Guy Fawkes and the Headless Horseman of Wombourne

Once again Guy Fawkes Night is here. For most people in England,  it is an occasion for bonfire, fireworks and a bit of partying laced with patriotism and love for the monarchy and religion.

Holbeache House near Kingswinford in the
West Midlands where the Gun Powder conspirators
 holed up and fought is a private care home now.
Though Guy Fawkes is not unique to be stamped as a  conspirator and challenger of authority and tortured to death, perhaps is the only traitor in history whose death has been celebrated over four hundred years.

Surprisingly it was made compulsory by a royal decree the real intent of which was to remind everyone to celebrate the escape from death of a king.

It is merely the irony of life that Guy Fawkes the traitor, not the King James I who ordered his death and the yearly remembrance, is remembered every year in an ambiance of mirth and joy long after the  King is dead and gone!

It is also paradoxical that, Guy Fawkes was only an ammunition expert and foot soldier who joined the elite group of 12 other conspirators who were the main culprits who are all long since forgotten along with the king himself.

Perhaps, in a future world when human intelligence gains control over the futility of religious fervour, Guy Fawkes may be honoured for what he was, a soldier who stood for his convictions and a man of character who wouldn’t give up on his colleagues even under torture. Till then everything about him and his group’s saga will remain not good heritage material to be remembered or protected.

However, for the local folks of West midlands, where a lot of it happened, the gun powder plot has a lot of local stories to talk about and pass on to the next generation.

For the village of Wombourne, which is as old as the times of Guy Fawkes, the bogey of the Headless Horseman, still talked about around the tables of the local pubs, is what keeps the life and death of Guy Fawkes in memory.

If you just moved in to Wombourne, this scary story of recent sightings  of a headless horseman on the Bridgenorth Road which passes by it,  is likely to give you second thoughts on your choice of your location. If you are not bothered about ghosts, it might just whet your curiosity to delve in to past of this lovely medieval village in the West Midlands.

Josephine Jasper has dug out the story for the readers of Dudley Bugle and the story goes like this.

During the last century, Rhymer Greenshill, that wandering minstrel of the 19th Century, delved pretty deeply into most local legends, and his ballad, "The Ghost Riders" offers an explanation for the spooky happenings in the Wood, which hugs the left hand side of Bridgenorth Road as it leaves Himley Village.

A couple of miles away in the Kingswinford direction, lies Holbeache House, the scene of the last skirmish between the fellow-conspirators of Guy Fawkes and the forces of  the Sheriff of Worcester.
Stephen Lyttleton, kin to the Lords of Hagley, rode hotfoot to his house at Holbeache after the plot misfired and Guy Fawkes had been captured. With him rode Sir Everard Digby, Catesby and the Winter brothers John and Robert. With a retinue of servants and a wagonload of gun-powder, they crossed the Stour, determined to put up a last stand at Holbeache.

Well-armed and provisioned to withstand a lengthy seige, they must have felt pretty secure, that is, until they discovered that their gun-powder had become wet during the fording of the Stour. Amidst the gunfire and the plunging of the panic-stricken horses, the servants used furniture from the room to build a roaring fire, around which they placed the casks of damp powder. A spark from the fire ignited the gunpowder and a tremendous explosion took place, blowing the roof off the building and killing half-a-dozen of the occupants.
Stephen Littleton and Robert Winter mounted up and managed to escape in the confusion, and were swallowed up in the dense woodland of Pensnett Chase. Lyttleton's young groom, who fought alongside his master in Holbeache House, wounded severly above the throat, managed to climb aboard one of the terror stricken horses and dash through the fire, smoke and the cordon of men-at-arms, and reach the woods, but whereas his master had raced away in the Pensnett Direction and higher ground, young Grove headed for Wombourne and into a section of fenland a mile or so from the house. He was caught there and brutally murdered by the men-at-arms.
We have ample evidence that Rhymer Greenshill based his ballads on actual happenings, and there is justification for believing that Gideon Grove died in this manner. Furthermore, there is no doubt about the Wombourne legend of the "Phantom Horseman" who has repeatedly been sighted within the last decade is none other than the Ghost of Gideon Grove!

If you wonder what the Headless Horseman would see if he were to take a ride from Holbeach house, which is a private care home now, to Wombourne along the Brigenorth Road, jump in!

The day a U S couple got arrested for Kissing!

Few Americans know that there still is a Connecticut law in force in Hartford, which states It is illegal for a man to kiss his wife on Sunday. At least one American couple couldn't believe itself when the pair were hurled in to a police vehicle  for kissing in public on a Sunday!

