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Elizabeth Brunner

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fairy Tales around

5th May 1996 

Elizabeth and her contribution towards the Hungarian Millecentenarium (896 - 1996) 

 

 

Sunday morning, the 5th of May 1996

            When I came that hot, sunny Sunday morning, Elizabeth looked rather well. Her sitting room seemed pleasantly cool because of its high ceiling. From the T.V. the 'Mahabharata' (a Television series) was loudly coming forth and Mr. Lutoria was partly watching it, partly reading the newspaper.  

"MUSUME" Nippon, 1935

            As no conversation could be taped until further notice, I fed Elizabeth the sweet melon Mary had cut for her. (Mary is the 'good soul' in Elizabeths' house, cooking, bathing her, sleeping next to her, helping Elizabeth in every way.) The two of us were happy, as always, just being together. I watched a tiny mouse coming from under her bed and peacefully eating the crumbs which were lying there. It could not have been more than three cm long, not to mentioned the fine long tail. It looked so 'well groomed' with its shining brown coat and was very much at ease. Animals are Elizabeth's friends. The birds are being fed (and the food is blessed) each time she takes her meal. Also her many dogs. Unfortunately, Elizabeth cannot take her dogs out for their walks any longer, and the people who do so are not very kind to her dogs. As a result, they are rather muddled and bark a lot when strangers come to the house. Actually dogs (even stray dogs) are also my friends but one of Elizabeths' dogs, I detour when entering the house.

Elizabeth with one of her pet dogs

            The mice came in with the last monsoon and seem to remain. Though all the servants are angry about it, Elizabeth will not have anything nasty done to them. So they stay, and I have heard and seen them on various occasions sitting with Elizabeth. Once one had climbed up on the 'mala' (string of flowers) which was hanging around the beautiful painting of the Dalai Lama that Elizabeth painted in 1959. In India Gods (and other precious things) are being garlanded with 'malas'. In Elizabeth's house the Dalai Lama (who has been once again visiting her in December 1995), two paintings of her mother as well as one of Tagore are garlanded. I find it particularly touching. 

            It would be very difficult to describe her living room, in which she also sleeps. All the other rooms are full with boxes of her own and her mother's paintings. These paintings are Elizabeth's 'children', she has to look after and take great care of them. Coming back to her room, I like to say that it has occured to me, sometimes during the many years I know her, to bring some kind of order into the various piles of things lying around, but I have finally decided that it would be of no use. Firstly Mary and the other servants would make a mess again and secondly somehow it's got to be this way. It belongs to Elizabeth's surroundings and the way I will always remember her! There are people who come and clean daily and strangely there is an order in the seemingly untidiness.

            The T.V. was finally switched off and Elizabeth started: "Yesterday it was the fifth of May and it was ..." "No the fifth is today," Dagmar butted in. But Elizabeth maintained, "but Lutoria Sahib when was 'Buddha Jayanti'?" ('Buddha Jayanti' is Buddha's birthday, always celebrated on full moon in May). "On Friday the third," replied Mr. Lutoria looking up at us from his newspaper smiling. "Yes, yes 'Buddha Jayanti' was on Friday, I am so sorry I could not go," said Elizabeth. "Where would you go, where did you go in olden days when you still walked, Elizabeth?" Asked Dagmar "May be 'Buddha Jayanti Gardens on the Ridge' which is very beautiful," Elizabeth. "Have you seen the new Buddha statue?" Dagmar. "Yes, yes, I went there for the consecration. But now it is difficult for me," continues Elizabeth. "Otherwise I also had the idea to make an exhibition on 'Buddha Jayanti Day' with all my Buddha paintings. But I was unable because of this weakness (patting her knee), although I felt that, for that, I will have the strength. But I asked the IIC (India International Centre), I asked some friends. And I did not want to do a big exhibition, just the Buddhas. To create an atmosphere, something of the reactions of my feelings that I have automatically buried into these paintings. That it should pass on a message to those who can take it.  -  So now, they have asked me to do it later in autumn. I don't know why," said Elizabeth. 

Mahabodi Tree

            "You just had a two-weeks exhibition of your own and your mother's Japanese paintings, 'The Soul of Japan' at the Hungarian Cultural Centre," said Dagmar. "The Japanese one, yes, and it took a lot of energy out of me," Elizabeth. "So it is perhaps wiser not to have another exhibition so soon afterwards," put Dagmar in.  

Birth of Siddhartha, Ceylon 1956

            "Yes," said Elizabeth. "And there is a demand for an exhibition from Hungary that I have to do a lot of selection for. That means I would need some help. Because Hungary has got the celebration of their 'Thousand and one hundred years of their arrival on the Hungarian soil'  -  And very cleverly they justified their way of conquest, we learned it from our school books. They used the 'oriental way of occupation'. I think it was the Moravians who then were the occupants. I should know more, but ... this will be available in books. It was so charming, as a child, I did not quite understand it all. But today I know it was the oriental way of approach. You know, according to the legend, the Hungarian envoy asked for this much  - a hand full of earth. A glass full of water. And a bundle of grass. And with that he announced that this was his land now," narrated Elizabeth.

