“Garnier, have you seen Lakshmi?”
“No, Doudart,” I said. “I haven’t. Who is Lakshmi?”
“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…”
“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?”
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?
“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.”
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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’. 🙏🏻
113 thoughts on “Lakshmi”
Thank you, I wish that for you too!
So that was how Angkor was discovered, I didn’t know that.
As in many cases, the ruins were there and the locals knew all about them. Actually they were “discovered” earlier by another Frenchman whose name I forgot, but Doudart de la Grée’s expedition was the first to bring a photographer along. Imagine, photography was what? 20 years old?
Yes, and carrying the heavy gear around through the jungle and on the river … amazing that some footage survived.
The glass plates were heavy but resistant. All that material is still at the French Geographic Society. They should do an expo.
Yes, wow, definitely!
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 ?
Thank you. Glad you liked the post. The sketch is mine in various stages. I’d stopped drawing for 40 years, took it up again a few years. A pleasant sensation… 🙏🏻
They were very well done. Seeing Goddess Lakshmi standing on top of the familiar Buddha was a cool surprise . They were both instantly recognizable and perfectly illustrated your story.
Buddha and Lakshmi don’t normally get together… 😉 I’d already drawn a gew BUddhas from Angkor and I wanted something different. Saw Lakshmi’s statue on my shelf… Voilà…
Pencil. Then ink. Then watercolours…
This is absolutely beautiful.Love.d it
Thank you. Dhanyavad. Shukryia… 😉🙏🏻
Wonderful story. I like how you weave the fact and fiction together; Lakshmi trying to make the man feel at home before he dies. I like your drawing as well.
Gracias amiga. It’s fun to mix different… “tools” (?) drawing, inking, watercolour, words and history…
Yes, that is a real joy of blogging, getting to use all those unchanneled interests at once.
This was absolutely wonderful, I was entranced through the whole story.
Merci mon amie… Bien sûr les dessins étaient plus importants que l’histoire, puisque ce sont les dessins qui l’ont inspirée… Tout va bien chez toi? Biz.
Mon plaisir et oui, effectivement, les dessins donne un gros plus.
Tout va bien. Hâte à la mi-octobre (fin de la saison de golf…)
Qui joue au golf?
Pas moi! Je travaille dans un club de golf
Haha! Bientôt les vacances donc?
‘stie… pas assez rapidement… 😉
T’inquiète, comme disent les Français. Octobre is just around the corner…
T’inquiètes, nous les québécois disons la même chose. Suis “Done” avec cette job qui me rend complètement brain-dead.
Ouais, mais y faut bien mettre du potage dans l’assiette, non?
Ouin… va falloir trouver une autre façon… 😀
Bonne chance. 🍀
An intriguing rendition of that fateful adventure. I especially liked how your drawing evolved as the story was told.
Or maybe the story evolved around the drawings? 😉
Thanks for the visit and comment.
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?
Probably. Rapids I imagine? Rocks? Shallow waters? They probably should have the locals to begin with and spare themselves a lot of suffering…
Yes, early graves for most of them, not made for it.
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.
O what a sadness for her, but they did it the hard way, so many kids, wow. Yes our arrival was with so much medicine.
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.
Horrible, the waiting, knowing.
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.
I was good to see another of your “time-lapse” drawings. I also enjoyed the historical fiction.
And we think we’re carrying a lot when it’s one body and a couple of lens 😉
Indeed. Which is why I have definitely downsized to just an IPhone in my back pocket. 😉
I could never downsize that much!
I don’t think you could. Me? I’m lazy. 😉
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
Yep. I did. The drawings. Thanks for the visit and comment Scottie.
Wonderful story, Brian, and very well illustrated 🙂
Thank you my friend. Such posts are a pleasure to “produce”. I start sketching, I have no idea what the final colours will be, and even less about the story…
Everything is a journey. You will know more when the story and the picture is completed.
What a wonderful story, I really like your drawings too, it crowns the story …
Thank you. I only recently took drawing up again after many years of not lifting a pencil. Need to schedule more drawing in the week. Have a great week-end… 🙏🏻
Yes, the drawings are wonderful!
Thank you, have a nice weekend too!
And a great week to you…🙏🏻
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. 😇 🙏🏻
Dhanyavad Megha, I’m glad you liked it. (And that you approve of the colours and drawing.)
Very interesting, and presented well with the artwork.
My pleasure Resa. Coming from such a great artist as you it means a lot. 💕
…OH! Thank you!
Will be a better artist, in time.
All artists. that’s the striving. ❤
LOL. You already are. I love how you draw “Princess Holly”.
Thank you! I’m working on another story!
A nice story…
I really liked the evolution of your drawing … But not only …
Nice but sad. Those young men were brave.
