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Autobiography of a Fountain Pen
I was born in the year 1935 in England. After a few days I found myself aboard a steamer and eventually arrived at Singapore. The following day I was transferred to Kuala Lumpur and I was taken to the Federal Rubber Stamp Company the same day.
My position was the last behind all the other pens. On the boxes containing the other pens was written "Parker Duofold - Price $10/-", while on mine was "Blackbird - Price $1/-". I felt ashamed of this. Just then a man came in with his son. He enquired about my price and then about the others. He bought a Parker and gave it to his son. "Keep those Parkers and throw away the Blackbirds," he said as he left the shop.
When he was gone the others laughed at me. I asked them the reason and they told me what he had said. "Friends," said I, "The time will come when I shall be great and you will be put to shame."
Just as I had finished speaking a man entered. He bought me and said, "Throw away those Parkers and keep the Blackbirds which are cheaper and just as good."
"Friends," said I, "What I said a few minutes ago has come true. He who laughs last laughs best." I was taken home and lived happily with my young master, who makes use of me to write this autobiography.
A Journey to Venus
One Sunday morning, I was sitting in my lecture room solving a small problem when footsteps were heard outside. Then some ninety gentlemen of distinction entered my room and wished me a warm "Good Morning". I motioned them to the chairs in front of me and when they had all settled down, one of them stood up and addressed me in an affable manner. "Professor," he said, "My worthy friends and I have travelled for days and days from our respective countries in order to meet you so that we may have the pleasure of seeing the wonders of the well-known planets if you will be kind enough to take us to these places."
The speaker was a gentleman of high rank, about fifty years of age, but perfectly healthy and strong, whom I remembered to have studied together with me in one of the universities in England when we were young lads. He came from New Guinea, and the other eighty-nine gentlemen came from different parts of the world, some of whom I recognised as my fellow-scholars of former times. These gentlemen had heard of my early flight to Jupiter with my new and wonderful machine, the Meteor, which could travel as fast as sunlight, and, being very anxious to join me, they had left their homes together and searched for me. Then another gentleman said, "What a dull world is this. I wish I could go to the stars where diamonds and platinum can be picked up from the ground without labouring in a mine."
"Very well, gentlemen," I said, "since you are all my honourable guests, I resolve to take you with me to the stars after dinner. Moreover, some of you have been my fellow-scholars in our youth".
That evening we killed three buffaloes and ordered nine hundred bottles of wine. We feasted, drank and chatted together in my big hall until we could eat and drink no more. At about ten o'clock that night, we were all seated comfortably in the Meteor, which, as soon as I pressed the button on my right, shot up with such a tremendous velocity that my friends could not distinguish whether they were going up or down. Some thought that the machine was not moving at all, while others simply opened their mouth wide in wonder. A few minutes later, having pressed the button on my left, I opened the door and made signs to my friends to come out, and they followed my directions.
They found that they were standing on land composed of diamonds and rubies and they knew that this planet was Venus. They jumped with delight and cried for joy as they collected the precious stones and loaded the Meteor with them until there was no room left. Then we walked about and saw that the hills and mountains were made of transparent solid matter which looked like glass or ice. Unfortunately the heat was very great because Venus, as we all know, is very near to the sun. There were no rivers, seas or lakes, and the temperature was like that of the Sahara Desert in midsummer.
The gentlemen soon got tired and the perspiration streamed down their cheeks. We hurried back to the Meteor but could not get in for the room was packed. Even the chairs had been thrown out to make room for the precious stones. However, the gentlemen were obliging enough to throw out some of the precious stones and resumed their seats again. I closed the door and pressed one of the buttons, and the Meteor left Venus forever.
We reached the earth early in the morning and the gentlemen, having heartily expressed their thanks to me, returned to their countries well satisfied with their experiences during the flight to Venus. Since then I have heard of them no more, for they have neither written to me nor met me anywhere.
