India Recalled

The Fragrance of
Remembered Friendships
East and West


It is told of an Independent Raj in South India that the Hindu ruler, being weary of the noise and bustle of the world, said suddenly one day to his nephew, “I go into the forest to meditate. Rule, till I return from the forest.”

He never returned from the forest.

This happened in the fourth century of the Christian era; but to this day when the descendants of the nephew ascend the gadi, they say—“I rule till my uncle returns from the forest!”

Those of us who know only the modern Progressive India of the things that are visible, are apt not to realize—maybe we have had no opportunity to discover—the fact that that historical anecdote is symbolic of orthodox Hindu India in this twentieth century; that it breathes the atmosphere, and describes the foundations of the life lived in every orthodox Hindu home, and especially in the Zenana, tied and bound by traditions—spiritual, tribal, dynastic, domestic. . . .

The opportunity to learn this fact has been my privilege throughout my official and professional life in my country; and as I am always being asked in England alike by friend and chance-met stranger, how Indian secluded women live, what makes their lives, what—this specially from the feminist—is the status and position of such women in the body corporate, I have tried in this little book to answer these questions, not by a learned disquisition of which I am not capable, but by releasing as it were a film of living pictures from out my recollections and experiences, and letting the personalities and situations tell their own story.

There was my Arnakali Devi, for instance, wedded at the age of five, and going straightway to the house of her mother-in-law, playing with her boy husband and having, notwithstanding that early married status, a not unhappy childhood or motherhood, although always in tutelage, always having to live each hour of her day by rule, and never seeing the world outside the women’s quarters. Her time would come when she herself was mother-in-law in this joint-family Zenana, exercising an autocracy realizable only in the circumstances which I describe—the walled-in life of the strictly secluded.

But modern India, the urge of the young for Western contacts, had already in Arnakali’s lifetime knocked at the Zenana door: and her story tells how this affected her and the old joint family in all its “I-rule-till-my-uncle-returns-from-the-forest” works and ways.

She is typical of orthodox Hindu widowhood. But all orthodox Hindu widows do not hug the past to their souls. There was naughty Krishni feeling frustrated about the handling of her money; there was Giribala, irritated by the sainthood of the other inmates of the Zenana, and daring (an unheard-of proceeding) a clandestine flirtation on the roof-tops. And all orthodox Hindu widows are not incapable of turning modern learning or usage to their own advantage and the advantage of their properties despite a tragic difficulty of contact with the outer world—as is shown by the story of Prithivi Maharani.

I place Prithivi Maharani at the high-water mark of possibility among the keepers (as opposed to the flouters) of the law of Hinduism. And I feel confident that the gold thread of her attractive personality must needs break through at the flexures of my weaving, however clumsy I may have been at the loom.

And there are the children of these-like people. I could not pass them by, Muslim or Hindu—Ayesha Begum and Ali Akhtar, “Little Mees,” Omio, the little Maharaja, and my outcaste Punasi who conquered the inferiority complex of his low estate, by wearing his hair like a Brahmin. . . . Beloved and important children-people they were, all of them; the performance of Hindu religious ritual—as when they worship the aged, or their brothers, or Hari’s Feet—taking the place, in their day, of games and fun in the life of the normal English child.

So much of a Hindu’s time is occupied with “ceremonies and green rushes,” that apart from the interest which these things have for the folk-lorist, I felt that festivals must be described as necessary to any understanding at all, of Hindu life and custom.

They are not to my mind—but then I saw them in the flesh—devoid of simple gaiety or instruction, yes, even for the so civilized West (take the tale of the Worship of Obstacles), or of humour (the Worship of Wisdom, and the Mother of Sneezes). And, if it be objected that pathos is too often the dominant note, it can only be answered that this is not fiction, but a record of living India, and mostly of India of the Plains, where even the unobservant tourist cannot fail to find that same note. And is it not natural that it should be so, in our ancient land dominated by the teaching of endless births and re-births?

Story-telling is a traditional pastime with us; and we speak in parable as do other Eastern races. One tenth of the delightful tales I have heard could not be told; but as relating to my profession I could not omit the tale of The Boat laden with Lies. And as those same friends and strangers, to whom I have already referred, are also always asking about the Hindu practice of meditation, I had to tell of my beloved and genuine Holy Men and Women friends—of Mathaji whose will kept her alive for “a year and a month and a day,” and of how Bawaji expounded the prescription for sending the soul away from the body; but being a Sadhu with a wink in his eye did also admit that he once taught this practice to a disciple, not for spiritual uses, but in order to save the poor man from the tongue of a scolding wife.

And since even in England the exorcism of devils of domestic strife may be a necessity not outside practical politics, I include the tale of Buddha’s wells and the bamboo devil-boxes.

Bishun Singh introduces us to transitional India: the scope of the book did not permit me to carry that introduction further. That is another story.

Yet we cannot help wondering, can we, about the future of India in all its aspects?

The young Indian must often return from his sojourn in the West, to an orthodox Hindu Zenana, where domestic tragedy is inevitable. How can he be helped?

A Raja of whom I know tried to solve this puzzle in an untried way. “I will marry my son young,” said he, “and send him and his child-bride to the West for education. They shall return to India at a suitable age at which to begin their married life, and all will be well!”

So he looked him out a bride of the right caste and station in life, and at the ages respectively of seven and five, the children were married. The boy was sent to England to be ground in the approved mill—Preparatory School, Public School, University. The girl was sent to a convent in France.

In due course they were carried back to India, by different boats. They had never met through the years. The boy returned English to his finger-tips. The girl returned equally French, after her kind, in every particular. Of any way of life save the Convent Schoolgirls’, she had no experience; of any language other than French, she knew not a syllable.

She was stripped of her finery down to her pretty toes—the Zenana scandalized beyond words, “leather on the feet of a Brahmin!”—it took a special (and to the child revolting) ceremony, and much Ganges water to rectify that: the soles of her feet were dyed with henna, she was dressed in a saree, and put to live in the Zenana, a long room, shared in common with the other women of that joint family—four generations of them! Privacy there was none in any waking or sleeping hour. And the isolation of her soul, who shall guess?—she had nothing in common with any of them; nothing—in food, thought, speech, or habit of life.

They were not unkind to her, indeed they fussed over her, and fretted because she wilted, and was so still, and sad, and silent.

When she had mastered (the Raja saw to that) enough of her vernacular for intelligible intercourse, the old grandmother-in-law said to her, “Tell me what would make you happy.” “To have this room,” said she, “or any room, to myself for even half an hour a week. I ask no more.”

That was arranged; and the poor thing dressed herself in her French clothes even to hat and gloves, and walked up and down the room spouting French!

Something had to be done about it after that. The Raja’s conscience pricked him. His plan, he saw, had miscarried: for his son was going the very way against which he had hoped to safeguard him. . . . Eventually a friend intervened, and obtained the Raja’s consent to a separate ménage for the two young victims of an experiment—and the end of the story is triumphant! But it was a very near thing.

My own feeling is that Prithivi Maharani offers us the best solution of our problem. For, save the entire break-away of a change of religion, to which reference is made in the concluding chapter, the only way would indeed seem to be to live as she did in the second and the twentieth centuries at the same time: to cleave, till new convictions claim allegiance, to our traditional standards, tempered (as was the teaching of Mathaji and Bawaji) by our reason; and at the same time prepare our children for that open Zenana door, for that speeding-up of the pace, which cannot be evaded.

In regard to another of our problems, the Muslim-Hindu complex, I have in like manner found my orthodox Hindu friends more detached than my progressive friends. There is no bitterness or hatred in their avoidances. The reason is, I think, obvious. As with questions of caste, in shunning certain contacts, they are merely obeying a religious rubric: competition with the representatives of another race for political power, for place or opportunity does not enter into their considerations—however adroitly the stirrer-up of strife may seek to exploit that “rubric,” those religious taboos.

In the amphitheatre of life, the orthodox Hindu is compelled to occupy the seats specially reserved by spiritual exigency. With the Progressive it is otherwise. He has thrown away the ticket which admitted to the reserved enclosure; and there is apt to be gatecrashing at the entrance to the unreserved galleries.

The dear old man who told me the story of the crowding-out of heaven by the bathers at Benares talked many times of this very problem. He said, “We as Hindus are taught, through the interpretations put upon our religion by the priests, an exclusiveness which hampers our development as a people. So God sent the Muslim to rule over us.

“To the Muslim every man is brother. The Nawab may say to the sweeper turned Muslim, ‘Come, my friend, sit by me and eat,’ and yet maintain his spiritual and temporal estate. The Muslim stayed with us many years. Yet, we have not learnt that lesson. . . .

“We have allowed fear to rule our hearts, fear the badge of the enslaved, although we still hold to the basic doctrine of the free, that all passing things are illusion.1 We have allowed our reason to be overmastered by a slavish adherence to the letter of the law, and we try to live in a world of men and women as if we were ascetics, solitaries, making our souls in forest retirement. We have held it righteous to ignore our brother and his claims on us.

“So God looked down upon us once again, and He sent the English to rule over us. And yet, we have not learned our lesson!”

I wish it were possible to ask him the import of the new Constitution; but, as I tell in these pages, he has long since, my wise old friend, passed beyond our reach.

Yet maybe the lives of these orthodox Hindu women will demonstrate the most urgent need of the moment; and maybe Gauri Kumari, in her exclamation at seeing for the first time an English woman—“Why, she is so very like—a woman!” put her finger on the lesson still unlearnt, the lesson of international friendship and co-operation--viz. that women and children, and yes, men too, of whatever race, are very like—men and women and children the world over.

*  *  *

Grateful acknowledgment is due to the Editor of The Nineteenth Century for allowing reproduction of The Making of a Hindu Will: to The Time & Tide Publishing Co. for permission to tell, as relating to lawyers, the story of The Boat laden with Lies, first told in Time & Tide in the jute-brokers’ version: and to W. Blackie & Son, Ltd., The Statesman (of Calcutta), and The Time & Tide Publishing Co. for the courtesy of allowing reference to any of the persons in the book who may have appeared in the present and any other form in their publications.

My warm thanks are due to The Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick Pollock, K.C., and to Mr. J. B. Gilder of New York, for their kindness in reading the proofs; also to Sir Richard Burn, C.S.I., and Miss Manna Green of the Herbarium, Kew Gardens, for their valuable assistance in connexion with the Glossary.

Chapter I

Arnakali Devi, Matriarch — A Hindu Joint Family in Bengal

It was because of Arnakali Devi that I first visited the big estate in the vicinity of Calcutta, once joint-family property, now in ruins, divided up among a multiplicity of heirs. Even in decay, it kept marks of loveliness. There were acres and acres of cultivation, the heart of which was the family house set in spacious grounds surrounded by a stout wall broken to the north by a great gateway studded with nails. A small door in this gate was the usual way of getting in and out. But a gate-keeper in a battered uniform set the gates wide—how they creaked their protest against this strange proceeding!—to let Vanity Fair (my chestnut pony) and me pass through, one sultry afternoon in the month of May.

We had turned off the main road about a mile from the gate, passing jungle—bamboos and tall areca nut palm trees, slim-stemmed with a bunch of leaves atop hiding the supari betel-nut and looking for all the world like a Christmas decoration: cotton-trees, crimson-flowered and bare of leaves; the dhatura with its huge white bells limp with the heat; and big feathery grasses whose names I did not know. Then a tank, picturesque but rank with slime, and with the pale mauve water hyacinth . . . “If only we had money enough to clear up this mess—” I said to myself. But a greater mess still awaited me on the other side of the gate.

Arnakali Devi had been apprised of my coming, which explained the ragged sentry. The normal procedure, as I learnt later, when horses and traps sought entry, was for the groom to bang and batter and call—“Oho! Lazy one, son of an owl, abed at this hour! an Exalted Presence, awaits admission. Open the gates!”

The invocation was not always so (comparatively) polite. But this is a fair sample.

The big bari (family house) was built on the patriarchal lines of a hundred and fifty years ago. A sacred pipal tree, patriarchal too, spread its family about it, in long shoots which, hanging from the branches, burrowed underground loosening the foundations, and returning to view in the green leaves which sprouted out of roof and wall.

I walked through verandahs under rafters hung with cobwebs, and found myself in a vast courtyard. This was “the Outside”—the region allotted to menfolk.

The family chapel flanked it on one side. Here lived the idol, the right to worship whom was inalienable. If ever the family split, up, the idol would travel to visit each member in turn, his rations and priestly perquisites defined by Hindu law.

The baithak-khana, or general reception room, faced the chapel across the square, and the rooms opening out of the sides were used either for pleasure and study, or as estate offices.

The building was three-storied, and the higher floors in this block were used as dwelling rooms for men only. Dinner parties were given in the ground-floor kitchen adjoining the chapel, or, when large and ceremonial, in the courtyard itself. Evidently no man had lived here for many years; though the chapel seemed to be in daily use.

