FEBRUARY  2002




FEBRUARY 2002 Contents


 Ageing - breaking mind barriers!

 'My Secret of Longevity' 
 BC Sanyal
 HD Shourie
 Khushwant Singh
 Raunaq Singh
 MS Oberoi

 Ageing & Performing Artists


 New Age Women Writers

 Performing Arts

 The Kuchipudi Reddy Family


 South Asians in News 2001 
 International Recognition and
 National Awards

Magsaysay Awards

Newsmakers & breakers in

Golf, Tennis, Hockey, Squash


 Know Your Leaders
 Arun Jaitley
 Amar Singh
 Abhishek Singhvi
 Omar Abdullah
 Sitaram Yechuri



 Mango - the King of Fruits


 Abdul Sattar Edhi


 Sunita Sharma - India's First  
 Lady Guru of Cricket


 'Knock at Every Alien Door'
 - Serialization of an
 unpublished novel by
 Joseph Harris - Chapter 2


 Vasundhara Das - the bride of
 'Monsoon Wedding' 

 Fashion & Jewellery

 Poonam Soni- new look to gold


 Editor's Note



the craft shop

the print gallery


Silk Road on Wheels

The Road to Freedom

Enduring Spirit

Parsis-Zoroastrians of

The Moonlight Garden

Contemporary Art in Bangladesh




about us              back-issues           contact us         search                    data bank

Special Sections 

the-south-asian data bank

Anniversary Issue

South Asian Woman


                            craft shop

print gallery

Page  1  of  2


Serialization of



Joseph Harris

About the author: Joseph Harris has written thirty-four short stories and over a thousand poems in literary journals and other magazines. His work has appeared in thirteen anthologies and in numerous biographies of poets and writers. He is a member of The Academy of American Poets and also a member of Poets and Writers, with a book of poetry published by Furman University Press. He retired as Headmaster of two schools – and lives in South Carolina.

"Knock at Every Alien Door" is a narrative of his stay in India, where he went in 1944 on duty with the US Army. This was his first visit to India.


Chapter 2

The Magic Flute

Few memories are as vivid and persistent as those that bring misfortune. The magic flute I allude to here was assuredly not that of Mozart, but an Indian flute that lured me into the snares of military law during my first innocent days in India.

If Bombay was a shock to my sensory senses, Calcutta was my first encounter with the full impact of cultural shock. It seems always to have had bad press. Kipling called it the city of the Dreadful Night, and even Clive, first Viceroy of India, referred to it as the most wicked city in the world.

It has always been my practice to explore a new place without the prepared literature of a guide, thus inviting the spontaneity of surprise. Freed of such preconceptions, one is at risk to experience the enchantment of the unexpected, which for me is the essence of adventure. It is a philosophy that for the most part has served me well, but on this occasion led to my arrest.

During my first week in Calcutta, I managed to secure a day’s pass, due in part to the small unit to which I was attached and the temporary status of the commander in charge. Ordinarily it was not that easy.

Exhilarated at the prospect to explore the city provided by my newfound freedom, I set off alone to match my textbook knowledge against the reality of the strange new land. Perhaps my first encounter should have been a restraining omen when I went in search of a historic site.

I don’t know what I expected, but the Black Hole of Calcutta was nothing like anything I has imagined. After a long search with dubious and confusing responses to my inquiries, it was, when I saw it, like the Cheshire cat, hardly there at all. An obscure plaque, barely legible through the weathering of time, was all that acknowledged the historic site. Nothing like my boyhood vision upon reading about it, which estimated it somewhere in the dimension of a Krakatao. The plaque commemorated a cell of some eighteen by fourteen feet into which Nawab Sirajud-daulah stuffed one hundred and forty-six English prisoners, of which all but twenty-three perished.

In retrospect, I attributed the almost insignificant plaque to the fact that it represented a British defeat, not a victory. At any rate, it did not measure up to the cowboy-and-Indian scenario of my boyhood memory, in which the Indians always lost.

All this happened in 1756, incidentally the year of Mozart’s birth; which fact has no historical relevance whatsoever except for the title of this tale.

My search for adventure took me down winding narrow ways, past stalls of street hucksters, through teeming markets with foodstuffs of all kind in constant rivalry with the fly-swarm, through a hustle of rattling lorries and rickshaws, and by the ever-present outstretched hands of beggars with the cry of "baksheesh, Sahib" on their lips.

Lines from Sir Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia came tumbling into my mind:

"Seeing the glad and sad things of the town;

The painted streets alive with hum of noon,

The traders cross-legged ‘mid their spice and grain,

The buyers with their money in the cloth,

The shout to clear the road, the huge stone wheels,

The strong slow oxen and their rustling loads,

The singing bearers with the palanquins,

The broad-necked hamals sweating in the sun,

The housewives bearing water from the well

With balanced chatties, and athwart their hips

The black-eyed babes; the fly swarmed sweetmeat shops,

The weaver at his loom, the cotton-bow

Twangling, the millstones grinding meal, the dogs prowling for orts …"

Things didn’t seem to have changed much since those lines were written, and throughout my days in India a growing awareness convinced me that if anything changed the more it remained the same. Nowhere could I find much evidence of that passion which we in the West call progress. And like most things about India that, too, seemed to be a paradox, both a blessing and a curse.

As the day wore on, I continued my wanderings among the madding crowds, stopping only once in early afternoon for tea and cakes at Firpo’s, an Armenian restaurant on Chowringhee at which I was later to have one of the most elegantly-served meals of my life. The place had been pointed out as ‘safe’, since we had been summarily warned by the medical hierarchy that to buy food from street hawkers or Indian-operated establishments was to risk a litany of diseases from amoebic dysentery to cholera. This I was to learn later was a precautionary exaggeration.


next page 




Copyright © 2000 []. Intellectual Property. All rights reserved.