Looking for answers that pop through the boundaries of thought

A few thought-provoking ideas, reflections and entertainments from the deep south of Cape Town...

Some serious, some frivolous, some perhaps just ranting - see what you think!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ravi and the Perfume Tree

Here's a little nonsense as shared around the fire at Petervale earlier this year...

There was once a boy called Ravi who lived in one of the jungles of India. He and his family were perfume-tappers. At new moon they would find the perfume trees, then they would light a small ceremonial fire. They would circle the fire in this direction, and they would call the names of the gods they wanted help from in this order, and they would throw sacred spices into the fire in this order. And then they would take a machete knife and a jug and cut like so into the bark of the trees. The sap that came then was the most wonderful-smelling perfume and it would pour into their jugs. They traded the perfume and lived well from it.

Ravi knew the jungle like the back of his hand, he knew all the best paths and the best vines to swing on. However, one new moon he found he had wandered into a dark part of the jungle he found surprisingly unfamiliar. And all of a sudden he stumbled into a clearing in which was an enormous perfume tree, bigger than any he had seen before, and it had clearly not been tapped for a long time. So he prepared his ceremonial fire, and as he lit it he took one more look up at the magnificent tree. As he gazed up into the branches and leaves, he saw a wonderful rainbow-coloured bird which attracted his attention. As he stared at it more intently it turned – and stared right back at him. Ravi began to feel a little strange. As the bird flew off, he turned back to the fire and pretty soon he started walking around it, but he circled it in that direction, called the names of the gods in that order, and threw spices into the flames in that order. As he moved he recovered his normal feeling, and took hold of his machete and jug in order to cut the tree’s bark.

But when he did, something terrible happened. Instead of the perfume he was waiting for, what oozed out of the tree was a disgusting brown sticky goo. As he stared at the goo in a panic, he heard a hissing voice. He looked up to see a python in the tree. “You need to heal this tree, Ravi. It is the heart of the jungle. If it is not healed soon, all the other trees in the jungle will start to die. There is only one way to heal it. You must find a girl called May MacIntosh who will accept this brown goo, in exchange for a precious emerald which you must bring back to this tree.” And with that the python hissed away into the branches of the trees.

Ravi knew this was serious. He went to one of the streams that led out of the jungle, and got into his dugout canoe, bringing with him the jug of brown goo. The journey was a long one, and the stream eventually met up with the mighty river Ganges. Along the way Ravi thought to himself: perhaps the snake was telling him a riddle. There were no girls in India called May MacIntosh at that time, he was pretty sure of that. He pondered what the python might have really meant, as his canoe entered the holy city of Varanasi besides this mighty river.

He pulled up to a stone stairway leading up and out of the river, and while he was tying up his canoe, he heard a monk chanting on the steps, also stepping out of a boat. The monk was clutching his knees together in a most peculiar way, but what was more interesting was his chant. He was calling out, “Maya Makentosha, Maya Makentosha”, over and over again. Ravi was delighted! Here was a solution to the riddle, it seemed. He walked behind the monk, copying his strange stance, and also called out in the same rhythm, “Maya Makentosha, Maya Makentosha”.

The monk turned around with a scowl. “Why do you mock me?”
Ravi was shocked but said, “Oh great and wise master, I wish to learn the secret of Maya Makentosha!” And he told the monk the whole story from the snake and how he wanted to solve the riddle.

The monk replied, “Pah! The only thing that Maya Makentosha means is that it is a most excellent chant for taking my mind off the fact that I very badly need to pee. Now please excuse me!” And he entered a small door and closed it behind him. Ravi heard the pouring sounds of relief. Then the monk opened the door again. “Now, I am nonetheless willing to help you, for it is indeed very important that the jungle’s trees are helped. The problem that I see is that there are no girls in India by the name of May MacIntosh, I can assure you of that. I think you will need to search further to the north. Luckily, I have a 5-star travelling method that I will be very happy to offer you.” And he showed Ravi his magic carpet, which was indeed a most excellent and comfortable carpet, and perfect for riding over the skies of India. Ravi set off on it at once.

Unfortunately, when he got north of India, the air got much colder. Pretty soon, Ravi found icicles forming on his nose. And soon his hands got so frozen that he could no longer steer the magic carpet. It dived headlong down and landed… in a Scottish bog.
From all sides Ravi could see hordes of warriors running towards him, with long red hair, long red beards, and long skirts. They picked him up and rolled up the carpet, and crying out in a language he didn’t understand, they carried him up towards a cave in the mountains.

