Published:  09:26 PM, 08 September 2017 Last Update: 09:30 PM, 08 September 2017

Passage of time

Passage of time
A door ajar off the same room, offered sighting of a man seated at a desk. I hesitated to enter.

Only after viewing the rest of the exhibits, did I push open the door to find a waxed figure of Rudyard Kipling at his desk; surrounded by his memorabilia.

I was in the one-room Kipling Museum. Black and white photographs of him and his family adorned the walls.

Before me lay hand-written scripts of 'Jungle Book' (a childhood favourite of mine) and 'Kim', which happens to be Kipling's most familiar work for those living in the Indian subcontinent.

I have my late father's copy of 'Kim.' He bought it in San Francisco in 1966.

In 2010, at the Oxford Bookstore in Kolkata's Park Street, I laid my hands on 'Kipling's India', the introduction to which was written by Khushwant Singh, an ardent fan of the British author.

Waiting for me in 2012 on a pavement sale of second-hand books in the neighbourhood of the University of Toronto, was a 500 page paperback book: 'The Very Richness of That Past: Canada Through the Eyes of Foreign Writers'. Price: CA $1.
One of the writers is Rudyard Kipling. Greg Gatenby, the editor remarks: "While today, in the public imagination, he is regarded as a man who wrote mostly about England and India, in his own time his words about Canada were voluminous, and of import to both Canadians and the Empire puppet-masters in London. Indeed, he regarded Canada with a unique affection."

Kipling came to live in Rottingdean with his American wife and two daughters in 1897. His son was born there.

He wrote prolifically during his time in the village while residing at 'The Elms', a two-storey house surrounded by majestic trees standing across the road from the village graveyard.

The house was shut but we strolled through the Kipling Gardens that offers quietude - that essential essence of balm and calm. 'If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need' was the declaration by Cicero, the Roman politician and philosopher.

And Kipling had both. The lush green botanical space is as close to a secret garden enriching free-style planting of blooms, ferns, plants and trees - corners and crannies of leafy space.  

It was a weekday in Rottingdean. Hardly anybody was around; there prevailed a privilege of solitude. We could have been roaming around the village in Kipling's times. Here was a retreat where I could take a permanent vacation. These are moments where less is more.

I thought of a major miss. It was the Kipling Festival to be held in mid June.

Albeit, an integral part of a mega-city, the 'village' Purley, in Croydon, Surrey offered us a spell of the notion of 'slow travel'.

As we roamed, we left behind human footprints and became engulfed in nature. I thought of the transience of today's fast-track lifestyle, something felt even during holidays, especially when it becomes a rat race among crowds.
This is where 'Slow Travel' comes in. Why not move to a different beat? Walking, sauntering, strolling and absorbing is "self-therapy on the hoof', notes Charlotte Sinclair in an article 'Walk It Up.'

Furthermore, "the Germans even have a word for the sense of peace and mind-expansion gained by walking alone in the woods: Waldeinsamkeit."

There was the play of sun, the movement of shade and shadow under the canopy of the cool forest. The woodland floor had rolled out its bluebell carpet of blooms. The human presence of only us, four individuals in the woods, gave us every opportunity to lose ourselves in the beauty of nature's irregularities.

As consumers of nature's bounty, we received every chance to detox and absorb the luxury of calmness, silence and serenity. At the top of my reading bucket list is Pico Iyer's latest book 'The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere.'

Another opportunity of 'Slow Travel' came as we wandered through the neighbourhood of our accommodation in Purley. Verdun Promenade is a gentle slope of a lane, bordered on one side by a row of soaring poplar trees whose spring leaves glistened in the afternoon sun.

On the garden path below lay the empty stalks of daffodils. At the top of the promenade stood a small obelisk; somewhat out of context. I was told that this obelisk and the Verdun Promenade are memorials to the soldiers who died in France's Verdun during World War I.

A week ago, the same strip of dead daffodils were in full bloom; tossing their yellow heads in the sun. What a gift of nature and what a meaningful tribute by the living to the fallen.

This was a moment of reckoning. I recalled the unforgettable epitaph that stands in the Kohima cemetery in Nagaland in north-eastern India. Yet in another green grandeur setting, is the eloquent memorial to the 1,420 allied soldiers who died during World War II.

Solemnly and deeply moved, we stood before the memorial tablet inscription: "When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today."

There actually is a category of travellers for whom the term 'tombstone tourism' was coined. The 'buzz' is to recollect those who went before us. It is about sharing the history of the dead; not any different from the history of the living.

Ultimately, it is all in the finite past. It is as personal and individually enriching as viewing art; not as an object but an experience. Most famous burial sites include La Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. There slumbers the rich and famous - Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Maria Callas, the opera diva.

The Highgate in London is the final resting place of amongst others George Eliot and Karl Marx. The South Park cemetery in Kolkata is the eternal abode of numerous who's who of the East India Company and the British Raj.

When it rains, it pours ... a third interlude took place as we walked around the Purley Village Green and entered the post-office cum tea-shop.

True to the cliché, the ambience was postcard perfect. It was established in 1907 as a Temperance Inn by William Webb, the real estate developer of the area.
'Temperance' meant that no alcohol was served on the premises. However, a fruity drink Vimto was introduced at such Temperance Inns in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

A jolt of memory and I recalled that in the 1960s, on home visits to Karachi, us children would be given the purple tinged Vimto drink! Allowance for time lag!

Here we were in 2017 seated in the corner partaking afternoon tea. I glanced at the back wall at a faded photograph of one Lord Roberts and a post-card sized faint write-up which I was unable to read without my glasses.

I mentioned to the others of one Lord Roberts whose autobiography 'Forty-one Years in India: From Subaltern to Commander-in-Chief' (1897) I had come across while researching my book: 'India: Beyond the Taj and the Raj' at the India International Centre Library, New Delhi.  Maybe it was him. A friend remarked: 'Raana! a Bangladeshi visitor here and so inquisitive! Doubt anybody else in this room has ever even noticed it!' At this moment, I was 'the global' in 'the local'.

My hunch was right. The story goes as follows: Mr Webb was a great admirer of Lord Roberts and thus named his inn after the only second twentieth century non-royal to lie in state at Westminster Abbey. The other being Winston Churchill. Lord Roberts VC died in 1914 while visiting Indian troops fighting in France during World War I. He was born in Cawnpore, India.

Two months later in July 2017, in a visit to the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata; with the black and white photography exhibition by Nemai Ghosh on Satyajit Ray 'The Many Moods of a Maestro' as our destination; I glanced at a glass cabinet under the central rotunda. Out of the lot, before my eyes appeared the sword of 'Lord Roberts, Commander in Chief, Madras 1883.'

All this emanated from me, rambling down memorable garden paths in Purley, Croydon, Surrey.

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