17 October 2011

Rollo Podmarsh

With Mrs. Podmarsh sedulously watching over her son's health, you might have supposed that this inability on his part to teach the foodstuffs to take a joke would have caused consternation in the home. But it so happened that Rollo's mother had recently been reading a medical treatise in which an eminent physician stated that we all eat too much nowadays, and that the secret of a happy life is to lay off the carbohydrates to some extent. She was, therefore, delighted to observe the young man's moderation in the matter of food, and frequently held him up as an example to be noted and followed by little Lettice Willoughby, her granddaughter, who was a good and consistent trencherwoman, particularly rough on the puddings. Little Lettice, I should mention, was the daughter of Rollo's sister Enid, who lived in the neighbourhood. Mrs. Willoughby had been compelled to go away on a visit a few days before and had left her child with Mrs. Podmarsh during her absence.

You can fool some of the people all the time, but Lettice Willoughby was not of the type that is easily deceived. A nice, old-fashioned child would no doubt have accepted without questioning her grandmother's dictum that roly-poly pudding could not fail to hand a devastating wallop to the blood-pressure, and that to take two helpings of it was practically equivalent to walking right into the family vault. A child with less decided opinions of her own would have been impressed by the spectacle of her uncle refusing sustenance, and would have received without demur the statement that he did it because he felt that abstinence was good for his health. Lettice was a modern child and knew better. She had had experience of this loss of appetite and its significance. The first symptom which had preceded the demise of poor old Ponto, who had recently handed in his portfolio after holding office for ten years as the Willoughby family dog, had been this same disinclination to absorb nourishment. Besides, she was an observant child, and had not failed to note the haggard misery in her uncle's eyes. She tackled him squarely on the subject one morning after breakfast. Rollo had retired into the more distant parts of the garden, and was leaning forward, when she found him, with his head buried in his hands.

P.G. Wodehouse, "The Awakening of Rollo Podmarsh," in The Heart Of A Goof, pp. 118-119

10 October 2011

History's Henchmen

They heard the thud of wood on flesh. Boot on bone. On teeth. The muffled grunt when a stomach is kicked in. The muted crunch of skull on cement. The gurgle of blood on a man's breath when his lung is torn by the jagged end of a broken rib.

Blue-lipped and dinner-plate-eyed, they watched, mesmerized by something that they sensed but didn't understand: the absence of caprice in what the policemen did. The abyss where anger should have been. The sober, steady brutality, the economy of it all.

They were opening a bottle.

Or shutting a tap.

Cracking an egg to make an omelette.

The twins were too young to know that these were only history's henchmen. Sent to square the books and collect the dues from those who broke its laws. Impelled by feelings that were primal yet paradoxically wholly impersonal. Feelings of contempt born of inchoate, unacknowledged fear--civilization's fear of nature, men's fear of women, power's fear of powerlessness.

Man's subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify.

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things, pp.412-413

08 October 2011

The Good Fight

Many injustices lack the visceral immediacy of young people conscripted to fight and die in Vietnam, or innocent citizens pummeled on the streets of Birmingham. Today, massive risks are often more abstract, remote, and complex. Farts disturb more people than odorless pollution or global warming. Thoughtless ethnic slights rile more people than widespread lead poisoning of children and skyrocketing levels of childhood asthma. We must awaken to the many menaces around us and dedicate some civic attention to widespread perils.

Personal irritations shrink as the magnitude of civic challenges is absorbed into one's purposeful self. When people move into the civic arena and take on a cause, they experience stress and uncertainty, but the gratification is deeper, a more truthful part of the summit of their being, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson. When Anne Witte completed a series of interviews with women who became super-active leaders, for her book Women Activists: Challenging the Abuse of Power, I asked her to identify the one over-riding impression she took away from them. Without hesitation she said, "I've never met happier people." Hmmmm.

Ralph Nader, The Good Fight, pp.32-33

Arundhati Roy

Thanks to the seductive charms of Hollywood and the irresistible appeal of America's mass media, all these years later, the world views the Vietnam War as an American story. Indochina provided the lush, tropical backdrop against which the United States played out its fantasies of violence, tested its latest technology, furthered its ideology, examined its conscience, agonized over its moral dilemmas, and dealt with its guilt (or pretended to). The Vietnamese, the Cambodians, and Laotians were only script props. Nameless, faceless, slit-eyed humanoids. They were just the people who died. Gooks.

As a child growing up in the state of Kerala, in South India--where the first democratically elected Communist government in the world came to power in 1959, the year I was born--I worried terribly about being a gook. Kerala was only a few thousand miles west of Vietnam. We had jungles and rivers and rice-fields, and communists, too. I kept imagining my mother, my brother, and myself being blown out of the bushes by a grenade, or mowed down, like the gooks in the movies, by an American marine with muscled arms and chewing gum and a loud background score. In my dreams, I was the burning girl in the famous photograph taken on the road from Trang Bang.

Arundhati Roy, "The Loneliness of Noam Chomsky," in War Talk, pp.98-99