Inside the cave there sat a wizard, surrounded by potions and smells. He beckoned Ravi to sit down, and then poured him some green potion. The warriors pushed the potion up to Ravi’s mouth and he drank it, coughing and spluttering. All of a sudden he discovered that he could understand every word the wizard and his men were saying. “Now then,” said the wizard, not unkindly, “tell us what on earth you are doing here and where you have come from.”

Ravi told them the whole story and received much sympathy until he reached the part about searching for May MacIntosh. At this the warriors winced and swore and one or two of them turned round and spat in disgust. The wizard explained the reasons for this reaction. “The MacIntoshes live in the next valley. Thieves and layabouts the lot of them. We generally have no truck with any of them. However, it sounds like your jungle mission is important. Mary MacLennan!” This last exclamation was much louder and at that sound a young girl around Ravi’s age came racing into the cave, quite out of breath but beaming from ear to ear, particularly when she took note of Ravi.

The wizard turned to the new arrival. “Mary, you will accompany Ravi on his flying contraption, over the hills and into the valley of the MacIntoshes. With your sweetness and Ravi’s politeness I am pretty sure that even the MacIntoshes will receive you peacefully.” Mary was a little nervous to travel on the extraordinary flying carpet, but she perked up a bit when she felt how soft it was and particularly at the thought of going on an adventure with this exciting foreigner. As they took off she began to sing,

“Step we gaily on we go, heel for heel and toe for toe, arm in arm and row on row, all for Mary’s wedding”. Ravi nearly let the carpet plunge again in shock. He edged away from the girl who for all her loveliness was unnerving him badly. But he brought the carpet down to land in front of a small hut built from peat, with smoke curling up from the roof. The two children knocked loudly on the small front door. An enormous woman opened it, brandishing a soup ladle. “What do you want?” she asked, sternly but without menace.

“Humble greetings madam,” Ravi began with much bowing, while Mary MacLennan beamed alternately at the woman and at Ravi. “I am looking for May MacIntosh, in particular one who may give me a green emerald in exchange for this brown g- this delicious brown substance which has many wonderful powers and properties.”

“I’m May MacIntosh!” said the woman. “But I dinnae have no green emeralds lying around. Do ya think I would be living in this little hut if I did?!” She bent down. “In fact there’s probably fifty May MacIntoshes in this valley. And I doubt any of them much more than a green pea between them. Now why don’t you come inside, I’ll dish ya up a ladle of broth each, and you can tell me the whole story.”

So Mary and Ravi entered the hut and sat with May. As she heard the story, inbetween welcome slurps of warm broth, she sniffed the brown goo intently. As Ravi finished, she said, “I dinnae ken what’s in this stuff of yours. But it seems to me it may indeed have some special healing in it. And I’ve been having a think. This is indeed the valley of the MacIntoshes. But our name is not just heard here. We are very good at distilling whisky here, deadly stuff that makes men useless when they drink too much of it. We’ve developed a way to take our whisky around the world, which none of the other whisky-makers have managed yet. And the whisky we trade in is named for a May MacIntosh from long ago. I would say that if you followed the whisky trail you might find another May MacIntosh somewhere who might well have a green emerald for you.”

Ravi nodded sagely. “Oh, indeed Miss MacIntosh, that does sound like a wonderful suggestion. I was feeling most despondent until you said that.” And Ravi and Mary MacLennan happily ate their broth.

Afterwards, Miss MacIntosh led them outside once more, for the whisky transport was due any minute. “And how, indeed, is the whisky carried?”, Ravi asked.
“By dragon.” replied Miss MacIntosh.

At this, Mary MacLennan leapt into Ravi’s arms, and Ravi’s legs wobbled under the weight – and at the sight of the huge fire-breathing dragon roaring across the valley towards them.
As the dragon came into land, another bearded and kilted Scotsman nimbly clambered off and winked at Miss May MacIntosh. “Two more bairns want to join you for the delivery, Hamish” she said to him while he was loading crates of whisky onto the dragon’s back. “Right, well, you’d better climb aboard then, and be sharpish, I’ve got to get on with this next order,” said Hamish, sternly but not unkindly.

The two children clambered aboard. As the dragon took off, Mary MacLennan ventured a “Step we gaily on we go…” but the dragon snorted, unimpressed, and she shut her lips for the rest of the voyage. They were heading south again, and the weather was warming up, and before they knew it they were flying over a big wide sea – and some strangely pointed monuments were coming into view – the pyramids of Egypt. Hamish neatly brought the dragon down to land at the docks of the Egyptian city, and, having thanked him for the ride, Ravi and Mary set off on their hunt for another May MacIntosh.

