Jonathan (Three)

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Jonathan (Three)

“Because I don’t like the taste of tea in a bone china cup!”

“What is the boy talking about Dr. Baird? Bone china cups..?”

“The little laddie is delirious, Miss Miller – he’s just sauntering in and out of his fainting spell. I just spoke to the mother on the phone.”

“Is it serious?”

“Oooh nooo nooo– not in the least bit serious – the lad’s in perfectly goooood health. He just needs a wee injection and he will be as good as rain. His mother said his grandfather in Kenya just died and they were very close – that’s probably why he fainted flat out in Assembly this morning – children don’t know how to process grief, they get overwhelmed sometimes. Nothing a wee cup of tea won’t cure after I give him this! With lots of milk and sugar. ”

Dr. Baird had a funny way of speaking English. One time, in uncle Salim’s shop, a Britisher man – a Mr. Evans – walked in and starting talking sing-song and he sounded like an Indian. And later I asked Salim uncle and he said to me that the man was Welsh, and they talk like us sometimes. But this man was not Welsh. But he still talked in a funny way.

When I woke up again, he was still there, but this time Miss Miller was gone and Miss Peters was there instead. I like Miss Peters, she had a kind face.

“Now see here laddie – your mother is busy helping to get your dad ready to go to the funeral in Kenya. So Miss Peters here has kindly offered to look after you for a couple of hours and then drop you off back home. She lives nearby, so she will be taking you there now – there is no point in you spending the rest of the day in school after what happened in Assembly, is there?”

Miss Peters’ room was very big and it had very tall walls and frames of paintings everywhere. She made me a cup of tea and she brought a plate of Rich Tea biscuits, and she said it was fine if I dunked my biscuits in my tea.

With the first biscuit – I forgot the tea was too hot and I left it there too long – so just as I was about to bite into the biscuit the mushy part broke off and fell on her carpet. She wasn’t upset, she just laughed and she got a napkin and cleaned it up and then she picked the plate up and offered me another biscuit. So I took it. Then she opened the big book of paintings on the table where the biscuits were.

Salim uncle, he always dunks his bhajias in his tea– that is how I learned the word. He told me once: “You know what the Britishers call this papu? ‘Dunking’ – kamal, kamal, they have words for everything isn’t it?” Salim uncle even dunked his ladu in his tea, to make it warm.

“Do you like paintings?”

“Yes.” Actually I Iike biscuits better then paintings, but I didn’t tell her. Because I wanted more biscuits.

“This is a painting of the story of David and Goliath – you remember the story we talked about in class?”

“Yes.”

“Caravaggio – he’s an Italian painter from the Baroque period. Lovely isn’t it… Have you ever been to a gallery – a place where they hang paintings?”

“Oh yes, miss. At the Patel’s shop on Nagara Road– they have all these paintings hanging  – Krisha with his gopis and Hanuman and Ram and Sita… Actually, the question I was thinking Miss – did Krishna know Jesus? Because, I mean, Lord Krishna, he and his Gopis they had all these cows and Jesus and his friends had sheep isn’t it? So maybe then could be you think they lived on the same farm?”

“That’s a good question. I wish I knew the answer. Are you sad about your grandfather’s death?”

“I am not sure where he is going next. I mean to say, he told me that he came to Mombasa on a steamship from Bombay, and then he took East African Railway and Harbour train to Mwanza and opened a shop and then he went to Nairobi to retire in 1954 and now… Now where does he go next?

“Well, that is a very important question. Where do you think he goes?”

“My mother says he just goes into the ground, and gets buried, because he is a Muslim. But my other grandfather, he is a Hindu, so he will not be buried. He will be cremated like bone china cups.”

“Bone china cups?”

“Yes. Bone china is made from cremated bones. He told me. From ashes of bones.”

“Well, yes that is true – bone china is made from bones – but they are animal bones, not human ones.”

“Wanjiro said it is better to cremate a body because that way the spirit is free – otherwise, if you bury it, the spirit gets trapped. That’s why she always opens her mouth after a word – like that desk? She would call it deski, so she can open her mouth and let her spirit go, otherwise the spirit is trapped in the desk.”

