Edith Juelma Beckmann
The Prayer of the Easterner
I pray the prayer that the Easterners do—
“May the peace of Allah abide with you!
Wherever you stay, wherever you go,
May the beautiful palms of Allah grow;
Through the days of toil and the nights of rest
With the great love of Allah may you be blest.”
So I touch my heart as the Easterners do—
“May the peace of Allah abide with you!”
It is only seldom that the author of a book on travel has the opportunity of recording the trip of his main characters from first-hand information obtained before, during and after their journey. This is one of those rare instances where, through a chance acquaintance made on shipboard crossing the Pacific, a friendship developed between one of the principals, Robert Dean, and the writer which made it possible to obtain the background of the characters and which vitally interested the former in their observations and conclusions.
It was an exceptional privilege to meet and to know Robert Dean and Devi Lall in Ceylon, India and Burma. During their travels they covered over three thousand miles, visited fifteen cities, much country and many villages. For conveyances they made use of automobiles, rickshas, various types of river boats, tongas (a horse and cart), camels, elephants, hackneys, gharrys and trains. In the latter they travelled second class with the idea of assisting the American to obtain closer contact and all possible information directly from the natives.
No attempt is made in this volume to offer an authentic treatise on the three countries mentioned. Authoritative information pertaining to governments, religions, history, customs and additional statistics may be obtained elsewhere. On the other hand, the impressions and discussions of two well-educated young men, one Indian and the other American, while traveling through these lands so strange to inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere, are full of interest, humor and much food for thought. Each takes the opportunity to frankly criticize the conditions and mistakes of the other’s country, people, customs and habits. The author adds his own viewpoints and descriptions occasionally to make the story more fascinating and complete.
There are three classes of readers who will gain great pleasure from the following pages, viz:—First, those who have actually travelled in British India and who will enjoy comparing the ideas and impressions expressed with their own conclusions. The second group will consist of those who are fond of travel and who someday hope to visit these sections of the Near East. Lastly, there are those who are always interested in books of travel and in obtaining information from others who have actually made sojourns and studied in foreign lands.
British India is a country of vast area, strange customs, religions, habits and contradictions. Its past history is one of fighting, turmoil, intrigue, cruelty and trickery. At the present, to the casual observer, it is a land of filth, disease, unsanitary conditions, and yet withal, picturesque. Its future is undoubtedly questionable.
One leaves India with a feeling of relief and disgust, but with a desire to someday return and see it again.
Credit is given to Appollinario Bucario and to Euliterio Borges of India for the assistance they rendered in giving many of the facts expressed in these pages.
Raj Lall was a very successful Hindu exporter of Bombay. His father before him had been engaged in the same business, and for years the elderly Lall had given Raj a training which would prepare him to take over the reins of the institution when circumstances demanded.
With the passing of the aged father, Raj Lall became the controlling factor in the enterprise, and during the years that followed developed it to twice the size and success of his paternal predecessor. The activities of the concern were extended to additional foreign countries which, at the inception, demanded the close attention of the one in charge. It became advisable for Raj Lall to make several trips to America and in so doing he opened new channels of trade, learned and saw much of the country and acquainted himself with many American methods and institutions.
Upon his return to Bombay from one of his voyages to America, the home of the Lalls was blessed with a greatly desired baby boy. According to true Hindu tradition, this event gave cause for considerable rejoicing and a colorful celebration. It was extremely important and essential that Raj Lall should have a son who would be trained and who would succeed him just as he in turn had been trained and had succeeded his own father. The son was named Devi, (Dā’vie).
From the moment of his birth, Devi Lall’s future was definitely planned. There never was the slightest discussion whether maturity should find him a doctor, lawyer, architect, engineer or mechanic. He would naturally be trained to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather before him. There was never a moment’s consideration for anything else. His future was taken as a matter of course, for he was a Hindu.
Even in Devi’s mind, as he developed from childhood, there was not a single doubt regarding his life’s activity. He was as desirous of following his father as his father was to have him do so, and even as a child his preliminary training for business began.
Immediately following his secondary schooling Devi was sent to Lucknow and later to Calcutta where he received degrees in both economics and commerce. At the age of twenty, Devi had received practically all the schooling that India could offer in these two subjects.
During his vacation periods, to make his training more complete and practical, his father had given him the opportunity of traveling throughout India, Ceylon and Burma to buy specified kinds of merchandise for the firm. After the first year at college he had travelled with his father, but following that preliminary trip, he had managed successfully by himself.
This experience not only better fitted him for his future work, but it also gave him a knowledge of British India and its people that few Indians possessed.
One evening, after Devi had completed his schooling at Calcutta, he and his father sat in the twilight discussing plans for the years to follow.
“Devi,” said his father, “it has occurred to me that it would be an excellent idea for you to attend an American university and study American methods. I am still active in the business here, and while there is plenty of work for you to do, it may be best for you to devote a few years to the study of the commercial activities and methods of our biggest customers. I have visited America many times, but it was not my opportunity to study there. This will be your privilege if you care to accept it.”
Devi was elated. He had never dreamed, when he learned to speak English, that there would come a time when he could use it to so practical an advantage.
“I would like very much to go, Father,” answered Devi. “I shall miss my home, you and Mother, but it will be thrilling to live among the people of another country and attend a foreign university.”
For hours the two sat and talked and planned. Ever since his first visit to America, Raj Lall had firmly decided that should he be blessed with a son, he would endeavor to have his education completed in that country. He had asked many questions, and obtained considerable in formation long before Devi had finished college at Calcutta, but neither his desire nor his knowledge had been imparted to anyone excepting Devi’s mother, who as usual acquiesced to her husband’s wishes.
Devi sat and listened with the greatest enthusiasm as his father outlined the course of action which he had so carefully considered. “I have definite reasons,” said Raj Lall, “why I wish to have you complete your business training in a graduate school of business. You will receive not only a good grounding in American commercial methods, but you will obtain the latest and most up-to-date ideas as well.
“During your summer vacations,” continued the elder Lall, “I have already arranged for you to travel as a salesman for an American concern that buys much of our merchandise. This will give you practical training and experience as a salesman, you will meet many of our smaller customers whom we never see, and you will learn much of America because your travels will carry you into almost every state of that great country.”
It was practically impossible for Devi to sleep that night. His mind was a jumble of excited anticipations for the future. He had never been so highly elated in his life.
The following days were ones of moment, during which plans were completed, preparations made and passage acquired on one of the large passenger ships through the Mediterranean to New York.
The day of departure found Devi ready. When the ship finally sailed from Bombay, there was a great crowd of his friends and relatives at the wharf to wish him well in true Hindu style. A new life for Devi was about to begin.
During his four years of study, travels and experiences in America, Devi Lall learned much. All this time he lived with Americans, dressed like an American and ate the food of the country according to recognized principles of etiquette. From all appearances, excepting color and religion, he was an American. He grew to like the country and its people, for they accepted him as one of their own and treated him well.
As a salesman, during the summer months, he was successful, because he knew the merchandise and because he possessed an extremely likable personality. He had a natural persuasiveness which was rather compelling to the merchants and buyers who had not come in contact with it previously.
On the whole, his four years proved to be highly successful ones, and Devi returned to his native land and to Bombay a well educated and highly trained youth. Surely no son was better prepared to take over the reins of his father when conditions would eventually make such a step necessary.
Raj Lall was proud of his son, for his greatest ambition in life had been fulfilled. It was the outstanding day of his career when Devi was made a partner and given a position in the business.
Franklin Dean was a typical, successful sales manager for one of the largest importing concerns in America. His ancestors originated from two of the outstanding countries of Europe, but for several generations the Western Hemisphere had been their home. He was, therefore, a true example of what “the melting pot” can do to produce a useful, active and successful citizen.
Because of his anxiety to work, to make money and to enter the business world, his schooling ceased when he had been graduated from high school. His first position was that of a salesman in a large retail clothing concern. Later he accepted an opportunity to travel for a nationally known manufacturing company, until finally he was one of those responsible for the organization of the corporation of which he later found himself an officer, a director and manager of sales.
At the age of twenty-four, Franklin Dean was married to a splendid type of young American womanhood, and three years later—about the time that Devi Lall came into the world—good fortune presented them with a son. They were of course highly pleased, but, unlike the Lalls, it would not have caused great concern if the first child had been a girl. In America it is not vital, and seldom important, that the son follow the same line of work or profession as the father. In India the reverse is invariably true, primarily because of the caste system and other customs of the country.
The new arrival into the Dean family was named Robert. No son could have been more welcome and no parents could have possessed greater hopes for their offspring. As soon as Robert, or Bob, as he was always known, came into the world, his mother and father began to hope for his successful future. But, again unlike the Lalls, they believed in guiding their son, but not in shaping his destiny for him. As he grew into manhood they knew that he, himself, would be the determining factor in the selection of a vocation or a profession. They hoped for his success in some legitimate undertaking.
Upon one thing, however, they would, if possible, insist. Franklin Dean had always bemoaned the fact that he had not continued his schooling through college, but he would see to it that his son was not likewise handicapped. What course of instruction he decided to pursue was not of vital concern, but he felt that a college or university education would be a great factor in his success in any line of endeavor.
Consequently, it was impressed upon Bob from his early childhood that he was to have the opportunity of attending university. This privilege was always held before him as a desirable prize which he coveted most highly. When he had graduated from high school it was only natural that he should enter university, and, strange as it may seem, because of a natural tendency toward commercial activities, he decided to major in the Department of Business Administration.
His parents were quite satisfied, but there was still no intention nor inclination to have him enter the corporation with which his father was connected.
At the close of his first year in college, Bob came to his father and said, “Dad, I want a summer job. Is there something I can do in your company or should I look for work somewhere else?” The elder Dean quickly decided that it would be better to have his son under his own supervision, especially during his impressionable years. If he had a desire to work, he could possibly give him employment which would also supplement his college training.
“All right,” answered the father, “if you want a job, I think we can find a place for you in the stock room. I’ll see the manager of the department today and let you know at dinner this evening.”
That same afternoon Franklin Dean had a long talk with Carl Holmes, who had charge of storage and shipping, and it was agreed that Bob should be employed.
At dinner Bob said, “Dad, do I get the job?” “You do,” said his father, “and your wages will be twenty-five dollars a week if you make good.”
“Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll get the twenty-five,” replied Bob.
The following summer it was decided to give Bob an opportunity in the sales department, not as a salesman but as one of the assistants in the office under his father’s supervision, where he could learn sales language, sales routine, details regarding the merchandise, sales reports and the policy of the company. It was in this temporary work that he became interested in sales activities and made his decision to concentrate upon that phase of business as a career.
One evening before leaving for college in the fall, and as he and his father were riding home from the office, Bob asked, “Dad, when vacation time comes next spring I want a job on the sales force. Will you give me a chance?”
“Well,” answered his father, “don’t you think you are rather young? Do you think you can actually sell to mature merchants?”
“I’ll be twenty-one next summer,” Bob answered, “and I know the merchandise and our proposition as well as any man you have on your staff. If you’ll give me an opportunity, I’ll show you what I can do.”
“All right, Bob,” agreed his father, “you have nine months to further prepare yourself. If you think you are sufficiently equipped when spring arrives, you may have a trial. In the meantime, I’ll send copies of sales bulletins and important sales correspondence to you so that you may further familiarize yourself with the work.”
During his third year at university Bob put forth an extra effort, and at the very beginning of the vacation period he was placed on the sales force, but at first, under a four-weeks tutelage of one of the older salesmen.
To be sure, Bob had his ups and downs, but when September came it could be honestly said that his sales activities had been profitable to the business.
As soon as he had graduated from the university the following June, it seemed a very natural move on the part of Franklin Dean to give his son a permanent position as a specialty salesman.
It was a coincidence that Bob should select the merchandise from India as his specialty. He had become very much interested in it from the first, and had concentrated upon a study of its origin and manufacture. It is easy to understand then why he should develop an interest in the country from which the merchandise came, and upon many occasions he would discuss the subject for hours at a time with his father.
During the year that Bob reached the age of twenty-five it seemed advisable to send someone of the organization to India to further the interests of the company. Because of Bob’s activities, study and success with Indian merchandise, the firm decided quite naturally to send him.
The decision, however, was not a sudden one. For many years there had been a very pleasant and profitable connection between the firm represented by Raj Lall of Bombay and the one represented by Franklin Dean. The two men had become great business friends. At least one year before the decision was made to send Bob to India, Franklin Dean and Raj Lall had discussed the matter upon one of the latter’s trips to America.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said the gentleman from India. “If you decide to send your son, I’ll have Devi meet him in Ceylon, and the two of them can then cover the essential territory together. My boy, Devi, knows India and the connections your firm wishes to make, as well as the other sources of the information which your son will be seeking.”
And so the details were arranged far in advance. The two sons, who had never met, were to be traveling companions on a trip where business and pleasure could logically and intelligently be combined. Both had reached the age of twenty-five. Each was well trained and on the way to a successful career. Devi had been well trained in India and America, and possessed a thorough knowledge of both countries, while Bob had been trained in America only, and knew little of British India above what he had read and heard.
It was with no form of mild anticipation that Robert Dean walked up the gangplank of a large steamship bound for a voyage across the Pacific and to Colombo, Ceylon, as his first important destination. Devi Lall was equally well pleased to leave Bombay, in due time, and sail to Colombo to meet the son of his father’s American friend.
The ship had not yet anchored in the harbor at Colombo when Robert Dean suddenly realized that someone was calling his name. When he answered the call, he found Devi Lall, who had come aboard with the immigration officers, awaiting him. The young men exchanged greetings like two former classmates. The friendship of their fathers had done considerable to build a stronger tie than mere acquaintanceship between them.
“Mr. Lall,” greeted Bob, “I’m certainly glad to meet you.”
“I am happy to meet you, too, Mr. Dean,” said Devi, “and as we say in Hindustani, ‘Namaskaran.’”
“As far as I am concerned,” Bob continued, “I should like to eliminate all formalities. If you do not mind, I should like to have you call me Bob.”
“All right,” answered Devi, “then you may call me Devi. In addition to that, please feel perfectly free to ask any questions you wish and I shall try to answer them. You will find many things to criticize, too, as we go along, and you may do that without any fear as far as I am concerned. Perhaps there are some things I should like to say about your country, too.”
“It is a good idea,” agreed Bob. “Let’s be absolutely frank with each other regarding everything. This is my first time away from my native land and I shall be glad to hear what someone like you, who has lived there, thinks of it.”
“This will be my first experience in accompanying an American through our country,” remarked Devi, “and I shall be interested to know your reactions.”
And so it was agreed. The two were to criticize whenever they desired without the least fear of injuring the feelings of the other. The criticism, also, might bring explanations to the front that would otherwise remain hidden.
The young men left for shore in a small launch as soon as Bob had passed through quarantine, immigration and customs inspection.
As they sat at lunch in the dining room of the beautiful Galle Face Hotel, Bob said to Devi, “I wish you would tell me some of the interesting facts about Ceylon. I’ve read considerable, but it is so much easier to remember when one hears an explanation while he is actually visiting a country.”
“I shall be glad to do that,” acquiesced Devi, “and if I seem to bore you, just stop me.”
“I’ll listen to anything you care to tell me,” said Bob.
“In the first place,” began Devi, “Ceylon, as you know, is an island the shape of a pear. Its greatest length is almost 210 miles, while its greatest width is approximately 140 miles. It has an area of a little over 26,000 square miles. It is about the size of Holland and Belgium and nearly one-half the size of England. The southern tip of Ceylon is only six degrees north of the Equator. It is only twenty-two miles from India at the nearest point.
“The natives here originally came from India, but they call themselves Singhalese, and the majority of them would appear very much incensed if you should call them Indians. They are a very proud people, so proud in fact that much of the ordinary labor in the cities, road building and the like is done by Indian coolies.
“There is so much history regarding Ceylon that it would be impossible to tell it all in a day’s time. The ancient capitals contain structures that are equally as interesting as those of the Christian Holy Land.
“When the Portuguese took control of the island in 1505, Ceylon was divided and had no less than seven native rulers. The Portuguese remained for 150 years, but did little to establish a stable government. It was more of a military occupation of the port towns.
“The Dutch drove the Portuguese out in 1656 and occupied all the lowlands, but the Kandyan rulers still held the higher elevations and still remained independent.
“Ceylon was ceded to the British in 1796 who made it a Crown Colony two years later. At first the government was conducted from Madras, India, but Kandy was occupied in 1815 and the British have been in complete possession ever since that date.
“The principal religion of the island is Buddhism, although there are many Hindus, Mohammedans and Christians.
“The unit of currency in Ceylon is the rupee, which today is equivalent to thirty-eight cents in your money. The rupee is divided just as your dollar, and there are coins representing fifty cents, twenty-five cents, five cents and one cent. There are also paper bills of various denominations from one to one thousand rupees.
“Now, if I tell you any more about Ceylon at this time you will probably forget it,” concluded Devi.
“Well, you have certainly told me much in a few minutes,” said Bob. “What is our program for this afternoon?”
“First, I think you should see Colombo, and then we shall have dinner at the hotel in Mount Lavina on the coast seven miles south.”
Bob Dean was greatly thrilled as he viewed the native business sections, the Buddhist temples, the Cinnamon Gardens, the museum, Victoria Park and the magnificent race course. Colombo had made an excellent impression.
As the two sat on the lawn at the Mount Lavina Hotel viewing the ocean scene, Bob said to Devi, “If your India is like this, I’m afraid I shall be compelled to discount about everything Katharine Mayo said in her Mother India.”
“Don’t do that too soon,” answered Devi. “You haven’t seen India yet. The people of Ceylon are living in luxury compared to conditions that exist in some parts of India, and as far as Katharine Mayo is concerned, remember that anyone who has lived in America could uncover and expose the dust and dirt there, too.”
The next day the two made a trip by automobile to Galle, a typical Dutch settlement seventy-two miles south of Colombo. This city originally belonged to the Portuguese and was at one time the principal port of Ceylon.
The drive to Kandy, seventy-five miles inland from Colombo, was one of the most beautiful that Bob had ever taken. The scenery, the villages and the people along the way, all created a strange fascination. Children and mature Singhalese along the highway seemed particularly friendly and happy. At the least provocation they would wave their hands and call, Hello, in English or their native tongue.
“Devi,” said Bob, “tell me why so many of these men wear long hair.”
“It is merely an old Singhalese custom,” answered Devi. “It is a matter of choice just as in America some of your men wear mustaches and beards.”
Along the highway numerous elephants were engaged in doing several kinds of heavy work. Astride the neck of each one was a native at whose very command the animal quickly responded. These scenes were rather exciting to Bob, who had never seen an elephant outside a circus or a zoo.
At one place along the highway several large trees were literally filled with flying foxes hanging head downward. There must have been thousands of them.
“These flying foxes are the largest of flying animals,” explained Devi; “their wing spread measures from three to four feet, and their faces are quite fox-like. They fly at night, when they can actually see better than in daytime. They eat fruit, which is to be found in abundance, and return to these same trees at daybreak, where they hang by their feet and from hooks on their wings.”
The men arrived in Kandy just in time to witness the bathing of the elephants in the river at Katugastota. The elephants were directed into the water to a depth of four or five feet where, at a command from the natives astride, they would lie down while the keepers scrubbed their hides with stiff, long-handled brushes. As long as the keepers would scrub, the elephants would lie perfectly content, evidently enjoying the experience.
As soon as the auto arrived, however, the elephants were brought to the roadway and commanded to do their many tricks. Boys were on hand to sell pieces of sugar cane to tourists so that the strangers might feed the mammals.
At the conclusion of the exhibition, every keeper held out his hand for a tip and Bob was rather confused. Devi came to the rescue with the suggestion, “Give each one twenty-five cents; that’s enough.”
“Well, it should be,” countered Bob; “there are seven of them. I can see a good circus in America that has twenty or more trained elephants in it for that amount.”
“But remember,” said Devi, “this money is not worth one-half as much as your American coins, and you cannot see elephants take a bath in a river at a circus.”
Bob paid the natives and let it pass, but he observed that Devi gave them nothing.
Along the highway and streets on the return to the city Bob noticed many men with shaved heads who were dressed in yellow robes. “Who are those fellows?” he asked.
“They are Buddhist priests,” explained Devi. “This is the hot-bed of Buddhism in Ceylon.”
“If you ask me, that’s a queer-looking outfit,” retorted Bob.
“Do you think it is any more queer than the costumes of some of the deaconesses, nuns, priests and Dunkards in America?” asked Devi, jokingly.
“You win,” replied Bob. “I’ll quit.”
That evening as they sat in the lounge of the Hotel Suisse after dinner, Bob obtained his first impression of the braggadocio American abroad. A seemingly intelligent Singhalese guide was explaining to his group the outstanding points of interest in and about Kandy. Among other things he mentioned that the Gauga River was the largest in Ceylon.
The boasting American in question immediately spoke up and said to the guide, “My Gawd, did ja ever see the Mississippi?” The other members of his group barely smiled.
Bob said to himself, “I’m glad all Americans are not like that.”
“And now,” said Devi after breakfast the next morning, “I wish to have you see one of the most famous Buddhist temples of Ceylon, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth.”
“What kind of a Temple is that?” asked Bob.
“It is supposed to contain one of the teeth of the famous Buddha himself, but no one knows whether this is true or not. The tooth is not exhibited to tourists,” answered Devi, “but this is an excellent day to visit the temple because it is the Festival of the Full Moon.”
This assertion proved true, for thousands of native men and women dressed in bright costumes were on their way to the temple with offerings for the occasion and to worship.
A guide met Bob and Devi at the gateway and escorted them through the building. In his broken English he endeavored to explain the various paintings and idols. The whole place was dirty and uninviting, and the odor was sufficient to keep one from remaining too long. However, by the time they again reached the gateway, Bob had given a total of two rupees to beggars and the guide. He mentioned the fact to Devi, who smiled as he said, “How much does it cost to go to church in America?”
“You win again,” said Bob.
That afternoon the two drove around the beautiful lake in the center of Kandy and over the scenic drives in the hills. Just before sunset they drove through the famous botanical gardens at Peradeniya, three miles from Kandy and one of the most colorful spots in Ceylon.
The drive back to Colombo the following morning was made in one of those heavy tropical downpours. How it did rain!
“Good Heavens!” exclaimed Bob. “Can’t you do something to make it stop? I want to have a look at the scenery.”
“Perhaps you would prefer a good North Dakota blizzard,” smiled Devi.
“Oh heck! Let it rain,” snapped Bob. “You know too much about America.”
Within a few hours after their arrival in Colombo the boys climbed aboard their ship and were soon on their way to Bombay.
When they had settled in easy chairs in the smoking room after dinner, Bob queried, “Devi, tell me more about yourself. I know about your business and your education in India and in America, but I know nothing about your family or your religion.”
“That is easy,” replied Devi. “I am a Hindu and my ancestors have been Hindus for many generations. You probably know about our caste system.”
“I know very little,” returned Bob. “Tell me.”
“There are four castes,” continued Devi. “The Brahma consists of the priests, governmental officials and educators. The Kshatri is composed of the fighting class. The Vaish consists of those engaged in business, and the Shudre are the laborers and beggars that you call ‘Untouchables.’
“Each one of these castes has its many subdivisions, so that there are really castes within each one. For example, a man of the Brahma caste cannot marry a girl of the same caste unless she is in his same classification. Two men of Brahma caste cannot eat together unless they are in the same division.
“My family and I belong to the Vaish, as will be the case with all our children, our children’s children and on through the future ages.”
“Do you, or are you allowed to, associate with the members of any other caste?” asked Bob.
“Oh, we can talk to them on the street and do business with them,” answered Devi, “but it would be out of the question to invite members of other castes to our homes, to be seen eating with them, or to go to a temple together. Each caste draws a distinct line over which it and members of other castes do not trespass.”
“Well, I can tell you right now,” declared Bob, “I’m against this caste business. In America one man is just as good as another. We can associate with whom we please and marry any girl who will accept us.”
“Are you sure of that?” asked Devi.
“You bet I am!” declared Bob.
“Then may I ask you if the Rockefellers and the Morgans invite the O’Flanigans and the Cohens of the tenement district to their homes for lawn parties or to dinner? Do the Vanderbilts hobnob with the ditch diggers and longshoremen? Did you ever see Mr. Astor and his chauffeur taking pleasure strolls together?
“I’ll admit that there are exceptions to the rule. I, too, know of instances in America where the caretaker’s daughter has married a millionaire, but those are rare exceptions which prove the rule. Even the clubs and churches of America are divided into classes. There are clubs and churches of the wealthy; there are lodges and Christian meeting places of the lowly. Then, each of these is again subdivided into cliques that do not mingle or associate with each other.
“The American colleges and universities are full of class distinction. Your fraternities and sororities are examples of it. The very fact that a student joins a fraternity or sorority is based upon his desire to be branded as a ‘high caste.’ Pity the poor, ordinary human being who goes to university and who is not asked to join such an organization. He is almost an outcast; almost an ‘untouchable.’
“No, my good friend, you do not call it the caste system, but you have it in America just as distinctly as we Hindus have it in India.”
“What you say has much truth in it,” admitted Bob, “but there is one thing you must admit. Any boy in America has the right, and many of them do climb to a higher level than the one in which they were born. Several boys of homely parentage have been made Presidents of the United States.”
“I’ll admit that,” said Devi. “That is one place where your system seems to be better, but there are millions of people in our country who would answer a call to arms if a member of the Shudre caste, or an ‘Untouchable’ became a ruler of India, and if you will pardon me for saying so, I think I am safe in making the assertion that I know of a few prominent men in America who could not be elected President because of class distinction.”
“One thing is certain,” concluded Bob. “You and I cannot change the situation in our respective countries.”
“Yet we can have a lot of fun discussing and criticizing as we agreed at the beginning,” said Devi. “Remember, also,” he continued, “Hinduism goes back five thousand years. It is one of the oldest religions known, and even though it may have weaknesses, the people have been so thoroughly saturated with their beliefs through the years that it is not easy to change their thinking. Their very existence is religious. Hinduism enters into everything they do.”
“By the way,” said Bob, “what is your belief regarding the eating of meat? I have heard you say to waiters, ‘Please see that I get no beef?’”
“Hindus do not eat beef in any form,” answered Devi. “You probably know that the cow is a very sacred animal because of the function she performs in supplying milk and ghee (clarified butter) for food. Bulls are likewise sacred because they are responsible for propagation. We feel, then, that it would be a sin to eat an animal whose use and purpose is so vital.
“The members of the Brahma caste eat no meat of any kind excepting fish. The other three castes may eat mutton and fowl, providing it is properly killed by slow bleeding and under prescribed sacred rites.”
During the remainder of the voyage to Bombay the men had little time to discuss India. They were kept busy with the social and athletic activities of the ship, and they devoted considerable time to an exchange of experiences of their college days in America.
By the time the ship arrived in Bombay they were quite thoroughly acquainted, and it was possible for them to associate upon a basis of real friendship.
As the ship was nearing the harbor at Bombay, Devi said, “Bob, there is one thing more that I wish to tell you about my family before you meet my mother and father. Prior to the depression we were quite well to do, as wealth is measured in India, but since that time our business, like others, has suffered a decided slump. I am telling you this now so that you will understand why we do not live in the luxury which you might expect and which was once possible.”
“I understand,” said Bob. “Most of us in America have experienced the same reverses.”
Devi’s father was at the dock to meet them. After an exchange of hearty greetings and a sincere welcome by Raj Lall, the three went directly to the Lall home for dinner.
Bob was greatly fascinated by the strangeness of the Hindu home. The entrance was from a very narrow and filthy alley, and before they reached the front door he began to wonder what the home, itself, could be like. Once off the street, however, and through the front door, the scene was quite changed and actually attractive. They entered into an open court which was surrounded by three stories of balconies into which the various rooms opened. Bob was directed to a large living room at the right where he was introduced to Devi’s mother, who spoke no English; to his sister, Gati; to his wife, Lakshmi, and to his younger brother, Chaman. Whenever Bob met a Hindu who did not speak English, he had learned to place the palms of his hands together with finger tips pointing upward as in prayer and say, “Namaskaram.”
Evidently there was no running water in the home, for just before dinner was served they proceeded to the courtyard, where a servant poured water over their hands from a utensil that resembled a tea kettle. A basin beneath caught the water. A second servant held a towel upon which they dried their hands.
The dining room and table seemed quite up-to-date, but as Bob was seated he noticed the absence of knives, forks and napkins. He had expected, because of Raj Lall’s travels in America and because of Devi’s four years of American training, to find a more modern setting. Yet, he could have surmised this reality from the native dress of all the Lalls. Raj and his younger son wore native dhotis (a sort of cheesecloth skirt drawn between the legs) and the mother, Devi’s wife and sister wore native saris. All were barefooted, excepting Devi.
The food was brought by servants, and Bob was again amazed to see each member of the family take food from the service dish with his hands. Although he felt rather self-conscious, Bob followed their example. By this time he was prepared for the next step, eating with his fingers, but he had a constant desire to use a napkin.
During the meal the conversation drifted from news of his father, to America, business conditions and to the situation in India. Devi’s wife, mother, brother and sister occasionally joined the discussion, but what they said usually had to be interpreted by Devi or his father. This conversation enabled Bob to watch the others and follow their etiquette without being too conspicuous.
The food was actually tasty and he enjoyed it. To show his appreciation he not only ate heartily but asked the names of the various dishes. He learned that he had eaten chamchum, rasgulua, balushai, paira, pataur, chavul and fruit. The latter was the only one which was familiar to him.
Bob was still puzzled about removing the grease from his fingers. He noticed that Raj Lall upon one or two occasions had wiped his hands on his dhoti, but the others were still in his own predicament at the end of the meal. He was tempted to wipe his fingers on the tablecloth, but his better judgment prompted him to hesitate.
His anxiety was relieved, however, when the group arose and again entered the courtyard, where the same two servants offered water and towel just as they had done before the dinner.
At the close of the strange but pleasant evening Bob was taken to the Taj Mahal Hotel, where Devi made arrangements for his room, and after seeing him comfortably settled, agreed to call for him the following morning.
As soon as Bob had finished breakfast, he found Devi waiting. They drove through the native section, where the streets were filled with “Untouchables.” Beggars were so thick they had to be brushed aside.
“Whenever these beggars see an American they are quite sure of consideration,” explained Devi. “They have the idea that all Americans are wealthy.”
“As far as I am concerned they are going to be disappointed,” said Bob. “I did not come to India to help the unfortunates. If I had extra money for charity, I would give more to the deserving at home. And, anyway, I have no way of knowing which of these are worthy of help and which are fakes.”
