By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Monday, February 17, 2014

Stormy Britain, Snowbound America, And A Story Set In Iceboundland

I've written only one story in my whole life, and I am a very senior citizen;  but I do think  it's good enough to rank with the immortal tale of  The Ugly Duckling.  And isn't a single story of that kind enough to justify the author's credentials as one of the best story-tellers of the world?  After all, how many other stories of Hans Christian Andersen can you readily recall?

What makes me think of this now is the onflowing news about the extreme cold waves in stormlashed Britain and snowbound East America as a sequel to the climatic convulsions in the Arctic Ocean  --   because the story,  which I had featured in my column Articulations in THE HINDU in 1992, visualizes an imaginary country called Iceboundland.

So here are a couple of news items, and my one-and-only (and hopefully immortal!) story:

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The Independent
14 Feb. 2014

Communities across Britain were met with hurricane-force 100mph winds yesterday as stormy weather continued to batter parts of the UK, causing travel chaos and leaving tens of thousands of homes without power.

Gusts of 112 mph were recorded in Aberdaron in North Wales, the strongest so far in the storm on the day dubbed "Wild Wednesday". Work to clear the debris and damage caused by these winds has begun this morning.

Britain remains on alert, with the River Thames expected to rise to its highest level in more than 60 years, and more than 400 flood warnings were in place across England and Wales.,


The Guardian
13 Feb. 2014

A large winter storm continued to dump rain, ice and snow on the northeast [of USA}, 24 hours after unleashing the same mix in the south. Snow accumulation totals in some areas of the Appalachian mountains surpassed two feet. . .

The northeast braced for an additional 3-8 inches of snow Thursday night, as cooling temperatures turn a midday rain back into powder. A winter storm warning remains in effect for much of the northeast . . .
Road closures, train delays, and flight cancellations halted travel for much of the day across the northeast. Officials said it could have been worse if a good share of potential motorists had not heeded warnings to stay off the roads.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio defended his decision to keep city schools open, saying the storm came in faster and heavier than expected.. .  [but] a lot of parents declined to send their kids out in the storm.

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7 June 1992

What are friends for?

A great advantage of living in New Delhi, if one is interested in the cultural scene on a global scale, is that one has many opportunities to attend music concerts given by visiting foreign artists.  They come mainly from the West, but sometimes from other parts of the world also.  Occasionally there are excellent programs featuring foreign dancers too, especially folk ensembles.

 A surprise awaited me when I attended a  recent performance given by a folklorist from Norway, Birgitte Grimstad, at the India International Center.  For an hour she rendered folk songs in Scandinavian and other European languages (including English) in a concert mode, supporting her own voice on the Spanish guitar.  Then she turned actress and story-teller  --  and, moving around on the small stage, treated the audience to a fascinating Eskimo tale about a young boy and two eagles.

To impersonate the eagles -- a young bird and its mother -- Ms Grimstad donned a colorful costume, in the form of an enormous pair of flexible wings.

For me personally, this charming cameo had a special attraction because more than fifteen years ago I had spun a story about a black boy and a polar bear who were great friends, to tell my own children who were little boys then.   Ever since, I have recited the story to many other children:  they have invariably loved it, and some of them have even remembered it after a long time.  Somehow I had never written it down on paper. but had just been carrying it around in my memory.

After hearing Ms. Grimstad telling the Eskimo tale in a captivating style, I felt an overpowering wish to hear my own story narrated by her.  So I approached her after the performance and asked her for a very special encore.  She became interested, and agreed to meet me a couple of days later at the Norwegian Embassy.  "And oh,"  she added.  "Please send it to me in writing tomorrow  --  let me take a look at it first!"

