The story of Mata Hari

The rarest among them is Deepak Tandon who lives in Panchkula (Haryana). He must be the most erudite man in the country, a human encyclopaedia. He seems to know about writers in all languages, world events. There is just about nothing that he does not know. A sample of his elucidation of the personality of Mata Hari about which I had written in my columns some weeks ago is given below. I reproduce his last letter to me:

“From your weekly piece in July, I am pained to learn that your hands have started shaking, and that you will not be able to send replies to the letters you receive. My hand, too, have been shaking for over two decades as a consequence of personal shock. This is the reason I have always been sending you typed letters. In the aforesaid piece you have observed that Mata Hari is “the stereotype of a woman spy”.

“Mata Hari is the stage name of Margaretha Geertuide nee Zelle (1876-1917). She was a Dutch exotic dancer, a courtesan and an accused in France for espionage for Germany during the World War I. She had a lavish early childhood, being the eldest of four of her parents children. After her marriage with a Dutch colonial army captain, Rudolf MacLeod, she moved in the Dutch upper class.

They went to the island of Java in the then Dutch East Indies. Her marriage was an overall disappointment; her husband being an alcoholic. In Indonesia she joined a dance company and took her artistic name Mata Hari, which in Malaya’s language means sun or the eye of the day. After moving back to the Netherlands, the couple divorced in 1907.

She now moved to Paris as an exotic dancer. Promiscuous, flirtatious and openly flaunting her body, she captivated her audiences and was an overnight success. She elevated exotic dance to a more respectable status. She was also a successful courtesan.

“She had relations with high ranking military officers, politicians and others in influential positions, including the German crown prince. During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. She frequently travelled between France, the Netherlands and Spain.

While travelling to Spain, she was arrested at the English port of Falmouth, was brought to London on the charge of espionage for France. Though the French and British Intelligence suspected her of spying for Germany, neither could produce definite evidence, but was charged as a double agent and was executed by a firing squad in France. Her body was not claimed by any family member. Her biographer, Russell Warren Hew in 1985 convinced the French government that Mata Hari was innocent of her charge of espionage.”

German sardar and his toti
Romesh Singh is bearded, beturbaned Sardarji who lives in Frankfurt. He was married to a German Ella who was in the women’s fashion business. Every autumn when European dress-makers exhibited new designs, she bought the best and brought them with her to Delhi. She got Indian darzees (tailors) to make exact replicas using Indian textiles.

She sold them in Europe at handsome profits. She married Romesh Singh. They had no children but they adopted a parrot, they thought was a female and named Lola. They lived in a spacious apartment in Frankfurt. Other floors were occupied by their staff. Their sole companion was their parrot. The parrot would sit on Romesh’s turban and then on his shoulder to tweak his beard.

A few years ago Ella died and Lola became Romesh’s sole companion. He stopped coming to Delhi in the winter months to meet his relatives and friends. He could not leave Lola alone. “After Ella died, I lost the love of living and have happily ended my life except for the fact that I could not desert Lola,” he told me. “The only reason I go on living is only for the sake of Lola. The day she goes, I will also go.”

Going bonkers
One night when I was trying hard to fall asleep, the word hungamus came into my mind. I was not sure if such a word existed, and if it did, what did it mean. I would have liked to consult my dictionary but that is always next to my armed chair in my sitting room. Next morning when my daughter Mala Dayal came to ask if I had slept well, I told her I needed a pocket dictionary in my bed room.

A couple of hours later she bought a pocket dictionary from Khan Market and gave it to me as a ‘birthday present.’ I looked for hungamus. It wasn’t there. Later in the afternoon, I looked for it in my larger dictionary. It was not there even in the larger dictionary. I came to the conclusion that with age I had gone bonkers.

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