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Sunday, 3 February 2013

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As fresh as a daisy

I happened to be in a spirited sing song where ‘Daisy Daisy,’ was sung time and again. It was because the words of this song were known by all. All the while Daisy in the song definitely didn’t want to marry a fellow who owned only a bicycle for two, but this didn’t stop the singers asking her the same question over and over again. It was a trip overland in Sri Lanka and the bus was full with young adults and a group of friends.

The next morning, we met one hostess’ little daughter, in a crisp white uniform ready for school holding a bunch of flowers. Someone in our group said, “Hello, little girl, you look as fresh as a daisy.”

There was so much mention of daisy that it set me thinking. First, of the daisy chain where daisy flowers were pierced on the stem just below the flower and woven together, to wear as a garland or as a wreath on the head. Also the phrase, ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ refers to this same flower and the petals are flipped off one by one with the above incantation and the last petal decides which it is, loves or loves not.

Women named Daisy

In the realm of politics in Sri Lanka, when the island was known as Ceylon, the1920s was a period of exciting change. The Ceylon National Congress that was formed in 1919 flourished in the twenties. Members of all castes entered politics as political and labour leaders which never happened till then. Middle class women continued to shock the orthodox. Not only did they go in for higher education, they also took part in activities that were hitherto of men. They even gambled at horse races, wore the latest western fashion and formed the path for the ‘new woman.’

Regarding women’s suffrage in spite of comments as follows:

“Woman’s place is at home.” “We must leave our women alone, surely all their life must be devoted to the home,’ and “we are all concerned about the purity of the home.”

The Ceylon Women’s Franchise Union (WFU) was formed on the December 7, 1927. Agnes De Silva and Nellie Gunasekera set about collecting signatures on a document for the above purpose and the first one to sign was Lady Daisy Ezline Bandaranaike. The historic inaugural meeting of the WFU was held at the Girls’ Friendly Society hall, Greenpath, Colpetty. Lady Daisy Dias Bandaranaike was its first president.

Later, led by lady Daisy Dias Bandaranaike, a WFU delegation participated in the historic first All-Asian Women’s Conference in Lahore, India in January 1931. The conference was to internationalise issues of women’s rights.

Changing from politics to stage and cinema, there was Daisy Daniels who later became Rukmani Devi a beautiful woman who was the star of the silver screen for very many years. She had an inborn talent to dance and sing and at a young age she was selected to perform a main role in a Christmas play, The Shoemaker's Wife. Her unique singing voice attracted many music directors and her singing career moved from the stage to the cinema.

Rukmani Devi

At this time her name was changed from Daisy Daniels to Rukmani Devi and she continued to star in different roles in 99 films. An equally talented singer she sang songs that became very popular. Some of them were Sandeva Sriya, Pinsara Mage Soyura and Mavila Penevi Rupe. It was indeed a treat to listen to her singing Malbara Himidiriye with the high notes taken as only she could in her own style.

Daisy Gordon Low was the founder of Girls Scouts in U S A. She was born Juliette Gordon (1860 - but was affectionately and well known as Daisy Gordon. She was an athletic girl but later suffered from a chronic ear infection and became partly deaf in one ear. She married a wealthy Englishman William Mackay Low. Later she became deaf in the other ear. After her marriage, she lived in England.

During the Spanish-American War, Daisy came back to America to aid the war effort. She and her mother organised a convalescent hospital. At the end of the war Daisy went back to England to a disintegrating marriage. Then, she returned to USA. In 1911 she met Sir Robert Baden Powell and became interested in the new youth movement of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

In March 1912, together with a cousin of hers, she registered the first American Girl Guides with 18 girls. The name was changed to Girl Scouts the following year. In developing the Girl Scout Movement in USA, Daisy brought girls of all backgrounds together, giving them the opportunity to develop self reliance and resourcefulness.

She encouraged girls to prepare not only for traditional homemaking but also for possible future roles as professional women, in the arts, sciences, and business and for active citizenship outside the home. The Girl Scouts welcomed girls with disabilities at a time when they were excluded from many activities. The idea seemed quite natural to Daisy Gordon Low who never let deafness, back problems or even cancer keep her from full participation of life.