The idol—-Siva’s symbol, just a cone like the peak of a mountain—and its guardian, a little white marble plastered white.

It held a white-plastered flower-pot in which grew the sacred tulasi (basil) plant, but lately watered by some woman at her devotions. The earth beside it was damp and discoloured. I knew what that meant—the offering to the Earth Mother, which had begun the day.

A tiny door set in a side wall apparently gave access to the world without. I pushed it open on its rusty hinges, and found a path all white and gold bordered with marigolds and jasmine—“for the women’s puja (worship), of course,” I commented.

Beyond was a bathing tank. But it was not “the world” into which the women went through that door; high walls, stuck with bits of broken glass against an intruder, secured privacy and protection.

I turned back to “the Inside” or Women’s Courtyard; and found a maidservant dressed in an unbleached cotton saree, looking for me.

Arnakali Devi, said she, awaited me on the roof of the third story. Would I join her there?

It was “the hour between the twilights,” sacred, in the Zenana, to the roof-top, and to meditation.

In the language of the orthodox Hindu Zenana there are two twilights—one, when the sun follows its wonted track into the unseen, leaving with us for a while the memory of light, in the gorgeous after-glow of the East, flaming gold and red-gold, or bruised blue and opalescent, with dappled clouds flecked with primrose; the other, when darkness comes and the sun ends its journey, splashing into the sea and “sending up stars for spray.”

This is the time of Union, the meeting between Light and Darkness; the supreme opportunity for the mystic.

I found Arnakali Devi greeting it in meditation. But she roused herself as I appeared, and came forward, joined hands raised to forehead, in the salutation of Bengal. She wore the white unbordered saree of the widow over her close-shaved head.

Arms and feet were bare of ornament, forehead of any god-marks; her saree was her only garment, the upper part of her body was naked, except for her saree, drawn closely over head and shoulders, and pulled forward over her face, like the head-dress of the Virgin in some early Italian painting. But, as she faced me, I could see the lovely eyes set in the finely-chiselled face of an ascetic—the face of one who had suffered much, of one who had brought prayer and self-discipline to aid her suffering, and had by these means achieved a victory which expressed itself, not in the ideal of Hinduism—negation, indifference to human ills and human needs—but in the definite outpouring of love, and love for all things, yea even those which her religion must have taught her were but illusion—human contacts and relationships, and the world of Nature around her.

You will wonder that I should have seen all this in that first glimpse. But so I did. In some mysterious heartward way, her personality conveyed this to me. And, looking upon my Arnakali Devi, I loved her forthwith.

She was an old woman, close on eighty years of age, as I knew from my record of the family; but her face was smooth, her slight body erect.

She took my hand and led me to a lime-plastered seat beside the wall of the roof parapet. To my request for her story from the beginning, she told me this tale.

About a hundred and fifty years ago, her husband’s family founded the Zemindary to which he belonged. The family mansion was built in the orthodox way—men’s and women’s quarters (Outside and Inside), provision for worship of the family deity and of the sacred tulasi; kitchens which were special caste preserves and used as dining-rooms; sacred wells and tanks.

There were quarters for the several sons of the family; and, most meticulously, for the women whom the sons would bring into the family.

When young—and in those days brides came as children to the mother-in-law house—they lived in a common Zenana, four generations, oft-times, in one long room. When they became mothers they retired to their own married quarters. Each woman had her private chapel, and the priest of her choice. She might worship whatever image she pleased (usually choosing to worship the Baby Krishna, to pray for sons). She was not, in her private chapel, bound by the traditions of her husband’s family; although—and it is important to remember this—the gods who heeded her prayers were not now the gods of her paternal home, but the gods of her husband. “Prayers addressed by her to the paternal deities or patron saint, no longer reached the ears of the gods,” said Hindu scripture.

Arnakali Devi was one of a household of girls only, and was indeed called Arnakali (Mata or Devi) meaning: “Now no more of this, Mother Kali! Send us a boy,” in order to break the feminist spell. But when the goddess Kali, with her tongue in her cheek, continued to send girl-children, Arnakali Devi was promptly married at a great expenditure of money, and at the age of five years, to the eldest son of a big zemindar in Western Bengal. She must have been a darling child, with her big eyes and her perfect features; and her mother-in-law took her to her heart. Arnakali Devi said that when children went young to the marital home, this was usually the case.

It fell to the mother-in-law herself to mould the character, and direct the habits of her new daughter; and she delighted in the opportunity.

Arnakali Devi’s mother-in-law had no daughter when the child came to the big house, and indeed she never did have any girls. She had four sons, and “we daughters-in-law worshipped her as the lucky mother of sons, and prayed that her shadow might fall upon us,” said Arnakali.

Arnakali learnt how to cook and clean the brass vessels used for food; she learnt what was taboo to good Hindus in the daily diet—meat entirely, for women, though men might eat the flesh of goats and sheep, since these things were offered in sacrifice to the flesh-eating gods; among vegetables the onion—she could not tell me why. Men again might eat eggs, but they must be ducks’ eggs.

“But why?” I asked. “They are coarser than fowls’ eggs.”

“Muslims eat fowls’ eggs,” said she; and that seemed to her sufficient reason.

There were other rules, too, about particular varieties of even permitted foods and grains.

And all this was part of her religious education. So was the ritual of the worship of Siva in the family. Every morning early she would rise and after a bath in the tank, the very same which I had seen (“Oh, it was cold!” said she), and a lesson in how to change your clothes when bathing, the wet saree slipped off, the clean one tied round the waist, pleated into folds, and carried over your head, also wet from the bath—(“To dry my body would have been to close the pores of my being to the spiritual influences which the daily bath invites,” said she in answer to my inquiry)—she would walk back along the marigold and jasmine pathway trotting after her mother-in-law to seek the tulasi plant in the women’s courtyard.

They would break a leaf, crushing it between their fingers till the air was full of the pungent scent. Then she would repeat after her mother-in-law a little verse—

“Forget not the smell of the tulasi—the rules of your race and religion in marrying, in dying, in loving “. . .

(To me that sequence has always seemed significant. Did not Death call for the greatest exercise of love, in a Hindu woman’s life? So Love was put last; even as Marriage which began life for her came first.)

They would then walk round the tulasi, keeping it always to the right. To the Earth Mother was offered the first oblation of the day; Ganges water poured generously, first upon the earth, and next on the tulasi plant.

Next, they mounted to the mother-in-law’s chapel, and Arnakali sat by during the worship of the Baby Krishna. She longed to be admitted to that privilege herself. It was Krishna on his lotus-leaf—a real lotus-leaf, a baby made of Ganges mud. He would be bathed in Ganges water, his forehead anointed with sandalwood paste coloured red, a red dot showing also on the mother-in-law’s forehead, and a red line demarking the parting of her soft black hair. The dot meant—“I, who worship you, am a Hindu”; the red line—“and a wife.” Krishna had his food for the day placed beside him—sliced bananas, a tiny mug of milk, an orange pod or two; and all this maternal ritual was accompanied with the ringing of a little bell and the burning of incense. Then the mother-in-law would sit with eyes shut, arms crossed, and a marigold flower poised on her head, in meditation, while Arnakali held herself as still as a mouse.

Lessons began with instruction in the worship of the family god. Arnakali had a small brass basket on which she arranged the gifts she would like to give to Siva—any particular fruit which she herself liked best, grains of uncooked rice, leaves of sacred trees; later, when the spirit of the worship entered into her growing mind, she would add bits of her favourite saree, her favourite flower, some little treasure of childhood—a glass bead, a toy, her pocket money. . . .

A lamp, a vessel of Ganges water and a lump of Ganges mud were indispensable. Arnakali always carried the mud in the very centre of her basket of worship. In imitation of her mother-in-law, she added an incense-burner, of her own devising, since this item, not being de rigueur, was not supplied with the other brass properties—basket, tray, water-vessel, lamp. She begged an udh-bathi (incense stick) from her mother-in-law, and stuck it into a round of banana or cucumber, “but I thought it the very nicest offering on my basket,” she told me, with a smile.

It must indeed have been an important little Arnakali who carried her prayer mat and her puja-basket into the chapel.

First, she poured Ganges water on the floor to consecrate the place where she set down her mat; then she arranged her offerings and chanted after her mother-in-law: “O! Ganesh, God of success, Kali Mata, Great Mother; O! Saraswati, Goddess of wisdom; O! Lakshmi Devi, Goddess of wealth, O!——” and then a string of names which grew as she learnt of new gods and godlings—“Come to the light, and the left, and to all sides of me, to assist my worship.”

After which—“Take a flower,” said the teacher, “and meditate.” And Arnakali would balance a marigold flower on her head, and shut her eyes tight and meditate.

“On what did you meditate, at five years old?” I asked.

Sashur-Ma (mother-in-law) said that the right meditation for girls at that age was for a husband and for many sons. As I had a husband, I prayed only for sons, which meant that I might be a good wife.”

The Sashur-Ma kept the time chart.

“Take your lump of mud”—unsealed Arnakali’s eyes; and she would mould the Ganges mud as nearly as she could into the form of the Siva symbol. After which she sprinkled it with Ganges water; and the ritual thereafter was simple.

“O! Great God, I offer thee—these fruits, these flowers, these lights, this incense”. . . with intervals for meditation, till all the gifts had been presented, when she would chant a hymn, and the puja was over. A serving woman cleaned up, giving the grain and food stuffs to the birds, and appropriating the money.

Arnakali’s recital was not unfamiliar to me. Had not my old friend Mathaji Maharani “Wisest of the wise” founded a school which taught orthodox Hindu children just this worship, but without the direct sex implication upon which Arnakali insisted?

Much as I wished it, however, I could not travel, at that first meeting, all the long journey through the years that had passed, through ceremonies and etiquettes innumerable.

She told me how she was often admonished of her duty to her husband. He was a god, and she must worship him; he could do no wrong; her head must be bent and covered, and no word must she speak in his presence, when any older than herself stood by—this, during the first year of marriage. But, throughout life, she must obey him and do his will, whatever that might be. And if for a sin committed in some past life her husband were taken away by the King of Death, she must spend her widowhood in fasting and prayer, and in bratas, sacrifices, for his re-birth in happier circumstances than his last appearing.

In preparation for widowhood and Suttee (still in practice when she was a child), she had, even at five years of age, to learn how not to shrink from fire, by stirring boiling-hot rice with her little finger, till the finger was skinned to the bone and shrivelled up. The candidate for Suttee, her mother-in-law told her, must break her “marriage-ring”—an iron bracelet—strip herself of all ornaments, shave her head, renounce her children, offer her worldly goods to the priest, and walk to the burning ghat where the corpse of her lord lay on the long slab known as “the Suttee Stone.”

She would say good-bye to the friends who stood in a circle awaiting farewells. Three times she would walk round this circle distributing uncooked rice, a few grains put on to the outstretched palm of each—the rice taken from her păllo, the end of her saree, where she carried it. “Out of my poverty and loss of all things, I pray for you plenty”—was the meaning of this ritual. Then she would have to walk to the Suttee stone, and be tied, conscious (to be drugged would be cheating) on to that cold form of the beloved; tied with ropes held fast with bamboos, lest she try to escape and rob her lord of the benefit of a living sacrifice.

“So you see, my child,” said the Sashur-Ma, “you must learn to bear fire without flinching. We must be ready for the worst which the high gods may choose to send in punishment for whatever we have earned by our past actions.”2

Grown to an age when her mind questioned this didactic teaching—“But I do not remember any sins,” she would object. “If there were any, I did not commit them with the consciousness of me as I am now, my Lord’s possession. Why should he and I suffer for them?” And—“My child,” the answer would come, “the gods know, the gods do not forget. We must suffer for what we have done, whenever we did it. There is no escape; no redemption except by personal suffering.”

And the supposed “sins” being mostly defiance of caste-rule and ritual, this fact was emphasized to secure attention to the daily study of the Hindu “Book of Leviticus.”

“When you were widowed, did you never pray to meet your husband again?” I asked.

Arnakali was shocked. “How could I ask that he might again meet with this luckless one? I prayed for his highest good, for better luck,” she said simply.

But though the mother-in-law was so strict a disciplinarian during lesson time, while still a child Arnakali escaped to play, and played as a child with children—with her husband aged nine, and her husband’s three younger brothers, till she was ten years old. And during their play the status of a married woman did not lie heavy on her. Luckily her husband was the eldest son, so there were no taboos, no contemporary males from whom she must hide her face (an orthodox Hindu woman is purdah to her husband’s elder brothers); “And if I thought about being a married woman at all,” said she in answer to my question, “it was only to be proud that the boy to whom I belonged ran quicker, and fought more fiercely, than the other boys; ordered them about, and always had his way in the household, being the eldest son.”

