British explorer, Kubla Khan, Novel in progress, Romanticism, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Tamil Nadu
Note from Elaine: This post was originally published in December of 2013 and is now part of my novel-in-progress The Hand of Ganesha, scheduled for 2019. All the Wrong Places, prequel to Ganesha is due out in April of 2017. Pre-publication orders are being taken at http://www.pocolpress.com.
Lord Goldingham is the ancestor of my character Arundhati Benet, one of the protagonists of The Hand of Ganesha.
A British tourist, one Lord Johathan Dinegar Goldingham, strolled along the beach
just south of Chennai. His cousin Lady Elizabeth, a descendant of George Earl of Cumberland, had invited him to Calcutta. That hectic cauldron of humanity was not to his liking and therefore Goldingham announced diplomatically that he would travel to outlying areas rather than exploring more of the city.
It was here in Tamil Nadu that Goldingham found the India of his dreams. After exploring the stoneworks of Chennai, he hired a black Indian to lead him to the beach where stone ruins could be viewed. The tide was out and huge stone ramparts loomed up from the water. It was as though an ancient city were rising up from the ocean, that or sinking into it.
As he walked, Goldingham pondered the Bagavad Gita, particularly that portion he’d committed to memory:
He who neither likes nor dislikes, neither bemaons nor desires, who has renounced both the auspicous and inauspicious and who is full of devotion to me – he is dear to ME.
The trip to India was, he surmised, a step toward achieving the end of desire. His desire, that is. After the death of his beloved Bet and the tragic accident that took their son and daughter, he lost his will to live. Reading the poetry of Samuel Coleridge gave him a new reason to get up each day. It was Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” that drew him to the mystical, world of the imagination.
As he edged along the ocean, it occurred to him that he should look in the damp sand for fragments that might have floated surfaceward from an ancient city under the sea, the lost kingdom of which he’d dreamed.
No one around to find his behavoir peculiar, he felt strangely liberated. Still nimble at age 45, he sat down on the white sandy beach and removed his shoes and stockings, stuffing them in a rucksack he carried on his back. After rolling up his trouser legs, he waled into the ocean, ankle deep. The water felt warm, like bathwater. Not at all like the icy Atlantic Ocean surrounding his native Isle of Jersey. He stretched out and retrated his toes, as though they might find artifacts buried just under the sand.
The world of the imagination, that’s what attracted him to Samuel Coleridge and “Kubla Khan” and to take this trip to India. He strode from the beach in front of his hotel toward a lone pillar, part of the ruins of Mahabalipuram. He tried to envision the lost city that lay beneath the ocean, the ancient empire of which this pillar was just a part. He recited, at first in his head, and then out loud…
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree;
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
Beyond this point he’d not really memorized. He remembered only a fragment beyond the “walls and towers”; a “damsel with a dulcimer.” A damsel, yes a damsel…