This also corresponds to the Indic solstice when the sun purportedly enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac Makara or Capricorn.

Thai Pongal is mainly celebrated to convey appreciation to the Sun God for a successful harvest. Part of the celebration is the boiling of the first rice of the season consecrated to the Sun – the Surya Maangalyam. Many other special events take place in Chennai and the rest of Tamil Nadu during Pongal, such as Chennai Book Fair and Lit for Life. From 1916 to 1952, annual cricket matches between Indians and Europeans called Madras Presidency Matches were held during Pongal.

The Thai Pongal festival may date to more than 1000 years ago. Epigraphic evidence suggests there was a festival called Puthiyeedu during the Medieval Chola empire, which is believed to have been a celebration of the first harvest of the year. “Thai” refers to the name of the tenth month in the Tamil calendar, Thai (தை). “Pongal” generally means festivity or celebration, but literally means “boiling over” or “overflow.” Pongal is also the name of a sweetened dish of rice boiled with lentils that is eaten on this day as well as presented as an offering. Symbolically the dish supposedly signifies the gradual heating of the earth as the Sun travels northward toward the equinox.

The day preceding Thai Pongal is called Bhogi. On this day people discard old belongings and celebrate new possessions. The disposal of worn-out items is similar to the traditions of Holika in North India. The people assemble at dawn in Tamil Nadu to light a bonfire in order to burn the discards. Houses are cleaned, painted and decorated to give a festive look. The horns of oxen and buffaloes are painted in villages. In Tamil Nadu farmers keep medicinal herbs (neem, avram, sankranti) in the northeast corner of each of their fields, to protect crops from diseases and pests.

The main event, Thai Pongal, takes place on the second of the four days of Pongal. During the festival, milk is cooked in a vessel. When it starts to bubble and overflows out of the vessel, freshly harvested rice grains are added to the pot. At the same time other participants blow a conch called the sanggu and shout “Pongalo Pongal!” They also recite “Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum” (“the commencement of Thai paves the way for new opportunities”). This is repeated frequently during the Pongal festival. The Pongal dish is then served to everyone in the house along with savories and sweets such as vadai, murukku, paayasam.

Tamils decorate their homes with banana and mango leaves and embellish the floor with decorative patterns drawn using rice flour and kolams/rangolis are drawn on doorsteps. Family elders present gifts to the young. The Sun represents “Pratyaksha Brahman” — the manifest God, who symbolizes the one, non-dual, self-effulgent, glorious divinity blessing one and all tirelessly. The Sun is the one who transcends time and also the one who rotates the proverbial wheel of time.

There are many kinds of Pongal but the two commonest at the Thai Pongal festival are Chakkara (or Sakkarai) Pongal and Venn Pongal, with Chakkara Pongal predominating. Chakkara Pongal (literally, sweet pongal) is generally prepared in temples as a prasadam, (an offering made to a deity). Ingredients include rice, coconut, and mung beans. It is traditionally sweetened with jaggery, which gives the Pongal a brown color, though it can be sweetened with white sugar instead. Here’s a video:

Oct 182017
 

The Regency TR-1, which was the first commercially manufactured transistor radio, was announced to the world on this date in 1954. It was a novelty due to small size and portability, demonstrating for the first time the use of transistors for consumer electronics. Previously transistors had been used only in military or industrial applications. The TR-1 was not a great radio and was not particularly popular, in part because it was expensive. But it paved the way for things to come. By the time I got round to buying a “trannie” as a teenager they were dirt cheap and plentiful. By what is becoming a normal coincidence at this point, the BBC first went on the air on this date in 1922: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/bbc/  I used my trannie to listen to pirate radio mostly, but the beeb was a lot clearer, and I used it often to hear commentary on test cricket from Australia in the wee hours.

Two companies—Texas Instruments of Dallas, Texas, and Industrial Development Engineering Associates (I.D.E.A.) of Indianapolis, Indiana—worked together to produce the Regency TR-1. Previously, Texas Instruments produced instrumentation for the oil industry and locating devices for the U.S. Navy—and I.D.E.A. built home television antenna boosters. The two companies worked together on the TR-1 to grow revenues for their respective companies by pioneering this new product area.

In May 1954, Texas Instruments had designed and built a prototype transistor radio and was looking for an established radio manufacturer to develop and market a radio using their transistors. No major radio maker, including RCA, Philco, and Emerson, was interested. The President of I.D.E.A. at the time, Ed Tudor, jumped at the opportunity to manufacture the TR-1, predicting sales of the transistor radios would be “20 million radios in three years.” The Regency Division of I.D.E.A announced the TR-1 on this date, and put it on sale in November 1954. It was the first practical transistor radio made in significant numbers.

One year after the TR-1 release, sales approached 100,000 units. The look and size of the TR-1 were well received, but reviews of its performance were typically not great. The Regency TR-1 circuitry was refined from the Texas Instruments prototype, reducing the number of parts, including two expensive transistors. Though this severely reduced the audio output volume, it let I.D.E.A. sell the radio for a small profit. The initial TR-1 retail price was $49.95 (about $460 in today’s dollars) and it sold about 150,000 units.

