Rabbit, Duck, and Fox, in Natures lap and locks! : The World of Beatrix Potter!

‘Thank God I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality’ opined Beatrix Potter about her life, knowledge, and career. Her ideals rooted deeply from the world around her made her a multi-faceted writer, illustrator, designer, and environmentalist earning her a substantial name in the fields of mycology and nature conservatism, which in early Britain, was quite unusual for a woman to be known for. On the occasion of her birth anniversary, here.s presenting her residence-turned-museum to all the readers.

NPG P1825; Beatrix Potter (Mrs Heelis) by Charles King
Beatrix Potter Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia
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Lake District, Windermere, United Kingdom

Born 28 July 1866, Potter started out as a writer and illustrator of her books – thirty in total- twenty-three of which were for children. Her characters  ‘Benjamin Bunny‘ and ‘Peter Rabbit’ among others have been made immortal by her illustrations and later through digital series, movies, theatre, ballets, musicals, and others. Her beloved holiday location Lake District became her home in the days to come when she bought Hilltop Farm on Bowness on Windermere with the royalties received from her book.

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A Model of Hill Top Farm

I have had the privilege to visit the Lake District, Windermere while I was studying in Manchester. The beauty and scenic locales of unparalleled beauty, rightly preserved for years by the consciousness of humanity, was an unforgettable sight. In fact, much of its preservation is owed to Beatrix Potter. Nestled between the natural beauty of lakes, waterfalls, winding flowering paths and the hilltop view lies Bowness on Windermere– the former residence of Beatrix Potter, which has now been remodeled into the Beatrix Potter Museum.

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The Entrance to the World of Beatrix Potter, as it stands now

The museum equals being seeped into the pages of her books and living them in front of one’s eyes. Illustrations from her books and especially that of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny have been replicated down to the last details. From the naughty Peter Rabbit creating havoc in Mr. Mcgregor’s garden and being rebuked at, to Mr. Jeremy Fisher, the slightly accident-prone frog who sets out on an adventure; from the dilemma of Jemima Puddle-Duck to  Mr. Tod, the fox reading a newspaper;  each life-size model reminds the children and elders alike of the magic of Beatrix Potter. In her own words- ‘What heaven can be more real than to retain the spirit-world of childhood?’  indeed the museum acts as a heaven for children.

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Someone loves his carrots…Guess Who? 
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Mr. Tod, keeping himself updated with the latest news 
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Jemima Puddle-Duck on her way to find a suitable place to lay her eggs
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Looks like Mr. Jeremy Fisher already met with an accident…AGAIN! 

But that is not all!  The Museum boasts of the Peter Rabbit Garden designed by Chelsea RHS Gold Medal Winner, Richard Lucas. Modeling on Potter’s belief of conservatism and environmentalism, the garden has been built with purely organic materials and farms local fruits, and vegetables. It doubles up as a kitchen garden and mouth-watering dishes made out these home-grown veggies and plants can be savored in the Café next door. But do be careful, “It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is ‘soporific’.

 The world-famous Gift shop in the precinct ships Beatrix Potter merchandise to over fifty countries in the world. Potters characters have also been brought to life by stage artists who perform theatricals in the Old Laundry Theatre. The most famous show ‘Where is Peter Rabbit?’  has been running 2- 3 times a day for the viewers. And if you thought that was it, it is not! Children love the world of Potter and what better than celebrating their birthday’s or special parties themed on Potter? Keeping this in mind,  the specially designed Laundrama has been hosting Potterific parties and special occasions for the people.

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No one leaves the Emporium without a new friend….. Neither did I 

The Beatrix Potter Museum serves as a time portal to her world.  It reminds the readers of a distinguished woman with a sharp intellect and irrefutable love for nature. Throughout her life, she has claimed ‘If I have done anything, even a little to help small children enjoy honest, simple pleasures, I have done a bit of good’. Potter is not only remembered for her lively characters but also for the strength of power that she herself was. Numerous documentaries have been made on her life including a 1982 production by the BBC.

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Glimpses of her works presented digitally on loop 

Her principles in life teach all her readers quite a few lessons, the first being conservatism. Lake District, Windermere is one of the prime tourist destinations in the United Kingdom known for its natural beauty, much of which can be owed to the preservation policies of Potter. In fact, her local farming methods can be credited for the sustenance of various species of flora and fauna which would have been otherwise lost. Too few, in the contemporary world remember the importance of nature, else most usually take it for granted and abuse it. Post her death, her entire property in Lake District has been left in charge of The National Trust who continues to walk in her ideals of preserving nature.

Coming to the literary aspect, her very first book was a self-published work. But her growth in her scope of literature only accounts for the fact how well she matured as a writer and that self-publishing is parallel to publishing. As they say Content is King, so was true decades ago. Potter’s foray into illustrations, merchandise designing, farming has helped her to not only draw inspiration for her books but also made her an entrepreneur with several avenues of income. The ideals presented by Potter were relevant for generations to come and thus, even in the 21st century, children and elders alike marvel at the prowess of her creative imagination and the visual appeal of her words.