“As you wish,” said Devi. But it seemed to Bob as though there was a note of disappointment in his voice.
They drove through Nall Bazaar, stopped to view the Mahlakshmi Hindu temple and out into the Byculla district, where Devi pointed out the Hamuman Hindu temple and the Mohammedan mosque, located side by side and which he explained were the cause of the recent Hindu-Mohammedan riots.
“Why,” asked Bob, “should they fight and kill each other just because their places of worship are close together?”
“The Mohammedans claim that the Hindus disturb them with their bells and other noises while they pray. The Hindus claim the Mohammedans disturb them,” explained Devi. “Neither will move, so it is a source of constant agitation and bloodshed. In some streets neither Hindus nor Mohammedans dare appear, especially at night, if they happen to be alone.”
“That sounds ridiculous to me,” ventured Bob.
“Perhaps so,” said Devi, “but remember that many wars, even in so-called civilized countries, have been due to differences in religion. And, if I am not mistaken, it was not so many years ago that innocent women were burned at the stake by religious groups in your own United States because of suspected witchcraft.”
Bob remained silent.
“If you wish to see a real view, I’ll take you to Malabar Hill,” said Devi. “We will get away from these dirty city streets.”
From one vantage-point of the hill, Bob stood for a long time, fascinated by the panorama before him. From this one spot he could see the city, the harbor, the bay and a great stretch of the Persian Gulf. From this point Bombay had the appearance of a clean and beautiful city. Little would one dream, from this distance, that it was filled with filth, dirt, dust, disease and misery.
A little farther up the hill they came to the famous “Towers of Silence,” where the Parsis dispose of their dead.
“Give me the dope,” said Bob.
“I think it may be better,” ventured Devi, “if you wait and let the Parsi guide tell you the story. He will be glad to answer all your questions and he can do it better than I.”
The auto was parked at the foot of a long, broad stairway where a neat-appearing Parsi guide in European dress met them and escorted Bob alone to the beautiful gardens at the top. There he told him the history of the Parsis and pointed out the five towers some little distance away.
“The Parsis,” explained the guide, “originally came from Persia, from which country they were forced to flee because of religious differences. They came to Bombay, where special agreements were made with those in power, and where about 67,000 Parsis now reside. There are approximately 102,000 Parsis in the world, the majority of whom are in India.
“We believe in education, and many of our people are outstanding merchants, hold excellent positions, or are connected with the government. We are tolerant of the religion of others and court the opportunity to mix with Europeans and Americans.
“Whenever one of our number dies, in Bombay, the body is brought to the Towers of Silence within twenty-four hours and placed upon one of the five towers by four Naar-Salars (pallbearers) who remove the covering from the body and depart. In less than thirty minutes the vultures devour the flesh and leave nothing but the bones. After the bones become dry they are tossed into a central pit which contains chloride of lime and where they soon become nothing but dust. This dust, even over a period of years, accumulates very slowly.”
“Are there any vultures around here now?” asked Bob, rather mystified.
“Look over there on the roof of that building,” said the guide.
Bob gazed in the direction indicated and counted twenty-one of the largest, ugliest vultures he had ever seen. The sight was rather gruesome.
“They seem to sense when a body will be brought,” further explained the guide. “Bodies are placed on the towers between nine and ten o’clock in the morning and between four and five o’clock in the afternoon. Just prior to these hours the vultures gather in great numbers and wait.”
“Is it possible for anyone to watch them devour a body?” asked Bob, who felt that he might just as well complete the morbid experience.
“Oh, no,” answered the guide. “Even the Naar-Salars retire as soon as the bodies are uncovered. We believe that anyone excepting a Naar-Salar or Parsi who gazes upon a deceased Parsi body will be visited by a curse. Even those who are engaged in placing the bodies upon the towers are not allowed to mingle with our people.”
“Well, why do you practice this strange method of disposing of your dead?” asked Bob.
“Fire, water and earth are regarded as sacred by the Parsis,” answered the guide. “It would be sacrilegious to dispose of bodies in any one of the three.”
Bob left the Towers of Silence with a feeling of mystery and awe. When he returned to Devi and the automobile he asserted, “I don’t suppose it makes much difference what happens to a fellow’s body after there is no life in it, but somehow or other I just don’t like the idea of having my carcass devoured by a flock of hungry vultures.”
“Perhaps you would prefer the Hindu method, which you will have an opportunity to witness and have explained when we visit Benares,” speculated Devi.
That evening Bob enjoyed the experience of seeing the night life of Bombay. He witnessed thousands of men sleeping on the sidewalks and in vacant lots, the many curious and dirty shops, and the ever-present beggars. From the streets he saw the many women of questionable character who displayed themselves in beautiful gowns from their highly decorated balconies and front doorways.
“This is what they call the danger zone,” elucidated Devi.
“Why doesn’t the government put a stop to it?” asked Bob.
“For the simple reason that it is far better to have it here in one district and under control than it would be without supervision as it is in most of your American cities,” stated Devi.
“What do you mean?” demanded Bob.
“I think you understand, but I’ll explain,” said Devi. “In practically every city in America you will find many ‘women of the street.’ If you live in an apartment you may have one for a neighbor. They are not registered nor licensed. Therefore, no medical examinations can be demanded, and as a consequence they spread disease indiscriminately. In many instances they are protected by dishonest officers of the law. In Bombay we feel that it is better—perhaps the choice of two evils—to place them under restrictions and regulations.”
“You don’t seem to leave much room for argument,” agreed Bob.
Before dinner the following day the boys had made their plans for a journey across India. It was agreed that the best way to make the long trips was by train, for it is absolutely impossible to drive an automobile from one side of the country to the other.
“We can make most of our long jumps at night,” Devi explained, “and we can sleep quite comfortably. You can purchase a roll of bedding, or rent what you need at a reasonable rate from the American Express Company. It will be best for us to take a bearer who will look after our baggage and bedding and relieve us of the nuisance. You can engage one for less than three rupees a day who will travel third class and supply his own meals. A reliable one may be employed through the American Express Company where you secure the bedding.
“There is one other suggestion,” continued Devi. “Personally, I always travel second class. It is just as clean and comfortable and costs about one-half as much as first class. The only difference is that we shall probably have a greater number in each compartment and they will no doubt be the higher type of natives. This will give you an opportunity to talk to them, observe them at close range and learn much more about India.
“If you travel second class, it will also enable you to save more than enough to pay the total expenses of the bearer. What do you say?”
“It sounds logical and exciting to me,” agreed Bob.
Consequently, arrangements were made as Devi had suggested, and they decided to leave for Udaipur, their first stop, the same night at nine-thirty. Their bearer, Michael Maria Doss, a good Catholic Indian of Madras, agreed to meet them at the train with their bedding.
That evening Devi and Bob ate dinner together at the Taj Mahal in their Tuxedos. As a matter of fact, one would not be allowed in the dining room of this fashionable hotel in the evening unless he were in full dress.
While they were being served Bob said, “I do not wish to trouble you with a great number of explanations, but before we start on our journey I wish you would tell me about this Indian money and something about India.”
“Remember our agreement?” asked Devi. “Ask all the questions you wish. First I’ll tell you about the money.
“The unit here is the rupee, the same as in Ceylon, and it has the same value, of thirty-eight cents, in your currency. On the other hand, it is divided differently. The rupee here is divided into sixteen annas and the anna in turn is divided into four pice or twelve pies. You will have little need for the pice and pies so, for the time being, you need only be concerned with rupees and annas, which are plainly stamped in English. If a rupee is worth thirty-eight cents in American money, then an anna would be one-sixteenth, or approximately two and one-half cents. Paper notes are issued in denominations from five rupees to ten thousand.”
“You needn’t bother to explain about the big bills,” smiled Bob. “At least I know something about this Indian money I received for my travelers cheques this afternoon.”
“It is almost time to leave for the station, so let’s postpone the talk on India until we get settled in our compartment,” advised Devi.
“Okey, let’s go,” agreed Bob.
That first night on an Indian train was an exciting experience for Bob, who was accustomed to the standard Pullman coaches of America. Instead of opening on the ends, the Indian cars open from the side into compartments which accommodate as many as eight persons at nighttime and more than twice that number during the day. There are a few small compartments called coupés in which only two may sleep.
Their bearer had preceded Devi and Bob to the station of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway, so their beds were already prepared when they arrived. In the same coach with them they found four natives who appeared to be above the average. Two of them were in native costume and all, including Devi, removed their shoes as soon as they entered the coach.
The lower berths were merely long, hard seats, pulled away from the wall slightly, to make them wider for sleeping purposes. The upper berths were more like flat shelves suspended from one side by hinges and from the opposite corners by chains. Fortunately, the boys had obtained lowers.
When the train was under way Devi began his promised information concerning India. “British India has an area of 1,093,074 square miles,” he stated. “In addition there are Protected Native States which have an additional area of 709,583 square miles. The total population is over 350,000,000, or nearly three times that of the United States.
“As far as religions are concerned, this population is divided about like this:
“There are a few thousand of other religions.
“Roughly speaking, there are two kinds of government. One is the Presidency, like those of Bombay and Bengal, which are administered by a Governor appointed by the British Parliament through the Secretary of State for India. The Governor is assisted by a council composed of members elected by popular vote and by certain official representatives who are nominated by the Government.
“Then there are Indian States, which are ruled primarily by Maharajas under the supervision of the English Government. We are to visit one of these tomorrow.
“Practically the entire population of India is looking forward to the time when it can have self-government just as you do in the United States of America.”
“It seems to me that 350,000,000 people in one nation should obtain what they wish,” said Bob.
“There are a few obstacles which must be removed, but the time will come,” Devi stated.
“By the way,” said Bob, “I’ve been going to ask you another question ever since that night I had dinner at your home. I’ve been wondering about your wife. I did not know you were married.”
“Oh, yes,” explained Devi, “I was married when I was twenty. My wife was then thirteen. We did not live together until I returned from America at the close of my graduation there.”
“Well, why didn’t you wait until you returned before getting married?” asked Bob. “What was the idea of getting married when you could not be together?
“You do not seem to understand,” continued Devi. “The Hindus not only believe in early marriage, but our wives are selected by our parents, who make all arrangements for us. It is equally important that the parents of a girl make arrangements for her early marriage. To remain unmarried would be a sin.”
“How do you feel about having your wife selected for you?” asked Bob. “Wouldn’t you rather select one for yourself?”
“Frankly, I would not,” said Devi. “My parents are naturally desirous of pleasing me and they therefore use great care. They consider health, appearance, background and character. If it were left to me the choice would no doubt be based upon passion. You have already met my wife and you must admit that my parents did well.”
“Yes, I’ll agree; your wife is charming and beautiful,” admitted Bob, “but aren’t there many unhappy marriages? How can young people love each other and live happily together just because their parents think the match is appropriate?”
“Again, you do not understand,” repeated Devi. “It is the custom. Divorce is practically unheard of in India. I dare say Hindu husbands and wives are happier on the whole than those in the United States.
“In America you select your own wives—or you think you do—and yet, see how many marriages end in the divorce courts—in some of your states as many as one in seven. Such figures would cause great alarm if they existed in India.
“Honestly, Bob, tell me,” queried Devi, “how many happily married couples do you know at home? How many, if they had their time over again, would marry the same one?”
“If you put it that way, I really do not know,” answered Bob. “Frankly, outside of my own mother and father, I don’t suppose I could mention a dozen couples who I know are truly contented and happy.”
“All right, then you cannot criticize our system when your own has failed so miserably, can you? Maybe our system is not perfect, but as far as divorce and happiness are concerned it seems to have yours beaten,” smiled Devi. “We feel,” he continued, “that you Americans pamper your women too much; you give them too much liberty and not enough work. We feel that a wife’s function is to care for the home and to bring children into the world. In doing that, the majority of them are happier—circumstances being equal—than your American wives.
“You Americans try to make pets of your wives; you give them much leisure time, you supply them with servants and luxuries, and what do they do? They spend their time at bridge parties, cocktail parties and at golf. If they have children they are placed in the hands of servants for home training. Many of them are not even true to the husbands who give them their many privileges. I know what I am talking about.
“In addition to all this, you allow them equal voice in the running of the home. Many times the wife is the controlling factor, the husband, the slave. He works, earns the living, pays all the bills and allows his wife to pile up charge accounts which give him real cause for concern.
“I’ve heard it said that Indian wives are slaves to their husbands. I think I prefer that condition—and I know the wives are happier—than the one where the husband is the slave to the wife.”
“You seem to be all ‘wound up’ on that subject,” said Bob.
“Not only that,” continued Devi, “but remember, I lived in America for four years and during that time I not only saw much, but I had many experiences as well. If you’ll pardon me for saying it, I think our Indian girls are even more modest and moral than the great majority of those in America.”
“Good Heavens!” declared Bob. “They should be, considering the age at which they marry. Any acts of immorality would have to be committed while they were still in the cradle.”
“If early marriage eliminates immorality, isn’t it a good thing? That is a strong argument in favor of our system,” maintained Devi. “May I be perfectly frank with you?” he asked.
“Absolutely!” assented Bob. “I’m glad to hear your viewpoint. Your impressions are very interesting and I’ll admit they are making me think.”
“When I was in America,” continued Devi, “I was accepted with open arms wherever I went. My color seemed to make little difference. In social circles there seemed to be no class distinction as far as I was concerned. Perhaps I was a curiosity, because I was the only Indian in the university. Anyway, I’ll give them credit for making me feel at home. This is not in contradiction to what I have said previously about your ‘American caste system.’ I’ll admit that I was responsible for making folks think that I was an outstanding Indian. I tried to play the part and evidently I ‘got by’ with it.
“I’ve associated with your American girls of colleges, from shops, in social organizations and in what is known as your better homes. What did I find?
“In the first place, the great percentage of them smoke cigarettes—not moderately—but, in many instances a package or more a day. They seem to think they must smoke to be good sports. If they do not smoke, they seem to feel that they will not be popular.
“The same is true of drinking liquor. If they would stop at one or two cocktails before dinner, it would not be objectionable, but I’ve seen many of them drink until their speech was incoherent and until their will power was almost nil. Many of them became slovenly; some of them actually sluttish.
“Even without intoxicating liquor, I’ve come in close contact with loose morals of many of your American girls and women. The truthful things I could say would actually shock any straight-thinking individual.
“These conditions which I have mentioned are not to be found among the women of India. There are exceptions, to be sure, but the exceptions are rare. Remember, I am not saying that all American girls are exemplifications of what I have said, but those whom I have described are not infrequently found.
“Your American girls are beautiful; for the most part they are immaculate and well dressed. No women in the world can successfully compete with them for appearance, but they glory in exposing their bodies almost to the point of nudeness; they put forth great effort to appear sophisticated, when, as a matter of fact, I do not believe a real husband who is above the average, desires or admires sophistication in a wife. It seems to me that the great percentage of American girls are doing the very things that actually destroy their future happiness. The happiest married couples that I met in America were those where the wife was a home-loving and intelligent helpmate, with no attempt at sophistication and with an absolute absence of the undesirable habits which I have mentioned.
“You may find many things to criticize in connection with our Indian women, but you will not find it possible to accuse them of the traits that are so often found in the girls of America. The calmness and lack of excitability of our womanhood are qualities that the American girls would do well to copy.
“Now, I’ve had my say,” concluded Devi. “I hope I have not offended you.”
“Not at all,” said Bob. “I cannot successfully contradict you any more than you can prove that Katharine Mayo was wrong. To be real honest with you,” continued Bob, “the very traits that you have mentioned and others which I might add, are the very reasons why I, myself, am not married. So many of our American girls think only of clothing and an exciting time, which usually includes cigarettes, liquor and other so-called artificial thrills. They make good playmates for the fellows who have the same ideas of life, but usually they are rank failures as model wives and mothers. So many of them cannot seem to distinguish the artificial from the real, the counterfeit from the genuine, when it comes to a good time. They have no sense of values and as a result they usually do the wrong thing.
“If all our girls followed the example of those we have described, then marriage could offer nothing that a man could not obtain without benefit of clergy, excepting legitimate children, and no intelligent and home-loving man with foresight would wish to have his children reared in a home where the mother continually smoked cigarettes, and even occasionally could be seen under the influence of liquor. At least that is not the kind of an environment in which I would wish to develop my future family.
“It seems to me that a great majority of our American girls are being trained for business and professional life, or for leisure. Unless any one of these marries a man who can support her according to her past standards, or her preconceived ideas, trouble and disappointment are almost certain to follow.
“As far as I am concerned, I am not an advocate of the ‘double standard’ for men and women. If I expect certain things of a girl, she has a right to expect the same qualifications in me. If I possess disgusting habits, I cannot reasonably expect her to have good ones. As a matter of fact, I think the husband, as the head of the family, should set the example. Then, if it becomes his duty to criticize or guide his wife or children, he can do so with a clear conscience. Otherwise, he loses his prestige, respect and authority.
“Personally, I am prepared to meet the issue according to my own code. I smoke only rarely and I take an occasional cocktail. Neither has become a habit and I could give up both without an effort or a struggle. These things are not matters of religion, as far as I am concerned, but they are based upon good old common sense, a desire for health and self-respect. When I select a wife, I want one that has the same quality of judgment. Otherwise, I’ll remain single and like it.”
It was almost midnight when the boys finally crawled into their berths. Before doing so, Bob was again rather mystified to discover that the men’s lavatory contained no soap, no towels and no toilet paper. Fortunately, these were supplied by the American Express Company in the roll of bedding. Bob was having his first experience with lack of conveniences.
When the boys awakened early the next morning at Ratlam to change trains, the compartment was filled with dust. It was thick on the window sills, on the floor, in the bedding and in their eyes, mouths and noses.
“Great grief!” exclaimed Bob. “Where did all this dust come from? I never saw it so thick in my life.”
“Perhaps we stirred it up with our talk about women last night,” admitted Devi. “But, by the way, Bob, did you ever travel through New Mexico, Texas, Colorado or Kansas in the springtime?” countered Devi. “Ever experience one of those nice dust storms?”
“You go to thunder!” smiled Bob.
“To be truthful with you,” admitted Devi, “the tourist season in India is from November to March because it is cooler then and because there are fewer rains during that period. Naturally, there is plenty of dust. You’ll get accustomed to it and even enjoy it.”
“The next time you travel in America,” said Bob, “take one of our new air-conditioned trains and you’ll be ashamed of this one.”
“That’s a score for you,” Devi admitted.
When Bob and Devi had changed trains they found themselves in a compartment with four men, two women and four children—all Indians. It was evident that the mother of the four youngsters was expecting another. The oldest was perhaps eight years of age.
Each of the women wore large earrings and a diamond stud in the side of her nose. The two small girls wore gold rings in their noses as well as in their ears. All men and both women wore native costumes, which included no shoes. Most of them sat with their feet on the seat.
At the beginning the compartment was quite clean, but after all ten had eaten lunch with their fingers, the place was a mess. Bob was an interested spectator, even though the sight was far from appetizing. He could not understand why human beings of any nation should play with their feet while eating.
Devi talked to them fluently in Hindustani and explained to Bob that the man with the family was of considerable wealth.
“He should ask someone to give him and his family a few lessons in etiquette,” thought Bob.
While the train stopped at the small stations, Bob noticed that on either side of the depot there was a watering place, each protected by a small, crude building. Over one was a sign, “Water for Hindus,” and over the other, “Water for Mohammedans.” “What is the meaning of that?” he asked Devi.
“Mohammedans and Hindus will not drink from the same place,” explained Devi, “so there is one for each.”
“It is the same kind of water, isn’t it?” queried Bob.
“Oh, yes,” admitted Devi, “but it is just a matter of religious difference.”
“Well, I’ve heard of crazy ideas,” laughed Bob, “but this one takes the prize.”
“Just a moment,” cautioned Devi. “Would it Wake a difference if it were grape juice or beer?”
“No, I don’t think my attitude would change, regardless of what it was,” admitted Bob.
“I know a good Presbyterian lady in America,” said Devi, “who attended a Baptist church with her father-in-law, who was a member of the latter faith. That church would not allow her to take communion with him, regardless of the fact that she was a good Christian and serving the same God.
“In your South, the typical southerner will not even drink beer at a bar if a negro happens to be enjoying his drink in the same room. He won’t even allow a negro to enter the same section of a train, street car or station. Yet, they might be members of a church of the same denomination.”
“We should keep a real score board,” said Bob. “That’s another point for you. You must have been collecting these facts while you were in America with the knowledge that you could use them on a fellow like me some time.”
“No, that wasn’t it,” explained Devi, “but while I was in America, many people criticized conditions in India and I was compelled to gather facts to protect myself.”
“You seem to have done it quite successfully,” admitted Bob. “And now while we are on the subject, I want the real facts about India. I want you to agree that you will help me to see the bad as well as the good in your country. You have uncovered the ‘dust and dirt’ about America; help me to see the ‘dust’ of India.”
“Agreed,” said Devi, “I’ll even help you turn Mother India over so that you can determine if there are spots on her back.”
When the train pulled into the station at Udaipur that evening there were neither taxis nor street cars which could be used for conveyance to their hotel. Devi explained that the city offered neither. This was a part of “Unspoiled India.” There seemed to be no modern conveniences.
A coolie piled their baggage into a tonga and after a drive of some distance they arrived at the Lake View Hotel. They were greeted by the Mohammedan manager, who escorted them to their rooms, where Bob was again amazed when he learned that the bath room contained no plumbing, and that his bath would be taken in a large galvanized washtub into which water would be poured from pails by native servants.
Bob smiled as he disrobed, and muttered, “This reminds me of the old days on the farm in America, when everyone took a bath every Saturday night.” As he sat in the tub with his knees pointing heavenward, removing the dust which had accumulated on his body during the long trip, he said to Devi, “This must be one of the spots on Mother India’s back.”
The hotel had no dining room, so it was necessary to serve dinner in one of their sleeping rooms.
“Tomorrow,” said Devi, “I’m going to show you a city of forty thousand people that is as unspoiled as any in India. The people here live very much the same as they did hundreds of years ago. Few tourists come here because of the difficulty in reaching the place and because of the lack of modern accommodations.
“This is one of the original four Rajput States and is the capital of the State of Mewar. This section of India is ruled by Maharana Bopal- singh Bahadur, who is admitted to be of the most distinguished lineage in India. We shall see his palaces tomorrow.”
“What is a Maharana?” asked Bob.
“For all practical purposes it is the same as a Maharaja,” explained Devi, “but because of this ruler’s distinctive ancestry, he has been given a title which corresponds to Emperor. He comes from a line of twenty-two ancestors who ruled before him. Unfortunately the man suffered from infantile paralysis when he was still a young man, and he can walk but little without assistance.”
That night both boys slept soundly under mosquito netting which covered their canopy-like beds.
Their first visit the following morning was to the Hindu temple, Jagdwsh. The space outside the inner shrine was crowded with dirty specimens of native humanity, and several sacred bulls.
At the four corners of the main temple, filthy, odorous slime was oozing forth, and in this liquid the Hindus were placing their fingers and then touching their tongues, eyes and foreheads.
“What does that mean?” asked Bob.
“The water seeps through the temple wall after it is used on the inside to wash images,” answered Devi. “It is supposed to be holy water following its use for such a purpose. The belief is a local one and therefore I cannot justify it.”
Bob was not allowed to enter the inner shrine, but he did not appear at all disappointed. The stench on the outside was quite sufficient. He was afraid to touch anything for fear of germs. He felt as though he should wear gloves and a gas mask.
They drove on through the streets of the old walled city until they arrived at the Gangore Ghat on Lake Pichola, where long lines of Hindu women were seen carrying water in large metal containers on their heads through the picturesque archway and to their homes. The water in the lake was greenish in color, caused by the millions of minute particles contained in it. There were many large fish and turtles swimming about near the steps in search of food.
At the same ghat women were scrubbing pots and pans while others were washing clothing and bathing.
“For what purpose do they use the water which they are carrying away?” asked Bob.
“For drinking and cooking,” answered Devi.
“Great guns!” exclaimed Bob. “Of course they boil it for drinking purposes?”
“No, they do not,” said Devi. “They know nothing of germs as you understand them, and over a period of years I suppose they have built up an immunity.”
“Why, good gosh!” almost shouted Bob. “There’s a man and a bull with leather bags on its back standing right there in the same water.”
“Oh, that’s one of the Mohammendan water carriers,” Devi explained. “You see, the Mohammedans do not allow their wives to come for water as the Hindus do, so the water must be delivered to them at their homes. The Hindus would not drink that water because it is carried in the skin of a sacred animal.”
Bob made no remark, but he certainly did a great amount of thinking.
Later they visited another small Udaipur lake—Sarup Sager—which seemed even filthier than Lake Pichola and where hundreds of men, women and children were washing clothing and bathing. A few used soap on the clothes, but none seemed to use soap to cleanse themselves. Many took baths in their scant undergarments while their outer clothing dried on the stony shore.
“Many of these people,” stated Devi, “do not own a change of clothing. If they did not wash it this way, it could not be washed at all.”
“What puzzles me,” said Bob, “is how these people can get along without bath rooms and modern plumbing. I should think the entire population would die of some epidemic.”
“Many of your poorer-class homes in America are still without modern conveniences,” stated Devi. “The reason is similar. These people could not afford to purchase bath tubs and plumbing fixtures if the cost were only ten rupees for a complete installation. In the next place, there is no water system; there are no sewerage nor drainage pipes throughout the city. Even the Maharana does not have water piped through his palaces. However, there are many servants to carry water for all of his various needs.”
That afternoon Bob and Devi were taken through the grounds and many rooms of the Maharana’s city palace. The entire structure was over half a mile long and reached a height of five or six stories. On one side it faced Lake Pichola, on the other, the city. The furnishings, the inlaid glass work and the decorations were magnificent. No expense had been spared to obtain the luxuries which the ruler desired.
In the courtyard many elephants and horses were kept in their respective stalls and open to public gaze. Sacred bulls roamed everywhere at will. Hundreds of workmen were busily engaged in doing repair work.
“Tell me,” asked Bob, “does this Maharana have a harem?”
“He has two wives,” answered the guide, “and three hundred concubines. The ladies’ building is at the far end.”
Bob asked to see some of the ladies, but he was told that this would be impossible. “Why should a man with so many women be so stingy?” he thought, and of Devi he asked, “Is this Maharana a Hindu?”
“Yes, he is,” answered Devi proudly.
“Well, how about the Mohammedans? How many wives are they allowed?” asked Bob.
“A Mohammedan may have four legitimate wives,” answered Devi, “but a Hindu, other than royalty, is supposed to have but one. However, he may have as many concubines as he can afford.”
From the side of the great structure toward the lake could be seen the two water palaces of the Maharana.
“This afternoon we will take a boat and visit both of them,” promised Devi.
Accordingly, about three o’clock they set out in a rather large rowboat with a native at the oars. On the way across the water, the view of the palaces, the city and the surrounding mountains presented a magnificent sight. It was difficult for Bob to believe that just beyond the shore of the lake the city contained such a wretched mass of unsanitary humanity.
The water palaces, themselves, setting in the lake like two decorative jewels, were beautiful inside as well as out. The many rooms, the gardens and the exquisite appointments would certainly do credit to any great ruler.
“It seems a shame,” ventured Bob, “to see all this luxury and expense when the majority of the people are in such need.”
Devi made no answer.
When they had visited the second water palace they continued across the lake to the far side where at five o’clock the feeding of the wild boars took place. Devi and Bob watched the sight from the top balcony of a building. They were told that the pack consisted of over five hundred.
“What do they do with so many?” asked Bob.
“They have pig-sticking contests, and in this pit behind us there are occasional fights between boars and lions. This balcony is used to accommodate the Maharana and his guests,” said Devi. “You may be interested to know that a boar always wins.
“For a pig-sticking contest the men ride trained elephants or horses, and with long spears they make thrusts at the boars as they overtake them. Of course, the boar meat is good food for those who are allowed to eat it.”
As they rode along the highway toward the hotel, they were passed by a fleet of large autos. The tongawalla (tonga driver) exclaimed that the Marahana, himself, was in the car ahead. A visiting Maharaja and other notable guests were in the autos following.
Early the next morning the men were on their way to the Slave Girl Garden, two or three miles from the city. “I didn’t think these rulers had slave girls,” said Bob.
“They are not truly slave girls,” explained Devi. “They are actually his concubines and this Slave Girl Garden is really a sort of play house.”
“Oh, I think I understand,” said Bob.
The buildings and the gardens were situated within a high wall. Many servants were giving the best of care to the beautiful flowers and shrubs. A large lotus pond, with elephants of carved stone on the surrounding walk, was the most attractive spot in the entire enclosure.
“It seems to me,” ventured Bob, “that just as soon as a man of India comes into power, he thinks of two things: women and elephants. They appear to have many of each.”
“You are no doubt right,” admitted Devi.
Back in the city once more, they visited the Mewar State Prison, where there were 620 men prisoners and seventeen women. The warden took them through and explained the various lines of work. Weaving seemed to be the outstanding occupation. Both men and women appeared to be receiving the best of care and treatment.
“What offenses bring the women here?” Bob asked the warden.
“Bigamy mostly,” answered their guide. “A few are murderers.”
Bob was thinking of what Devi had told him about Indian morals. “But,” he thought to himself, “seventeen aren’t many.”
The prison presented one queer situation. Because of the several castes of the inmates it was necessary to have several kitchens in which the different kinds of food were prepared. There was a special kitchen where the Brahmas prepared their own food, because they will not eat a meal prepared by members of another caste. Several shrines were located about the prison yard. Even as prisoners, their religion was essential.
When the men returned to their hotel, Bob found an excuse to spend a few minutes alone with the Mohammedan manager. It was his intention to gain another viewpoint, if possible, regarding the living conditions in this exceptional city.
“Tell me,” began Bob, “why is it necessary for all these people to live in such filth and dirt? Their food in the shops is covered with flies and dust, their bodies are filthy because they do not bathe properly. Cannot something be done about it?”
The manager smiled and answered, “When I was a young fellow in college and when I had learned something of the dangers of an unlimited number of diseases from germs and unsanitary conditions, a group of us became vitally interested in the situation and endeavored to do a little educational work. We studied the subject, obtained picture slides and invited the population to a lecture.
“The hall was packed, but before we were one-half way through the explanation, the men in the audience threw sticks, stones and sandals at the picture screen, and we were compelled to conclude.”
“Why,” asked Bob, “did they take that attitude?”
“Because,” answered the manager, “they are opposed to killing insects, and they do not believe that germs can injure them. For years they have been taught to believe in reincarnation. They are afraid if they kill a fly, for example, they, themselves, will become reincarnated into the fly when life ends as a human being. For thousands of years they have existed by following their present beliefs and practices. It is almost an impossibility to change their standard of living, customs or habits.”