Mary MacLennan could not understand a word of the local language, but fortunately for Ravi, the wizard’s green potion had not yet worn off, and so he could ask the locals if they knew of a May MacIntosh anywhere. The usual response was something along the lines of “Hoezit my boetie! Welcome to Afrika, nĂ©! No, we don’t know no May MacIntosh round here. Try further on!”

Eventually, after a whole day of hunting, Ravi approached the Temple of the Great Goddess. When he came up to the guards at the gate and asked them if they knew a May MacIntosh, they looked at him suspiciously, looked at each other, and then pointed their spears at him. “How do you come to know the true name of the High Priestess?” they asked him.

“Oh, I am begging your pardon, I only know I am looking for a May MacIntosh who is the only one that can save my jungle. I have come from very far away, bringing this most incredible brown potion, and I wonder if you would be so good as to ask her if she could help me?”

While one of the guards kept his eye on Ravi and Mary, the other one slipped inside the temple. Some minutes later he returned, saying, “the High Priestess will see you now.”

They were led up some impressive stone stairs to the feasting room, where the High Priestess was lying, eating grapes and looking very bored. She raised an eyebrow as Ravi and Mary entered with the brown goo, and asked them for their story. Yet again, Ravi explained about the goo and the emerald, and added that he had been told the goo must have wonderful healing properties. And then he asked the high priestess how she had come to have the name, “May MacIntosh”.

“Oh, that is very simple,” she replied. “When I was born, my father, who was a senior priest, was told that I would become the high priestess one day. He was told to give me my secret name, based on the first thing that he saw when he looked out the window. I was born besides the river Nile, and when he looked out, he saw a strange crate floating down the river, bearing the name ‘May MacIntosh whisky’. So my full secret name is
May MacIntosh Whisky, or May MacIntosh for short. But now, I need to know whether there really is any point in exchanging this brown goo for the goddess’s emerald, which I keep by my pillow at night. Now, taster, come and tell me about this brown substance!”

The temple taster did as he was asked, and when he tasted it, he wrinkled his nose in disgust at first, but then said, “Your holiness, this substance definitely has some medicinal properties. I feel stronger already. But it tastes quite disgusting!”

“Well, we can soon fix that,” said May MacIntosh. Egypt was a land with many bees and many cows, and so she called for milk and for honey, and while they were waiting for this, she called for the substance to be heated up. And so, May MacIntosh created the world’s first cup of hot chocolate. Now that was a substance really worth tasting. And when heated, with milk and honey added, and drunk, May found she suddenly became aware that her true calling in life was not to be the Egyptian high priestess any more, it was in fact to go back to India with Ravi and open the world’s first chocolate company. Luckily, when she passed the cup around, and Mary MacLennan drank some (after she had been feasting on all the wonderful delights around the table), she realised that her true calling in life was not to marry Ravi, but to become the Egyptian high priestess.

May MacIntosh announced to the astonished priests that the chocolate oracle had spoken, and that Mary was to be their new high priestess. She could not, of course, speak a word of Egyptian, but that did not matter. She simply sang, “Step we gaily on we go, heel for heel and toe for toe, arm in arm and row on row, all for Mairie’s wedding”. The Egyptian scribes interpreted all this strange singing in wonderful hieroglyphs, which people would argue about the meaning of for thousands of years afterwards.

And Ravi and May MacIntosh headed once more to the docks, where they boarded a ship travelling to India. Once there, they returned to Ravi’s jungle, carrying with them the green emerald from the temple. The trees of the jungle looked withered and parched as they arrived. They placed the emerald in the roots of the great chocolate tree, and instantly streams of chocolate began to spurt from the tree. Great streams and rivers of chocolate flooded out across the jungle, and nourished the roots of the trees in all directions. And so Ravi and May and the people of the jungle flourished once more, and the world got to taste the most delicious hot chocolate from that day onwards, alongside the wonderful perfumes the trees were already producing. From time to time, people would forget to look after the forest, and chop down too many trees, and then the chocolate streams would slow down until people remembered once more to care for the trees, which they usually did after a sip of cocoa. And Ravi and May ran a very successful chocolate company, which they named the Rainbow Chocolate Company in honour of the cheeky bird who had distracted Ravi when he was gathering perfume. And, naturally, they lived happily ever after.