Potter’s books are widely available across all online and offline platforms like Amazon and Flipkart. It can also be ordered at your nearest bookstore. Currently, due to the grave crisis the world is in, Bowness on Windermere has canceled all its events. It is due to reopen with all safety precautions on 1 August 2020. Should all be well, a trip to this exotic world is a must!

My visit to Bowness-on-Windermere which was my first time at an author’s house-turned-museum brought questions to my mind about preservation. It is indeed true when we say that an author lives through his/her/their words and works but their residence, a prime source of their inspiration should also be equally protected and preserved. Visiting such museums only deepens the burning question in me – Are we doing enough to preserve what needs to be preserved or have we lost a huge treasure trove of knowledge already due to neglect and ignorance? I leave you with this question and would be happy to hear your comments on it.

Until next time……..

 

 

Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

‘But, Bull, is it just because we’re Japanese?’ Twelve-year-old Sumiko is still not aware of the true consequence of her being Japanese when she asks her older brother Bull this question. The happy-go-lucky girl-next-door, Sumiko lives with her grandfather, uncle, and his family and her own little brother. Sumiko’s family is into farming flowers and she finds extreme solace in learning the tips and tricks of flower farming. Not only she helps in the farm post-school but also dreams of owning a flower shop of her own. . . . till the Pearl Harbor incident!

With the news of the bombings, starts coming news of Japanese arrests in America. Those born in America but of Japanese nationality seemed to be fleeing away from the land towards safety. Sumiko’s dreams are crushed under the weight of nationality and war and she is taken out of school, her books are burnt, her family photo with her late parents are burnt too, to remove the trace of her Japanese identity.

The Japanese community starts feeling like caged individuals after losing their identity. The fear of oppression by the Government is always on their minds which leads them to lead frightening sleepless nights. Japanese were being tracked and removed from the social milieu. It isn’t much later that her grandfather and uncle are arrested as well and Sumiko is only left with her elder cousins as the men of the house, to look after her and her little brother. With the man of the house gone, Sumiko could only look towards an unknown future. They started selling off their possessions including their much-loved horse, Baba at peanuts. In due course of time, they are shifted to Poston, a refugee camp in the desert of Arizona.

It is only in the camp where Sumiko’s real struggle starts- a struggle which is most internal than external. With no school and work, boredom starts creeping in her mind. The restlessness of getting news of her beloved grandfather and uncle also makes her uneasy at times. This affects her psyche and she starts reminiscing her life at the farm amongst flowers, family, and friends. Most days she sits daydreaming about a life that is light years away from her. She escapes reality in those moments to live a life elsewhere in peaceful bliss before the shards of reality strike her again.

Amidst all this, the Government provides no aid by further censoring the news. With no one getting the full picture of the war, the anxiety and anticipation grow harder and impatience finds its way, resulting in people taking drastic measures for themselves. News of proper facilities that the Government would be starting in the camps remain as an illusion for the longest time and what was permanent was a claustrophobic space suitable for half-a-person with an overhead shelter where families of four of five live cloistered along with their scaly companions like scorpions, cockroaches, and rats!

But Sumiko is a girl made of hard mettle. Even in dire circumstances as a flower grows, she starts showing off her skills as a gardener and starts helping their neighbor grow a small flower garden of his own. This becomes her world and she enjoys gardening and accumulating things that would help in a better yield in the harshest of the weather conditions. This gives her a purpose to look forward to each day and count the days until she can be living life as a free citizen.

In the wake of all these, Sumiko also makes a special friend- a young American Indian boy. Geographically the refugee camp is placed on (American) Indian Land which signifies the dispute between the American Indians and the unlawful usurpation of their native land by the Government. Boys from the nearby homes often enter the camps to bully the children out of the angst of having lost their lands. Sumiko’s friendship blossoms with one such American boy. Will such a friendship last forever? With Sumiko coming of age, will friendship mature into a permanent relation? It is interesting to see. . . . .

Kadohata tactfully shows the consequences of war and ethnic discrimination through the eyes of a child and takes the readers on a journey of friendship, betrayal, loss, illusionary promises, bullying, and of course mental health. The novel lays bare to the readers the other side of war where the casualty is not often physical but that of mental betrayal.

Also, one needs to talk about the beauty of the one-word name of the book- Weedflower. One of the most neglected and often mistaken flowers of great use is the weed flower, similarly, hundreds like Sumiko- Japanese American – were treated like weed flowers- useful but neglected, respectable but made to survive in the harshest conditions; who despite lack of opportunities or infrastructure keep their respect and beauty. Weedflower truly sums up the conditions of hundreds like Sumiko who bears the wrath of war for no direct fault of their own.

Weedflower plucks a chord in the hearts of its readers and even though it was first published in 2006, it still resonates with many, fourteen years later. I would clearly request you to grab your copy or read it online as an e-book or audiobook, it is surely worth it!

No. of Pages: 260

Publishers: Atheneum, Simon & Schuster

Available on: Amazon / Flipkart / Storytel