Golden Earth

Golden Earth by Norman Lewis Read Free Book Online

Book: Golden Earth by Norman Lewis Read Free Book Online
Authors: Norman Lewis
had brought rice and fowls, instead of allowing them to furnish our table. They [the missionaries] are bountifully supplied, even where their message meets only with opposition.’ On the whole the reverend gentleman seems to find this display of apparent virtue in the heathen a source of irritation. It is an imposture, he decides. ‘Though, in this world, hypocrites minglewith God’s people, and resemble them,’ he moralises, ‘the Great Shepherd instantly detects them, and, at the appointed time, will unerringly divide them.’ This comforting thought expressed, the author feels entitled to call a truce to sermonising and launches into a most exact description of Brahminy cattle.
    Moulmein came into sight beyond a headland; the twin Mogul towers of a mosque rising above a spinney of masts, the receding planes of corrugated iron roofs, palms brandished like feather-dusters held at many angles, the tarnished gold of pagodas on the skyline.
    As the ship approached the shore the details took recognisable shape. There were the decaying houses of vanished commercial dynasties, perhaps more noble in their decline than in their heyday. An old warehouse with a baroque, eau-de-nil façade had become a cinema. On a ribbon of sand at the water’s edge a few vultures spread their wings furtively over what the sea had surrendered to them. The colours of this town were old and faded, degraded and washed out: the red of rust, the greens and greys of patinas and stains. A stench of mud and decomposing vegetation lowered itself like a blanket over the ship.
    It was still early morning when we tied up alongside the wharf, and about an hour later I was just about to sit down to breakfast when an exceedingly handsome young Burman came to my table and introduced himself as U Tun Win’s son. U Tun Win had mentioned vaguely that he expected me to be his guest as long as the ship stayed at Moulmein, but I had taken this no more seriously than a European invitation of the ‘do look in and see us any time you happen to be round our way’ variety. Since the old man had gone ashore without saying goodbye, I did not expect to see him again. I now learned from his son – who told me to call him by his familiar name of Oh-oh – that the invitation had been seriously meant indeed. In fact an intensive programme of sightseeing had been arranged in the hour U Tun Win had been ashore. Beyond the wharf-gate a canary-coloured jeep awaited us. In this, said Oh-oh, we would first see the sights of the town. At eleven o’clock we were invited to a party given by a family whose son had just entered the Buddhist novitiate. Then we would breakfast, after whichhe proposed an excursion into the surrounding countryside, since I should naturally want to visit the principal pagodas of the Moulmein district. The suggestion of breakfasting at about midday was my first introduction to the Burmese custom of taking one’s first meal of the day – universally known as breakfast – at any time between dawn and three-thirty in the afternoon. Somewhat alarmed at this suggestion – although otherwise, of course, enchanted – I insisted on Oh-oh’s joining me there and then at the bacon and eggs.
    * * *
    Moulmein was a town of strong baroque flavour. It was as if the essence of the Renaissance had finally reached it via Portugal, and after careful straining through an Indian mesh. There was a spaciousness of planning; an evidence of studied proportion about the old stone houses. Doors and windows were often flanked with heavy double columns. Much crudely stained glass was to be seen. Balconies were of wrought iron and from the eaves depended stalactites of fretted woodwork. The original roofs had been replaced by corrugated iron. It was as if an Indian architect had been responsible for this style, after spending perhaps a week in Goa. Crows alighted and perched swaying on the potted sunflowers put out on balconies. Rows of coconuts had been suspended from the eaves

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