Les visages – I

One fine April Sunday in the midst of end-sem preparations, my easily distracted mind turned to the history of a language whose history is often neglected, English, through a series of beautiful documentaries by the BBC! I remember telling Anushka and other language aficionados about it and was pleasantly surprised and somewhat jealous at the antiquity of the language as well as the the struggles it went through to survive, against my newer muse, la belle langue, Français! 1066 – a date that was to be etched in my memory, was when the French of Normandy conquered what was then England, and French quickly became the language of the elite of the British Isles. The ‘crude, archaic’ English tongue was then spoken by the commoners while the aristocracy spoke French, but, unlike in highly class segregated France, the twain interacted and, by the astonishing fluidity of the English tongue, both the different classes of registers were imbibed into English – hence most of French vocabulary would sound like “high brow English” while the more common English words, would be true to its Celtic and Germanic origins.
Cathédralé de Lausanne, P.C. – Aranya Goswami
Whew! So much to introduce the meaning of ‘les visages‘ – the faces – the title of this blog post! Faces (‘visage‘ is the commonly used French term) are but windows to one’s soul, but with characteristic haziness, as seen through, say, a stereotypical tinted glass in a European church. ( perfect opportunity to showcase the beauty of the Cathédralé de Lausanne or the Cathedral of Lausanne that I was lucky enough to see at the wee hours of the evening of my first weekends in the laps of la Suisse! ) The faces and the people that I have observed, sometimes willingly, sometimes not so, over the few weeks I have been here in Europe, my first time west of Gujarat, have been astounding.
The following few posts will be about the people, often unnamed, sometimes offering a fleeting glance, sometimes a lingering stare, sometimes a sudden momentary glimpse into their lives and their souls, a few words, a haunting smile, a musical note of refreshing sound – oh là là, sonner, mon ami, j’adore vous et votre beauté! Sound and language and the power of this incredibly human facility of language has endlessly fascinated me ( ভূবন হল বাঙময়! – the point of time when people began to speak is something I often perceive as a turning point in the history of mankind and hence in the history of the universe in itself!) And your face, your visage, your tongue, your nose, your eyes, your eyebrows and forehead, all have their own way to express your feelings. These posts are about those feelings.
1. La poutoulle!  One of the first things that does hit one in the eye when one enters Europe in general and Switzerland in particular (for a man especially) are the members of le deuxième sexe, as Simone de Beauvoir puts it. It is evident that there are far more members of the fairer sex out on the streets in these nations that what one would commonly get to see in India. Add to that the general Pavlovian conditioning that many people from my nation have towards the literary fairer sex, it would be difficult to ignore the physical beauty, enhanced by evidently careful grooming and fashionable dressing senses! There were people whose beautiful facial features would have us name them “পুতুল” in Bengali, transliterated to la poutoulle in French for they seemed to be crafted carefully by an expert craftsman! One such lady was la poutoulle herself, whom we saw on the first sojourn from La Sarraz to l’EPFL on the bus at Cossonay-Penthalaz. We were yet to become acclimatized to the equality in numbers of the sexes out on the streets and la poutoulle was the first beautiful human being to catch our lucky eyes! Her face seemed carved of fromage de la vie, literally, the cheese of life, the aquiline nose drawn with the French curves of Feynman and her blue eyes reflective of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). In spite of all this however, her face was not exactly happy missing the warmth that I would have liked, the rosiness of la rosa blanche (the white rose) that I love so much. There were other occasions we would meet her, but this was our first meeting with a beautiful European lady and this I shall not forget even as I move ahead on my Tagoreoid journey to understand the good of the culture here and try to imbibe its best. However, her charm would soon wear off like the fading light through a tinted glass, unless it had more stories to tell. She evidently had, but we were not lucky enough to find it out, Brandonoid. We would grow out of la poutoulle soon enough to not give even a cursory glance during future meetings.
2. Les couples! – Now, my English speaking friends, do not go about finding any connotations of sexual orientation in the title of this sub-part, for I assure you it is not pronounced like you mean it to. PDA is quite prominent in Europe and not frowned upon, as in India. One may find a lot of initial reactions on being exposed to this change – incredulity, perversion, stupidity, le hyalou(!), disgust, cringeworthiness etc. But on giving a thoughtful amount of time thinking over it, one does realize, that after all, the world can always, always do with a little more of love and expressing it without any fear of social backlash or literal backlashes from the so-called keepers of public morality, as the ‘conservatives and self-proclaimed protectors of Indian culture’ claim to be. Not interfering too much in how people choose to express love is one of the virtues that the façade of Indian culture needs to adopt. If there is an Indian culture, it is one of tolerance and openness to ideas, debate, truth and love, an imbibing of the best of many worlds, devoid of narrow-minded xenophobia and jingoistic fervour, unlike the so called Hindutva fanatics that ‘represent’ India today. I doubt any of them understands the beauty of a lover with teary eyes kissing the love of his life goodbye on a misty Saturday night at Lausanne station as the train chugs off towards Paris, through Genève. I guessed she was leaving for a tour in the French countryside to meet friends or family, or maybe to a conference in Paris or Lyon or Grenoble, or maybe off to London across the English channel, but the holding of hands and a passionate embrace as the train leaves the station; the whirring of the split-flap display announcing the next train to leave voie nombre cinq (5) and the strange knot I myself feel in my hearts – is a very human feeling that one can only love and observe.

Next up – the people who remember and the people who forget, one’s first employment, and French tears!


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