This bewildered couple was not in Hartford but was visiting Kerala, an Indian State which takes great pride in calling itself  God’s Own Country, where laws written by Gods are still Gospel truth.

In fact the local police chief, who happened to be a lady, was simply enforcing an Indian law which makes it illegal for anyone to kiss in public on any day, when the couple, unaware of the local law, kissed before a camera at the request of a journalist who was covering an unusual event.

Anti Kiss of Life protesters being chased by police.
The event which was christened as Protest By Kissing was organised by a Facebook group called Kiss of Love, exemplifies the Indian struggle to catch up with  modernity. This unusual protest by breaking an age old law was a public reaction to the high handed puritanical moral policing of the BJP of Prime Minister Modi, whose members had ransacked a local hotel for allowing its customers to kiss and romance.

The unusual media coverage the event received in India and the way the whole episode sort of fissile out show the double standard on morality most Indians can’t shed despite the progress the country has achieved.

Though initiated by a group of people with progressive views on liberty and freedom of speech and expression active on social media, the movement soon gained political overtones inevitable in one of the politically conscious states of India.

The  puritanical moral policing was an act of the BJP, backed by India’s Hindu religious fundamentalists, who aim to grab the power from the Congress party who currently govern Kerala.
On the other hand, Kerala’s communists who are constantly fighting off the BJP has seen a political opportunity.

The result was that the Kiss of love event which was organised to be held peacefully was opposed and disturbed by various organisations under all of these political set ups, forcing the police to remove the handful of the participants even though the government did not intent to enforce the law.

The disruption by the political parties were organised with an eye on the coming election so as to position themselves on the right side of the kissing divide. But it clearly demonstrates the hypocrisy of a society which wants to align itself with the  free and liberal outside world.

Though this was an isolated incident which occurred in Kerala, a state  politically and socially ahead of rest of the country, the approach of the BJP which has succeeded in grabbing power at the national level by unifying and concentrating the votes of the Hindus who form the majority, in holding on to the archaic social set up of India is what worries the progressive minded in India.
New York Times cartoon on the success of Indian Mars Mission.

Incidentally this was reflected in a cartoon by the New York times on the occasion of the success of India’s Mars mission, which lead to widespread protests and  eventual apology from the paper.
Kiss of Love Facebook Group.

Meanwhile, the Kiss of Love brigade of Kerala has actually claimed success of their movement and promised to regroup and continue their efforts to change the social attitude of their countrymen  regarding freedom to love and expression of love. 

Why is the thirty year return of Saturn sinister for some?

Saturn, the Vedic astrology says, is a planet which makes human beings pay up for their past and present Karma before they die. Keralite astrologers even believe that those who die on a Saturday would have attained the end of the rebirth cycle, which the Hindus believe is the route God has prescribed for living beings to attain salvation and eternal peace.

Does the cyclical return of Saturn after thirty years to its original position spell doom and gloom for at least some people? Is that why exactly thirty years after her tragic assassination, India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is mercilessly being assassinated again?

Isn't the attempt of the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi to wipe out her name and her ultimate scarifies for India, exactly on the thirtieth anniversary of her assassination, nothing less than another assassination of her, thirty years after her death? 

While he could have chosen another day for that, he chose the thirtieth anniversary of her tragic death for inflicting the political blow. Is it due to celestial compulsions?

Narendra Modi called the anti Sikh riots of Delhi, which ensued the cold blooded murder of Indira Gandhi to avenge her courage to put down the Sikh separatist who wanted to divide India, as the deepest strike of a knife on India’s unity.

His words are perhaps a deeper cut on the greatness of Indira Gandhi than those inflicted by hundreds of bullets shot by her own sikh body guards, which killed her.

It may be  a mere coincidence that Indira was assassinated on the birth day of Sardar Patel, but that the BJP and its leader had to wait thirty years to unashamedly raise the greatness of Sardar Patel, who died as a lifelong Congressman who really banned their party must have something to do with the celestial movements.

The question is why didn’t that happen earlier or later? Has it got something to do with Saturn, which is assumed to change its position in the coming days?

One can argue that astrology  doesn’t apply to dead souls. But Vedic astrology indeed concedes that a human life span could be as long as 120 years. If Indira Gandhi somehow survived the attempt on her life thirty years back and were alive today,  Narendra Modi will still try to obliterate her politically by whatever he can shout to the crowds, It is not difficult for even a school child to see that the state election for Punjab, in which BJP will contest alone is not that far away.

