[ The V.I. HomePage | Back to the V.I. Literary Archives Menu ]
Science and Magic
There are some who pride themselves on their English education and their ultra-modem outlook, they scoff at 'magic' and other occult matters. "What", they exclaim with raised eye-brows, "Do you really believe in pawangs and genii? Why, I have never seen a ghost and I won't believe in their presence until I have seen one."
But, I am not so garishly modern; the windows of my soul have not yet been thrown all open to the light of this deadly scientific spirit; I am proud to say that there is something of 'old Cathay' in me. I believe in magic. But that does not mean that when I rear a family I will engage a pawang as my family doctor, nor that I will burn Chinese crackers when I wish to propitiate the spooks.
It is not that magic is something quite different from science. In the last analysis, both deal with the matter and the behaviour of things. Like genius and madness, they are near allied. When we can study, prove, and apply, it is science, when we can only guess and learn, when we can only know the results without the causes, then it is magic, or witchcraft, or sorcery.
I believe in magic because it is only science as yet unrecorded and little studied. Time was when Roger Bacon, trying to find the Philosopher's Stone in order to change base metals, into gold, was accused of witchcraft. But the alchemist was neither a disciple of Satan, nor had his wits gone wool-gathering. It was only recently that Lord Rutherford, with high-tension electricity as his Philosopher's Stone succeeded in the age-old quest. Besides, if Queen Mary were carried by a Wellsian Time-Machine to our own days, and shown some of the wonders of modern science, she would certainly accuse us of being in league with the Devil and send us all, lock, stock, and barrel, to the stake. Time, with which goes knowledge, will give magic its impress, so that a new science will emerge. The investigators into the occult of today will be the Daltons and Lavoisiers of tomorrow's science; and the Shamans and Mahatmas will lead the way.
But we need not bother about that now - "it will come when it will come." I only hope that there will always be some magic in this world. Ever since I was old enough to understand, I have been strangely drawn to clairvoyance, spirit-rapping, telepathy and such mystic 'arts'. The yogis of India have always interested me; and I have always regarded the mediums in Chinese temples with a pleasant feeling of curiosity, wonder and awe. This mystic atmosphere is essentially Eastern. Kipling understood it, when he wrote "When you've heard the East a-calling............."
Tourists often speak of the 'magic' of the East; and yet if one tells them that yogis can hear music from the air, they cry, "Unadulterated humbug!!" Brought up on the principles and logic of 'science' (which was developed in Europe) they will not believe things which they cannot explain. They must explain. They must harken to Shakespeare - "There are more things in Heaven and earth....... than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
This Tennis Racket (A historical fantasy)
Tennis has been a popular pastime ever since Henry V kicked up a racket over the "tun of treasure" in tennis balls sent him by the French Dauphin.
The early racketeers, like their American prototypes to-day, must have had criminal and homicidal tendencies, for they were confined in a kind of dungeon, walled in on every side, from which they were allowed to escape only at the conclusion of the game.
Many gangster and undergraduate terms have their origin in this early game. For example - the server, known as "hand-in," would serve, and if he lost the point, there would be a "hand-out" to all the players. It was now the waiters turn to serve, and drinks were usually on the house. Cesar Borgia, however, who was a fine exponent of the underhand game, used to win many a point by saying "The drinks are on me, boys!" until it was found that he mixed too much prussic acid with them. He was debarred from further play.
"Hand-out", in order to meet American requirements, has been modified to "share-out," gangsters justly pointing out that they had to reach for their hardware intermittently to keep their hand in, and so they could not be expected to take part in a handout, if you see what I mean.
The opponent was called a "wrangler" (Henry V Act I, sc. ii, line 264) and as he was usually a nasty fellow, the term came to be used at Cambridge to describe the best mathematician of the year. With the improvement in the mental standard of mathematicians, the term fell into disuse. Indeed, a reaction set in and the tennis court was no longer bounded by walls. Especially after Richard Lovelace's famous; dictum that "stone walls do not a prison make."
This (more or less) is where Major Walter Wingfield enters the scene. In 1874 he substituted a green lawn as the locus operandi. The result was that exceedingly fine and gentle pastime of the Victorians, "vicarage tennis."
