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The Spell of the Flying Foxes by Sylvia Dyer

Fear goes through you like acid. It can destroy you more surely than the object of your terror, and that, believe me, makes a difference to the final outcome! Don't think that because you're afraid, because you pray yourself up a standstill, life will let you off the hook. So stand fast and face it.

Night fell glumly, and it grew bitterly cold. Strange gases escaped from the earth's torn crust, got ignited and went leaping about the sodden fields like great balls of fire. Packs of howling jackals and wild animals were driven by blind panic into villages, seeking refuge among humans who were defending themselves against these same balls of fire by beating on cooking vessels and screaming hysterically, “Hai Bhagwan, save us! Evil spirits have come out of the earth to set our homes on fire!”


It isn't often that one would expect to come across a description of the devastating earthquake of 1934 by a survivor who lived on for decades after, and, yet, that's exactly what one reads in this memoir by a woman whose family home was in Champaran but who ultimately came to live in Pune, the city I think of as home myself. Her memoir provides insights into a world that is now lost to us, perhaps fortunately -- reading it as a brown-skinned person was uncomfortable for me at times although it's extremely unlikely, I think, that the author would have intended to have that happen. All things said, the memoir is a fascinating account of a slice of the Raj and, cushioned as it is with mesmerising descriptions of nature, it's well worth reading not least for its description of life by the author's mother: a sugar-coated bitter pill with the sweetness wearing thin as one ages.