The Raj Quartet

One of the pleasant side effects of turning my back on BBC news and the overpaid (male) presenters is that I have discovered new things on Radio Four Extra.  I thought I could never be without Radio 4 in the morning with the Today Programme a staple of my life since student days but it seems I can!  Radio 4 Extra has programmes from the archive and I recently discovered that they are broadcasting the 2005 production of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet.

I have yet to read my way through the four books that make up Scott’s highest literary achievement but I started listening to the episodes that covered ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ and then carried on listening past ‘The Day of the Scorpion’ and on to the episodes that covered the final two books.

It was captivating radio in the way that radio drama can be; an intimate experience that is expansive at the same time.  Across nine hour long episodes it follows the story of the British in India and their effect on the Indians during the second world war when it is becoming increasingly clear that British rule must come to an end.

The books are not given equal exposure; while ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ is covered well, the third book of the quartet is only given one episode and large parts of ‘The Day of the Scorpion’ are left out.   This is why is worth reading as well as listening.  Scott may have been discursive at times but the back story of the end of empire is worth covering.

Mark Bazely played Ronald Merrick and Prasanna Puwanarajah played Hari Kumar.  Lia Williams was Sarah Layton and Anna Maxwell Martin was Daphne Manners.  My favourite performance was Gary Waldhorn’s Count Bronowski.

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I Saw a Jolly Hunter

This poem by Charles Causley is fun but carries an important message.  I have come across it in many anthologies, mostly for children, but it needs to be read by adults as well!

I Saw A Jolly Hunter

I saw a jolly hunter
With a jolly gun
Walking in the country
In the jolly sun.

In the jolly meadow
Sat a jolly hare.
Saw the jolly hunter.
Took jolly care.

Hunter jolly eager-
Sight of jolly prey.
Forgot gun pointing
Wrong jolly way.

Jolly hunter jolly head
Over heels gone.
Jolly old safety catch
Not jolly on.

Bang went the jolly gun.
Hunter jolly dead.
Jolly hare got clean away.
Jolly good, I said.

Charles Causley

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Tattoo

This 2015 film from Brazil tells the story of a young man entering the world of a 70s alternative theatre group.  The regime is repressive and hostile to groups that mock it in whatever medium.  Our young man, Fininha,  is in the army/police and is introduced to the actors through his girlfriend’s brother who is the group’s most flamboyant member.  Having never seen a show like it, 18 year old Fininha is intrigued and then immersed in the world of gay activists.  Clecio is the leader who takes the young soldier under his wing and a sexual relationship develops.

Back at barracks, Fininha is mocked for being an outsider and at home his relationship is fallign apart, not helped by the expectations on all young men in the society of the time.  When he decides to throw in his lot with the anarchist group, he gets a tattoo to show his love for Clecio.

The regime hits back at a group that mocks it by sending in the soldiers and the sense of an inevitable collision builds.

Irandhir Santos plays Clecio and Jesuita Barbosa plays the young Fininha in a film that is provocative as well as evocative of an era when to be gay was to be political.

Scenes from Early Life

One of the signs that a book has gone deep is the subsequent research or reading I do. This novel by Philip Hensher made me look into the 1971 War of Independence in Bangladesh.  It is an event I knew little about even though I did know that the country emerged from what was East Pakistan and I had a vague memory of reading about the dominance of Pakistan, or West Pakistan, over the eastern part of the split country.

The novel tells the early life story of Hensher’s husband who is from Bangladesh.  I was not struck by the early part of the book and felt as I often do when reading autobiographies that early chapters have to be waded through to get to the interesting parts.  Yet, once into the book I was captivated.  There is a large cast of characters since our hero Saadi was born into a large family of aunts and uncles.

It is the determination of a people to keep alive their culture and language that is the most effective aspect of the book. Bengali speakers are subject to humiliations and fear for their lives when Urdu speaking rulers try to force their culture on the east in an attempt to unify a country.

