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Professor of English, Tribhuwan University, Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal

Monday, February 21, 2011

A recollection of a Journey to Stratford-Upon-Avon

A distant dream is being fulfilled today. It is the day that I was destined to meet a great person who had been fluttering in my imagination since time immemorial. Let us call this event a meeting – a day when I am going to set my feet on the birth place of William Shakespeare. My heart leapt with joy and was absolutely riveted by imagination and I felt like a child eager to reach a dashain bazaar as quick as possible.
We left Sandhurst early morning. Sandhurst is a great military training center known to the whole world. The army colleges, the large parade ground, clear ponds, and the barracks all in the wild atmosphere – I was left dumbfounded at the sights. Then I recollected Ganesh Rai's Raifalko Nalbata Jivan Niyalda ( examining this life through the bores of a rifle), which gives a vivid description of the rigorous military training a Gurkha undergoes among others. The description is hair-raising.
Mijas and I left the barracks early in the morning and moved along the sidewalk. On our left and right stretched vast expanses of green grounds endlessly, dew drops shone on the blades of grass and far away stood some old trees bordering the grounds. The barrack houses grew smaller and smaller. The young poet Mijas who hails from Dhunge Saghu, the stone bridge of Taplejung, looks as strong as a stone even in Belayat. May be the military training courses have rendered him so. We walked along the lonely road – no vehicles ply in the barrack area, no human frame is seen around, only the early birds chirp far away atop the tall, old trees—don't know their species. After half an hour's walk, we reached Blackwater Railway Station. It is situated at Blackwater, a town on the borders of Hampshire and Berkshire in England. The station was in a secluded place behind a mound.
We were ready to buy railway tickets when Mijas remembered that he had missed his cell phone in his quarters. I saw—he fumbled in his pockets and startd. And I asked—Mijas can't we do without mobile today? We have walked almost two miles. The train is due to arrive in 15 minutes.
But Mijas knew—it was an impossible thing to even propose, to manage without a mobile. So he spoke, "We cannot survive any more without a mobile phone. Not only body, even our mind comes to a stand still. We feel as if we have been stranded in a dense forest in the dark of the  night."
Then Mijas ran, leaving me all alone. The trains arrived at intervals and disappeared in a few minutes. I looked at my watch and turned my eyes towards the mound, fifteen minutes almost slipped away. I began to get worried as there was no hint of Mijas. Evil boding gripped my heart and mind. Who knows if Mijas slipped somewhere or tumbled down while running at such a high speed, or if he dashed against something or who knows if someone got suspicious  and arrested him? 
After a long time, when the train bound for Stratford had already left and I had begun to tremble with fear, I saw Mijas on the mound before me. He was flying in true sense with his wings wide open, like the mythological Pegasus along the road. Not even a marathoner runs with such a great speed. May be the Greek hero might have run in the same way. When the great hero Perseus decapitated Medusa, Pegasus had sprung up from her blood. I recollected the great mythological Pegasus—a winged animal. There were distant similarities between Pegasus and Miijas, in a mirror stage as Lacan has said. I saw Mijas as a superhuman creature—a great Greek hero. With his mobile set in his hand he appeared suddenly—the marathoner was all sweating.
Then Mijas touched the mobile screen, it came to life and he held a virtual conversation— the mobile was a non-human presence that is a mere presence, all imaginary and fantastic. How does it converse with us? How can it decide  our route and fix fare and tender it exactly? A great wonder was stored in front of me. I stood dumbfounded facing the machine. Mijas, however, was well–versed in it. How virtual has become human life—but not mine, yet. Everything is cold, and it terrifies one like me.
Then Mijas bought tickets for the First Great Western train and we boarded while it was waiting on the platform. Everything inside was automatic – the doors that opened and closed, the digital letters slid by themselves, the cool compartments were calm, quiet and pleasant. I feel slightly frightened yet expressed great joy after I seated myself by Mijas. After sometime, we arrived at Reading of which I had frequently heard . And then we arrived at Oxford. The moment I stepped on Oxford, a feeling of arriving at the great centre of education and academic excellence famous throughout the world swept through me. The Oxford that I had heard of and read of was illustrated in front of me. All my life I remained surrounded by Oxfords—from Oxford Dictionary to Verse Books and many such titles. Then I thought—if I had only had a glimpse of Oxford university premises from the railway station, it would still remain a lasting memory and a matter of pride for me. It would serve as evidence that I had visited Oxford. I stretched my eyes but I could see nothing, not even the rooftop or spires rising from the roof. And I asked an elderly traveler seated next to me, my friend, how far is Oxford from here?
"It is not very far, it lies to that side". He pointed towards north I think.
The train began to move. Then I led my eyes towards the vast expanse of open field unfolding beside us. One side was bordered with a hedge and on the other side across the road were ten thousand sheep with their head bent on the grass. They were grazing, deeply lost in themselves. I imagined ten thousand stars strewn across the blue sky. There were machines busy  harvesting wheat—cutting and collecting and thrashing.  There were others tying the stalks into bundles  the size of large tree trunks. The yellow bundles were sitting across an infinite stretch of  vast land.
How could nature do this on the month of Bhadra (August)? Wheat fields all yellow all over, it's a wonder, we cannot imagine wheat ready to harvest in this season of the year in the East. Which land have I reached today? A bit further we could see the spotted cows bent on the grassland, apparently absorbed.  But nowhere could I see any human frame around. Not a single person—neither a shepherd, nor the cattle herd nor any solitary reaper of William Wordsworth, nor the harvester or loader. This is the land where machines have replaced man. I was truly surprised. In a while Oxford disappeared from view. All the scenes grow hazier and became out of sight. The train moved faster.
Let everything disappear. I don't want Oxford or Cambridge today. I am bound for that great holy land where Shakespeare was born—for a land in which his birth and death are commemorated. In such a distant land, for away from London at Warwickshire of Central England, Shakespeare was born some five hundred years ago. Since then the world has been worshipping this great master. The world bows down just to hear his name.
My heart is full of waves of great pleasure that it has never felt before. Sometimes I look through the window and think of Shakespeare—with a short moustache over red lips, beard drooping from  chin,  long curly hair, and fair complexion. The eyes shine brightly. Thousands of our students must be in joyous mood after reading his comedies and thousands must be writhing in pain due to the tragedies, thousands must be singing the great songs of love or composing poems to their own beloveds.