Thankfully, Vedic astrology doesn’t judge the Karma of human beings in isolation from the rest who will share the good and bad of yours. It weights and blends yours with those of your spouse, children, parents, close relations, dependants and friends.

For Rahul Gandhi at least, whose Grant Mother was assassinated when Saturn occupied its loftiest position with Burning Sun in company, in the house of Libra, thirty years back, the very same planets have occupied Libra again to witness the second assassination of his Grant Mother.

In fact Saturn was there for the past two years which has seen the worst spell of fortune for the whole family. Undoubtedly periods Saturn’s loftiest state is the worst time for the Gandhi family, judging from the events in thirty years and the tragedies and political losses.

Even though Indira Gandhi died during the dasa of Saturn, a period in life where you may have the severest of set back and toils, Saturn’s wrath and graces were more or less balanced for her. However the thirty year cyclical movement certainly meant disaster to Indira Gandhi and her kith and kin every time it visited his position of high strength, the house of Libra.

Memories of an autumn day assassination

No summer's high, no warm July, no harvest moon to light one tender August night. No autumn breeze, no falling leaves, not even time for birds to fly to southern skies. 

So wrote Stevie Wonder about an ordinary day he sang three ordinary words which meant almost everything to a generation. It was on such an ordinary autumn day that a woman who touched the hearts of a whole generation for her courage was felled by assassins.

It is exactly thirty years since that day dawned in the life of many people as an ordinary day and set like an extra ordinary day they could never forget.

For me, it was a train journey which started as boring as any in an Indian train but grew very frightening towards the end and ended with a very unusual and uncomfortable experience of having to be pulled home by another human being. That is what  stand out as the background of the events of that tragic day for me.

It was because, the train which departed early morning on that day had all but one stop and there was nothing called a mobile phone.  The news of an assassination at last trickled down towards the afternoon when the train pulled up at an unusual stop, waiting for clearance to proceed to the destination as massive disturbances started to occur all over India.

Not knowing what happened or if it was only a rumour, the immediate concern was getting home safe and the shock and the sinking feeling had to wait till watching the news being flashed on the TV screen of a neighbour.

Events that caused immense shock to the whole world has occurred before and after like the assassination of President Kennedy and the 9/11. Days everyone remembers what they were up to when they heard the news. The cold blooded murder of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi however was unique and different.

Though President Kennedy was assassinated at the height of his popularity as bold leader of the cold war era, the world was only on the verge of media revolution and less connected for the news to dissipate. Time lapse perhaps diffused the shock though the angst and agony of the aftershock  of an entirely unexpected and bold assassination and the immediate events which followed undoubtedly shook the conscience of the free world. No doubt the assassination of the young president Kennedy  has left a indelible mark on everyone’s memory.

In contrast, Mrs Gandhi’s murder did not come as a surprise, at least to those who were aware of the Indian politics. But when it came, it came down like a ton of hot metal on India’s conscience and a world at large which couldn’t believe such a tragedy could strike India and the Gandhi name twice.

It didn’t go down to the bottom of every heart with the force of the bullets which ripped her body but as a deep strike of knife which pierced the deepest affection and admiration for a leader who willingly sacrificed herself for what was right for the integrity and unity of the nation.

Unlike President Kennedy Indira Gandhi was not at the height of her political career. Mrs Gandhi could have run away from it all.  She was warned. She knew it was coming.  She could have the protection she wanted to avoid it.

Yet she was a leader who somehow knew that it will not be her political legacy and achievement but her courage and valour as a woman which will be the most precious gift she could leave for the nation and the world, which will make them to hold her close to their heart.

The nation heard with apprehension and discomfort when she spoke on the eve of her death about her premonition but couldn’t fathom her courage of conviction about what she will be dying for till that actually happened.

Nobody knows how many attempts have been made to shoot me; lathis have been used to beat me. They have attacked me in every possible manner. I do not care whether I live or die. I have lived a long life and I am proud that I spent the whole of my life in the service of my people. I am only proud of this and nothing else. I shall continue to serve until my last breath and when I die, I can say, that every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it.

Indira Gandhi will be remembered not as woman who wanted to build a dynasty and leave it behind but as someone who spoke out those words loud and clear for the world to hear, fully aware of the approaching death before her.

Naturally, you need to have a feel of what women are made of to appreciate the greatness of Indira Gandhi.

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