The original 18 Girl Scouts has grown into enormous number and is the largest educational organisation for girls in the world. It has influenced more than 59 million girls, women and men who belonged to it. She has many honours conferred on her and they are all well deserved.

Daisy Lee Gaston Bates (1914 -1999) was an American civil rights activist, publisher and writer who played a leading role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957. She lived in Little Rock, Arkansas and married L C Bates.

Bates and her husband were important figures in the African American community in the capital city of Little Rock. They published a local black newspaper, the Arkansas State Press. When nine young black students attempted to enroll in the Little Rock Central High School which hitherto had been an all white school, it caused mayhem.

This group became known as the Little Rock Nine. The pandemonium went on till President Eisenhower intervened and brought back the school and town to order - with federal troops and security for the nine students. Despite the enormous amount of animosity they faced from white residents of the city, the students were undeterred from their mission to attend the school. Bates remained close with the Little Rock Nine, offering her continuing support as they faced harassment and intimidation from people against desegregation. In 1960, Bates moved to New York City and wrote her memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock which won the national Book Award.

Little Rock paid perhaps the ultimate tribute, not only to Bates but to the new era she helped initiate, by opening the Daisy Bates Elementary School and by making the third Monday in February ‘George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gaston Bates Day.’

Daisy Zamora (June 1950) was born in Managua, Nicaragua into a wealthy politically active family. Throughout her life Daisy Zamora has been a well political activist and an advocate for women’s rights. She was involved in the fight against Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s. She joined the Sandinista National Liberation Front in 1973. She was exiled to Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica. After the final offensive in 1979 and the triumph of the revolution, she was appointed vice minister of culture for the new government.

She is also one of the most prominent figures in contemporary Latin American poetry. Her work is forthright and explosive and depicts wide ranging subject matter of Latin American daily life encompassing human rights, politics, revolution, feminist issues, art, history and culture.

She is the author of five widely read books of poetry in Spanish, among them are, The Violent Foam, Life for Each and Clean Slate. Her work is included in the Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry. She has received many awards for her writing and in 2006 she was honoured as the Writer of the Year by the National Association of Artists in Nicaragua.

Novels and novellas

Henry James (1843-1916) was an American born author and literary critic. He spent much time in Europe and became a British citizen before his death. Primarily known for novels, novellas and short stories based on themes of consciousness and morality, he gained immediate and widespread success with his novella, Daisy Miller, despite some criticism that the story was an outrage on American girlhood.

It first appeared in the Corn Hill magazine in 1879 and in book form the following year. It portrays a courtship between a beautiful American girl, Daisy Miller and Winterbourne, a sophisticated European. The story is of his pursuit of her which is hampered by her own flirtatiousness, which is frowned upon by other expatriates they meet in European countries.

This story serves both as a psychologically descriptive with the description of the mind of a young woman and as well as an analysis of the traditional views of society where she seems a clear outsider. Henry James uses Daisy Miller’s story to discuss what he thinks Europeans and Americans believe about each other and more generally, the prejudices that are common in any culture. Daisy is also portrayed as a victim of a ‘social rumpus’ that goes on either over her head or really unnoticed by her.

The names of the characters are also symbolic. Daisy is a pretty flower in full bloom without inhibitions in the springtime of her life. Daisy contrasts sharply with Winterbourne as flowers die in winter.

My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin is a historical romance written and published in Britain in 2010. It was published under the title American Heiress in 2011 in USA and Canada. Daisy Georgia Goodwin is a British television producer, poetry anthologist and a novelist.

There really was an American invasion of Europe during America’s golden age where American heiresses would go to Europe to spend their money ‘buying’ titled gentry. An example, in 1895 Consuelo Vanderbilt, the daughter of the American billionaire Willie Vanderbilt, married the Duke of Marlborough in New York. This, of course, was the media event of the year taking 300 policemen to hold back the thousands of people desperate to catch a glimpse of the glamorous bride in a dress with five-yards of train.

Author Daisy Goodwin based her heroine Cora Cash (a fitting name) after Consuelo Vanderbilt. Cora is a perfect heroine with beauty, brains, money and perfect manners but with a strait laced mother. Therefore, it seems that independence is the only lacking item in Cora’s life. Though there are spurts of breaking free, Cora is brought by her mother to Europe and somehow she meets the Duke, her counterpart in the story, whose castle and wealth are crumbling.