The TR-1 used Texas Instruments’ NPN transistors, hand-picked in sets of four. A 22.5 volt battery provided power, since the only way to get adequate radio frequency performance out of early transistors was to run them close to their collector-to-emitter breakdown voltage. The drain from this battery was only 4 mA, allowing 20 to 30 hours of operation, in comparison to only several hours for the portable receivers based on vacuum tubes. Such battery consumption rate still made the TR-1 rather expensive to run.

While the radio was praised for novelty and small size, the sensitivity and sound quality were behind the tube-based competitors. A review in Consumer Reports mentions the high level of noise and instability on certain radio frequencies, recommending against the purchase. I.D.E.A. outsourced the TR-1 exterior design to the industrial design firm of Painter, Teague and Petertil. The design was created within six weeks by way of telephone and design sketches exchanged by mail. The design won an award from the Industrial Design Society of New York and was selected by the Museum of Modern Art for the American Art and Design Exhibition in Paris in 1955. The TR-1 was initially offered in black, bone white, mandarin red, and cloud gray. It was later uncommonly offered in olive green and mahogany. Other later, rare colors included lavender, pearl white, turquoise, pink, and lime. It was advertised as being 3″ x 5″ x 1.25″ and weighed 12 ounces including the 22.5 volt battery. It came in a cardboard box with the color stamped on the end. An optional earphone sold for $7.50.

[FOR TECHIES ONLY] The TR-1 was a superheterodyne receiver made with four n-p-n transistors and one diode. It contained a single transistor converter stage, followed by two intermediate-frequency amplifier stages. After detection, a single-transistor stage amplified the sound frequency. All amplifier stages used common emitter amplifiers. Stages were transformer coupled, with tuned transformers for the intermediate frequency amplifiers and a miniature audio transformer for the loudspeaker. The intermediate frequency transformers were paired with capacitors, and hand tuned to the intermediate frequency (262 kHz) using movable cores. The receiver had automatic gain control. The DC level of the detected signal was filtered with a large capacitor and used to control the gain of the first IF stage (VT2, first after the heterodyne).

The 22.5 V battery, while now uncommon, is still used in some devices and as of 2016 remains available on the market. The minimum required voltage for the TR-1 was lower, about 15 V. The electrolytic capacitor was connected in parallel to the battery. It improved stability but would be damaged if the battery were reversed. The power switch was coupled with the volume control. The initial six-transistor Texas Instruments design used a two-transistor converter stage with a separate oscillator, and a more powerful two-transistor sound amplifier. [END FOR TECHIES]

Regency began manufacturing the TR-1 on October 25, 1954. The manufacture was a collective effort by manufacturers around the country. The transistors and transformers came from Texas Instruments in Dallas. Capacitors came from International Electronics, Inc. of Nashville, Erie Electronics of Erie, Pennsylvania, and Centralab of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The speakers came from Jensen in Chicago, Illinois. IF transformers came from Vokar of Dexter, Michigan. The volume control came from the Chicago Telephone Supply in Elkhart, Indiana. The tuning capacitor came from Radio Condenser Co. in Camden, New Jersey. The Richardson Company in Melrose Park, Illinois and Indianapolis supplied the circuit board material to Croname in Chicago, who manufactured the circuit boards. The plastic case for the TR-1 was produced by Argus Plastics in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Although the TR-1 was not especially popular it began a trend that was developed by other companies who improved reception and sound quality by adding transistors and enlarging the speaker. When the Japanese got into the business in the early 1960s prices plummeted and sales soared. It’s a bit early but this parody of the 12 days of Christmas has an excellent running gag in it about Japanese transistor radios:

Matching a recipe to transistor radios is a challenge, but I found this website from an Indian woman: http://www.farmonplate.com/2015/03/26/roasted-smashed-potatoes/   Here she says:

My early memories of cricket take me back to the days when the only access to the game was through a transistor radio. My dad would intently listen to the audio broadcast on his radio at home and even carry a pocket sized radio he could use on the go. I remember him going on the terrace in hopes of having better reception of the audio commentary and my mom bringing her busy man his tea!

This brings back memories of me snuggled under the blankets with my trannie pressed to my ear at 4 am listening to test cricket from the other side of the world. The recipe she gives for smashed potatoes to follow, is good snack food as you listen to cricket – or a good side dish with any main course. The full recipe (with pictures and a chutney) is on the website, but it’s easy enough. Parboil unpeeled baby potatoes until soft. Squash them and then roast them in a very hot oven until crisp. Serve them garnished with onions and cilantro with the dipping sauce of your choice.

 

 

Jul 202017
 

Today is International Chess Day, as proposed by UNESCO because the International Chess Federation (FIDE) was founded on this date in 1924. It has been celebrated on this date since 1966. FIDE, which has 181 chess federations as its members, organizes chess events and competitions around the world on this day. A 2012 Yougov poll showed that “a surprisingly stable 70% of the adult population has played chess at some point during their lives.” The claim is that “the adult population” includes people “in countries as diverse as the US, UK, Germany, Russia, India.” I wouldn’t exactly call these countries “diverse” (with the possible exception of India) but I get the point. If the statistic holds true for my readership I don’t need to spend much time talking about how the modern game of chess works – not that I want to do that, anyway. Instead I’ll talk about some peripheral matters such as the historical antecedents to the game, its near and distant relatives, and some novel chess pieces.