On the True Nature of Beauty
It might be said with assurance that there is no entirely satisfactory definition of the nature of Beauty. This statement is not a bold criticism of dictionaries or lexicographers, but is rather meant to express the idea that Beauty is not something which can be described by cut and dry definitions. Philosophers, writers, poets and critics have tried, times without number, to confine its meaning within narrow straits, or to express with scientific precision the essence of all beauty in a single phrase. Having said this rather dogmatically, the writer does not presumptuously proclaim by means of the above heading that he has discovered a befitting explanation for "Beauty", (nor does he attempt to invent one), but essays only to present one aspect of it.
Beauty, it is commonly admitted, is something that delights the eye or the ear, or gratifies some particular taste. But everybody does not see the world through the same glasses. Although what every eye sees, or ear hears, may be the same, yet the impression created differs. The sense of beauty varies in every individual in much the same way as his or her character. As Alpha of the Plough asserts, "We go through life wearing spectacles coloured by our own tastes. "A bootmaker cannot be expected to know much about beauty in architecture, nor an architect anything about style in shoes.
To a man in love, his fiancée is the uncrowned nonpareil of beauty - the most beautiful creature of God's handiwork, while others might view the selfsame lady with nonchalance. That, the reader might suggest, is the work of Cupid's arrow. Granting that there is no such thing as Cupid's arrow, it can be maintained that Beauty is no beauty if an arrow - a creation of fantasy - can change the ugliness of a cygnet into the grace of a swan. "The Blue Danube" rendered by Johann Strauss himself or by one Mr. Thompson cannot make any difference to the untrained ear of a Chinaman. A boxing enthusiast will shout out "Beauty", when he sees a man knock out another by a powerful right hook on the jaw, while to a policeman this might appear no less than a murderous and wicked attempt on a man's life.
What then? Eyes have seen, and ears have heard! Some saw Beauty, others Ugliness. To some there was music, to others only noise. Which then shall we deem Beauty? It is not just to conclude that there is no universal standard or criterion by which to judge Beauty, that there is no man who appreciates Beauty in all its diverse forms, and that appreciation must necessarily be coupled with knowledge?
There is Beauty in Art. In music, language, poetry and literature will be found Beauty. There is Beauty in Mathematics, in the order, arrangement, proportion and symmetry of facts, in lines as well as curves, though I am sure most of my schoolmates will not agree with this. But appreciation of any of these forms of Beauty demands a particular knowledge of the subject. How can an eskimo delight in Shakespeare? What knows a pygmy about trigonometry?
But there is one form of Beauty which everybody, be he Indian or Russian, recognizes. This is the Beauty of Nature. The Language of Nature - the song of birds - is a language common to all. Art, too, which is a representation of Nature, is a source of common joy. It is the beauty of Nature which is a joy forever. Therefore, true Beauty lies in Nature.
Every Great Poet is a Teacher
To a small number of the most intellectual minds of the world, we give, with adoration, the coveted name of "Poet". A poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty. He has that rare and wonderful faculty for expressing, concretely and artistically, the ideas of the human mind in emotional and rhythmical language. These, coupled with his ability to announce that which no man has foretold, are his signs and credentials. He tells us all he knows and how he feels and how others have felt, and we invariably grow rich through his legacy. He is like a flame - many flames could be made out of his flame without diminishing its volume. He has a keener sense of perception than the average man and therefore stands nearer to nature than the average man and from this standpoint he interprets nature to us.
A teacher is not necessarily a man with the gifts of a poet but nevertheless he also gives expression to knowledge. He puts language into our mouths, and introduces us to mountains, rivers, lakes, and stars, to eminent men in history and to wonders in mathematics. Now two men going to a place may dress themselves in accordance with their tastes and means - one may garb himself in silken robes and jewels. The other in rags, but none the less, both reach the same destination. In much the same way, the erudite teacher and the expressive poet achieve the same end, each in his own accomplished way, exercising the influence of their noble and altrustic ideas and themes upon their hearers. These reflections invariably draw us to the realisation that there is only a very slight line of demarcation between a teacher and a poet in their ultimate achievements.
