Subha Chandra Bose
Marshall J. Getz
(McFarland)The time to strike is when your enemy is at war on another battlefront. The French invaded Mexico during America's Civil War, the Germans offered the return of lands stolen by the gringos to Mexico during WWI, and one group of anti-English Indian freedom fighters offered to join German, Italy, and Japan against the Raj during WWII. They may have taken a leaf from the old Islamic mot, quoted by Getz:
There are three kinds of friends:
Your friend, the friend of your friend,
And the enemy of your enemy, who is also your friend...Subha Chandra Bose took up the cudgel against England in the 1920s, roughly the same time as Gandhi and Nehru, but he was certainly far more the opportunistic revolutionary. In his book, The Indian Struggle, he claimed that the right and the left must make common cause to free India. His proposed regime, he said in the Daily Worker, would be "a synthesis between Communism and Fascism."
Up until WWII, to avoid arrest at home, he traveled on the European continent trying to generate support in his anti-Raj campaign. He was willing to work with any government that would have him. He approached Stalin, Mussolini, the Nazis, but was snubbed by all until, in 1941, in Kabul, he met with Alberto Quaroni, ambassador from Italy. Evidently, despite the language barrier (Bose only spoke English and Hindu) he was quite a charmer, and he convinced the Italians to back his Free India program.
He proposed that Indians, captured in Europe and North Africa would be released to him, he would train them --- and with the loan of 50,000 German and Italian soldiers --- they would invade India. This would further the Axis cause by diverting the English from the European theater.
In 1942, at Mussolini's request, Bose had a meeting with Hitler, which, the author guesses (there are no notes on their meeting), did not go well. Bose "was a pudgy man of medium height, swarthy by European standards but normal for a Bengali..." He was "moon-faced and balding." "Bose," Getz suggests, "looked like an Indian version of the actor Peter Lorre." However uninspiring, the Germans did allow him a small army of Indian prisoners to train, and urged him to broadcast wartime propaganda from Berlin. A man of the media, he promptly declared war on England on behalf of the "Azad Hind" --- the Free India Movement. The English drafted George Orwell --- whose loyalties were certainly mixed --- to manage the counter-propaganda.
As the Germans began to lose the war, Bose transferred his attentions (and himself) to Japan. In May of 1943, he met with Tojo Hideki in Tokyo, announced his support for the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and in return, was awarded two tiny islands --- the Andaman and Nicobar --- for the Azad Hind.
In 1944, he and his followers joined the Japanese in an attack on India:
The INA crossed India's eastern border to launch a raid on Mowdok. The soldiers kissed the ground and planted the Springing Tiger flag. Bose issued a statement, calling for the support of all Indians in India to join the INA in ousting the Raj.
With 15,000 men, he was poised to enter Delhi, but the British counterattacked in June, the Japanese obviously had other problems so they retreated, and the INA was left isolated. Bose wisely disappeared, turning up later in Thailand, where he made his last move: he boarded an airplane to fly to Russia to see if he could wangle a meeting with Stalin. The plane crashed en route, and his body was never found.
§ § §
In the history of India's independence movement, Subha Chandra Bose stands out. He was an intellectual rabble-rouser, with enough craftiness to build a logical plan to undermine the British. This was enough to attract the Axis to him and his cause, but his ability to penetrate three of the seven powers of WWII attests to his charm and his character.
Unfortunately for him, he bet on the wrong horse. He was charismatic, but unable to rally most of his fellow Bengalis to the cause --- possibly because, though they detested the Raj, they detested the Germans and the Japanese even more. He had found the friends, and the friends of the friends, but the enemies of the enemies never showed.
A character like Bose is rare. This is a man who, single-handedly, managed to penetrate the power base of the Axis while they were immersed in a war for survival. Fascinating characters like Bose demand fascinating biographers. Unfortunately, Getz never studied the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. The writing gets so lunky at times that I almost dropped it (or dropped off to sleep). For example, this on Benito Mussolini:
The one-time left-wing journalist rose from patched-
elbow poverty to take control of his country as the burly don of the Blackshirts. Strutting up to the podium, Mussolini offered a viable Italy in return for sacrificed civil rights. To revive the glory of the Roman Empire, claim Carthage and turn the Mediterranean into an Italian lake, he needed to liquidate the leftists and other undesirables.
Burly dons. Strutting up to the podium. Liquidating leftists (to create a national lake).
Bose willingly returned to Asia, but soon discovered that his abilities as a statesman could be retired.
Retired to where? To lunch? To bed? To the Italian lake-bed?
The Hindus reeled upon hearing that the miracles of Shiva, Kali, Krishna and all the other deities had been performed by the Hands of Allah.
