Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Did the Lepcha believe in Dante's nine circles of hell?

A long time ago, in the old country, I loved going to the local "Park club" every weekend, not only to chance upon that girl but also because that's where I could get to watch movies that otherwise was not possible in that small little industrial township. The first ever Malayalam movie that I watched was in that open-air setting.  I never forgot the movie or this song because of how much I was compelled to seriously think for the first time about love and sex and age.  In that Malayalam movie, it was an old man marrying a young woman, whose love was another young man.  To borrow from a recent movie title, "it's complicated."

Of course, in our daily lives back then, people did not talk about love and sex.  Those were essentially taboo. Via metaphors, the elders reminded us youth to control our impulses, even as we were being transported to the fictional print and film worlds where love and sex ruled supreme.  And love and sex and marriage in the old ways was anything but the practices of today.  Children got married.  Sometimes it was fully grown adults who married the children.

The Humbert Humbert character in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita explains his fixation in nymphets and draws comparisons with societies elsewhere:
Marriage and cohabitation before the age of puberty are still not uncommon in certain East Indian provinces.  Lepcha old men of eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds.  After all, Dante fell madly in love with his Beatrice when she was nine, a sparkling girleen, painted and lovely, and bejeweled, in a crimson frock, and this was in 1274, in Florence, at a private feast in the merry month of May.  And when Petrarch fell madly in love with his Laureen, she was a fair-haired nymphet of twelve running in the wind, in the pollen and dust, a flower in flight, in the beautiful plain as descried from the hills of Vaucluse.
My idiocy means that I am stumped about: (a) Lepcha: who are they and did they really practice this?; (b) was this Dante thing for real?; (c) the name Petrarch rings a bell, but I can't' place it; and (d) what the heck does "descried" mean?

I knew I would run into such situations even when I chose Lolita as one of my summer deep reads.  And that is exactly why I chose that--it was not because of the plot of the older man's relationship with a young girl.  That story-line is merely the vehicle for me to to understand a little bit more about the human condition, and it is working out well thus far.

The annotations in the book answers a whole bunch of questions that arise as I read the book, and Google fills in with the rest.  But, I got really, really curious about the Lepcha.  In India?  Wikipedia helps out!

What amazes me is this: Nabokov did not have any Wikipedia. No Google. No nothing.  Yet, he easily strings together a paragraph in which he mentions the Lepcha, Dante, and Petrarch, and the fine details about them?  WTF!  At this rate, when a new academic year begins, I will be really, really convinced that I am a fake who doesn't know any damn thing and I will hope that students never ever find that out ;)

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