Sunday, February 17, 2013

Winter sun

I arrived in Johannesburg this morning to a bright, sun filled day in the medium twenties. The roads peaceful of an early Sunday morning, I drove past the varying skyscapes, landscapes that make up the city. From the distant skyscrapers of downtown Johannesburg which, the last time I saw it ten years ago, had effectively been abandoned by fleeing whites and looked sad, battered and empty to the nearer sight today of the township of Alexandra with its neat, brightly coloured, new houses each with a solar water heater perched on top.

At the hotel, the solar water heating was creating something of a challenge - both the shower and the bath appear to be directly serviced by it. So about midday, after a reviving nap, the water emerging from faucet and tap was extremely hot, unsuitably so. In the end I had to run a bath and cool it down with a combination of water ferried from the sink by way of a kettle and patience.

On the flight I had read Rumer Godden's late novel: 'Cromartie vs the God Shiva' which is not her finest achievement but entertaining nonetheless and the story centres on a family run hotel on the south east coast of India. Make yourself at home was the welcoming declaration on the piece of paper handed me at reception. My near neighbours took this to heart by holding a fully fledged 'domestic' in full hearing. 'Get out you bastard and don't come back' was the last phrase I heard before falling asleep.

Godden's novel culminates in a murder (failing) to secure a secret among friends. I hope life does not imitate art.

The book is saturated by a sense of what Shiva might mean within the strands of Indian life - and its chronic failure to separate 'religion' from the ordinary flow of life and indeed separate religions from one another - why, asks the narrator, must religion have edges?

It is the theme of my next reading assignment - the Fathomless Heart by Lewis Thompson. Thompson of whom I had never heard before last week was an English poet and writer who came to India (in the 1930s) at the tender age of 23 and died at 40 (of sunstroke in Benares). He wanted to forge a meaningful dialogue between the poetic, spiritual impulse of the West (Rimbaud, Yeats, Blake) and the practice of liberation in Hinduism. He appears (on surface acquaintance) a hidden gem that I will enjoy uncovering and polishing.

Off to the shopping mall for a massage and dinner and, sadly, as this is Johannesburg, by taxi even when it is in walking distance.

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