It was difficult for an Occidental like Bob, who had been trained to oppose dirt and germs with cleanliness and sanitary measures, to understand such an attitude. He had been trained in an environment which led him to believe that any human being, regardless of how low, would welcome the opportunity to be clean and to eat pure and wholesome food, and yet he was now confronted with the fact that here was a nation of 350,000,000 souls, the majority of whom, it seemed, preferred unclean food and unsanitary conditions. He was beginning to understand what a problem India presented to England and to the civilized world.
With the idea of getting a little closer to the problem, Bob insisted that he and Devi take a long walk through the business and residential sections that afternoon. It was necessary for Bob to hold his handkerchief over his nose most of the time as a protection from dust and undesirable odors, and they were often compelled to walk around the many sacred bulls that filled the streets. All inhabitants seemed so filthy that Bob always stepped aside to let them pass to avoid a contact which, to him, meant germs and perhaps disease.
Not once did Bob observe a home, store or shop that could be called clean. Not once did he see a man, woman or child that represented neatness or cleanliness. Not a street was paved, and nothing was done to settle the ever-rising clouds of dust. Tongas, pedestrians and an occasional automobile, together with a casual gust of wind made the streets anything but desirable for one who appreciates pure air.
The only sewers were open gutters on either side of the streets into which was dumped all the garbage, filth, refuse and excreta. These same streets were the playgrounds for the children. It seemed that street sweepers were always busy with their native brooms brushing refuse from the thoroughfares into the gutters and consequently stirring up more dust, spreading more germs and making life, for an American at least, just a little more unbearable and unhealthy.
Bob wondered if he could continue on through India without contracting some horrible disease. Perhaps his healthy body and great resistance would carry him successfully to his journey’s end, but in addition he decided to apply every known germicide to kill the deadly bacteria that seemed to be lurking in all corners.
India was surely a dangerous country of dust, germs and diseases. One would be far safer hunting for wild and ferocious animals in the jungles of Africa, where the dangers could be more easily seen.
When the train left Udaipur for Jaipur, Bob was in deep thought. He had heard much of the condition in India, but to be brought face to face with the reality was quite another matter. It was far worse than he had anticipated.
The silence was broken when at a stop in the country the train switched to a side track to allow another to pass. Immediately it seemed that all the third-class men passengers rushed to the right-of-way to answer the call of nature in plain sight of all the other occupants of the train. Bob had seen single examples of this even on city streets, but this was the first time it had occurred before him en masse.
He turned to Devi and rather disgustedly asked, “Haven’t these people any sense of decency at all? Are self-respect and modesty entirely lacking?”
“You forget,” said Devi, “that they have never been trained differently. They think no more of what they are doing than you would think of drinking a glass of water in public. I’ll admit that it seems disgusting to one who has been educated in America, but if you lived here continually, you would no doubt become accustomed to it. In your country you have conveniences. In India we have few. Therefore, what you have just witnessed is a necessity and perhaps, if you will admit it, a different viewpoint.”
Any comment on Bob’s part would have been quite useless. He realized that no change could be made in the situation as long as trains offered no sanitary facilities to third-class passengers, and although many stations provided the usual accommodations, the limited trains did not often stop.
The subject was so distasteful that Bob hastened to change it. Casually he demanded, “Tell me, Devi, how to count to ten in Hindi.”
“I’ll make it easy for you,” replied Devi. “I’ll write it down and then help you to pronounce the words.”
Upon a page of Bob’s notebook he wrote:
“Now,” he said, “pronounce ‘a’ as in ‘ha,’ ‘e’ like ‘a’ in ‘pay.’“
For a half hour Bob practiced until finally he could repeat the ten numerals backward and forward without error.
“Now I’m going to give you another lesson in Hindi,” offered Devi. “I’ll write a few words and phrases that you may use to good advantage during the remainder of our trip. I’ll teach you how to pronounce them and you can practice as long as you like.”
Devi then wrote the following:
“You repeat these after me,” said Devi, “until you can say them correctly.”
Bob practiced until he could say each word without the slightest accent.
At a station not long after leaving Udaipur, a strange pair entered their compartment. One was an Indian man and the other, an Indian lady beautifully dressed in a gorgeous costume and adorned with considerable jewelry. She was the most immaculate looking woman Bob had seen since his arrival at Bombay. He looked at Devi questionably. Devi merely winked.
Later when the train stopped at a station and the two boys took a short stroll along the platform, Devi explained, “That’s an Indian dancing girl. The man is undoubtedly not her husband.”
When they returned to their compartment, the girl was lying in a berth covered with a blanket, while the man sat at her feet. These positions they maintained throughout the night until they left the train in the early morning.
“If a man were traveling with his wife, couldn’t he have any privacy?” asked Bob.
“In that case he would engage a first-class coupé (compartment for two) or bribe the station master to give him the exclusive use of a larger compartment,” answered Devi.
“What!” ejaculated Bob. “Do you mean to tell me that a station master would accept a bribe?”
“Certainly,” responded Devi. “That’s the way he has of adding to his income.”
The following day at the Kaiser I. Hind Hotel, Bob was further enlightened upon the subject of graft by a salesman representing a company that sold uniforms to the Maharaja. The salesman sat at the same table in the dining room and seemed willing to talk because a situation perturbed him.
“The trouble is,” he volunteered, “by the time we pay graft money all along the line, the merchandise costs the Maharaja twice as much. First, we learn how much must be given to all the secretaries and assistants. Unless we offer a sufficient amount, the business goes to a competitor.
“In this particular case,” he continued, “the bill for the uniforms should not total more than Rs. 13,000, but because of the graft, we must charge Rs. 25,000.”
“Does the Maharaja know of this?” asked Bob.
“Oh, no,” gasped the salesman, “and if I told him, he would reprimand his assistants and thereafter I would not even obtain permission to display my merchandise.”
“It should be possible to put a stop to such proceedings as that,” snorted Bob.
“My dear boy,” interrupted Devi, “do you mean to tell me that you are not familiar with the graft that exists in your own United States? The pages of your own newspapers are filled with examples of bribery of your public officials. There are instances of policemen accepting bribes, graft among members of city councils and even state and federal officials. If you cannot do away with it in a self-governing, educated country like America, how in the world do you expect us to do away with it here? As a matter of fact, it is almost a universal custom that exists in India. Everyone knows that it exists. It is done quite openly.”
“If you had not lived in America for four years, I might get away with something once in a while,” smiled Bob. “Now tell me about this city of Jaipur.”
“Briefly,” replied Devi, “it is the capital of one of the premier Rajputana states. It was founded in 1728 by Maharaja Jai Singh, who came here from the former capital at Amber, which we will see while there.
“Jaipur has been built to a preconceived plan, much unlike the old cities of India. Jai Singh’s hobby was astronomy, and the city, with its main streets so broad, straight and well paved, dividing the city into orderly rectangular sections, bears evidence of his mathematical mind. It is often called the ‘Pink City’ because of the great amount of pink color wash used to decorate many of the buildings. The population is in the neighborhood of 150,000.
“The present ruler is a young man not yet twenty-five years of age. There is a picture of him over there on the wall.”
Bob arose and scrutinized the enlargement closely. Underneath was printed, “H. H. Maharaja Sahib Sawai Man Singh Jee II.”
Early the next morning the two were strolling about the streets of the city. There was unusual excitement when two sacred bulls began fighting near a central plaza. After several minutes and considerable effort the bulls were separated by men and boys. One bull had received a nasty gash.
“Watch them,” suggested Devi; “they are not yet through. They’ll fight again.”
The bull farthest away moved slowly toward the other, but for a time acted rather unconcerned. However, within a few minutes he charged and the two were again fighting furiously. Once more they were separated.
“Thanks for the bull fight,” laughed Bob. “I thought that was a pastime of Mexico and Spain.”
“This one was for your special benefit,” replied Devi, smiling.
They strolled through the old royal palace grounds in the center of the city, visited the crocodiles and elephants, saw the Hall of the Winds, which was designed to allow the ladies of the palace to view public processions from behind stone lattice work, and stopped for some time to view the old observatory, which was filled with massive instruments. Some were rather weird and fantastic in design and yet each had a definite purpose.
They took a four-mile tonga ride out in the country and passed the new palace, where the present Maharaja now lives, and were fortunate enough to see him as he drove into the city with his chauffeur.
“He is an All-Indian polo player,” offered Devi. “If we are lucky, we shall have the pleasure of seeing him play while we are here.”
That evening they again wandered through the main streets within the walled area, visited the many shops and stood for a long time watching the hundreds of large monkeys going through their laughable antics on the wall surrounding a temple.
Ever since he had landed in India, Bob had often noticed children gathering cow dung in baskets along the various streets. He could restrain his curiosity no longer, so he asked, “Devi, what in the world are those children going to do with that dung?”
“Oh,” said Devi, “that is used for fuel. These low castes collect it, form it into cakes and usually thrust them against the side of a building to dry. When dried it is used or sold for fuel. You see, many people cannot afford to buy wood. This answers their purpose.”
“But,” questioned Bob, “doesn’t the odor get into their houses and into the food?”
“Yes, I suppose it does, but they can afford nothing better.”
“Well,” volunteered Bob, “that’s one way of settling the unemployment problem, but in America we have no sacred bulls and no bullock carts on our streets, and even if we did, it might put the street cleaners out of work. That would create a difficulty with the unions. However, if such fuel could be used in America it might develop into a means of forest conservation.”
The trip to the deserted city of Amber, seven miles from Jaipur, was fascinating. Old palaces and ruins of various descriptions lined the roadway on either side and surrounding each there existed an interesting story.
The City of Amber itself rests in a valley between high hills and is dominated by the palace, which is approached by a steep zig-zag road. Bob and Devi accepted a ride on an elephant which was waiting with a keeper for this difficult climb. It was the first time that Bob had ever ridden in a howdah (a covered seat on the back of an elephant) and he seemed to gain considerable pleasure from the rocking motion as the great animal strode up the hill.
The palace at the top, like most palaces of early times, once did duty as a fortress and is surrounded by an embattled wall. A temple within the palace is still in use. Here a goat is sacrificed to the Goddess Kali every morning, thus preserving a tradition of a daily human sacrifice of ancient times.
The many rooms and halls of the palace are excellently preserved and beyond description. There are delicate mosaics, inlaid glass work, carved marble and unique alcoves of various designs. The palace has been deserted for over two centuries, but the Maharaja at Jaipur is doing his share to preserve it as a monument of the past and for its historic value.
That same afternoon, Bob and Devi had the pleasure of watching the Maharaja and his team match their skill at polo against their opponents. It was a thrilling game and the Maharaja proved to be an excellent player.
It seemed hardly possible that, in the midst of poverty and want, there could be such extravagance as was exhibited by the beautiful polo field and the players, but such is India. The pice and pie in taxes from the masses were making a part of this luxury possible. Yet education and sanitation received small consideration.
Ever since the two young men had met and begun their travels together at Colombo, Devi had paid all the bills for hotels, autos, railway fares and tongas and had then looked to Bob for reimbursement. When they asked for their bill at the Kaiser I. Hind Hotel in Jaipur there was an argument regarding the amount between Sheik Abraham, the owner, and Devi, and as a result a reduction followed.
On the way to the station, Bob said to Devi, “I think I’ll just give you one hundred rupees and from that fund you can pay my bills. You speak the language and know how to bargain with these people, while I do not. If I pass this amount to you now, it will avoid the necessity of settling with you each day. You just keep a record of what you spend for me and when the one hundred is depleted, I’ll give more to you.”
“Just as you wish,” consented Devi, as he accepted the bills.
At the station Devi made reservations for Agra, their next stop. After purchasing tickets they were ushered into a compartment which would accommodate four persons.
The station agent lingered a while and asked of Bob, “Is this satisfactory?”
“Yes, it is very good,” replied Bob.
A little later the agent returned and interrogated, “You don’t mind if I place others in the compartment, do you?”
“No,” said Bob, “that will be all right.”
The agent hesitated a few moments and left.
“Why is he so solicitous?” asked Bob.
“He sees that you are an American,” Devi said, “and he thinks we might wish to have the compartment to ourselves. If so, he would expect a generous tip. You remember what I told you about a man and wife traveling alone. This is an example, and in addition the great majority of Indians think all Americans are wealthy, and whenever they see you coming their prices are immediately raised.”
“It is a good thing you are along to keep them from making a sucker of me,” replied Bob.
After the bearer had prepared their beds for the night and the train had started, Bob said, “Well, what about our next city? I’m ready to listen.”
“Tomorrow,” began Devi, “you will visit the ancient City of Agra, which is located on the east bank of the River Jamna. The city dates back to the time of Krishna, a Hindu god, about 3000 B.C. It was undoubtedly ruled by Asoka, about 250 B.C., because traces of some ancient buildings of that time were lately discovered during excavations at Agra Fort.
“Agra was made the capital of India in 1503, in the reign of Sultan Sikandar Lodi, at the place now known as Sikandra, the burial place of the famous Akbar.
“Tomorrow I shall show you what I think is one of the ‘seven wonders of the world.’”
No sooner had the two reached an automobile at the Agra station when the car was surrounded with beggars, among whom were a mother with a child in her arms, a cripple, an old woman and two or three dirty, ragged urchins.
“Remember what I said,” cautioned Bob, “I’m not here to assist the beggars, and if you do it, be sure not to take it from the pocket containing my one hundred rupees.”
Devi made no reply, but Bob noticed that he gave nothing to the throng who were crying, “Bakshis” from both sides of the auto. Bob just looked at each beggar and shouted, “Jao!”
As soon as they had arranged for rooms at the Cecil Hotel, bathed and eaten breakfast, they were in a tonga and on their way to the Taj Mahal. As they rode along, Devi said, “I’m not going to tell you about this beautiful sight until you see it. Then I shall give you a captivating story.”
Some distance from their destination, Bob could see the beautiful light gray dome and the four minarets of the Taj, but he asked no questions. Once through the gateway, they climbed from the tonga and walked through the red sandstone archway at the entrance.
In plain view, but still some distance away at the end of two long rows of yew trees, a double sidewalk and a single row of fountains, stood one of the most famous tombs of all times. With a background of fleecy white clouds and blue sky, it was an awe-inspiring sight. Bob merely stood and gazed in speechless wonder. A long silence ensued.
Finally, Devi said quietly, “Now if you will sit over here on these steps facing the Taj, I’ll tell you a fascinating love story.”
When the two were seated, Devi began, “In the year 1592, there was born to Yamin-ud-daula Asaf Khan a beautiful daughter by the name of Arjumand Bano Begam. In 1612, at the age of nineteen, she was married to Prince Kurram, who later became the Emperor Shahjahan. After the wedding, Shahjahan’s father conferred upon her the title of Mumtaz Mahal, or ‘Exalted of the Palace.’
“Mumtaz Mahal was noted for her beauty, accomplishments and tender-hearted sympathy for the poor and distressed. She was the keeper of the Royal Seal and was consulted regarding all important affairs of State. Her influence and intercession saved the lives of many who had been condemned to death.
“She remained with Shahjahan like his shadow throughout her life, even accompanying him on his campaigns. Their love for each other was boundless during the seventeen years that they were married.
“When Shahjahan left Agra in 1629, the second year after he became Emperor, to crush the rebellion of Khan Jahan Lodi, the Governor of Deccan, Mumtaz Mahal accompanied him. However, in December of that year, after giving birth to her fourteenth child, a daughter named Gauhar-Ara Begam, she died at Burhanpur in Central India. She had previously given birth to eight sons and five daughters, making fourteen in all. Only seven of these were alive at the time of her death.
“For six months her remains lay in a temporary grave called ‘Amanat’ in the Garden of Zenabad in Burhanpur, where the Emperor was then encamped. Later her body was transferred to this garden of Raja Man Singh at Agra, which was chosen for her permanent resting place. When the coffin bearing Mumtaz Mahal reached this destination it was placed in the open area of the Taj Garden, where it remained for nine years until the mausoleum where it now rests was ready for its reception.
When Mumtaz Mahal passed away Shahjahan’s grief was pitiful. He refused to admit any of his courtiers, or to transact any business of State for several weeks. He and his court assumed the white attire of the deepest mourning. Neither music nor festivities of any kind were allowed, and the ladies of the court were forbidden to wear jewels or to use perfumes and luxuries of any kind.
“Shahjahan even contemplated resigning the throne and dividing the Empire among his sons. His hair turned gray within a two-year period. He visited the grave of Mumtaz every Friday (Mohammedan Sabbath) and had the Fatiha (prayers prescribed for the benefit of the dead) read over it. The urs (masses for the soul of the dead Empress) were observed with great state and solemnity on each anniversary of her death.
“When the Emperor had brought his campaign to a successful close, in 1631, he returned to Agra and immediately invited the leading architects of the time to submit designs for the Taj. Eminent builders, masons and artists from foreign countries such as Persia, Arabia and Turkey, as well as India, were chosen to assist in the construction of this miracle of architecture.
“The white marble, of which so much is used, came from Makrana and Raiwala in Jaipur; the red sandstone from Fatehpur Sikri, and the jewels and precious stones came from various parts of India, Persia, the trans-Himalayan regions and other parts of the world.
“The Taj Mahal was commenced in the year 1631 and completed at the end of 1648. In the seventeen years during which time it was under construction, twenty thousand workmen are said to have been daily employed. To accommodate this vast number, a town was built and named ‘Mumtazabad,’ in honor of the deceased Empress. It is said that the cost of the Taj was more than six crores of rupees or, at the current rate of exchange, about twenty million dollars.
“The old adage, ‘Greater love hath no man,’ may certainly be applied here. Nowhere in history is there a record of a love that excels this one, and the beautiful historical background of a magnificent structure lends all the more enchantment and romance to the masterpiece before you.
“Now we will walk closer to the mausoleum, into it and around it and if you are interested in dimensions, you may obtain a booklet giving all details.”
Bob had sat like one in a trance while Devi had told the story. He had heard of the Taj Mahal before, but it had made only a vague impression on his mind. Now, however, sitting almost within its shadow, and hearing the love story of its origin and construction, he seemed to be awakening from a beautiful dream.
Slowly he arose and silently the two strode down the walk toward the marble fountain and the Taj, itself. After a few minutes Bob broke the quiet. “Devi, that is the most impressive love story that I have ever heard. To think that after seventeen years of married life a man still maintained such a great love and high regard for his wife is nothing less than divine. Mumtaz Mahal must have been a remarkable woman. It is to be regretted that there are not more like her.”
“Perhaps you’ll find one sometime,” said Devi, smiling.
Devi and Bob scanned every nook and corner of the Taj and the Gardens within the wall. They climbed to the uppermost balcony of one of the four minarets, viewed the structure, the Jamna River, the surrounding country and Agra from the top. Bob admitted that he was seeing and hearing of a different side of India.
On the way back to the city they stopped at Agra Fort, which is surrounded by a great wall and a wide moat and in which the old palace is located.
A special guide explained each section as they passed through and outlined the history from the time it was commenced by Akbar in 1566. They passed through the Private Palace, the Grape Garden, the Palace of Mirrors, Jasmine Tower (where Shahjahan died in 1666), Golden Pavilion, Hall of Special Audience, Heavenly Mosque, King’s Bath, Throne Terrace, Fish Palace, Hall of Public Audience, Gem Mosque and the Moti Masjid, or Pearl Mosque.
Bob listened attentively with great interest, but like most other visitors, all but the outstanding highlights were soon forgotten. He did, however, learn the order of the old Emperors from Babar (1398 A.D.), through Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shahjahan to Aurangzeb. He remembered also that Aurangzeb, son of Shahjahan, killed his two older brothers and imprisoned his father during the last seven years of the latter’s life in order that he might hold the throne without dispute.
“A playful fellow, this Aurangzeb,” he thought.
During the days that followed, Bob and Devi visited the remaining sights of Agra. The Mausoleum of Itimad-ud-daula (Prime Minister under Jahangir), the Mausoleum of Akbar, located in the village of Sikandra, five miles from Agra, and the old palace at Fatehpur Sikri, twenty-four miles from Agra.
On their way to Fatehpur Sikri by auto, Devi said, “There is a very beautiful story in connection with this next palace and fort that I wish to tell you before you arrive. Akbar, who was one of the greatest Emperors that India has ever known, had one great sorrow. All his children had died in infancy, and it was his life’s ambition to have a son. At the village of Sikri, the scene of a great victory gained by the Emperor Babar, dwelt a Mohammedan saint by the name of Shaik Salim Christi, a man far renowned for his asceticism and godliness. Wonderful stories of his miraculous powers reached the great Moghul, who visited the saint and revealed his dearest wish. The Shaik advised Akbar to send his Hindu wife to stay in his house at Sikri for the birth of the next child, and here at a later date was born to the Emperor a son, afterwards to become the Emperor Jahangir, father of Shahjahan, the builder of the immortal Taj Mahal. Overjoyed at such a realization of his fondest hopes, Akbar determined to erect a city on the spot and to make it his capital.
“Therefore, in the year 1569 A.D. on a lonely eminence, Akbar founded Fatehpur Sikri, his new city, and there began to rise, as if by magic, the great battlemented walls, the magnificent palaces and courtyards, the great mosque and the other superb specimens of the skill of the Moghul stone masons which you will see within the next hour. After Akbar’s death, Fatehpur Sikri was deserted, because of a lack of water, only fifty years after it was founded.”
As Devi finished, the auto stopped at a huge entrance to the fort and while they were still seated, Devi continued, “This is the tremendous Buland Darwaza or High Gateway of Victory. It is appropriately named, for it is the highest gateway in India. It is 176 feet to the top from where we are sitting. It was erected by Akbar in 1601 to commemorate his victory over the Kingdom of Khandesh in the South.”
They left the auto and walked through the Buland Darwaza into the courtyard of the Jama Masjid or Great Mosque.
“That mausoleum on the far side is the most sacred of all edifices in the fort,” explained Devi. “It is the tomb of the saint, Shaik Salim Christi.”
“Why are these strings tied to this marble screen?” asked Bob as they inspected the structure closely.
“Barren women, both Hindu and Mohammedan, come here almost daily and tie bits of string or shreds of cloth to the bars of the screen as tokens that, if blessed with a son, they will present an offering to the shrine. The saint died in 1571 and the shrine was completed in 1581 by Akbar. Every year on the twenty-eighth day of Ramadan (in the Mohammedan year, the ninth month) a big fair is held when pilgrims of both religions flock here from all parts of India.”
Bob listened attentively to further explanations of many other edifices, but the details were soon lost in the flood of information which was thrust upon him. He was thrilled by the visit to the house of Akbar’s wife, Miriam, and that of Jodhbai, his daughter-in-law. Both palaces are amazing illustrations of the extent to which an oriental despot would go to please favorite wives or relatives. Miriam’s palace was called the Golden House because of the gilding of its walls, both inside and out. It was elaborately and profusely carved with Hindu subjects.
Jodhbai’s Palace, in addition to being the largest building in Fatehpur Sikri, is remarkable for the skillful carving to be found everywhere in it. It is also decidedly Hindu in character. Akbar, himself, it is said, designed this palace for Jodhbai, who was the wife of his son, Jahangir, and the mother of Shahjahan.
One other building made a definite impression in Bob’s mind—the Diwan-i-Khas, or Hall of Private Audience—because of its uniqueness. It is built of uniform red sandstone, and consists of a single lofty chamber. In the center is a quaintly carved octagonal pillar, the top of which constitutes a flat platform from which radiate four stone galleries connecting with another gallery encircling the chamber. It is said that the wise men of many religions gathered here while Akbar sat cross-legged in the center of the isolated platform listening to their arguments.
“I’d like to have had a glimpse of these old scholars during their deliberations,” remarked Bob.
Somehow or other the palaces and mausoleums, while beautiful and historical, failed to impress Bob as greatly as the Taj Mahal. Perhaps Devi should have taken him to see all the others first.
On the return trip to Agra the air was filled with dust. Just ahead of the auto in which they were riding was a large bus which they could not pass. For miles they followed it, during which time the air was almost stifling.
“This, I suppose,” said Bob, “is just another sample of the dust of India.”
“One must take the bitter with the sweet,” laughed Devi.
“Yes, but the main roads in America are paved,” returned Bob. “I appreciate them now more than ever.”
“I think I prefer a little dust to your tremendous volume of traffic where your life is liable to be snuffed out at any moment,” remarked Devi.
Of one thing Bob did not tire, and that was the trips through the native streets and the visits to the stores and shops. The thoroughfares, while dusty and dirty, like the inhabitants, held a peculiar fascination. There existed always an abundance of color, and beneath it all there was that ever-present mystery of the East. The girls and women with their brilliant saris, anklets, bracelets, earrings and nose rings would make an extraordinary picture of any setting.
The ingenuity of the thousands of beggars to win attention and attract the coins of passers-by made one feel that some of them at least could make an honest living if their efforts were turned to legitimate channels. Some were miniature circuses with monkeys, bears or freak musical instruments. Others could no doubt have made a living as actors, so well did they play their parts. Thousands were just plain beggars with no apparent ability excepting to hold out their dirty hands and cry “Bakshis” at the approach of anyone who might possibly possess a coin.
When Bob mailed letters that evening at the hotel he saw a native do one thing that he considered sanitary. Instead of licking postage stamps with his tongue, as one would expect him to do, he inserted his finger into a bottle of mucilage and rubbed it on the back of the stamps. When Bob commented upon this to Devi, the latter explained, “Oh, you see the back of the stamp is covered with dead animal matter and it would be sacrilegious for him to touch it with his tongue.”
Bob had heard much from his grandparents concerning foreign missions. Some of them had been enthusiastic contributors to the cause. Personally he had no particular beliefs for or against the movement, but he did have a desire to obtain information and facts so that he could at least discuss the situation intelligently when he returned to America.
When he made his intentions known to Devi, the latter seemed eager to assist him and was also quite willing to offer his own impressions on the subject.
“First,” suggested Devi, “let’s ask the manager of the hotel where we may find a typical missionary institution.”
The manager, although an Englishman, was quite frank to express his views against the so-called religious workers. “It would not be so bad, he volunteered, “if the missionaries would confine themselves to educating the natives in regard to their particular religion, but when they begin fighting each other for converts, I become furious. I know of many instances where they have actually knocked other religions in their endeavor to make a showing for their own church. By the time three or four missionaries have talked to a native, he is so confused that he does not know what it is all about. He wonders why there should be any difference of opinion and antagonism between people who are serving the same God. In most instances, he decides to remain with his own faith, and thereafter the Christian religion becomes more or less of a joke.
“If the missionaries of various faiths would get together and discontinue their controversies, Christianity would not only be held upon a higher plane by the natives, but much more good would be accrued to the cause. Some of these missionaries are working for a particular sect and not for the general good of Christianity or the natives.
“In the next place, most of the missionaries from America live in comparative luxury. While their salaries are seemingly low in comparison to incomes at home, the people forget that over here one dollar is almost three rupees and that a rupee in India is equivalent to a dollar in America as far as purchasing power is concerned. For example, if a missionary receives one hundred dollars a month, it amounts to almost Rs. 264 over here.
“Most of them live in excellent homes—homes that would be palaces to the great majority of natives; they have their own automobiles and private chauffeurs and several servants to do their work.
“If you wish to see a typical example of what I am telling you, just visit two mature ladies who operate a mission school a short distance from here and see for yourself.”
After receiving instructions, Bob and Devi departed for the mission indicated.
As they stopped at the front door of a large home located in spacious grounds, Bob could not help but contrast the surroundings with those he had visited where Indians of even the better class were living. Devi, himself, did not live in a home like this, and yet, his family was supposed to be far above the average.
Bob rang the bell at the front entrance and in due time a servant answered. When he asked to see one of the missionaries the two were invited into the front room and requested to take seats. After several minutes one of the missionaries appeared.
The boys arose, Bob introduced himself and Devi and said, “My grandmother back in Michigan is a good Methodist and a very liberal giver when it comes to foreign missions. When I return home she will be sure to ask me about your activities, so I have come to you with the thought that you might be willing to tell me of your work.”
Immediately the missionary became enthusiastic. She called a servant and had him bring a number of rugs which, she explained, were the result of work which they were teaching to the unemployed and to the low castes who had previously been engaged in sweeping the streets. They were thus raising them to a higher level, she claimed.
“In our school we have over four hundred children,” she said. “We take them as mere infants in the kindergarten and train them until they are quite mature. I want you to see the rug weaving and the school.”
“Who does the teaching?” asked Bob.
“Oh, we employ native Christian teachers,” answered the missionary. “We supervise the work. The great difficulty is, we do not have sufficient funds to do all that should be done. The folks at home are not giving as liberally as they should. If you wish to buy one of our rugs or make a donation, we shall be very grateful.
“I’ll ask one of our servants to show you the rug weaving.”
With that she clapped her hands and a servant quickly appeared. In Hindi she directed him to show the boys where the rugs were made. Bob and Devi followed the native to a very small building where two men were engaged in leisurely weaving a single rug. “Ask him,” requested Bob, “how many weavers are employed here.”
Devi turned to the servant and conversed with him in his own language.
Devi then turned to Bob and said, “He says there are only two. The ones we see here now have been weaving for a long time. No others are learning the trade at this time.”
“Well, let’s see the school with the four hundred children,” said Bob.
Upon their return to the home they met another missionary, who told them that her work consisted in giving lectures to women, and in teaching them the more modern methods. She regretted that it was impossible to show the fruits of her labors.
However, like all good missionaries, she had a few good stories to prove the value of their work.
“Some time ago,” she stated, “one of our servants had done good work and we wished to show our appreciation. Consequently, we gave him several pieces of fruit. The same day he came back with the fruit and asked if he might have a cake of soap instead. We gave him the soap and took the fruit so that he would feel at ease in making the exchange.”
Devi looked at Bob with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“Come,” requested the former missionary, “I wish to show you our school. First, I wish to give you this literature to take to your grandmother, and please tell her we would greatly appreciate any donation that she is able to give.”
Bob and Devi followed to the school building and visited every classroom. Upon their arrival the students would quickly stand in military fashion and say, “Good morning, Miss Trenton.” The missionary acknowledged the greeting rather half-heartedly, or so it seemed to Bob.
The native teachers were pleasant and neatly dressed. Whether they were well trained for their duties could not be determined.
In the kindergarten class there were the dirtiest children that Bob had ever seen. He felt like taking each one and giving it a good scrubbing in a bath tub. He wondered why the missionaries didn’t do it. In this same kindergarten room an older child was busily engaged in sweeping with a native broom and raising a cloud of dust. The missionary asked the child to cease while the men walked through.
As they passed from room to room Bob had been making a mental estimate of the number of children. He could account for less than 150.