“Where do you think the spirit goes?”

“I think it gets big, I think Bapa’s spirit will get big-big like Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu’s spirit got very big – Mr. Patel told me. I know a secret about my grandfather…”

“Really?”

“One day, my friend Prakash and me were playing hide and seek in the house, and then, Prakash was hiding under my grandfather’s bed and he found a book and so he showed me the book, and he said “This is the Upanishads, this is a Hindu book – how come? Your grandfather is a Muslim.”

And just then, grandfather walks in to his room and he sees us with the Upanishads, and he says: “Boys, please don’t tell anyone about this book – let it be our secret.”

“And who was Vishnu?”

“Lord Vishnu? He was like David – he fought this giant Bali, but Vishnu was a dwarf only, and Goliath – I mean, Bali, he was a giant, but Vishnu looked inside him and grew and he became bigger than all the earth and all the galaxies…”

“Would you like another biscuit?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think his journey ends here, or do you think it will continue?”

“My other grandfather, the one that is still alive – he lives in Nairobi too – he said to me that what is important is to mix back into the universe.”

“Mix back?”

“Yes, he said if you can mix back, if you can mix in then your spirit will be happy. You see, with Lord Vishnu, his strength was from mixing in to the universe and so he had the whole power of the universe. But with Bali, he only had the strength of his muscles, he was like a bone china cup – he could not mix back isn’t it?”

“So Bali was rather like Goliath then?”

“Bali was not like Goliath. I have seen a picture of Bali and he doesn’t look like this Goliath. He has big-big feet – they are so big, that his toes all have huge bangles around them. My friend Altaf came with me once, and when he saw the picture of Bali, he got scared, so I put my hand on his shoulder and I said, don’t worry, Altaf. And he felt better. But when I did that to Sebastian one time, his parents called Miss Sunderland and then I had to go and say sorry to Sebastian.”

By this time, I finished the plate of biscuits, so Miss Peters went to her kitchen to get some more biscuits. Then she came back.

“Did you tell Miss Sunderland you were just being friendly to Sebastian?”

“She asked me about the theft. The theft of the chalk boxes.”

“And what did you say?”

“I – I forgot. But stealing is fine sometimes.”

“Really? Who told you that?”

“Mr. Patel – he said Lord Krishna stole the butter from his mother’s kitchen and his mother opened Krishna’s mouth to take out the butter and she saw the whole universe in his mouth and she bowed down and worshipped him after that.”

“Here are some more biscuits. Now tell me, are you feeling better? Are you still concerned about your grandfather’s spirit?”

“I think he has a friend with him, the chaiwalla – they met on a train once – and the chaiwalla is giving him tea and bhajias right now, and he is helping him to find the right train so he does not get lost, and so he can just keep going on his journey.”

“These bhaa-jeeyaaz, are they a type of biscuit?”

“Yes. I mean, no. I mean – it is like a sausage roll but without sausage… you see?”

“Yes, thank you. Where do you think he will go next on this journey?”

“I don’t know, only that chaiwalla knows. But one thing is I am hoping that his journey will be by train and not by BOAC.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, when you go by train, you are still near the ground and then you feel comfortable – but when you take BOAC air flight you leave the ground and you leave all your friends, isn’t it?”

“But you also make new friends.”

“Yes, but you also get – uhh… you see – you get – you want to mix, but you can’t mix, isn’t it?

“Mix?”

“Yes, like when chaiwalla served tea to my grandfather on the train to Bombay, or like when Wanjiro and me, when we were sitting at askari’s fire and singing Malaika, isn’t it? Malaika, na kupenda Malaika… I mean to say, you can’t mix isn’t it?”

“Hmm…”

“I mean, like this morning in Assembly, I tried to mix – I was pretending that Sebastian and Julian and me, I mean, instead of singing: ‘I vow to thee my co-ountry, all earthly things aa-bove…’ I tried to imagine us singing ‘Maa-laikaah, na kupenda Malaika…’ like that, and then, you know what? I imagined a chaiwalla coming down the aisle in assembly and asking people “Chai! Chai!” like that… in my mind it was a mix, you see?”