There have been innumerable poets who have taken it upon themselves to teach the world the diverse things with which they were obsessed. Some pious poets taught the people piety through the medium of their delightful poems - how to lead a chaste life and reap fruits in Heaven; others, like Milton, made people aware of the insolence of their despotic rulers:"Have we not seen or heard
How thou lurkest in courts and regal chambers."
John Milton spent long years in devout prayer and in accumulating knowledge in order to teach mankind through his immortal epic Paradise Lost - the infinite goodness of God and the justification of His ways to man. Shelley, the lover of freedom, inculcated into the minds of his readers the true love of freedom and severance from tyrannical rule.
War poems, written by men who have seen a modern battle and who try to depict a little of the heart-rending tortures and nameless horrors human beings have endured, or by those who have had to stay behind and bear the strain of suspense and anxiety, reveal to us intimately and vividly the inhuman brutality that is prevalent in modern wars:"Back from the trenches, more dead than alive,
Stone-deaf and dazed, and with a broken knee,
He hobbed slowly, muttering vacantly."
Gods! We have our fill
Of fear, hysteria, exultation, rage,
Rage to kill."
Every great poet is undoubtedly a teacher in that he presents his ideas to others, but in method the poet and the teacher differ. The teacher is very persevering in explaining his points, but the poet, "the great beholder of ideas and utterer of the necessary and casual", puts his lofty notions and themes into condensed wording, regardless of whether all readers understand or not. He never makes it his concern to be more explicit for the benefit of all in the way that a teacher ordinarily does. He is, therefore, a superior being who cannot condescend to the average man's intellect and one who must be admired, adored and revered.
Hindu Marriage Customs
The bride and bridegroom of Hindu marriages seldom know each other before their wedding. Everything is arranged by their parents. An auspicious hour - though it may be unsuitable for the visitors - is chosen for the event. This is done by consulting the panchangam.
The first ceremony is the Gold Melting. The thali, which binds the bride and bridegroom for life is made from this gold. It will be melted and allowed to solidify by the goldsmith in the presence of many of the bride's and bridegroom's people. These people will then touch the gold and pray, asking God to bless the bride and bridegroom. Sweetmeats are then sent from the bride's house to that of the bridegroom. While this is taking place the dhoby will try to cover one of the trays of sweetmeats with a shawl. If he succeeds in doing so, the tray must be given to him.
The wedding is always solemnised at the bride's house, which is grandly decorated. An ornamented settee, called the manaverai, will be placed in the hall facing east. The Brahmin priest will occupy the space in front of the manaverai. A branch of a certain prickly tree, a grindstone, and various brass vessels will be placed near the Brahmin. The best man, usually the bride's brother, with some other gentlemen of the bride's household, will fetch the bridegroom. The dhoby will spread white cloths on the ground for them to walk on and the Nagasuram will be played. Shawls will then be presented to the nagasuram men.
The bride's youngest brother will purify the bridegroom by washing his feet at the gateway. For this service he will be rewarded with a gold ring. Two ladies will welcome the bridegroom by making certain passes with a brass tray of burning camphor and by putting a red spot on his forehead. The best man will then lead him to the manaverai where the Brahmin will prepare him for the coming of the bride.
The bride also undergoes a purifying ceremony. Each lady present will place three handfuls of milk on her head and bathe her. She will then be dressed in her best clothes. The bridesmaid, usually the bridegroom's sister, will lead the bride, who will be accompanied by the other ladies, to the manaverai. The bride will sit by the side of the bridegroom and the other ladies will take their places behind the manaverai. The Brahmin will then chant in Sanskrit and make the bridegroom promise to cherish the bride. The bridegroom will present the bride with the Cooray Saree, whereupon she will retire with the ladies to the dressing room, and soon return draped in the Cooray Saree.
After some more chanting by the Brahmin, the bridegroom will garland the bride. Simultaneously, a coconut will be cut and rice will be thrown at the bride. The Brahmin will hold a small-necked brass vessel of water in which will be placed a ring which the bride and bridegroom will be required to retrieve. It is said that if the bride gets the ring, she will rule her husband.
