and The Story of Kashmir
The Glory that was Greece
By Major Lewis Hastings
THIS IS KASHMIR, by Pearce Gervis (Cassell, 25s.).
/EGEAN GREECE, by Robert Liddell (Cape, 25s.).
PEARCE GERVIS'S new book is a topical and informative compilation. The style is undistinguished, but there is close observation in it and regard for colour and detail, and a full picture emerges of the history, the cultural arts, the legends, and the peoples of Kashmir and Jammu.
This, of course, is the region where the relations of India and Pakistan are kept at breaking point; but there's no novelty in that—Kashmir has been a sort of Naboth's vineyard for its powerful neighbours during 1,000 years or more.
Alexander's Greeks knew the Himalayan passes; the great Asoka overran the country in the days of Hannibal; the Huns ravaged it; Buddhists gave way to Brahmins, and both to Muslims, Akbar cherished all these valleys, and with the decline of the Moguls came Pathans and Sikhs.
Many of them, as this book tells, imposed in turn their rule and their religion, and left permanent marks behind. (There was an oriental exuberance about the most powerful of these conquerors; their cruelties and oppressions were on the same vast scale as their lavish architecture and the sumptuous gardens of the Shalimar and Nasim Bash.
People of the hills and valleys
GERVIS has much to say about Kashmiri shrines, Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu, and there is an arresting account in the book of a mass pilgrimage to the Cave of Amarnath, 14,000 feet up in the Himalayas, and the strange gathering in the great cave round the crystal symbols of Shiva and Parvati.
However, the author is at his best in his description and appraisal of the peoples of Kashmir. They are a varied lot.
The men from Jammu, Poonch and Gilgit, beyond the mountains that ring the valley, are the tough ones, the fighters. In any of the villages of that border country someone will be found who speaks English. for hereabouts was a main recruiting ground for the old Indian Army. Pathans, men from Gilgit, and Dogra-Rajputs were always among the finest material in that Army, from its earliest days to the campaigns of Italy and North Africa in the last war.
Then there are the people of the high plateau adjoining Thibet, a contented and cheerful race, Buddhist in religion, given to polo and polyandry.
And the valley folk, the real Kashmiri, with the worst of reputations, faint-hearted, dirty, untruthful, greedy and cunning — and yet, according to Gervis as well as earlier travellers, intelligent and ingenious above the average.
These contrasted qualities are precisely what could be expected from a people exposed for centuries to oppression and are characteristic of certain African tribes that have had the same sort of history.
Then there is Baltistan, and its good folk. One must not forget the folk of Baltistan. A happy people, says the author. Their manners are pleasing and they smile readily, and "the creases of their faces are all horizontal." A whole race, apparently, of natural television announcers.
Gods, heroes and gossip column
AEGEAN GREECE is a very different sort of travel book, erudite and witty. Very different also, of course, in background and atmosphere.
The monuments and works of art of the Hellenic age have precious little in common with the opulence of the East. There's no need to go farther than the Acropolis to recognise that. One look at the slender columns of the temple of Nike or the immortal grace of the Erechtheum and you know you are very far from many-armed Shiva. Fitness, proportion, grace, simplicity —here is the first flowering of European civilisation.
Robed Liddell knows the whole /Egean constellation, the Cyclades and the Sporades, Eubcea and Rhodes and the Dodecanese, and his book is a delightful vade mecum for anyone who has the luck to travel nowadays, and for that matter a consolation prize for those who haven't.
The glory that was Greece is obviously a source of delight and veneration to him, but he keeps his philhellenic feet on the ground. He has plenty of good stories, brilliant descriptive passages and pointed comments on food, wine, travel, inns and life in general.
He has, too, a fascinating trick of weaving into his narrative the classic stories of gods and heroes, so that it sounds at times like a sort of celestial gossip column.
Exact identifications of time and place, and some reasonable surmises bring Hippolytus and Phaedra to intimate life among • the islands; Theseus deals with the Minotaur and behaves badly with Ariadne; and Miltiadcs falls of the rock; and all this is on the same plane of reality, so to speak, as the author eating sesame and honey at a wedding in the Dodecanese or the sea-passengers to Delos being sick over the sides.
And why not? Egypt and Byzantium, Rome and Venice, Norman and Turk have all passed this way and made their contribution to the sum of things.
But the Greek tradition lives on in spite of despoilers and tyrants and tourists, and Hellenism. as the author claims, "maintains its continuity and unity from Homer to the present age."
A delectable book, and nobly illustrated.
THEY LIVE THE LIFE, by Sister Mary Laurence, O.P. (Blackfriars Publications, 2s. 6d.).
'THIS is the last in a series of imag1 1inary correspondence about the religious life between a young girl and a friendly nun.
Dealing more specifically with the vow of obedience, this book gives a simple explanation of a difficult subject. For the enquirer and for the seeker of information on the life of contemplation it should be useful.
The sudden juxtaposition of learned quotations from SL Thomas with breezy and less erudite sentiments is at times disconcerting—but one can always skip the quotations. —G. W.