“I see. A mix, as in a mix of cultures and ethnicities. I do see that and I do try to practice that. As someone who is English for example, I see a lot of animosity toward the German race – you know, because of the second world war and how many of our young men were lost in battle against the Germans.”

“Do you like Germans, miss?”

“Yes, I do. It was the evil leaders that were bad, not the German people. The music you are listening to now on my record player is in fact by a German composer, Wagner. So, I see what you mean by the need to ‘mix’, as you say.”

“But if you try to mix, your mind gets tired and you don’t know how to do it and that is why I started to feel dizzy. Then I fainted. Flat out, you see? Better not to mix, isn’t it?”

“So, that is why you fainted. I understand now. An overactive imagination. Tell me, why do you dunk your biscuits in the tea?’

“Because it tastes better.”

“’Tastes better when you mix the tea with the biscuit?”

“Yes.”

“What happens if the biscuit falls apart? Do you stop mixing after that?’

“No. I still keep dunking, but just I try to be more careful next time. I don’t dunk it for too long.”

“Then I think you should still keep mixing. Still keep imagining all the nations and cultures mixing together in your mind. Just be more careful next time. Don’t try to mix for too long. Would you like another biscuit?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, please.”

“Yes, please Miss Peters. Miss, what kind of music this is? There are no African drums and also no Indian sitar, isn’t it?”

“That’s true – it has no drums or sitars. It has lots of what are known as clarinets and bassoons and tubas, trumpets, trombones.”

“The singing you know… I mean to say there is not laughing inside the voice you know? Serious singing, isn’t it?”

“It is quite serious, yes. It isn’t Mozart, who is more joyful – it’s Wagner – who tends to be rather serious. And it’s an opera - Tristan und Isolde – Tristan is a boy’s name and Isolde is a girl’s name.”

“Ouch!”

“Does your arm still sting from the injection?”

“Yes, it is still pinchy-scratchy you see? Still I want to scratch it. Why Dr. Baird did to gave me injection?”

“Well, it may have hurt but you needed it. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”

“What means that Miss Peters? You mean like scrambled eggs?”

“Well, sometimes you have to do something a little painful because it is for a better result in the end. For the ‘greater good’ as they say.”

“… but you broke too many eggs, Miss Peters.”

“Who? Me?.. Whatever do you mean by saying such an extraordinary thing like that?”

“I mean to say not you-you… I mean to say, you Britishers – you broke too many eggs.”

“Which eggs were those? I am not aware of us breaking too many eggs.”

“Kenya. Uganda. Tanganyika. Rhodesia. Always you were breaking eggs because you said it was going to be better if you broke them.”

“Oh, I see… and was it?”

“No. Because you see Miss Peters, you did not make an omelette. Because omelette it is a mix. You can mix British recipe and African recipe and Indian recipe and you can make omelette with many colours, you see?”

“Yes, I do see. An exotic omelette could mix all sorts of spices together, all those races and cultures…”

“That is what I am saying also – I mean to say, if you came over to our places, to Africa and to India, and just you said – look let us make omelette together – then all our people they would help you. Many-to-many will help you. I mean to say, my grandmother, and Mrs Kabirdin and even Mrs Patel and Mrs D’Souza even – they would say – now add some coriander and cumin and cloves and cardamum and so on, you see?”

“Yes, I do see. And then we would have had a complete mix of spices and colours and flavours and aromas. I see that.”

“But you did not make omelette. You did not to allow mix, isn’t it? You should have allowed mix, you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because your recipes are the worst in the whole world. That is why. I mean to say, please your forgiveness Miss Peters but English food has no taste. It is the worst food I have to ever eaten. Only the cake is good. And trifle. That’s it.”

“I have to confess we English are not known for our cuisine. We should have learned some new recipes.”

“You did not want to learn our recipes and make omelette with us. Just you wanted to make boring scrambled eggs, isn’t it?”