“Where are the balance of your students?” he asked.
“Oh, some of them cannot come every day,” she answered.
Bob thanked the missionary for her courtesy and promised to place the literature in the hands of his grandmother.
As the two rode back toward the hotel, Devi asked, “Well, American, what do you think of your foreign missionaries?”
“If this is a sample, I’m not very favorably impressed,” admitted Bob.
“Of course, they are not all alike,” said Devi. “Some are worse and a few are better, but for the most part these people have soft jobs, and the poor people in America who cannot really afford to give are donating their nickels and dimes to do work which the conscientious natives could do by themselves if they were given the opportunity.
“You will probably agree that it is reasonable to assume that each of these women receives at least one hundred dollars a month, possibly twice that amount. Right now, two hundred dollars amount to 528 rupees. Generally speaking, there are very few Indian families that receive an income to compare with it. No wonder they can live in that big home, own a car, employ a chauffeur and a staff of forty teachers and servants. Naturally they receive much more than their personal incomes in expenses in order to maintain the general expenses of the mission.
“But, beyond all that,” continued Devi, “if you will pardon me for expressing a more personal attitude, I see no reason why American churches, or churches of any other country, should send missionaries here at all. We can get along very well without them. The Hindu faith is three thousand years older than Christianity and when it comes right down to it, your missionaries cannot prove their faith any more than we can prove ours, or perhaps I should say, we can prove ours as well as they can prove theirs.”
“You’ll have to admit,” interrupted Bob, “that the medical missionaries have done good work.”
“Yes,” agreed Devi. “I’ll give them credit, but medical work and sanitation can be done just as effectively—perhaps more effectively—without Christianity. If they were separated, the people of India might more readily accept medical attention and sanitary ideas. As it is, many of them feel that they must change their faith in order to accept the other important service.
“I’m not saying anything against the Christian religion, Bob, but I do think that your missionaries have no right in India. As a matter of fact, haven’t we a greater right to send missionaries to America? India is a much older country. Yet, what would the people of your country think if the Jains, Hindus, Mohammedans, Parsis and Sikhs established missions all over the United States and made an endeavor to win converts? Suppose these faiths established schools and churches and took advantage of your downtrodden classes to win them to these beliefs. Would the American people accept the missionaries from India as the people of this country have accepted them from yours? They would not!
“And another thing! Suppose you were to ask these two missionaries whom we met today this question, ‘Do you love the youth of India more than you love the youth of America?’ What would be their answer? What would you think of them if they answered, ‘We love all youth equally’? Would you think them patriotic? If that were their answer, do you think that either of them would marry an Indian? They would not!
“Every true-blooded American should love the people of his own land more than he does those of others. His first duty is to his own countrymen. A true Christian may say he believes in racial equality, but how many pastors would allow their daughters to marry negroes? You know the answer.
“Personally, I believe that these same missionaries have even more than they can do in America. As a matter of fact, America needs them. Your prisons are full to overflowing, your court calendars are filled with criminal cases. You have more murders per capita than any country on earth. There are thousands of gangsters, thieves and lawbreakers from one side of your land to the other. Isn’t this a job for your missionaries? Have they any right to come over here and try to change our faith until they can point to America as a shining example of what Christianity will do for a nation?
“Regardless of our faiths, there is much less crime in India per capita than in the United States. Our citizens are, on the whole, more law-abiding than yours. Perhaps, after all, we should send missionaries to the United States and use this fact as a basis for our activities.
“I’m not rabid on the subject, but I do feel the situation intensely. Perhaps you would rather I would withhold my opinion.”
“No, no,” replied Bob, “go on! Your viewpoint interests me greatly. I’m glad to listen to anything you have to say. It will give me something to take home and to think about.”
“All right,” continued Devi, “then here goes the rest. Over there in America is the State of New Mexico. If I remember correctly, there are thousands of Mexicans living there who call themselves Penetentes. They believe in self-penance. One Holy Week I went up in the Sandia Mountains out of Albuquerque to watch them. I saw men lash themselves until the blood flowed in streams down their backs. Their weird rites are far worse than any to be found in India.
“It is said upon good authority that on Good Friday they fasten one of their members to a cross and leave him until he almost expires, but this ceremony I was not allowed to witness. Not long ago I read of an American writer, Carl Taylor, who was shot to death by one of these same Penetentes while he was living in the vicinity gathering facts concerning this fanatical religion for the purpose of publication.
“What are the American missionaries or churches doing to eliminate this situation? Are the East Indians more important than those Mexicans who commit such outrageous atrocities in your own country, or is the foreign field more profitable and interesting to those engaged in missionary work?
“And while I’m on the subject I may as well bring your American Indians into the discussion. For over four hundred years missionaries have labored with and among them, and yet what have they accomplished? Are you familiar with the facts?
“In the first place, they endeavored to make them live and dress like white folks and you know what happened. The American Indians, accustomed to their own kind of food and outdoor air, contracted tuberculosis and other diseases of civilization, and today the American Indian is known as the vanishing race. If he had been allowed his freedom, there is no question but what he would more thickly populate your country and be happier and healthier than he is today.
“Where are the outstanding examples of American Indian Christianization? I’ve visited Indian reservations, many of them, and I failed to find any glorified specimens. The majority of your Indians today are living in dirty huts or shacks, they eat the same old food prepared as it was centuries ago and dress in blankets, skins and feathers. Why? Because even the Americans have learned that it is best for the Indians’ own welfare.
“Of course, I know that not all American Indians live as I have stated, but in Arizona and New Mexico the majority do, and in some other sections as well.
“With all these facts before you, can you not see why the great majority of East Indians and I feel as we do? Outside of the so-called medical missionaries, your Christian workers haven’t proved anything. As far as faiths are concerned, I do not believe that yours is any better than ours.
“When I think of missionaries I recall the one on shipboard to whom I listened when I returned to Bombay from America. He had been to the Island of Bali, and among other things he said, ‘Do you know, the native women did not know it was a sin to go about naked above the waist until we told them.’”
Bob smiled and said, “I was told by my grandfather a long time ago not to argue about religion. I respect your opinions and admit there is much truth in what you say, but beyond that I’m going to take Granddad’s advice.”
Thirty-three miles north of Agra on the Jamna River is situated Muttra, one of the oldest and most sacred cities of India. On this same location there was a city at least five hundred years before the Christian Era, and since that time many cities have been built and destroyed on the same site.
During the Middle Ages, Muttra was probably one of the wealthiest cities in India, but in 1017 A.D. it was pillaged by Mahmud Ghazni, who removed the gold and silver idols said to be worth fifteen million dollars.
About 5000 B.C. a Hindu god by the name of Krishna performed religious acts on the bank and in the river at this location and ever since that time the Jamna River at this point has been considered sacred.
Pilgrims and holy men from great distances visit Muttra to bathe in the river and to gain further sanctity. Groups of them may be seen on the highways in every direction as one travels to or from this sanctuary. There are usually several thousand pilgrims in the city at one time.
It also seems to be a well recognized and curious fact that about three thousand Hindu widows reside permanently in Muttra. Those whose husbands have died are not allowed to marry again, but are supposed to live lives of sacrifice and solitude during the remainder of their days. They migrate to Muttra, where they may bathe in the sacred river and better consecrate their lives to their faith and to their dead husbands—so it is said.
However, even the most devout Hindus will admit that only about 5 per cent of the so-called holy men are actually holy and self-sacrificing as the term would indicate. The 95 per cent are merely beggars who choose this life as an easy means of making a living and gaining other advantages without labor. On the whole, they are a ragged and dirty class.
Devi admitted to Bob that the holy men fulfilled no important function and that India could do just as well without them.
“But, tell me,” said Bob, as they rode along on the train toward Muttra, “why are the widows not allowed to remarry?”
“It is the law,” responded Devi, “and you can see it would be rather embarrassing for a woman to awaken in the next world with two or more husbands.”
“Well, to be very frank with you, I am wondering about the real purpose of these widows who congregate here in Muttra,” said Bob. “I am wondering if the widows gather here because the holy men flock to this point, or whether the holy men are attracted here because of the three thousand widows. You yourself admit that only about 5 per cent of the holy men are sincere. If this is true, is it not reasonable to assume that a like percentage may be applied to the widows? In that case, it seems to me that about 95 per cent of these people come to Muttra for something not classified under religion or sacred activities.”
“That of course would be difficult to prove,” murmured Devi. “It is a well-known fact that there are good and bad among all faiths. I’ll have to admit that the circumstances here do create considerable skepticism.”
As soon as they arrived at the Muttra station, Bob and Devi took a tonga direct to the Royal Hotel, the manager of which proved to be a very obliging Parsi—rather out of place, it seemed, in this strictly Hindu city. All the rooms of the small hotel were taken, so it was necessary for the two travelers to accept a tent, which was the only place available, since Muttra boasted of a single hotel for tourists and British officers.
When they were settled in their temporary quarters, Devi suggested that they take a drive through the walled city before nightfall and then witness the nightly ceremony along the river front just after dark. Bob readily accepted the invitation.
As they entered Lord Hardinge Gateway through the old wall surrounding Muttra, a pitiful sight confronted them. In the middle of the street was an old horse that had fallen, either from illness or old age, and which, regardless of his struggles, could not rise to his feet. The natives passed him by with little regard and no one seemed willing to assist the poor animal or put him out of his misery.
Bob was disgusted. “Why doesn’t someone shoot him or kill him quickly with a blow on the head?” he demanded.
“Not in India, my dear fellow,” returned Devi. “You will not find a person among the sixty-five thousand population of Muttra who would kill a horse. No one would dare do it. He would fear the consequences. Not even I would consent to such an act.”
“If I had a revolver or a rifle, I would end his suffering,” asserted Bob.
“Then it is just as well that you have neither,” said Devi.
“Do you mean to tell me that this poor horse must lie here in the street in this condition and suffer until he dies a natural death?” interrogated Bob.
“Oh, he will no doubt be removed to the outskirts of the city, but he must die just as a human being. Even they, you know, must suffer until the end. For all we know, the spirit of an ancestor or some other deceased person may be present in that very horse. To kill him would be like killing one’s own kin.”
“You cannot prove that,” snapped Bob.
“No, and neither can you prove that it isn’t true,” retorted Devi. “Each of us has a right to his own belief.”
Two hours later when they were returning to their tent, a group of men had piled the old horse onto a low, flat truck and were pulling it off the main street. The feet of the animal had been tied together and his head securely roped in an awkward position to his side to keep it from dragging on the ground. The horse was still alive but evidently too weak to resist.
Bob could barely suppress his feelings, and under his breath he muttered, “I wonder what the missionaries are doing about this? Here is ‘dust’ that should be removed.”
Previously, however, he had seen an inspiring sight. Upon their arrival at the river they had employed an oarsman with his nau (a small, flat barge) to row them along the river front, where they could watch the ceremony.
On the streets adjacent to the river, children were selling small rafts, about the size of a large book, which were constructed of palm leaves. Upon these rafts were placed five earthen saucers, each one a little larger than a silver dollar. Each earthen dish contained a small amount of oil and a piece of string which served as a wick. The rafts with complete equipment sold for one or two pice (about one-half or one cent).
These were purchased by men, women and children, who departed to the water’s edge at one of the ghats, lighted the wicks, and placed the rafts into the river, where they would then float slowly downstream. To say the least, it was a beautiful sight. Some would release their rafts from boats in the middle of the stream until at times the whole surface of the narrow and sluggish Jamna was covered with myriads of small lights. The small flames would burn for an average of about ten minutes.
“Just what is the reason for this ceremony?” asked Bob from the stillness of their boat.
“It is done in reverence to the river, made sacred by Lord Krishna five thousand years ago,” answered Devi. “But wait, you are about to witness an inspiring grand finale.”
The bells in Vishram Ghat, before which they were anchored, began to ring. They played no tune, they could not be called chimes, and there was neither melody nor harmony in their ringing, but the sounds seemed appropriate to the occasion, nevertheless. A Hindu priest carrying a huge metal torch, composed of many small lights, like a birthday cake, entered an open marble altar facing the river. Slowly from side to side he swayed with the lights while the throng surrounding him threw small yellow flower blossoms toward the torch.
Finally, the priest placed the flaming candle-like object upon the altar and departed, and instantly the Hindus rushed to the spot, thrust their hands into the flames, touched their faces and foreheads and departed. In a few more minutes the ceremony was over.
“That,” volunteered Devi, “is in reverence to fire. It is a ritual which cleanses the soul and absolves the body from sin.”
To Bob the scene was something more than mere fireworks or a celebration. Beneath and behind it all there was a sacredness, a superstition, that same puzzling mystery that presented itself throughout all India at almost every turn. It was impossible to fathom it. Only a Hindu could understand and even he could not intelligently and adequately explain.
While they were returning through the main street, Devi was hailed by one of his old friends and former college classmates. After their cordial greeting Devi said, “I want you to meet my American friend, Robert Dean. Bob, this is Brindaban Behari.”
The two acknowledged the introduction and Mr. Behari remarked, “This is the first opportunity I have ever had of talking to an American; I would be glad to have an hour or so with you and ask you many questions. I am teaching in the Inter College here, so naturally the students ask for considerable information concerning your country.”
“We shall be here tomorrow,” interrupted Devi. “Suppose you see us in the morning when we view the bathing at Vishram Ghat.”
“I shall be there,” returned Brindaban, “and after that you two have lunch with me.”
“It is a bargain,” agreed Devi as he looked toward Bob, who nodded consent.
The next morning the three met as agreed and again an oarsman with his boat was hired to take them on the river in order that they might view the bathing from the front.
Hundreds of worshippers, men and women, were bathing and praying in the water. All wore their clothing. Some would immerse themselves, come up facing the sun with hands in an attitude of fervent prayer and with lips muttering lines which had evidently been committed to memory. Others would stand waist deep, bring the water to their faces with their hands and likewise cleanse their mouths.
In some instances priests stood with their clients while the latter bathed and the former did the praying. Brindaban explained that none were allowed to use soap at this particular ghat because the water was also used for drinking purposes. At other ghats soap might be used, providing the worshippers possessed it and providing it did not contain dead animal matter.
At this same ghat the evening previous, Bob had witnessed the ceremony of lights, and now he was observing another form of worship in daylight which, while quite different, was equally as engaging. The stone steps from the street to the water’s edge were filled with natives dressed in brilliant colors. All were earnestly engaged in some form of religious activity.
On the lower steps a few women were slowly pouring milk into the river as an offering and a sacrifice and to purify it with liquid from the sacred cow. Others were tossing flowers into the water as a form of prayer and reverence.
“Is this a daily occurrence?” Bob asked Brindaban.
“Yes,” answered the latter, “you will see this spectacle every day in the year.”
“The festival of lights that I saw last night; is that usual?” questioned Bob.
“Yes, it, too, takes place each evening,” he was told.
“It seems to me,” commented Bob, “that your very lives are filled with religious activity. Everything you do seems to be connected with your faith.”
“To a great extent that is true,” offered Brindaban. “A birth is a sacred part of our faith, our childhood is devoted to religious training; festivals, marriages and deaths—all are a part of Hinduism.”
“You see,” interrupted Devi, “your religions in America, if I may be so bold as to mention it, are sometimes confined to attendance at church on Sundays, or possibly to prayer meeting once a week in addition. Here in India religion is practiced every hour of the day. Even when we meet a friend on the street and say ‘Namas-karem,’ we place our hands in an attitude of prayer. Upon departure we do the same thing.
“In America you say ‘Hello, how are you?’ ‘How do you do?’ or ‘Hi,’ but none of these has any religious significance.”
Brindaban listened attentively because he was learning something of a country which he had never visited.
“Before we leave here,” said Devi, “I want you to see those enormous turtles in the water where the people are bathing.”
The boat moved closer and Bob for the first time saw a great number of turtles each one of which was at least two feet in diameter. One big fellow seemed to be in the way, so a worshipper, who needed room, grasped the shell on either side and pushed the reptile away.
“Good Heavens!” almost shouted Bob. “Won’t they bite?”
“No,” Brindaban answered, “they come here at this time because they seem to know someone will feed them. See those young men over there tossing popcorn and bread into the water.”
Bob looked and saw the turtles grabbing for the morsels. He also noticed for the first time how filthy the water appeared. Regardless of the fact that the sewerage of the city was emptied into the river, it was sacred because of the activities of Krishna five thousand years previously, and therefore the worshippers felt justified in even washing their mouths in the stream.
“Perhaps Mr. Dean would enjoy seeing our laundry,” suggested Brindaban.
“Is it different from an American laundry?” asked Bob.
“There it is just across the river,” said Devi. “We’ll go closer so you may inspect it.”
On the opposite shore a great group of men were busily engaged in dousing articles of clothing into the river and then whacking them on flat rocks. To express the operation differently would give it too much refinement. It was certainly a crude method of removing the dirt from soiled cloth.
“These men,” said Devi, “are the laundrymen of the city. Each one has his customers and he calls for and delivers the articles. Sometimes, if the sun is shining, he dries the garments on the bank while he works. Otherwise he dries them at his home, after which some of the articles are ironed.”
“Is it possible to make the clothing clean in such murky-looking water?” asked Bob.
“They seem clean,” said Brindaban.
“If I send garments to be laundered here in Muttra, is this where they will be washed?” Bob asked.
“This is the only laundry here,” Brindaban told him.
Bob made up his mind to do his own washing unless he were assured of more sanitary and modern methods.
On the way back to the place where they had obtained the boat they passed the bathing place of the “Untouchables,” who were not allowed to use any of the city ghats for that purpose. Their only mode of washing their sins away was upon a lowly shore that consisted of no stone steps and which possessed no temples in the background.
In the distance on the opposite bank, another smaller group of “Untouchables” were burning the body of a deceased member of their family. “But,” commented Devi, “I shall not tell you about that now. Just wait until we reach Benares, where you will see burning ghats that are more outstanding.”
“By the time we reach my home,” said Brindaban, “lunch will be ready. My wife will be expecting us.”
The entrance to the Behari home was through a narrow passageway from one of the main streets. In America it would not even answer the purpose of or be called an alley.
Brindaban first ushered them into a small, dark room on the lower floor which he apologetically explained was his study. The room possessed one open side, no windows, a few books, two chairs and a bicycle.
“Our home is exceptionally modest,” explained Brindaban, “but my salary as a teacher is very small, only sixty rupees a month ($22.80). Of this amount seven rupees goes for rent and the remainder for other living expenses. There are five mouths to feed and five to clothe—my wife, her mother, our baby girl, my brother and I.
“My wife comes from a well-to-do family, but neither of us will ever inherit anything from her side of the family unless we have a son.”
“When we were married,” he continued, “I was thirteen and my wife was eleven. We did not live together until five years later. Unfortunately my wife is not in the best of health and it may not be possible for us to ever have a son. This will make it necessary for me to struggle along on my small income or seek more profitable employment elsewhere. It will be necessary for me, also, to save money for my daughter’s dowry. You know, over here, Mr. Dean, when a girl marries she must take something to her husband as a gift. This money is supplied by her father, but if he can offer her but little, then he cannot expect to make a favorable match.
“My wife brought to me about three thousand rupees when we were married, but much of this amount, as is often the case, was spent to buy jewelry for her.
“The fact is that I must have more funds. As Devi will tell you, I have two degrees, and I’m wondering if there would be an opportunity in America?”
“In the first place,” said Bob, “it is difficult for people of other nations to take up residence in America at this time, but with your education it should be possible for you to engage in some commercial activity here in India that would bring more than sixty rupees a month.”
“The people have so little money,” replied Brindaban, “that profits are difficult. There are many engaged in business whose incomes are much less than mine.”
Bob wished that he could be of assistance, but he felt extremely helpless under the circumstances.
Brindaban led the way up a narrow stairway to a room above where Mrs. Brindaban, a beautiful Indian wife, was introduced to Bob and Devi. She spoke no English, but Brindaban interpreted for her. She, too, had never met an American before.
The food was typically Indian, similar to that which Bob had sampled previously at the home of the Lalls in Bombay, only in this instance there was a very limited amount.
When Bob and Devi returned to their tent at the Royal Hotel a Mohammedan barber appeared and asked if he could be of service. Bob needed a haircut but he was a little hesitant about letting an itinerant barber do the work. The Mohammedan assured Bob that he was the barber for the British army officers and consequently the two agreed upon a price of twelve annas (about thirty cents) for the work. Bob sat in an ordinary chair in front of the tent while the barber cut his hair with tools from a small case. It was quite different from having one’s tonsorial work done in a modern American shop.
Delhi, the capital of India, lies north of Agra and is also located on the banks of the Jamna River. It occupies the site of many prehistoric cities, most of which have been lost in obscurity. The present city is surrounded by the ruins of ancient forts and cities regarding some of which little is known.
From time immemorial it has been the seat of civilization and chivalry. Delhi to India is what Athens is to Greece and Rome to Italy. It has been and is one of the most attractive centers in all India. The mere name brings visions of its past glory and grandeur.
It has been the capital of more empires than probably any other city in the world, and it has experienced more changes than any other city in India. It has been the arena of passing powers, the seat of kingdom after kingdom and battle upon battle.
It was to this city of Mohammedans that Bob and Devi now found themselves entrained.
“Bob, you are extremely fortunate,” said Devi as the train left Muttra.
“Why?” asked Bob.
“Because you will be in Delhi on Devali, which is one of the greatest Hindu days of the year. Delhi is primarily a Mohammedan city, but there are thousands of Hindus residing there. You will see one of the most unique celebrations and festivals that you have ever witnessed. It may remind you of your own Christmas.
“Devali is celebrated to honor the Goddess Lakshmi—the Goddess of Wealth. This great festival takes place every year on November 13, and it is a brilliant event, as you will see.
“You are fortunate also because I have a very close Hindu friend in Delhi, by the name of Nilam Randhawa, who formerly lived in the Punjab. As soon as I let him know we are in town, I’m sure he will help to entertain us and invite us to his home. You will enjoy him; he is a fine chap.”
When they arrived at their hotel, Devi called his friend, who insisted upon visiting them that evening. The two had not seen each other for some time and both seemed to enjoy the reunion.
When Nilam learned that Bob was from America, he, too, was elated, for he had visited in the United States with his grandfather two years previously.
“You know, Mr. Dean, I like your country,” said Nilam. “I’m going there again next year. Maybe I’ll see you.”
“By all means look me up,” said Bob. “I shall be glad to have you call.”
“Tomorrow night,” continued Nilam, “I want you fellows to have dinner with me at my home. I know my mother will be glad to see you, Devi, and she will be glad to meet Mr. Dean.”
“What! Aren’t you married yet?” asked Devi.
“Not yet,” answered Nilam. “The parents have tried several times to select a wife for me, but I’m having too good a time. My motto is, ‘Why buy a cow, when milk is so cheap?’”
Devi said nothing, but he did not appear to agree with the idea. Here was a Hindu who wasn’t exactly orthodox, it seemed. His travels abroad had evidently had an effect upon him. He actually talked with an English accent.
“By the way,” continued Nilam, if you fellows have no plans for the evening, suppose we go down town and visit a couple of my dancing-girl friends.”
Devi looked at Bob with a doubtful expression. He wasn’t sure that the suggestion would meet with his approval.
“It is all right with me,” agreed Bob. “I’ve never seen an Indian dancing girl in action and I’m sure I would enjoy the experience.”
“Fine,” consented Devi. “It will be an opportunity to spend a pleasant evening.”
At the hotel entrance they engaged a taxi, Nilam gave instructions and within a comparatively few minutes they arrived at their first destination.
Before they entered the stairway leading to the second floor, where the dancing girl gave her exhibitions, Nilam said to Devi, “I say, Old Timer, loan me ten rupees, will you? I did not bring my purse with me. I’ll reimburse you tomorrow.”
“I have less than that amount with me,” answered Devi.
Bob came quickly to the rescue and responded with, “Oh, just give him ten rupees from my funds, Devi. He looks like an honest fellow,” he added smiling.
Devi handed a ten-rupee note to Nilam and the three ascended the stairs to a room about sixteen feet square which was carpeted with canvas. A servant requested them to be seated, but there were no chairs so Bob imitated the boys, who sat upon the floor with their legs crossed in front, Indian style.
In a few moments a beautiful, well-dressed Indian girl appeared and greeted Nilam heartily. She was introduced to Devi and Bob, who placed the palms of their hands together, finger tips upward, and said, “Namaskaran.” Panna, as she was known, had made the same salutation, which proved that she was a Hindu.
The girl sat on the canvas in the middle of the room facing the boys and for a few minutes conversed in Hindi with Nilam, who was evidently explaining that Bob came from America. Occasionally the word “Amerika” was used.
Suddenly Panna clapped her hands, a servant appeared and she issued an order. In the meantime, Bob had noticed that not only was this girl beautiful, but she also possessed immaculate hands and feet, and her arms were graceful and shapely. Clean hands and feet were such an exception in India that Bob was greatly impressed. Here was a girl who could evidently teach the natives much about cleanliness and sanitation. He was about to compliment her through Nilam, when the servant returned with a tray upon which were several portions of betel nut, all prepared with the usual additional ingredients, ready to chew.
Panna, much to his amazement, took a portion and folded it to fit her pretty mouth. Nilam and Devi followed her example. When the tray was passed to Bob, he uttered, “Well, I’ll try anything once, even if it kills me, just to be hospitable.”
“You’ll enjoy it,” replied Nilam.
For the next fifteen minutes the four of them sat, talked, chewed and expectorated. Each was supplied with a small brass cuspidor. Strange as it may seem, Bob rather enjoyed the taste of the mixture, but he wished that he might have a snapshot of the group, for the experience and the setting would make an interesting picture to show to his friends at home.
In due time, at the request of Nilam, Panna ordered her orchestra to play. The music was produced by two men, one of whom played a native stringed instrument and the other a drum. While sitting in the same position, Panna sang several Indian songs, the words of which Bob, of course, did not understand. Her speaking voice was musical and pleasing, but her singing was anything but harmonious, and throughout her vocal endeavors her facial expression never changed. Her gestures were graceful and attractive, but Bob kept wishing for a smile which never came until she had finished. Then her face brightened, she became more animated and was beautiful again.
At the conclusion of her songs she stood, gave a command to the musicians, who quickly responded and Panna began to dance. Slowly she moved her arms and shoulders at first, and then as the tempo increased she seemed to bring her whole body into action. The only sound that she made was from a peculiar way she had of placing her hands together and snapping one finger against the opposite palm, which produced a click very much like that of a castanet—a rather difficult feat, as the boys learned when they tried to imitate her at the close of her dance.
Her second exhibition was given with two sets of small bells which she strapped to her dainty ankles. She was overly cautious, it seemed to Bob, not to raise her gown even one inch higher than necessary. He had never seen a dancing girl quite so modest. He began to realize how utterly impossible it would be to find a counterpart for Sally Rand in this land of heathens in the Near East. The women of India, even the dancing girls, seemed exceptionally modest.
Panna’s second dance was longer and much more beautiful than the first. At times she would hesitate and sing, then continue and follow the animated rhythm with every muscle of her graceful body. She seemed to be depicting a story and playing the part of each character in turn.
The clicking of that finger and the jingling of the bells on her ankles as she stamped her delicate feet, all combined to make a very pleasing impression—but Bob kept wishing for a smile, which came only after she had again ended the dance, and then her countenance would brighten and transform her set expression of seriousness into one of animated Oriental beauty.
The three young men arose, thanked her for her entertainment, saluted in Hindu fashion and took their leave as Nilam slipped the ten-rupee note into her hand.
“Now,” said Nilam, when they had reached the street, “I’ll show you a dancing girl that is even more beautiful. Come with me and I’ll give you a treat when you see my Nurri. And if you don’t mind, Mr. Dean, will you loan me another ten rupees? I’ll return the twenty tomorrow.”
Bob consented readily, because there was nothing else that he could diplomatically do under the circumstances. He felt perfectly safe in advancing the money to an acquaintance who had been recommended by Devi.
Near by they turned into another stairway and up a flight of stairs into a room which was slightly larger than the quarters occupied by Panna. The walls, however, were more beautifully decorated with brightly colored hangings and the lighting was more effective and pleasing.
Upon this occasion the group was admitted by a girl servant colorfully dressed and herself a model of Indian beauty.
But when Nurri appeared, the beauty of the servant girl and even of Panna, seemed insignificant by comparison. Here was a beautiful girl with a radiant smile that would actually melt a heart of stone.
She was dressed from head to foot with silks of gorgeous hues. The coloring and the fine embroidery work were exquisite. Bob had never seen such a lovely, Oriental combination in all his previous life. He almost gasped in amazement as she entered the room. When he was presented to her, he admitted later that he was quite nervous and flustered.
As Nurri chatted with Nilam and Devi, Bob could not take his eyes from her. He sat and stared as a child would rivet its eyes upon a fairy. He studied her as an artist would view a masterpiece. He noticed her large gold and diamond earrings, her many bracelets and the diamond she wore in the left side of her pretty nose. She seemed to wear just enough rings on the fingers of her well-kept hands. Her toenails, as well as the nails of her fingers, were decorated with a dark red polish which blended beautifully with her nut-brown velvet skin. Her coal-black eyes fairly snapped as she talked. In her hair she wore a single red rose. Again Bob wished for a camera that would actually duplicate the picture before him.
Nurri’s orchestra, too, was a bit more elaborate. It consisted of three musicians, two who played stringed instruments and one a drum. As she sang, Bob recognized a superior quality in her voice, and while the compositions, themselves, seemed unattractive, there was a clear tone in every one of her notes quite unlike the nasal sound in the singing of Panna. Most pleasing of all was that beaming, happy smile of Nurri’s as she sang.
Her dancing was more graceful, aesthetic and animated. She put her very soul into her actions and accompanied her movements with that captivating, fascinating smile that added greatly to her beauty and charm. “Panna was wonderful,” Bob had thought immediately after he had seen and met her, but Nurri, well, there just wasn’t any room for comparison. She was, so Bob decided, just about as nearly perfect as an Indian girl could be.
“It is a shame,” he said to himself, “that there are not more charming and sanitary looking girls in India. These dancing girls seem to possess the right idea. Others could look more attractive if they made an effort.”
Bob retired that night with a beautiful picture in his mind.
The next day was Devali. There seemed to be no particular attraction during the day, so Bob, Devi and Nilam engaged an auto to take them to Kutb Minar, which lies eleven miles to the southwest of Delhi. Before making definite arrangements with the Sikh chauffeur, it was understood that the cost of the trip was to be four annas a mile, but Bob was due for a surprise at the time of settlement.