For the sanity of the world's reviewers, we pray that this particular writer, before his next venture, lands a training grant at the Iowa Writer's Workshop.--- Lolita Lark
Smells Like Rain
A Naturalist in
Gary Paul Nabhan
(University of Arizona)The O'odham --- also known as the Papago Indians --- live in the Sonoran Desert, in a large desert area that straddles the United States - Mexico border. They have lived there since time immemorial, and they show a profound knowledge of soil and weather and survival, and an affection for the creatures who share the world with them.
What interests Gary Nabhan is how humans who live in one of the most blighted corners of the earth could sustain themselves, now as well as before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Desert Smells like Rain is his study of the O'odham --- using scientific tools and, most importantly of all, living with them, learning their language, studying their legends, eating with them, going to their fiestas, passing time with the young and old alike. For instance his chapter on the coyote --- "Plants Which Coyote Steals, Spoils, and Shits On" --- treats of the many legends about Coyote (as opposed to the generic coyote):
I had a whole notebook full of stories....The old stories. How, after the Flood, Elder Brother let Coyote help him make a new batch of people to start the world over again. Coyote fooled around and made a bunch of misshapen creatures, with eyes on their knees, with only one leg, or with their sexual organs in the wrong places. Elder Brother just had to throw them away, far across the ocean.
He says that he also collected the more lurid tales, too:
Like the time he [Coyote] volunteered to carry a pretty girl across a river, but told her to throw her skirts up over her eyes so that they wouldn't get wet. Pretending to help her across, he helped her get pregnant instead.
He describes the different words used for "coyote." The original one is ban, so there is banma --- one who is greedy --- and banmakam, a glutton. Nicknames: ban'i kuad --- "Coyote peeked in." S-banow --- one who "stinks like a coyote."
Nabhan reports that his notebook with all these stories once disappeared, but then, walking near the village Ban Dak --- "Where Coyote Sat Down," --- he spied, in a ditch filled with floodwater
floating in a pond, was a notebook that looked familiar to me, except it had pawprints smudging the pages, and whole sections ripped out by the teeth.
"You have to watch what you say about this one they call Coyote," he concludes.
It is obvious that Nabhan --- note the spelling of the last part of his name --- has great respect and affection for the O'odham and their desert. He knows how to write about them with felicity, blending scientific studies with examinations of the agricultural techniques of the Papago. He reports with sorrow the tragic loss of one of the great oasis of the Southwest deserts, the "A'al Waipa" at the hands of the United States Park Service. It was decimated by the forcible eviction of the Indians:
Without the soil disturbance associated with plowing and flood irrigation, the natural foods for birds and rodents no longer germinate.
Thus, a unilateral decision by the Park Service to bring an oases back to its "primitive, unspoiled" state was what, ironically, ruined it, and drove away the wildlife that once populated it.--- A. J. Dangerfield
Love Is Stronger
Union of Two Souls
(Lindisfarne)In 1995, Cynthia Bourgeault traveled from Maine to Colorado for a training workshop at St. Benedict's Monastery. She was no stranger to the world of Christian spiritual training, having led not a few retreats of her own.When she got to Snowmass, Ms. Bourgeault met a monk --- Brother Raphael Robin --- who worked as a handyman in the monastery. The two of them, if we can use an ancient, honored and felicitous phrase, "fell head-
over- heels in love."But, as you can imagine, their love in the order was of a different order. They were both committed Christians, and he had been a hermit monk for almost forty years. And the two were no spring chickens: she was in her late forties, he was over seventy.
But they shared a common bond, what is referred to as esoteric Christianity. They both had an affection for the Christian mystic poets, John Donne, T. S. Eliot, Rainer Maria Rilke. As well, both had an interest in the mystic philosophers --- Jacob Boehme, Thomas Merton, and Ladislaus Boros. Their greatest favorite is one who might be thought of as at the furthermost edge of mystical (and not necessarily Christian) thinking --- G. I. Gurdjieff.
Bourgeault and "Rafe" were only together for a brief time (he died of a heart attack in 1996) but their time together was strange, explosive, and ultimately, immensely rewarding --- both for them and for the reader of this book. This is how she describes their first meeting:
We stood there in the monastery barnyard --- I remember he had one blue boot on and one orange boot --- and for more than an hour we talked, the words flooding forth from some unknown depth in our souls...What remains with me vividly to this day is my recollection of a circle of light that shone out from Rafe and enfolded us both, and the deep sense of comfort and familiarity between us, as if we had somehow always known each other and were merely resuming a conversation that had gone on from eternity.
At Rafe's wake, she says, "I do not know how to explain this, and I do not want to exaggerate..." but, as she sat with him, alone, "there was nothing but love, a gratitude conveyed entirely through the skin --- body to body, will to will."
It was the most profoundly luminous experience I have ever had. All was forgiven, understood, poured out; that which in life had been hidden in the changeability of bodies and emotions became steady and consistent. There was a distinct nuptial feeling to it: a sense that our life together was not ending; it was only now truly beginning. And somewhere in those cold, dark hours, a voice that was distinctly Rafe's came to me saying, "I will meet you...in the body of hope."