Chess as we know it is generally believed to have evolved in Eastern India, c. 280–550, in the Gupta Empire, where an early form (in the 6th century was known as chaturaṅga) (Sanskrit: चतुरङ्ग), literally “four [military] divisions”  – infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariotry, represented by the pieces that would evolve into the modern pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively. From India the game spread eastward and westward along the Silk Road. The earliest physical evidence of a chess-like game (that is, actual game pieces) is found in the nearby Sassanid Persia around 600, where the game came to be known by the name chatrang.

Chatrang was taken up by the Muslim world after the Islamic conquest of Persia (633–44), where it was then named shatranj, with the pieces largely retaining their Persian names. In Spanish “shatranj” was rendered as ajedrez (“al-shatranj”), in Portuguese as xadrez, and in Greek as ζατρίκιον (zatrikion, which comes directly from the Persian chatrang), but in the rest of Europe it was replaced by versions of the Persian shāh (“king”), which evolved into the English words “check” and “chess.” The phrase shāh mat (“the king is dead”) became “checkmate.”

The oldest archaeological artifacts, believed to be actual chess pieces, were excavated in ancient Afrasiab (modern Samarkand), in Uzbekistan, and date to about 760, or possibly older. The oldest known chess manual was in Arabic and dates to 840–850, written by al-Adli ar-Rumi (800–870), a renowned Arab chess player, titled Kitab ash-shatranj (Book of Chess). The original manuscript is lost, but it is referenced in later works. The eastern migration of chess, into China and Southeast Asia, has even less documentation than its migration west. The first reference to chess, called Xiang Qi, in China comes in the xuán guaì lù (玄怪录, “record of the mysterious and strange”) dating to about 800. A few scholars contend that modern chess evolved from Xiang Qi (Chinese chess) or one of its predecessors, but this is not the majority opinion.

Chess reached Western Europe and Russia by at least three routes, the earliest being in the 9th century. By the year 1000, it had spread throughout Europe. Chess was Introduced into the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors in the 10th century and is described in a famous 13th-century manuscript covering shatranj, backgammon, and dice  entitled el libro de los juegos (the book of games).

Around 1200, the rules of shatranj started to be modified in southern Europe, and around 1475, several major changes made the game essentially as it is known today. These modern rules for the basic moves had been adopted in Italy and Spain. Pawns gained the option of advancing two squares on their first move, while bishops and queens acquired their modern abilities. The queen replaced the earlier vizier chess piece towards the end of the 10th century and by the 15th century had become the most powerful piece; consequently modern chess was referred to as “Queen’s Chess” or “Mad Queen Chess.” Castling was also introduced, derived from the “kings leap” usually in combination with a pawn or rook move to bring the king to safety. These new rules quickly spread throughout western Europe. The rules concerning stalemate (a draw when the king cannot move safely) were finalized in the early 19th century. Also in the 19th century, the convention that White moves first was established (formerly either White or Black could move first depending on chance). Finally, the rules concerning castling were standardized – variations in the castling rules had persisted in Italy until the late 19th century. The resulting standard game is sometimes referred to as Western chess or international chess, particularly in Asia where other games of the chess family such as xiangqi are still prevalent. Since the 19th century, the only rule changes have been technical in nature, for example establishing the correct procedure for claiming a draw by repetition.

The increased interest in the game of chess, particularly in international play during the late 18th century and early 19th century, brought about a renewed demand for a more universal model for chess pieces. The variety and styles of the conventional form, begun in the 15th century, had expanded tremendously by the beginning of the 19th century. Conventional types popular during the period included the English Barleycorn chess set, the St. George chess set, the French Regence chess set (named after the Café de la Régence in Paris) and the central European. Most pieces were tall, easily tipped and cumbersome during play, but their major disadvantage was the similarity of the pieces within a set. A player’s unfamiliarity with an opponent’s set could alter the outcome of a game.

By the early decades of the 19th century, it was all too clear that there was a great need for a chess set with pieces that were easy to use and universally recognized by chess players of diverse backgrounds. The solution, first released in 1849 by the purveyors of fine games, John Jaques of London, sport and games manufacturers, of Hatton Garden, London England, was to become known as the Staunton chess set after Howard Staunton (1810–1874), the chess player and writer who was generally considered the strongest player in the world from 1843 to 1851. Although Nathaniel Cook has long been credited with the design, it may have been conceived by his brother-in-law and owner of the firm, John Jaques.

A few variants of classic chess pop up now and again although they don’t have a lot of popularity.  Three-dimensional chess has a certain following, notably among fans of the original Star Trek series where a fake version of the actual game was featured once in a while.

There’s also four-handed chess which I’ve played a few times in college in my first year because one of my friends was a rabid fan of all manner of games and had groups of us up all night indulging his passion.  Whatever we played he always won.  Four-handed chess is essentially all against all, but you can form temporary alliances. When one player’s king is placed in checkmate, that player’s pieces are frozen, but they can be freed by another player capturing or moving one of the pieces creating the checkmate.