Kutb Minar, although quite different from the Taj Mahal, is actually another architectural wonder of India. It stands in the heart of a site surrounded by citadels built by Sakars, prior to the Christian era, by Anangpal in the eighth century and by the Chauhan Rajput tribe about the twelfth century. It is said that the Kutb Minar, itself, was the work of Maharaja Prithivi Raj, the last Hindu Emperor of India, lie about the grounds, but unless one is vitally interested in the ancient history of India, he passes through and around them only as a casual observer. The dates and details, however authentic, soon become forgotten.
On the other hand, there is one monument in this vicinity that is worthy of attention and note. It is the celebrated Iron Pillar which stands in the courtyard of the Kutb Mosque with an imposing background consisting of a screen of arches.
The Pillar is thirty-two feet, eight inches high and consists of a shaft of solid iron the diameter of which is sixteen inches near the level of the ground and about twelve and one-half inches at the top. It terminates in a knob in the ground at a depth of three feet, where it is firmly held by eight strong bars attached to stone blocks.
The remarkable part about the Pillar is the fact that the Hindus were able to construct it so many centuries ago (possibly about 1000 A.D.). Throughout all the years, during which time it has been exposed to the elements, it does not rust or corrode.
There are many theories regarding its origin, but none of them may be presented with any degree of accuracy.
Bob was greatly interested as he listened to the special guide who led them around the ruins, but he made notes only of those things which seemed worth retaining.
Returning from Kutb Minar, the three stopped to view Humayun’s Tomb, a large mausoleum of an ancient emperor. The site for this architectural masterpiece, it is said, was selected by the Emperor, himself, and was built after his death in 1556 by his widow, Hamida Begum, at a cost of about five hundred thousand dollars.
Near Connaught Place in New Delhi, the driver was asked to stop so that Bob could see Jantar Mantar, the famous observatory, consisting of a group of four enormous, curiously shaped instruments similar to those in the old palace of Jaipur.
There is a large gnomon with two quadrants to form an equinoctial sundial, two circular buildings for observations of altitudes and azimuth, and a fourth, a curious instrument for measuring the sun’s declination.
This observatory was built by the best astronomer of the time, Maharaja Jai Singh II of Amber, the founder of the famous city of Jaipur, in compliance with the request of Emperor Mohammad Shah about 1724.
When the boys reached the hotel they looked at the speedometer in order that they might settle with the driver upon the basis agreed. Much to their amazement they found that he had put the instrument out of commission and claimed the trip covered a distance of forty miles. Nilam claimed it was only twenty, but argue as he did he could not alter the claim of the stubborn Sikh. Finally Devi paid him ten rupees from Bob’s funds—and dismissed him with Hindu words that sounded profane, even to an American.
Bob was learning that the majority of Indians are determined to “squeeze” you for all you are worth unless you are continually on your guard.
A greater part of the afternoon was spent in the old and beautiful palace of Delhi Fort. While different from Agra Fort and Palace in many respects, there were several points of similarity. The fact that Delhi Fort was built by Shahjahan, whose father and grandfather were responsible for the palace at Agra, no doubt had much to do with the reason for the likeness.
There was the usual Hall of Public Audience, Hall of Special Audience, the celebrated Peacock Throne, a Pearl Mosque and the Emperor’s private apartment.
“If these walls and rooms could talk and would relate the things they have seen, what an exciting story they could tell,” said Bob.
“Yes,” admitted Nilam, “that would be a history lesson worth while. I’d like to listen to the walls of the harem every evening for my bedtime story.”
When they reached the hotel, Nilam made this suggestion: “I think it would be a good idea for us to visit the native sections immediately after dark to witness all the excitement of Devali and then have dinner later at my home. What do you fellows think?”
“Just as you say,” returned Devi. “You are the host.”
“All right,” continued Nilam, “I’ll go home and change my clothes, tell my mother we’ll be there for dinner about nine, and meet you fellows right here within an hour.” And with that he was quickly out of sight.
“A rather wild person,” commented Devi after Nilam had disappeared. “Even in school he was considered a ‘rounder.’ What he needs is a wife to hold him down.
“His mother,” Devi continued, “is a member of the Congress and is a very strong advocate for Indian self-government, as you will no doubt learn tonight. She has been imprisoned upon two or three occasions for her anti-British activities. Yet, she is a lovable and charming woman with a family of three children, two boys and a girl. The father was at one time a wealthy sugar manufacturer, but during the past few years he has not enjoyed good health, and I believe their fortune and their income has dwindled.
“If you wish to learn about something concerning the group in India that is striving for home rule, let me suggest that you ask Mrs. Randhawa to tell you about her work. It will please her and you will obtain considerable information.”
“Thanks for the idea,” returned Bob. “I’ll be glad to hear her side of the story.”
“You see,” continued Devi, “the Randhawas are of the Kshatri caste, the fighters, and they are proud of their distinction. Even their ancestors fought against the Government.
“Ordinarily I could not accept an invitation to their home, but they are not strictly orthodox and as long as I am away from home, I’ll go along with you. You see, we are of different castes. If my people knew I ate in the Randhawa home, it would cause great dissension. I am amazed that Nilam would invite me.”
“Well,” smiled Bob, “that is one place where I have you beaten. I can invite any friend of mine to my home regardless of his creed or financial standing, and my parents would welcome him with open arms. Your caste system certainly has its disadvantages.”
“Naturally, we cannot abide strictly by the rules when it comes to college and school activities,” explained Devi. “There are instances where only the members of the older generation object, but we must be careful not to offend them.”
Nilam returned in less than an hour, and within a short time all three were on their way to Chandi Chawk in the native section of the city, where the greatest activity would take place. All along the way, the streets, homes and stores were brilliantly lighted. Paper decorations of various shapes and colors were hung in doorways and windows. Automobiles and tongas were adorned with streamers of colored paper and cloth. Some of the horses and sacred bulls were actually painted with designs on their sides for the occasion. The festival spirit was everywhere in the air.
Down the street came a parade headed by a native leading a camel. Upon the camel sat a boy in a highly colored costume. Immediately following were floats of various descriptions, bands rendering American as well as native music and one group playing Scotch bagpipes. The parade would proceed half a block or so and stop for a few minutes while the bands played and during which interim the “Scotch bagpipers” walked in a large circle and cut capers as they manipulated their instruments.
The streets were packed to overflowing, and it was all the three men could do to elbow their way through the crowds. For Bob the experience was not the most pleasant one because of the unclean groups of humanity with which he was compelled to rub elbows. At last with great difficulty they obtained a tonga and drove to Nilam’s home, which was located on a narrow alley with only sufficient room for the vehicle to pass.
When they stopped before the entrance, Nilam pointed with pride to two cows in a small stable which was an actual part of the house right next to the front door. One could actually reach the cows with his hand from the street. Bob was astonished, but Nilam and Devi accepted the circumstances as a matter of course. It seemed that only well-to-do families were financially able to afford such a luxury and they could evidently see nothing objectionable to the odor, the appearance and the great number of flies which would be attracted to the main entrance of the home.
Once inside the front portals, the appearance was quite pleasing and the cows were soon forgotten. The home was built surrounding a central court very similar to the one in which Devi lived. It was also a three-story structure with balconies leading to the rooms on the second and third stories. Large potted plants and shrubs were scattered attractively along the sides and in the corners of the central area.
As soon as she heard the front door open, Mrs. Randhawa hurried to meet the visitors. She greeted them cordially with her limited command of English and asked them into an attractive reception room.
The dinner itself was very much the same as the one Bob had enjoyed in Bombay at the home of Devi. There were, however, more varieties of native food, due no doubt to the fact that this was a great holiday and festival. All ate with their fingers and there was the usual absence of napkins and finger bowls. It was again necessary to wait until the end of the meal to remove the grease from one’s fingers under a stream of water poured into a basin by a servant.
At the close of the meal Bob began his planned conversation. “Nilam,” he said, “ask your mother to tell me about that Congress of which I understand she is a member.”
Nilam turned to his mother and conversed in Hindi. Mrs. Randhawa’s face brightened and in turn she talked fluently to her son.
“Mother says,” offered Nilam, “that as long as I understand the Congress quite well, I am to tell you, and if I need help, I may call upon her for assistance.
“The Congress is composed of patriotic men and women of India who have a burning desire to see this great country free from the yoke of England and governed by its own people. These men and women believe that a nation of 350,000,000 people are capable of selecting native leaders who can govern the country better than it is being governed at this time.
“Under the present circumstances, the people are depressed. Even the educated classes cannot hold the positions of responsibility because they are already filled by the English, who receive enormous salaries. If an Indian does hold a position which requires ability, his salary is far less than that of an Englishman who may be doing the same type of work.”
“Here’s a question,” interrupted Bob, “that I want your mother to answer herself. Ask her what in her opinion India needs most.”
After a short conversation between mother and son, back came the answer, “First of all, India needs bread; her people are underfed. She needs universal education; her people for the most part are ignorant. She needs the co-operation of other nations like America to help win her cause. If the iron hand of England could be removed, India could have these things under the guiding influence of her own leaders. What we need is self-government.”
Bob thought he saw at least a few obstacles which would hinder the realization of the goal that Mrs. Randhawa had outlined, but he did not feel capable of intelligently discussing the situation so he confined his conversation to questions.
At the close of the discussion Mrs. Randhawa stated forcefully in her best English, “I will die for the cause!”
“Tell your mother for me,” requested Bob, as they were about to depart, “that I think she is a very exceptional woman and that I have enjoyed listening to her viewpoint and that I am very grateful for a delightful dinner.”
Devi expressed his appreciation directly to Mrs. Randhawa and thanked Nilam also for inviting him.
“Let’s get together again tomorrow,” said Nilam. “I’ll see you at the hotel in the morning.”
“I’m going to shake hands with all of you, American style,” asserted Bob. With that he grasped each one by the hand and said, “Good night.”
As Bob and Devi walked down the street, Devi muttered, “If all the men and women of India held the opinion of Mrs. Randhawa, there would be a revolution tomorrow. I, too, believe that India should be a free country, but I see no reason for becoming belligerent about it. There should be some peaceful means of accomplishing the desired result.”
The following morning after breakfast, as soon as Nilam arrived, they were on their way to New Delhi to view the buildings of the Imperial Capital. Bob was desirous of seeing them, but while they were outstanding in size, design and importance, yet, like most buildings of state, they did not usually possess the appeal of ancient palaces with a background of history. The Viceregal Lodge, the Secretariat and the Council House were imposing structures built of red and white sandstone and marble. The grounds and gardens surrounding the Imperial buildings were unusual and exceptionally well kept.
Bob appeared enthusiastic because the other two expected his approval, but to himself he said, “This is not the side of India that I came to see.” If he had been trained in architecture, his conclusions would have been quite opposite.
Back in the native section they passed a long line of camels, some of which were pulling strange covered carts that Bob had never seen before. “You may not believe me,” he said, “but I’ve never ridden on a camel.”
“This is the last time you will have an opportunity to make that statement,” shouted Nilam. “Follow me!” With that he asked the driver to halt the auto, opened the door and hailed one of the camel drivers. Bob followed.
Whatever it was that Nilam requested in Hindi, the driver agreed, for he gave a quick command to the camel, which knelt for Bob to mount.
“Climb on,” requested Nilam, “and when you have ridden far enough let me know and I’ll ask him to stop.”
Bob did as he was bid and as the camel arose and began to walk he experienced a queer sensation. After a few minutes of swaying backward and forward it occurred to him that this was certainly not the most comfortable mode of transportation. He signaled to Nilam and the animal was commanded to again kneel so Bob could dismount. He gave the attendant a coin and made his way back to the car.
“You may have your camels,” he muttered. “I’d rather ride a horse; but I’m glad for the thrill. It was exciting.”
“We have just enough time to reach the Jama Masjid, the big Mohammedan mosque, for the Sabbath services,” suggested Devi.
“This mosque,” continued Devi, after he had given instructions to the driver, “is the most famous in India and is one of the largest in the world.
“It was built by that master builder, Shahjahan, who was responsible for so many outstanding structures in this section of India. When the Moghul court was in residence at Delhi, it was the custom of the emperors to attend this mosque in state every Friday morning. They commemorated the sacrifice of Abraham by slaughtering a camel on the occasion of the Id Festival.
“Today you will see between fifteen and twenty thousand Mohammedans at worship. I need not tell you more; you will see for yourself.”
When the car stopped near one of the three great gateways, the boys alighted and ascended a long, broad flight of stone steps to the east entrance. Here, much to Bob’s amazement, a guard refused admittance to Devi and Nilam, but he handed a pair of canvas coverings to Bob for his shoes and assisted him in securing them with cords that were attached for the purpose.
“He knows we are Hindus,” whispered Devi, “and members of our faith are not allowed to enter. We’ll be waiting for you in the car.”
How the guard knew that Devi and Nilam were Hindus was something that Bob was never able to determine, but he concluded that Mohammedans must have some distinguishing mark or sign which was easily recognizable. Evidently the boys did not possess it.
As soon as the canvas coverings were tied securely Bob was placed in the hands of a guide, who led him up two flights of stairs to an open balcony overlooking the entire floor area of the mosque below. It was a magnificent location from which to view the services, but as Bob plodded along behind the guide with the large, flat coverings on his shoes, he could not help but smile. It seemed to him that he looked like a large waddling duck, and anyway, it appeared ridiculous to wear a protection on his shoes when the stairways and passages were so filthy. However, he accepted the situation gracefully and seated himself in a chair with a group of five other English and American tourists, two of whom, judging from their conversation, were evidently college girls on a trip through the Near East.
Bob found himself facing a large open space, on the opposite side of which was the main section of the mosque with a central dome over two hundred feet in height. On either side of the center were two other domes flanked on the extreme outside corners by two minarets approximately 130 feet high and constructed of alternate vertical strips of red sandstone and white marble. In the center and at the far side of the court was an open tank of water approximately sixty feet square.
The east side of the mosque, the one facing Bob, contained eleven large archways, one large central one and five smaller ones on either side. In the central area was a high platform or pulpit upon which stood three priests robed in white. A lower platform on the nearer side of the tank contained two priests dressed in white trousers and long dark coats. All five priests stood facing the west.
Hundreds of Mohammedans had already arrived and many were busily engaged in the ceremony of washing their hands, arms, elbows, eyes, ears, mouths and feet in the common cleansing place. As soon as this task was performed, each took his place facing the west and waited for the services to commence.
For fully thirty minutes the crowd poured into the mosque through the three gateways, until finally between fifteen and twenty thousand had “cleansed” themselves and were standing in their individual places. All were men. Only a few women could be seen in alcoves on the outskirts near the entrance.
At one-fifteen o’clock, a weird chant came from the priests who were dressed in white, and the ceremony began. First, the throng would kneel and then from this position bend and touch their foreheads to the stone floor. In unison they would give voice to words which could not be understood but which were naturally a part of their prayer. Then they would stand, utter a few words, kneel and again touch their foreheads to the floor. This ritual was continued for almost fifteen minutes.
During one interval while this vast multitude was kneeling with heads bowed low, and during a deadly silence, one of the American girls whispered loudly to her companion, “Bottoms up.” This brought a quick smile from the small group, regardless of its sacrilegious inference. It was certainly a hasty jump from the sublime to the ridiculous.
As soon as the services ended, the crowd dispersed and Bob, with the clumsy trappings on his feet, sought his way back to the main entrance, tipped the guide, who released him from his awkward encumbrances, and set him free to return to Devi and Nilam, who were found in the auto.
“Do you feel sanctified?” greeted Nilam.
“Not exactly,” returned Bob, “but it was a very impressive sight. I’ll have to admit that it would be next to an impossibility to entice that many men to church in America, even for fifteen minutes. I’ll have to give them credit for their sincerity, anyway.”
“Now that you have seen Hindus and Mohammedans, I want you to meet a Jain friend of mine,” requested Devi.
After luncheon, Devi took Bob to the Kapurchand Arts Palace, where he introduced him to Mr. Kapurchand, who had previously visited America and who had, coincidentally, met Bob’s father on one of his trips. The two enjoyed a long chat and Mr. Kapurchand asked both Bob and Devi to his home for refreshments.
Again, as usual, the residence was located upon an extremely narrow and dirty alley, but inside it appeared to be a gallery of artistic paintings and relics of the past. The owner seemed proud of his interior surroundings, but apologized for the alley and its condition, as well he might, for a little girl was squatting almost directly before his front door nonchalantly answering Nature’s call when the three entered. Bob had learned, by this time, that a like occurrence was quite usual. Such was the habit of India. There seemed to be no sense of decency or sanitation. A similar circumstance could hardly take place even in the slums of America, and yet Mr. Kapurchand was one of the leading business men of Delhi.
Bob and Devi decided rather suddenly to leave Delhi for Benares. There was nothing of importance left for Bob to see, so reservations were made on the train leaving that evening. It was agreed that Bob should call Nilam and inform him of their plans in order that he might meet them at the station.
Hotel rooms in India have no telephone, so it was necessary to call Nilam from a booth near the hotel office. When Bob succeeded in obtaining the correct number and requested to speak to Nilam, a voice commanded, “Hang on.” In America a similar suggestion would have been given in the words, “Hold the line, please,” but Bob understood and “hung on.”
When Nilam was told of the plans of the two to depart, he quickly agreed to meet them at the station, where he arrived at least thirty minutes before the train was due to leave. He expressed his delight and pleasure in meeting Bob and bade him good-bye as though he were an old-time friend, but no mention was made of the return of the twenty rupees which he had borrowed the night they visited Panna and Nurri.
“Oh well,” commented Bob to Devi after the train was under way, “the show was worth twenty rupees to me. I should at least pay my own share.”
Devi’s only reply was, “Perhaps he forgot. I’ll mention it the next time I see him and if he gives me the money, I’ll send it along to you.”
To Bob, however, there did not seem to be much tone of promise in Devi’s voice, and again he said to himself, “I’m learning something about Indians.”
In their compartment between Delhi and Benares, Bob and Devi had the companionship of two well-educated young Indians from the Bengal district who had been studying the tea business in a six-weeks special school at Delhi. They were engaged in propaganda work which had as its object the development of more tea drinkers among the natives. Both were college graduates and spoke excellent English. One was of the Kshatri caste and the other a Brahman, and yet they seemed to be close friends.
Both were married, and this fact led Bob to ask the question, “Did you select your own wives?” It was his desire to obtain more than the reaction of one man like Devi.
“Certainly not,” responded the Brahman. “Our wives were selected for us.”
In the discussion that followed, both men admitted that they were perfectly satisfied with their wives and believed in the system. They expressed themselves very much the same as Devi had done when he was questioned upon the same subject.
“Just suppose,” further interrogated Bob, “that you were not satisfied with your wives; could you divorce them?”
“Yes,” answered the Kshatri, “but in that case we would be compelled to support them.”
At about seven-thirty that evening, when the train stopped at a station, Bob and Devi left the compartment and walked the length of several coaches to the dining car, where they ate their dinners. In India if one wishes a real meal on a train, he must wait until the train stops before he can go to the “diner,” or return to his own compartment after a meal, because there are no aisles in the coaches as there are in America. When Devi and Bob arrived in their own section later they found their two Indian acquaintances eating together from dishes which had been purchased from a food vendor at one of the stations through which the train had passed.
“What!” exclaimed Bob. “You two fellows of different castes eating together?”
“Oh, we can do it here,” said the Kshatri, “but we would not dare do it at home. In the town where we live we would not even visit in each other’s homes. We may work together, but our social and religious lives are separate.”
“If you were unmarried and one of you fell in love with the other’s sister, would you be allowed to marry her?” asked Bob curiously.
“No,” answered the Brahman, “that would be out of the question. As a matter of fact, if I were unmarried, my parents would not select a Brahman girl for me unless she were in the same classification as my family. There are many divisions within each caste.”
“That system may work in India,” Bob stated, “but it would be anything but successful in the United States.”
“Is the present custom in your country a successful one?” asked the Brahman smiling.
“I guess you know something about America, too,” Bob replied as he caught a twinkle in Devi’s eye.
The following morning about seven o’clock, when they changed trains at Moghalsarai, a station vendor accosted Bob and endeavored to interest him in his carved wooden boxes. The workmanship was exceptionally well done, and while Bob was always tempted by such articles, he had learned from costly lessons not to display too much curiosity.
Finally he asked rather indifferently, “How much for these two?”
“Ten rupees,” answered the vendor.
“Too much!” almost shouted Bob.
“How much you give?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t give you more than three rupees,” stated Bob indifferently.
“What! For two?”
“That’s all they are worth to me,” returned Bob casually.
“You take them for six,” said the Indian.
“Nope! Just three,” snapped Bob.
“I make you good last price,” said the vendor confidentially. “You give me five rupees,” he almost whispered.
“Too much!” growled Bob. “I don’t want them anyway,” and with that he walked toward his waiting train.
The vendor followed close behind, talking incessantly, endeavoring to make a sale. Bob made no reply, walked to his compartment and closed the door, but a window was open.
As the train started, the vendor again asked, “How much you give?”
“I’ll give you four rupees,” shouted Bob.
“Give me four and one-half,” requested the Indian.
“No, four!” growled Bob.
“All right,” and with that he passed the two boxes to Bob and received his four silver rupees as the train was gathering speed.
“You have a real bargain there,” said Devi. “You are certainly learning how to buy.”
“A fellow has to learn in this country or get ‘stung’ every time he makes a purchase,” Bob retorted.
“Cheer up now, because within an hour or so you will see some of the most outstanding sights of your life,” Devi remarked, “and before we arrive I shall be glad to tell you something about Benares, if you wish.”
“That’s great,” said Bob. “I know it is an enchanting place and I wish to know all about it.”
“It is impossible for anyone to tell for how many thousands of years Benares has been recognized as the center of religious life to the Hindus,” began Devi. “One thing is certain, however. At an early stage of human history when men still worshipped running waters because of their fertilizing powers, temples and ghats had already been erected along that most sacred crescent on the left bank of the Ganges River where Benares now stands on its original site. The geographical position could not alter, for its boundaries were fixed by legend where the gently curving bank of the river to the southeast and the sacred Panch Kosi Road beyond the Varna River to the north meets the Asi River to the west and southwest.
“Hindu mythology describes how it was the first dry land to arise from the universal waters of the creation, and how, when the great deluge came, it was Bhagwan, himself, who saved it from the devouring waves by supporting it on his trident. Here, too, Siva made his home and practiced his marvelous austerities. It has been in this capacity that Siva has been for countless ages Varanasi’s titular diety.
“Accordingly Benares is the most sacred spot in all the world to approximately 240,000,000 Hindus. Benares and its environments, however, possess a double claim to sanctity, for it was at Sarnath, barely four miles north of the city, that Gautama Buddha preached his first sermon and converted his first five disciples. So to nearly one-fifth of the human race, Sarnath is ground as holy as Budh Gaya, where the Buddha first obtained enlightenment. Excavations at Sarnath during the last thirty years have brought to light not only the secrets of two great stupas, but the remains of many Buddhist monasteries which flourished there more than fifteen hundred years ago.
“With perhaps three thousand years of tradition behind it, Benares, as may naturally be expected, is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque cities in the East. In addition to the innumerable temples and shrines which fill the city’s streets and line the whole of the three-mile stretch of river bank, you will see in this holy city all the pageantry of human life and daily ritual being observed. You will see things in Benares that will make a lasting impression upon your mind.”
At the Benares railway station Bob and Devi quickly transferred to a tonga and were soon on their way through the picturesque streets to the bathing ghats. As they drew near to Dasashwamedh Ghat, a distance of about three miles from their starting point, Bob obtained his first view of the hordes of mendicants and ascetics that infest the temples and the landing stages of Benares. They were gaunt, emaciated figures, ash smeared and sprinkled with dust, with knotted locks of hair and often voluntarily mutilated limbs. They posed at every corner or carried out weird penances along the streets and from their lips arose that perpetual request for alms.
After they left the tonga, Devi led the way down a flight of stone steps to a primitive landing stage, where several quaint country boats were awaiting passengers. Here they bargained for several minutes, Indian style, to force the boatman to reduce his fare from five to two rupees, and finally succeeded. The boat contained a small cabin below, but the two passengers preferred to sit in the two chairs on the upper deck, from which they could obtain a better view. Two oarsmen, sitting in the bow, pulled the unwieldy craft out toward midstream, and in a few moments Bob saw that marvelous panorama of the picturesque Ganges spreading before him. For fully three miles along that wide curve of the north bank, he beheld a wonderful array of temples and palaces soaring a hundred feet or more above him, while great stone stairways descended to the water’s edge at every ghat. Spires, buttresses, domes, shrines and balconies, with every hue of the rainbow showing from arches, terraces and windows, combined to form a spectacle which was surely as unique as it was impressive.
For the first few minutes Bob was absolutely silent. He stared speechless at the amazing scenes before him. At last he managed to utter, “This is a sight!”
“We’ll go a little closer,” said Devi, “and you can better observe the bathing. Tens of thousands of devotees carry out the daily rite of purifying themselves in this sacred stream. You will be interested in a nearer view of their activities,” and with that he ordered the boat owner, at one of the oars, to pull toward shore. The man grumbled and growled but did not follow instructions. Devi ordered him again, but still he did not obey.
“What’s the matter with him?” asked Bob.
“Oh, he says the stream is stronger near the bank and it is difficult to pull the boat. He claims he cannot do it for the two rupees.”
Bob exclaimed rather angrily, “Tell him to stop his damned growling, pull over near the ghats, and I’ll give him an extra rupee.”
Devi delivered the message. The man immediately did as he was requested and ceased his grumbling.
When the boat was near to one of the largest ghats, it was held fast so Bob could sit and view the various ceremonies. Solemnly, yet with animated movements, the Hindus recited their prayers, assumed prescribed mystic postures, immersed themselves in the swirling, filthy-looking, gray-green water, scooped the liquid up in their hands and allowed it to flow back to the river through their fingers. Others would raise it in their hands to their mouths and after holding it for a few moments, it would be released as an antiseptic mouth wash.
Here and there were groups of women, attired in brilliant saris, carrying out the same rituals. When the bathing was finished, they would slip off their wet garments and change into fresh raiment with wonderful grace and dexterity while still standing knee-deep in the stream and without exposing their bodies.
“You will notice,” offered Devi quietly, “that many in that throng carry a shining brass vessel which they fill with water and which they will take to their homes or to a temple to purify the hearth, or use it as an offering to the deities. Thousands of vessels of every kind, sealed and guaranteed by the priests, are carried away daily from Benares by pilgrims to the furthermost parts of India to insure the peace and blessing of Ganga Mai to distant households.
“If you will watch the bathers as they emerge from the river, you will see them go up the steps, where, under those great straw umbrellas or canvas parasols, the Brahman priests sit to dispense blessings and issue certificates of purification.”
As the boat floated downstream from the uppermost ghat, Devi pointed to several Sati shrines and pillars which commemorated the tragic self-immolation of Hindu widows on the pyres where their husbands were cremated.
A short distance below the bathing ghats Bob noticed smoke curling from piles of firewood. “Are those the burning ghats?” he asked rather excitedly.
“Yes,” answered Devi, “you are nearing Yalsain and Manikarnika ghats. Prepare yourself for a shock.”
As the boat proceeded nearer to the shore, a group of men could be seen who were watching a smouldering pile of coals. No emotion was evident, for the natives seemed as unconcerned as though the burning mass before them were only a few mere logs of wood and an ordinary fire. One would never guess, unless he were previously informed, that these were the near relatives of a deceased member of the family whose body had just been reduced to ashes.
A short distance from this scene a second body, covered with red cloth, lay stretched upon a plain wooden carrier which had been placed upon the ground. About one hundred feet farther down the river upon a concrete abutment another group of men were busily engaged in building a pyre of wood upon which the body would be burned.
“If you wish a closer view, we will go ashore so that you may see the details,” Devi suggested.
“Let’s do,” said Bob. “This is worth a close-up.”
Thereupon they disembarked and walked to within a few feet of where the cremation preparations were being made.
“That large man who is bare above the waist and who is wearing the white dhoti (a skirt used by the men) is the priest who is officiating,” explained Devi. “The young man is the son, and the body to be burned is his mother.” When the wood had been piled to a height of about two feet the body was brought and placed upon the top. More wood was then laid upon the corpse until the whole reached a height of three and one-half or four feet.
“That man who is placing the pieces of sandalwood and the ghee (clarified butter) upon the pyre is the husband,” said Devi. “The amount of sandalwood and ghee used depends to a great extent upon the wealth of the family.”
Straw was next brought from some unseen source, stuffed into the crevices at the bottom of the pile and the son then started the flames, which soon sent a great cloud of smoke mounting upward. The group of eight or ten men watched the fire consume the body without apparent emotion. It seemed to Bob that the ritual was extremely business-like for such an occasion—a duty which must be done, but to them it did not even appear distasteful. A loved one was on his way to the Great Hereafter.
“Tell me more about this cremation business,” requested Bob. “I must admit that I am totally ignorant on the subject.”
“In the first place,” began Devi, “to die in Benares is to insure salvation. The salvation is doubly certain when the funeral ceremonies are performed here on the banks of the Ganges within the sacred limits of Varanasi, itself. For this reason thousands of aged and ailing pilgrims throng to Benares to die here and be happy in the knowledge that their sins will be swept away in this last act of purification by fire.
“When the bodies have been consumed, the ashes are strewn upon the waters of the river, and the mourners bathe in the stream as an act of self-purification before they can break the fast imposed upon them during these obsequies.
“Marikarnika Ghat here takes its name from a neighboring well, reputed to be the most holy of all bathing places in India. Legend tells how Vishnu, after excavating the well with his trident, carried out his fifty thousand years’ penance by its side, and how when Siva went there and bent down to gaze into the well, a jewel from the great god’s ear fell into its depths, thus adding to its sanctity and bestowing upon it the name by which it has been known through the ages.”
While Devi was making this explanation, a Hindu had walked over to them and was asking for money.
“Who is he?” asked Bob.
Devi talked with the man and learned that he was one of the mourners. He turned to Bob and said, “I suppose we had better give him eight annas. I’m not sure that visitors are allowed this close to the cremations.”
Bob dropped a coin into the man’s hand and the latter departed.
When they had returned to the landing stage from which they had taken the boat, Devi paid the boatman three rupees, according to their agreement and the two climbed the pathway toward the street. On the way they observed a holy man seated upon a crude self-made platform, wearing only a loin cloth and praying earnestly, with his eyes closed and his face toward the river.
“This must be one of the real, self-sacrificing holy men,” said Bob when they had passed, “because he did not ask for alms.”
“Now,” said Devi looking at his watch and ignoring Bob’s comment, “we’ll have just time to visit the Golden Temple before lunch.”
