A country like no other

It was the greatest holiday I ever had

Anwer Mooraj January 08, 2017

My love of English poetry started in St Peters, a boarding school in the romantic wilderness of the Western ghats in India. Our principal Rev F M Mckeown, a Scottish clergyman, laid great stress on the need to know English really well, and that meant correct syntax in addition to a reasonable vocabulary. He laid a lot of emphasis on poetry which he believed would come in very handy for candidates who intended to appear for the Indian Civil Service exam after obtaining a degree.

We were very lucky to have had dedicated teachers who certainly knew their subjects. Two of them, Mr Sacket and Mr Llewelyn, were rather friendly and now and then came up with a droll story. They were also sticklers for adhering to the syllabus. That year we had Robert Louis Stevenson and I believe one of the Bronte sisters. And in the poetry department there was Wordsworth, Byron and Macaulay. When we were studying the Lays of Ancient Rome by one of England’s great essayists and historians — Thomas Babington Macaulay — it was as if a huge fog had lifted and the sun had peeped in through the pines. Every student in my class loved the elegy on the Roman soldier Horatius who stood on the narrow bridge over the raging River Tiber and after losing his two companions Herminius and Spurius Lartius, famously defended his city against the huge army of Lars Porsena of Clusium in 508 BC.

The language in the poem is simple and unpretentious, like the poems of Oliver Goldsmith. They have such a wonderful rhythm and meter that most of the lads knew it by heart.

The other ode that we all loved was the homage paid by the romantic English poet Lord Byron to that clutch of famous islands in the Mediterranean that has been regarded as the cradle of western civilisation. The warriors of Sparta and the great philosophers — Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Anaximander, Empedocles, Thales of Miletus, Zeno and the great Pythagoras. One of the boys, a pimply faced youth who had a perpetual twitch and spoke in a wheezy contralto, was asked to recite the bard’s poem on Hellas.

Clearing his throat and striking an attitude he plunged into ‘The Isles of Greece! the Isles of Greece/Where burning Sappho loved and sung/Where grew the arts of war and peace/ Where Phoebus rose and Delos sprung/Eternal summer gilds them yet/And all but their sun is set.’ He stopped rather abruptly because he said he found the opening lines so delightful and enchanting that he just couldn’t learn the next two verses. It suddenly became very quiet in the room and we expected a wrist was about to be slapped or an ear bent. But nothing of the sort happened. Mr Sacket just issued a mild rebuke and asked one of the other boys to continue.

Later, when I bumped into the teacher in the corridor he said ‘If you ever get a chance to visit Greece Mooraj grab it with both hands. You will never regret it.’ A few years later when I went to London for my studies I became friendly with a number of students among whom were two Greeks and two Cypriots.

They were so friendly that I was quite overwhelmed. They taught me a little Modern Greek and I relished a dish named Mousaka. And when the five of us went to the Pullman cinema to see Windfall in Athens which starred Elie Lambeti and Dimitri Horn I was simply hooked and managed to visit Athens on my way home to Karachi. I remember that time fondly.

It was the greatest holiday I ever had.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2017.

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J.Niaz | 7 years ago | Reply @Motiwala: Also from St Pats, "Gunny" D*Souza, Father Raymond ,,,,,,, The article is a very enjoyable read.
3rdRockFromTheSun | 7 years ago | Reply @the author Did not know you were an alumnus of St.Peters(Freddie Mercury being another of the school's alumnus)! I am an alumnus of the school that bordered yours! Great times... ...and yes, Greece is on the bucket list.
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