BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Listen to Radio 3 - BBC Radio Player

Free Thinking : The world

From New Delhi, writer Rana Dasgupta

The Strange Feeling Of England

  • Rana Dasgupta
  • 14 Sep 06, 05:35 PM

Am in England for a short story festival in Sussex and once again contemplating the strangeness of my home country. I therefore post a poem I wrote after my last visit here to describe this feeling, at the centre of which is the invisible "they" who are the subject of so many sentences spoken here. Abstract and unidentified, vaguely benign and yet menacing too, "they" seem to make all the decisions, and the human being seems to invoke "their" name as the only way of naming the forces that make the world.

They

They’ve painted chevrons on the road.
You keep two
between you and the car in front
so the traffic doesn’t
bunch. It’s a little difficult at first, but
You soon get used to it,
and it
improves safety.

Safety needs improving:
You always need a new version
Of it.

They said it
Will be fine tomorrow. Cold, now: the vapour
moon already, and
A hundred aeroplane tracks:
White powder marks of the sky’s nails
Meshing the evening and dispersing
Into unreal clouds
Not cirrus nor cumulus.

It’s amazing how fast they work. I remember this place
before, and now look
At it.
A hill of mud with the lanes
already marked out, fluorescent plastic sprouting,
the exhausted machines silent at this hour. I suppose it
Will cut down journey times when it’s
Finished.

The forlorn larch.

Those words came into my head – there’s something
sometimes about our countryside, when you drive through it.
The way the moss covers the winter effigies
of trees, and turns velvet-green
their elbows, demented against the watercolour

sky, the crows flapping too slowly for real
flight, as if in the after-age. I look at those things, sometimes:
a dead tree can stand for years, an elm
with ivy over; and the poplars inching towards the sky,
cell by cell, clear of purpose.

Look how he drives, he better
Watch himself, get a stiff
fine for that kind of behaviour, and rightly so
He’s a menace!
They need to do something:
Just read the papers
People round my way
Things have changed.
You see it on the news, the morality,
the values. I have my own ideas what
They should do.

They sent me two water bills, both the same.
One had my name spelt wrong
By one letter.
It took months to sort that out.

They’ve put up a new McDonald’s,
Here
And that office block
Wasn’t finished last time I passed.

They said peanuts are good for you, I think,
On the radio,
and also broccoli.
Perhaps I should eat some broccoli.
Forty-six miles I should be home
In time.

That beetle’s done a complete tour of the car, I should think,
that ladybird. It’s walked across the dashboard twice already.
Nothing for it in here.
Can’t put it out the window though,
At eighty miles per
It will bounce and smash
like on the BBC, in slow motion.
(How do they do that? Where do they put the camera?)
I’ll wait till I arrive and we can find some greenery to let it out on.
That will be nice.

All this countryside, and just the radio to keep you company.
They are saying China will be big. So funny when you think about it,
all the poor countries catching up, getting like us.
I just hope they do it right, with the right standards and everything.

Over here they’re so professional the way they run things.

Comments

  1. At 11:12 PM on 14 Sep 2006, Dave Moss wrote:

    Life would be really hazardous without chevrons and broccoli.

    Post a complaint

    Please note Name and E-mail are required.

    Contact details
  2. At 08:12 PM on 15 Sep 2006, Richard O'shea wrote:

    Rana: Thankyou for sharing a piece of yourself.


    Sheley would have loved it.

    "and the poplars inching towards the sky,
    cell by cell, clear of purpose." --> And what purpose is it that we hold? Do we hold it true and is it true to us? Wonderful concepts.

    "Forty-six miles I should be home
    In time." --> In time. Why do we rush around, always chasing never resting, to pause, to think?

    "All this countryside, and just the radio to keep you company." --> Disenfranchised from our own world. Makes you cry.

    In the spirit of sharing ourselves and for more beuty in our world:

    Hope

    Light, Love, intertwined as as a trees roots are to the Earth. A spectacle to be held in awe, the seeds of which are held within us all.

    Darkness, Fear, this is a spiraling downward slope, there is no end in here, in here there is no hope.

    Two paths are laid before us, two powers held within, two choices, two voices. Here we must begin.

    Compose again, the music has soured, the pain grows and the time, longer now, aches at us for Love.


    Post a complaint

    Please note Name and E-mail are required.

    Contact details
  3. At 06:29 AM on 16 Sep 2006, fitz wrote:

    Well let's all get inspired with the verse then!

    Every village's thinking man

    I've lived here all my life or so the story goes
    It used to be a rural place our occupation- sow
    but now we're just a backwater in the domesday book
    we don't know where we fit in Bush's social book

    We once belonged to that great name
    The British Empire all aflame
    but now it's sort of squidded out
    and left us in a lot of doubt?

    Are we still an island fair - independent - we don't care?
    or have we all be neutered down -part of Tony's we've left town?

