History & Mystery of Scarborough Fair

I”ve always loved Scarborough Fair, an enchanting tune that when layered with Art Garfunkel’s vocals is, Magic. However, despite harbouring a penchant for knowing lyrics to any song I love by rote, this one I missed until recently. When the lyrics did sink in, my interest in the song only grew – researching it has been fascinating.

It’s believed that the song can be traced back to an older, more obscure Scottish ballad  The Elfin Knight (Child Ballad #2), which dates at least as far back as 1670 or even earlier. There are several of versions of the song because it’s been around this long, but I’m posting lyrics to the most popular of those. The song is usually sung as a duet – and you’ll see why. Alongside Simon and Garfunkel’s version, I’v added Celtic Woman’s version too. Both are worth several sighs.


Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Remember me to one who lives there,
For once she was a true love of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Without any seam or needlework,
Then she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to wash it in yonder well,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Where never spring water or rain ever fell 
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to dry it on yonder thorn,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born,
Then she shall be a true lover of mine.

Now he has asked me questions three,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
I hope he'll answer as many for me
Before he shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell him to buy me an acre of land,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Betwixt the salt water and the sea sand,
Then he shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell him to plough it with a ram's horn,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
And sow it all over with one pepper corn,
And he shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell him to shear it with a sickle of leather,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
And bind it up with a peacock feather.
And he shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell him to thrash it on yonder wall,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
And never let one corn of it fall,
Then he shall be a true lover of mine.

When he has done and finished his work.
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme:
Oh, tell him to come and he'll have his shirt,
And he shall be a true lover of mine.

Scarborough & its Famed Fair

Scarborough, on the North Sea coast of North YorkshireEngland was allegedly founded around 966 AD. In the Middle AgesScarborough Fair, permitted in a royal charter of 1253, held a six-week trading festival attracting merchants from all over Europe. It ran from Assumption Day, 15 August, until Michaelmas Day, 29 September. Merchants and tradesmen from all over the area came to trade their goods through the barter system. It became a huge annual event with music, food and festivities. The fair continued to be held for 500 years, from the 13th century to the 18th century, and it is that which is commemorated in this song. The melody is very typical of the middle English period. (During the early 17th century, increasing taxation and competition from local markets and fairs caused the popularity of the fair to decline. Yet, even today, people gather for a medieval-themed fair in Scarborough).

The Riddle Riddled Song

The song relates the tale of a young man who instructs the listener to tell his former love to perform for him a series of impossible tasks, such as making him a shirt without a seam and then washing it in a dry well, adding that if she completes these tasks he will take her back. As mentioned, often the song is sung as a duet, with the woman then giving her lover a series of equally impossible tasks, promising to give him his seamless shirt once he has finished with those.

Because versions of the ballad known under the title “Scarborough Fair” are usually limited to the exchange of these impossible tasks, many suggestions concerning the plot have been proposed including one that says it is about the Great Plague of the late Middle Ages. Also, as in most stories concerning impossible tasks set for lovers or suitors, the tasks set forth in this song are probably riddles, and once the riddle is solved then the task can be performed easily. “Plough it with a ram’s horn, and sow it all over with one peppercorn” could be read as a sexual reference (?)

The Refrain that is Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme 

Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme

Again, there are several interpretations of why the refrain is what it is. Here are some more well-known ones- My favourite is the first version 😉

Version 1 –  Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, like many other herbs, have a symbolic meaning that goes back centuries – that these were the main ingredients to an old witches love potion, a potion that was wildly popular in the middle ages.

Version 2 –

  • Parsley has been used as a digestant, which should take the bitterness out of certain comestibles. Some medieval physicians used this herb in a spiritual manner.
  • Sage is renowned as a symbol of power.
  • Rosemary represents fidelity, love, and remembrance and is therefore often used in traditional wedding customs. Rosemary for remembrance.
  • Thyme symbolizes courage and thus found its way into heraldry.

Both man and woman in this ballad invoke said powers in naming these herbs: mildness to soothe the bitterness of their relationship, spiritual strength to endure being apart from each other, faithfulness and lastly encouragement, to fulfill the impossible tasks given.

Version 3 – The four herbs are traditionally closely associated with death, as well as with being used in charms to ward off the evil eye and the song  uses them for the same.

