Lakshmi

 

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“Garnier, have you seen Lakshmi?”

“No, Doudart,” I said. “I haven’t. Who is Lakshmi?”

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“How can you possibly not have seen her?” Doudart asked. “She walks the compound all night. The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen!”

“Doudart, my friend, Lakshmi is an Indian name. We’re in China, in Yunnan. Don’t you remember? This God-forsaken place is called Tong-Tchouen. You have had the fevers for days…”

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“Garnier, I’m confused but you’re right. Lakshmi is an Indian Goddess. Now I remember. But I saw her, Garnier. She was climbing on top of one of the Buddhas of Bayon.”

“In Angkor, you mean? That’s better. Do you remember the Buddhas in the jungle, Doudart?

“Yes, my dear friend. Wasn’t that the most beautiful sight we ever set our eyes upon?”

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Lieutenant Francis Garnier’s log. Yunnan. March 10, 1868.

We have reached China. After months of efforts. We started off in Indochina 2 years ago under the command of Capitaine de corvette Doudard de Lagrée. Our objective was to go North up the Mekong river to find a waterway to China. (And stop the English advance from India to China.) We probably failed on both counts. The English are moving around by sea from Singapore towards Shanghaï. The Mekong can’t support ships upstream. What will probably stay in History is our “discovery” of the temples of Angkor. I’ve never seen such beauty gathered in one place. Though I was then sick as a dog, I remember  it vividly. We will bring back to the world the first photographs of Angkor.

Doudart helped me then. He saved my life from the wretched fevers of the jungle. I don’t know whether we can save him now. He’s had fever for days. Will hardly eat a bowl of rice a day. He delirious. Claims he sees Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife I’m told. I don’t know enough about Hinduism. Why is Doudart “seeing” her?

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“Come on, Doudart, you must eat. Sorry we lost the silverware a while back, has to be with those chopsticks. The rice will settle your stomach. Tell me, who is Lakshmi?”

“I don’t know, Garnier. Never been to India. I don’t even speak Hindustani. Know close to nothing about the place. Yet, when she comes at night and speaks to me, she soothes me. Her four arms must be a sign of my delusion, my delirium, but she makes sense.”

“What does she say, my old friend?”

“She says the word ‘lakshya’, which I understand is ‘goal’. Don’t ask me how I know. She says that there are many goals. Seven or eight, not sure. She says I have reached mine.”

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“Your ‘goal’, Doudart?” I asked. He looked very weak, but spoke quite clearly. “What do you or whar does she mean?”

“Fame? Glory? Abundance? Success? What do I know? I only know we failed in our mission. Couldn’t really find the “passage to China”, could we? But we ‘found’ Angkor. And, perhaps, that is enough.

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Lieutenant Francis Garnier’s log. Yunnan. March 11, 1868.

Doudart is weaker by the hour. Our Chinese guides have sent for herbs and remedies. They say they know an ‘old witch’ in the village. I hope they come back on time.

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“I wish you could see her, my dear Garnier. She is beautiful. The four arms notwithstanding.”

He laughed. Made me smile a bit. Then he coughed. A raking cough. The two doctors of the expedition are ill too. What can I possibly do?

“Here she comes, Garnier. She is wearing lotus flowers in two of her hands. I’ll be all right. Make sure you reach Shanghaï.”

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Lieutenant Francis Garnier’s log. Yunnan. March 12, 1868.

Capitaine de corvette Doudart de Lagrée died peacefully in his sleep, before dawn. I take command of this expedition with a heavy heart. We will pursue our goal, Doudart’s mission. We will reach Shanghaï.

(s) Lieutenant de vaisseau Garnier, Francis.

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Angkor, c.1866. Possibly on the elephants terrace. Far left, Navy Lieutenant-Commander Doudart de Lagrée is in command of the expedition to find a route to China, sailing up the Mékong river. Previous expeditions had re-discovered the ruins of Angkor, but Doudart is the first to bring a photographer. He dies, of tropical illness, in 1868 at the age of 45 in the south of China. Francis Garnier, far right, takes over the expedition. They do reach Shanghaï in June 1868. Yet, the Mekong is not fit for navigation in the North. The route to China eludes the French. Garnier stays in Indochina doing a brilliant career in the  French navy. He is killed in combat in 1873 by the Black flags pirates in Hanoï.

