Cover image for Mr. Dimock explores the mysteries of the East
Mr. Dimock explores the mysteries of the East
Dimock, Edward C.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1999.
Physical Description:
xii, 211 pages ; 19 cm
Format :


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DS414 .D56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Who is Mr. Dimock? An enchanting storyteller, an eccentric scholar, a wise man, a self-professed "Indophile." Exactly what does he explore? Everything: monkeys, karma, snake charmers, monsoons, curry, ancient sages, the Dharma-Shastras, cricket, even UFO's.

In an amusing and intriguing book, Edward Dimock takes us along on a spirited tour of India, starting in 1955, when he and his family first sailed to Bombay. From the bustling streets of Calcutta, where monkeys roam among thousands of people, to the tiny island of Diu, Dimock's brings him to the house of an elusive maharaja. A run-in with a water buffalo teaches him that things aren't always what they seem. The tale of an ascetic sage reveals the power of mediation. An ancient mythical figure by the name of Manu gives advice on how to live wisely.

Mr. Dimock Explores the Mysteries of the East traces Dimock's numerous trips across India and his explorations of its culture and customs. Whether he's haggling with gypsies or riding through town on an exotic land. Charming, playful, and full of insight, Mr. Dimock Explores the Mysteries of the East illuminates the wonders of India as well as the vibrant personality of its author.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Dimock's reminiscences of his sojourns in India are merry, sly, and touching. A scholar who has held many academic positions during his long career, including chairmanship of the University of Chicago's department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, he has been exploring and experiencing India for the past 43 years under the auspices of a Rockefeller fellowship and the U.S. State Department. His intellectual pursuits, however, make only cameo appearances in his teasingly old-fashioned narrative, leaving room for endearing anecdotes that capture the more humorous facets of life in India, because, as he candidly explains, his "memory tends to seek out the pleasanter aspects of the past." And why not? Influenced by his guru, the mythical figure Manu, whose capacious book of laws have guided Indian civilization for centuries, Dimock deftly portrays cooks, cab drivers, a maharaja, various officials, fellow academics, rats, cats, cobras, water buffalo, and an elephant. He muses on matters of language, courtesy, food, holidays, and karma, all portals into the spirit of a land he clearly loves. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Dimock, an academic, has been visiting India regularly since 1955 and has plenty of interesting stories to tell about that country. However, his self-consciously cute tone gets in the way of his material. He opens the first essay, "Hey, Hey We're the Monkeys," with a discussion of travel from Liverpool to India by ship in the 1950s, but it soon disintegrates into an imagined conversation between Indian ship hands along the lines of "Shrivel your gizzard like a raisin." In successive essays, Dimock displays a wide knowledge of the details of Indian history, culture, religion and language, but he skips from one tangent to another so quickly that his examinations fail to cut too deeply. "Rational Chaos" covers the temple at Konorak with its sexually explicit statues, the writer Sudhn Datta and a military reenactment known as "Beating the Retreat." In "They Also Serve," Dimock considers the position of servants in India and the discomfort of many Westerners at being waited on, "even with the realization that if these men were not pulling rickshaws they might not be working at all." This essay also includes the tale of a driver who once fed the unknowing Dimock a large amount of hashish. In the end, this is an amusing collection of observations, but it is disappointing in that the author could have offered a less superficial account of the country he obviously knows so well. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Manu's Dharma Shastras, the ancient Indian text that deals with the correct thing to do in every dilemma, kickstarts Dimock's (In Praise of Krishna: Songs from Bengali, 1967; The Place of the Hidden Moon, 1966) own random memories of India. The author, a former chair of the department of South Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago, is no stranger to the country. His essays meander through various times and places, picking out the often unintentional humor behind the apparent chaos and cultural anomalies of life in India. The anecdotes and mythology that abound are told with consummate skill and are uproariously funny. Dimock reflects on vegetarianism, karma, domestics, and other sundry issues, deferring to many when he is confused. This affectionate account will probably only appeal to Indophiles, but then again the drollery may be universally appreciated. Buy according to need.