But at first there was a hoo-ha, a hura-hara and several kinds of hullabaloo throughout the land. The croqueteers, a rival faction, had been seizing land right and left and converting it for their own uses. They resented the attempt of the newly-liberated racketeers, and called them "upstart crows, beautified with our feathers."
They pointed out that only mad heroines used lawn, and so the racketeers must be both insane and effeminate. (See Sheridan, The Critic.) In reply, the racketeers stated that Sheridan had meant "lawn," not "lawn."
The matter was referred to a Dictionary and, for the time, no further action was taken, though some say that the Battle of Bunker's Hill was fought because golfers (the natural offspring of croqueteers) tried to make a mountain out of a molehill on the Centre Court at Wimbledon.
The question was once more referred, this time to a committee of foot-fault judges (no connection with the judges in an ankle competition) and caddies. The latter, of course, as their name implies, were no gentlemen, and so tennis won the set and a more serious set-to was avoided.
After this, both sides retired to Boston where they held a very happy tea party.
After great suspense at Boston, the racketeers moved to Wimbledon where they established their H.Q., ensuring against further molestation by building a Stadium round themselves, whose portals could only be entered by intruders on payment of an enormous fine. This was the beginning of the National Debt.
The martial aspect of modern tennis was well illustrated some years ago by one Wimbledon gladiator who appeared with a two-handed weapon which he wielded with appalling effect.
He had an ancestor in the reign of Cromwell (Oliver of England, not Richard of Hollywood) who used a similar weapon, and laid low all who attempted to enter the arena. Dante was so overcome with admiration at the prowess of this warrior that he sailed forthwith to England (where, incidentally, he wrote the "Divine Comedy" after noticing the size of our policemen's feet), entrained for Wymbledonne, and over the famous portal carved with his penknife the now immortal lines "All hope abandon, ye that enter here."
It was of this same great man that Milton wrote that much debated passage in Lycidas."But that two-handed engine at the door,
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more."
It is unlikely that the engine referred to was Austin, but it may have been the Elizabethan dramatist Ford.
No, Austin prefers what he calls a streamlined racket, but every housewife recognizes it as a common carpet-beater. It looks like a badminton racket with three handles radiating fanwise from the grip.
The advantage of this is obvious. There is a three-fold chance of making those delicate drop-shots off the handle which are the essence of good tennis. I have not yet adopted this weapon because it savours of cheating, of taking an unfair advantage of one's wrangler - sorry -opponent. Besides, the ball might stick in the middle.
And now, as it is a fine day, and I am next turning my attention to bird life, I am going out in search of a racket-tailed drongo (Ecorus pemuculus bola). I shall have to postpone the rest of this drivel indefinitely.
Two Hundred Miles Down the Pahang River
One soon gets tired of the proximity of one's neighbours and it is a relief to slip away early one morning and float down the Pahang River to the countryside. This is only possible, however, if one is content with a small light boat that is low enough to pass under bridges and does not need very deep water. A delightful trip can be taken covering 8 to 10 miles a day with only four men to paddle and the occasional help of a couple of coolies to tow upstream.
From a boatman's point of view, the Pahang River is not ideal for a really enjoyable boat cruise. A river should have a fast current, lovely scenery, lots of places to visit and plenty of food and drink available everywhere. With the Pahang River, it is not so. Its current is slow despite agitated warnings against dangerous rapids in the gorges, but these are practically non-existent in low water; the scenery is grand only at times and, as a rule, is no more than pleasant and soothing.
And yet I thoroughly enjoyed my 200 mile trip from Kuala Lipis to Kuala Pahang. The rivers Jelai and Tembeling form the ulu of the Pahang River. Thus, Ulu Pahang is a country watered by the Jelai and Tembeling and the main stream is called Pahang from Kuala Tembeling to the sea. Kuala Lipis is the capital of Pahang where the British Resident resides. It is situated on the Jelai River. In Lipis, there is a long row of rakits on which some of the Kelantan Malays live permanently. They are so accustomed to such surroundings that even when they possess land they do not like to live on it. At Kechau, about seven miles from the bank, there is a big tin mine.