At ten, she was put into purdah strictly guarded by her mother-in-law; and before she was eleven, she was the mother of a son. Two other sons followed, greatly to her own satisfaction. She had fulfilled her destiny, and won the approval of her husband and the entire family.

When her husband was fifty, she was widowed; and the British law then in force prevented her being Suttee.

But much had happened before that date.

The old father-in-law, as was joint-family custom, managed the property as Karta (manager) with the eldest son, Suren, to help him. Biren the second son was in business, and Jogen the youngest was a lawyer. The family lived in common and all personal gains were put into the family pool.

This certainly was unfair to the industrious and prosperous, but it taught a “family” sense, and gave the unemployed and luckless a chance of recovery and self-respect, his “bread and water” being secure not as a charity but by religious custom. Moreover since the needs, including marriage dowries (and even the personal extravagances), of every member were duly meet, the system worked out less inequitably than appears at first sight.

Biren was gross and lazy. He relinquished his profession and lay about the house all day chewing betelnut. He said fate was to blame, since he was the father of daughters only. Jogen, the lawyer, was efficient enough; but he was selfish and greedy. He resented contributing his professional gains to family funds, and as soon as he began to earn worth-while fees, he refused to observe the custom, demanding a partition. Now a partition meant a sale of the estate, with immediate delivery to himself of his share of the proceeds. He was within his rights under the law both as to refusal and demand.

But the old father could not bear to break up an ancient family renowned for its solidarity. With the consent of his eldest son Suren, Arnakali’s husband, he compromised. He offered Biren and Jogen separation without disintegration. He would build them homes of their own to which they might retire, living independent lives. They need contribute nothing to the family.

Arnakali rose and pointed through the gloaming to two deserted houses standing on either side of Kali’s temple against the boundary walls.

Arnakali and her Sashur-Ma were now therefore alone in the big bari; but they were happy together, and Arnakali’s sons were spoilt by their grandmother, after the manner of grandmothers the world over.

The old man did not long survive the disruption of the family, and his wife followed him within a year.

Their parents out of the way—Biren and Jogen came to Suren, the new Karla, their eldest brother, Arnakali’s husband, to demand a legal partition, a real cleavage; that the Zemindary be sold and each given his share under Hindu law.

Suren agreed, buying in himself the crumbling old bari which his father so loved, and the younger brothers disappeared into the void. Indeed, the family idol was now the only link between the brothers making its journey to their houses, as their “turns of worship” came round each year.

The second generation, Arnakali’s sons, were not very satisfactory. After their father’s death, they resented their mother’s control, and the trouble which had brought me to the bari was that the youngest had demanded an education in England, just after his wife had died in childbirth, leaving a small daughter whom Arnakali immediately adopted.

“Could not one of the other daughters-in-law take care of the child?” I asked, for it seemed too great a responsibility for Arnakali.

“No one could do that,” said she, “it would not be usual while I live; and the child’s maternal grandmother refuses the obligation. As for my other sons, as you know, they are living outside Bengal for their work; while the elder of them being already the father of many girls would not want another.”

Yes, I remembered That One met in Bihar. I had gone to sympathize upon the death of one of his dear small girls.

“Thank God, yes,” said he, “she is dead.” And to my gasp of astonishment at his callousness, added—“One less to dower. Besides, since she is dead, she can never be cursed by widowhood.” . . .

“The new order has brought some good with it, Arnakali Devi,” I persuaded her; “for I can now find you a trained orthodox Hindu nurse, who will not break your god-rules, but while keeping them, will yet know how to help the child to grow in health, and in the discipline which you consider necessary.”

And I drove home under a sky out of which the stars hung like lamps—pondering on the difficulties of the aged in a changing world. Because, for all her detachment from things temporal, my saint of an Arnakali Devi was full of fear of the unknown perils which awaited her beloved youngest son; already too careless, indeed scornful, of caste, the sheet-anchor of religion in his mother’s eyes, and of all that the tulasi plant stood for in the Zenana courtyard.

Chapter II

Co-Widows in a Joint Family — The Position of Women under Hindu Law

But that Arnakali Devi was right as to the joint-family system and the rules of Hindu law securing the best protection, even the greatest material rights to widows and to women generally—at any rate while they remained uneducated and subject to custom—I was forced to admit to myself, not long after I made her acquaintance.

The occasion of my conviction related to a joint estate situated in a town.

The estate was represented at the moment by the widows of three brothers. Two of the widows were childless, the youngest had two daughters aged four and six. The older widows accepted their lot, even hugged it to themselves, spending their time in prayer and meditation; and in the performance of bratas, or periodical fasts, and sacrifices of five, ten, even fifty years duration, for the benefit of their deceased husbands.

This piety annoyed Giribala Dasi, the youngest widow.

The year was 1907, when the movement towards the emancipation of women, though confined to the Theistic and English-educated community, did have its repercussions, seeping through closed doors to the Zenana, when restless young things, their blood stirred by quite other causes, felt its hot breath upon their cheeks. Giribala was not the only one so moved, in my experience. She was a nice creature aged twenty-two, and good to her two little girls, named “Lightning-Belovéd” and “The Beautiful Creeper.” She saw to their food, though she did not, as did other Hindu mothers, insist on cooking all that her children ate; she sat daily in her puja ghar (house of worship), and was very prim and docile with her guru (priest). But her sisters-in-law lived in the same house, though in separate quarters, and were a perpetual annoyance, never free to gossip, fasting and sitting in meditation, it seemed to Giribala, from dawn to sunset. Their very existence constituted, she felt, an accusation of her so different life; and she said to me hotly one day, “They are fingers of scorn pointed at me, telling our mother-in-law, wherever she may be, that I am not a good Hindu, and worshipper-of-my-Lord.” This was, of course, all imagination. The saintly widows her sisters-in-law were already so detached from the illusions of life that their offence was not self-righteousness, but neglect, of the human contacts under their roof. Giribala was lonely, and craved for speech with her kind, for companionship in domestic tasks, for something which would counteract the isolation created by indifference in a common home, and in circumstances which might be expected, humanly speaking, to breed sympathy. She was irritated by a proximity in which there was neither speech nor language. I understood her perfectly—we are, I know, most alone when ignored by those closest to us.

“But at least they are equally indifferent to one another,” I urged, trying to lessen her hurt.

But she said that made no difference to her, since the good sisters-in-law were independent the one of the other, and could feel no hurt from neglect.

I went to see her as often as I could, to play with the children, and I made her join in our games; and as we sat on the roof, I would ply her with questions about Hindu customs and ceremonies, seeking to emphasize the fact that she was necessary to myself, at any rate.

She spoke readily enough, and was really very bright and amusing—a vivid personality, conscious of individual gifts, and longing for expression.

She came to see me too, always strictly in purdah, and was quick in imitation. I would find the windows of her rooms set wide “like the Miss Sahiba’s windows”: she arranged her sitting-room as nearly as she could like mine and in the summer she had a great secret and surprise which she sprung upon me. She had acquired a Singer’s sewing machine, and had made loose covers for her chairs, because she had found my room in its summer chintzes. But rebellion surged below all this commendable effort.

On her own responsibility she had dismissed the holy old priest-man shared in common with the sisters-in-law: and had installed a younger man, not so reliable. I did not like the look of him; but it was no business of mine; and I said nothing when she defiantly announced what she had done. She was her own mistress, particularly in things religious.

It was about this time, no doubt at the suggestion of the new priest, that she declared that the girls must be married, and that a list of desirable husbands was being prepared for her approval.

Her estate was under management of the Court of Wards and I was not greatly disturbed by her bravado, because I knew—as she herself knew—that the Court had power to forbid marriage at the then early age of the children.

I tried tactics which avoided argument.

I begged for one year’s delay after another, on the ground that if married the girls must go to the mother-in-law’s house, and be lost to me. “I want to play with them a little longer,” I urged. And she consented, though pointing out that she was risking a lower and lower heaven (re-birth) both for herself, and her husband, by these delays; and she quoted to me the Shastras, as taught her by her priest.

“The first three years of her life, a girl-child may not be married, because she belongs those three years to the Great God Brahma, to Vishnu the Preserver, to Siva the Destroyer—each in his turn. After three years of age she must be married; if married between the third and the fifth year her parents go to a first-class heaven (i.e. have the highest form of regeneration); if between five and eight to a second-class heaven; between eight and ten to a third-class heaven; thereafter to hells—only to hells.”

There came a day when Lightning-Belovéd was ten; and only “hells”—not even a third-class “heaven”—awaited her. But by this time Giribala had belovedly realized that I was her friend and I think that she was not herself indifferent to me. She did no more than grumble.

I had for the how-many-th time tried to make her see that she was at least, by delay in this necessary business of marriage, lessening the risk of widowhood, which she said she most dreaded, for our adorable Lightning-Belovéd.

Heu! “ said she, “you ought to be pleased with me that she was not born a widow.”

And she explained that among certain of her community there was a custom for expectant mothers who were friends to make a pact to the effect that if the children on the way were boy and girl, a marriage would be celebrated between them. And in a particular month of pregnancy they actually performed a marriage ceremony between balls of flowers.

If the children turned out to be of like sex the marriage was null and void; if boy and girl the marriage was valid. And if the boy had died before, or in process of being born, the girl was born a widow!

“My friend Gauribala had a son, and he was born dead. We had made the pact; but I was frightened and would not have the flower-marriage. So you ought to shahabash (applaud) me, in that your Lightning-Belovéd was not born a widow!”

One afternoon I found a stack of hay on our usual playing ground, the roof. It was a hot evening and Lightning-Belovéd and the Beautiful Creeper were dressed in nothing but amulets on arm and neck, and silver chains about the waist. They looked adorable, and seizing the hay, I threw it at them and taught them a new English game. They loved hearing about English children, and what they did, and how they played; and they were for ever seeking to know more.

“My English children-friends would not (or would) do so and so,” was all the discipline that I needed to use.

“The children want to come and see you, and play at your house, some afternoon,” said Giribala one day, after the hay-making game on the roof-top.

I was delighted, and made a “date.” They might not lunch with me, but they could eat fruit, and (oddly enough) chocolates, which they loved.

So in due course the Raj carriage and pair drove into my gates, a smart orderly complete with gun and ancient uniform sat on the box, and another orderly (without a gun) stood on the step and guarded the little atoms at-the rear. A Ji (waiting woman) sat with them inside.

I waved from the window at sound of the carriage in the drive, and awaited my visitors on the landing at the top of the stairs. What I saw was so comic I really could not keep from laughing as I hugged the funny objects, which but for their faces no one could have recognized as my Lightning-Belovéd and her sister.

They were dressed as English widows of the Early Victorian type, in crape dresses and heavy weeds; false curls were pinned into their widows’ bonnets and escaped from the long veils which weighed down their defenceless heads.

How I laughed, longing for some English friend to share the sight with me! Their disappointed grave little faces pulled me up.

“Then the Miss Sahiba does not like us in the clothes of her English-children-friends?”

“They do not dress like this; but tell me all about it. Why have you put on these clothes? Where did you get them?”

Then, helped out by explanations from the Ji, I heard this story. They thought that I loved my English children-friends better than I loved them;. and that if—the darlings!—they dressed like them, maybe they would buy more love.

So they asked their mother to dress them as English children for the visit they were to pay me. And she, ignorant of the correct fashion, sent one of her waiting women to discover and buy what was necessary.

In a street not far from their house was an old clothes shop. The owner, consulted, said that he had no English children’s clothes—but that not long since an English Mem-Sahib had sold them her clothing. He described her as she looked on her first visit of enquiry, and said that on her head she wore the bonnet (which he produced) and had long curls hanging out of it, down her cheeks.

So, back to the Rajbari went the Ji, carrying the black dress and bonnet of that poor English widow, who must have fallen on evil days, and sold her weeds.

And Giribala ordered a darzi (sewing man) to copy the entire contraption, cut to size, bonnet and all.

The long curls she felt must be indispensable, and the clever Ji was sent to seek false hair in the bazaar, which Giribala oiled and curled, and the darzi sewed obediently into the little crape bonnets. She was very pleased with the result.

“For how should English children dress,” she had argued, “except as smaller editions of their mothers!”

As my only response to this tale—for there they were, the funny mites, masquerading as English widows of the year 1837, standing round-eyed and anxious before me—(how could I help it?) was more laughter, Lightning-Belovéd spoke, with puzzled brows:

“Then the Miss Sahiba does not love the clothes of the English children-people?”

“These are not like the clothes they wear,” I said, beginning to strip them off.

“She does not love us better for wearing these clothes!” (in breathless astonishment) . . .

“Then” (shyly) “how does she like us to look?”

“I like you in your own clothes,” I said, “and since you’ve not got them here, I like you like this “

And I stripped, even to their amulets and silver waist bands, for there was nothing else under the clothes of mourning.

Their darling faces cleared; but they persisted:

“The Miss Sahiba truly would not love us more if we dressed so?” —pointing to the heavy black mass on the floor.

