13 June 2008

Letter 2.6

I last wrote my draft board in December 1966, when I informed them of my ordination, and asked for clerical status. So it finally came through, eh? My relations with the draft board have always been rather absurd, and this, I think, is the crowning glory, so to speak: 'minister of religion'. Technically true, of course, but in practice, nothing could be less likely.

I went down to the sea a few days ago to bathe, and found it so pleasant that I spent several noon-time hours there, which resulted in a very mild sunburn. The burn doesn’t bother me at all, but it certainly bothers the villagers. They, being brown-skinned, have never heard of anything like 'sunburn' and when they saw my skin peeling thought that I had contracted some sort of skin disease and wanted me to see their native doctor. They were completely incredulous at my attempted explanation of what had happened to me, and did not understand why I refused to see the doctor. Nevertheless, I had no desire to undergo a treatment for something I didn't have, and refused, very firmly (to equally firm insistence) to do anything at all, except peel. They misinterpreted my refusal, of course, and assured me that the doctor was competent, that I was no leprous, etc., but disappointing as it was to them, to no avail.

It's not strictly true that I receive no newspapers. Sometimes I receive a parcel (of bananas, betel nut, curds, soap, etc,) wrapped in newspaper, and occasionally an English-language newspaper, I usually get the sports-page of the provincial English papers or else the Tea Board quotations of the Ceylonese Observer -- a rather strange view of world affairs -- but sometimes I get 'lucky': the other day I learned, via one of these scraps of paper, both that Harold Holt, the Prime Minister of Australia, had (presumably) drowned, and that some doctors in South Africa had succeeded in transplanting a human heart. The report seemed to indicate that it was not an artificial heart, but a real, live human heart that was transplanted. I recall, many years ago, Connie Francis had a hit song called 'If I give my heart to you', but I did not expect that it would be taken so literally. One question which the newspaper scrap did not answer was: what happens to the donor?

There is a Sinhalese grammar book here which I have been looking at. Did you know Sinhalese has four words for 'you'? The distinction is not singular/plural/male/female, but rather along caste lines: thō, thā are 'used in speaking when the speaker is angry, a discourteous form of address'; umba is used in speaking 'to an inferior'; thumuse is used 'to an equal'; and thumunnūnsē. is used 'to a superior or Buddhist priest'. There are also certain verbs which have the same four-fold division (come = enawā, enta, enda, wuren; sit, go, stand, eat, sleep, etc. are also fourfold; and please has two forms, as does yes, both having one form for all people and another which is used only when speaking to 'Buddhist priests'. All languages, of course, have such distinctions; but not many of them have the rules formally stated as part of a traditional heritage. Tradition rules in Ceylon, though: it's responsible for a good percentage of the stupidities which persist. (Odd: in the West the newer something is the better it is presumed to be; in the East it's the opposite -- choice of stupidities?)

An elephant visited me about a week ago. It was night, so I couldn't see it, but I could sure hear it: great crashing of branches, accompanied by very solid nasal snorts. I shined my flashlight in its direction (there's a path running parallel to the kuti, separated from it by about 40 feet of medium -- thick growth) and it went away: I've been told that they will always go away from a light at night. Also saw, early one morning, what I think is a pole-cat: it had a yellow belly, anyway. Do other cats have yellow bellies? Definitely a 'cat'ish thing, though not sleek like a tiger; about 2§—3 feet long with a tail as long, sort of bushy; its tail and back were dull brown. It leaped from tree to tree at a distance of about 70 feet from the kuti and finally disappeared behind some foliage. If it saw me it paid me no heed. Also seen: an insect which is half bright red and half horizon pink -- a very sporty combination (for an insect, anyway) a pure white insect; a mosquito with a body 1.5 inches long!!! I could hear its whine in the daytime 50 feet away: I did not sample its bite, but a few of them could cause anemia; a whole herd of wild goats (near the sea); the chin- monks eat out of my hand; but the mongooses won't come near me.

Thanks for the blinz recipe. No other recipes needed. Ovens being non-existent in this neck of the jungle, mandel bread could not be made.

Do you know anything of a product which is sort of 'a zip-less zipper', consisting of two pieces of cloth which stick together and cannot be pulled apart, but are easily peeled apart?

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