Xiangqi ( 象棋), known as “Chinese chess” in the West, is very popular in parts of China and the Chinese diaspora.  When I lived in Hong Kong I constantly passed games in the street surrounded by crowds of men constantly and loudly voicing their opinions of moves to each other and to the players. The game represents a battle between two armies, with the object of capturing the enemy’s general (king). Distinctive features of xiangqi include the cannon (pao), which must jump to capture; a rule prohibiting the generals from facing each other directly; areas on the board called the river and palace, which restrict the movement of some pieces (but enhance that of others); and placement of the pieces on the intersections of the board lines, rather than within the squares.

Chess pie is a pretty obvious choice for my recipe du jour even though there’s nothing to connect the game to the recipe other than the name. No one has a clear idea as to why the pie is called “chess” pie although there are plenty of ridiculous speculations. Southern gentry used to eat it before (or after) playing chess on their plantations, for example. The basic chess pie is very simple to make and is too sweet for my tastes. Common varieties include lemon chess pie and chocolate chess pie.  Here’s the basics:

Chess Pie

Ingredients

½ cup butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp cornmeal
¼ cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
9” unbaked pie shell

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 425˚F/220˚C).

In a large bowl (or stand mixer), cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Mix in the eggs, then beat in the cornmeal, evaporated milk and vinegar until smooth.

Pour the mixture into the pie shell and bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Then reduce the heat to 300˚F/150˚C) and bake for another 40 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack.

Serve slices cold with whipped cream.

Jun 062017
 

On this date in 913 the Byzantine emperor Alexander III died of exhaustion after a game of tzykanion, the Greek name for polo, allegedly fulfilling his brother’s prophecy that he would reign for 13 months only. Seems like as good a reason as any to talk about the history of the game. Alexander, on the other hand, is scarcely worth a mention; historians variously describe him as drunk, cruel, lecherous, and malignant.

Polo originated in ancient Persia. Its creation is dated variously from the 6th century BCE to the 1st century CE. Like football, there were probably various ball games played on horseback throughout the east dating into antiquity. The first properly authenticated reference states that the Persian Emperor Shapur II learnt to play polo when he was 7 years old in 316 CE. The game was picked up by the neighboring Byzantine Empire not long after. A tzykanisterion (stadium for playing tzykanion) was built by emperor Theodosius II (r. 408–450) inside the Great Palace of Constantinople.

Qutubuddin Aibak, a Turkic slave from Central Asia who later became the Sultan of Delhi in Northern India, ruled as a Sultan for only four years, from 1206 to 1210, but died accidentally in 1210 while he was playing a game of polo. His horse fell and Aibak was impaled on the pommel of his saddle.

After the Muslim conquests of Egypt and the Levant, creating the Ayyubid and Mameluke dynasties, their elites favored polo above all other sports in those regions. Notable sultans such as Saladin (1137 – 1193) and Baybars (1223 – 1277), are known to have played polo and encouraged it in their court. Polo sticks was one of the four suits in the deck of the Mameluke precursor to modern day playing cards.

Around the 15th and 16th centuries polo migrated outward from the Persian empire to other parts of Asia including the Indian subcontinent, especially in the northern areas of present-day Pakistan (notably Gilgit, Chitral, Hunza and Baltistan), and China, where it was popular in the Tang dynasty capital of Chang’an, where is was played by women as well as men. Many Tang dynasty tomb figures of female players survive. Polo was considered valuable for training cavalry, which accounts for its migration from Constantinople all the way to Japan by the late Middle Ages.  The name polo is said to have been derived from the Balti (Tibetic) word “pulu”, meaning ball.

The modern game of polo evolved from the game as it was played in Manipur, India, in the 19th century, where the game was known variously as ‘Sagol Kangjei’, ‘Kanjai-bazee’, or ‘Pulu’. The origins of the game in Manipur are traced to early precursors of Sagol Kangjei. This was one of three forms of hockey in Manipur, the other ones being field hockey (Khong Kangjei) and wrestling-hockey (Mukna Kangjei). I don’t want to know what wrestling hockey is. Local rituals such as those connected to the Marjing, the Winged-Pony God of Polo, and the creation-ritual episodes of the Lai Haraoba festival enacting the life of his son, Khori-Phaba, the polo-playing god of sports may indicate an origin earlier than the historical records of Manipur. Later, according to Chaitharol-Kumbaba, a Royal Chronicle of the Manipur king Kangba who ruled Manipur much earlier than Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (33 CE) introduced Sagol Kangjei (Kangjei on horseback). However, it was the first Mughal emperor, Babur (1483 – 1530), who popularized the sport in India, and regular playing of this game commenced in 1605 during the reign of King Khagemba under newly framed rules.

In Manipur, polo was, and is, traditionally played with seven players to a side. The players are mounted on the indigenous Manipuri pony, which stands less than 13 hands (52 inches, 132 cm). There are no goal posts, and a player scores simply by hitting the ball out of either end of the field. Players strike the ball with the long side of the mallet head, not the end. Players are not permitted to carry the ball, although blocking the ball with any part of the body except the open hand is permitted. The sticks are made of cane, and the balls are made from the roots of bamboo. Players protected their legs by attaching leather shields to their saddles and girths.