With the popularity of the British series, Downton Abbey (including an American heiress, lady Grantham and other similarities) Goodwin’s story too became popular as an aristocratic historic romance

Daisy Goodwin is the daughter of the film producer, Richard B Goodwin (of A Passage to India and Seven Years in Tibet) and is exposed to historic writing.

Poems

Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), William Wordsworth (1770-1850) Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) and Francis Thompson (1859-1907) are renowned poets and all of them have written poems on daisies.

Tennyson with his style of serenity wrote a long poem ‘The Daisy.’ He wrote this poem in 1851 after he and his wife made a summer tour of Italy. This poem is the immortal record of his tour. Emily Dickinson wrote the poem ‘The Daisy Follows Soft the Sun.’ she wrote about some flowers open their blooms to the rise of the sun and close their blooms when the sun sets. The sun and the flowers are personified and one can recognise the love and lust the flowers show towards the wonderful sun which gives life and purpose. Metaphorically, her daisy poem is of unrequited love.

Wordsworth wrote of ‘The Daisy’ as a nature poem. He compared it to a star and also that the little flower gladdened his heart. In Francis Thompson’s poem, ‘Daisy,’ he says that of all the flowers, the daisy flower was the sweetest flower on Sussex hills. He was writing of a love of his who had just parted and he ended the poem in a philosophical manner.

For all these poets to write about the daisy flower shows the effect that this small flower had on them. The daisy though small is a fresh and bright little flower full of zest and the poems shows how this fine white petalled flower with its sassy yellow centre affected the poets.

Movies

Alfred Uhry had been writing for musical theatre in USA for twenty-five years but when he wrote his non-musical play Driving Miss Daisy, it became a smash hit. Originally scheduled to run at a small theatre in New York City, the demand for tickets were so high that it moved to a larger theatre where it ran for three years. Uhry also won the Pulitzer prize in 1988. In his preface to the published play, Uhry wrote the following:

“When I wrote the play I never dreamed I would be writing an introduction to it like this because I never thought it would get this far. When I wonder how all this happened, I can come up with only one answer. I wrote what I knew to be the truth and people have recognised it as such.”

This play had such sincerity, dignity and honesty, dealing with issues that plague all people, White, African Americans, northern or southern.

Driving Miss Daisy went on to become an equally successful movie winning the awards for the best picture, best actress and best screen adaptation for Uhry.

The play spans a period of twenty-five years in an unbroken series of segments. It is of Daisy Werthan, a seventy-two year old southern Jewish widow and her driver, Hoke Coleburn, an uneducated African American who is sixty. The racism and prejudice that permeated American society during the time period in which the story takes place is explored in the film. Especially, when Hoke is questioned by a pair of Alabama highway patrolmen who make out of earshot remarks about Miss Daisy being Jewish and Hoke being Black. The appeal of Driving Miss Daisy is however, universal.

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960) is a comedy film by Metro Goldwyn Meyer staring Doris Day and David Niven. The film was based on the bestselling book by Jean Kerr and it was of the same name. The story is set in Ridgemont, New York, about an unusual suburban family. It is of a college English professor and his lazy newspaper columnist wife and their four rambunctious sons.

In addition they have a tolerant family maid and a sheep dog. Even though the book was published in 1957, it is timely today as it was then. It was written as a series of short essays. The comedy part comes in as it looks at the funny side of life. Jean Kerr recognises the parts of life that overwhelms us all and shows you there’s something to laugh through life. That is how the film became a comedy hit and a lesson to us all.

The outcome

One’s mind could get in a whirl with so many daisies. In fact, after much discussion on daisies, flowers and more, one friend asked whether I wanted my name changed to Daisy! Even though there is so much that once could gather about daisies in all manners, the daisy or daisies I most like are the ox eye daisies that toss their bright plucky faces on flower borders of a hill country garden.

I remember this garden, which had a largish pond on one side, pretty with water lilies and reeds. A flock of white geese with yellow beaks swam contentedly as if complementing the daisies and making it such a beautiful picture to behold.

As I enjoyed the picturesque scene, a little child waddled up to the daisies spoke to the flowers moving from one to another. She talked and prattled on to the numerous daisies and in turn they swayed, turned, nodded and tossed their heads vigorously in answering.

 

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