“Well, at least we are no longer there anymore. At least we left. And now Kenya and India and all those countries you just mentioned are free of Britain at last.”

“Yes, they are free, but you left us scrambled. You scrambled us. Now we are like scrambled eggs. Not same as before.”

“I know. I understand.”

“How we can unscramble miss? Please to tell me?”

“I am afraid it is not possible to unscramble an egg once it has been scrambled.”

“There must be a way, miss. There must be a way.”

“The only way I know of unscrambling is through the imagination. You could write a story from your imagination and imagine the unscrambling. Was that not the method of Lord Vishnu? Did he not win his battle over Bali through the power of his imagination?”

“Yes, Vishnu he did to have a too good imagination, isn’t it? Too good!”

“So let me get a pencil and sheets of paper and we can see what you have in your imagination. You can write your own story and create your own world. Your own characters.”

Miss Peters went and got some paper and a sharpened pencil from her writing desk.

“Miss, can you to be in the story also?”

“Well that is entirely your decision, since it is your story from your imagination.”

“Then to I will put you in story, you see? Now your name is to be Miss Teacher because you are my teacher.”

“Is Sebastian in the story as well? Or, perhaps Julian?”

“No, no… you see Sebastian and Julian they to don’t have big interest in mix, isn’t it? They don’t to ask me questions about Mr. Patel and the Kikuyu ladies in the shamba who do grow maize and cassava and what all, you see? They do not to ask questions and also they do not to want any answers. They are thinking they have all answers already. They don’t need more answers.”

“So, you would like to create a character in the school – a student like Sebastian or Julian – but with a more curious nature about the world and about the cultures which you have experienced?”

“Yes to yes!”

“Someone who is interested in answers to lots of questions. What would his name be?”

“His name is Jonathan.”

“Is Jonathan a pupil in the school?”

“Oh yes! He is a Pupil. Too good name – yes, yes, his full name it is Jonathan Pupil. Thank you, miss. Pupil is good name.”

“Well, what kind of questions would eh… Jonathan Pupil be interested in asking? And what would he do with his answers?”

“You see, miss, it is to like this. Now, one time I did ask Wanjiro a question you see? Question I did to ask is ‘Do you read story books?’ That was question. Now answer she gave is ‘No.” You know why, miss?”

“Tell me…”

“Because she does not need books because when she wants to hear story she goes to her Kikuyu village and elders they tell her stories by their mouth. They sit together by the fire with Wanjiro in the evening and tell stories. So they to don’t need books, you see? Also, they don’t to need European dresses, you see? Because they wear clothes from their village dress making people so they don’t need to European dresses you see? That is also another answer to another question.”

“I see. So what you are saying is that your character Jonathan could be a schoolboy who collects answers, such as the fact that there are people that don’t need English printers who print books, or European dressmakers who make dresses, because they have their own oral traditions of telling stories and artisan traditions of making textiles.”

“Very good, miss. You are to understanding very good.”

“Thank you.”

“So you see, Jonathan he is to just taking his answers together like stamps, you see?”

“Oh, you mean he is collecting his answers together like some people collect stamps and have a stamp collection?”

“Yes, collecting – he is to collecting the answers.”

“So he gathers these answers to the questions he asks into a sort of answer collection?”

“Yes, miss. Answer collection.”

“But why? Why would be collect all these answers? For what purpose?”

“Because to miss, people they forget to ask questions, isn’t it? Now, when to I did go with my aunty one time to shop near New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi, it is European shop you see? Now just we went to look around inside…”

“…to browse?”

“No, not to browse, just to look around, you see?”

“Yes, I see. You were just looking around in the shop.”

“Just to looking around and then European lady from shop she asks my aunty if she wants to buy a European dress. And my aunty says ‘No, I do not to wear dresses, I to only wear sari.’ You see?”

“I see, so your aunt was not interested in a European-style dress because she wore traditional Indian saris. Well, that’s understandable is it not?”