            Dagmar asked, "who was it?" And Elizabeth retorted, "oh darling, I am such stupid girl; 75 years ago I learned it in school. But in any book you can read about it." And Dagmar said, "and in all the Hungarian school books also?" "Yes," said Elizabeth. "We had to learn it, in our time at least it was so. And we had to know it." "And you still do, lovely Elizabeth," Dagmar. "Yes, now I know it so much more because it was also an ancient custom here in India. I just saw it in the 'Mahabharata'! It's an ancient custom. Once the deed is done, no one can step on the other's land."

                Here is the story of the creation of the Hungarian nation in short (Courtesy: The Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, New Delhi):

                The ancient Hungarians came to be a separate people around 500 BC on the steppes of the West Siberian Plain. From this time on they changed over to nomadic stock raising, and started to call themselves "Magyar". This kind of life style based on wandering brought about their subsequent migration for thousands of kilometres.

                First, around 500 AD, they moved to the area between the Mid-Volga Region and the Ural Mountains (this area was called Magna Hungaria by historic sources from the Middle Ages). Then, around 700 AD, the majority of the Magyars moved on to the area around the Volga and Don Rivers and Doniesk Basin. This area was called Lebedia after their first reigning prince Lebediás. Around 850 AD they put their abodes further south-west to the area between the Dnieper and Dniester Rivers. This area was called Etelköz "interriver area" by the Byzantine emperor. From 862 on, starting from this area, their raiding troops came to scour through the Carpathian Basin several times and finally  - between 895 and 900 -  it was occupied by them under the leadership of prince Árpád. The immediate cause which brought about the conquest of Hungary was the attack launched by the Pechenegs (Besenyös) on the Hungarian dwellings in Etelköz.

French Rakoczi, a Hungarian national hero of the 18th century, painted by Elizabeth

                In 895 the Hungarians took possession of the areas lying east of the Danube, where they mainly found various people of the former Avar principalities. On the border areas of the Carpathian Basin they found eastern Slavic people. Transdanubia and Southern Plain areas where, at that time, under the rule of the Bulgarians. In 900 their ally, Arnulf, the east

                Frankish ruler, died, and it was this time when the Hungarians occupied Transdanubia, as formerly it was a Frankish borderland. In autumn 902 they overthrew the Moravian principality, lying north of the Danube. The Magyars set up their dwellings mainly on the plain areas. It was only in the 10th century when they penetrated into the mountains along the valleys.

Elizabeth with her Hungarian friend Agnes Kirpalani

                Their incursions launched against Western Europe and Byzantium where organised on the basis of political considerations. During such raids they intervened into the struggles taking side of this or another monarch. In the majority of cases they interfered at the invitation of princes or landlords fighting against each other. Their raids abroad contributed even to the unification of some divided German territories. By these expeditions they kept off invaders from entering their own country and gained time for the establishment of the Hungarian state. After the raids to Western Europe had been stopped in 955, prince Taksony came into power (955 - 972) and strengthened the central power of the princedom and established a firm basis for the state-organising work of prince Géza (972 - 996) and king Szent István, "Stephen the Saint" (997 - 1038), who finally established the Hungarian Kingdom in 1000 AD.

                That is why the Hungarian Millecentenarium was celebrated in 1996 (896 - 1996).

            Elizabeth continued to tell Dagmar, "I am never looking at things lightly, they are very deep, let us say, in my heart. There are, for instance, many things which I like to explain in the book ('A Mystic Link With India' written by R.K. Raju) which are incorrect. And you see, paintings are not signed, and not dated! And now already I have to think, my goodness, when was it painted. I have a lot of work to do. All the paintings have to be signed. That after us, my mother and me, people cannot steal them and call them theirs. There are people like that. At least my mother's paintings should be in order," Elizabeth carried on. But Dagmar could not constrain herself and put in, "and your own, Elizabeth, your own paintings are just as important!"  

 

            "It is important," said Elizabeth, "because it is a historical period that was given to two young artists. She was also young then. Mother died young, only 60! And the whole family. That means my father is like the 'guru' behind it all. He was, his soul was destroyed, so wounded, by the First World War. The cruelty of the First World War. And I am a 'First World War child'. I grew up in that mess, with all those ideas in the air. Suffering! Seeing women with my mother. She did help, doing social work. All the men were in the war, women were left alone with the children."

            "Yes, I understand you very well, dearest Elizabeth, I am a 'Second World War child' and so is Laurence," said Dagmar.  -  "Then we had to have that Second World War," Elizabeth continued, "and we were prisoners of war in India! Of course, our stay became finally beautiful, because the spirit of India is beautiful. But I as a stupid little girl, or still fairly young, I used to cover myself with a blanket at night and cry. And my mother was very angry with me. She thought I was not brave enough. She said, if you  - although we have no Jewish relations, but friends we had -  should have been taken to a 'nazi camp' then you know what you are crying for. That she said to me in the middle of the night when she realized that I am crying under the blanket."

 
     

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Copyright © Dagmar Barua 1997 Sass Brunner East West Trust, 75, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi - 110 003