√ĄRavi Shenoy, Hinsdale P.L., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Hey, Hey, We're the Monkeys an excerpt from Mr. Dimock Explores the Mysteries of the East In which the author is brought to speculate on the nature of Macacus rhesus. If you have recently arrived in India and come out of the railway station [in Calcutta] for the first time, the impression you get, which lasts a lifetime, is that every single soul in the country is on the move. If you stood there in front of the station, or anywhere else in the country, for five minutes, twenty-five hundred people of all sizes, shapes, and genders would pass you, no two of them dressed anywhere near alike, and they would be walking or riding bicycles, trams, rickshaws, buses, horses (sometimes with bridegrooms on the backs of them, preceded by ten-piece bands in tattered maroon and gold uniforms with no shoes, playing tunes that all sound very much like "Deep in the Heart of Texas" but that are in fact "Jingle Bells"), taxis, trucks with signs painted on the sides of them requesting everyone to please blow horn, which drivers of other vehicles, eager to cooperate in every way, cheerfully do, pushcarts, and private cars. Among all these are camels, elephants, cows, buffaloes, dogs, donkeys, motor scooters, everything except the smaller animals being laden with rolled rugs, bundles of washing, pails of liquid hanging from both ends of arching bamboo poles carried on shoulders, steel trunks, water bags of skin, briefcases, shoulder bags, Calcutta cookers, trunks of trees, bales of cotton, small children-anything, in short, that can be carried, and some things that cannot. . . [A]s I had lived a pure and saintly life, karma directed me to Lenny Walsh. Lenny Walsh was looking to rent out one of his rooms and advertised to that effect in the daily newspaper. He lived in a huge flat in an old colonial mansion that had been subdivided, its paved and now somewhat malodorous courtyard opening onto Chowringhee Lane. This lane is a thin and gnarled street that runs just to the east of and parallel to the monumental Chowringhee Road, ending dramatically against the New Market, or, more formally, the Hogg Market, a labyrinthine and magical place in which, I can say without exaggeration, anything in the world could, and probably still can, be gotten. Lenny's flat itself was on the first or second floor, depending on your system of counting, up a staircase fifteen feet wide but dark as the tomb, and consisted of five immense rooms stuffed with red plush Victorian furniture and intricately carved Burmese teak tables black with shellac and age, and hung with precisely the kind of heavy velvet drapes that mosquitoes love to congregate upon. None of the rooms except the two bedrooms was ever used except as passageways to the veranda, which was where the life of the household meandered toward its conclusion. Lenny himself was a thin, stooped fellow who looked at, or toward, the world with his head thrust forward and cocked to one side like an angry parakeet. He could hardly see, and his perpetual squint was so tight that in ten months of living with him I never once saw his eyeballs. The thrust of his head, which seemed so aggressive, really served to put him six inches closer to whatever was out there. Lenny had lived a full and varied life, and he was not one to be either bitter or melancholy about his affliction. He had seen enough, he said, to last him several lifetimes, and he didn't care about seeing any more. . . . His was a many-layered world, which accounted for the fact that not only his English, but also his Hindi and Bengali, had rich Irish accents. It was peopled not only by Terry [his servant] but by Lenny's wife, Pansy, a pink, smiling, motherly woman so pleased with the world that it often seemed that she would explode with the sheer joy of it; Johnny Walker Red in seemingly inexhaustible demand and supply; tiny dust-mop-type dogs that yelped incessantly as they chased bandicoots around the dark stairwell; the few customers whose radios Lenny would fix, largely by feel, to supplement his army pension; a troop of monkeys; and now, my wife, small daughter, newborn son, and me. The monkeys, thirty or forty strong when the ranks were full and enlistments closed, did not, for the most part, live in the house, against the back side of which was the Geological Survey of India. The survey consisted, and probably still consists, physically, of a set of large and very handsome British colonial buildings in pale yellow stucco and green trim, beautifully maintained in spacious grounds full of royal and coconut palms, jacaranda and jasmine, well-watered lawns and gardens of callas, fronting on Chowringhee Road and, in the back, against our building, a godown and garage. This garage was merely an elongated lean-to that sheltered the numbers of World War II Jeeps and Land-rovers constantly under repair. On it was a corrugated tin roof, and on this roof were the monkeys. It is next to impossible at any time to sleep much past dawn in Calcutta, for shortly after first light the bicycle bells begin to tinkle and the rickshaw