The Melancholy Jaques of Hundred Acre Wood

The word Melancholy is derived from the Greek melaina chole or the black bile, one of the four elemental bodily humours. The concept of humourism or humours regulating human behaviour was adopted by the ancient Greek and Roman physicians. Hippocrates is believed to be the one who applied this idea to medicine. Human beings are made up of four humours or four vital body fluids and extreme excess of one would lead to illness, a moderate excess of one of the fluids affect the temperament/behaviour of a person. Human temperaments are thus four types: Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic and Phlegmatic.

A person with a melancholic disposition is believed to have an excess of black bile in his constitution and this unnatural bile secreted by the spleen causes depression. Melancholy was considered the most powerful of the four and could cause physical illness like digestive problems, lethargy, sleeplessness, agitation and so on.

The philosophy of the four bodily humours inherited from the Greek philosophers Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen largely contributes to some of the Shakespearean characters. It is interesting to draw parallels between Shakespeare’s melancholic characters and the low spirited yet lovable Eeyore of A.A. Milne. Hamlet the Prince of Denmark is an epitome of melancholy and malcontent; Antonio, the title character of the play, The Merchant of Venice is a lacklustre person soaked in self-pity. Jaques, the sardonic nobleman of Duke senior in Shakespeare’s Pastoral comedy As You Like It  is another mournful character. Of all these Shakespearean characters, Eeyore comes closer to Jaques.

Antonio states at the beginning  of the play “In sooth I know not why I’m sad…” and his philosophy in a nutshell is,

I hold the world as the world, Gratiano;

A stage where every man must play a part,

And mine a sad one

He is a genuine sufferer who doesn’t know the real cause of his suffering, but not to the extremes of the Melancholy Dane, Hamlet whose inaction brings all the doom. Indecision, procrastination and inaction lead to the fall of this noble prince.

Now as we move on to Mr Melancholy of The Forest of Arden, better known as the Melancholy Jaques who delivers one of the most famous  Shakespearean monologues, ‘All the world’s a stage’, we see a contemplative, wistful man. Jaques exhibits a sharp contrast to the merry characters in the play. He takes pride in his melancholy, sans any malignity. He favours solitude, but he is not unsocial.

Jaques and the Wounded Stag by William Hodges (pic courtesy:Wikipedia) 

As William Hazlitt puts it, Jaques is the “ prince of philosophical idler; his only passion is thought; he sets no value upon anything but as it serves  as food for reflection”. He reflects “it is a melancholy of my own, compounded of many simples…  in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humourless sadness.” and attributes his travels the reason for his pensive disposition. 

Rosalind: They say you are a melancholy fellow

Jaques:  I am so.I do love it better than laughing.

The Jaques of Hundred Acre Wood, Eeyore the perpetually gloomy, grey donkey too contemplates and does nothing. He too places himself outside the happy bunch of Hundred Acre Wood, exactly as Jaques does with those who populate Arden.  Nevertheless, Eeyore appreciates his friends and is grateful for the efforts taken by his friends to cheer him up. And unlike Jaques who says “why it is good to be sad and say nothing” , Eeyore can never restrain himself from passing acid remarks to everything he hears.

His theory that cynicism is the essence of his being corresponds to that of Jaques. He too revels in his melancholy and relishes his brimming cup of misery! This doleful donkey who is stuffed with saw dust and a missing tail replaced with an attached one that frequently gets detached, lives in his dismal ‘Eeyore’s Gloomy Place‘ marked on the map as ‘rather boggy and sad‘.

He feels insignificant, isolated and thinks any help from his friends to lift his spirits would be a futile task. Even though he craves for attention, when Pooh and Piglet come and shower him with love and compassion, Eeyore acts passive and greets them with his sardonic sarcasm. Eeyore’s friends accept him as he is ; they never expect him to change. Knowing well he’d be least excited and happy, they invite this lugubrious friend to participate in celebrations and adventures. And he is part of laborious tasks like the quest to rescue Christopher Robin from a  place called skull. Despite all the melancholy and cynicism we are so drawn to Eeyore, like his friends are. We relish his sharp wit wrapped in gloom  as much as we love the buoyant lines delivered by the jolly good fellows of Hundred Acre Wood. In Arden the Duke enjoys listening to Jaques in his ‘sullen fits’ because he would be in his idiomatic humour at its best! When in sombre mood, listening to Eeyore lifts your spirits and the dark temper just melts away.