Version 4 – Plague doctors at the time are thought to have used the herbs to cover-up the smell of death and decay. The herbs were supposedly put in the beak of their costumes.

Version 5 – The refrain is simply be the result of an attempt to fill in forgotten portions of the song. (How boring this, my least favourite version)

The Song, Sung

Scarborough Fair has been sung by several singers and therein lie some controversies too. But I’m writing this because Simon and Garfunkel brought me here, wrapping the this timeless classic in abundant wistfulness and delicacy. Enjoy.

This post borrows heavily from Wikipedia in addition to several other links I came across on Scarborough Fair. The images are courtesy sherwoodforesthistory.blogspot.com & Anne McLeod Images on Flickr.


The Effervescence of Spring

A stalwart soldier comes, the spring,

Who bears the bow of Love;

And on that bow, the lustrous string

Is made of bees, that move

With malice as they speed the shaft

Of blossoming mango-flower

At us, dear, who have never laughed

At love, nor scorned his power.


Their blossom-burden weights the trees;

The winds in fragrance move;

The lakes are bright with lotuses,

The women bright with love;

The days are soft, the evenings clear

And charming; everything

That moves and lives and blossoms, dear,

Is sweeter in the spring.


The groves are beautifully bright

For many and many a mile

With jasmine-flowers that are as white

As loving woman’s smile:

The resolution of a saint

Might well be tried by this;

Far more, young hearts that fancies paint

With dreams of loving bliss.

~ Kalidas ~ (Translated from Sanskrit)

The painting above depicts the effervescence of spring. Spread over two canvases, this large piece was made (obviously) during a joyous burst of hope+happiness brought on by the advent of spring 2012.
Working this was fun.
Firstly, I’ve never done anything as bright; and having two super-bright-yellow canvases stare back at me everyday was pretty-damn-daunting. However, each metaphor related to spring that came dancing to the mind as I went along, brought with it not just yellow, but a splash of almost every color. 
Secondly, conceptualizing these canvases with sea-shells (butterflies and flowers), glass beads (butterfly antennae) and glass bits (clouds) alongside gold, acrylic and oil paint was another first and an interesting one at that. 🙂 
The painting doesnt picture very well since it is really bright, but what the hell… summer is here and it’s about time I put up something topical, done a month ago.


(Recent controversial ad and its coverage that got me started : 9Tx9vVVMWw0 and JwBH0R)

I am brown-skinned, like most Indians. I’m not proud of it. Or ashamed. It’s just something I don’t think about. Much like I don’t about the color of my eyes. That’s the way it is with non issues I suppose.

Ever since I’ve been able to comprehend the stupidity and gravity of this fairness complex in India, I’ve observed with anguish and anger marketers playing to the gallery, milking it for all its worth. They’ve worked to affirm, deepen and build into frenzy a thought that they could have instead tried to ridicule and root out of the country’s social psyche.

Of course, the converse argument is that this complex has always existed; what is being offered simply is, a solution. Well, guess what? Preference for boys has always been out there too, with no marketer exploiting it (Thank God) because the horrors accompanying that issue are well understood. My contention is that fairness complex is as revolting a social issue because it leads people into living half a life based on a notion of inadequacy, on account of skin color. Surely that is criminal?

Fairness creams don’t work. This is a fact. The color of one’s skin has no bearing on one’s success or failure as a human being. That is a fact too. But, marketers would have you believe otherwise. An alarming territory.

Growing up, I recall seeing ads of Afghan Snow, Fair & Lovely, Emami fairness cream. This, apart from hordes of low brow fairness products crowding shop shelves. Their premise used to be ~ Use us, become fairer. Then HUL’s Fair & Lovely broke the mould by extending that premise and associating being lighter-skinned with feeling confident, feeling confident with being self-assured, being self-assured with being successful. What a wonderful fairy-tale that is! Of course it worked. Now the baselines of all fairness brands have something to do with self-confidence and achievement.

Just imagine the mindset of a little girl growing up in small town India with these subliminal messages being thrown at her by the ever ubiquitous TV. Couple that with fairness obsessed mentality of the society around her and you’ll understand why unless she is really strong-minded, she stands little chance of feeling 100% about herself, ever.