Bob thought he had seen filth, dirt and beggars before, but when he had inspected the Golden Temple he came to the conclusion that what he had seen previously was a mere sample. Upon their arrival at the temple, a priest immediately volunteered his services as guide and attached himself to them for their tour of the grounds, shrines and buildings. They had traversed only a short distance when a second priest joined them and helped to lead the way.
After they had passed the gloomy well and shrine of Pataleshwar, the “underworld god,” they found themselves in a network of alleys crowded with dirty beggars and ascetics, all clamoring for alms. The fact that it had rained the night before made the appearance of the passageways and the beggars all the more dismal and foul.
Following closely behind the priests, Bob and Devi soon found themselves upon a balcony in the upper story of a building opposite the Golden Temple itself. Although a comparatively small structure and built only in the eighteenth century, its beauty and symmetry of design are unusually striking. The central portion of its roof is capped by an ornate dome of gilded copper from which the temple derives its name. The contrast of color and tone, the splendor of cupolas, pinnacles and niches, combine to form a very striking picture despite the sordid surroundings amid which the shrine is situated.
The whole setting with the perpetually moving throng of devotees, the crouching mendicants, the solemn-faced priests, the all-pervading scent of flowers, the mystic lights within the shrines, the subdued hum of voices and the deep-toned sound of bells exercised an almost hypnotic effect upon Bob. As he emerged again into the streets he felt that he had left behind him a world of religious fervor and symbolism.
He was quickly aroused from this mental condition, however, by the two priests, both of whom stood before him expecting gratuities for their services.
“Do we have to pay both of these fellows?” he asked rather angrily.
“Perhaps we had better give them each a rupee,” suggested Devi.
“Well, let me handle this one!” demanded Bob. “I’m getting tired of being taken for a sucker. One guide was sufficient; the second one came along because he thought he could ‘bleed’ me.” With that he gave each priest a half-rupee and walked away.
Immediately they set up a howl that could be heard far down the street. It was evident that they were not only keenly disappointed but angry in addition. They followed him to the tonga on the opposite side of the street chattering and scolding like two angry dogs. Bob paid no attention to their sputtering, but ordered the driver to proceed. The last he saw of the priests they were still shouting and waving their arms in the air.
“I’m getting provoked and disgusted with this ‘hold-up’ business,” he snorted as they drove toward the hotel.
As soon as the two had finished their luncheon they retired to the veranda of the hotel to rest, but there in front of the building was a new form of entertainment for Bob’s benefit. Two snake charmers with their several snakes, a mongoose and the usual pemprem (a peculiar musical flute) were asking permission to stage a show.
“If you make a deal,” said Devi, “be sure to have them include a fight to the finish between a mongoose and a snake.” He had discovered by now that Bob could successfully do his own dickering.
“How much should I pay?” Bob asked as a matter of information.
“Not more than three rupees,” Devi returned.
Bob explained to the men what he wanted and when he was sure they understood, he asked, “How much?”
“Six rupees,” answered the older man.
“Too much!” screamed Bob. “Nevermind. I can see a better show in Calcutta.” Then he turned on his heel, walked up the steps and sat in his chair on the porch as if the affair were settled.
Naturally the charmers would not consider the matter closed. They continued to solicit him, but every time they asked him, “How much you give?” he would shout, “Two rupees!”
At first they appeared very much offended at his extremely low offer, but when they realized that he would not budge a single anna, they condescended to stage a performance.
First, the cobra snake baskets were opened and as soon as the charmers knocked on the sides of the containers the large winged snakes raised their heads and struck. The men would hold the backs of their hands fearlessly toward the angry reptiles and allow them to reach their marks. It seemed to be a well-known fact, however, that the fangs of the cobras had been removed.
As soon as the weird music from the pemprem began, the snakes ceased their striking and swayed from side to side as though hypnotized. There seemed to be no fake as far as the effect of the musical tones were concerned. The cobras did actually appear charmed.
A different variety of snake was then brought forth and a mongoose was released from a small bag. There was no need to encourage the little animal to attack his enemy. He circled around the reptile a few times while the latter coiled, ready to strike. The mongoose was careful to keep a safe distance from that dangerous head. When he would approach the snake, the reptile would strike, but the target was never hit. After maneuvering for a few minutes, the snake made what seemed to be an extraordinarily extreme effort to reach his enemy, but as quick as a flash the mongoose grabbed his victim close behind the head, sunk those needle-like teeth and held on for his life. The snake turned and coiled, but the clever little animal was wise enough to keep clear. Even when the reptile was dead, the mongoose was prone to release his hold.
Bob paid the two rupees and the show was over. “Well, that’s once,” he exclaimed, “when I obtained my money’s worth.”
Later in the afternoon Bob and Devi took a long tonga ride to the Durga Temple, commonly known as the Monkey Temple because of the large number of monkeys that are always in the vicinity. The priest met them upon their arrival and led them to a wide, open balcony surrounding the temple and from which an excellent view could be obtained of the activities in the interior where a great number of women were preparing quantities of food that looked anything but appetizing. Cleanliness was absent here as elsewhere. Sanitation appeared to be a subject which, through ignorance or otherwise, received no attention.
In his hand the priest carried a tin dish half filled with popped corn. He gave a few weird calls and several monkeys came scampering to him for the food. “Queer combination,” thought Bob. “A dirty, barefooted priest, monkeys and unsanitary food.”
“This temple,” explained Devi, “is sacred to Siva’s wife, and goats are sacrificed here daily. Any member of the temple who wishes to make a sacrifice may bring a goat to be killed. Follow me and I’ll have the priest show you where the animals are beheaded.”
In a courtyard of the temple a thick plank with a “U”-shaped top was planted so that a goat could stand naturally with its head in the opening. During the execution the head of the goat would be securely held while the executioner with a wide, heavy blade would sever the animal’s head with one blow.
“This ritual may not appeal to you,” said Devi, “but you’ll have to admit that it is better than the daily sacrifice of a human being.”
“Yes, if you ask me to make a choice, it is better,” admitted Bob.
On the long ride back to the hotel, Bob began the discussion of a subject which for several days had been giving him serious thought. “Devi,” he began, “I’m going to ask you a rather personal question about your own faith.”
“That’s your privilege,” responded Devi. “Go ahead.”
“I’ve been thinking that a nation of people who are for the most part of one race and who desire self-government should be able to demonstrate that they can co-operate and pull together. There is such a wide difference between the Mohammedans and Hindus that, for all practical purposes, you might just as well be two separate nations. Your faiths are about as opposite as any two beliefs could be. The Mohammedans eat beef; to you Hindus, cows and bulls are sacred. The Mohammedans have one god; the Hindus have at least one thousand and one. Goats are sacred to the Mohammedans; you sacrifice goats at your temples. Mohammedans’ wives are kept at home, or protected from the public gaze by their padthas (white, tent-like gowns that cover the body from head to foot and leave only a small, screened opening for the eyes). Hindu women are allowed to roam at will. Mohammedans have no caste system; you hold quite rigidly to class distinction. In many other respects your faiths are totally different, and there is a continual struggle between the two. How can you expect the best results for India and the future when such a condition exists?”
“Perhaps I can better answer your question by asking you one,” returned Devi. “How can the United States of America be such a great nation and contain so many religions? India has only three outstanding religions: Hindu, Mohammedan and Buddhist. The Sikhs and Jains are merely offshoots of Hinduism, so they need not be considered. In the United States you have hundreds of religions and yet, regardless of the religious quarrels during the inception of the country, your nation has grown large and powerful.
“Your Protestants are divided into many classifications, the difference in many instances is so infinitesimal that a separate church seems ridiculous. Yet, these churches do not combine. You have Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Christian Scientists, Lutherans, Evangelicans, Unitarians, Presbyterians and hundreds of others. For the most part the members of your churches serve one God, and still they cannot get together. I have sat in some of your churches and heard preachers publicly denounce and belittle other beliefs. I have met ardent Methodists who were actual Catholic haters. They were as bitter as any Hindu could be toward the Mohammedans and yet, as I have said, the two American religions honor the same Deity.
“I have often wondered why your Protestant churches, for example, did not combine and create one big religion with a universal belief, but while I was in America I think I found the answer. The reason, it seems to me, is simply a personal and selfish one. The preacher of a small church evidently feels that he would lose his position and his prestige if he joined with another; the organist, the members of the choir, the deacons, the ushers and the janitor all feel the same way. These, together with Sunday-school superintendents, teachers and others who have gained slight recognition and obtained a feeling of importance, have enough influence to keep the little churches on their own narrow pathway, with the result that you still have, and probably always will have, thousands of small organizations fighting their own petty battles and competing with each other for converts.
“If the churches of America, serving one God as they do, cannot combine into a great central organization for the good of themselves and the country, how in the world can you expect the Hindus, Buddhists and the Mohammedans to do it when their faiths are so different and when they do not even worship the same Divine Being? You tell me why the different churches of America do not get together and I’ll tell you why our three greatest faiths do not exhibit more co-operation.”
“It seems to me,” admitted Bob, “that you have already answered the question yourself. I must confess that I have come a great distance to learn some rather startling facts concerning my own country. It does a fellow good to obtain an outside viewpoint.”
“You know,” continued Devi, “the great majority of us are products of our own training. We think as we do because we have been trained to believe certain things from childhood. A good Catholic could not possibly be sincere in saying, ‘I’m going to be a Protestant tomorrow, or next year.’ Neither could a Christian Scientist honestly accept the faith of the Mormons overnight, or possibly ever. Therefore, you cannot expect the Hindus or Mohammedans to join the religion represented by the opposite side. The Buddhists would certainly not join with either of the other two. Such a condition perhaps will take place when all the churches of America join together in one great universal organization, and you know as well as I that neither of us will live to see the day when that condition will prevail. Early training at home and in the temples or churches develop individuals to think and believe as they do. The customs and practices always accompany the religions. It is almost as difficult to change well-grounded religious beliefs as it is to change the spots on a leopard.”
“You have evidently given this subject a great amount of thought,” ventured Bob.
“There’s a reason for that,” asserted Devi. “While I was in America I was asked about this matter of co-operation between Hindus, Buddhists and Mohammedans so many times that I began to study the situation so I could offer an intelligent explanation.”
“It has just occurred to me,” said Bob, “that the condition you have outlined concerning the churches of America is one of the outstanding reasons why millions of the people in my country do not belong to any church at all. They hear so many conflicting beliefs, petty arguments and so much ridicule that their minds become confused, their faith is shattered, and consequently they go through life with no church affiliation. If they were trained from childhood to follow the religion of one big institution, and if everyone else were doing the same thing, there would be less reason for doubt and disbelief.”
That afternoon while Bob and Devi were visiting the ruins of Sarnath, about six miles from Benares, where Buddha first made his doctrines known to the world, the former was in deep thought. “Why or by whom,” he asked himself, “was this man inspired to promulgate a new faith? Why didn’t the original Creator of the world establish a definite religion that everyone could follow with assurance and without question? That question,” he concluded, “will no doubt always remain unanswered.”
“That octagonal tower,” explained Devi, interrupting Bob’s line of thought, “is the Chaukhandi Stupa, which is said to be built over the spot where Buddha gained his first five converts. The tower was built by Akbar in 1688 to commemorate the first visit paid by his father, the Moghul Emperor Humayun.
“The story behind the ‘Deer Park’ over there is rather unique,” continued Devi. “It is said that Buddha, when he had a lofty retreat in the Himalayas, was King of Deer. One day he wandered down to the heart of the plains and reached this tract, which was then a forest near Benares.
“The Raja of Benares, who was fond of sport, killed so many of the deer that Buddha remonstrated with him and offered to provide a single antelope daily for the Raja’s table. The lot, however, fell one day to a female deer big with young, and she refused to give herself up to her fate on the plea that in fairness, her offspring’s hour to die could not arrive before it had seen the light of day. Buddha, thereupon, offered himself in her place. The Raja was so struck with the deer king’s spirit of gentleness, sacrifice and love that he immediately released the deer from their undertaking and dedicated the forest to their use.”
Each ruin had connected with it a legend so fanciful that even a child, with an ordinary amount of reasoning power, would question its authenticity. Yet, these simple people not only believed, but lived their lives according to the prescribed principles derived from the unproved tales. Bob wondered how many religions were based upon as flimsy a foundation. Some must be wrong. All could not be right.
They viewed the ruins of the Dhamekh Stupa, the Main Shrine, the Asokan Pillar of polished sandstone, the Dharmarajika Stupa, and the old monasteries. Surely this was an historical old spot. Bob wished that he could let his mind go back through the centuries and actually gather the truth of the origin and history so that he could compare it with the legends that were now being told. “What fun it would be to actually gather the facts,” he thought.
At lunch that day Devi said, “Bob, I’ve just learned that I must return to Delhi tonight at the request of my father on a rather important business deal. If you do not mind, I should like to take Doss, the bearer, with me and you can go on to Calcutta, where I will meet you within three days. You will find plenty to entertain you in Calcutta until I arrive. What do you say?”
“Sure, that’s all right with me,” agreed Bob. “I can get along by myself, and anyway, it would be unwise for me to take the long trip back to Delhi with you. It will be a unique experience to travel alone just to determine if I can negotiate without help.”
The train for Delhi left earlier than the one for Calcutta, so Bob was left absolutely alone to make arrangements for his own reservation and departure. Unfortunately the compartments were all taken, but an official suggested that he take the train anyway, in which case a space might be secured farther along. At least that is the idea that Bob obtained from his attempted explanation. His English was so faulty that it was difficult to understand him.
At any rate, Bob was determined to board that particular evening train because it was a limited one which arrived in Calcutta the following morning.
A station coolie had charge of Bob’s baggage. He had been made to understand through signs that a second-class compartment was desired. When the train arrived, Bob walked the full length trying to find a vacant seat in a second-class coach. The coolie followed, carrying two large heavy cases and a roll of bedding on his head. No vacancy could be found. Every time an effort was made to enter a compartment, those on the inside would call, “No, no,” or if one happened to speak English he would say, “All filled.”
Back the length of the train Bob went again, this time a little faster, because the time for departure was drawing near, but still no accommodation could be found. An appeal was made to a trainman in uniform. He neither spoke nor understood English, but merely pointed to the train. By this time, Bob was getting more than a little excited. He fairly ran down the platform looking for a space in any compartment where he might ride until an accommodation could be found. The starting bell was ringing, passengers were saying good-bye to friends and relatives on the platform; the train was actually moving. In his desperation, Bob motioned to the coolie to thrust his baggage into a compartment the doorway of which was still partly opened. The coolie obeyed, Bob made a running leap and landed on all fours on top of the baggage itself. He fumbled in his pocket and tossed the coolie a coin amid the shouts and howls of the other inmates of the compartment.
“There is no space left here,” said one in excellent English.
“Well, I had to ride some place,” gasped Bob, picking himself up and brushing off the dust.
“Have you a reservation?” asked another.
“No, but I’ll get one,” returned Bob.
“You can see there is no space here,” said the first.
Bob looked around and counted a man, his wife and child and four other men. The capacity of this compartment was six, and there were now eight, including himself.
“I’ll obtain a reservation at the next station, if I may squeeze in here until we reach there,” pleaded Bob.
They could hardly throw him out, so he was safe, although unwelcome and uncomfortable with all the bags, trunks, suitcases and unpleasant companions who feared perhaps that their places might be lost on account of the foreigner.
The next stop was Moghulsarai, where Bob had changed trains with Devi the morning they travelled to Benares. As soon as the train came to a standstill he rushed out and up and down the platform searching for a trainman. When one was located he spoke no English and the train started again before he could make him understand or find another who might assist him. Again he piled back into the same compartment amid the growls of the other passengers.
“I’ll find a place at the next stop,” said Bob. The Indians talked excitedly to each other, which made Bob wonder if they were conniving to toss him out of the door. He sat and waited for the next station in silence. Due to the fact that this train was a fast mail, it stopped only about once every hour.
Before the train had actually halted at the second station, Bob was out the door and on his way to find assistance. He found a trainman who could understand a little English and Bob exclaimed, “Look! Eight people cannot sleep in this compartment. Please find another space for me.”
The man saw the situation, walked the length of the long train and back, stopping occasionally to ask questions, with Bob following closely upon his heels. He had not been successful, so he turned to Bob and said, “You ride to next station. Maybe they find place there.”
Again Bob squeezed into the original compartment, much to the disgust and consternation of the others.
The same performance was repeated at every station until a little after ten o’clock that night, when one kind trainman succeeded in locating a compartment from which the occupants had just alighted. It had required a little over five hours to obtain an accommodation.
A coolie was called who, with the help of a second, hoisted Bob’s cases and bedding to his head and delivered it to the space indicated. With a sigh of satisfaction Bob threw himself upon a long berth. “By golly,” he muttered, “Devi and that bearer were more important than I thought.”
When he arrived at the Howrah station in Calcutta the following morning, another experience awaited him. This was his first entrance into a large foreign city alone, or without someone to meet him. However, he knew his destination and anticipated no difficulty. As soon as the train stopped, he hailed a coolie and with all the self-assurance in the world, commanded, “Taxi!” All coolies know that word, so Bob followed the boy to the front of the station, where the waiting taxis were located.
After waiting a few minutes, while other passengers were receiving attention, his baggage was placed in an auto. At the wheel sat a Sikh driver. Bob stepped into the car and again with the assurance of one who owned the place, directed, “Grand Hotel.” The Sikh looked puzzled. “Grand Hotel,” repeated Bob. The driver still looked blank. “Grand Hotel!” shouted Bob. The driver shook his head.
Wait a minute! demanded Bob disgustedly as he stepped from the taxi and endeavored to locate someone who could speak his language and give this driver explicit directions. No one except natives were in sight. By this time the Sikh showed a faint sign of intelligence and Bob thought perhaps the light had dawned in his apparently dumb brain.
At any rate he started the car and they were on their way to somewhere. Bob hoped for the best. The car finally reached the business section, where the driver stopped the car and again turned around in his seat and looked questioningly at Bob.
“For God’s sake,” shouted Bob, “don’t you know where the Grand Hotel is? Grand Hotel! Grand Hotel!!”
The Sikh started the car again and after circling a block several times, drew up in front of the desired location, at which time the taximeter read Rs. 1—14 annas. A bell boy took his baggage and Bob walked directly to the hotel desk after motioning to the driver to wait.
“What is the usual fare from the Howrah station to this hotel?” questioned Bob of the man behind the desk.
“Not more than one rupee,” replied the man.
Bob recounted what had just happened.
“Oh, that’s a regular trick of those Sikhs,” said the clerk. “If they think you are a stranger or a tourist, they feign ignorance and cover more distance to make a larger meter reading while they pretend to look for the place.”
“Thanks,” said Bob hurriedly, and he walked directly back to the waiting taxi, placed a single silver rupee in the Sikh’s hand and without a word retraced his steps to the hotel desk.
If looks and loud shouting could have killed, Bob would have dropped dead right there. The driver knew he was wrong, but he did not expect to be beaten at his own game. Bob never once turned around to see the display of excitement and temper, but to himself he muttered, “I’m learning,”
During the next three days Bob learned much about Calcutta without Devi’s assistance. There were thousands of Englishmen in the city, and he had become adept at asking questions. Among other things he learned that Calcutta had a population of approximately one and one-half million—that it is the largest city in India and second in the entire British Empire. He was amazed to discover that the city was 120 miles inland and that the river upon which it was located was the Hooghly, one of the mouths of the Ganges, and not the Ganges itself. His former impressions, gained from geography maps, were undergoing revision.
Bob spent his time visiting the Jain Temple, where he was compelled to remove his shoes and walk in his stocking feet, the Marble Palace, the Victoria Memorial, the botanical gardens and the markets. At the suggestion of the assistant manager of the hotel, he rode tram cars in several directions until he reached the ends of the lines and after walking around in the outskirts he would return to his starting point. The tram cars were up-to-date, rapid and well managed. The fare during the daytime was only three pice, or less than two cents. In the evening it was advanced to one anna, or about two and one-quarter cents.
On one of these jaunts Bob saw many dirty cesspools, the water in which was being used for washing clothing, bathing and drinking. In some instances cows were roaming at will around and into the water. It seemed to him that this was even worse than using the running water of rivers for similar purposes, because it is possible for running water to purify itself, but stagnant water becomes continually worse without rainfall.
In the native sections of Calcutta, Bob found the usual number of sacred bulls roaming the streets. Even the natives were compelled to walk around them in instances where the animals blocked the sidewalks with their enormous bulk. The filth which they created was enough to sicken the person who possessed no self-respect, to say nothing of the discriminating who were compelled to pass through these sections.
Bob would stand on street corners for long periods watching the strange flow of traffic, the slow bullock carts, the hackneys, gharrys, rickshas and the endless lines of native pedestrians with their many-colored and fascinating costumes.
The famous Black Hole of Calcutta is now a thing of the past, but Bob had the satisfaction of viewing the new monument that marks its former location.
On the third morning Devi arrived and the boys were again together. “Our ship does not leave for Burma until next Monday,” Bob informed him as the two sat at breakfast. “What are we going to do in the meantime?”
“That’s just great!” exclaimed Devi. “That will give us an opportunity to make a trip to Darjeeling and back, and I must go there on business anyway. If we are fortunate, we’ll get a peek at Mount Everest, which, as you know, is the highest mountain in the world. We have plenty of time, however, because it is an all-night trip and the train does not leave until this evening. I was about to dismiss our bearer and let him return to Bombay, but now we’ll keep him until we return to Calcutta.”
Bob told Devi all that he had done since his arrival and the latter remarked, “It looks to me as though you have seen about everything that is worth while. As a matter of fact, for a city of its size, Calcutta does not offer many outstanding sights to the tourist. Of course, it is a comparatively new city, for it was founded only 250 years ago. When you think of cities like Benares, Calcutta is a mere infant.”
“While I was visiting the native sections,” said Bob, “I could not help but wonder again about these sacred bulls. There must be millions of them in all of India. The cost of the food that they consume in a single year would feed as many people. One of the great cries of India is for more ‘bread,’ and it seems to me that someone should start a movement to kill the bulls, educate the Hindus to eat the meat and save the food which they would consume, to help feed the needy natives. After all, when you come right down to it, what is the difference whether you eat mutton, pork, beef or all three?”
“Never!” returned Devi. “Such a thing would be as impossible as it would be to convince a Baptist that baptism by immersion should be eliminated. Or, perhaps it would be more like trying to educate the Catholics to eat meat on Friday. It may be difficult for you to understand because you are an outsider, but if you had been born and reared in the Hindu faith you would think just as we think; that the cow is sacred because of her great gift to the people, and the sacred bulls deserve consideration because they are factors in reproduction.”
“Oh well, all right,” said Bob. “I guess I won’t start the movement, only it seemed like a darned good idea.”
That evening they were on their way to Darjeeling. They were fortunate enough to have a compartment to themselves and the trip was therefore a pleasant, quiet and unmolested one. When Bob recited his experience in obtaining a berth from Benares and his adventure with the Sikh taxi driver in Calcutta, Devi had a good laugh.
“You know,” he said, “if it were not for experiences like those, you wouldn’t have anything exciting to tell the folks when you return home.”
At Siliguri the next morning they ate breakfast at the railway station and transferred to a very-narrow-gauge line that would climb the southern slope of the Himalayas to Darjeeling, fifty miles away. In those fifty miles Bob saw more beautiful scenery and exceptional views than he had ever seen before in a like distance. The miniature railway, the most crooked in the world, continually turned and twisted up the steep winding grades at a very slow pace. As a matter of fact, it took just five hours to reach the destination—an average speed of ten miles an hour.
The natives along the way were quite different from those whom Bob had seen in other sections of India. They were heavier of frame and stocky. Their eyes were slanted, and they spoke a different language.
“These people,” explained Devi when he was questioned, “are mostly Tibetans, Napalese, and Butans. You see, we are nearing the Tibetan border, and years ago the natives of that country moved across the mountain passes and produced a new race here.”
As the train climbed to a higher altitude it became colder, and it was necessary for both men to add sweaters and coats. The natives, too, were well bundled in clothing suitable to the climate. However, most of them were dressed in exceptionally ragged garments and only a few wore shoes.
The auto road that paralleled the railway was usually filled with pedestrians, including many women who carried great loads of all sorts of merchandise, fruits and vegetables on their heads. At one place a group of women were busily engaged in moving an enormous pile of heavy timbers. Others were seen doing heavy road work. The women of this northern section seemed to have a great taste for cigarettes, and they could be seen smoking and chewing betel nut in addition as they went about their various tasks. Many wore gold nose rings, large earrings and filigreed circular gold decorations on one side of their noses.
It is said that the natives of this mountain country never take baths, but this statement may have been slightly exaggerated. A few of them probably do bathe occasionally. One hears rumors to the effect that the men never change their clothing. The old rags are left underneath as newer garments are placed on the outside. In due time the ones next to the body rot and disappear.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway not only climbs steadily up steep grades and sharp curves, but it often terminates in what is known as switchbacks. The inclines are so great that the ordinary method of progress is impossible. The track, therefore, comes to an abrupt end, the train backs up a steep switch for a short distance and then advances once more on another track at a higher level.
Finally, the train reaches the town of Ghoom at an elevation of 7,007 feet and from that point it drops a few hundred feet in four miles to its destination, Darjeeling, a picturesque mountain city located almost in the heart of the Himalayas. The streets of Darjeeling are precipitous and narrow. Automobiles can be used only on the main street and along the highway leading into the city. All other streets are too narrow and steep to allow motor transportation.
When Bob and Devi reached the station they were met by a porter from the Mt. Everest Hotel. He quickly took possession of their baggage and passed it along to two native women, who carried the heavy loads on their backs to the hotel rooms for a stipulated fee of four annas (nine cents) each.
The hotel itself is located far above the railway station on a site commanding a magnificent view of the city and the distant snow-capped mountains. The porter ushered Bob and Devi to two waiting rickshas, each of which required three coolies, one pulling and two pushing, to negotiate the long, steep inclines. Even with these three, much effort, puffing and panting seemed necessary to finally convey the passengers to the top.
From the veranda of the hotel the view was a gorgeous one. Bob stopped for several minutes to take a good mental picture. He had had the pleasure of viewing the Canadian Rockies, the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, but never in his life before had he experienced a panorama like this.
“That highest peak over there to the left,” said Devi, “is Mount Kinchinjunga, the second highest mountain in the world. Its elevation is 28,150 feet. Mount Everest cannot be seen from here, but we’ll try to obtain a glimpse of it in the morning.”
All arrangements for their rooms and an early-morning trip to Tiger Hill, the observation point from which Mount Everest could be seen, were made at the hotel desk. The boys prepared for lunch.
When they were seated in the dining room, Devi explained the program for the following morning. “In the first place,” he began, “we will be called at two-thirty. We will have thirty minutes to dress in our heavy clothing, and to consume tea and toast. Then we will ride in rickshas over an eight-mile trail to Tiger Hill, which is over eight thousand feet elevation and from which we will see Mount Everest at sunrise, if the sky is clear and the gods are willing. Wear all the sweaters and coats that you brought along and take the heavy blankets from your bed.”
Bob was thrilled. Here was going to be a real experience and consequently when the watchman called him at two-thirty he was quickly out of bed and into his clothing, ready for the trip.
At three o’clock he and Devi were each bundled into a ricksha. One heavy blanket was placed in each seat and folded around the body and head. The other was tucked around the legs and feet as a lap robe. In a few moments they were off on their unique journey. Bob was amazed to see that each ricksha demanded the strength of five heavily clothed coolies—two at the front and three in the rear, and even with this number it required all their strength to negotiate the long, steep grades.
It was an unusual trip, to say the least. With the exception of the stars, the night was black. Not even a moon shone to light the narrow, mountain roadway. Devi’s ricksha was some distance ahead and the only sounds to break the silence were the footsteps of the coolies on the gravel and the occasional barking of dogs. At rare intervals the crowing of a cock could be heard. Bob was quite alone with five natives, none of whom spoke one word of his language, but all knew their duty and destination, so there was no cause for instructions, consternation or alarm.
For the most part the narrow roadway progressed continually upward, but whenever a flat stretch was reached and after the coolies had caught their breath, they would begin to sing their simple native songs. The effect of their voices in the darkness, with the realization that he was miles from civilization and his own people, produced a sensation within Bob that he could only partially explain. It was something far greater than a mere thrill; it was something akin to an inspiration. It was the sensation of being close to the Infinite. Such an impression he could never forget.
In the darkness he could distinguish the occasional high slopes on the one side and the caverns and valleys of seemingly endless depth on the other. Suddenly, as they turned a sharp corner, a small electric street light came into view, which proved that they were nearing the town of Ghoom, through which they had passed by train on the preceding day. At a hydrant the men stopped to obtain a drink of water, where Devi’s coolies had also halted.
“Well, what do you think of it so far?” asked Devi.
“It’s glorious,” was all that Bob could say.
On they went through the streets of Ghoom, almost continually climbing upward excepting for those short flat stretches which gave the natives an opportunity to relax and sing. Only twice during that long eight-mile pull did the ten coolies actually stop to rest. As their muscular, brown bodies became heated from the exertion, the odor made Bob almost certain that whoever made the claim concerning their failure to bathe was quite right, but even this was a part of his experience.
At last they reached the entrance to the observatory of Tiger Hill, where at a gateway a keeper met them with a lantern. The boys alighted and followed the guide to a small, round building in which wooden benches had been placed to accommodate the few sightseers who would likely come at this early morning hour. Bob looked at his watch with the aid of a match. It was only a few minutes past five, and still totally dark.
“The sun will rise between six and six-thirty,” Devi told him.
There was only one thing to do, and that was to sit and wait in the cold darkness, for the keeper had left and taken the lantern with him. However, the time passed quickly because of the excitement of the occasion and because of their discussion of the journey.
Within fifteen minutes after their arrival they were joined by two more men, who made it known that they were Parsis from Karachi. They, too, had made the trip for their first view of “the top of the world.”
At five-thirty the dawn began to break and groups of white, fluffy clouds could be seen in the lower altitudes. As the light began to strengthen, the observers, who had by this time climbed to the flat roof of the small observatory, felt as though they were looking at the world beneath, from an airplane. Finally the top rim of the sun appeared over the horizon, the view brightened and the fleecy clouds turned to a crimson and pink wherever they were touched by the sun’s rays. Seven or eight miles to the north the trees and buildings of Darjeeling became visible, outlined against the darker background of the mountainside.
Within a few minutes the sun had risen, and far to the northwest, at a distance of approximately 150 miles, could be seen the snowcapped peak of that highest of all mountains, Everest, rising toward the heavens to an elevation of 29,002 feet. There was the giant that had never been conquered by man, but which had been responsible for the loss of the lives of many human beings in their endeavor to scale her precipitous, ice-covered slopes; the mountain that had defied all mankind down through the ages.