In Manipur, the game was originally played by anyone who owned a pony, including commoners. The kings of Manipur had a royal polo ground within the ramparts of their Kangla Fort called Manung Kangjei Bung (literally, “Inner Polo Ground”). Public games were held, as they are still today, at the Mapan Kangjei Bung (literally “Outer Polo Ground”), a polo ground just outside the Kangla. Weekly games called Hapta Kangjei (Weekly Polo) were also played in a polo ground outside the current Palace.

The oldest polo ground in the world is the Imphal Polo Ground in Manipur State. The history of this polo ground is contained in the royal chronicle Cheitharol Kumbaba (c. 33 CE). Lieutenant (later Major General) Joseph Ford Sherer visited Maripur and played on this polo ground in the 1850s. In 1862 the oldest polo club still in existence, Calcutta Polo Club, was established by Sherer and Captain Robert Stewart. Later they spread the game to their peers in England. The British are credited with spreading polo worldwide in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. The game’s governing body in the United Kingdom is the Hurlingham Polo Association, which drew up the first set of formal British rules in 1874, many of which are still in existence.

This version of polo played in the 19th century was different from the faster form that was played in Manipur. The early British game was slow and methodical, with little passing between players and only a few set plays that required specific movements by participants without the ball. Neither players nor horses were trained to play a fast, nonstop game. This form of polo lacked the aggressive methods and equestrian skills to play. In consequence teams representing Indian principalities dominated the international polo scene.

Meanwhile, British settlers in the Argentine pampas started practicing polo during their free time. Among them, David Shennan is credited with having organized the first formal polo game in the country in 1875, at Estancia El Negrete, located in the province of Buenos Aires. The sport spread quickly among the gauchos, who were skillful horsemen (and proud of it), and several clubs opened in the following years in Venado Tuerto, Cañada de Gómez, Quilmes, and Flores. In 1892 The River Plate Polo Association was founded and constituted the basis for the current Asociación Argentina de Polo. In the Olympic Games held in Paris in 1924 an Argentine team took the gold medal (the country’s first Olympic gold) and repeated in Berlin in 1936. Argentina is credited globally as the mecca of polo, mainly because Argentina is the country historically with the largest number of 10-goal handicap players in the world – ever. Polo players are rated on a scale from minus-2 to 10. Minus-2 indicates a novice player, while a player rated at 10 goals has the highest handicap possible. It is so difficult to attain a 10-goal handicap that there are fewer than two dozen in the world, and about two-thirds of all players handicapped are rated at two goals or less. All living ten-goal handicappers are Argentinos, with the exception of David Stirling who was born in Uruguay but plays in Argentina.

I am spoilt for choice when it comes to recipes.  Persian? Indian? British? Argentino? Horse meat stew would be a bit morbidly ironic, I guess, although horse meat is popular in northern Italy. I’ll go with Manipur, since that’s probably the immediate home of modern polo.  Eromba is a classic dish of the Meitei community of Manipur. It is simple yet delicious, largely because of the local vegetable ingredients. Eromba can be prepared with just about any seasonal vegetables that are considered compatible, hence can vary across regions and seasons. The word “eromba” comes from eeru taana lonba, meaning “mixing stirring watery” which when pronounced quickly becomes eromba or eronba.

You don’t stand the remotest chance of getting the right ingredients, so I’ll give you the basic idea only. Eromba is a vegetable soup which can also have a non-vegetarian option (containing fermented fish, not meat). The main seasoning is the local chile, so it is hot. Vegetables that are considered compatible to be used in any combination are:

Taro(Colocasia esculenta)
Foxnut seeds (Euryale ferox)
Stink bean (Parkia speciosa)
East Indian arrowroot (Curcuma angustifolia)
Potato
Fermented bamboo shoot
Okra
Water mimosa (Neptunia oleracea)
Broad bean

Seasoning can include ngari (fermented fish) for the non-vegetarian version, plus hot green or red ghost chile, green onion, Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata), and chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata).

You know the drill by now. If you want the taste of Manipur, buy a ticket.  I’ll see you there.  I’m heading to Mandalay in a few weeks for a teaching job, which is right across the border from Manipur.

Mar 302017
 

My birthday has rolled around again – 66 this year.  Here are posts from previous years.

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/juan-alejandro/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/juan-alejandro-2/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/vincent-van-gogh/

Between them are all the birthdays and anniversaries I think worthy of note. This year I’ll note some people who died on this date.  It might sound a bit depressing but we all die and I would really like it (I think) if I joined the illustrious company who died on their birthdays – but not quite yet. I mentioned 3 last year but left off:

1986 James Cagney

2002 Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

2004 Alistair Cooke (2004).

I’ll also mention that it is the feast days of Blessed Amadeus IX of Savoy, John Climacus, Mamertinus of Auxerre, Quirinus of Neuss, Tola of Clonard, as well as Shouter Liberation Day in Trinidad and Tobago.

