When i was reading Orwell’s Collection of Essays – i made extensive notes. (and one of the good things about making notes when you are reading an ebook, is that you can mark a book without feeling guilty). Everytime i used a purple virtual marker, to mark out a phrase or a paragrah, i smiled at the guilty pleasure of marking a book, in a way that can be undone, leaving the book as new. Small joys of life.
In his very first essay, he talks about his formative years in a boarding school. In today’s day and age, that school would be shut down, and it’s Head Master and wife (aka Mum) would be in prison. Children were put through routine torture. Orwell describes it with a certain incisive wryness. It is also a tale of the times, the swinging years before the first world war. Before 1918, when it all changed.
This was in the context of boys figuring out they had an organ that had a mind of its own, and the first manifestations of sexuality that could only be shared with other boys. In that era, sex was not spoken about. Homosexuality, definitely not.
I HAD learned early in my career that one can do wrong against one’s will, and before long I also learned that one can do wrong without ever discovering what one has done or why it was wrong. There were sins that were too subtle to be explained, and there were others that were too terrible to be clearly mentioned.
Orwell came from a not so well to do family. And, he was always reminded of the fact that but for the benevolence of the Head Master and his wife, he would be nowhere. He was also told not to try and reach beyond his station in life. Most of the children in the school came from either titled families, or families that were rolling in moolah. Orwell describes the rich, and i couldn’t but help thinking that the way the rich consume and behave in India – and by rich I don’t mean those who own or run businesses, but those who earn well and spend well – is very akin to this description.
There never was, I suppose, in the history of the world a time when the sheer vulgar fatness of wealth, without any kind of aristocratic elegance to redeem it, was so obtrusive as in those years before 1914. …… From the whole decade before 1914, there seems to breathe forth a smell of the more vulgar, un-grown-up kinds of luxury, a smell of brilliantine and crème de menthe and soft-centred chocolates—an atmosphere, as it were, of eating everlasting strawberry ices on green lawns to the tune of the Eton Boating Song. The extraordinary thing was the way in which everyone took it for granted that this oozing, bulging wealth of the English upper and upper-middle classes would last for ever, and was part of the order of things. After 1918 it was never quite the same again. Snobbishness and expensive habits came back, certainly, but they were self-conscious and on the defensive. Before the war the worship of money was entirely unreflecting and untroubled by any pang of conscience. The goodness of money was as unmistakable as the goodness of health or beauty, and a glittering car, a title or a horde of servants was mixed up in people’s minds with the idea of actual moral virtue.
For me the sentience reeks of the entitlement that i see around me – the fact that more and more of us are willing to gate ourselves off from all the dust and grime of India, that sharing is limited, and the world is a cocoon. I wonder how long before it bursts .
On football, that he loathed, and the lesson he learned from it (he much preferred cricket)
What counted was football, at which I was a funk. I loathed the game, and since I could see no pleasure or usefulness in it, it was very difficult for me to show courage at it. Football, it seemed to me, is not really played for the pleasure of kicking a ball about, but is a species of fighting. The lovers of football are large, boisterous, nobbly boys who are good at knocking down and trampling on slightly smaller boys. That was the pattern of school life—a continuous triumph of the strong over the weak. Virtue consisted in winning: it consisted in being bigger, stronger, handsomer, richer, more popular, more elegant, more unscrupulous than other people—in dominating them, bullying them, making them suffer pain, making them look foolish, getting the better of them in every way. Life was hierarchical and whatever happened was right. There were the strong, who deserved to win and always did win, and there were the weak, who deserved to lose and always did lose, everlastingly.
And, finally on religion- and, this resonates deeply. And, he writes with such incisive precision, that it just cuts through and makes you go … wow …
Take religion, for instance. You were supposed to love God, and I did not question this. Till the age of about fourteen I believed in God, and believed that the accounts given of him were true. But I was well aware that I did not love him. On the contrary, I hated him, just as I hated Jesus and the Hebrew patriarchs. If I had sympathetic feelings towards any character in the Old Testament, it was towards such people as Cain, Jezebel, Haman, Agag, Sisera: in the New Testament my friends, if any, were Ananias, Caiaphas, Judas and Pontius Pilate. But the whole business of religion seemed to be strewn with psychological impossibilities. The Prayer Book told you, for example, to love God and fear him: but how could you love someone whom you feared