August 13, 1979
Roman acqueduct, Sbeitla, Tunisia
The next day we went off to Sbeitla. Their plans originally were to go to Bulla Regia,
Amphitheatre, Bulla Regia, Tunisia
but they decided to go to Sbeitla instead – the deciding factor apparently being that I hadn’t ever been there, whereas I had already been to Bulla Regia.
Bulla Regia, 2-3 cent AD
Sbeitla was spectacular; enjoyed the ruins even more than those at Dougga – although this wasn’t quite right for Dougga is really better. But Sbeitla is built in a marvelous golden stone (rather like Bath) and we saw it when it had the setting sun on it so it was melancholy and haunting.
Dougga (from Google Images)
August 13, 1979
Dougga is perched on a hill and right at the top is the spectacular skeleton of the temple of Mercury, with its four columns looking out over the countryside. The whole [Roman] city is fairly well-preserved and one has a vivid impression of being in a place that was once very busy. There’s a theatre and it must once have been the most magnificent in the whole Roman world.
Forum & Temple of Celestes, 3rd cent AD, Dougga
As nightfall was approaching, and I was beginning to wonder where I would spend the night, I bumped into a group of tourists who were also looking over the ruins. Within five minutes learnt that they’d been at the Bourguiba Instt as well, doing the same course (I thought one of them, Bernard, looked familiar). They had hired a car in Tunis and were traveling around the country. They immediately offered me a lift to Teboursouk, which is the town closest to Dougga, placed conveniently on the main road. When they heard I was going to Kairouan, Laurent (there were four of them, Laurent, Bernard (both French), Marith, a Dutch girl, and Faris, a Tunisian) immediately suggested that I go with them. But Bernard hedged a bit at that and said the car was too small (which it was) to take 5 people a long way.
Dougga, from Teboursouk
Anyway, we reached Teboursouk and went to the local tourist hotel. Naturally it was too expensive for me but as soon as I suggested that I’d go off to sleep in the wilderness they said they’d pay. Absolutely insisted and I couldn’t really have said no without being offensive. But as it happened we didn’t stay there after all and went on a bit. The car broke down and we had some trouble, but eventually stayed in a town called El Kef, in a place I could afford.
You are too muchi good, Mistoh AMMY “The White head Ghosh”
(Letter from Li Shiu-je “Chi-Mei”)
I wanchi thank Mister Ammy. Mister Ammy put me … a litti washerwoman in too muchi big book. Me blongi no sing-song girlie but you catchi me. Too muchi sad thing … you make me die, but people blongi reading-reading send me chitties. Say ‘we like you too muchi…but what thing we do…Mister Ammy make you and Mister Barry die’. Also they say ‘we too muchi like the lob pidgin… you Chi-mei are the heroine of the book, no sing-song girlie’.
Mister Compton also send Chi-mei a chittie. Says ‘Ah Meet…a good fellow. You not makie angry. Meet knows all good thing. He makie you die because he write real life stories. Now…understand Chi-mei !… Meet not a bad man. He makie you popular…No? Next he says ‘Ah Meet also make Ah Neel known to all’. ‘Neel told me that writer Ah Meet make Deeti, a poor village widow girl – a heroine, a popular woman in his last book.’ Deeti very gtateful to Meet.
Deeti is old now, but very happy with her large family in Mauritius. She says ‘Ghosh Babu gimi a new life. Hamar pehla husbun was afeemkhor when we lived in a gaon in Inndustan. After his death, there was a big tamasha and I became ready to be sati… but Kalua came like Bhagwan Marut and bachao me. Ye Ghosh Babu ki krupa haiki now I have a big fami in Mauritius. I tell all these chutkas and chutkis, laikas and laikis sab agil-pichheel.’ Next she says ‘All that which happened on Ibis might look ridikil but it was no golmaal.’ ‘Neel’ she says ‘ you will soon suno of this cheeni Ah Fatt’s mother. I saw it with my own eye in the tufaan. Jab sab logue running agram bagram on the Ibis because of the burra tufaan… I saw cheeni’s raja jaisa father meet his destenn. A burri naag jaisi nadi swallowed him but cheeni’s baba was much shant because he meets his cheeni patni in that nadi. Phir all pani became dhuan-dhuan and that nadi looked like a naag made of dhuan’.
Dear Mr. Ghosh
I have just finished reading River of Smoke. I couldn’t help talking to you (in my mind) like this. I’m a lecturer in English and am planning to write at least two research papers on this book. Since that will be a serious affair and will be against your choice, I won’t like to bother you with that.
I’ve a boy chilo ‘Parth’ who is a teenager. These days we enjoy talking in pidgin. Sentences like…’what thing you wanchi-fruit or milk?. You have started eating too muchi maggie these days.’ have become common between us. I’ve been wanting to communicate with you in pidgin and kreol … since I read Sea of Poppies, but at that time I never knew you had a blog on the Net.