The Brahmin will continue chanting and the bridegroom will place the bride's foot on the grindstone. Holding hands they will walk three times round the Brahmin and then go and see arunthuthi, which are the twin stars called Castor and Pollux in English. The elderly people will then bless the bride and bridegroom by throwing rice on their heads, shoulders and knees. The bride and bridegroom will retire to their room and eat rice, the bride waiting on her husband. This is done after another arlathuthal, that is, the passes made with the tray of burning camphor.
At the bridegroom's house, the newly married couple will again be welcomed by an arlathuthal. Dinners will be held for three days but no meat must be cooked. The bride and bridegroom will thus commence their united life and their love will be like a kettle of water placed on a stove.
The Man From ----
"Percy, please keep these papers for me and promise me that you will read them only after you hear of my death."
It was eighteen years ago that Wilson had taken me to a corner of a dugout at Mons, and, handing me a sealed envelope, had uttered these words.
I remember Wilson perfectly well. He was the best friend I ever had. I was about the only man in the whole army with whom he spoke freely. In the company of others he was morose and taciturn; I sometimes think he used to look upon the conversation in the mess-room with disdain, and to answer "yes" or "no" with a little condescension. He could discourse on almost any topic and would, at times, unintentionally venture on the brink of philosophy, but would pull himself together and change the subject so astutely that the change would be almost imperceptible.
"What makes you think of death?" I asked in reply to the above words.
"I don't know, but I have a foreboding that I shall never return from this wire-cutting business."
"Why!" said I, "if it comes to that, I too am in that squad." (We, with ten others, had been ordered to cut the barbed wire fences that separated us from the Germans under cover of a smoke screen at 2 p.m. that day. Our great attack was to begin shortly).
"You'll be all right," he said laying his hands on my shoulders.
"And so will you," I replied.
He sighed and turned away.
With a gentle southern wind helping us we were able to lay the smoke screen successfully. At the leader's signal we leapt out of our trenches and made for the wire fences with our clippers. The Germans had somehow got wind of our attack and began to open fire with their machine-guns. I smile. I feel safe. I feel that the bullets cannot pierce the thick smoke. We have reached our wire fences. I fumble with my clippers and in my haste I almost crush one of my fingers. Bullets whistle over me. I think of death. Visions of England come before me - my home on the East Coast, the Kentish Downs, Christmas with the family, the steaming pudding, crackers and paper hats, the Houses of Parliament, my first and last visit to London - all gone! A shell explodes fifty feet away.
Silence? No. Machine-guns bark all around me. "The Huns! The Huns!" I mutter.
I have cut only three wires. I must cut, I must cut. I feel hot - I see a cold bed with clean white sheets. I see my friends in London - laughing and walking. Then I see the enemy, the Huns.
A shell explodes again. The whole world seems to be enveloped in dazzling brightness, then in darkness and smoke.
A red Very light flares in the air. Our work is done. We have cut the fences. Whistles rend the air. Our men climb over the trenches and dash across No Man's Land. Some shoot as they run; others kneel and take aim. A few of our aeroplanes take to the air and harass the Germans. The enemy's machine guns do good work for them. Excitement is at the highest pitch. No thought of death now! I am with my comrades. I fight for them and all of us for England. Something strikes me on my head; my knees begin to sag; I feel myself falling; I think I am going to die. Why did I enlist myself? Life is so short. After the attack they found me unconscious but they never found Wilson.
All this happened eighteen years ago, yet I feel as if it were but yesterday that Wilson gave me that paper, that he was killed and that I myself was nearly trampled to death. As I write this, the paper that Wilson handed me is before me. It reads:
I know that what I have to say will surprise you to no small extent. You have been my best friend - in fact, my only friend - these two years and I beg of you not to disclose a single word that I write. It would be better if you destroyed this letter after you have read it.