What has amused me for some time now is that of all the semi-serious food days (most from the US) today is a WORLD food day – World Idli Day.  Why, I have absolutely no idea, and I do not intend to make them today. Idli is a traditional breakfast in South Indian households, a slightly savory puffy cake that is popular throughout India and Sri Lanka. The cakes are made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils and rice.  There are also numerous regional varieties presented in this gallery.

A precursor of the modern idli is mentioned in several ancient Indian works. Vaddaradhane, a 920 CE Kannada language work by Shivakotiacharya mentions “iddalige”, prepared only from a black gram (urad dal) batter. Chavundaraya II, the author of the earliest available Kannada encyclopaedia, Lokopakara (c. 1025 CE), describes the preparation of this food by soaking black gram in buttermilk, ground to a fine paste, and mixed with the clear water of curd and spices. The Western Chalukya king and scholar Someshwara III, reigning in the area now called Karnataka, included an idli recipe in his encyclopedia, Manasollasa (1130 CE). This Sanskrit-language work describes the dish as iḍḍarikā. The food prepared using this recipe is now called uddina idli in Karnataka.

The recipe mentioned in these ancient Indian works leaves out three key aspects of the modern idli recipe: the use of rice (not just urad dal), the long fermentation of the mix, and the steaming for fluffiness. The references to the modern recipe appear in the Indian works only after 1250. Food historian K. T. Achaya speculates that the modern idli recipe might have originated in present-day Indonesia, which has a long tradition of fermented food. According to him, the cooks employed by the Hindu kings of the Indianised kingdoms might have invented the steamed idli there, and brought the recipe back to India during 800-1200.  Achaya refers to an Indonesian dish called “kedli”, which he claims is similar to idli. However, Janaki Lenin was unable to find any recipe for an Indonesian dish by this name. I see no reason to doubt that idli is Indian in origin.

To make Idli, four parts uncooked rice (Idli rice or parboiled rice) to one part whole white lentil (urad dal, vigna mungo) are soaked separately for at least four hours to six hours or overnight. Optionally spices such as fenugreek seeds can be added at the time of soaking for additional flavor. Once done soaking, the lentils are ground to a fine paste and the rice is separately coarsely ground, then they are combined. Next, the mixture is left to ferment overnight during which its volume will more than double. After fermentation some of the batter may be kept as a starter culture for the next batch. The finished idli batter is put into greased moulds of an idli tray or “tree” for steaming. The perforated molds allow the idlis to be cooked evenly. The tree holds the trays above the level of boiling water in a pot, and the pot is covered until the idlis are done (about 10–25 minutes, depending on size). A more traditional method is to use leaves instead of molds. Idli can be rather bland and are usually served with chutneys or sambar, a vegetarian curry.

This instructional video gives the basics:

Oct 152016
 

akbar1

Today is the birthday (1542) of Abu’l-Fath Jalal ud-din Muhammad Akbar, popularly known as Akbar I  and later Akbar the Great (Urdu: Akbar-e-Azam; literally “Great the Great”), Mughal Emperor from 1556 until his death. He was the third and one of the greatest rulers of the Mughal Dynasty in India. Akbar succeeded his father, Humayun, under a regent, Bairam Khan, who helped the young emperor expand and consolidate Mughal domains in India. Longtime readers know that I am not crazy about celebrating warriors and emperors, but I will make an exception with Akbar because his impact was so vast and he was a strong believer in creating harmony through diversity.

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Akbar was a strong personality and a successful general who gradually enlarged the Mughal Empire to include nearly all of the Indian Subcontinent north of the Godavari river. His power and influence, however, extended over the entire country because of Mughal military, political, cultural, and economic dominance. To unify the vast Mughal state, Akbar established a centralized system of administration throughout his empire and adopted a policy of conciliating conquered rulers through marriage and diplomacy. To preserve peace and order in a religiously and culturally diverse empire, he adopted policies that won him the support of his non-Muslim subjects. Akbar avoided tribal bonds and Islamic state identity, and sought to unite far-flung regions of his realm through loyalty, expressed via a Persianized culture, and a cult of personality as an emperor who had near-divine status.

Mughal India developed a strong and stable economy under Akbar, leading to commercial expansion and greater patronage of the arts. He was fond of literature, and created a library of over 24,000 volumes written in Sanskrit, Hindustani, Persian, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Kashmiri, staffed by many scholars, translators, artists, calligraphers, scribes, bookbinders and readers. Holy men of many faiths, poets, architects and artisans from all over the world came to his court for study and discussion. Akbar’s courts at Delhi, Agra, and Fatehpur Sikri became centers of the arts, letters, and learning. Perso-Islamic culture began to merge and blend with indigenous Indian elements, and a distinct Indo-Persian culture emerged characterized by Mughal style arts, painting, and architecture. Disillusioned with orthodox Islam and perhaps hoping to bring about religious unity within his empire, Akbar promulgated Din-i-Ilahi, a syncretic creed derived from Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. A simple, monotheistic cult, tolerant in outlook, it centered on Akbar as a prophet, for which he drew the ire of the ulema (Islamic scholars) and orthodox Muslims.