And they had to have more definite assurance on that point; and to be told so that they understood, about the Miss Sahiba’s way of loving her children-friends; and that each child of whatever race had its own particular place in the Miss Sahiba’s heart and could not be pushed out of it by any other child by any means whatsoever.

I wrapped them in shawls and rugs for the homeward journey, after what was, I hope, as happy an afternoon for them as it had been for me.

And, naturally, I never told Giribala what her English model really represented. It would have been the worst of ill-luck.

Not long after this, word was brought me that a young vakil (lawyer), who lived at the end of the street, used to visit the Rajbari, walking over the roofs of the intervening houses in the dusk, and meeting Giribala “to advise her about her legal position.”

Now, it was impossible for me to charge Giribala with so serious a breach of Hindu custom as this fact represented, and I was very angry with the vakil, though equally impossible was it for me to discover who he was and charge him with his conduct. He would have retaliated by spreading a scandal (unassociated with his own name) about that Zenana.

The only protective action I could take was to arrange to pay a daily visit to Giribala and insist on playing with the children at the spot intended for the lawless rendezvous, placing myself so as to command the dividing wall over which the wicked man of law would climb.

Giribala, crestfallen that I had arrived at so disconcerting a moment, tried to persuade me to play downstairs—while I suppose she slipped up and gave warning. But I would not be gainsaid of the roof, and insisted on her coming too. She came, and sat sulkily by, furious with me. She would not as usual join in our games, and I know that I gave her just cause to be still angrier by continued daily visitations at the fateful hour.

As the moment of her appointment drew near, she would grow rigid with apprehension, listening for the noiseless footstep of the unshod, wondering how she dare give warning; but afraid to move, under my carelessly watchful eye. . . . There would be a scraping of toes upon the roof cement (his knock, so to speak) and Giribala’s hand would be clenched in anxiety. . . . Maybe she realized that my voice speaking to the children had helped her—for the steps would recede. . . .

I needed to say nothing; and after the third evening, no stealthy steps approached the dividing wall.

In about a fortnight Giribala was herself again, and said to me rather shyly:

“I’m good now.”

“Were you ever naughty?” I asked.

“The Miss Sahiba knows that I was naughty. But I’m good now.”

“I am no longer ashamed when I look into the face of the Miss Sahiba.”

Bless these little women! Is it any wonder that they snare the hearts of those who have the privilege of loving them.

The vakil, of course, got no chance of continuing his visits of advice. The wall between Giribala’s roof and the next house was raised, and steps were taken to apprise him that his attempted breach of custom was known to the authorities.

Giribala indeed had no need of seeking advice that way. Her estate being under management she could apply to us for any information or advice she needed; or if she wished advice from other than her guardians she knew that we would have supplied her with the lawyer of her choice; and would have arranged for the interview in the approved way—a curtain between and a third person repeating such questions as she might put to the lawyer—-since it was as little permissible for him to hear her voice as to see her face.

But, as a matter of fact, except in relation to the increase of her maintenance allowance, the marriage of her children, the performance of ceremonies, and the allotments made to all these things in our yearly budgets, there was no “legal business” which harassed her. Her business burdens were carried by the Government.

This seems an appropriate moment to state with more particularity than has hitherto been used, the position of Hindu widows and women generally, under Hindu law and custom.

A Hindu widow’s estate has peculiar characteristics. A sonless widow takes a greater interest in her husband’s estate than that known to English law as a tenancy-for-life.

As Mulla, a well-known authority on Hindu Law has said: “She is in fact an absolute owner, subject to certain restrictions, except where by custom she is without restriction, and is entitled absolutely.” (Principles of the Hindu Law, pp. 163, 171. Calcutta, 1932.) She may spend the entire income of the property as she pleases, and dispose of it in whatever way she likes. She may even deal with accumulations of income, provided she has separated these from the corpus before she dies, or dealt with them in such a manner that separation may be presumed.

The income, in fact, becomes her stridhan or peculium of which she may dispose by deed or will, and to which certain female heirs alone may succeed—stridhan property being protected against males, including husbands.

The payment of her husband’s debts (except when incurred for illegal or immoral purposes), even of the debts barred by limitation, the maintenance of the members of his family, the performance of the marriages of dependent, family members—all these are religious obligations.

But she is not bound to meet them out of the income of the estate, however large that may be. She can throw the entire burden of these charges upon the corpus of the property; and sell or mortgage the property to meet those expenses which the Law regards as legal necessities. She represents the estate entirely, so that a decree passed against her may in certain circumstances affect the reversioners though not themselves parties to the suit.

She may manage the property herself or through her agents, her powers of management being similar to those of a manager of an infant’s estate as described by the Privy Council.

Further, she may alienate the corpus for purposes like the payment of funeral expenses and the performance of her husband’s shradh (memorial rites); and generally to buy him spiritual benefit; in addition—as indicated above—to liquidation of his debts, debts being also in the nature of a purchase of spiritual benefit; for has not Manu, the Law-giver, said: “He who does not pay his debts shall be born again as a slave, a servant, a quadruped, or a woman.”3

But she may not deal with the corpus in the interest of her own soul.

Instances of dispositions upheld by the courts as conducing to the spiritual welfare of the husband are an interesting commentary on Hindu custom.


“Pilgrimages for the spiritual benefit of my husband, and in performance of my duty to his soul.”

“Gifts to the temple of Jagannath at Puri for Bhog—food offerings—to the deity and for maintenance of the priests.”

“For the salvation of my husband and his family members; and for my own salvation.”

“A gift for making and maintaining a temple for the benefit of the soul of my husband.”

“A gift for the excavation and maintenance of a tank to be attached to a temple founded by my husband.”

“A gift for the construction of a tank pursuant to my husband’s wishes.”

“A gift to my husband’s priest on a visit to Gaya” (a place of pilgrimage).

Gifts generally to family deities and priests. . . .

But the widow may not apply the corpus to the purchase of spiritual benefit to her own soul alone. Thus—

“A gift to a favoured idol” (no mention of her husband’s soul, or funeral ceremonies).

“Feasts,” “gifts to pujaris” (temple servers).

“The building of dharamsalas” (rest-houses).

“The installation of idols.”

“Gifts to my own guru,”

all made long after her husband’s death, and without “special intention” for his soul, have been held invalid by the courts.

It will be realized from the above that the widow—especially the sonless widow—has considerable rights and powers—limitations (on ownership) relating mainly to the fact that the corpus of her husband’s property descends to his heirs, not to hers, in the female line, as does stridhan or peculium. But since, as we have seen, she can convert accumulated and separated income into her stridhan, she is in an anomalous and advantageous position.

In addition to the widow, the daughter, the mother, the father’s mother, the father’s father’s mother, may all inherit to a male. The Bombay School of Hindu Law, differing in many respects from the Bengal and Benares schools, has always included in this list other heirs also. And now by the Hindu Law of Inheritance (Amendment) Act, 1929, the son’s daughter, the daughter’s daughter, and the sister may in like manner inherit to a male.

It should be explained that I speak of married women and widows; I do not speak of spinsters because none such are known to Hindu Law and custom.

Now, it will be clear to any one who has troubled to read this very brief summary that the position of Hindu widows is not such as the general public in the West has believed it to be. The Indian woman has, generally speaking, greater rights to property than the English married woman in like circumstance had before 1935, and far less hazard and insecurity in widowhood.

Even when she is not in possession of the property she has rights of maintenance, and of residence in the family house; rights now extended to the other females enumerated above.

She is protected, and can be deprived of that protection only if she “breaks cover,” e.g. by persistently living an unchaste life, or offending the rule of conduct and right-living demanded by religion. (Though even prostitutes and dancing girls may not be deprived of their property, which descends as if it were their stridhan.)

Degradation and loss of caste are an inescapable sequence to prostitution; but prostitution does not, in Hindu Law, sever the ties of blood, nor of kindred between the prostitute and her husband’s family.

As to her actions, the Hindu woman is certainly restricted; most particularly so when “secluded”; and even if she were emancipated, educated, and freed from purdah, there are many things “which are not done,” Breach of marital faith, experiments in a life of independence and in affairs of the heart, such as are described in books like Sinclair Lewis’s Ann Vickers as natural incidents in the lives of certain emancipated women in the West—are unthinkable to the normal Hindu woman. She has no desire for licence. Reasonable seclusion is even attractive to her.

The hardship of the life of an orthodox Hindu woman is of a different nature and seems to me to centre round two facts—

(1) That she cannot always get into touch with the rights that are hers. As a rule she is uneducated, docile, and accustomed to subjection to menfolk; she may be ignorant of her rights or, though cognizant of them, she may be unable to get possession when unscrupulous male relations are interested to rob her of her rights.

(2) She may be in possession of her property but at the mercy of her priests and unfriendly male relations, and of her own limitations in business matters or knowledge of the outside world.

Think, for instance, of her great powers in relation to the administration both of her income and of the corpus of the estate of her husband when a sonless widow. She knows of few ways of spending money, beyond its application to religious uses. Her priests see to it that her money is so applied. Thought of personal pleasure, of clothes, ornaments, worldly amusement—she has none. As a widow her diet and her dress are restricted; and she has never been taught a civic sense in relation to her “squire-ship” either to the people living on her husband’s estate or to the improvement of his property.

Here again a peculiar type of education is needed. And what an opportunity this should make for the emancipated woman worker! Women Land Agents; Women Dairy Farmers; Women Gardeners; Women Experts in Industry . . .

To secure light and air for the secluded woman in her daily life should be easy—if these necessities are first secured within the law, i.e. with respect for Hindu custom in regard to avoidance of free intercourse between men and women.

Open windows, lessons, lectures, demonstrations behind the purdah; a purdah garden with games and exercise within the walled enclosure—all these innovations could be made immediately available to the most strictly secluded.

And in course of time the women themselves would go further, pushing out, if only in a purdahed palanquin or car, to see the world; seeking contacts outside their boundaries, asking for such news of the more progressive among women as might further correct harmful custom and enlarge their thoughts and lives and the ambitions which they hold in their hearts for themselves and their children.

Already one realizes in the Hindu Zenana what I might symbolize thus—

The tulasi plant is still found in the women’s courtyard, and is worshipped by young and old. But it is often now grown in a breakable terra-cotta flower-pot, and the door of the Zenana courtyard is on the latch, the sentry with drawn sword no longer on guard . . .

The times are changing even for the bond-servants of custom.

Sonless widows, widows with minor children, including sons, widows with daughters only—all these varieties were under our care in the Court of Wards. We took over their properties upon their request, or upon intimation from interested persons (reversioners) who feared squandering and mismanagement.

In the latter case the women were first examined as to their ability for personal management. If found incapable the Court of Wards assumed control; and the women were given maintenance allowances according to their status, relatively to the capacity of the estate. Their personal needs were met, in addition to bare maintenance. For instance, demands for pilgrimages; for the marriage expenses of daughters; for religious ceremonies, for the periodical shradhs (memorial rites) of husband or son . . .

Moreover, custom was respected in regard to all the members of the family whom the deceased male would have been bound to maintain, or for whose marriage or other ceremonies he would have had to make provision. And expenses of this nature were always met.

The estate was administered intelligently, i.e. in yearly budgets allotment was made, in the discretion of the administrators, to roads, bridges, hospitals, schools—though the women were always kept informed of what was done—and after a retention of money to meet emergencies such as floods, famines, epidemics, the balance of the income of the estate was meticulously made over to the women. Sometimes this balance was very large. A sonless widow, in my experience, received balances amounting to three lakhs of rupees (£22,500) a year.

Thus we see that even when property is under management, other than her own, it is possible for a woman to have considerable freedom in regard to the application of money. She is not “oppressed,” and need not be exploited—save by her priest.

To those who acquaint themselves with Hindu law, and the growth of Hindu law under the increasing ascendency of the priests, the liberty allowed to Hindu women as summarized in this chapter can be explained only by the fact that the priestly class knew, as priests know the world over, that women are their best allies and may be depended upon to serve their purposes. It is this dependence which has directed and moulded Hindu custom.

Take, for instance, the injunction that the most profitable death is on Mother Earth; not in a room, not on a bed. Why? The reason given by the priests is, that a man may become a demon who dies in a bed, between earth and sky, because this entire region is demon-haunted. That his only refuge is to be brought down to earth—though in extreme and exceptional cases it might suffice if earth were brought to his room and plastered with cow-dung that he might die there. It was only when I saw with my eyes, that I understood. A little Rani lay dying. She was almost unconscious; her priests crowded round admonishing her to return to consciousness, to call on Kali and endow the priesthood. If this were not done would not her savings go to her heirs? When the poor soul lay still, though breathing, deaf to their entreaties, they demanded that she should be bumped down three flights of stairs, so that she might die on Mother Earth and buy merit. They accompanied her, ringing bells, shouting at her, securing a sturdy bumping on each step, in the hope of recalling her to consciousness and to the utterance of even one word of benefaction. (Luckily she died on the third step, without having spoken; and the priests were left to make what they could out of the funeral.)