“No, it is not understandable, isn’t it? Why it is understandable? This European lady in the shop, she can read so many books and she can learn that Indian ladies wear sari not dresses. But she does not read books to understand, isn’t it? Why she does not try to understand?”

“I see, so this lady has not bothered to enquire as to what people of other cultures wear and how that may be different from what she prefers to wears. She is assuming that all women like the same kinds of clothes that she likes?”

“That is problem you see. Now, Jonathan he is not like that. Because Jonathan, he is to always asking about different things so Jonathan he knows that Indian ladies wear sari and they do not wear European dress. So Jonathan he has the answer and European lady in shop near New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi, she does not have the answer.”

“So then, perhaps the European lady should go to Jonathan to find out the answer? Since Jonathan has an answer collection and the fact that Indian ladies wear a sari is possibly one item in his answer collection.”

“That is what I to saying, isn’t it? You see miss, Jonathan Pupil’s Answer Collection will be saving everyone in the end. Because you see, people do not have answers because they to don’t ask questions. But Jonathan he asks questions and he gets answers and he puts answers in his answer collection. You see now?”

“Yes, yes, I am starting to see the potential of the story here! You are saying that Jonathan is a curious young schoolboy who has the inquisitiveness and foresight to ask questions about different cultural and human traditions. Questions that most grown-ups don’t bother to ask. And then, at some point, when the grown-ups need the answers to these questions, they come to Jonathan and he gives them an answer from his archive of answers in his answer collection.”

“Now you are to understanding the story, miss. That is very good. You are doing very good.”

“Well, I am glad you are pleased with my progress. But do you not think you should now write down this story about Jonathan? Here is some paper to write it down on.”

“Why miss? Why I should write it? Why I can’t just to do like Wanjiro and Kikuyu elders and just to speak the story? Or like Mr. Patel when he does to tell me story of Vishnu and Bali in his shop in Nagara Road? Or like my grandfather who did tell me the story of Gandhiji and the sandals? They did not write down the stories. Why then I must to write it down the stories also?

“You can tell people the story in your oral tradition as well. You can do both. If you write the story down as well, people can also read it in silence. And when you read something in silence, then that ignites your own imagination as well. And you can go back and read parts of it again in case you forgot something or wanted to hear it again.”

“You mean like yogis with Upanishads, isn’t it?”

“That’s correct. They told their stories orally, in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas so many thousands of years ago. However, someone there had the wisdom and the foresight to write the poems and stories down – and print them in a book. That is how your grandfather was able to then read The Upanishads and share these stories with you.”

“So miss, you mean writing stories is good and saying stories is good? Both are good?”

“Both are good. If that is what you think.”

“Then, miss – what about Indian sari and European dress? Both are good also?”

“Both are good. If that is what you think.”

“But miss, I mean to say, eh… this thing, you see – I mean if both are good then what is the answer? For Jonathan’s answer collection? Is answer European dress or is answer Indian sari? Is answer to tell stories by the mouth or to be writing down stories with the pencil? I mean to say, what is the answer?”

“The answer is that you need to think. To be aware of things and think. Without thinking mindfully about things we cannot make choices and we cannot know what is right or wrong. We need to think. We need to be curious and concerned like Jonathan is and we need to collect answers which can help us understand, like Jonathan collects answers. The more answers we have about each other’s cultures the better informed and the more enlightened our thinking.”

“So then miss, you think so that Jonathan Pupil, he is someone who thinks, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Jonathan Pupil is a thinker. Are you going to include the Hindu mythologies in your story – like the ones about Krishna and Vishnu?”

“No, miss. No Hindu stories. Only you should be to writing Hindu stories not me, you see?”

“No, I do not quite understand. Why should I be the one who writes Hindu stories? I don’t know very much about Hindu stories. I’m a Christian. You know more about Hindu mythology than I do.”

“Then you must ask questions about Hindu stories and also Upanishads and then learn, miss. You need to ask questions and to collect answers. Like Jonathan asks questions, isn’t it? Now miss, I am going to ask questions to you about Father Christmas because you see this Jonathan Pupil’s story, I did decide that it will to be a Christmas story.”

by Karim