To Bob there was something extraordinarily impressive in such a view. It was a beautiful and outstandingly picturesque climax to the trip by ricksha he had taken during the early morning hours to reach this point of vantage. All four men stood gazing at the scene for a long time.
At the right of Everest and one hundred miles nearer was Mount Kinchinjunga, rearing its head far above the surrounding peaks and presenting a much clearer view of its profile than could be seen from the hotel veranda. With field glasses which Bob had brought for the pur pose, the detail of the mountain peaks could be clearly seen. It seemed as though he were standing before a masterpiece of some great painter and yet no artist could actually reproduce the scene that was portrayed before them.
Soon after the sun had risen, the clouds lifted from the lowlands and the view of the distant peaks was obscured as if Nature were jealous of the scene and wished to shield it until again on the following morning the stage would once more be set and the actors ready to make their short appearance.
Slowly the men returned down the narrow stairway that led to the ground. One would think they were leaving an opera on the stage of which some awe-inspiring act had been produced. Their silence clearly indicated that each had been miraculously impressed.
Near the gate through which they had entered to reach the observatory stood a small shack in which a young native girl offered coffee and cakes to those who were sure to be chilled after standing in the cold mountain air. Strangely enough, the young lady spoke excellent English, which was explained by the fact that she had attended a girls’ school in another province.
While they were enjoying the hot refreshments, Bob said, “Devi, I’ll have to admit that this view and the trip to Tiger Hill are something I cannot criticize. I’ve been trying to think of something in America that compares with it, but I’m afraid I’m stumped.”
“In that case I’m glad we came to Darjeeling,” remarked Devi.
The ricksha ride back over the trail to the hotel offered many scenic views that could not be seen on the outward trip because of the darkness. As they approached Ghoom again, Bob could hear the boom of the drums of a Llama temple. The town even at this early hour was alive with activity.
It took only one hour and a half for the coolies to reach the hotel, but on this trip it was necessary for them to hold back instead of push, as they were compelled to do in the opposite direction. The fee for the entire journey was set by the hotel at ten rupees ($3.80). Bob thought that here was one time when a generous tip was justified.
“Here’s another instance where I obtained my money’s worth,” commented Bob. I haven’t a single complaint to make.”
“Maybe I’ll make a Hindu of you yet,” laughed Devi.
“If you do, I’ll kill a sacred bull and eat the meat,” retorted Bob.
At three o’clock that afternoon they were again making their way toward Calcutta on the narrow-gauge railway via Siliguri, where they ate dinner and changed to the limited train for the South. Early the following morning they found themselves at their destination. Devi’s presence avoided any recurrence of the episode with the Sikh taxi driver. Instructions from an Indian evidently convinced the chauffeur that it would be best to take the shortest route.
After breakfast in Calcutta, Devi suggested that they take a walk around Dalhousie Square, down Clive Street and through one of the native sections.
“I’ve already seen those places,” said Bob, “but I shall be glad to go again because something different usually presents itself upon each occasion.”
His supposition was accurate in this instance, for they had barely entered one of the native streets when Devi pointed to a group of Indian men bathing at an open hydrant. Each one wore only a pair of cotton shorts or a loin cloth, neither of which were removed during the procedure.
As they squatted upon the pavement, each would throw water over himself with a large tin can, after which he would vigorously rub the various parts of his body. No soap, no towel, but it was a bath, nevertheless; better, perhaps, than no bath at all.
While they were returning to the hotel, Devi said, “Bob, I think you are fortunate again. Tomorrow you will see a Chatpuja Festival. Once a year the Hindus worship the sun with a distinct ceremony. Prior to a given day they fast; some go without food for two days, some three, and some for a longer time. At the close of this fasting period, which is tomorrow, you will see long processions making their way toward Babu Ghat on the Hoogly River, where they bathe, offer sacrifices and worship facing the setting sun.”
“I am lucky,” agreed Bob. “It seems to me that this festival will be an appropriate and fitting finale to my visit in India.”
True to Devi’s prediction, the processions were on their way to the river late the following afternoon. Men, women and children were colorfully dressed for the occasion. Small groups and large were here and there making their way toward the ghat. Some were equipped with native musical instruments—whistles, drums and cymbals. Long bullock carts were loaded with girls dressed in their most brilliant saris. Bananas and many other tropical fruits were being carried to the river to be offered as sacrifices to Ramram, the sun god.
Occasionally a Hindu woman would throw herself, full length, face downward, on the pavement or pathway. Those accompanying her would draw imaginary lines at her head and feet, one would touch her bare heels and place his finger tips to his forehead. The one who had prostrated herself would then rise and carry on.
Upon almost every occasion it seemed that something humorous—for a non-Hindu, at least—would take place during the religious festivals or ceremonies. In this instance it appeared quite tragic. One of the women who threw herself full length upon the pavement, either did not correctly judge her distance, or in her fanatic frame of mind, did not see a pile of cow dung into which she thrust her face. Those accompanying her performed their part of the usual ritual without concern, the woman arose, wiped her face with her sari and proceeded as though nothing had happened. Perhaps she felt even more sanctified, for, wasn’t the cow a sacred animal?
As soon as these groups reached the Babu Ghat they walked directly into the river fully dressed, immersed themselves and faced the setting sun with hands raised in an attitude of prayer. The bathing ceremony appeared to be very much the same as the ones Bob had seen at the ghats of Muttra and Benares, excepting in this instance thousands of worshippers were crowded into the river at the same time.
Those who carried fruit as an offering would toss it into the river as they advanced to bathe and pray. Tons of fruit must have been sacrificed for this purpose, although it was stated upon good authority that the Mohammedans and “Untouchables” dragged the river with nets afterward to recover this food. Even those who did not participate in the ceremony could thus gain benefit from it. “One man’s loss was another man’s gain,” certainly applied in this instance.
Bob watched the activities of the festival as he would a circus; Devi, as one who was thoroughly in sympathy with the religious functions of his own people. One saw the spectacle, the other felt the occasion.
During the remaining days in Calcutta the fellows busied themselves with lighter forms of entertainment which are always found in every large city. They visited the best picture shows, strolled through the markets and purchased items which Bob had requested as curios and souvenirs. There was always something of interest to keep them occupied and entertained in a city that offered as much variety as Calcutta.
On the day of their departure, while waiting for their ship to load its remaining cargo, Bob glimpsed a sight that gave him a lasting impression of his final hour in India. As he and Devi strolled along the river bank watching the activities of a few straggling bathers and a few women who were evidently giving attention to the family washing, an object slowly floated toward the shore. Upon closer scrutiny, this object proved to be the body of a dead man. Bob was horrified, but the others who noticed it, including Devi, seemed little concerned.
However, as it approached within a few feet of an elderly woman who was busily engaged in whacking her laundry upon a rock, she hesitated, picked up a long stick and placing it on the body of the corpse, gave it a push toward the center of the stream. She then threw down the stick and resumed her work as though nothing unusual had happened.
“My God!” ejaculated Bob. “Do you suppose that man met with an accident and drowned?”
“It isn’t likely,” answered Devi. “It is more probable that he is one of those unfortunate victims the members of whose family did not have sufficient funds to buy wood with which to cremate him. In that case, rocks would be fastened around his legs or neck and he would be taken to the middle of the Ganges and lowered to the bottom. In due course of time the bodies become released and they float down the Hoogly or one of the other mouths of the Ganges to the Bay of Bengal, where they are no doubt eaten by sharks.”
“Does wood for a cremation cost so much?” asked Bob.
“For a very ordinary cremation it might cost from eight annas to a rupee, but remember that millions of our people haven’t even that much money,” explained Devi.
“After all,” commented Bob, “I do not know which is worse; to be cremated on a ghat or dropped into the river. I don’t suppose it makes much difference to the one who has passed on.”
Soon their ship was steaming down the yellow Hoogly toward the blue waters of the bay. Bob stood on the deck watching the activities on the river and observing the many jute mills that were scattered along the banks. Before sunset they had dropped the river pilot and the bow of the ship was turned toward Rangoon.
As the sun was setting and the distant shore line was disappearing in the dusk, Bob heaved a sigh of relief and said, “Thanks, India, for a liberal education.” With that he went below to join Devi at dinner.
“Devi,” began Bob as the two were comfortably seated in the lounge after dinner, “I’ve been thinking about what you have explained and shown to me about this religion of yours and I’ve come to the conclusion that it consists mostly of superstition based on fear. Isn’t that true?”
“If you are correct in your assumption,” answered Devi, “then I can say the same thing about most of your religions. Isn’t it true that in America the great majority of church adherents profess Christianity because they are afraid of the consequences if they do not? Of course, they may have a desire for the life eternal—that is inherent in almost every human being—but I believe that many people are good because they are afraid of some sort of punishment if they do wrong.
“As far as superstition is concerned, you have it in America inside and outside of your religions. While I was in America I was amazed to find so many people, otherwise well educated, who held so many superstitious beliefs. For some reason or other, religious people seem more superstitious than others. For example, I’ve met great numbers of American Christians who actually believed that ill luck would overtake them if they caught their first glimpse of a new moon over their left shoulder. I’ve seen people with college educations look for hours to find a four-leaf clover, which they felt certain would bring them good luck. I’ve heard people boast and immediately knock on wood to keep misfortune from overtaking them. Millions of your grown-ups are afraid of the figure ‘13,’ and many of your hotels and office buildings omit the thirteenth floor. Just think how many Americans refuse to walk under a ladder! An equal number would not dare to raise an umbrella indoors. To break a mirror means seven years of bad luck, and if one accidentally tips over a salt shaker he must toss a pinch of salt over his shoulder to eliminate a quarrel. A great number of smokers actually believe that tragedy will follow if three cigarettes are lighted on the same match. I’ve seen people retrace their steps when a black cat crossed their paths and walk an extra block to avoid the occurrence of a catastrophe.
“Need I continue, or is that enough?” asked Devi.
“I’ll take the ‘count of ten’ on superstitions,” admitted Bob. “I only wish I knew as much about your country and people as you know about mine.”
“Stay over here four years as I did in the United States and maybe you will,” suggested Devi.
“Perhaps,” insisted Bob, “if I cannot win one way, I can another. Isn’t it true that the great majority of your Hindu beliefs and practices are based on mere myths?”
“Naturally, I do not think so,” answered Devi, “but I do believe that what you have just stated is true of Christianity. Our religion sounds mythical to you; yours sounds mythical to me. As an example, I wonder if you believe that the whale actually swallowed Jonah? Do you think it possible that Noah loaded two of every species of animal, bird and reptile on the ark? Do you believe that the waters of the Red Sea separated at the command of Moses to allow the children of Israel to pass? Is it true that the Creator made heaven and earth in six days?
“Why, my dear Bob, the Christian Bible is literally packed with myths and contradictions, but of course I cannot prove that these so-called myths did not take place, and you, in turn, cannot prove the lack of authenticity of those found in the faith of the Hindu.”
“As I told you once before,” said Bob, “I refuse to argue upon the subject. I’m merely questioning you to obtain your viewpoint and explanation. If you don’t mind continuing the discussion, I’d like to have your opinion of one more of my observations.”
Devi nodded consent.
“Don’t you think your priests have commercialized your religion until it is now being exploited by them? Haven’t they added all these gods and additional practices in order to collect more fees from their followers? Don’t you think it would be better if salvation were made less expensive?”
“I wonder if you realize how you have laid yourself ‘wide open’ for a knock-out blow?” responded Devi. “Man alive! Are any faiths anywhere more commercialized than those in America?
“The fees paid to Hindu priests to perform ceremonies at birth, marriage and death are only a pittance compared to what one is usually expected to give for the same services in America. The total amount that a Hindu pays yearly for all forms of religious activity would amount to less than your average conscientious churchgoer pays for foreign missions. If a member of one of your well-known churches offered, as his annual donation, the amount paid by the average Hindu, he would no doubt be questioned regarding his religious sincerity.
“No, it is your religions in America that are expensive. Salvation for the Hindu is comparatively cheap. Just think of the salaries of some of your religious workers. Ten thousand dollars a year is by no means the limit. You have paid organists, choir vocalists and in some instances additional musicians. In your larger churches, janitors and sometimes several other church workers receive pay. If one of our priests received the equivalent of your most poorly paid preacher, he could live in comparative luxury. Or, if one of our leading priests received a salary as large as that given to one of your lowest-paid foreign missionaries, he could live like a king.”
“There is one excellent method of obtaining information from you,” said Bob, “and that is to make a criticism. When I do that, you not only justify India’s circumstances, but you give me your ideas on America at the same time. I believe I am gaining much more from my travels than the average individual who is compelled to depend on a guide.”
“I may not be of as much assistance to you in Burma,” said Devi. “As you may know, it is a separate country whose people, religion, habits and customs are quite different. I have been there only twice before, so naturally I am not as fully informed as I am regarding my own India. The people of Burma are Burmese and their religion is Buddhist. I’m desirous of learning more about this country, too, so we can have a good time investigating it together.”
During the three days that it took to cross the Bay of Bengal the boys gathered all the information possible regarding Burma from the officers of the ship, but owing to the fact that none of them had been beyond the limits of Rangoon, their next port, it was difficult to obtain more than mere locations.
It was learned from maps that Burma is bounded on the north by Assam, China and Tibet, on the east by China and Siam, on the south by Siam, the Gulf of Martaban and the Bay of Bengal, India and Assam. The greater part of the country lies within the Torrid Zone and the climate is therefore extremely hot. Rangoon is located on the Irrawaddi River about forty miles from the Gulf of Martaban.
“The first object to be seen as one approaches Rangoon is the great Shwe Dagon Pagoda,” Devi explained to Bob as they were nearing the port. “It is the largest and most sacred pagoda in all Asia. The Shwe Dagon is about two miles inland from the river and rests on a man-made, elevated terrace, the dirt for which, it is said, came from what is now known as the Royal Lakes. The lakes were no doubt created by the removal of the dirt. That’s about all I know about the pagoda, excepting that we will be compelled to remove our shoes and hose if we are admitted to the interior.”
“Why is that?” asked Bob.
“Personally, I think it is merely a ruling by the priests to keep visitors away, but the outward objection is to keep the temple free from the contamination of evil which might be tracked into the sanctuary on the soles of shoes of unbelievers. Wait until you see the place and you’ll wonder how you could keep your shoes from being contaminated if you wore them.”
“Is it safe to go through the place barefooted?” asked Bob.
“If you were unfortunate enough to cut your foot and if you believe in infection from germs, it might be dangerous,” answered Devi. “In my case I am accustomed to going barefoot and my feet are tough, but you need protection. Let me suggest that you line the bottoms of your feet with adhesive tape and then when you remove your shoes and hose, you will be complying with the rules, but your feet will be protected from injury and infection.”
When the ship was within several miles of Rangoon, Devi pointed to the great gilt dome of Shwe Dagon. “There it is,” he said. “You are gazing upon one of the outstanding sights of the world. Now we’ll pack our bags and be ready to disembark when we reach the pier.”
As soon as the two were off the ship they bargained for a car, took their luggage to the hotel, and immediately went to a drug store where Bob purchased the adhesive tape. When he had covered the entire surface of the bottoms of both feet he replaced his hose and shoes and remarked, “There! No Buddhist bug can get me now, but how in the world am I going to remove this stuff?”
“We’ll worry about that later,” said Devi smiling.
Within a few minutes they were at one of the four large entrances to the pagoda, each of which consisted of a long flight of steps. Each entrance was guarded by two gigantic leogryphs. Carved teakwood roofs covered the steps, forming arcades in which were numerous shops for the sale of flowers, gold leaf, gongs and other articles connected with worship at the pagoda.
As usual at such places, a guide was ready to take them through the edifice and give explanations. Luckily he spoke fairly good English. He requested that they remove their shoes and hose and leave them with a boy whose job it was to stand guard over them—for a consideration, of course. Bob removed his carefully, but Devi merely unlaced his low shoes and kicked them toward the boy. He never wore hose, anyway.
Before the guide proceeded up the stairway he made this explanation: “The pagoda occupies the center of the terrace. It is 370 feet high and the circumference of the base is 1,355 feet. The whole pagoda is richly covered with gilt and at the top you will see a Ti or umbrella from which are suspended gold and silver bells. The Ti is of solid gold and is studded with a vast number of jewels. At night the pagoda is decorated with electric lights which gives it a brilliant appearance even after the sun ceases to shine on its golden surface.”
As the three advanced up the long stairway Bob was glad that he had taken Devi’s suggestion regarding the adhesive tape. While the stuff felt peculiar on the bottom of his feet, the appearance of the unclean surfaces underfoot proved that protection was certainly advisable. It was doubtful if the steps had ever been scrubbed, and expectorated betel nut juice and Other filth were evident everywhere. The shopkeepers along the sides appeared as unsanitary as the steps themselves.
When they reached the top of the steps they stood facing the huge pagoda itself. A broad stone passageway surrounded the base, which was lined with hundreds of small private shrines placed side by side. On the outer side of the broad walk were larger shrines—one for Chinese, one of the sleeping Buddha, others as large as small churches built by the wealthy for their own private use. In one of the outer structures thirty-two men with shaved heads, clothed in yellow robes, were lying on the floor and writing. The guide explained that these men were taking their examinations for the priesthood.
At one point the guide stopped before a large concrete tablet and explained, “This is a footprint of Buddha.”
The deep imprint of the foot in the material was at least six feet in length.
“Buddha must have been a very big man, said Bob.
“Oh yes,” answered the guide. “Buddha was eighty feet tall.”
Devi looked at Bob and winked, indicating that he hadn’t much faith in the other fellow’s beliefs. Bob wondered what Devi’s reaction would have been if this were reputed to be a footprint of Krishna, one of the Hindu Gods. One thing was certain, this great Buddhist pagoda wasn’t any dirtier than a Hindu temple (it couldn’t be), but it was just as dirty. The whole area was fairly scattered with pigeons, chickens and emaciated-looking dogs. A most unsightly and disgusting place to worship, but from a distance a beautiful landmark and spectacle.
When Bob received his hose and shoes again, he was puzzled. “I’m wondering,” he said, “if I should pull my hose over the adhesive tape or tear it off right now.”
“If I were in your place,” suggested Devi, “I would carry my shoes and hose to the car and remove the adhesive tape there.”
“That’s a good idea,” admitted Bob, but when he had done this he found that much of the sticky substance was still adhering to the soles of his feet. Later it was necessary to use gasoline to remove it, and in addition he washed his feet in a solution of Lysol to kill any stray germs that might have found their way either through or around the protection.
The drive around Rangoon by the Royal Lakes was refreshing after their visit to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. “This is like a whiff of attar of roses perfume after a visit to a hog pen,” remarked Bob. As long as no reflection was cast upon his own faith, Devi agreed.
“I believe it will be possible for us to catch a limited afternoon train for Mandalay,” said Devi. “Let’s go to the station and get the information. The distance is about four hundred miles, but I think the new trains cover the distance in about twelve hours.”
Devi’s assumption was correct and the two boarded the four-twenty train for the North that same afternoon. As long as daylight did not interfere, Bob’s attention was drawn to the landscape, which consisted of beautiful green paddies, small villages and actually thousands of pagodas scattered here and there with no rhyme or reason. This was a country different from India in major respects, yet the population seemed just as ardent toward its religion. The desire to worship something, the tendency toward shrines of one kind or another, seemed to be inborn in human beings, regardless of race or color.
“Tomorrow morning when the train reaches Mandalay we shall go straight to Mandalay Hill,” suggested Devi, “because it will give us an opportunity to see the sun rise over the mountain tops and we shall also have a splendid view of Mandalay. Let’s retire early because we must be ready to leave the train at five-forty.”
It was not necessary for either of them to be called. They were up at five o’clock and dressed several minutes before the train pulled into the station.
“Automobile hire is rather expensive here,” said Devi, “so we’ll take a hackney (horse and covered carriage). We have ample time to reach our destination before sunrise.”
As they rode toward the hill they passed the Old Fort, one of the relics of Mandalay, but time would not permit an inspection until later in the day. “We can see the fort and palace within it from the hilltop,” commented Devi. “It will be more interesting to actually visit it later in the day.”
At the foot of the entrance to Mandalay Hill are two enormous white leogryphs, even larger than those before the Shwe Dagon Pagoda at Rangoon, sitting as though on guard to keep the evil spirits from advancing toward the shrines. The stairway was made of stone and consisted of many long flights. At the termination of each flight there was located a great Buddha, housed within a temple which was under the supervision of a priest. The stairways from the entrance to the top were covered with a roof to protect the worshippers from the heat of the sun.
After climbing flight after flight and circling around the many shrines, Bob and Devi finally reached the top, the elevation of which was approximately eight hundred feet. The dawn had already broken and within a few minutes the first rays of the tropical sun began to show over the distant low mountain range. Excepting for a slight mist in the valley the landscape was exceptionally clear. Only a few white clouds dotted the sky.
As the complete circle of the morning sun rose above the horizon, Bob turned to Devi and re marked, “Well, I thought the ‘dawn came up like thunder out of China across the bay!’”
“Everyone probably has the same opinion,” returned Devi, “until he does the thing that you are doing right now, but you can now understand, there is no thunder and no bay. That narrow strip of water over there is the Irrawaddi River and the mountains are in Burma, not China. Mr. Kipling wrote a famous poem, but he was evidently a little confused regarding the truth and his geography. However, you will learn later in the day that the Burmese girls do smoke big cheroots, so, in that particular, at least, he was correct.
“Neither is there a bay in which the flying fish could play, and if they tried to play in the dirty Irrawaddi River, they would get mud in their eyes. However, these discrepancies do not detract materially from Mr. Kipling’s masterpiece. At least he gave Mandalay a great amount of publicity.”
For almost an hour the two wandered about through the shrines on the hilltop and viewed the thousands of others in the countryside and the city below. Bob had never seen so many from one location. He wondered if the Burmese people had time to do anything in addition to worshipping and building shrines. Religion, again, seemed to be the main activity of the people.
The fort, in the center of the city, could be plainly seen from this vantage point. From an old Burmese priest Bob gained the following facts: The fort was built in the form of a square with each side one and one-fourth miles long, surrounded by a wall twenty-six feet high, outside of which was a moat 150 feet wide, filled with water. On each side of the square were thirteen teakwood watch towers, built in Burmese design and lavishly decorated. The moat was crossed by five wooden bridges. There were twelve gates in each of the four walls.
From a point near the top of the hill a second colonnade and walk led to another series of shrines reaching from the high hillside to a different entrance at the base. If one were to worship at each of the small temples on Mandalay Hill, and if he devoted only a few minutes at each one, it would require the greater part of a day. It seemed as though these shrines were arranged to make it increasingly difficult for the Buddhists to demonstrate their reverence as they advanced up the long, steep stairways from the street below. Those who finally reached the top certainly deserved the greater glory.
Workmen were already busily engaged in building another temple near the highest shrine. The bricks to be used in the construction were being carried from the street far below by girls and women. All were supplied with baskets, about the size of a half bushel, which they filled with the bricks. These loads were hoisted to their heads and carried up the long, difficult journey to the top. How they managed these burdens with so little effort was more than the average man could understand. On their way down with empty baskets many would stop to smoke their large cheroots. At times a group of three or four could be seen passing a single cheroot from one to the other.
Regardless of their heavy work, many of these Burmese girls were actually beautiful. Their hands, ankles and wrists were dainty and their figures usually slender. Most of them were gifted with beautiful white teeth. After watching them for some time, Bob commented, “Devi, it is no wonder Kipling wrote of the Burmese girls as he did. The only thing about them I do not like is their big feet.”
“After all,” smiled Devi, “men of the East do not judge girls by their feet.”
From the bottom of the hill the two drove to the Old Fort and through one of the main gateways to the ruins of the Royal Palace. The various buildings here, while not as ancient as many which Bob had seen in India, were built mostly of wood and not in a good state of preservation. There were beautiful gardens, canals and lakes, but the once magnificent Hall of Audience, Lion Throne and Lily Throne were rapidly showing signs of neglect and decay. One of the most outstanding sights within the palace grounds was the fine seven-storied gilt spire of teakwood built above the Lion Throne.
When they had made the rounds within the walls of the fort, Bob suddenly remarked, “Say, Devi, I’m hungry. Here it is ten o’clock and it has just occurred to me that neither of us has had breakfast.”
“Perhaps we should eat something before one of us faints in this boiling sun,” Devi suggested. “There’s only one place in the city where you would enjoy a meal, as far as I know, and that is at the station.”
At all main stations in India and Burma, one will find separate waiting rooms and eating places for the first, second and third-class passengers. In most instances, however, a second-class passenger may use the conveniences provided for the first, without being molested. Bob devoured a generous helping of ham and eggs, but Devi quite naturally omitted the ham. It was only a short time before they were ready to determine what further fascinating sights the City of Mandalay could offer.
“One of the most entertaining spots, I think,” said Devi, “is the huge market place. There you will see all sorts of Burmese handiwork and merchandise, as well as all classes and types of the people. We can easily spend the remainder of the morning there and even then not see it all.”
“In America,” said Bob, “one would seldom visit one of our markets to buy anything but vegetables, fruit and other foodstuffs, but over here your markets are quite different. These not only display produce to be consumed, but every conceivable kind and quality of local objects of commerce. If one wishes to learn something about the people and their industries in Ceylon, India and Burma, it is only necessary for him to spend time in the markets. Personally, I like the idea. Let’s go!”
Not only did the pair remain in the markets the balance of the forenoon, but for two hours additional. Bob was nearing the end of his visit in British India and it occurred to him that here would be not only one of the last opportunities, but an excellent place to purchase souvenirs and gifts for some of his friends and relatives back home. By this time, too, he enjoyed the bartering and could do it easily with a smile or frown, as the occasion demanded.
Another spot from which to see the real Mandalay is from the base of a monument in the center of the business section. From here the traffic of all descriptions comes and goes in four directions. Because Mandalay is a great Buddhist center, thousands of yellow-robed priests with shaved heads may be seen on the streets. At a near-by hydrant men would partially disrobe and take their baths, women and girls in their highly colored saris would pass on foot, in hackneys or in rickshas. Bob stood for over an hour and watched the ever-changing scenes while Devi transacted his necessary business.
When Devi returned he was greatly enthused. “I’ve just learned another place we should visit,” he said. “It is called the Kyauktogyi (pronounced chow-tog-gie) Pagoda and Bazaar. We’ll take a hackney and see more of the city on our way.”
At the entrance of the pagoda they were met by a native guide who requested that the visitors remove their shoes. Fortunately the removal of their hose was not demanded, but if they did not like the idea of walking through the place in their hose, a shopkeeper was at hand who would be glad to sell a pair of heavy extra hose for three annas. Bob made the purchase, but Devi preferred to risk it with his bare feet.
The pagoda was constructed similar to Shwe Dagon in Rangoon, although Kyauktogyi was built on level ground. A long corridor, over a block long, led to the central shrine from each of the four sides. The borders of these corridors were lined with small shops in which were displayed every conceivable kind of Burmese merchandise. The shopkeepers, for the most part, were attractive, cordial and smiling native girls and women. Their personalities would be distinct assets in many department stores of America. They created a desire within the mind of a visitor to deal with them even though he had no use for their wares. Devi, also, showed more enthusiasm than usual in this pagoda, because it was as new to him as it was to Bob.
Once back at the point of entrance, Bob gave his newly acquired hose to a boy standing near by, placed his shoes back on his feet, and the companions departed.
“I’ve got an idea for this evening,” offered Bob. “We saw the sun rise quietly from Mandalay Hill this morning, now let’s see if it ‘goes down like thunder’ from the same observatory.”
“It’s a good suggestion,” said Devi, “and perhaps we’ll see the Burmese at prayer before their shrines along the way.”
The view of Mandalay from the hilltop at sunset was even more colorful than the sunrise, made equally more attractive, perhaps, because Bob had learned something of the life that existed in the streets below. He could visualize the inhabitants at their work and play. He could see their shops, their many activities and their smiling, apparently happy faces. Compared to the Indians, the Burmese seemed to be exceptionally fortunate and carefree.
The sun sank quietly. Not a sound could be heard as it quickly lowered itself from view. The stillness and the panorama of historic Mandalay aroused within Bob a desire to express himself as a Kipling. “Only,” thought Bob, “poetry is out of my line.”
As they descended the stone stairways leisurely, many pilgrims were making their ascent to the top. At each shrine they would hesitate for a few moments in an attitude of reverence and prayer, make an offering in the box provided for the purpose and proceed to the temple above, where a similar act would be repeated.
“There may be no substantial foundation to the Buddhist faith, but to me the solemnity of the worshippers is impressive and picturesque,” commented Bob half to himself.
That evening as the two travelers sat in their compartment bound on their return to Rangoon,
Devi said, “Bob, our very delightful holiday together is about to end. Within a few days your ship will be carrying you eastward toward your own United States while I shall be embarked on another ship bound in the opposite direction back to my own India. Before we separate I should like to have your impressions of my native land. I have expressed myself quite freely regarding America and I am curious to learn what you think of India.”
“You must realize,” answered Bob, “that neither I nor anyone could possibly discuss a country intelligently after having traveled in it for less than a month.”
“Oh, I know,” remarked Devi, “but, nevertheless, I have tried to give you a great amount of information and I’m sure you have obtained much from your own observations and other conversations. Even though you do not know or understand all our problems, you have come to certain conclusions. Even with your limited knowledge, you must have developed some quite definite impressions. Let me have your reactions just as they are.”
“I hesitate to do that, because, after all, India is your home; you were born and reared there. Some of the things I would say might be uncomplimentary and, to a certain extent, while I have paid my own way, you have been my host. If you visited my home I think I should be offended if you criticized my family.”
“This is different,” demanded Devi. “You have paid your own way, and that relieves you of all responsibilities as far as being my guest is concerned. I’ve traveled with you, but I have done business for my father at the same time.”
“All right,” agreed Bob, “but, remember, you asked for it. I’ve enjoyed being with you and I am grateful for your extreme kindness, assistance and companionship throughout the entire trip. I should not want anything to interfere with our friendship after such a delightful experience together.”
“You need have no fear of that,” assured Devi.
“In the first place,” continued Bob, “I am aware of the fact that ‘those who live in glass houses should not throw stones,’ which means that I am thoroughly aware of the fact that America, although it is my country, has plenty of weaknesses and has made many, many errors. Much of the criticism you have expressed regarding conditions in my homeland are, unfortunately, true. Countries, like individuals, I suppose, are prone to make mistakes. After all, the country is, for the most part, what the people make it. America is as it is because of what the inhabitants have brought about. India finds herself in her present circumstances, even though you may not like to hear me say it, because of what you, millions of others and their ancestors have done to bring about the conditions that exist. Whether you were ruled by the British, or any other nation, or enjoyed self-government, certain facts would still exist.