Mr. Ghosh, your novels are really ‘encyclopaedic’ and great contribution to world & Indian history.
Hats off to you!
BPS Memorial Girls’ College
BPS Women University
Khanpur Kalan, Sonipat
August 13, 1979
Fell mildly ill for a while in Tunis. Think it was just a fit of exhaustion –worked very hard for the exams and did better than I had expected: 15/20 in written Arabic and 19/20 in the oral.
Left Tunis on the 11th, after prolonged goodbyes to Noel, Edward, Zeenat, Jessica and many other new friends. Had been worrying a great deal about the money situation, but I think I’ll be able too last another month in North Africa, although only just. Anyway, doesn’t seem worthwhile worrying too much.
Left Tunis and arrived at Dougga at about 2.30 pm on the 11th. Dougga is quite a long way from the nearest village, and there’s very little habitation in the area. Walked a part of the way up – a passing farmer stopped to give me a lift on his donkey.
On the road to Dougga
I thought it right to get off in the steep bits, but he carried my rucksack all the way to the top. Extraordinary phenomenon of children asking for money as soon as they set eyes on one.
Ruins spectacular. Unfortunately very, very windy and dusty – though that was a blessing in a way, for it was cooler.
Roman Theatre, Dougga (ancient Thougga), 2nd cent. C.E.
Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
[July 13, 1979, Tunis]
One evening met two Tunisians quite by chance. Was eating at a little restaurant in a gali
and afterwards asked the owner where I could catch the bus. He asked two of his clients to show me the bus stop. They were about my age or a little older – in their early twenties – Wahid and Omar. They walked me all the way to the bus stop and waited there with me. My French was at its most pitiable and I could hardly say anything sensible. Nor did I understand anything they said, but they were incredibly nice and we arranged to meet again, on Friday. I didn’t really expect them to be there on Friday but Wahid was, and he took me to a café where Omar where was waiting as well.
I walked around Tunis a bit with them.
Mosque of Sidi Youssef, Tunis, 18th cent
My French has improved a bit, since I spent the first few days working on it, almost exclusively, so I could say and understand a little more than I could the first time. But it was fatiguing for me, and I would have thought, very boring for them. But they tried hard and insisted on paying for everything I had – it was embarrasing how hospitable they were. At dinner they made me eat almost till I was sick. Wahid was trained as an electrical engineer and works somewhere – I haven’t yet fathomed exactly where.
[July 13, 1979, Tunis]
Zaitoun Mosque, Tunis
It wasn’t difficult to find the hostel I’ll be living in. Everyone seems to know the Cité Universitaire and the people on the bus were very helpful. The Cité reminds me of the Delhi School of Social Work hostel – very noisy. By some peculiar acoustic trick every noise is magnified a hundred-fold. The din from the common-room is unbelievable – it can be heard for miles.
On the whole, not a nice place to live in at all – principally because it’s so far outside the centre of town. The last bus is at about 9 pm and one more or less has to catch it. It also means being cloistered with all the other people in the course.
Our classes begin at 2.30 pm, which means that our days are peculiarly constructed. I don’t usually leave the Cité till about 12.30. Since classes get over at about 7 pm and the last bus is at 9 one doesn’t really have much time to look around.
Spent my first few evenings looking around the Medina. Stunning mosque – 9th century.
We have Fridays off, so I’ll try to do some sightseeing then. Carthage is a suburb of the city – Habib Bourguiba [Tunisia’s ruler from 1957-87] has a palace there.Sidi Bou Said, which is near Tunis, is said to be a picturesque place.
Carthage, with Bourguiba’s palace in background
In July 1979 I traveled to Tunisia, to learn Arabic at the Insitut Habib Bourguiba in Tunis.
July 13, 1979
Arrived in Tunis on the 2nd, at about 11 pm (the plane was delayed by three hours). At first glance – at 11.30 at night – Tunis seemed very Mediterranean (or what I conceive of as Mediterranean anyway). There were lots of people on the streets and sitting around in cafés; lots of music, sultry winds etc. Next morning everything seemed somewhat diminished in scale: crowded streets, lots of traffic; people dressed almost universally in jeans, except for the occasional elderly man in a jellaba. Fruit stalls with the wares displayed just as in Calcutta; sweetmeat shops.
The pattern of the city is reminiscent of Tehran and Delhi. There’s an old walled city – the Medina – and all around it the new town.
In the Medina, Tunis
The town’s showpiece streets converge on the entrance to the Medina (characteristically, the most important is called the Avenue de France). The showpiece streets are much of a muchness – huge plate-glass windows, hotels etc. Also a cathedral. The part of the city I am living in is very much like New Delhi – it’s a modern middle-class suburb, very much like Vasant Vihar or Hauz Khas. The houses are almost exactly alike, except that when one walks past them the music playing inside is usually French pop. And the folk art on the walls is Saharan rather than Oriya/Gujarati/Rajasthani.