The train dropped us at Stratford-upon-Avon at midday. It was the last stop. Hundreds of other tourists, travelers and visitors got off the train and a long file moved towards the ancient town. We also joined the crew. I felt as if we had crossed Gaushala and our steps were shifting towards Bankali. A thousand steps, moving and shuffling ahead on the day of Balachaturdasi. People from different lands, of different ages, different tongues, and dresses, with their faces shining bright—they are all curious to see the greatest artist of the world. What a great day before me; what a great luck to attend such a grand ceremony.
I had never seen such a beautiful town as Stratford–upon–Avon before. All streets that came from all directions met there; different streets, squares, alleys, and beautiful houses. They were  the vestiges of ancient times—broad, smooth, and clean, brick paved side walks on which people walk briskly. Beautiful houses, red bricked, with roofs of red maroon tiles, direct or slanted, with caps of chimneys . Houses with white windows standing in rows one after another, with net curtains and small verandas under it. Sometimes they reminded me of Ilam. But how can it be Ilam—this was so clean, so beautiful, so attractive a place, so inviting to be looked at without blinking eyes. From each verandah hung flower pots, all in full bloom—so colorful, tender and sweetly fragrant . Where on earth do they grow such plants that look like one yet produce multi colored blossoms—all tender and sweet? I guessed—these must be like the plastic flowers of Indrachok or Makhan. But when I observed closely, I found them all to be natural. What a great tradition of floriculture and decorative art—I was wonderstruck, and felt almost suffocated.