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Akbar’s reign significantly influenced the course of Indian history. During his rule, the Mughal empire tripled in size and wealth. He created a powerful military system and instituted effective political and social reforms. By abolishing the sectarian tax on non-Muslims and appointing them to high civil and military posts, he was the first Mughal ruler to win the trust and loyalty of the native subjects. He had Sanskrit literature translated, participated in native festivals, realizing that a stable empire depended on the co-operation and good-will of his subjects. Thus, the foundations for a multicultural empire under Mughal rule was laid during his reign.

On 3 October 1605, Akbar fell ill with an attack of dysentery, from which he never recovered. He is believed to have died on or about 27 October 1605, after which his body was buried at a mausoleum in Sikandra, Agra. Akbar was succeeded as emperor by his son, Jahangir.

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I could go on for pages and pages about Akbar because there is so much written about him. His reign was chronicled extensively by his court historian Abul Fazal in the books Akbarnama and Ain-i-akbari. Other contemporary sources of Akbar’s reign include the works of Badayuni, Shaikhzada Rashidi and Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi. I leave that to you to work on. You will discover he had extensive contact with foreign governments, especially Portugal and Britain, was exceptionally well read, and did a great deal to create a sense of Indian identity out of cultural plurality. Here’s just a personal footnote.

akbar3 akbar5 akbar14 akbar4 akbar10

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Akbar beside being an emperor and general was an animal trainer (reputedly keeping thousands of hunting cheetahs during his reign and training many himself), and theologian. Many scholars believe he was dyslexic, but he was read to every day and had a remarkable memory.  According to his son, Jahangir, Akbar was “of the hue of wheat; his eyes and eyebrows were black and his complexion rather dark than fair.” Antoni de Montserrat, the Catalan Jesuit who visited his court described him as follows:

One could easily recognize even at first glance that he is King. He has broad shoulders, somewhat bandy legs well-suited for horsemanship, and a light brown complexion. He carries his head bent towards the right shoulder. His forehead is broad and open, his eyes so bright and flashing that they seem like a sea shimmering in the sunlight. His eyelashes are very long. His eyebrows are not strongly marked. His nose is straight and small though not insignificant. His nostrils are widely open as though in derision. Between the left nostril and the upper lip there is a mole. He shaves his beard but wears a moustache. He limps in his left leg though he has never received an injury there.

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Akbar and other Mughal emperors left their mark on cuisine, of course. What is now known as Mughlai cuisine consists of dishes developed in India at the time of the Mughal Empire. It represents the cooking styles now used in North India (especially Uttar Pradesh and Delhi), Pakistan (particularly among Muhajir people), and the Indian cities of Hyderabad and Bhopal. The cuisine is strongly influenced by Central Asian cuisine, the region where the Turco-Mongol Mughal rulers originally came from, which, in turn, strongly influenced the regional cuisines of modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

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Koftas, meatball dishes, are a well-known component of Mughlai cooking. Early recipes (included in some of the earliest known Arabic cookbooks) generally use seasoned lamb rolled into orange-sized balls, and glazed with egg yolk and sometimes saffron. This method was taken to the West and is referred to as “gilding” or “endoring.” Many regional variations exist, notable among them include the unusually large Azerbaijani (Iranian) Tabriz kuftesi, having an average diameter of 20 cm, (8 in). and may encase inside it an entire roasted chicken stuffed with dried fruits, nuts and boiled eggs.

Koftas were most likely introduced into South Asia following the Turkic conquests in the region, particularly by the Mughals. Koftas in South Asian cuisine are normally cooked in a spiced gravy, or curry, and sometimes simmered with hard-boiled eggs. Vegetarian koftas are eaten by a large population in India. The British Scotch egg (boiled egg encased in sausage meat and deep fried) may have been inspired by the Mughlai dish Nargisi kofta (“Narcissus kofta”), where hard-boiled eggs are encased in a layer of spicy kofta meat. In Bengal koftas are made from prawns, fish, green bananas, cabbage or goat meat. In Kashmir, mutton is often used in the preparation of koftas, as opposed to beef or lamb.

Lamb Kofta

Ingredients

For the meatballs

1 tbsp fennel seeds
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 cm fresh ginger, peeled
1-2 green chilles, chopped
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
4 tbsp desiccated coconut
350g ground lamb

For the curry sauce

vegetable oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp ground turmeric
400g can chopped tomatoes

Garnish

natural yogurt
lime wedges

Instructions

Toast the fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until they are fragrant. Blend the garlic cloves, ginger, chilles and shallot to a paste in a blender or food processor, then mix the paste with the toasted fennel, coconut, and ground lamb. Roll into 20 balls, and chill for at least one hour.

Sauté  the shallot, fresh ginger, garam masala and ground turmeric for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. Add the meatballs, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Drizzle a little natural yogurt over the sauce and serve the kofta with lime wedges, steamed rice, flat bread and extra yogurt.

Dec 302015
 

rk6

Today is the birthday (1865) of Joseph Rudyard Kipling, Nobel laureate and Anglo-Indian short-story writer, poet, and novelist. Kipling’s works of fiction include The Jungle Book (1894), Kim (1901), and many short stories, including “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888). His famous poems include “Mandalay” (1890), “Gunga Din” (1890), “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” (1919), “The White Man’s Burden” (1899), and “If—” (1910). He is regarded as a major innovator in the art of the short story and his children’s books are classics of children’s literature.

