I just read a review of Amartya Sen’s memoirs of India, and the review makes some telling points about the British Raj and its self-styled legacy. While I’m not ready to start a new book (still reading Ramachandra Guha’s epic India After Gandhi), Sen’s book sounds like a good companion piece to David Lean’s A Passage to India, which I’ve been watching in small chunks this week, to get a glimpse of the early Judy Davis, one of Russell Crowe’s all-time favorite actors.
In this scene, Adela Quested (played with understated charisma in this scene by Judy Davis) has just had a fight with her fiancé, the stiff-backed colonial magistrate, over his incivility to two Indians who were her companions at a small party hosted by another dignitary of the Raj. She needs a break from the awkward family circle at her fiancé’s fancy bungalow, and goes out cycling alone, where she comes across a ruined tantric temple guarded only by wild monkeys.
This set was built for the David Lean film, but in faithful imitation of an actual temple at Khajuraho. The scene is quite controversial with fans of the novel and play that inspired the film, as it does not appear in either one, and is far more explicit in exploring Adela’s sexuality than Forster’s book. The following sonnet was written without the benefit of having read the book or seen the rest of the film (yet).
A wind that runs before the noonday sun
cut through the palmy grass, unveiling sights
a bride might half-suspect, so far from Eton,
far more wondrous than the Marabar heights.
I slowed my bicycle to study each
rapturous frieze in this strange pantheon
of demi-gods, as if stone busts could teach
the ornament of love to anyone.
Perhaps it’s true that marriage cannot make
one know the other – even so, we reach
for what is of ourselves to give, and take
to us the trappings of a bond we would not breach.
The demons of the animal in us
drive out pure-minded thoughts of paribus.