As the motto of the Elizabethan era lutenist John Dowland  ‘Semper dolens, semper Dowland’ ( Always mourning, always Dowland); some are born to play a sad part. Yes, the bard rightly puts it

“Every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,

Wherein it finds a joy above the rest”




“If music be the food of love, play on…”


‘If music be the food of love, play on…’ (Twelfth Night)

Ravanahatha can be called as a precursor of the violin. Legend has it that,  Ravana the mighty asura king used to play this instrument to please Lord Shiva. The instrument got its name from him ( hath or hasta mean hand). Ravana Hasta Veena another term being given to this stringed, bowed instrument is believed to have brought to India from Lanka by  Hanuman after the great battle of Ramayana. The instrument is popular among the wandering minstrels and folk musicians of Rajasthan. This photogaph is taken at a small village atop a hill, facing the magnificent Sonar Quila in Jaisalmer

Ravanahatha is made of bamboo attached to a coconut shell and covered with goatskin, the string is made from horse hair and played with a wooden bow. 

Ye Soft Pipes, Play On…


” Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard

Are sweeter ; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; “

~ Keats-Ode on a Grecian Urn~

The orange-bearded musician is playing the wind instrument alghoza that consists of a pair of flutes. One of them produces heavy notes and the other low notes. Music experts call the longer one the male and the shorter one the female. The male sound or note keep playing with the same pitch,whereas the female one fluctuates varying in pitch! Amazed at the breath control and balanced manoeuvring of blowing the air out to produce melodious tunes!

This orange-bearded musician was spotted at Jaisalmer Fort, in Rajasthan. The fort, also known as the Golden Fort (Sonar quila) due to the massive golden sandstone walls, is one of the very few ‘living forts’ in the world. One fourth of the old city’s population still lives inside the fort. The fort stands on Trikuta Hill amidst the vast Thar Desert.


“Boys and girls come out to play, The moon doth shine as bright as day…”

“Boys and girls come out to play The moon doth shine as bright as day; Leave your supper and leave your sleep, And come with your playfellows into the street”

Come with a whoop, come with a call,
Come with a good will or not at all.
Up the ladder and down the wall,
A halfpenny roll will serve us all.
You find milk and I’ll find flour,
And we’ll have a pudding in half an hour”

The lyrics of the famous nursery rhyme date back to the 18th century. James Orchard Halliwell, the famous antiquarian, Shakespearean scholar and collector of fairy tales and nursery rhymes had collected the verse.

Mid Autumn festival is here, harvest moon is shining… Children in Vietnam are celebrating Tet Trung Thu. Sharing a few of my watercolour illustrations of children enjoying their bond with Uncle Moon. (some of the sketches are borrowed ideas).






Some of those  fan~’tashe~tic Rajasthani men, donning their handlebars, walrus, imperial, painter’s brush moustaches… A few clicks from my pre-covid Rajasthan trip. In India the bristling history of moustache dates back to the 16th century .

Flauntinghis ‘handlebar moustache’


Imperial meesha!


English ‘tache


Painter’s brush


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There was a Veerappan look alike too! [ And it was a baffling revelation that there used to be a moustache wax named Veerappan (in the UK) with the dacoit’s picture on the lid!]


● Sharing these interesting ‘tache facts~ Bangalore’s braveheart traffic cop ‘Meese Thimiah’, who lost his life while saving a child, was said to have allowed a small sum of moustache allowance. He used to sport a twirling moustache and was honoured as Bangalore Traffic Police mascot. In some parts of UP and MP, police men are given moustache allowance.

The Cup That Cheers!

‘The cups that cheer but not inebriate’ would be one of the best lines extolling the virtues of TEA. During my college days I was never a great fan of William Cowper, even though later in life I have often borrowed his phrase many a time to caption my photos of steaming cups of tea. Some of our tastes and views change as we grow old and I have been reading Cowper, who was known as the forerunner of Romantic Poetry. Considered as one of those pioneers who started writing about simple everyday life of the English countryside, Cowper’s poems would have been a breath of fresh air after the reign of metaphysical and cavalier poems.

On a cold February morning, I met this stout, confident, nonchalant woman in a flower and vegetable market in Jaipur, Rajasthan sipping her cup of tea after unloading a heavy sack of vegetables from her head. Though at first she looked a little intimidating , she gave a broad smile after enjoying her tea and started conversing with us.


The cup…



…that cheers!