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Kipling was one of the most popular writers in the United Kingdom, in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Henry James said: “Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known.” In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English-language writer to receive the prize, and its youngest recipient to date. He was also sounded out for the British Poet Laureateship and on several occasions for a knighthood, both of which he declined.

Kipling’s subsequent reputation has changed according to the political and social climate of the age and the resulting contrasting views about him continued for much of the 20th century. Douglas Kerr sums it up “[Kipling] is still an author who can inspire passionate disagreement and his place in literary and cultural history is far from settled. But as the age of the European empires recedes, he is recognized as an incomparable, if controversial, interpreter of how empire was experienced. That, and an increasing recognition of his extraordinary narrative gifts, make him a force to be reckoned with.” I think you have it right there. If you want to know about the British empire in all of its complexity at the height of its power, read Kipling.

My views are deeply mixed. I was raised on Kipling in Australia in the dying years of the British empire, when England was still called the “mother country,” and the likes of “If—” and “Gunga Din” were standard fare in school poetry books. I was supremely happy as a Wolf Cub, modeled on The Jungle Book’s tales and characters, and played Kim’s game in the Boy Scouts. Then the ‘60s happened and the “white man’s burden” was seen for what it was – ethnocentric exploitation and brutality masking as the civilizing of the world. There’s no way to hide Kipling’s conservative, imperialistic views, even though his depictions of Asia are nuanced and often sympathetic. But his most general view of human character at its best is inspiring. That’s why “If—” is still popular (though parodied in the 1968 film of the same name).

Rudyard Kipling and wife

Rudyard Kipling and wife

I’d like to take “Mandalay” as a microcosm of his work. Here is the full version.

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the Temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”

Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat – jes’ the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:

Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud –
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd –
Plucky lot she cared for idols
When I kissed ‘er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo and she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!”
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.

Elephants a-pilin’ teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

But that’s all above be’ind me – long ago an’ fur away,
An’ there ain’t no buses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”

No! You won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly Temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but what do they understand?

Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and –
Law! Wot do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

Ship me somewhere’s east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the Temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea;

On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

rk5

Any man who prefers Mandalay to London has my vote. The British troops stationed in Burma were taken up (or down) the Irrawaddy River (the “road to Mandalay”) by paddle steamers run by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (IFC). Rangoon to Mandalay was a 700 km trip each way. During the Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1885 9,000 British and Indian soldiers had been transported by a fleet of paddle steamers (“the old flotilla” of the poem) and other boats from Rangoon to Mandalay. Guerrilla warfare followed the occupation of Mandalay and British regiments remained in Burma for several years.

Kipling wrote “Mandalay” around April 1890, when he was 24 years old. He had arrived in England in October the previous year, after seven years in India. He had taken an eastward route home, traveling by steamship from Calcutta to Japan, then to San Francisco, then across the United States, in company with his friends Alex and “Ted” (Edmonia) Hill. Rangoon had been the first port of call after Calcutta; then there was an unscheduled stop at Moulmein. It is plain that Kipling was struck by the beauty of Burmese girls. He wrote at the time:

I love the Burman with the blind favouritism born of first impression. When I die I will be a Burman … and I will always walk about with a pretty almond-coloured girl who shall laugh and jest too, as a young maiden ought. She shall not pull a sari over her head when a man looks at her and glare suggestively from behind it, nor shall she tramp behind me when I walk: for these are the customs of India. She shall look all the world between the eyes, in honesty and good fellowship, and I will teach her not to defile her pretty mouth with chopped tobacco in a cabbage leaf, but to inhale good cigarettes of Egypt’s best brand.

You see both sides of Kipling in this poem – the condescending colonial master, and the sympathetic ex-pat – full of bravado mingled with longing. It was set to music many times. One of the most famous versions is by Peter Dawson:


The song version is considerably shorter than the original poem, and much of the detail is lost. But the essence is there. It makes me miss my days in Asia terribly.

Do we really want to return to the days Kipling idolizes and laments in their passing? I don’t think so. But “The Man Who Would Be King” is still one of my favorite short stories, as is the movie made of it, with Sean Connery and Michael Caine giving impeccable performances. This scene always makes me laugh:


Classic !!

Apparently Kipling’s favorite food was pineapple upside-down cake, and old fashioned dessert you don’t see much any more. It’s very easy to make.

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Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Ingredients

Topping

50g softened butter
50g light soft brown sugar
7 pineapple rings in syrup, drained (with syrup reserved)
glacé cherries

Cake

100g softened butter
100g golden caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Instructions

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Grease a 20-21cm (8”) round cake tin.

For the topping, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Spread this mix over the base and a quarter of the way up the sides of the cake tin. Arrange the pineapple rings on top, then place cherries (one or more) in the centers of the rings.

Place the cake ingredients in a bowl along with 2 tablespoons of the pineapple syrup and beat to a soft consistency. Spoon the cake mix into the cake tin on top of the pineapple and smooth it out so it is as level as possible. Bake for 35 mins. Leave the cake to stand on a wire rack for 5 mins, then turn it out on to a plate. Serve warm.