“In the first place, I think India of the past deserves much credit for the development of its magnificent architecture. Palaces like those at Udaipur, Jaipur, Amber, Agra, Delhi and Fatehpur Sakri are beautiful beyond comparison. The mausoleums, especially the Taj Mahal, are superb. I’ve never seen anything that could equal them. The decorations of the exteriors as well as the interiors of these masterpieces undoubtedly required the skill of thousands of gifted craftsmen and artists.
“Even now, in many sections of India, your people do marvelous work in brass, silver, gold and various forms of jewelry. The needlework, weaving and carving are evidences of skill, patience and artistic ability. Even your perfumes are in a class by themselves. Your attar of roses, for instance, that requires three million roses to produce a single pound of the essence, is exquisite. Yes, there are many outstanding virtues evident in your country. These and many other laudable examples need no apologies from you nor from any other native of your homeland.
“This country of Burma and the Island of Ceylon are beautiful. The people seem contented and happy, and while each has many undesirable characteristics similar to those which exist in India, yet, if I were to have a long vacation, I think I should enjoy spending it in Ceylon. As far as scenery and climate are concerned, it would be most ideal. The natives of both places are congenial and it is a pleasure to deal with them. For the most part, I have been favorably impressed by these two countries.
“On the other hand, there are a few things upon which I might comment and perhaps criticize in all three countries, but in doing so I realize that my conclusions are based on an Occidental point of view. I can see India only through my own eyes and receive other impressions through my other senses. Both are strictly American. That which may appear to be a weakness or a fault to me, may actually seem a virtue to you.
“I came to India with an open mind. I had a desire to gather the facts from actual contact. Conclusions based on hearsay are usually not worth consideration. I’ve asked thousands of questions of you and of others and kept my eyes and ears open, because I did not wish to return home with preconceived notions or to be influenced by unreliable information. Therefore, the conceptions which have been formed are the result of my own observations, and the circumstances which have been pointed out to me have been explained by Indians, themselves, in almost every instance.
“In the first place, one of the great handicaps in India, as I see it, is the fact that you have many dialects and several distinct languages. To be sure, you have 350,000,000 individuals, but in many instances these people cannot understand each other. You cannot publish a newspaper in a universal language that all the people can read and understand. Because you speak different languages, you think differently and in many instances there is actual antagonism between these groups—not based upon religious intolerance, as, for instance, between the Singhalese and the Indians. It would be difficult to bring British India together under a home government while this situation exists. No one is to be blamed for the circumstance, but it exists, nevertheless.
“When it comes to sanitation in India, the subject is an endless one. Sanitation, as Americans understand it, is almost wholly lacking. You are thoroughly conversant with our modern conveniences, so it is unnecessary for me to elucidate. You may take the attitude that lack of funds make it impossible for Indians to enjoy these comforts, but, remember, there is no modern plumbing in the palace of the Maharana at Udaipur, none in the homes of Randhawa or Kapurchand in Delhi and none in your own home in Bombay. Therefore, your lack of sanitation is very much a matter of habit and unconcern.
“Indians in all classes, with few exceptions, refuse to use knives, forks and spoons while eating their meals. They prefer to use their fingers, which to an Occidental is detestable. I’ve seen many examples of natives selling and eating food and at the same time playing with their bare, unwashed feet. To go barefoot is a characteristic of the nation, but when Indians travel, one of their first impulses is to kick off their shoes or sandals, if they wear them at all, and place their feet on the seat, just as you are doing right now.
“In markets the foodstuffs are invariably covered with dust and flies. Not even a feeble attempt is made to cover or protect it. In most of your largest cities there are only a few places where a European or an American dare eat a meal or even drink a glass of water. The native restaurants and individuals who prepare the food are so filthy that a self-respecting and cautious person will not patronize them. Even in the best hotels he is afraid of illness or infection because he is aware of the personal habits of those who serve him. If a tourist talks with managers of hotels he realizes how difficult it is for them to adapt sanitary measures because of the natural tendencies of the servants. Careful and constant supervision is necessary.
“Even the educated men of India—and I’ve seen women, too—use no handkerchiefs when they expectorate or blow their noses. Consequently, your streets are filthy, and diseases and epidemics spread rapidly. One must continually use caution as he walks on your sidewalks. Again, even your educated classes—men and women—chew pan, or betel nut, and while it may or may not be injurious to the health, the appearance of the mouths of the users and the necessary expectoration give the habit an unsightly and filthy spectacle.
“I’ve already discussed one phase of the sacred-bull situation, but to me, and I think the same may be said of all Occidentals, there is nothing more disgusting than to walk down a street and find cows and bulls wandering at will and actually littering the thoroughfare with dung. It is revolting in any section of a city, but especially where foodstuffs are openly displayed for sale. The flies and other insects that are attracted by such stench make the conditions even worse. To cap the climax, the children—thousands of them—including girls, may be seen gathering this dung with their bare hands. This handling could be avoided without any connected expense if there were the least desire to be clean and sanitary.
“It is hardly necessary for me to mention again the deplorable situation in connection with using the same water for the purpose of washing clothing, bathing and drinking. The extremely high death rate in India should be sufficient to convince your people that sanitary measures should be applied. Your devout Hindus, Buddhists and Mohammedans have more faith in their priests and their religion than they have in proven scientific principles. This is not only true of your depressed classes; it is true quite generally.
“You will remember the Hindu who carried the heavy bags of money and boarded the same coach with us at Darjeeling. Instead of using the toilet which was plainly marked, he deliberately left the car when the train stopped, and used the right of way in plain sight of ladies who were riding in the next compartment. Such things as this, to an American, are inexcusable and classified as indecent. It is not an uncommon sight to see men, women and children using the gutters of the main streets of your native sections whenever Nature calls. Modesty, in most instances, seems to be absolutely lacking in connection with sanitation. The odor in many native streets is so repulsive that a sightseer must hold his handkerchief to his nose to keep from breathing the stench.
“‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness,’ is an adage that is well known in every civilized country, but if it is known in India, it is seldom applied. Even your temples and shrines representing your three greatest faiths are so squalid that germs and disease are lurking in every corner. That is one criticism you cannot make of American churches, where cleanliness is actually practiced. India has the distinction of being the dirtiest nation on the face of the earth, and in that respect, at least, she is living up to her reputation.
“Perhaps I had better quit. Maybe you have heard enough.”
“No, go ahead,” requested Devi. “You listened to what I had to say about America. I can take it just as you did—like a good sport.”
“It is not my idea to hurt your feelings or vour pride,” continued Bob, “but I’m giving my honest convictions only because you asked for them. I’ve already mentioned something of the lack of conveniences in homes like yours. Now lets drop down a few degrees. During my travels through India I saw hundreds of homes of the working classes. Frankly, the great majority of them are so unclean that an American would not use one for a dog house—if he really cared for his dog. At first, I thought this condition was due to ignorance, but I have since learned upon good authority, from those who have actually demonstrated better practices and endeavored to teach the natives, that they prefer the untidiness, and will almost invariably immediately revert to it unless constantly supervised. Even the homes in the slums of America’s largest cities are clean in comparison to those of similar classes in India. And I’m trying not to be too severe.
“Another thing that your people have been adverse to accept is modern medicine and surgery. Your priests and other practitioners are still advocating a form of Voodooism to heal the sick and the afflicted. For the most part, your people will not learn from the experiences of others who have devoted their lives to research and investigation. Millions of your people are today following the same practices of their ancestors of centuries ago. Even those who have received their educations abroad, in Europe or America, return to India and revert to the same old habits and customs.
“Before I came to India I was under the impression that Katherine Mayo had grossly exaggerated in her book, Mother India. Now I am convinced that she did not tell one-half the truth. She had absolute authority for what she wrote. Much that she did not write could not be published.
“Another thing that has impressed me very unfavorably is the general lack of honesty of the average Indian. A great percentage of them with whom I, personally, have dealt are not only untruthful but tricky. They stoop to the most underhanded methods to make sales or obtain money. One must be continually on his guard, and even then he is not safe. They lie about the quality of merchandise, they lie about the sizes of factories; they will tell you anything which they may think will win a sale or create profit one way or another. Even in America it is generally understood that if one deals with an East Indian, he is quite liable to get the worst of the bargain.
“Indians, generally speaking, are indolent and lazy. Only a few seem to be industrious and ambitious. They exert themselves only sufficiently to care for the needs of today. Tomorrow, from the standpoint of creating a surplus, evidently receives small consideration. You will remember that Mrs. Randhawa in Delhi gave ‘bread’ as one of the great needs of India. That may be true, but from my observations, and from what I can gather from those who employ native labor, the average Indian is not willing to exert himself sufficiently to earn a good living for his own family. He prefers to put forth less effort, apparently, and live in degradation and poverty. This condition may be due to climate, but regardless of the cause, it is an undesirable trait. Ship owners, manufacturers, hotel managers and others who employ native labor agree that it takes five or six Indians to do the work of one American or European even in India’s own climate. The average Indian does more talking than working. Nations and people who have advanced have been those who were possessed with ambition and a willingness to back up that ambition with energy.
“Another outstanding need of India is universal education. Speaking broadly, your people are illiterate. Only a few accept educational opportunities; others ignore them even when they are offered. In this respect religious differences and the caste system are holding them back. In their narrowness, the Hindu will not allow his children to attend a school with Mohammedans or Buddhists and vice versa. The high caste will not allow his children to associate with those of low caste. As long as this condition exists, how can universal education be brought about? Compulsory education, under the present circumstances, would make it necessary to have separate schools for each faith and for each caste. Another school would be required for Mohammedan girls, who are not allowed the companionship of boys and men.
“Even if universal and compulsory education did exist and your boys and girls did finish the schools of higher learning, what could India offer them in the way of employment? What great industries have you developed to create positions for your own people? What inducement can you offer to your younger generation which would develop a desire for education? At the present time you complain because the Government does not offer more opportunities. My observations have been that the Government is already doing more than its full share. Your people are given positions which could be more adequately filled by well-trained British. Positions are created for your people in many instances where the particular functions involved are not even necessary. You complain because the Government pays more salary to its employees from England than it does to Indians who do the same type of work. That may or may not be true, but if it is true, the Government quite likely sees in its own men greater potential possibilities for the future. From what I can learn from those in authority there are only rare instances where even educated Indians actually possess the same reasoning power and judgment as the equally well educated Englishman. Perhaps it is a native trait that hinders the Indians from being more practical, but the fact remains that over a period of many years India has shown little leadership, ingenuity, originality or inventive genius. With the exception of Mahatma Ghandi, it would be difficult for you to point to more than a few leaders, and even the Mahatma finds it impossible to bring the masses together. Even when you do have a leader you will not ordinarily follow him unless he is of your particular faith or caste.
“If universal education did come, who would pay the bill? You have approximately three times as many people in India as there are in the United States. Are you familiar with the cost of universal education there? If it cost India only one-tenth as much, how would the money be raised? The people could not be taxed to create the necessary educational fund. The total of all salaries paid to all the British in India would not be a ‘drop in the bucket.’ Add to this the sum required to maintain British forces in India and you would still be a long, long way from the necessary amount. The British are most certainly not going to tax their own people to raise money to educate the youth of India. Who, then, must shoulder the burden and solve the problem? I think you know the answer. Indians, themselves, must do what they can to eliminate illiteracy. Something is being done, I know, but the task has only begun. The surface has barely been scratched. Much more must be accomplished before India becomes recognized as a civilized nation.
“Religions? Well, I’ve already told you that I dislike to even discuss the subject. It is a dangerous one, especially when, after hours of assertions and claims, little can be proved. If I criticize your faiths, remember I am not justifying those which exist in my own country. They have their weaknesses, as you have already designated. On the other hand, I am still of the opinion that all of your faiths are based on mere myths which originated in the fertile minds of priests and promoters of long ago. They merely did then what some of the ‘great showmen’ of America are doing today. A new religion, based upon the beliefs of an individual, is originated almost every year. Each one develops a number of followers; not one can prove his declarations.
“As time has advanced, it appears as though each succeeding generation of priests has added a great number of ideas to the faiths which has made them more complicated, until at the present time, within Hindu and Buddhist faiths especially, there is such a jumbled mass of ideas, idols and contradictions that even the followers themselves cannot understand or explain their own religions. The majority of the people do not have enough intelligence to comprehend, and therefore they follow blindly, worshipping idols, not ideals, following rituals, not religion, and observing silly, ridiculous customs because of superstition and habit.
“One faith has no respect or regard for the other. You will not only refuse to pull together, but there exists always an element of hatred which is continually smouldering and which occasionally breaks into flame as it did recently in Bombay.
“Your caste system, when it first originated, was an occupational differentiation, but it has now developed to a point where your priests have made it a matter of religion. Regardless of the fact that a Brahman may be employed in the kitchen of a Vaish, he holds a distinction that even his employer cannot enjoy. A Brahman may be a beggar, but because of the caste system, he is supposed to have greater privileges and eventually obtain greater salvation than those in lower castes who work to make an honest living. Even the son of this Brahman beggar is a Brahman merely because his ancestors were of that caste.
“Likewise the son of a Shudre or “Untouchable,” even though he becomes educated and develops exceptional ability, must remain cursed because his parents are of a supposedly low level. With the caste system in operation, no one can climb above the level of his ancestors. In my opinion, no nation can go far toward development and progress with such a miserable handicap. No country in which the caste system is embodied has ever received favorable recognition over a long period of time. Before India can become a great nation, I believe the class distinction, as it exists today, must be eliminated.
“There may be many beliefs in America and their differences may be inconsequential, but there is little evidence of hatred or strife between them, and when it comes to a crisis they co-operate and pull together, with rare exceptions, as they did during the Great War. Right or wrong, the churches of America serve the same God, and while there may be evidences of class distinction, the children of the lowly have the privilege of climbing to the seats of the mighty. Their advancement and progress depend primarily upon their ability, character and reputation. Even though your ‘Untouchables’ possess these three to a great degree, they cannot rise above the level in which they were born.
“Millions of Indians are clamoring for self-government. On the other hand, many, especially among the educated groups, feel that India’s present and future welfare is in safer keeping under British supervision. Personally, my belief is inclined to coincide with the opinion of the latter element. India at one time had self-government, and you know as well as I do what occurred. There were invasions and battles between Mohammedans and Hindus and between independent nations within your borders. You were not united then, and there is no reason to believe that you would remain united now or in the future. The great majority of your people have not changed since the olden days. They have made little, if any, advancement. They practice the same beliefs and customs as their forefathers and they hold the same hatreds.
“From my limited knowledge, I am not convinced that India is ready for self-government. There is still much to be done before she can safely take the reins in her own hands. If proper plans were made today and put into immediate action, it would be between twenty-five and fifty years before you could carry on successfully as an independent nation and win the respect and co-operation of the civilized countries of the world. I believe it would mean India’s doom if the British were to immediately withdraw their guiding influence. Your uneducated masses, headed by your various Rajas and religious leaders would undoubtedly clash as they did in the days of old. You have not as yet developed enough well-trained natives to carry the responsibility of successfully leading the nation to its desired goal. And when I say ‘well trained, I mean dependable as well.
“A nation with India’s potential possibilities should be independent. Her size and her population should justify it, but it takes more than these two physical qualifications to successfully produce and maintain a great nation.
“From the great number of beggars with which I have personally come in contact, I think I am safe in assuming that there must be several million men, women and children in your country who exist merely because of the gratuities of others. Many of them have ingenious methods of appealing to the purse strings of those who pass. If these same beggars would apply their efforts in a direction more legitimate, they could probably make an honest living. Everywhere one goes in India, especially in the vicinity of your temples, pagodas and mosques, he hears the word, ‘Bakshis, bakshis, bakshis,’ from the mouths of grown-ups and babes. You and others have admitted that 95 per cent of your so-called Hindu holy men are fakes disguised as self-sacrificing men of the faith. They stoop to the lowest level by using religion as a cloak to cover their vile purposes. If I were to suggest a new and appropriate name for India, I think I should offer ‘Bakshis.’ At least everyone who has visited the country would understand. One of the outstanding undesirable impressions that every tourist must carry home with him from your land is the beggars that approach him from every conceivable angle.
“Upon many occasions in America I have been greatly perturbed by the damnable tipping system, not because of the amounts involved, but because of the infernal nuisance it creates. In India the situation is far worse. During our own experiences together, whenever we ‘checked out’ from a hotel, we have had requests for gratuities from a waiter, room boy, sweeper boy, page, porter and the driver who delivered us to the station. Over here one has his hand in his pocket most of the time.
“Graft, as it exists throughout India today, is just another form of bakshis. I’ll admit it exists in America, too, but perhaps it is not quite as openly practiced. It is just a little more ‘under cover’ and as a result the visitors from other countries do not come in direct contact with it. If graft cannot be eliminated, then perhaps a little American finesse would help to make it less evident. Graft, however practiced, is despicable enough, and those who practice it in any form should be severely punished. Many of your officials in India are openly dishonest.
“When you lived in America you did not find that you were expected to pay some official an extra fee for the purpose of obtaining a good berth in a Pullman coach. If you endeavored to tip a guide in one of our national parks, he refused to accept your donation. If you visited our churches you were not confronted with groups of beggars. If you had occasion to employ a taxi from a responsible company you were asked to pay an honest fee.
“And remember, Devi, that the United States of America, with all her faults and the weaknesses which you have expressed concerning her, is one of the outstanding nations of the world. She is a recognized power. Of problems she has many, but in every instance she does her best to solve them. It is a new country filled with people from many nations, who bring many religions and additional problems, but regardless of all her difficulties she ranks at the top. I’m proud to be an American.
“America systematically takes care of its own poor and decrepit; India does not, and as a result a bad taste is left in the mouths of tourists. Every red-blooded American who can afford it, contributes to a fund to help the unfortunates of his own country. When he goes to India, or to any other nation, he does not feel that he should be surrounded by those who beseech his further assistance. The country that allows this condition to exist, not only lacks pride, but is lax in its methods of caring for those who have met with misfortune. This is another problem that India, itself, must face.
“Many times during my trip through India I have wondered what the country could offer tourists if it were not for its old tombs and palaces. They seem to be the main features of attraction. Without them, the trip which you and I have completed would be much less fascinating.
“As far as your Maharajas are concerned, I have little respect for their custom of keeping many concubines in addition to two or three legitimate wives. They set a mighty poor example for their subjects, and if you wish my honest opinion, I think the circumstance is a relic of barbarism based upon animal-like desire and certainly not upon good judgment and common sense.
“As far as the Mohammedans are concerned, they, too, are merely holding back progress and civilization with their practices of child and plural marriages. Enough has already been written on this subject to make any further comments unnecessary, and nothing but absolute force would probably change the situation; but to me, any country or group of people that endeavor to make legal the possession of more than one wife at a time, is merely branding itself as an uncivilized race.
“Plural marriage in any form is not a religion, but merely a desire which has been built into a faith in an endeavor to make bigamy legitimate.
“There is one redeeming feature in the idea, however. If each man has several wives and many concubines it will undoubtedly eliminate the problem of female unemployment, and if the situation ever becomes acute in the United States, I shall take the matter to the President and Congress for consideration. I’m sure some men would like the idea, but others would still be confronted with the difficulty of making enough money to support one wife. After all, the idea might not be a good one, for American women, I am certain, would object.
“But I must not forget to mention a few of your outstanding features of enticement like your snake charmers, who gave such a marvelous show at Benares, and the truly magnificent view of Mount Everest and Mount Kinchinjunga from Tiger Hill. In the future when I wish to think of India pleasantly, I shall recall the magnificent Taj Mahal, your palaces, the sights at Darjeeling, the sunrise and sunset in Mandalay, my trip to Kandy and the kindness which you have demonstrated since we met in Ceylon.”
“Thank you for those last kind words,” smiled Devi. “You have certainly given India a thorough mental beating which hurts, but I am forced to admit that, for one who has traveled within her borders for such a short time, you have gained a great amount of information, most of which has a basis of truth.
“Naturally we do not believe the same regard ing many things. All the discussion and argument in the world could hardly change our fundamental beliefs, for you are an American and I am a Hindu. I’m going to take your criticism of India with the same grace you accepted mine of America. Even if what both of us has said is true, neither of us as an individual can do much about it. Regardless of the weaknesses of our respective countries and our differences in beliefs, we can still be friends.”
“In that respect you have my pledge,” concluded Bob. And they retired to their berths, for the hour was late.
When they reached their hotel in Rangoon the following morning, Devi handed to Bob an itemized list of expenditures with the remark, “This is the end of the trail, so here is an account of your money which I have spent, and this is the balance,” and with that he passed to Bob the amount designated at the bottom of the sheet. “All you need to pay now is your hotel bill,” he continued.
“It was mighty nice of you to act as my secretary and treasurer,” said Bob smiling. “I wish I could afford to give you a permanent job.”
“Perhaps you can return the favor when I visit America the next time,” remarked Devi. “And now,” he said, “if you don’t mind, I’ll leave you for a time while I transact a little business, see about my steamer for Calcutta and make a call upon one of my old friends. I’ll meet you here at the hotel for lunch. In the meantime it might be a good idea for you to check up to see when your ship leaves.
“A good thought,” admitted Bob. “I’ll see you later,” and the two departed from the hotel in opposite directions.
At the steamship office, Bob learned that his ship would leave for Singapore the following day at noon. In the meantime he would have plenty of time to see the remainder of Rangoon. He spent the balance of the morning rambling around in the markets and standing on busy corners in the native section watching the curious traffic. These two activities, he had learned, gave him the greatest amount of entertainment and enjoyment, after he had seen all other outstanding points of attraction.
When the two met as they had agreed, Devi hurriedly opened the conversation with, “Well, Bob, my ship leaves this afternoon at four. It looks as if our time together is very limited. After lunch, come down to my ship with me, where we can be together until my departure.”
“Well, this is sudden,” exclaimed Bob. “Do you know, I’m going to be mighty lonesome without you. It is only a comparatively short time ago that we met and yet it seems as though I have known you for years. One of the reasons for that, I think, is the fact that you have visited America and you speak my language. You have been responsible for keeping me from being dreadfully lonesome.”
“Some of these days we’ll meet again,” said Devi, “and we’ll have a pleasant time renewing and reviewing our experiences together.”
Before three o’clock they were on their way to Devi’s ship. The luggage was taken to his stateroom upon arrival while the two made their way to the lounge to chat during their remaining minutes together. Devi gave Bob a list of his various American friends and classmates and said, “If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of any of these fellows, I hope you will call upon them, give them my best regards and tell them of our travels through India. I am sure they will be interested.”
“I’ll even go out of my way to do that,” said Bob, “and if there is ever anything I can do for you anytime, just drop me a line and give me an opportunity to at least partly repay you for all that you have done for me.”
At that moment a tall young man, evidently an American, entered the room rather leisurely, and as he glanced toward Bob he gave a cry of amazement. “Good God!” he almost shouted. “You don’t mean to tell me that it’s my old fraternity brother, Bob Dean?”
“Bud Henderson,” gasped Bob, “what in the world are you doing here? Great guns! I’m glad to see you!”
“Not any happier than I am to see you,” returned Bud. “But what are you doing here? Are you going to Calcutta?”
“No, but Mr. Lall is. Bud, I want you to meet a very dear friend of mine. Mr. Henderson, this is Mr. Lall. Devi, Bud Henderson is one of my best pals from America.”
Bob then explained his reason for coming to India and how he and Devi had travelled together through India, Ceylon and Burma. “And now, you old fox,” he continued, “tell me about yourself. I missed you after graduation from the university. What happened to you?”
“You will remember, I think,” he began, “that my dad was a branch manager for the Judson Emery Manufacturing Company.”
“Oh yes, I remember,” said Bob.
“Well,” continued Bud, “the year after we graduated, Dad was transferred to Calcutta as the manager for all India. This made it possible for him to give me a real opportunity, so for the past three years I’ve been working for the same company. As a matter of fact, that’s how I happened to be here in Rangoon—on business. Now I’m on my way back to Calcutta.”
“Of all the coincidences!” said Bob. “Imagine meeting you way out here! Now I will have something to tell our mutual friends at home.”
The three chatted for a time and then rather suddenly Bud exclaimed, “Say, Bob, if you’ll excuse me for a few minutes I’m going to write a short letter and ask you to deliver it to a very dear friend of mine.”
“Anything you say,” replied Bob. “I’ll deliver it for you if I must make a trip to Mars.”
“You won’t need to go that far,” offered Bud as he retired to a writing desk. “It will take only a few minutes.”
He returned shortly with a sealed envelope in his hand and passed it to Bob carefully so that Devi could not see what was written on the side meant for the address. Bob glanced at it and quickly read:
Personal and Confidential!!
Open this envelope only after you have departed from Rangoon.
On the back of the letter across the seal Bud had made a pen sketch of their fraternity emblem.
“You know that fellow,” he said to Bob, “and if you’ll deliver it to him I shall be very grateful. Tell him I am sorry that I could not deliver the message in person. He will understand.”
“Your wish shall be granted,” remarked Bob as he placed the letter in his pocket.
Just then the warning bell started to ring and one of the cabin boys was calling, “All visitors ashore.” Bob grasped Devi by the hand as he said, “Well, old man, I dislike to see you go. Thanks again for all that you have done. Some of these days I hope we meet again. And, Bud,” continued Bob as he gave a fraternity grip to his American friend, “I wish we could have met sooner. It is a damned shame that we could not have had at least a week together. Anyhow, I’m mighty glad to have seen you for these few minutes. Give my best regards to your mother and father.”
“I’ll be seeing you next year,” said Bud. “I’m going home on leave and you may depend upon a visit. In the meantime ‘Bon voyage’ and good luck.”
“Namaskaram” said Devi smiling as he made the accompanying Hindu salute.
“Namaskaram” returned Bob as he hurried down the gangplank to the pier, where he waved farewell as the ship turned into the stream and headed down the Irrawaddi toward the bay.
On his way back to the hotel Bob felt more alone than ever. An old friend and a new one were leaving him and he was about to depart on his long, solitary journey homeward. He had a burning desire to open that envelope that Bud had passed to him, but the wishes of a fraternity brother must be respected. There was evidently a good reason why Bud had requested him to wait until his own ship had left Rangoon the next day.
As Bob ate his dinner at a table all by himself that evening, he reviewed in his mind practically every experience he had had since his arrival at Colombo. His trip had become a mental motion picture which he could project at will and enjoy at any time his leisure permitted. At least he had acquired something which would enable him to spend many happy hours in the future. In the years to come he would also find it possible to discuss India more intelligently with others who had visited that country, or answer some of the questions asked by those who had never traveled to her shores. It was a satisfaction to learn something of the country that had, through the ages, been the subject of widespread curiosity.
He was also pleased that his trip had been a success from the standpoint of business. The expense of his journey would be justified many times over because of the new contacts he had made and because of the favorable prices which had been obtained on the large quantities of merchandise he had purchased for his firm. The trip in every respect could be considered a matter of all-round attainment.
That evening he had a long informative chat with the manager of the hotel, who had lived in the Near East for over twenty years, who had visited practically every section of India and studied the country and its people seriously. Bob found him a delightful conversationalist, one from whom he could gain many facts and who in addition could answer almost any question pertaining to the people of India and Burma. This enabled Bob to check up on some of his own observations and to obtain the facts concerning many things regarding which he had previously been puzzled or in doubt.
“India is a strangely fascinating and yet detestable country,” the manager concluded. “The majority of her people are ignorant, dirty, unreliable, tricky and lazy. They need to be governed by a stronger nation now, and I doubt if the future will find them changed. To me they are like water buffaloes; no matter how many times you clean them, they enjoy wallowing in the mud. It is a natural tendency.
“Indians have been compelled to struggle for existence; they have been practically forced into dishonesty in many instances to eliminate starvation. They have been compelled, in times of famine, to lie, cheat, steal and beg to keep body and soul together. For centuries this has been their background and training. It is small wonder, therefore, that we find them today as they are. Many of their undesirable traits are inborn or acquired through necessity. Perhaps we can excuse them on these grounds.”
The next morning Bob arrived on board his ship early enough to be well settled before it departed. It gave him an opportunity to survey his new surroundings and get partly adjusted while the other new passengers were coming on board.
At last the customary signals were given, visitors left for the pier and within a few minutes the big ship was under way. Bob stood on the top deck for a long time watching the city gradually fade in the distance and finally the only object that could be clearly seen was the shining, gilded dome of Shwe Dagon Pagoda. It alone gave him his last impression and farewell of Burma and “Mother India.”
Suddenly he thought of Bud’s letter in his pocket which was awaiting his attention. He opened it leisurely and read the following:
My dear Bob:
It was only after several minutes of due deliberation that I decided to write this letter and make the strange request which you read on the envelope.
I concluded, however, that if the circumstances were reversed, you would pass the information to me that I am now outlining to you. I could not conscientiously give you the facts before that Indian “friend” of yours, and it would have been rather discourteous to call you aside when the time was so limited. Anyway, you expressed yourself so strongly regarding your fondness for the chap that I did not wish to disillusion you before you bade him farewell. To have done that would have given you a peculiar and disappointed feeling at the moment of departure. There is no telling what might have happened.
As it is, you will have plenty of time to deliberate before you take action, if you decide to do anything at all. You can think over the facts calmly and be guided accordingly in any future dealing you may have with him or others of his race.
You see, Bob, I’ve learned something about these people in the three years that I have lived in India and dealt with them. I have been cheated and tricked so many times that I have finally learned my lesson.
Now to come quickly to the point.
At the office of the steamship company yesterday forenoon I saw and heard your man Lall having a conversation with, what appeared to be, an old friend of his who works in the office.
The talk was in Hindi, but I’ve learned to speak and understand the language. Lall was telling his Hindu friend that he had been traveling with an American sucker who allowed him to handle his funds and pay all the bills, and that as a result he had made a nice commission on hotel bills, auto rentals, railway fares and even tips.
Right now you are probably mad enough to fight, but hold your temper, Old Man; it won’t do you a particle of good to lose it. If, after thinking the matter over for a day or so, you still wish to commit a murder, send a radiogram to me and I’ll accommodate you by tossing Lall to the sharks.
Your old pal
“Well, I’ll be damned!” slowly mumbled Bob. And then after a few moments’ hesitation he concluded, “I’m shaking the dust of India from my feet with a clear conscience. Perhaps, after all, it was worth an extra price to have Devi as a companion and a guide. I gave him a pledge of friendship and I’ll let it stand because—well, this is the Near East and he is an Indian.