Yesterday I stumbled across few rare books, travel journals, letters, and periodicals dating back to the 19th century. And I can’t wait to explore these treasures. Given my obsession with history, there’s an ever increasing want to know about the lives of the people in the eras long gone by; their thoughts, lifestyles, experiences and their work. Their lives intrigue me. The past intrigues me. My sister often chides me that I should have taken up archaeology or history as a profession. But I love medicine more, and my love for history has just remained something that I pursue in leisure. I remember the old skeleton passed down to me by a senior during my first year in medical college for the anatomy classes. And during the hours I spent studying its bones, I inevitably got drawn into wondering about its life, what was it like, its dreams, were they fulfilled, or was its life difficult, and I wondered about its family too. That was just the beginning. I still can’t make myself regard any object that might have sustained life before as just a clinical specimen, and often wonder about the life associated with it in the past. It can be a bother at times, because I tend to get emotionally attached not just to patients but even to anatomical specimens in the lab, wondering about the lives of the people they belonged to!
I relish each and every word in the old classics of literature and especially travelogues, as I had earlier written. The journeys undertaken before the advent of modern transport highly interests me. Invasions, seafaring journeys, Viking plundering, pilgrimages undertaken by missionaries, settlers in search of a new land, voyages undertaken to explore the world in the past, the observations of the people is something I thoroughly enjoy.
So here are the books I came across yesterday:
1. I came across few children stories, written and illustrated during the turn of the 20th century. One is called “Abroad”, which takes us on a journey to Paris and is abound with the thrills of exploring a new place. Beautifully illustrated. Another is a short story called “A day on Skates” by Hilda Van Stockum (in 1934), a story about a Dutch picnic which is again very beautifully illustrated. The others are “The Windy Hill” written by Cornelia Meigs in 1921, and “Goody Two Shoes” published in 1888. But my favorite is “The Latchkey of My Book House” written in 1922. I can’t wait to complete it. Two books are based on Christmas. One is a collection of sketches of Washington Irving called “Old Christmas”, published in 1886. Another is a book of poems for children called “Christmas Roses”, published in 1886 too. And the last one is a delight for animal lovers, a story told about the lovable antics of a laughing kitten, Tinker trying to teach a puppy, Floppy, how to play a gramophone etc wonderfully portrayed through a series of photographs. A visual delight. It’s called “Mischief Again” by Enid Blyton and Paul Kaye.
2. Among the travelogues…I found few of the books on my reading wish list this year. I found “Travel Diary of Peter Mundy in Europe and Asia (1608-1667)”, “Travels in Arabia Deserta” by C.M.Doughty, “The Mirror of the Sea” by Joseph Conrad, and “The Sea and the Jungle” by H.M. Tomlinson. I had been craving to get my hands on these books for a long time now and to say that I’m thrilled to have found them at last would be a huge understatement. The book “The Sea and the Jungle” is “the narrative of the voyage of the tramp steamer Capella from Swansea to Para in the Brazils, and thence 2000 miles along the forests of the Amazon and Madeira Rivers to the San Antonio Falls; afterwards returning to Barbados for orders, and going by way of Jamaica to Tampa in Florida, where she loaded for home. Done in the year 1909 and 1910. And the book is dedicated to THOSE WHO DID NOT GO.” These are the gems of travel literature. For more information on the other books, see my reading wish list for 2009 and if you know where I can get the rest of the books in the list, PLEASE let me know.
3. Then I found few works of English and American women residing in India in late 19th century and early 20th century. One is the “The Modern Marriage Market (1898)” by Marie Corelli (1855-1924), Flora Annie Webster Steel (1847-1929), Susan Hamilton and Susan Marie Elizabeth Stewart-Mackenzie Jeune St. Helier. Another is “The laws of higher life” by Annie Besant. And also “Between Twilights” by Cornelia Sorabji. Here’s an excerpt from her book.
“In the language of the Zenana there are two twilights, ’when the Sun drops into the sea,’ and ‘when he splashes up stars for spray,’ . . . the Union, that is, of Earth and Sun, and, again, of Light and Darkness. And the space between is the time of times in these sun-wearied plains in which I dwell. One sees the world in a gentle haze of reminiscence…reminiscence of the best. There, across the horizon, flames the Sun's ‘goodbye’”
4. And a dance manual…”Dancing” by Mrs. Lilly Grove first published in 1895. The chapters chronicles the dances of the eras long gone by, ritual dances, English dances, dances from rest of UK, Bohemian, Gypsy, Hungarian and polish dances; and dances from France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Scandinavia, Lapland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, India, Persia, China, Japan. It also has chapters on Ballet, Practical use of dancing, time and rhythm of dancing…and even one called DANCES OF THE SAVAGES!!
5. I don’t know Urdu and Sanskrit and the Indian verses of the past were heavily influenced and generously peppered with Urdu and Sanskrit words. So I was very happy to find the book “India’s Love Lyrics” by Laurence Hope (1865-1904). She had translated many Indian love verses to English, and succeeds in retaining the meaning and melody of the original verses.
6. But the most treasured and highly valued objects are two letters and a book about women doctors that I stumbled upon while surfing the net. They are scans of the original handwritten letters written by Dr. Anandibai Joshee (M.D, 1886) to the Principal of Women’s Medical college of Pennsylvania informing him about her educational qualifications, financial status, and the reason for her interest in pursuing medicine as a career. I read the letter thrice. 1885! A married Indian woman of 18 years decided to pursue medicine as a career in America with the seventy dollars she had in hand in 1885! Think about the social scenario then, and the huge step she had undertaken and also successfully completed. I salute her! I also read another letter by Anna S. Kugler to her alma mater describing her life as a medical missionary in India, struggling to make the people adopt modern medicine and she had a tough battle to fight against the superstitions prevalent at that time. Another is a book by an American medical missionary to China, chronicling her time in the hospital there and the hardships involved. Precious treasures for me.