You might have noticed that I have been peculiar in my ways - morose and rude and at times agitated or nervous. I am not of this Earth; I am from another planet - the planet you people call Mars. The people of Mars, or Martians, are fewer but more intelligent and learned than the people on Earth.
I was an assistant to a scientist who had invented a machine which was to carry him to earth. He and I set out on this perilous journey and we reached Earth in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The vessel sank and my poor master was drowned but I was picked up by a passing steamer. When I told my story, they refused to believe me. I arrived in England and enlisted in the British Army as I had nothing to do and felt like a fish out of water. I could not construct another machine to take me back to my native planet because my master had worked in secret and never taught me the art of steering it.
We Martians know if death is approaching - so I was able to foretell my death - and after death our bodies dissolve into thin air, so it would be futile to search for my corpse.
Please believe me,Yours on Earth or Mars, Wilson
Eighteen years had passed when I took a holiday in Germany last month. I had lost my way in a remote village among the mountains of southern Bavaria and, finding a small cottage, went to it and knocked on the door. It was opened by a man. I stared at him for a full thirty seconds. He looked exactly like Wilson - the same face but somewhat older!
He ran his eyes over me from head to foot as though he were surveying a tramp whom he had never seen before. He did not seem to recognise me. I decided to break the ice.
"Hullo, Wilson!" I said warmly, "Can't you recognize me?"
He eyed me with suspicion and stared at me as if I were a curiosity and then he said gruffly in German, "What do you want? Who are you? Get away," and was about to slam the door when I said in German, "Pardon me, but I thought that you were one of my friends whom I lost a long time ago. You look exactly like him."
He glared at me, so I added quietly: "I should be much obliged if you would show me the way to the Hotel Moldavia".
"Get out and find out for yourself," he roared and slammed the door in my face. This man must be positively mad, I thought. Almost all the Germans I had met hitherto had been hospitable to me and assisted me in every possible way.
Yesterday I received a letter through the War Office bearing the postmark of the district where I had spent my holidays. The writing seemed familiar and I recognised it as that of Wilson. It read:
The man whom you met at that cottage in Bavaria and who slammed the door in your face was formerly known to you as Wilson. First you thought I was an Englishman and then a Martian (what a joke!), but I am neither. I am a German. During the war I was a spy. At Mons I shammed death because I had been recalled by the German Intelligence Department and that attack gave me a chance to escape. You will not be able to find me again for by the time you receive this letter I shall be on my way to the East.Farewell to you, "Wilson"
My Holiday Trip to Ceylon
When the Cambridge Examinations were over, I was invited by my father to go to Ceylon to visit my people during the Christmas holidays. I needed no second bidding but embraced the proposal with joy. The prospect of a long sea voyage, the chances of seeing new places and towns and the thought of meeting once again the familiar faces of my earlier days were too good to be missed - all the other plans that I had made for the Christmas holidays were of no consequence - and so, on the night of the 16th December, 1934, I was on the train for Singapore and at 5 p.m. the next day I boarded the Italian steamer, Conte Verde.
It was eight at night when the steamer actually left the harbour. I could not have wished it otherwise. I believe that night time is the best time to enter or leave a harbour. The lights on the shore, together with those on the ships and steamers anchored in the harbour, and which appeared to be sprinkled about on the surface of the water, added glamour and splendour to the picturesque scene, which was both pleasing to the mind and attractive to the eye.
This is what I felt and saw when I stood on the deck of the steamer and watched the receding harbour. Soon, even these lights were out of sight and we were moving towards the wide, open sea. By noon the next day I had already made acquaintance with many of my fellow-passengers. People who would ordinarily be strangers and who would bestow no more than a passing glance on one another on the road, somehow get to understand each other while at sea, with the happy result that an atmosphere of fellow feeling and good comradeship is always found amongst passengers. It was my good fortune to find boys of my own age amongst them. What with such companions and with the very many facilities for indoor games afforded by a modern, ocean-going liner to second class passengers, not to speak of the swimming pool, the talkies and the like, my days in the steamer passed very pleasantly and rather too quickly, for on the fourth day we sighted Colombo and I had to go ashore.