The shradhs, and all ceremonies, would seem to have a like object—viz. the direction and control, not of necessity the subjection or oppression, of women. Though here again the priestly explanation is that the intention of death ceremonies is to give the spirit a tenement. Unassisted by shradhs it would be a homeless ghost tormenting its family.

The orthodox Hindu woman is happiest when serving her husband, her priests, her religion. Even Manu was not really anti-woman. “When the women in a household are happy,” said he, “the gods are pleased.”

But he spoilt that wise sentiment by adding:

“Therefore keep them content with gifts of jewels, fine clothes, and ornaments!”

The women knew that text well, and it gave them courage, when in due time they retired to the Sulking Room4 to await the Shastric gifts.

This summary of the whole duty of women in the Padma Parana is instructive and amusing:

“A woman must worship her husband as a god. She must serve him faithfully. His will should be her law. When he is away from home she must grieve and live mournful days; she must sleep on a hard plank of wood, not in her comfortable bed, while he is absent. She must in all things deny herself so that she may welcome appropriately his return. Never at any time, even during his absence, should she eat the foods and dishes which he dislikes. When he is sad, she should be cast down; when he makes a joke, she must laugh hilariously; when he sings, she must leap for joy.”5

With that for an ancient ideal, it seems to me that Hindu women are marvellous to have retained their individuality at all.

Even Manu’s flatteries about “gifts” are not really complimentary; and it was not kind of him to put the women last in the punitive list of rebirths which await one who does not pay his debts. But the threat certainly proves effective whether with man or woman. Often have I used that quotation to help the liquidation of an estate, when more civilized methods had failed!

In regard to administration of property, however, women are not unteachable. I have known women in the past, and I know one little widowed Maharani now, who manages her property from behind the purdah, scrutinizing accounts, using right judgment, and in short, making so good a manager from behind the purdah that her husband’s property is already, within five years of her assumption of management, cleared of debt and being nursed for her little son.

Nor is it impossible to make them realize civic responsibility. I have known women who have founded hospitals and schools, boldly facing the wrath of the priests who had hoped expenditure might be on “gifts to the priesthood” or “to buy off the curses of (unknown) enemies.” And, I am full of hope for all that will be done for the country when secluded women are educated and guided along the right lines.

Chapter III

Making a Hindu Will

I have said that Hindu women have rights of disposition of property by deed or will. And I propose to insert here an experience of my own, in 1933, which seems to me to tell more about orthodox Hindu purdahnashins (not alone in this relationship, but generally as to “setting” and spiritual horizon) than could be conveyed by talk “about it and about.”

It is a great undertaking when an orthodox Hindu purdahnashin, sonless and widowed, settles to the making of her will. That she may make one at all is due to enactments of British rule; but these enactments simply give sanction to disposal by testament of that over which she would ordinarily have control in dispositions known to the law of her race and her religion. So she is absolutely free to make her will in the vernacular—in every sense.

She arrives the decision then that a will must be made. “I have lived thirty years: this is old age. I may die any moment, and my gods would be unprotected if I did not make provision.” Relations are a secondary consideration, but not unimportant, since, if her will did not make declaration to the contrary, they might believe themselves to have an interest in her death, and might hasten that event. To provide against this possibility she gives them as much as she can while still alive, trying to emphasize the importance of a living donor. But they do not always, those countless relations, interpret her actions aright. It is therefore necessary that the important document should be made and registered and broadcast to the family.

So it is indicated that a will shall be made. The next step is to find an auspicious day on which to visit Benares and assure herself of the needs and condition of the family idols: do they get enough to eat in the temples already dedicated to them? Are the pilgrims who visit these temples sufficiently cared for? Should her benefactions be for these or for other gods and goddesses? . . . And when, she does get to Benares, more delays. The auspicious moment for investigation has to be found: the priest, who alone knows the wishes of the gods in question, may be ill or on a journey. But at long last that stage is overpast, and the possibilities, duly listed, are carried back home to the Raj, for submission to her personal spiritual adviser.

Meantime, he also has been holding durbars. The whole district knows that the Rani is making a will: and applicants besiege him. Next in importance to the gods come worthy charities: “The diseased cows in a certain taluka (district), fed hitherto by a pious Hindu, are without a patron. The Hindu has died, and his bounty with him.” Or (from the more enlightened): “The village where the Rani was born has no school for boys and girls.” Or, again (from social organizations and English foundations): “The town in which the Rani lives has no hospital for women, and the general hospital lacks an X-ray department, and a maternity ward”—thus and thus might the Rani do, and make her name great!

Her entourage for miles around is interested in the will, and travels to headquarters with suggestions. Nor is this resented or deemed impertinent. The making of a will is a family concern (in the feudal sense). Not to be interested would be a mark of unfriendliness, even of hostility. “All contact between us is severed. I have not asked to whom she means to marry her niece, and I have made no suggestions about the disposal of her property,” would be almost a declaration of war. It would cut the gentle Rani to the heart; and she would send discreet emissaries to discover how she had offended. No! the suggestions are “common form”; and, the claims of the gods having been dealt with, as has been said, in the Sacred City, the Rani returns to tackle the domestic items.

Death ceremonies. “Set down that my father in law’s shradh must be commemorated by the feeding of twelve priests at Buddh-Gaya, on the anniversary of his death—the priests to be paid according to the amount they consume. They must feed to repletion.”

I have seen such a feeding. The priests fast for days beforehand, and sit cross-legged on one of the stone platforms at the beautiful and ancient city of Buddh-Gaya (of special sanctity for death ceremonies), overlooking the ruins and the great-leaved tree under which Buddha, the conqueror of the flesh and all fleshly impulse, attained Buddhahood. In the near distance is the monastery of the caste Hindus, who through this shradh ceremony have acquired rights, at the Buddhist stronghold of the men who deny caste. The pink-robed priests go in and out through the curved white arches, and the little green parakeets stagger in and out of the eaves, having buried themselves in the cups of the blood-red flowers of the cotton tree and drunk to intoxication . . . it all comes back to mind, with talk of a shradh at Buddh-Gaya.

“For my mother-in-law there must be shradhs at Benares, in the temples she has founded. So many priests must be fed, and so many pilgrims also; and so many cows, and the pigeons who frequent the courtyard.” Here the Personal Spiritual Adviser intervenes: “Is it remembered by the Presence that it is unlucky to turn away any who come to a shradh festival! May it not be as well to say, ‘Spend so much money on feeding priests and pilgrims, cows and pigeons,’ rather than to limit the number?”

And it is thus that the clause gets written: “For my lord (husband) there must be a seven years’ shradh, and then a fourteen, and then a twenty-one years’ shradh, the duration of the shradh increased by seven years, upon expiration of each term.”

This rather staggers the P.S.A. “Huzur” he says gently, “have you considered about the money needed to carry out this command? We have only that which will be left by yourself. No son is there who will see to it that these wishes are fulfilled, and will add to the money left by you when it is exhausted. The heirs of ‘the 8-anna share,’6 the heartless ones, will think of their ancestors alone, and of their own ‘brother-ties,’ and will give never a pice to us and our needs.”

“Well! set it down for now,” says the Rani, “and tell the vakil to find a way.”

With her own shradh she deals summarily: “Five thousand rupees are to be spent annually upon my own shradh on the anniversaries of my death; and better write also that no more than ten thousand rupees may be spent on my funeral ceremonies. You must take me to Kan (Benares) to die, or if the gods are angered with me, and I die before I get there, I must be taken to Benares to be burnt. Jagdish Babu will know about arranging for a special train.” . . .

The “worthy charities” take months for consideration. But before she arrives at these, some family friction has made the Rani remember that family expectations must be slain forthwith. So the brothers and nephews and nieces and cousin-brothers (especially the cousin-brothers of the third and fourth remove) are summoned to a Bhojan—a feast in the Raj palace. The Rani, being purdah, may not be present at the feast; her guests are fed in her name, and at her expense. The morning after the feast the Rani, having bathed and worshipped and consulted her astrologer about the exact hour when she should meet her relatives, comes to the house-of-reception in her palace and sits behind the purdah; her mother and sisters, her brothers and maternal uncles, may be in the reception-house beside her; and the others—the remoter relations, her brothers-in-law or nephews-in-law, all the relations of her husband—must be in the outer room. They may neither see her face nor hear her voice. The P.S.A. sits beside her. The officers of her household and her men lawyers sit in the outer room with what an English-knowing member of the family describes as “the homeopathic relationships.”

The P.S.A. opens the proceedings: “The Rani Sahiba has summoned you together because, as you know, she is making her will; and she would take you into her confidence. The will is not yet complete; many clauses remain to be written, and the god-clauses and shradh-clauses are not yet formulated. But she would have you hear one clause which is complete and unchangeable.” And he reads: “For my relations in whatever degree I have made provision and will continue to make provision during my life. They are to get nothing in any shape or form whatsoever under this will. I lay this command upon my trustees.” “Now,” said the Rani Sahiba to one who sat beside her, as the depressed family members shuffled away—“now is my mind easier. I shall be allowed to live!”

It was four years from the date when the will was first taken in hand that the lawyers were told to put it into legal form, and yet another year before it got any further. From the vakils it went to the barristers to be “settled,” then back again to Benares to an orthodox Hindu barrister who had retired to the Holy City in expectation of death. Many changes did he make, each change having been made on an appropriately auspicious day, and each change in turn being submitted to the testator on a day which had to be equally propitious. When complete the draft was a most diverting document—a delightful mixture of legal formality, of Hindu orthodoxy, and of the mannerisms of my purdahnashin.

The appointment of executors and trustees was a shrewd and cautious proceeding. It included the priesthood for administration of the temple lands and direction of the temple services—it included the least obnoxious of the “family members,” the head of a collateral branch who was sufficiently rigid in orthodoxy to fear disaster from outraged or hungry idols; and finally (this by the Rani’s express command) it included the representative of an English firm of chartered accountants whose duty it would be to check accounts and to see that the priests and “family member” applied her money to the appointed uses. All trustees were removable upon the vote of the majority—-all except the chartered accountant. “For, of course,” said the Rani, “if I did not so provide they would remove him and defeat my precaution.”

In final shape the “god-provisions” were most elaborate, etiquette being carefully observed as to the numbers of shris (a term of respect) preceding the name of any particular god—“Shri, Shri, Ramji” or “Shri, Shri, Shri, Shri, Shri, Kaliji” (her particular goddess). Provision was made for installation of new gods and goddesses, for repair and upkeep of temples, of temple precincts and priestly dwellings; for feasts to pilgrims and Kasi-basis—men and women who had come to live in Kasi (Benares) in expectation of death; first-aid was to be given to sick or moribund temple-goers; schools were to be provided for young children accompanying them. All was carefully regulated and prescribed to the minutest detail, even to the number of temple beneficiaries who were to be of any particular Brahmin sub-caste: “ 24 Mithila Brahmins,” “12 Buhiyar Brahmins,” and so on. The pilgrim’s ration of rice and grain was set down; and his thumb impression was to be taken as a receipt for the 2 annas per head which was given to this fugitive journeyman, to the gates of Death! Social service demands had not gone unheeded. (There’s progress for you!) The hospital got its maternity ward and X-ray apparatus, and generous provision was made for “the he and she schools” (to quote the English-knowing family member aforesaid).

And now the draft, finally settled, was ready for engrossment. But an unexpected hitch occurred. The P.S.A. advised that upon consultation of the astrologers he had discovered that the will as drafted was unlucky: the last clause represented an even number; that could not be allowed. The lawyers obligingly readjusted the numbering of clauses. The P.S.A. then declared that, upon like consultation, it was obligatory that the will should be in manuscript, written by a man who had two thumbs to his right hand; if one could be found with double thumbs on both hands the auspices would be the more favourable. By great good luck a maternal uncle could answer the “most favourable” requisition, and was set to copying the will under the eye of the private secretary and the family vakil.

It was now time to warn the lawyers and witnesses that a certain month would be appropriate for the execution of the will. The actual day could not be announced until the family astrologer returned from a tour upon which he had most inconsiderately set forth, without revealing either his route or the auspicious day. As will be imagined, sorrowful chances such as these are most hazardous to the punctilious legal adviser, who realizes all that may be at stake in disappointing his client. In this respect the kasi-basi legal adviser is best off. For once a kasi-basi, always a kasi-basi. You may never leave Benares once you have entered that sacred city with intent to await death: not even the most prematurely depressed victim of influenza may claim exemption from this rule. There is no exit door to the theatre of the kasi-basi. So the kasi-basi of my purdahnashin’s will escaped hustling. I myself (not being a kasi-basi) was not so fortunate. At the moment of the astrologer’s return and disclosure of a date I was at a place five days’ distance by rail from the maker of the will: I had to travel post-haste in response to a telegram which said that a day—the sixth from the receipt of the telegram by myself—was declared to be the only auspicious day for execution within the next twelvemonth! I arrived in time, breathless, to be met by a further shock: the only fortunate hour on that day was, it appeared, the hour of my arrival! . . . All necessary parties had been collected, save a doctor. Would I “collect” the English civil surgeon and ask him to be present at the execution, and to certify to the soundness of mind of the executant? This was duly arranged, and the great moment arrived. I sat beside my purdahnashin in the inner chamber. In the outer sat a large company of lawyers, officials, the civil surgeon, and material witnesses.

