zondag 18 juni 2017

Vikram Seth: From Heaven Lake

Product DetailsVikram Seth is vooral bekend als auteur van "A suitable boy *****", een dikke pil van bijna 1500 blz die zich afspeelt in het India van de jaren vijftig en die bij het lezen grote indruk op mij heeft gemaakt.

"From Heaven Lake" is het prozadebuut van Seth. Seth is een Indiër die in opdracht van een Amerikaanse universiteit 2 jaar onderzoek heeft gedaan aan de universiteit van Nanking. Als Seth samen met vrienden van de universiteit een georganiseerde rondreis maakt in de buurt van Heaven Lake bedenkt hij dat hij graag naar Tibet wil. Hij slaagt erin om toestemming van de autoriteiten te krijgen om naar Tibet te mogen gaan. Hij vindt een lift met een vrachtwagen en komt zo aan in Tibet. Vervolgens reist hij via Kathmandu door naar Delhi.

"From Heaven Lake" is niet zo'n dik boek, maar het is in prachtig Engels opgeschreven en zeer onderhoudend. Wat mij betreft een klassieker onder de reisverhalen en een absolute must voor iedereen met interesse voor Tibet. Jammer dat Seth niet meer reisverhalen heeft geschreven!

Een aantal citaten:
- The status of a "foreign friend" or "foreign guest" in China is an interesting if unnatural one. Officialdom treats the foreigner as one would a valuable panda given to fits of mischief. On no account must any harm come to the animal. On the other hand, it must be closely watched at all times so that it does not see too much, do too much on its own, or influence the behaviour of local inhabitants.

- I have always wanted to go to Tibet, yet I know that this is largely due to the glamour surrounding the unknown. About Tibetan religion I know very little; and I will have to learn about the climate and geography at first hand. I have no Tibetan friends. A picture of the Potala, Tibetan dancers seen in Darjeeling, an article or two in the newspapers about the Dalai Lama, chance remarks made since my childhood: it is of scraps such as these that my idea of Tibet is composed.

- Lanzhou merely embodies more completely what is present to a greater or lesser degree in all Chinese cities: a stupefying architectural sameness, based on a stupefyingly ugly set of models.... However, the older parts of the cities, the lanes and alleys, are their one saving grace: here the style varies both among and within cities, as concessions are made to climate and individual taste.

- Dog, which I have enjoyed twice in Nanjing, is not eaten here in the western provinces. Dog meat is red, eaten in winter for its "warming" properties, and tastes excellent roasted with red chillies.

- The Cultural Revolution is one example, in which not merely everything foreign but everything that spoke of the Chinese past was condemned, and, if possible, obliterated. Temple after temple, mosque and memorial hall and monastery, painting and screen and book and vase, artefact and artist; almost anyone or anything vulnerable or creative or non-conformist was damaged or smashed. Much of the brilliance and beauty of a great civilisation was in a few years destroyed by its ideology-infected children, the Red Guards.

- By the side of the road near Naqu, a flayed yak's carcass, red and huge, is being hacked apart by men with knives. A good deal revolves around yaks in this economy: transport, milk, meat, fur, hoof, dung, bone, pelt, tail; everything is used. What a versatile machine this is that can convert grass into clothing and butter and fuel and tent-hide.

- Time and again, with no thought other than kindness, people have helped me along in this journey. And this experience is merely a continuation of what I have felt throughout my travels in China: a remarkable warmth to the outsider from a people into whom a suspicion of foreignes has so long been instilled.

- What is ironic is that the same obstructive bureaucrat who drove you to tears of frustration about an obscure regulation or a minor detail on a form may in his private life be so hospitable and generous as to bring you to tears of gratitude.


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