    Have we now become a blob with the European mob
    Following all the rules and rorts
    Caught the EEC disease and warts?

    do we blindly follow through what the big guys want to do
    Go to war in name of God
    kill all those who don't fit our cog?

    can we no longer make up our minds
    As an island - democratic kind
    stand alone - stick to our pace
    not to follow yankie grace?

    In every village, hamlet too
    there is one man who's always true
    he stands out from the milling crowd
    his voice is strong but not too loud
    he often speaks in gentle voice
    exhorts us all to make a choice

    but make it fair and true and kind
    don't follows others like the blind
    he only says it once or twice
    if you miss his call you'll still be nice
    but remember when the island fades
    he did offer you his warning tales!

    Post a complaint

    Please note Name and E-mail are required.

    Contact details
  4. At 12:04 AM on 17 Sep 2006, Roberto Carlos Alvarez-Galloso,CPUR wrote:

    Great Poem.

    Post a complaint

    Please note Name and E-mail are required.

    Contact details
  5. At 10:34 AM on 19 Sep 2006, Frank Gardner wrote:

    I liked your 'They'; some nice touches there, such as name spelt wrong by one letter - it happens to me all the time with intrusive i, e , and even o's!

    Hope you enjoy(ed) your stay here.

    Post a complaint

    Please note Name and E-mail are required.

    Contact details
  6. At 10:08 PM on 21 Sep 2006, Dave Cooper wrote:

    Rana,
    Really spooky, you've captured something here.
    Certainly something I can recognise,about a certain English state of mind.Those comforting 'They' being so professional and efficient in the way they run the world.
    Such a complete lack of a sense of any possibility of agency or engagement. A real elegaic sadness. Lost certainties.The buffering from reality that our wealth affords us; robs us.

    Maybe I should eat some brocolli.

    Post a complaint

    Please note Name and E-mail are required.

    Contact details
  7. At 02:09 PM on 22 Sep 2006, jason wrote:

    1950s england was the real england, what we have now is er, well, not very nice, and er, best left, asap

    Post a complaint

    Please note Name and E-mail are required.

    Contact details
  8. At 07:20 AM on 24 Sep 2006, fitz wrote:

    what is England? well some would say ' a small island situated in the North sea'

    others - once a great empire on which the sun never set. Yet others a land continously conquered by others and resulting in a hybrid of peoples and traditions.

    There is no one England - depends on what year and how you see it. So for jason the 1950 were the real england - but only for Jason not the rest of us.

    England has for ever been re-inventing itself or rather having itself be re-invented by others. Watch any historical/aerchealogical show to see all the changes over the last thousand years.

    Some would say the real england was the england of King Arthur and one day he will return!

    The West Indian London populations who call England home - see it in their own perspective - the Irish see it quiet different again.

    England is what England means to each of us individually - it only feels strange if it doesn't fit our personal view of it all.

    Having been away from England for quite some time - I can still return and visit parts that are still the England of my view - my times - but the people are different and some of the cultures have changed and it's not necessarily exactly the same.

    Post a complaint

    Please note Name and E-mail are required.

    Contact details
  9. At 12:00 AM on 29 Sep 2006, Rod White wrote:

    I would agree with the previous writer that 1950s England is probably something that was quite 'great' and is something that we all aspire to, even though I never experienced it and I have only read books about it or heard about it.

    It is quite strange that now we seem to have lost the sense of being responsible for our own country, that we leave it to someone else.

    The problem at the moment is we have too many large organisations and in a large body everything comes down to the lowest common denominator. That it the lowest possible effort takes place to meet the requirements of superiors. No one is prepared to do any more than they are forced to do and that is a big problem. I doubt if we can really call our country 'great' anymore.

    Post a complaint

    Please note Name and E-mail are required.

    Contact details
  10. At 01:07 PM on 02 Oct 2006, DontMindMe wrote:

    Rod White wrote:
    "I would agree with the previous writer that 1950s England is probably something that was quite 'great' and is something that we all aspire to, even though I never experienced it and I have only read books about it or heard about it."

    History suggests England in the 1950s was deferent, racist, discriminated against women, had a strong sense of community, it was safe to leave your front door open, child abuse was not talked about, divorce was shameful, smoking was popular and harmless, seat belts were not compulsory.

    I'm pretty sure you mean you would aspire to a stronger sense of community. Perhaps you aspire to divorce being more difficult or perhaps to the freedom of not being required by law to wear a seat belt. Perhaps to a time when smoking will be made harmless and will become universally socially acceptable.

    My point is we can't so easily talk about "what we all aspire to". How do we then create a future we will have to share with one another? Through politics? Through reaching a consensus? Through letting 'human nature' takes its course?


    Post a complaint

    Please note Name and E-mail are required.

    Contact details

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy