In June 1971 I set off for Oxford via India (to do my A/Levels) and Europe. Exit permits were needed to leave Ceylon after the April 1971 Youth Insurgency and, having obtained one, it was thought that asking for a second would be an unnecessary risk. Apart from my age, I had had a radio play banned on suspicion that it was political. It was not, being based on the Greek story of Electra, but it was assumed that I had intended to cast aspersions on the Bandaranaikes.
60/21 Edward Elliots Road
7th June 1970
I had my first paper today, Ancient History 1, which I dreaded most of all, and it was quite nice, though I had to con my way through a fourth question.
I am very comfortable here, with a room and bathroom to myself and everyone is very nice – so much so that, at the exam today, with all the frantic Indian red tape, I began thinking of them as the last vestiges of civilization to which I could cling – the same feeling I had with the Weeramans last year. India frightens me, it’s so large and also so trivial, if you know what I mean. I don’t suppose you do and it’ll take too long to explain – if I could.
When I came, a card from Miss Samuel was awaiting me, inviting me to tea and scrabble. There wasn’t a way of informing her I couldn’t come, so I went for tea and stayed for scrabble too, two games in double quick time, both of which I won. She gave me the names of two of her relations at the Y.M.C.A. where my exam is. I shan’t see her again until after the 15th, since I intend to work hard.
Many happy returns of the 27th. Quite hard to imagine you’re fifty – though being a third of the way there, I don’t think it as old as I once did. I’ve been immersed in Galsworthy recently, with Soames Forsyte galloping about the place at the age of seventy, practically directing the affairs of his family still and I don’t believe it’s impossible.
Having qualified now for an extra share of birthday cake in five years’ time, I shall commence a general letter. Cunji and I went to Madurai on the 17th night, spent the day there, and returned last morning. Both journeys were by bus, and I felt rather bad, especially as his operations were only six months ago, but he insisted that his duty was to look after me so he came along and arranged everything and I saw everything I wanted to see very comfortably.
The main temple was marvelous, huge with heaps of halls and gateways and thousands of Indians cavorting about and priests holding out their hands at every moment. There were two shrines, and I went right into both, with a tray full of flowers and coconuts and plantains and condiments, in return for which I was blessed and prayed for and garlanded. They returned everything, to my surprise, having helpfully broken the coconut. But I suppose they got enough money from Cunji to forego a midnight feast of bananas.
Afterwards we went to another temple built right into a rock so that the interior is much larger than one expects from outside and then to a palace three hundred years old, which the British had used as a court and which is now absolutely deserted. Cunji said he had seen it when there was activity inside and everything was well looked after, but I prefer it like this. There are long corridors and vast halls with high ceilings – just like that thing about marble halls by someone. Except for a proud plaque which announces that 2000 went to the Great War of 1914-1918 from this town, the whole place had a delightfully ancient air.
In the afternoon we went to a museum which turned out to be concerned with Gandhi – a bit annoying after a half mile walk and then, Madurai being exhausted, I fell asleep for three hours which meant that I was awake most of the night, plotting another play. One’s brilliant ideas don’t seem as good in the morning, unfortunately, as they do at midnight.
Today we went out for lunch to a friend of Mrs C. Her nephew is keen on English literature and we had a fascinating discussion in the course of which five seconds were given to each name of importance from Chaucer to Dickens. The moderns he did not know, which saved me for I’d had to bluff rather unfairly on poor old Walter Scott. Anyway, at the end, when I said I didn’t think much of American Literature, ‘Yes’ he said, ‘For they are using all modern spellings’. I love such people. They help me to feel so superior. Evidently he thinks very highly of me, however, for the lunch was arranged at his insistence. It was a very nice lunch.
In the evening – after two hours of sleep, which was disgraceful, after twelve last night – we went for a Tamil film. The cinema was full and, amidst thrilled suspense, a knife lifted in murderous hate was dropped to the earth with a terrific clang. The rest is silence – at least, I hope I didn’t snore. Anyway, it was an experience one should not miss, whatever the penalty. The dialogue, I hear, was very good.
Thanks for the photographs – everyone else looks very nice and I see how wise I was in insisting on a strict diet from the moment I arrived. Cunji’s photographs have come too and in one, luckily, the bottom has been cut away – though my face is bad enough, screwed up as it is as though I were doing my best not to cry. I always thought it was the sun, but maybe I was wrong. I remember, afterwards, in the plane, having withstood my misery triumphantly – as I thought then – wondering whether I ought to have cried since I won’t get a chance to cry with everyone else again.
It’s past twelve at the moment, and I’d better get to sleep, especially as I’ve heard a creak in the next room and my light probably disturbs. I got a letter from Mohan yesterday, so Bombay’s all right.
Mrs Samuel invited me for the day on the 27th but I had to go out for lunch so I only spent the afternoon with her – thereby dodging the church service she wanted to take me to in the morning. We played 4 games of scrabble and she won 3, to her delight. She thought I would be on my own in Europe and had got soup cubes ready, she was most relieved to find I’d be staying with people. She wants to come to the airport and Cunji will pick her up today – he hadn’t a chance to say no. She gave me some more addresses and also various books on all the countries I am giving to visit, in between threats to her grand niece that she wouldn’t give her any chocolate.
The papers weren’t too bad though I am afraid I ruined my chances of an A in Latin yesterday, after having finished Latin 2 in half the given time.
Of the books being sent, the Moravia and the Malraux and the Chaucer are to be put in the 3rd shelf from the top, right hand side, of the book cupboard, the Donleavy on the left – use your intelligence for the exact positioning. Incidentally, give Ano and Shanthi to read the Moravia, it’s a very interesting book – the inside isn’t as bad as the outside. The book on Poverty in England and ‘As a Man Thinketh’ are to be put in the bottom shelf, either side. The two Shakespeares are to be put in the Library.
All the other books are to be sent to England. Please write the names of the bound books on the front cover and also on the spine. Also put my name in all the books that are being sent, except those which belonged to people I know – for instance, Kennedy’s Grammar and the ‘Medea’ in Greek.
Ceylon Today 1 April 2017 – http://ceylontoday.lk/print20170101CT20170331.php?id=18302