Harry Turner's Footnotes to Fandom
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Curried Cobra? No Thanks!

23 May 1990 - reasons for not doing articles...

Already caught up with several Kundera and Skvorcsky novels... Anita Desai's Baumgartner's Bombay (just to get me in the mood for Indian reminiscences) and Theroux's latest train travel epic - through China - Riding the Red Rooster. Amused by his account of meeting intellectuals who survived the Mao period, when he comments that their use of book titles "suggests that they might have read them in translation: Dickens' A STORY ABOUT TWO PLACES and DIFFICULT YEARS, Hawthorne's THE RED LETTER, Steinbeck's ANGRY GRAPES ..."

((And further response to my nagging for an article)) Still ploughing through wartime letters. It amazes me how a few words written so long ago can evoke memories with such clarity; just rereading the letters brings images flooding back, and scrappy memories suddenly flesh out and the whole scene is experienced once again. I'm getting more adept at this as I progress. Forty three years ago, to the day ((6 June 1989)), I was supervising the dismantling of the Gee Radar station at Pokhari Ghat, when all the key gear had to be delivered to the Poona base depot before the monsoon broke, and the roads were made impassable. And I was panicking about being posted to some spot remote from Bombay just when my demob number came up... And all this is happening again parallel with contemporary upheavals in China, Iran, and Eastern Europe. All very unsettling.

((As part of the Editorial Nag I had mentioned to Harry that my father had been in India at around the same time he had, and had encountered a python under a settee he'd been sitting on at a Rest Camp; and I'm including the following anecdote just in case I don't get the article soon enough to include in this issue...))

We didn't have pythons under the setteee (I don't think we even had any settees!) but we had some Nasty Encounters with cobras in the wild. Indeed, one such occasion was at this camp I've mentioned, at Pokhari Ghat. We'd ventured through the barbed-wire defences on a hunting expedition, hoping to pot a peafowl for a change from the usual permutations of bully beef. It was fairly open country in the hills, with clumps of low-growing bush and prickly pear type cacti. We'd taken our stens out -- they could be set to fire single shots, but were somewhat temperamental and apt to switch to automatic fire without warning. Someone saw a movement in the bushes and fired a shot to flush out any birds -- however he disturbed a king cobra, which reared up with inflated hood and scared the daylights out of him, and he let fly on automatic fire.

The cobra dived to the ground, and as they can move like an express train, there was an immediate retreat of the intrepid hunters back to camp -- we all got through the small gap in the barbed-wire outer perimeter and later found that hardly anyone had suffered a scratch. Observed from a safe distance, the cobra wasn't moving. Some brave soul ventured out and reported that it was dead having been well-punctured by the panic blast. When we got it back to camp it measured almost five feet. No one ventured out of the rest of that day and we put up with bully beef for dinner. We didn't fancy curried cobra... ■

LoC to Hazel Ashworth's fanzine Lip #6, September 1991.

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