Stretching this elasticky argument a bit further, its obvious that the beauty industry is a bitch anyway because one can never be perfect, right? Breasts too small, bum too big, eyelashes too sparse, lips too thin, hair too curly, nails too short and so it goes. Where does one draw the line? It’s a fair question, one I have no clear-cut answers too as well. But what I do understand is that if we tell our children from when they are little, that the skin color they were born with is an impediment to their future, we are in the wrong. No greys there.

Let me bring in gently here, I am a marketer. Have been one for 11 years. Have worked on several brands. (And surprise) I have a conscience. I was approached to be part of the biggest fairness brand of India, an offer that was a huge deal then, an offer I rejected because I wanted to make a statement. Not to anyone else but to myself and my conscience. Because, if one has convictions, one has a choice.

Be the change you want to see, need not remain an adage always.

Freedom, Now

Like you most probably, many discussions amongst my friends also centre around China’s economic clout and how it might soon take over the world because of it. However my contention in such discussions always is, “Umm, I’m not so sure”. Here’s why.

Yes, China has all the appropriate indicators flashing green for it. The numbers match and the percentages soar. But, China denies its people a basic right -The right to freedom; freedom of thought and freedom to act. And to me, if people are not free to make fundamental life choices, it’s a bit of a stretch to buy into the happy and content myth.

For the short-term, for as long as economic bounty helps them alleviate their poverty, the Chinese populace may bear certain hardships and curbs on freedom. However, once their basic needs are catered to, they will want to “live their life” – as opposed to being directed by the state into living it. Fundamental to this will be the right to plan one’s family. In China, average number of children per family pre-Mao was 6, now it is 1. I refuse to believe that this drastic change over a few decades has been brought about without heartburn and without a severe curtailing of a husband and wife’s most basal desire – the desire to plan their family, their way. The common man in China may not speak up now, but will he forever remain quiet? Forcing down an ethic, impinging on personal freedom is what makes me leave China with a question mark.

Cut to USA, 2012.

A country that has stood for salient, admirable tenets of democracy, liberty and equality finds itself perched at strange crossroads today. This is a year of elections and therefore it is almost a necessary corollary that it will be a year of playing to the gallery and vote bank politics – that is fine and acceptable for the most part. However lines get crossed when electoral rhetoric impinges on personal freedom.

And that is happening with two important topics these days – The pro choice debate and questioning the need for higher education.

A comparatively emancipated, well read, out and about woman in the US today will not have it in her hand to plan her family if the Republicans have their way. By bringing in God (oh how we discredit Him), morality (who is anyone to say anything about morals anyway), shame, fear, guilt (that deadly cocktail), people like Santorum are turning the idea of living in the 21st century on its head. And frankly, I don’t understand what the root of their argument is. Is it..

..Keep having babies because that’s what you were meant to do? [Really? Where is that written?]

..Keep the baby despite knowing it may not survive? [Why do that to yourself and the baby?]

..Keep the baby despite risks to your own life, welfare and long term psychological well-being? [Why?]

..(Or is the fear is that) Legalising abortion might lead women to a more promiscuous lifestyle? [If so, then the issue needs to be addressed appropriately by educating young girls about meaningless sex and its consequences. Banning abortions cannot be the answer.]

Oh, but then going by Santorum, education per se is not worth investing in, right? Because according to him, college degrees breed liberals and that is not good. Hell yes, not good for “them” because they don’t like educated, questioning minds. They prefer folks with blinders that can be led wherever…

Romney wants to balance his budget by eliminating funding for the Planning Parenthood program. Limbaugh is calling a college student “slut” for wanting insurance coverage for birth control pills. Virginia is looking at a bill which will mandate penetrating women with a wand to picture their fetuses; to have them acquaint with it before undergoing an abortion. The most shocking part is that this blundering idiot, Santorum, is running successfully, winning many a state. These guys obviously are connecting; connecting with people who in my mind stand effectively against – Freedom.

In China, personal choices are affected by the political system, by selling the greater national good over that of an individual. Here, in America, in 2012, personal choices are being riddled with Guilt and God. Women are being questioned about their freedom to plan their families and their lives. Families are being asked to forsake higher education for the fear of leaving “the fold”.

