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Not a trespasser here!

R.V. SMITH meets Reginald Massey, an Indo-Anglican T.S. Eliot whose neo-romanticism smells of the Punjab and the Zamzama - that fire-breathing dragon which held even Kipling in thrall....

Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Reginald Massey...different strokes, different occassions, same city.

REGINALD MASSEY, the Indo-Anglican poet, writer, dance and music critic, now settled in Wales, breeds peacocks in his home in Powys when not composing pithy verse or attending seminars and stage performances in London. He presents you with a feather from his favourite peacock Raja with great flourish before setting down for an interview at a guesthouse near the Green Park Church in South Delhi. This church used to have a notice at the gate proclaiming "trespassers will be forgiven''. Massey too allows you to trespass on his hospitality and that of his college friend, Balbir Vohra, whose guest he is.

"Talking of peacocks," says Massey with a poise reminiscent of Eliot, "there are some of the best ones in Wales, rather Powys, known as India Blues. These were introduced there by Lord Robert Clive, twice Governor of Bengal in the 18th Century. Yes, the same Clive who laid the foundations of British rule in India after the Battle of Plassey. He also took away a lot of treasure but his son insisted on the peacocks, which have bred there for nearly 300 years. His descendant, the present Lord Clive of Powys, is proud of the heritage and sometimes gifts a bird or two to those who make a request."

Massey wonders if the Delhi Zoo would like to put in a request so that India Blues could breed in it also.

"The hills and crags of Wales are just as they were when Thomas Gray wrote his famous poem the last Celtic Bard. As a matter of fact, they are better preserved, something at which the British are great. In summer the swallows from the African coast fly over the sea and come to roost in Wales. They are known to us as Abhabeel and thousands of them are said to have bombarded the Prophet's enemies with pebbles, putting them to flight," reveals Massey, who was born and brought up in Lahore, where he flew kites on Basant, until the family migrated to India in 1947. They settled down first in Delhi and then in Shimla, where the young Massey got to appreciate the tales of the Phantom Rickshaw, with its white lady, and the headless Englishman who walks uphill from Chota Shimla. And that was natural because at that time the famous hill station still bore the impress of Rudyard Kipling.

Coming down to Delhi to graduate from St. Stephen's, Massey went on to do his M.A. in English Literature from St. John's College, Agra, where he also taught for some time. In his salad days he was teased because of his alleged crush on a convent girl though he wore a rakhi to protect himself from the insinuation.

Long married to Jamila, a well-known film and stage actress in England, Massey is the doting father of Marcus. But since the young man moved out to London, the affection is now lavished on the dozen peacocks and peahens who are multiplying each year - the couple waiting for the chicks to hatch and grow up to flaunt their tails. One of them, Blossom, is a snow-white Morni.

Author of "Lament of a Lost Hero", his collected poems in two parts, Massey earlier wrote "The Splintered Mirror", "Anthology of Commonwealth Verse" and "Modern Indian Poetry in English", etc. Now he is awaiting the publication of his book on Indian dancers and another one, "India: Definitions and Clarifications".

Fellow of many Royal Societies of Britain connected with the Fine Arts, Massey falls back on his native Punjabi when making terse comments about people, not sparing the fair sex. "O, kudian deho ji Punjab di'' (see the girls of Punjab). He finds them all over the city. "Delhi,'' he says, "has expanded since his college days but lost its soul, where people are not committed writers but entertainers."

He generally comes in January or February to smell the spring fragrance of the Capital, meet his sister and old chums, including Khushwant Singh, before dashing off to Shimla to see the rhododendrons. "Not that you don't find them in Wales. They were introduced there from the foothills of the Himalayas by the British in the 19th and 20th Centuries and have usurped of lot of land from the native oak," discloses the poet.

Massey Sahib shares a hearty meal and spicy anecdotes with you and then poses under a poster of an Umraon Jaan-type beauty, throwing up his hands in ecstasy and reciting lines from "Lament of a Lost Hero": "Let me now compose a song/To the lovely women of India/Lissom, doe-eyed and slim-waisted/They are Nature's choicest creation/The envy of the women of every nation.''

To someone who doesn't catch the hint, Massey - "Call me Reggie,'' he insists - remarks with a backslap: `Aurtan yar aurtan,'' and then bows you out with an invitation to visit Powys. He doesn't quote Eliot's famous song, "Let us go then, you and I'' but promises to resume the tale of Lord Clive's India Blues.

Meanwhile, Reggie plans to visit his father's grave in the Brar Square War Cemetery - the man who flew the Air Force Lysanders and Hurricanes long before the Jets swept them out!

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