Op-ed by Carleton Cronin, West Hollywood, California
Incidentally, I pushed the button on the controller and the screen opened up with a scene from Gunga Din, the 1939 movie adaption of a Rudyard Kipling story of the Imperial Raj, the era of English rule in India.
There was Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Victor McLaglen and the ubiquitous Sam Jaffe as Din. The others were three British soldiers on a mission into dangerous territory.
These were the days of the greater English empire, during which it seemed to be in a constant battle with the “fuzzie-wuzzies” in Abyssinia or the adherents of the evil goddess Kali, patroness of the Thugi cult of murder in the Punjab.
In the final scenes of the movie one sees the entire military panoply of the English, their engine of conquest in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Bagpipes at the fore, the infantry, spiffy and starched in khaki with traditional kilts white and spats boldly marched, leading the Brits into the Thugi ambush. But – wait!
On the dome of the temple at the head of the narrow valley (perfect for an ambush), the severely wounded Din, despite having been skewered by a sword, had managed to scale its top and clinging to the finial, he sounded “retreat” on his bugle before succumbing to further injury from rifle fire. (“By the livi’ God that made ye, yer a better man than I, Gunga Din!”)
Lewis guns were set down from the backs of elephants and fired into the coming horde of Thugi horsemen – oddly, killing them all but sparing their horses. infantry squares were formed, a ferocious charge by the Sikh cavalry, with Bengal Lancers mopping up.
It was a magnificent bit of nonsense, but, when I was boy, it was the epitome of adventure, danger and derring-do – all that which no longer exists in that form.
It was also story book fantasy in a world about to go mad with nationalism and yet blind with isolationism and trust in broken or bereft governments. Fantasy was certainly better than reality.
As the echoes from that film, which I could watch every month forever, died away, my thoughts ran to what the world has to offer today. What I find is that we have squandered our inheritance.
We teeter on the very brink of poverty in every sense. The chasm of ignorance yawns and our cupidity, our desires for things we cannot explain forces us to the lip of that void. This condition seems to repeat itself every few generations, thus one must conclude that we cannot learn to escape ourselves, nor our drive for self-destruction.
So, it came to be that I would put away my daydreams of dodging bullets I the Khyber Pass and face the reality of trading “polite” innuendos at embassy garden parties and spend my time doing – well, someday I’ll write that part down.
But, dreams of innocence and nonsense and days when the least of us would lay down his life for his comrades can still propel one off to search, like Acquinas, for both happiness and morality, quantities seriously absent in our national life.
This is why we are so profoundly involved in our municipal activities. Here we have some control – not much to be sure, but at least a shot at the pursuit of happiness.
The next few years promise change, incremental or course, but change, damit. Movement, not static existence.
Youth will have its day.