pullers' bells begin to clunk and the trams' bells to jangle, and the crows and green Burmese parrots begin to discuss among themselves, over their morning rice and orange peels, the meaning of existence, and the taxi horns begin to belch and blat and the hawkers to hawk and the conch shells begin to moan in the Hindu houses, and the muezzin in the distant mosque to call the faithful to prayer. And in addition to all that, on our first morning in the city I was excited. But as early as I got up, I found that Terry had already been on the veranda for some time, rolling half-inch-diameter pellets from a basin of mud he had just brought up from the river. This was a matter of some bewilderment to me, but Terry merely grinned and indicated that Walsh-sahib would tell me about it in due course. I left the house to keep an appointment, and by the time I got back to Chowringhee Lane the sun was high, and one hundred or more mud pellets were lined up on the veranda railing to dry. Lenny, sitting on the side of the veranda that opened to the back of the house, was testing the stretch in the elastic of a formidable slingshot. "It's you, is it?" he said, squinting in my general direction and with two fingers fishing a Gold Flake cigarette out of a round tin of fifty. He had just stuck this cigarette in the corner of his mouth and lit it when, with a sound like an ungreased armored division, forty monkeys came charging out of the palm trees from left to right across the metal roof of the godown. As the first of the monkeys hit the roof, Lenny loaded up his slingshot and, aiming by sound, fired, and soon he was emulating Liprandi's Russian artillery at the Battle of Balaklava: as fast as he could load he fired mercilessly into the flank of the charging monkeys. Now and again one of them, stung, would stop in his tracks and look aggrievedly around in the air, to see where the missile had come from; others, out of sheer high spirits, or to taunt Lenny, or happy because he had missed them, turned somersaults and played leapfrog with an exuberance wonderful to behold. And all the time Lenny was shooting he was hollering "Take that, ye little bahstuds! Get in Pansy's perfume, will ye?" It was all over in ten seconds. The monkeys went whooping away into some other part of the garden. Lenny as much as blew the smoke from the muzzle of his weapon, laid it aside, and requested his breakfast: "Chota hajri lao Terry goddamnit!" All of this, I came to learn, constituted the high point in Lenny's daily rounds, and quite possibly that of the monkeys, too. Lenny's accusation did not stem entirely from the heat of battle, for at times the monkeys, true to their stereotype, would climb in the windows . . . and get into whatever mischief happened to be there waiting for them. In his cri de coeur Lenny was referring to an incident of the recent past in which he had pushed aside the light curtain in the bedroom doorway to make out the shape of a monkey sitting at Pansy's dressing table dabbing face powder all over itself and fumbling among spilled bottles of scent. My wife and I were new to all this and considered monkeys small sociable persons with grand senses of humor who lived, for their own welfare, in cages. It was therefore with considerable dismay that, shortly after one morning's skirmish, my wife, out of a window overlooking the tin roof, witnessed an epic battle over the leadership of the troop. The young male who won, after jumping up and down a few times and scratching himself in celebration, went galloping off, followed by the docile group that now seemed his to command. The old male sat there on the roof looking disconsolate, his shoulders hunched and his hands resting palms upward near his feet. My wife, who has little tolerance for the peculiar behavior prompted by the male hormone but great sympathy for old age and defeat, was so moved by this that she called out to the monkey in soothing tones and offered him a banana that was near to hand. The old monkey sat there and looked at her with ineffable sadness, obviously too upset to eat. Later that day, as was the custom, I was joining Len and Pansy for a pink gin on the veranda before lunch. I had barely sat down in the Morris chair and was leaning back when all action was frozen by a scream from the bedroom. Since I was forty years younger than he and could see, Lenny beat me to the doorway by only half a step. There in the corner was my wife, her arms around our son, who seemed bemused by the whole thing; and there on the windowsill was the old monkey, giving little jumps and preparing to spike the banana he had in his hand, grinning maliciously and scratching himself in the armpits. When he saw reinforcements appear in the doorway, he spent a moment sizing us up, decided we were too much for him in numbers if not in intellect, and slid back down the drainpipe by which he had come. Copyright (c) 1999 by Edward Cameron Dimock. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Mr. Dimock Explores the Mysteries of the East: Journeys in India by Edward Cameron Dimock All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.