Let no one imagine that a will rightly executed is the secret and almost clandestine proceeding which we make of it in the West. What is there to hide, if intentions are honourable! The will was read aloud to the Rani by the scribe, sitting close up against the purdah so that the company in the outer room might also hear. I was then asked to explain the will clause by clause to my purdahnashin in language which she could understand, and clause by clause to ask her if her wishes were therein embodied—explanation, question and answer to be audible, in like manner, to “the outside.” Then the four-thumbed man wrote at the foot of the will once more that that paper represented the last will and testament of the Rani Sahiba. It was peremptory that the document and his hand as he wrote upon it should be visible to the men in the outer room—though no more than that was to be visible. And the civil surgeon, for one, confessed to me afterwards that the sight of that moving double-thumbed hand was the weirdest thing he had ever seen.

I had then formally to identify my purdahnashin, who affixed her signature to the first page of the will. She was also required to sign every other page, but the first signature was the validating one. As she signed, her hand and the document had, as with the scribe, to be visible to the group of people in the outer room. The civil surgeon was the first witness. He was admitted to the inner room, where he examined the lady, discreetly veiled, as to her mental capacity, the independence of her action, etc. Followed the signatures of other witnesses; and we breathed freely when “The Keeper of Right Action” declared that all had been concluded within the time required by the horoscope.

The final formality was registration. The registrar of wills came to the house: identification, signatures, and thumb marks, a new catechism to elicit how far the lady was a free agent—all this had to be faced over-again. And a will which had been five years in the making was carried away to safe custody.

Chapter IV

The Ways of Women — Prithivi Maharani, “Mees” and “Little Mees” — The Worship of Mother Cow

The Hindu Joint Family, then, represents “Collective Security” in its most secure aspect—created by birth and supported by sanctions of religion and custom.

I have talked of Joint Hindu Families—divided and undivided.

The Undivided Joint Family is ordinarily joint not only in estate, but in food and worship. But the existence of an estate is not essential to the constitution of a Joint Hindu Family. A family may have no estate at all, and yet be “joint,” acquiring a joint-family status by birth. Property held in common is only one adjunct of a Joint Family. Again, the members of a Joint Family may separate themselves in food and worship, as did Arnakali’s younger sons when they claimed separate residences, and yet continue joint.

Or, yet again, the property may be kept intact and administered as a unit, but the members may separate, owning definite shares—the custom being to describe the unit as a rupee (16 annas) and the shares as a “2-anna,” “8-anna,” etc., share, according to the number of the co-sharers and the necessary division of the property—the income of each share being accredited to its particular owner in administrative accounts.

This joint administration of a divided estate was often the grievous duty of the Court of Wards.

I say “grievous” not only because administration was difficult and accounts were involved, but because the co-sharers watched one another with a jealous eye. Individuals were always clamouring for an increase of payment upon their share, accusing the administration of favouring other co-sharers above themselves.

Particularly tiresome in this respect was a young childless widow in Bihar; though I must say she was rather a favourite with me, because of her inconsequences, her cheerful impertinence, and her unblushing demands in face of facts.

On one occasion, having received a telegram begging an immediate visit during a cholera epidemic, I altered my tour programme to hasten to her, fearing that she was in extremis. I found a delighted child, glorying in the ruse which had brought me hot-foot; a mischievous child, in perfect health and circumstance.

I awaited explanation.

“I did indeed have a long string of troubles,” said she, “a mountain of troubles weighing me down; the—the breath was almost out of my body with grief and hopelessness. But now that the Miss Sahiba has come, where have the troubles gone? I can’t find them. It’s matter of wonder; but it’s a matter of truth!” And she smiled upon me, the wicked charmer!

At this point a sad-faced “cousin-sister” who was visiting her came into the room, and Krishni, my ward, ran towards her, taking her by the hand. “Here is one of the troubles—a very bad one. Tell the Miss Sahiba,” she urged, “fear nothing.” And the mournful one, who could have been no more than seventeen years old, told me the usual story. She was childless, poor thing, and her husband gave her just one more year before “superseding” her—marrying a second wife.

“Help her, Miss Sahiba,” said Krishni. “Say prayers for her to have a son.”

“That, certainly,” I promised; but I secured the cousin-sister’s willingness to see a woman doctor, for whose ministrations I arranged forthwith.

Upon my next visit about a year later, Krishni met me with pouts and upbraidings.

“Yes—and what have you done for me? She was only a ‘cousin-sister’; I am your ward; and yet her you save from a co-wife giving her a son—and for me you do nothing!”

I could only suppose that the doctor had been successful in her treatment of the “cousin-sister”; and with that poor soul’s sad face in mind I was delighted, and said so.

“It was the doctor-lady, not I,” I explained. “Many of you people need only some little necessary medical attention to help you. I am very happy that the ‘cousin-sister’ submitted to this , and that the troubles of which you told me are at an end. But why should you be jealous? You can’t want a child. It would be a terrible misfortune for a widow.”

“It was not the doctor-lady,” protested Krishni; “it was my Miss Sahiba saying prayers; her prayers and those alone, brought a son to the ‘cousin-sister.’ What prayers have you said for me? None! I have not got what I want.”

“What do you want?”

I need hardly have asked. It was an increase of her allowance, more money to be squandered on the priests. Most certainly, I pointed out, I would say no prayers for so useless and harmful an object. She got quite enough money already, her just share.

But it really was a more amusing incident from start to finish than I can convey by the written word. And it had an amusing sequel. The English friend to whom I told the story wrote me in alarm. “Please do not say prayers for me; an addition to my family would be most inconvenient at this moment!”

Now, just about then, as it happened, a little Bengali friend of mine was grumbling (though I was in no wise considered blameworthy) of that very thing—the coming of her baby. It was a first child; and she was fifteen years old, a spoilt little Maharani, adored by her Maharaja, and by his and her family. I had known her since she was three, and some time during her childhood I’d given her a large English doll. Prithivi Maharani loved this toy, and called it “Mees.” And “Mees” fared sumptuously; had a nursery like any flesh-and-blood baby; and a string of waiting women at her service. “Mees” had yellow curls and a perpetual smirk stretching between her rose-red cheeks. She lay late in bed, but at noon she made her toilet, and after dressing sat in the drawing-room to receive visitors. Prithivi Maharani (for all that she was a great queen-lady) was a very busy person. She gave out her household stores herself every morning, wearing a bunch of store-room keys tied to her pâllo, the end of her saree, about which I used to chaff her, for the keys were almost as large as herself. She cooked her husband’s food, and she always saw that he, her relations and “Mees” were fed before she allowed herself to sit down to her own meal. It is the mid-day meal which is the chief function of the day, and almost a religious ceremony in a Hindu household. When “Mees” had sat before a mess of pottage, not cross-legged on the floor like the Hindu family, before a brass or silver tray of samples of all the spicy foods prepared for the day arranged in little cups round a mountain of rice, with flat cakes of wheat-flour handy, but appropriately in a baby table-chair, because she was English, her waiting women would carry her into the drawing-room. And there, later, would come Prithivi Maharani with gracious words and smiles.

“I hope that you have been properly cared for, Mees, my child.”

Later followed the drive; and if I called to see Prithivi Maharani, and forgot to ask about “Mees” and her health and happiness, it would have been a bad omission indeed. My English friends had sometimes been with me to see Prithivi; and of these the Maharani always courteously asked news, begging that her greetings be sent them.

“What! are they not caste-sisters to Mees; and how shall I make answer to my Mees for forgetting them?”

Upon evening drives “Mees” had to be carried first into the Maharani’s purdahed Rolls Royce; and on train journeys we had to restrain Prithivi from buying a ticket for “Mees” who, accompanied by her luggage in a smart little suitcase, and by a miniature dressing-case, again preceded her “mother” into the Maha-regal reserved compartment and was carefully disposed upon the best seat—“back to the engine, her eyes must not face the smoke and dust”— said Prithivi Maharani.

When Prithivi knew that she would soon have a real baby to play with, she was unlike every Hindu mother of my acquaintance—genuinely furious.

“I want no other baby but Mees!” said she, and through the long months of expectancy, “Mees” was petted extra much. . . .

The new baby’s clothes and welcomings were left to the nurse and to Prithivi’s mother. Prithivi was lured no more by a fascinating bassinet and the dainty white garments which were piling up, than to order the like for “Mees”! The day before her baby was born, she was still fussing over the doll, caressing her and assuring her that she need not be jealous, no one could take her place, truly no one whomsoever.

But, summoned hastily to the Rajbari, the event safely accomplished, I passed through the sitting-room, and saw a neglected “Mees,” her hair all tousled, and her pretty embroidered frock anyhow, lying in the corner into which she had been hastily thrown! . . .

Prithivi was radiant. She had not known that the new “Mees” would be like this! And it was soft, unlike its predecessor; and you did not need to poke it in its middle to make it “speak.” “And its head, and arms and legs can move about, yes truly, without my having to key them up. It arrived without any ‘keys’ at all, this little doll-baby!” she said to me.

Then she looked serious and added: “Already it has been far more trouble than my poor Mees. I am a bad Prithivi Maharani, Aunt-Mother (her name for me). What punishment will come upon me for this?”

Prithivi made a devoted mother. For thirty days7 custom rendered her and her baby unclean. Her mother and grandmother would peep through the door, but would not touch her or the child. And if by chance they came into the room, they would go away to bathe in Ganges water and re-purify themselves.

This compulsion of religion had always been known to Prithivi; but now she was furious at it. It was an insult to the new “Mees”—“as if she were an outcaste, and not the highest order of Brahmin of them all!” In retaliation she opposed Custom as far as she could at every point.

“Burn the child’s first set of wrappings and bindings? Never! I’ll have them washed.” But she was not brave enough to defy ill-luck and take them into use again.

“What can be done with them?” she asked me, when she caught me alone.

I suggested that the hospital across the way might be glad of them. And to the hospital they were sent with a flourish of trumpets—a Brahmin Ji made to carry them, in order to emphasize rebellion! . . .

On the sixth day after the child was born, Shoshti Devi, the guardian of children, had to be worshipped. In Bengal she sometimes has an image, with a very long nose; but the grandmother said that the oldest version, a mixture of cowdung and earth with cowries (little shells) stuck into it, brought most luck. And to this rather unsavoury object placed in a corner of her room (“unless you would prefer the skull of a cow, or of a dog” had threatened the grandmother) poor little Prithivi had to submit.

Nor, though she grumbled at all the other old-time ritual, the pen and ink ready outside the door, for the writing during the night of the child’s destiny; the word “Rama” written on the door to scare away demons, and the sword under her bed, for a like purpose—did she dare to object. She consoled herself by saying to me, “I who have for so long been my poor little neglected Mees’s mother know that these things are without sense. But Mees won’t blame me. I am taking none of the Priestmen’s foolishness on my head. She knows that.”

An English nurse had been insisted on by Prithivi Maharani, partly I believe as a kind of penance towards “Mees.” And as soon as Prithivi was up and about, she constituted herself, with the nurse’s help, “little Mees’s” chief attendant.

The nurse had to teach her to bathe it, to dress it, to tend it in every way; to sew for it. . . .

And laughingly—for she was a very merry soul, my Prithivi—she said to me, when the child was six months old:

“What can my mother and grandmother and the priests say to me about caste, ever again! I am little Mees’s scavenger, as well as her Ji, and her sewing woman and food-giver! Little Brahmin Mees has been cleverer than all the priests. She has killed caste!”

It was imperative that the child’s horoscope should be consulted as to a name, and learned priests sat for days together on the verandah making and comparing horoscopes. There were priests from Benares, and the sacred College at Navadwip, from Puri in Orissa, and from Rishikesh, in the north of India, near Hardwar.

Prithivi’s mother said that she had found a certain name written on the blank piece of paper left upon her bedside table. Three nights running the oracle had written the same letters—Shudha Rani the Spotless One; and the learned priests said that Shudha was indeed the only name of good luck for the child to bear. Though its real name Namakaraa was a secret told only to the father and guru, lest demons should use it to the child’s hurt.

Heu!” said Prithivi, “its name is Choti Mees—Little Mees!” which sometimes in fun she would change to “Burhi”—the little old woman. “And Burhi can be her dakka nam,”8 she added.