To catch the different phases of the drawing is also interesting to me. Helps me for the next drawings… A+
“Pas que?” 😉
Oui : le reste de l’article également 🙂
I love watching the progression of your art, cher Mzungu. Thank you for sharing the process. Hope you are well and enjoying the end of summer. Bises.
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?
Oui! Mon petit bungalow est en train d’être construit. 😊
Wow, génial! I’m very happy for you. We will want pictures of course… BIZ.
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.
Well, hello… Long time no hear. I dropped by your blog a few times, no dice… I hope this virus madness has treated you well. Stay safe.
Things are good, although seriously this year is something I could never have imagined…having a tough time just comprehending it all 🙂
Not sure anything is understandable, beyond the total incompetence of world wide politicians…but we knew that already, didn’t we?
Yes, we knew it, and also understand it will not be getting any better in the near future…
It could well go on until mid or end of 2021… so let’s be patient. Stay safe
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What a mystical piece along with the historical facts, obviously!
And the Indian connect made the story resonate with me even more!
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. 🙏🏻
Ah yes. Quite impressive, if you put it like that.
Glad you are.
Stay safe. 💫
this is a very sad but very beautiful story! Had it been true I would have truly envied him! Only blessed souls see or dream about God(s)! great art works!
The dream is fiction. The rest is true. Doudart and Garnier (and their team) were brave men.
Fantastic piece of fiction, though it did feel real to me. I would have thought they were journal entries had you not clarified the fact towards the end. Your drawing is wonderful. Lakshmi looks happy from her perch and Buddha looks most unperturbed (as he should)
Glad you liked it ma’amji. This was my third “Buddha”, inspired by Angkor of course. The first one was another extract of the “invented journals” of Doudart and Garnier. I wanted something different. Looked up one of my shelves where Lakshmi stands along with Saraswati and a few… “colleagues”. Inspiration came for both the sketch and the story. 🙏🏻
If you were on insta, I would share a photo of our Durga Puja celebrations (you might know of it), where Lakshmi and Saraswati are both present along with their mother Durga on one pedestal. 🙂
After much procrastination, I just opened an insta account: Brianji20 🤣🤣🤣
Do share ma’amji… 🙏🏻
Yay. Following you there.
I left you a message there and followed you. I wonder if you have read it.
I haven’t yet… I will this week-end. We had the grandchildren over since yesterday at dawn, and the little dears do pump most our energy…
That sounds happy and busy, the nicest way to ring in the festive season. Hope you have some scary movies lined up for Halloween. I have and cannot wait to make Adi’s hair stand.
To have them was Kya baat hai’ (Correct?)
No scary movies lined up. All you need to do is turn on the News! 😉
What movies do you have in mind?
True. It is sad, the news. Do you watch Don Lemon?
Well, I have no list in mind. But watching Hereditary at the moment. Have a whole line-up of noir shows for my birthday week when Adi has taken time off from work. Chuffed about that.
Zaroor milenge. 🙂
Noir shows or films noirs? I’m on a string of old Bogart, Stewart, Bacall movies right now…
Janmadin Mubaraak… 🙏🏻
Shukriya (in advance). Noir shows. I like them stretched out over a period of time, so that I can immerse myself in them. Your Bogart and Bacall movies sound cosy. Winter calls for the classics in heaps. 🙂
Absolutely. I recently subscribed to Apple TV. They have a good catalogue of classics… I just bought “Mr Smith goes to Washington”, with Jimmy Stewart. I might watch it on November 3rd…
Sounds like an excellent plan. And look it’s Nov 3rd. What a coincidence 😁 Are you on with the plan?
Yes, Definitely. Bought it on Apple TV. It is a monument. Watched the first half last night. Tonight I think will be Anderson Cooper.
It is a powerful movie… Well worth it. it’s history now. Phir milenge ma’amji.
Hear hear 🙂 Phir milenge!
It must have felt good to put the finishing touches to an unfinished work. Is it lockdown that sent you back into the soothing arms of art?
NO. It’s a very tragic event that shook our family to the core in 2017. I hadn’t drawn in 40 years. I was in a hurry to draw a kingfisher for my youngest daughter. For many symbolic reasons. And I realized I could still draw and paint. Sort of. 😉 That’s when I took it up again.
It takes these turning points in our lives to bring us back to things we had put away for some reason or the other, it seems. But what great joy it brings. Did you end up drawing the kingfisher? I guess the innate talent for art never leaves you really.
I did. Draw the kingfisher. 👍🏻
Not sure about talent. I wouldn’t pretend to. I do think training and repeating does leave a memory in your hands… The trick is to shut the brain off. And stop it from controlling the hand. 😉
Well said! 🙂
Thank you for sharing this fascinating fiction story – thoroughly enjoyed the read and sketches.
My pleasure. The sketches are based on my photos of Angkor. I knew the story of Doudart and Garnier… An easy mix… Glad you liked it.
It’s a fabulos post!
Terimah kasi… 🙏🏻