In the Himalaya Vignettes, 43 in number, Ármann Reynisson opens a view for the reader into a little known world with an extraordinary cultural heritage and magnificent natural surroundings. He lives among the people there, discovers their heartbeat and sensitively interprets many of their tales and traditions. What the author sees, hears and experiences provides the catalyst for some lively narratives although he also allows his imagination full range. The tales are from Mombai, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Nepal, Sikkim, WestBengal og Bhutan. Ármann Reynisson’s vignettes have carved out a place for themselves in the first decade of the twentyfirst century both in Iceland and abroad and have been seen as bringing something new to Icelandic literature. There are 473 in total, contained in 11 dual language books, translated into English, German, Denish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Faroese, Inuit and Esperanto. These vignettes are excellent material for individual consideration and public recital.
In other caverns, rectangular compartments have been hewn, narrow and high. The openings are about the height of a man, with several steps leading up to them. In the middle stands a phallic shaped low stone – a symbol of the union of man and woman, a blessing for a new life. Water and milk are poured over the stone and small flowers strewn there. Visitors walk barefoot around and around the holy place with their hands pressed together and their fingertips under their chins. While they do this, they chant om, om, om and say out loud “May the Lord bless me” and that echoes in the vaulted caverns and connects the speaker with the divine. It is like being a foetus in a womb.
The history of Kashmir is strewn with thorns. The country has been bought and sold over the centuries by politicians without any regard to the wishes or needs of the people. The country is a powder keg, heavily soldiers wherever one looks; it lies between three world powers who all want to lord it here. In their hearts, the people of Kashmir want independence but believe it better to be under the rule of the present superpower than the other two. No one knows whether their dream will ever be realised. The people here are proud of their origins and love their country passionately.
When a family considers that the time has come for one of its daughters or sons to marry, all the relatives are informed. The entire neighbourhood is then combed for a potential partner. When a certain amount of time has elapsed, suggestions will have been made. Much of the individual’s personal record is examined, including their social position and current economic standing, education, personality and physical attributes. Finally, the family elders make a decision concerning the best possible person to join them as a family member. Being able to choose out of love is seldom an option and can lead to ostracisation. If an Indian soldier, stationed in Kashmir, manages to nab a wife for himself from the area, it will invariably lead to a dispute and can even be see as a full-blown scandal in the press.
A little later, a girl in tattered clothing stood beside him. She was perhaps in her early teens, barefoot with a mop of dishevelled hair and she stared at him without expression. In her left hand she held a small baby, wrapped up in rags, and beside her stood a toddler who tugged at his sister’s clothes and buried his face in them. The three siblings hardly moved. They were like three statues in the street.
The greenhouse effect
At the same time, the rich nations can pollute the atmosphere, far beyond any level that can be considered natural and they fail to reach agreement at conferences to slow down or stop this unwholesome development. The warnings of scientists fly round their ears like the wind. Large scale international summits are held with all the accompanying showiness but they achieve little success in the struggle against the annihilation of the earth. Politicians think it better to wait and see what happens after their next meeting is held. New leaders come constantly to the meetings with their aides who have no solutions at all. The technologically advanced nations have enjoyed an extragavance that economically undeveloped nations know little of. Those who enjoy prosperity are not prepared to give up many of their comforts when times get tough. Greed has, little by little, probably damaged their judgement and undermined their wealth. The people of this planet need to show their solidarity with one another immediately, stand up and stamp their feet, shout and call out for something to be done before it is too late for their descendants.
It is truly touching to see the spirituality of this faith and especially to see how enthusiasts are not shy in expressing in publicly. This is how buddhists achieve communion with the soul of the world. Buddhism has thrived all this time, agressionless, while various other phenomena have risen and fallen, disappeared and been forgotten. Slowly the darkness descends but the thoughts of this traveller are still bathed in light as he hops down from the rickshaw, reinvigorated.
The messengers then went about the kingdom, this time singing the king’s messages and accompanying themselves on the sarangi which hung on a band around their necks and down onto the chests. They played with the bow in their right hand and plucked on the strings with the nails of their left hand. And this enchanted the people who listened in admiration and learned the said regulations as they listen. As time passed, dance music developed and people enjoyed dancing as they learned the king’s laws. When multi-media arrived and sophisticated recordings, this ancient custom slowly died out. And now it is rare to hear anyone playing on the sarangi and the craftsmen who made them also begin to disappear.
In a large cave in the Himalayas lives the yeti with his wife and four children. The family is closely knit and lives a good life, hunting and gathering what the mountains have to offer. And there is quite a good deal to be found in this wide mountainous area when one bothers to look. There is more than enough wood for heating, and cooking on stones plays a large part in the household work. Summer is the season to bring in various types of food and the family works as one doing that. During the winter months, they mainly take things easy, cover themselves up to keep warm, tell mountain stories and conserve energy for next year’s life struggle. No one know for certain where the yeti’s retreat is to be found because it keeps well away from human habitation and it is thought almost a miracle if anyone sees it. Every so often, giant footprints can be seen in the snow and then everyone knows who has passed by.
The war hero
Very few countries in the world are surrounded on all sides by water and have no borders and the disputes that go withthem. It is a different story in the Himalayas where several countries lie together across a vast expanse of barren mountainous land where it has proved difficult to mark or recognize borders. All around the area there are heavily armed and highly trained troops on the alert to make sure that no foreign power invades or uninvited guest enters their country. In this regard, some countries have it written into their political policy that they may take hold of any strip of surrounding land and thus quench their thirst for expansion. As a result, various border disputes have arisen about who owns various small pieces of land. New territory is even used as currency by some of the states. If any refugees are spotted fleeing from one country to another and cannot be captured, they are shot down in cold blood. Suspicion is everywhere and a ban on all such movement upheld. There is tension between the soldiers of each country and sometimes very little space between any two sides. Battles and skirmishes are difficult and often more are wounded than killed.
The Yoakha Farm
When evening falls after a long working day, the family gathers together in the kitchen and sits on the floor in a circle with legs crossed. The adults drink a refreshing glass of ara, a strong home-distilled rice wine that is heated up in melted butter. Then the food is cooked and served on gas grids. Platters are placed on the floor and the mother of the house portions out on plates a good helping for one and all. The evening meal consists of dried meat, heated up, with fried potatoes, rice, boiled vegetables and spinach. One of the essentials is the bread that is so useful when eating with one’s hands. While people are eating, the farm workers stand and chat about this and that, life in the region and organizing work for the following day. After the meal, they drink some tea and eat sweet biscuits with it. As the evening wears on, people are starting to yawn, then each expresses gratitude for the meal and bids goodnight. The house is bathed in shadows as they go to bed, each carrying a lighted torch.
Driving around Bhutan
Each small region has its castle, though they are all quite similar and centuries old. Housed there are the spiritual and world powers, joined together as one. These castles are impressive, often perched on steep crags where the view is good and it is possible to keep an eye on people coming and going. In some towns one drives through a huge gate, painted with floral patterns. And not too far away from them is an open, colourfully decorated bowl in which there is suspended a very large golden barrel that is turned around and around with the course of the sun. In this way, the individual becomes at one with the spirit of the world.