Ms. Bourgeault is a profound student of the mystical side of love, much of which she conveys with great felicity here. She sees her love as a union of "broken souls." It cannot be done out of "sheer romanticism, that initial rush of erotic attraction that is all most of us ever know of love." She says it is more of a purification,
The partners adopt the spiritual practice of laying down their lives for each other --- facing their shadows, relinquishing old patterns and agendas, allowing all self-justification to be seen, brought to the light, and released...a sympathetic vibration with the sacrificial and giving love that is the font of all creation.
It is, at least, the "willingness to die...the practice that gradually transmutes erotic attraction into a force of holy fusion."
§ § §
Ms. Bourgeault is a graceful writer and she builds her two characters impeccably --- herself, and her love, Rafe. She also builds a powerful case for love being closely tied to the divine. Using the passion that the two of them shared as a base, she makes a case for unions that transcend mere sexuality and --- if you will --- mere death. (The word I used was "union." I think, perhaps, that "a merging" would better convey what she is trying to tell us.)
Contrary to what many of her fellow Christians believe, she says that dying is the "awakening to the self: to die is to understand." The moment of death is the soul's "first moment of complete, unanimous coherence:"
The whole picture is opened, ordered around its core principle, and held fully present to itself. The pretenses, the parts tied to the false self and the other energies, disappear with the outer energies themselves. The parts that belong authentically to oneself but have not been fully actualized and integrated in life simply remain dark, like the full of the moon faintly present behind the sliver. And in this timeless instant, backlit against the light of divine love, the soul's true stature is revealed in two dimensions: mobility and majesty.
Ms. Bourgeault's take on love and dying came wonderfully clear to this reader, but all these words would be meaningless if the story of this late-in-
life love were in any way dolled up. Not so. Indeed, at times, their on-going affair sounds like a bitter war --- she reaching out and being cut cold, him stomping off, her bitterly attacking his isolation --- and, in a contretemps that she claims was a breakthrough in their love, an actual down- and- dirty wrestling match.
He was trying to leave. She didn't want him to. She tackled him. "There are times," she reports, "even in spiritual practice, when you simply have to break the rules:"
This is the story of one of those times. I share it with a certain hesitancy, for reasons that will become obvious. Beyond any doubt it was my most painful and disgraceful moment with Rafe, a moment of totally losing it.
"For the next half hour or so, we wrestled," she tells us.
I am not talking metaphor here. We spilled down the landing and rolled and writhed around the yard, locked in a desperate contest of wills. I clenched his leg, his arm, holding on for dear life. He brought his boot heel down on my jaw and twisted my wrist so hard I thought it would snap. I screamed but didn't let go...
After a while, our combat began to take on a strange, almost surrealistic configuration. We'd wrestle for a while then rest, sitting at opposite ends of the woodpile, eyeing each other warily. Sometimes we'd exchange a few words. "Can this be love?" I remember wailing at one point, and he shook his head sadly. "I'm gone already," he said. "You try to grab me and you're only holding on to yourself."
There is a rich unity in Love Is Stronger than Death. Part of it is Bourgeault's learning --- in which she can call on the mystics as well as Dylan Thomas, Ouspensky, Dante, the Bible. Another is her rendering of two strong, memorable characters. But best of all is her genuine faith. She relates with certainty the union of "second bodies" a coming together that is in no way diminished by his death --- but, on the contrary, continues to blossom long beyond the grave.
The resonance of her words builds a testament of hope: hope that for all of us, even late in life, there still may be a powerful earth-shaking love to turn our certainties topsy-turvy. And hope, too, in the belief that in death there is no death --- but, rather, a merging of souls that will bring us full flower into the eternity of desire and the desire of eternity.--- Lolita Lark
(Norton)We have all been crazy now and then. Most of my friends are crazy on a regular basis. When my friend Heather was sixteen her parents forced her to have an abortion and as a result she actually ended up in a mental hospital. She later told me that they had a baby grand piano there for her to play and they taught her to weave beautiful baskets. When she was pronounced cured she didn't want to leave. Her parents then had to force her to.
Other friends have flipped out due to drugs or just garden variety living in a world of stressful situations but none with the justification or provocation of the group of characters in this novel.
We in the United States, despite the surfeit of information provided us on a daily basis, have no real idea of what living in the suburbs of Belfast, Ireland in 1969 through 1994 could have been like for children growing up. Watching one's da, the local cinnamon-smelling baker, being stabbed twenty-one times and one's mum mum taking after the perpetrator with a poker iron cannot be conducive to mental health. Kill or be killed. Kneecapping by various military contingents. It's no surprise that anorexia, bulimia, schizophrenia and alcoholism abound. And yet the indominatable Irish spirit abounds leaving our group not without scars but alive to tell the story.