But she had to allow the naming ceremony, and indeed rather enjoyed it.

It was a picturesque happening. The father and mother families assembled in force and the oldest member opened proceedings by announcing that Shudha Rani was the accepted name. Then Prithivi and her mother stepped forward and presented the loveliest Indian clothes to the much embarrassed English nannie—themselves receiving like gifts from the guests.

An attendant now entered with Kunkum, a mixture of turmeric and lemon juice, and Prithivi had to suffer daubs of this stuff smeared on to her forehead, “and on to the forehead of my clean little baby as it lay in my arms,” she grumbled to me afterwards.

Then, bursting with resentment, she forced herself to sit still, while the clumsiest (so Prithivi thought) of the waiting women lifted the child into her cradle. It was the first time it had lain there. The act was symbolic, her life as an individual had begun.

The ear-boring ceremony (Karnaveda), sometimes performed at a later date, was by custom of this Raj performed immediately after the naming. Shudha Rani’s ears were dabbed with Kunkum and pierced—she really was a model child, uttered only one little cry, while Prithivi, perforce afar off, clenched her fists and stamped her little bell-ringed toes—and the fine gold wires were slipped into the holes. All was over. Little Mees was safe from demons.

A storm in the Zenana was the occasion of my next compulsory visit to Prithivi.

The Maharaja was going out hunting, and the grandmother and mother, the aunts and ancient cousin-sisters demanded that Choti Mees’s head should be shaved, before the Maharaja and the Shikaris left the house.

Choti Mees had by then a mass of curls on her little head, adorable at the nape of the neck and over the temples. I have not yet got a canonical explanation of why a child’s head must be shaved, if its father goes a-hunting before it is one year old. But I believe my guess is correct. Choti Mees had already been chief lady at yet another ceremony, this time with her mother’s entire approval and co-operation. She had worn for a whole day, carefully watched by her mother, a dress made of leaves held together with thorns—“Because I want her,” said Prithivi, “to love all beasts and birds, to be their friend and know their secrets. And this happens only if during her first year of life she has worn a thorn-pinned leaf dress.” So Choti Mees was the very good friend of the jungle and all its wild and feathered inhabitants that morning when her father was to ride forth to kill. Shaving the head is one outward and visible sign of Hindu mourning; and it was obligatory that Choti Mees, confident in her father’s prowess as a hunter, should mourn for her friends, the jungle beasts, who would fall to his gun.

ButPrithivi rebelled. She wanted her baby to love and understand the beast-people; but it was unthinkable that she should be shorn of her lovely curls. The priests asserted with authority that the Maharaja might not return from his Shikar (hunting), if the baby did not observe the law. “Pooh!” said Prithivi, “as if my Maharaja Bahadur, so great a warrior, needed the protection of his daughter’s curls!” But she was clearly not at ease in her obstinacy, and I helped her to give in by reminding her that cutting the hair close was often the best way to promote growth. But I confess to holding my breath till the little curls did really appear again, in course of time. What if the next crop had been straight and lank! . . .

I was out of India for a space, and when I returned I found Choti Mees three years old, a comic small edition of her mother.

She and the Maharani were on a visit to Prithivi’s mother in a town not far from where I lived. I had arrived by train; and at eight o’clock in the morning was sitting talking business with the mother Rani, also a ward, when Prithivi and Choti Mees came in together.

“We are late,” said Prithivi, “we meant to greet you on your arrival at six o’clock, but Choti Mees was doing puja (worship). She has a desire to be religious, and all this month she wakes very early, and worships the big cow Lukhi Raj in the courtyard where the pink oleanders lift their heads on high.”

It was the cow-worship month for small girls in Bengal, mid-April to mid-May. The worship is done for four successive years, but few small girls begin so early.

I saw Choti Mees at her worship more than once after that. It was the prettiest, and also the most quaintly droll sight. Choti was dressed for the cow-worship in a lovely red saree of finest muslin. Ordinarily she was very particular about being daintily shod; but for the worship her feet were bare; and to be up very early and bathe in Ganges water before they dressed her; and then the big brindled cow was brought by the waiting women to the raised plinth of the Zenana courtyard where the pink oleanders grew—a beauteous spot like a walled-in garden of rose-colour, and full of the gentle scent of the oleander blossom.

The ritual of the cow-worship is elaborate. Turmeric and sandal-wood, and mustard oil, with things to eat; palm-leaf fans, holy Ganges water, and holy red ointment were all laid out ready for the use of Choti Mees, the officiating priestess.

Small girls may say the Mantras (chants) in their own vernacular if they wish. But Choti insisted on learning the Sanskrit of the Vedic original text; and it was adorable to hear her rolling out the sonorous words without stopping to take breath, and getting them out with a little catch in her voice, where the pause should have come.

But first there was the business of getting the cow to allow herself to be worshipped! No prescribed ritual tells you how to manage this; and all kinds of wiles were tried—the Jis smearing the stone steps and verandah plinth with lentils and bran mush, and other messy looking food-stuffs, said to be particularly loved by Lukhi Raj the brindled cow.

In her tiny voice Choti kept saying “Ā Ma, Ā”—“Come Mother, come,” and holding out to Lukhi an infinitesimal morsel of sacred grass. . . . At last there it was close to the plinth, its head on a level with her little feet.

Certain things must be done—the offering of sacred grass and bananas, the laving with holy Ganges water, the garlanding with flowers, the washing of the hoofs. . . . Choti did these in her own order, and after her own manner; and she added items of ritual of her very own. She sat on her heels, and her mother filled her little palms with Ganges water. And then, very much frightened, she came near enough to Lukhi to throw the drops over her head. Next, from a pot of sacred red ointment she smeared a small forefinger; and watching for a moment when the cow’s head was bent over her food, she crept up as close as she dared, trembling with joy and fright, whispering—“Mother Cow! O! Mother Cow!” and daubed the red ointment on Lukhi’s forehead and (more frightened still) on one of her horns.

The next act in the play was a very gay little one, and her own invention. She combed the hair on Lukhi’s forehead with an inch-short comb, and showed an inch-square mirror to the cow’s left eye.

“This is the part of the-worship-of-Me, Choti Mees” (as she called her dressing) “which I love best. Must not mother-cow have what I love—the comb and the mirror?” she explained to me, in answer to my questionings.

Next, Lukhi Raj had oleander leaves showered on to her greedy head, and wonderful garlands of jasmine and oleander hung on her painted horns. But before she could eat the food, which was the chief performance of the children’s vow, her hoofs must be washed. So Lukhi was pushed away from the verandah by the Jis while Choti tried to sprinkle forelegs and hoofs with holy Ganges water.

For this act, Choti needed all her bravery—and her mother seeing her quivering, said: “There! There! Lukhi’s hoofs are beautiful and clean already, so you may feed her.”

The joy of “grass-offering” made the child’s eyes dance; three little bundles of sacred dhup (the finest and most succulent of Indian grasses) lay ready on the verandah, and Choti rolled a skinned banana in each, and gave the bundles to Lukhi who smacked her lips over them.

The second course was dried banana leaves sewn into round “platters”; and while Lukhi ate, Choti fanned her with a long-handled palm leaf. As she fanned, she said:

“May disease and illness and flies and insects be far from you, O! Mother Cow!”

After that, she stepped backwards to a little distance and kneeling down, bowed her head to the plinth in reverence. Lukhi took no heed, munching now the split lentils, now the crackly dried banana leaves.

“O! Mother Cow I you are like my own mother,” whispered the little devotee. “You feed me with milk all my days. Cow Mother of the world, be always full of milk, and by worshipping and caring for you, may we live in comfort. And may there be blessing to me, Choti Mees, because I perform my vow!”

And still Lukhi’s head was deep in the bananas and crackly leaves munching, munching.

For a moment longer of silence the small priestess held her forehead to the stone verandah, her legs crunched up under her, then murmuring—“Mother! O! Cow Mother!” she sprang to her pretty henna-dyed toes, and looking at the cow now from a safe distance, and without fear—“O! Mother, Goddess of Plenty!” she said with affection; adding with a last critical glance: “You are a very dirty old cow!” and she ran inside, her priestly office and vow done with for the day.

It was rather humiliating after this exhibition of spiritual and adult ability to see my Choti Mees walking about with a baby’s bottle of milk, feeding herself!

But that is a vice which she refuses to relinquish.

“Time enough to throw away my bottle, when I am married!” says she. Till then, if milk must be drunk, it will be drunk from the bottle of infancy, and from that alone!

“And what is to be done?” asks Prithivi Maharani, a strict disciplinarian in all else. “The child does puja fasting; and no food save milk may be taken when puja is over.

Other foods Choti eats daintily, imitating her elders; and never a grain of rice does she let fall between her curling fingers, patting each mouthful into the tidiest ball as she sits cross-legged on her ashan (mat-seat) in the kitchen-dining-room of her high castehood.

And now the bottle is empty, and Choti has summoned her Court—four small people kept in the house as “sisters of play.” They are servants’ children, “my praja” (subjects) she calls them. Two are the daughters of a neighbour from her mother’s old home. “My mother’s praja!”

All the children are older than Choti Mees, ranging between six and eight. They adore her, and obey her implicitly. “Stand in a row,” says she, “hold in your hands this gift-offering, a precious thing!”

And each one is presented with a leaf from the flowers left over after the morning’s worship.

I was given a leaf too; and am in great favour because I pinned it into my dress.

Chapter V

Children on the Threshold — The Honourable Guest — The Presentation to the Moon and Stars — Sweet-Stuff

And because all children in India are alike children, and because despite communal differences among adults there is in certain rituals, especially in the north-east, relating to the birth and protection of children, not much difference between Hindu and Muslim, I will here set down certain ceremonies to which I was bidden in Muslim houses.

The first was the welcome prepared for the Honourable Guest. The Honourable Guest, to wit, a baby on its way, must be appropriately greeted, if you would avoid bad manners, and damage to the defenceless.

The small guest was almost due, and the Zenana Keeper of Right Action ruled that it was time for the customary festival.

So cards of invitation were issued, and open spaces of happiness were made ready on the Zenana staircase landing-place, with rugs and cushions and a dinner of twenty-one different dishes.

“Any multiple of seven will do,” said the K.R.A. in answer to my enquiry, but in this family 7 x 3 has always brought most luck.”

It was the bride’s first Honourable Guest; and the dew lay fresh and fragrant on the great experience of Motherhood.

“She looks best in pink,” said the little sister.

“Nay, but red is the bride’s colour and till the Honourable Guest arrives, red must she wear. Ask Amajan if ill-luck would not come unawares on a breaker of that rule.”

Amajan was a twentieth-century conservative, “Luck or loss, good or ill,” said she, “are in the mind of the thinker alone.”

“Then let it be pink, and good luck!” said the little sister, who felt that so cryptic a reply needed crisp interpretation.

Dressed then in pink chiffon-of-gold, with a goldy border; and that look in her gentle face of the-best-yet-to-be, which is the Honourable Guest’s flag of welcome, the Lady of the Ceremony stood at the top of the Zenana steps to welcome us, and the littlest sister garlanded us with small tight buds of the Indian mogra flower, creamy white balls of perfume threaded into chains by the girls themselves, for the Honourable-Guest-party.

And now the bride and bridegroom, parents of the Honourable Guest, are sitting before their feast. There were indeed twenty-one dishes, salt and sweet and salty-sweet, spread before them; and much merriment was caused by the fact that the husband had to eat literally out of the hand of his wife—such a pretty little palm, dyed with henna to a red-pinkness.

The wife does not condescend to do the like, but accepts morsels from her husband’s fingers.

“I obey you in things domestic,” is the meaning of this interlude, “but I remember that it is I who must be the bread winner and food supplier.”

And, while they ate, the unmarried girls in the family held over their heads a canopy made with the ends of their sarees.

This—the canopy of the Unmarried, was “the blessing of the Untried.” It was followed by “the blessing of the Known” (mothers), and of “the Unknown” (little children).

With gold and silver then they strewed the moonray pathway of the Honourable Guest; and—the prettiest symbol of all—nine different fruits carried in a square of the loveliest brocade were tossed into the lap of the bride.

“As the fruits of the Earth in the goodness of God mature in due season, under wind and sun; even so . . . “

“With no consciousness of pain or effort, wit h no taking thought save of God the Giver, with no fear; even so . . . “

And a fortnight later, the blessings had come true.

In a crib beside the smiling mother lay her Honourable Guest, a daughter, the daintiest wayfarer—curved cheek, slender neck, long black eyelashes, and the temperament of an angel still basking in the Light of Heaven.

She is not yet old enough to be named. Every night a tablet and pencil were left ready by her mother’s bedside, that her guardian angel may proclaim her name.

Eagerly does her mother scan the page as she opens her eyes. Never a word so far. For the child must remain a heavenly nameless guest till the fortieth day.

