Tag Archives: Horatio Walpole

Serendipity – The Story Of Its Origin.

Anura Guruge, laughing, picture November 16, 2011.

by Anura Guruge

The more observant among you may have noticed that there is a countdown clock for the ‘NH Highland Games at Loon‘ on the right-hand side sidebar (>>>>). The Highland Games is the highlight of my year. Today’s post was going to be about the Highland Games being roughly a month away. Yes, I think you can still get discounted tickets. I don’t bother with that anymore since we don’t go for the whole, entire weekend. I was going to start the post by saying that I stumbled upon the Highland Games, in 1997, serendipitously. It was classic, text-book Serendipity. I had no idea that NH had Highland Games (though as an adopted Scot I was obviously very au fait with what they were). I was living in Meredith, NH. My son who was five at the time wanted to go for a drive (in the black, rocket-ship, Cadillac STS I had at the time). We decided to go to Loon, may favorite ski destination in NH. We are driving along the Kangamangus and we could see that something exciting was taking place in Loon. Cars (as was permitted then, but not now) were parked on the side of the road. It was Sunday afternoon. So there were empty spots. We pulled in and parked. We walked to the bridge.

We found the Games. Classic serendipity.

To me Serendipity involves three things: chance, luck and delight.

I am cool with ‘happy accident’ or ‘pleasant surprise’. Wikipedia has this example, and I like it too: ‘to look for a needle in a haystack and get out of it with the farmer’s daughter‘.

I am eminently qualified to talk about Serendipity. I was born in Serendipity. I grew up in Serendipity. The gold wedding bands that Deanna and I wear have the word ‘SERENDIPITY’ engraved on the inside. So, Serendipity is very much a part of my life.

Serendib‘ which morphed to ‘Serendip‘ is the Persian and Urdu (spoken in India and Pakistan) word fro Ceylon, (now) Sri Lanka — the country in which I was born in 1953.

There was an ancient Persian folk tale about ‘The Three Princes of Serendip‘; a hallmark of these three Persian Princes being their knack to stumble upon lucky discoveries.

This story had been translated and published in Italian, in Venice, in 1557, by a Michele Tramezzino, as Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo.

Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717 – 1797), a man of significance in Britain, coined the term ‘Serendipity’ from the Persian tale to connote lucky, chance discoveries as made by the three Princess. All of this is well known among the right circles and copiously documented all over the Web. [Note that we have an ‘Orford’ in NH with a rather delightful diner.]

I think there is more to this story than just that — though I am making this up as I go along because I only thought of it this morning and haven’t had time to research it or ask my father, a font of knowledge on all things Sri Lankan.

In a country as old as Ceylon, with a written historic record going back to 3,000 BCE, you are bound to find various stories as to how the people came to be — in particular the Sinhalese, 75% of the population. Yes, I am Sinhalese.  ‘Sinhala’ basically translates ‘lion people’. I always think that that is cool, given that I love BIG cats. (I could at this point make a lot of feline jokes but I will refrain because I will get told off by Deanna). The dominant feature of the rather spectacular Ceylon flag is the Rampant Lion. So far, so good. All makes sense. Right? Wrong. Serendib, Serendipity, Taprobane, Ceylon now Sri Lanka does NOT have lions (or tigers) and never have! We only have leopards. Yep. All true.

My mother’s family is ‘Jayasinghe‘ — again the ‘Singhe’, lion, victorious lion in this instance.

The story that we were told was of Prince Vijaya, exiled by his father, in three ships, with 700 followers — who, when supplies were getting rather low, luckily, stumbled upon the resplendent island. Serendipity. I like Vijaya. He was a player. Most Sri Lankans, especially the males in my family from my mother’s side, take after him. That is why Vijaya was kicked out to sea by his father. Vijaya, as far as we can tell, came from far Northern India. Hence all this with lions. The Sinhalese, based on our language, are classed as being ‘Indo-ARYANs’. That part has always amused me. I always joke about having to explain to a German that we, brown and black all over, are indeed Aryans.

But, back to Serendipity and ‘The Three Princes of Serendip‘. Isn’t it serendipitous that the Vijaya story sounds so much like the Three Princes story. Given that there were 701 and one of them, I am sure I could find two more Princes amongst that band. They sure lucked out when they found Serendipity by chance. It all fits together nicely.