Seriously guys, this is the USA. It’s from where the likes of China are supposed to draw inspiration, not the other way around. And that, is all.

Freedom – Khalil Gibran

And an orator said, “Speak to us of Freedom”

And he (The Prophet) answered:

At the city gate and by your fireside I have seen you prostrate yourself and worship your own freedom, Even as slaves humble themselves before a tyrant and praise him though he slays them.

Aye, in the grove of the temple and in the shadow of the citadel I have seen the freest among you wear their freedom as a yoke and a handcuff. 

And my heart bled within me; for you can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfillment.

You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief, But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.

And how shall you rise beyond your days and nights unless you break the chains which you at the dawn of your understanding have fastened around your noon hour?

In truth that which you call freedom is the strongest of these chains, though its links glitter in the sun and dazzle your eyes.

And what is it but fragments of your own self you would discard that you may become free? If it is an unjust law you would abolish, that law was written with your own hand upon your own forehead.

You cannot erase it by burning your law books nor by washing the foreheads of your judges, though you pour the sea upon them. And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed.

For how can a tyrant rule the free and the proud, but for a tyranny in their own freedom and a shame in their own pride? And if it is a care you would cast off, that care has been chosen by you rather than imposed upon you.

And if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared.

Verily all things move within your being in constant half embrace, the desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished, the pursued and that which you would escape.

These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling. And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light.

And thus your freedom when it loses its fetters becomes itself the fetter of a greater freedom.

Kahlil Gibran – The Prophet.


It’s like this and like that and like this and uh…

Trying to unravel life is fun because it’s just like the dance of 7 veils. Each peeled layer revealing and concealing, giving and teasing. Just when you think you have it all figured out, life kicks you in the ass or pats you on the back; bitch slapping you into rethinking what you thought you knew.

And so I’m thinking maybe that’s what life is. It is that elusive girl you are dying to know, burning to sleep with. But you can’t. That denial keeps your fascination going (the best time and the best sex is what you have in your head).

Contrarily, if you were to get that girl (literally and metaphorically), you would know her inside out and maybe even love her more. But give or take a few years of domesticated bliss, would she turn you on, excite you as much? I’m guessing not.

And because most of us seek an exciting life, she obliges us by continuing to be the enigma she is, ebbing and flowing in our veins; so that we may stay entirely engaged and mostly enthralled by her, for her, for ourselves.

Drops and Oceans


Turquoise blue waters of Hawaii (Our trip to Oahu 2010)

There is something about Water, there just is.

The sea for instance, imparts me joyous spirit and rest, all at the same time. Growing up in Bombay I remember walking down to a beach nearby to celebrate or ricochet from just about any emotion – happiness, anxiety, curiosity, restlessness, melancholy, you name it. It is therapy, sitting on rocks and tracing undulating waves in your mind. Or after dark, taking in sparkly yellow lights jutting seamlessly from city buildings into the waters. Vast sea that claims its place; whether grey Arabian or turquoise Caribbean, I’m partial to none.

Versova Beach, Bombay, about 7 years back

Sunset over Lake Geneva / Alps 2005

Rivers perennial or seasonal, come with their unique charm. Recall being struck by muddy reddish-brown roaring rivers in Kerela while driving from Cochin to Munnar in monsoons. Those waters had me not just enthralled but also a bit worried about the little houses nearby. But of course the denizens are used to their noisy neighbor and want it just so.

Arti’s at Har ki Paudi in river Ganges, Haridwar are achingly beautiful. Say what you may about the multitudes and filth, this spectacle of millions of bobbing diyas floating away on peaceful dark waters is cathartic.

As I write this, I’m sitting by a river in New York and I do so often. Watching huge barges, ships, speedboats, sailboats make their way thru the greenish grey waters. Used to do the same when living in Switzerland; watch Lake Geneva change its mood, color, visage. Sunrises, sunsets, children playing, dogs walking.

Monsoons, rain drops, dew, waterfalls, lakes, backwaters, dams, reservoirs, quick showers, relaxed baths.

They. Just. Feels. Like. Peace.

Water refreshes, calms, invites, cools, intimidates, loves, quenches. My drink of choice.

Brilliant Colors of Puerto Rico 2011

Sprinkles and Summer, NYC 2010

Lake Geneva, Switzerland 2006