Thank you for flying Equinoxio’s Time-Space shuttle. This sketch had been half finished for a while. About time to wrap it up. My Lord Buddha is inspired by our recent trip to Angkor. Lakshmi, by a small statue my parents bought in India, ages ago. The other members of the expedition on the photo are: Louis de Carné, Clovis Thorel, Eugène Joubert, Louis Delaporte. Brave men.

A special mention to the photographer who brought back this picture and the first photographs of Angkor: Émile Gsell. Just imagine the equipment he carried. One – or several – wooden camera(s) with tripod, glass plates… As always, the photographer is  not in the picture…

Obviously this is a work of fiction based on historical facts. The B&W photograph belongs to the Archives of the French Geographic Society.

May you all accomplish your ‘lakshya’. 🙏🏻

 

 

83 thoughts on “Lakshmi

  1. You certainly attained your lakshya in writing a captivating post. Goddess Lakshmi , Angkor and the expedition were brilliantly woven together in this fine story. The sketches accompanying were fantastic as well. Did you do them ?

  2. I love the developing art work. Had no idea about the expedition, enjoyed learning about that. When you say that the Mekong wasn’t navigable in the north – does it turn into a narrow creek?

      • And so it was until WWII basically. Malaria, yellow fever, black water fever, ugly worms crawling under your skin. Looking back, we were lucky as children in Africa, we had vaccines, quinine, antibiotics. Jumping back in time and space, my great-grandmother Wilhelmine, in India had 8 o 9 kids, 2 of which died within the year.

      • No birth control then. War was the “solution”. My other great-grandmother, on the Breton side had 8 sons (and who knows how many girls) All 8 sons went to war. WWI. Only 3 came back including my grandfather… I can imagine his mother crossing herself when she saw the postman coming down her street.

      • Yeah. The Ministry of war would send a telegram to the family. “Jean-Marie Prodault, mort pour la France.” I’m sure many an Aussie mother received such news too. Plus, in those days in blue-collar families, one did not receive a lot of mail. It was expensive so, when the postman showed up, it must have been heart-stopping. And it went on all the war. My grand-mother’s little brother died in September ’14, two weeks into the war. My grandfather’s last brother to “fall” did so in October 18, one month before the end.
        I have all the certificates, since the Ministry of defense scanned all certificates and tagged them. Family history.
        Anyway. Stay safe.

      • Yes they did receive telegrams, the horror when the delivery boy arrived! Yes, family history. But in my mind the govt are never capable of valuing human life only the expediency of the blood given for politics. Sigh.

  3. Hello Brian. Did you do the drawings? love the post , it is always grand to learn about other places and to see pictures / diaries of the people who went to them. Hugs

  4. Such an intriguing post, the drawing, the story, the eight goals and the way you interlinked everything is so engaging. The colour of the saree is apt too. Loved it. 😇 🙏🏻

    • Chère Julie. Always a pleasure to have you around. Glad you liked my scribbles. Amusant de voir les différentes phases n’est-ce pas?
      End of summer doesn’t really apply here. Sun is mostly up. Just waiting for the end of the rainy season… And waiting for the wretched labs to come up with a treatment… So far, they have been rather incompetent… Wait and see. Tout va bien chez toi? Are you going to build a little house like you planned to?

  5. Right when I opened this post, I saw my old friend from Bayon 🙂
    Great post, Brian, such a great way to give us the history and then the evolution of your sketching and watercolors. Beautiful work, my friend, and I hope all is going well with you.

  6. Pingback: Lakshmi – Wilfredo Santa Gomez MD

    • Dhanyavad, dost. 🙏🏻
      I hadn’t thought of the mystical dimension, when I brought together my Lord Buddha, the Lady Lakshmi and poor Doudart de lagrée, but you are right. You also made me think that Europeans have no idea of the wide extent of mysticism in India with so many Gods, from Ganesha to Vishnu to Lakshmi to Krishan et al. So many aspects of life must be penetrated by the Gods… hmmm. Food for thought.
      Hope all is well with you?

      • You are most welcome ji!
        Ah yes Europeans have absolute no idea. From the various names for different gods we have nearly 330 million Gods in the books of Hinduism. They all represent the 33 types of elements said to constitute the earth but all the various traditions of different cultures and names that Hinduism comprises, has given lakhs of names and shapes to each god. At times I wonder if 330 million is also a small number, their still might be some left unearthed. Haha!
        Yes all is well with me. Hope you are doing well too?

      • 330 millions? Wow. so if India’s population is 1.3 billion that’s close to one God for every 4 Indians? 😉 Impressive.
        We’re all right, thank you. Quite a bit of cabin fever though…
        Stay safe. 🙏🏻

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