Stratford upon Avon

Wow, such a lovely place is Stratford town, which has preserved all its antiquity against the invasion of modernity. Located in a rural atmosphere, this historic antiquity preserves grandeur and unforgettable pristine traditions. None who stepped on this land has returned without visiting this sacred soil. The whole of Europe is in view here, there is Asia, America, Africa. Every corner of the world has forgotten everything and is around Strafford moving along the old streets to have a darshan of Shakespeare, the greatest great masters in literary world..
As usual, there are more than seven thousand visitors a day. The historical places worth visiting have been kept intact. They have preserved the Elizabethan England indeed.
There stood houses where Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died at the age of 54. There stood his daughter-in-law's house, his in-laws' place and maternal place too. There was the Grammar School where he studied, and the Holy Trinity Church where his rites—from birth to death were performed. Among all the invaluable treasures stood a house attached to his birth place—a museum, where Shakespeare's life story is simulated. On the very entrance we saw that there was a long queue of those who wanted to buy tickets for the museum. There were others who had already entered and were amazed to look around; some clicking snaps, others overwhelmed with great joy and deep sorrow. Some smiled and others even burst into tears.

shakespeare's house

We followed them. There were several items on display—Shakespeare's signature, Caxton's Printing with its folio versions, and Shakespeare writing on his desk with a feather on rough, yellowing papers. There was a painting of Shakespeare's childhood. His table and chair, a bed, a wooden box, and personal belongings and volumes. He was intent on exploring his  great creative mind.
Everything was intact—as it used to be. His family members, their daily chores, other friends were captured in  a vibrant, living model in a particular  moment. Shakespeare was seated by a bright window turned towards the light, he was writing with a long peacock feather. Sometimes his head would move as if he was turning his eyes to some other line. He would ignore us, not look at anyone, but I knew he was composing a sonnet. He was lost deep in creative mood. An old couple began to wipe their  tears as they stood close to Shakespeare. Standing closely, I prayed to the greatest of men— world literature was at his feet. You are greatest of inspiration, you are the height of humanity—your analysis of body and mind are perennial truth. Everyone bows to you. Even our own Mahakavi for the first time translated Macbeth into Nepali—it is an honor upon you.
 Can we ever imagine such a day when our Mahakavi (the great poet) gets honored and revered in this way? When can we present him—the greatest treasure of Nepali culture—before the world? He is hidden, lies buried and unseen. Shakespeare, your Blank Verses awakened Sama. Your Hamlet, Macbeth, As You Like It, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night and the great sonnets have visited our land thousands of times.
We stand here overwhelmed to pay a homage, to express our deep love, respect and honor towards you.
Then we moved to the birthplace of Shakespeare. It looked old. It was made of stone, mud and timber. The thatch roof was preserved intact. It was dark–brownish, slanted vertically and covered with fine nets. We stood on the stone paved floor of the front yard. One by one many visitors gathered and the door opened suddenly. A lady guide emerged from a corner.
She showed us everything inside the ancient house. She would stop at every room and explain everything to us. The first room was a living room, sitting and reception room of those days. There was also a reading table. Some clothes hung from the wall. A bundle of firewood lay on the floor. The stony floor that we had stepped on had turned bluish, I don't know how. On the second room—there was a hearth, a fireplace. There were kitchen utensils around—cooking pots, bowls, plates, some dough ready to be baked, there was some water in a pot, coals burning with a red flame and smoke; ashes scattered around, a whole duck roasting which hung from the ceiling. Then the guide led us to the third room where we could see his father standing by a window. He was selling leather gloves that were displayed on the window sill. People moved along on the road behind it.  There were some articles in the corner, a wooden staircase from the corner led to the first storey, wherethere was a bed room. In it were a large wooden bed, a smaller one for babies ready to sleep, bedcover spread. On the floor was his cradle, his toys all wooden and leather, a urinal pot, and clothes on the peg—all reminding one of the time six hundred years ago: the color, make, size and texture all intact.
I can hear you speak :

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
grave of shakespeare
I have spent half of my life—an actor from a far away land. I came here to have a darshan of you. The moment I met you, I was overwhelmed with a great joy. I felt a moment of ecstasy and tear drops fell off my eyes. All my desires in this mundane existence have been fulfilled at this moment.


1 comment:

  1. This is truly a wonderful travelogue. I enjoyed it a lot as it is not merely informative like other usual travelogues are. This raises an issue of lack of attention and due regards towards the contribution of literary figures in Nepal.