Here are those famous lines from Cowper’s The Task Book IV, written in Blank Verse. Lines that bring warmth and a smile! It is said that the phrase The cup that cheers but not inebriates was much quoted during the 19th century Temperance Movement against the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

“Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,

Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,

And while the bubbling and loud hissing urn

Throw up a steamy column and the cups

That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each

So let us welcome peaceful ev’ning in”

~William Cowper~

3A Station, Saigon


Saigon’s 3A Station is a 3 year old memory now. A favourite haunt of the youth, 3A
(Alternative Art Area) Ton Duc Thang  Street used to house small cafes, handicraft shops, art shops, small boutiques and so on; a vibrant art venue where the alleys pulsated with amazing wall graffiti. 3A used to be a youth culture hangout with regular art fairs and live music happening.



FB_IMG_1587341311117The three warehouses, built during French colonisation, were said to have served as the base for the French International secret service, later a centre for the South Vietnamese Intelligence agencies and American CIA.
To many art lovers’ disappointment and heartbreak, 3A Station was closed on May 1st 2017 and was later demolished to pave way for an urban development project.






Elegy to an old sentinel

Before the next floods hit him or the storm fell him our Ungu tree (The Indian Birch tree) was called to sleep a few months back. Nature would have taken his thousand emerald leaves to her bosom, his strong sturdy trunk and bark would have lit someone’s hearth.

“Now that I have opened that bottle of memories they’re pouring out like wine,crimson and bitter sweet’ ~ Ellen Hopkins

We don’t remember our Ungu in his young days, for us he was always there , strong and stout spreading shade in all seasons. We love and hold tight to the memories we share under the shade of the tree.. The happy family time when chairs were pulled out to sit in the the courtyard and evenings were spent talking and discussing countless topics sitting under the tree. That time of the day was the most favourite time of our father..


The tree was a solace, a comfort after our father has left us. The tree was a symbol, the shade that achan gave us literally and metaphorically.

At a time when this tree was not so common, achan got the sapling from Neeliyad, where a beautiful Ungu stood spreading his arms giving shade to the wayfareres. I can’t recollect the young tree however much I try and I always love to visualise the tree in his majestic form.


Hot summer afternoons of April-May would be filled with chirps and cries of jungle babblers, rufous treepies, drongos, bulbuls and many birds that perch on the branches. Among his boughs he provided sanctuary to all these winged friends. As years passed the pretty antigonon started stiffling the tree and smothred him by decking him with bunches of her fuschia pink blossoms. The tree hosted a variety of swiss cheese plant, thadiyante valli as we called it, that never troubled him but added grace. The murmur of the leaves, the mild scent of the blooms, the sometimes profound and sometimes tender green of the leaves, the energy that emanates.. all could bring an unexplainable calmness to the mind while sitting in our balcony staring at the tree.


The tree became synonymous with our home Kousthubham, The Ungu stood next to the entrance gate like a sentinel, rooted firmly in the earth, a silent witness to our joys and sorrows; he has witnessed all the goodbyes, all the jokes we shared sitting on the veranda, all the games our children played. As Ungu was right in front of the house, he could peep into the house, could listen to the activties happening upstairs, he would have known the feelings of the inmates, would have laughed and cried with us; he has seen our children grow, the changes that came over to the house. Ungu was our achan’s presence.


He stood seasons of time, elements did not dare touch him; he never did bend or break in the heavy Kerala monsoons all those thirty plus years. He was as old as the house, the house changed, he aged gracefully, remained more or less unchanged. He welcomed and received the first rays of the sun that touched Anakkara, he bathed himself in the milky beams of hundreds of full moons as he majestically stood facing the east, as nothing hindered his view but the shallow paddy fields.


Antigonon or Coral Vine, the usurper

His presence was taken for granted, until the floods that happened two consecutive years. Being a small town, everyone in the neighbourhood has an opinion about everything ; how the Ungu is going to be a threat to the house was a heated topic of debate very soon. Blake rightly has said ” The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way...” As the compound wall crumbled down with the flood that struck Anakkara last year, pros and cons were weighed ,decision was taken to cut down the tree and rebuild a new wall ….


With a silent prayer in his heart the tree would have fallen down, heart broken. He would have sadly smiled at the hasty decision, also at the non-intervention of those who love him. He would have sighed and reflected upon at the similarity between the brevity of his master’s and his life. He would have closed his eyes with the assurance that changes or loss, this would remain their home and that he was part of those memories that Time would not be able to erase from their hearts.

Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it~ Lucy Maud Montgomery