Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Bun Butter Congress On Sofa Cum Bed?

[Bengaluru, 12/10/22]

Englandbound his entire life, Shakespeare mentions “China” just once, but only as “China dishes.”

“India” or “Indian,” though, appears in ten plays. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there’s a wordless “Indian boy” who’s adored by Titania, to the exasperation of her jealous husband, Oberon. In Othello, “the base Indian” is cited, while in The Tempest, “a dead Indian” is a spectacle men would pay to see.

In Troilus and Cressida, there’s this delightful phrase, “Her bed is India,” which became the title of a 1947 short story by the India-born Christine Weston. Both fiction and writer are largely forgotten.

In Merchant of Venice, “an Indian beauty” covered by “the beauteous scarf” is really “a most dangerous sea,” according to the hapless yet well-rewarded Bassanio.

In his classic 1633 poem about sex, “The Sun Rising,” John Donne chides that burning orb:

Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.

Not perilous unless he catches gonorrhea or syphilis, Donne’s India is a sea of pleasure. He spent years in Italy and was a soldier in Cadiz and Azores. Since Donne got nowhere near India, it was but a notion, bias or spell. Unlike us, Donne couldn’t see a photo of it, but like us all, he could sort of feel or even smell it. In your face, India is like that.

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