I spent two days in Colombo, but I would not attempt to describe this town after seeing it for so short a time, and I should add, rather incompletely at that. But one cannot help comparing it with Singapore and, all things considered, the impression I had was that, if one was good, the other was by no means inferior. Of the many places and things that I saw or visited, the Colombo Museum and Zoo were outstanding in my admiration. After my stay in Colombo, I proceeded by night mail on the last stage of my journey and by early morning I had reached my destination, my hometown.
Only those who have themselves been away from home for a number of years can possibly understand the feelings and pleasure of a returned "exile". The continual visits to the houses of my relatives, the happy renewing of acquaintances with old friends, the many excursions through familiar roads lanes and by-paths recalling days long past are, in themselves, pleasures enough to satisfy one completely. As I had scarcely twenty days at my disposal, for I had to be back for the re-opening of school, it is needless to say that I made the best use of my time.
All too soon, however, the day of my departure drew nigh, and I had to bid farewell once again to my relatives before starting on my return trip. On the fourteenth of January, I boarded a French steamer for Singapore, which I reached in five days and so was just in time for the re-opening of School. Thus every single day of my Christmas holidays was very profitably and happily spent.
One of my pleasantest recollections is of the day when three of my friends and I climbed the popular old Trig Station Hill near Pudu Ulu. The drive to the foot of the hill in the freshness of the morning was very exhilarating.
On reaching the foot of the hill we had a light breakfast and began the climbing. Our guide joyfully took the lead and the rest of us trudged along at his heels. On the way each of us cut a cudgel for support. We pushed through thick bushes and our bodies were covered with black ants, which caused us great annoyance. Nevertheless we carried on with wet clothes.
We were now about halfway up and, upon casting our eyes to the tin mines below, we perceived the miners looking like ants crawling about. The scenery was beautiful and we took several photographs from this vantage point. Here and there we caught glimpses of the sparkling ponds of Pudu Ulu. We rested on the soft, cosy grass for a brief space and then continued our tedious climb. Now the summit was before us and we trudged along on the final lap.
At last we stood on the top of the hill, 300 feet above the surrounding country.
The first thing we did was to take a long rest. Then we spent some time in viewing the beautiful country that lay at our feet with the aid of field glasses. The train moving from Pudu Ulu to Ampang looked just like a caterpillar. The motorcars on the distant road resembled matchboxes trotting to and fro.
We had our lunch and then decided to start our downward trudge. I thought the ascent was very tedious but I found the descent even more trying. My body was all shaken with jerks, leaps and falls. After a tiring hour we reached the foot of the hill and what could have been more delightful than to see our car waiting and ready to take us back to our homes?
Disadvantages of Life in a City
Nothing is more distressing to a lover of the country than to be condemned to a life in the city. He misses the breezes of pure air that blow over hill and plain, and feels that he can hardly breathe in the stifling atmosphere of the crowded streets. The glare of the sun on the pavement and on the interminable rows of whitewashed houses is painful to his eyes.
Among the multitude of busy people who throng the thoroughfares, the lover of the country fears to be knocked down by the carriages of rich men which run recklessly along the streets, whereas the trees that are interspersed along the country paths afford shelter to passing travellers. One climbs up a tower and, instead of finding the varied scenery of mountain, valleys and forests, one sees roofs of houses, from which tall chimneys rise, belching their smoke into the atmosphere. There are the rumbling of carts and carriages, and steamrollers crunching the stones. Such are the principal annoyances of the town.
The evil of smoke is not so great in the East as in the West. In towns, smoke is produced by factories, trains, and fires necessary for cooking. All over the world the inhabitants of cities suffer for want of fresh air, especially in hot climates. Much is done for those living in cities, such as improvement of water supplies but, in spite of such good measures, it can never be expected that life in a city will be as favourable as life in the country.
Last update on 28 October 2000.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min
PageKeeper: Ooi Boon Kheng