The family is upper middle class with plenty of servants but fear is distributed evenly in this era.  Saadi’s grandfather hides his Bengali books and music in a room behind a door that is plastered over, such is the fear of discovery.  As a baby, Saadi is passed from aunt to aunt and fed whatever he needs to ensure he does not cry out during the hours of curfew; who needs attention from soldiers patrolling the street?

The book passes back and forth in time. It starts when the war is over with a young Saadi playing in the street.  When a neighbourhood boy tries to play with him it is the adults who step in.  They know which family he comes from and what they did in the war.  So, when we step back to a younger Saadi and a time of greater fear we see why the scars still exist years later.

The book works well as fiction even if it edges up against biography of the author’s husband.  It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

The Brothers Size

I should have known when I booked my ticket and saw only single seats left that this was a play that would be well regarded.  Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, now more fanmous as the writer of the film ‘Moonlight’, has constructed a work of art that explores the tensions of brotherhood and the difficulty of maintaining a straight path through life when there are others to set you off course.

The names of the characters took a while to seep through my British brain but, once there, they added to the poetry.  Oshoosi Size lives with his older brother Ogun who has taken him in after his return from prison.  Older brother would rather younger had nothing to do with Elegba, friend and former cell mate of Oshoosi.  Yet we all need friends and there is the other sort of brotherhood to be thought about.

The three characters dance around each other, sometimes literally, as they learn to get along and they vie for the loyalty they feel they are owed.  The sense of the poetic is here all the time but so, too, is the sense of the dramatic even to the point where some of the stage directions are spoken out loud by the characters; I found this affected at first until it became affecting and then I loved it.

The pressures on young black men is a central theme.  Trying to earn a living, never mind respect, is hard work.  As the three actors move around the circle chalked on the stage in an opening act, the feeling that things will not end well grows.  Bijan Sheibani directed the play with Jonathan Ajayi, Sope Dirisu and Anthony Welsh as the three actors.  Manuel Pinheiro provided the music from the side of the stage.

Remembering the Man

I think I have covered the story of Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo story from every angle having read the book, watched the film and read the play script (oh, so not very angle as I have not seen the play performed).  All three took the title, ‘Holding the Man’ but this moving documentary, with a slightly different title, is worth watching for the additional voices of their friends who retell their story with such love and care.

The other works (play, book, film) show what a loving relationship the two men had from school onwards.  The pain of their separation was also evident but less clear was the fact that they were part of a supportive group of friends who not only accepted them but did not think to question why the two of them were together.  The unconditional nature of this friendship complemented the story of Tim and John’s love.

The virus that killed John was just one of the battles faced by the two men.  They also fought homophobia and bigotry during their sixteen years together.  At one time they were forbidden to see each other by parents anxious to ignore a sexuality they did not understand or like.

Film makers Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe have made a film that tells this story using old photographs and film footage.  Tim Conigrave recorded his experiences for an AIDS education project and good use is made of it here.

‘Remembering the Man’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Still Walking

This 2008 film by Japanese director Kore-eda is a study of a family that is fractured by the loss of the favoured son.  The effect on the other son and daughter as they live up to parental expectations.  The film takes us through 24 hours of a visit by the other son and his family to the family home so that they can pay their respects at the grave of the dead son.  The fact that his wife has a young boy from her previous marriage adds an extra dimension in terms of who has a place within the family.

The father and mother of the dead son have daily arguments and the daughter’s husband and children add energy to the household that would be missing otherwise, even if the mother does express relief when they have left for home.  The step-son is a calmer prospect and observes everything with a reserve that earns him the nickname ‘the unsmiling prince’.

It is a hot summer day when they gather and the walk to the grave through the heat suggests this is a ritual that must be observed.  The dead son is a presence in the film.  The father, a retired doctor adjusting to a post work state, cannot see why anyone would have any profession outside medicine.  His surviving son has work problems of his own but cannot seek advice from his father who he believes does not understand him.

Throughout the film, the characters navigate their way past the difficult and the unspoken.  It is the strength of the film that we move towards the end without any of these problems solved.