Posts tagged ‘200th birthday’

Here is to you, Charlie!

Who brought books to you? Or, rather, who brought you to books?

Mine was Befirdu, a younger colleague of my father’s from whence they were both teachers in Hossana. Who became a good friend of the family, even making it to the status of “god-father” to my younger brother Tagel. He was a handsome man, in that ‘yeteQola bunna’-wezam way Southern-Ethiopian men have, all white teeth and no facial hair. He was funny, and flirtious and the ladies loved him. Which made him the light of our gloomy little house, and somebody whose next visit is to be looked forward to, every time he paid us a visit.

As was the custom in those days, and perhaps because I was the only single gal in the house; aged 8 and younger, he used to call me “Miste”. So, naturally, I run into the kitchen [with its gaping hole, that kids and dogs could make their way through and into the “dinnich wot” -filled pot] when I see him coming. I shrugged my shoulder in refusal when summoned to the living room, with it’s “wenfit” roof and “boi” in the middle to let drainage run. But I wasn’t willing to put up with his neglect.

When he seems to have forgotten all about me, and the little “understanding” between us, I skulked out of the kitchen, with my back against the wall, and edged to where he’s sitting. He’d casually pick me up, between answering one of the many questions from the older couple trying to be transported into the perpetual sunshine that is his life. He’d sit me on his knee, rocking me as if I was a child, while relating stories that has usually to do with the women in his life and his younger quarrelsome brothers [among whom he died, few years later, after contracting “Aba Senga” from a chaat he chewed while on winter vacation]. I would try listening. I would quickly get bored. And then reach up and grab the one book we had in the house that my father borrowed from the school library and forgot to return.

This was a collection of illustrated versions of Charles Dickens’ novels. There were selected episodes from the great books. After the selected stories, or character study paragraphs, came short questions with blanks to fill between them. It was black and white, very dull looking. But the pictures in it were far from dull. There was one that caught my attention and arrested it. “Miss Havisham”, Befirdu would say when I ask him again and again what the lady’s name was. He’d then remember he’s read it for me hundredth of times before. “Let’s read another one”, he’d suggest, and I would refuse. So he’d re-read it again, the story of bride whom rejection made crazy.

It’s been said by many, that Dickens’ books are full of caricatures. Caricatures, according to wikipedia, are portraits that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person, animal or object to create an easily identifiable visual likeness. In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.” And so, like all cartoons and comical figures, they appeal to the child and the feather-brained more than the discerning reader.

Miss Havisham was one of those over the top characters. [Only to be out-caricatured, perhaps, by The Tale of Two Cities' Mr. Jarvis Lorry or the maid who threw him out of pretty little Miss Manet’s room after his first visit.] I didn’t know the whole story until later, ofcourse, but her drawing in the book excited my imagination in a way the grown up version would fail to do so. There she sits, skeletal, in a wedding dress; sited infront of an oval mirror, resting her chin on her left hand while the right is still holding a shoe she never got to put on. There is the wedding cake, with it’s little figurines on top, cracking and uncut. And, we are told, she’s never moved to neither let the sun light in nor remove dust particles off her tiara, for more than two decades.

[That is for you, Befirdu].

Then came “Black Jesus”. (more…)

February 8, 2012 at 11:30 pm 6 comments


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