So I wrote the story down for the first time, and sent it to Ms. Grimstad.  When I met her next day, armed with a voice recorder, I found her  in a very cordial and communicative mood.  She told me  she actually hails from Denmark, though she has been living in Norway for a long time.  For a while we exchanged views on the state of the folk arts in India, Norway and other parts of the world.  Then, without making any fuss, she just picked up the paper I had sent her and read the text fluently into my recording machine:


Once upon a time there was a little black boy who found himself all alone in Iceboundland, surrounded by the Arctic Ocean.  Nobody knows how he came to be there, who brought him from Africa, and what happened to them.  Anyway, there he was, the little boy, all alone in Iceboundland, shivering in the bitter cold even though it was summer and the sun was shining brightly.  Nobody knows what he ate and how he survived:  but there he was, the little boy, all alone and shivering under the never-setting summer sun.  

One day the little boy met a big polar bear, and they became good friends.  The bear hugged the boy and made him feel warm, and they went everywhere together.  They never met any people or other bears, but they were always together and became great friends.  The boy was always hugged by the bear, which kept him very warm and made him very happy.

But  when the winter came to Iceboundland, there was no sun, and it was dark day and night, and it became colder and colder every day.  Even though the bear kept the boy warm, he could not stand the darkness, and he was terribly frightened.  He could not eat or sleep, and he became very thin and weak.  After some time he became a bag of bones, and it looked as if he would die.

The polar bear became very sad, and could not stand the thought of its friend dying.  So it said:  "Boy, you get on my back, and I will carry you to Africa, to your own country, where you will become well and strong again!"  The boy thanked the bear and got on its back, and the bear carried him Southwards.  It crossed Europe, swam across the Mediterranean Sea, and landed in Africa.  Then it carried the boy still Southwards, where it thought his country was.

As they went forward, it became hotter and hotter.  The little boy began to eat and sleep well, and he started walking with the bear.  As they walked together, he became stronger and stronger.  But the polar bear could not stand the heat any more, and it started feeling weaker and weaker.  It could not eat or sleep, and soon it became extremely tired.  So it said:  "Boy, from here you must go on your own, .  For I can't go any further, and I must go back to Iceboundland!"  So they said good-bye, though they were very sad to part.

But when the polar bear started going back Northwards, it found that it was too weak to walk.  It could not even stand properly, and it collapsed.  And it looked as if the bear would die.  The boy was very sad to see his friend like that.  He could not let him die!  So he said:  "Bear, don't worry!  I am healthy and strong now.  You just get on my shoulders, and I will carry you back to your country!"

So the bear got on the boy's shoulders, and he carried it back Northwards.  He swam the sea and crossed Europe, and when they were  in Scandinavia the bear began to walk with the boy.  As they walked together, it began to eat and sleep well, and it became stronger and stronger.  But when they approached Iceboundland, they found it was still winter and bitterly cold there, and the boy became miserable.  He could not eat or sleep, and he became very weak again.   

So the bear carried him back to Africa, and then the boy carried it back to Iceboundland.  Again and again it was the same story.  Whenever they said good-bye, one of them could not walk or even stand up properly, and had to be carried back in the opposite direction.  As a matter of fact, children, they are still doing it today!  That's why, if you are somewhere on their way, you can sometimes see the bear carrying the boy South, and sometimes the boy carrying the bear North.

What did you ask me, children?  You want to know why they could not say good-bye somewhere in the middle, near the Mediterranean Sea?  

Well, I don't really know  the answer!  I suppose the boy and the bear were such good friends, that the strong one could never say good-bye till the weak one had become really strong! 

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PostScript,   2014

Did she, or didn't she?

After Ms. Grimstad read my story into my voice-recorder, I asked her whether she would care to include it in her repertoire.  She said she'd love to do so, and even visualized wearing some striking black-and-white costumes for the narration.  

One of the greatest omissions of my life has been that I've never followed up things properly wherever my personal interests are concerned.  I did sometimes think of contacting Ms. Grimstad  (with the Norwegian Embassy's help, if necessary), and finding out whether she did ever tell my story in her performances in Norway or anywhere else --  but I never came round to taking the necessary initiative.

Perhaps even now it isn't too late to contact her, and maybe I should make a serious effort to do so!

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