From here all the way to Kuala Tembeling, there is thick jungle on both sides of the river banks, with the exception of a few isolated villages. Just before reaching Kuala Tembeling, I was really lucky to be able to see a small herd of seladang gazing on the plains near the river; such a lucky encounter is said to be very rare. As we passed alongside, they did not pay us any attention at all until we gave a really loud yell when, instantaneously, they disappeared into the big jungle. At night, elephants visit the padi fields, and they do much damage to the crops.
A few miles up the Tembeling there is a big reserve extending as far as Gunong Tahan. It is said to be the best place for big game hunting in this country. The river itself is full of bends, and has plenty of very dangerous rapids which may at any time lead to destruction. At times we have to get down and walk on the banks pulling the boat upstream by means of a long rope. There are plenty of big fishes in the river especially tenga and sebarau which make fishing very enjoyable. It was here that the major part of the Pahang war was fought as can be discovered from Sir Hugh Clifford's books.
Below the Tembeling, much of the land along the river is planted with rubber and padi but it is only sparsely inhabited by the natives. From Jerantut Ferry to Lubok Paku, there is a variety of crops along the banks, and the Malays build their houses in the midst of the fields. At one time were many big houses along the river but the big flood in 1926 unmercifully washed them away into the sea. The Malays are in fear of another big flood and, as a result, are contented to live in small houses.
Usually each native has his own rubber holding and a small paya in which he plants padi. The paya lands in any locality are seldom as large those found in Kedah or Kelantan as they are always bounded by hills, making the payas look like big saucers. In these payas snipe and blibis are plentiful and they provide very enjoyable sport.
Midway between Jerantut and Lubok Paki there is a fairly big village called Temerloh. By the kampong people it is called Kuala Semantan because it is here that the Semantan and the Pahang river meet. About 200 yards away from the bank, the Government buildings and the shop-houses are grouped together beautifully on fairly high land. The Tengku Mahkota Istana is seen majestically on a summit of a high hill overlooking the villages.
After passing another big tributary called the Triang, Kuala Bera, which is a mouth of a big lake called Tasek Bera, is reached. This lake is populated mostly by sakai and is famous for the exportation of jelutong. The sakai live there happily intermarrying with Chinese and Malays and are carrying on intensive cultivation of padi and other annual crops.
The cruise from Lubok Paku to Pekan was as interesting as the previous part of the journey except that there was still plenty of undeveloped lands as far as Penyor. On the way there is another big lake called Tasek Chini. This is not important agriculturally but will provide a happy hunting ground for cameramen to get snaps of basking crocodiles, reptiles and big fishes. It is a current belief amongst the natives that the crocodiles can be seen at any time coming up in a group to the surface of the water if the following Malay words are faithfully repeated: "Hi datok, oh datok, anak chuchu hendak menengok" several times. To tell the truth, I did not try this myself nor did I allow any of my men to try it as I was afraid of seeing the crocodiles if the story should happen to be true.
Within 15 miles of Pekan, the Malay population increases considerably. Pekan itself is another fairly big village where the Ruler resides, and all the government buildings and shop-houses can be seen to advantage from the river. Normally the town is not overcrowded, but it often becomes so on any occasion of the year that a grand festival is held in honour of the Ruler, such as his birthday, the Durbar, and so on.
As we go down to Kuala Pahang, the chief thing we notice is the rapid change of the nature of the cultivation. Instead of seeing long strips of rubber land we see coconut holdings all the way. Just at the mouth of the river there is a big fishing village where the fishes are being salted and exported to other states. The natives here are sea-minded, and spend their whole lives fishing. To these people agricultural advice is superfluous.
Throughout the whole length of the river there are a number of footpaths coming down to the bank, and it is worthwhile to tie up for a day or two in various places and use the boat as a base for camping or shooting expeditions into the surrounding mountains and valleys.
During the whole cruise, when bungalows were not available, we often slept in the boat; but at times we slept in villages, at the Penghulus' offices, or in mosques. One must be content to live chiefly on cheap food on the river where one has always a better appetite than when one is at home. The cool air on the river supplies the necessary whetting of the appetite to make almost anything palatable.
And yet, in the last resort it is the people that I remember best and with the greatest pleasure. Travelling as I did in such close contact with the villagers, the whole of the cruise depended on their co-operation and friendliness.
Last update on 28 October 2000.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min
PageKeeper: Ooi Boon Kheng