So there is no need to waste good worry. And the only people who are really entitled to grumble at the long-drawn-out-ness of these forty days are the two grandmothers. For they, dear souls, have to share the night watches between them, sitting by the bassinet of the Honourable Guest to scare away evil spirits.

It seems to me a beautiful idea to make the mothers of her father and mother the guardian spirits who hold the flaming sword before the child; for is it not always to the aged in a household that the bringers of good tidings have come from moon to moon?

And is not she who has heard good tidings, and held most happiness in her heart, best qualified to withstand the Evil One?

“Only—for Honourable Guest there never will be an Evil One assailant,” says adoring little sister. And “Inshalla!” (might it indeed be so!) murmur the grannies, nodding their wise young heads, and lifting the outspread palms of their hands to heaven.

In course of time, with excitement that would not be leashed, they found the writing on the tablet. Ayesha Begum, was what the guardian angel wrote.

And this was the signal for the Honourable Guest, translated by her name into a personality, to greet the world, and be presented to the moon and stars.

There is as much etiquette to be observed about this “presentation,” as at any presentation at the Court of St. James’s as it was in the days of the Good (and most particular) Queen Victoria.

First, Ayesha’s head is shaved, and all the bits and scraps of budding hair are carefully collected, to be weighed against gold and given to the poor—a small collection, though Ayesha had as bushy a head as any seven weeks’ old infant born of woman.

But the “paltry contribution” will be added to presently, as you shall hear. Then she is dressed in raiment of silk—soft, pink, flower-patterned silk bordered with gold, a “jibbah” with sleeves falling loose to show the garnishings on the tiny arms. It was a lovely garment, but most of all did I admire her green silk trousers, also gold-edged and the tight-fitting cap of pliable gold kincob (cloth of gold) Dutch-baby fashion, which covered that close-cropped and defenceless head. She was an adorable sight. Her face is oval, lips rather deliciously pouty, long eyelashes and sweet pools of quiet light, for eyes— not lightning conductors, like her cousin Ali Akhtar’s.

She was asleep when the auspicious moment arrived for her presentation. But that did not matter. She could be roused to make her curtsey, all in due time.

It was about 7 p.m. when the baby ushers of the Heavens dressed in pale primrose and flame colour slashed with violet (have you ever seen a monsoon sunset?), threw wide the doors of the private entrée chamber and of all the man-built corridors leading thereto. And Ayesha lying on a deep rose-coloured cushion and looking herself like the petal of some flower plucked from an ancient Persian garden, was carried by her mother in stately procession from the chamber where she was born.

First came an old jester-woman scattering confetti and talking nonsense, as wittily as any of Shakespeare’s fools—though the pathos of the Shakespearian creation was supplied not by the words used but by the friskings and gambols demanded of the poor old grey-head.

Ayesha in her mother’s arms squeezed one’s heart. Her peacefulness was that of a lilac bush seen by moonlight. A copy of the Koran was carried above her head by her dear old grandfather-saint: and over the open book were crossed swords held in the hands of uncle and father.

But when you looked at the beautiful face of the Maulvi Sahib grandfather, you saw that his eyes were closed; and you realized that they were not threats but prayers which his lips were uttering. And not a “sword” but “peace” was the message of Baby Ayesha’s sleeping face.

To me the parable of the child asleep, and in utter unconsciousness when about to enter upon her inheritance of conscious life—seemed very beautiful.

“And even so in simplicity and unconsciousness, without strife or contention, may she,” said my heart, “enter upon her own special kingdom of love, and upon all the kingdoms which God has prepared for her to inherit.”

The procession had reached the end of the balcony, and it was time for Ayesha to be roused from sleep.

The face of her mother as she watched her was aglow with expectation. Very gently was the baby lifted up and shown to the sky and the stars and to the moon (hiding its head for the moment. But what did that matter?). The old Maulvi continued to pray; and the jester had ceased from jesting.

It was a pulse beat of silence, and of utter selflessness for us all—family, friends, servants—it was Ayesha’s pulse beat in the history of Time.

And then laughter—and a move to the feast spread as always on the landing-place above the stairs.

It is a wise thought, this, of festivals celebrated on landing places. It would seem as if the kind hosts and hostesses said: “We have come out to welcome you”; and again: “All are welcome. This place of ceremonies is without doors, and therefore without symbol of exclusion.” And yet again—“But there is no compulsion—the stairs are behind you; slip away if you will, or if you must.”

And when I shut my eyes, I saw something “dancy” and “fairy” and “guardian-angel-y” also—a whole troop of “pretendery ones” (as my niece Francina calls fairies) crowding on to the stairs to see the fun, and be present at Ayesha’s first party.

Chandi, Ayesha’s mother, sits once again against gold-and-green, and red-and-purple cushions, as when we had met to celebrate the fact that the Honourable Guest was on her way. But now instead of a brocaded kerchief full of the fruits of the earth, her lap holds—Ayesha! the Honourable Guest herself recognized to-day, no longer an Honourable Unnamed Guest, but as Ayesha Sultana Begum Sahiba. God bless her!

There are the like twenty-one dishes of good omen, as at the welcoming ceremony. Ayesha must see what brought her parents good luck; and again the unmarried, the married and the children, the littlest ones, give her their blessing.

But because Ayesha too must bless, even if (for now) only vicariously—a silver plate, holding offerings of gold and silver, is carried around and above her head, to obtain as it were her sign—capital! The offerings are then distributed to the poor.

And Ayesha Sultana is free of life, in all its works and ways and worritings.

Before the guests left, they were allowed to see the débutante’s presents—a room full . . . the loveliest fairy trinkets for arm and ankle, for wrist and neck, and even for baby toes and fingers; a pink tulle-covered bassinet; her wardrobe; a dressing case; her kitchener, and the necessaries for food and bath; toys innumerable.

There was something from every one in Ayesha’s admiring entourage—even from the cat and the cow, and the garden!

The cat’s presents in this household—she never fails to remember family birthday anniversaries and great ids (festivals) also—have of necessity to be incongruous; not, you will understand, according to type. Every one can guess what the cow, or the garden would give. But a cat!—even a beloved cat—what shall be attributed to her? The only gift she might voluntarily lay at Ayesha’s feet—a dead mouse—was strictly taboo.

So the cat sulked, and devoted herself to ostentatious cleaning of her own sleek person, interest in the newcomer at an end.

But this could not be borne; no one could be allowed to feel slighted on Ayesha’s festival. And Ayesha’s father had a brilliant idea. . . .

“To her who can conceive nothing for herself as at all acceptable, nothing can be incongruous,” said he. “The cat shall give Ayesha bells for her ankles!” . . . And so it was.

The last occasion on which I visited Ayesha’s home during the year of her presentation to the Firmament was on her grandmother’s birthday; and the cat had given the Begum Sahiba an electric lamp, adjustable to the arm of a lounge chair! “At any rate it is green like her eyes”—said the family. “She should feel that it is a correct interpretation of her good wishes—the silly, lazy creature who never thinks or speaks for herself!”

The evening after Ayesha Begum’s presentation to the moon and the stars I was sitting on my spacious roof-terrace, as I loved to do, watching all things travel to the silence, in “the hour between the twilights.”

The Western sky was a red-gold lake of fire, or, when you looked again, a bed of brilliant canna—primrose, gold, scarlet. . . . Colour has always to me seemed vocal. Soon the red-yellow would stain the roof of the world to rosy pinkness; and then die away to a dull grey silence.

The crows, so talkative always just before they go to bed, were chattering in flight on their way to the palms and star-flower trees in my garden.

Clear against the sunset stood the spire of the Christian cathedral, pointing upwards like the index finger of a hand; and the bell was ringing for Evensong—“Vivos voco: mortuos plango: fulgura frango”—said the bell.

Vivos voco—for the Christian Church does call the living to corporate worship.

Mortuos plango—it mourns the dead, though teaching belief in a life eternal; and

Fulgura frango—it “breaks the lightning.” It teaches its children to strive and fight against the forces, even the forces of Nature, which endanger personal and corporate safety. . . .

And, at this point of my meditations, the music of the muezzin’s call to prayer came clear and compelling on the evening breeze from the mosque of Ayesha’s faith, close by.

“Allahu Akbar!” he chanted.

“Great is God—there is no God, but God.”

That was the “bell” of the Muslim’s mosque, that chant: and even as the Christian’s bell, it called the living; but not to worship in the mosque. It called to the worship of God wherever the faithful might be, or whatever their lawful occasions of the moment.

I have known my Muslim purdahnashin hostess leave me without apology (sure of understanding) for a space, to go out into garden or screened verandah, and, facing eastwards, say her evening prayer, in remembrance of the greatness of God, and of His prophet Mahomet.

Or, as we drive past the maidan, we may all of us see any day the white-robed Muslim on his way home from business, step aside when the call is sounded, to prostrate himself in his act of worship. It is done quite simply without self-consciousness or shyness. . . .

Even Ali Akhtar, grown to three years, runs out on to the balcony, to join in the “call.” He is a darling comic sight, as his little hands stop his senses (for so the Maulvi Sahib has taught him), tell his eyes and ears by just a touch with his fingers, not to function while he withdraws himself into the Adoration.

And mortuos plango?

The Muslim also mourns the dead; and the Muslim also believes in a resurrection from the dead. But his belief is in a resurrection so literal that to be buried with any part of your body lacking—say a leg lost in battle, or on the operating table of a hospital—is menace to that resurrection.

If he thinks of the dead at the call to prayer—and well he may do—surely it is to pray that all those dear to him may have their bodies intact, when they come to die. But fulgura frango—No! no faithful Muslim’s call will include that warning. Rather would he urge submission—

“All that happens,” he would say, “is Kismet, is inevitable, is fore-ordained; is Fate.”

Kismet, it should be noticed—what is ordered; not Karma, what is earned, as his Hindu brother would contend.



“Ignore, because you’ve got it in your own hands: and there’s time and to spare, in which to experience all experiences.” . . .

And how much there is in these different interpretations of the call of the bell, which accounts for our characteristics—Christian, Muslim, Hindu—I commend to the meditation of others who care to sit upon their roof-top, in the twilight hour.

The “rice-taking” ceremony as it is called by Hindus, has its counterpart in “the sweet stuff in the mouth” ceremony of the Muslim community of Bengal. Both ceremonies are held at the same time in a child’s life, to denote the fact that it may now enlarge its milk diet. And since I want you to know my friend Ali Akhtar, I propose describing the Muslim version.

Ali Akhtar is cousin to Ayesha Begum: and being my “first-est” baby friend in this household, may, without giving offence to Ayesha, be cited as my favourite. Well he knows it, the rogue—and takes advantage of it.

He was the most adorable of sun babies—great black eyes which pricked with light, and which he screwed up as if in deep thought and concentration when he was not gurgling with joy and shouting with laughter at some private joke of his own, recaptured from—who shall tell what remembrance. .? . .

So merry was he, that even the heat of mid-May in Calcutta, killing vitality in his elders, who trailed lag-foot about the house, left the child’s vitality and spirits untouched. Indeed he seemed to burgeon and blossom with the heat, as did the lagerstroemia and amyltas, and other flowering trees.

“It is mid-May, certainly,” said his grandmother, “and an exhausting time for ceremonies; yet Ali Akhtar is seven months old; and we must add to his milk diet; but we dare not do this without the sweet-stuff ceremony.”

So a day was chosen, and guests were bidden— Begums and Ranis, the “born of Nawabs” (Nawab-zade) and the “born of Princes” (Shahzade) Lady Sahibas, and just plain Mrs. and Miss Sahibas, or plain Srimatis and Khanums—representative of many races.

Ali Akhtar was a true unifier.

There was only one taboo. No men guests were permissible. Ali Akhtar must be the only male present, save, of course, for the officiating priest, who did not count as a male.

The invitations had been issued in Ali Akhtar’s name, and though the child was bored with the preparations for the ceremony, since no one had time to attend to him, he was “the perfect host” when his guests arrived, showing utter delight, and that alone, at the unwonted invasion of his kingdom.

As a rule during the months of heat, he was bare of leg, and toe, and neck, dressed in a single silk garment. But to-day, the fiction being that he is a bridegroom, he is covered from head to toe.

He wore a pink satin coat and long trousers, spangled with gold, and a little goldy cap, from which hung a fringe of gold to hide the face of the “pretend” bridegroom. On his feet were wonderful green shoes, with tinsel “garnishings.”

And now, the tale of guests complete, it is time for the ceremony to begin.

His grandmother seats herself against green and gold cushions on a red velvet carpet, broidered in work of Mogul Delhi—an old Persian design. She sits on the floor of an upper room in the Zenana, Ali Akhtar in her lap.

But Ali Akhtar, so angelic up to this moment, suddenly rebelled. He had not yet used the howls in his battery. He had borne heat and slobbering affection, and a promiscuity of sheltering arms, with the utmost sweetness.

But, to be the only male host in a room full of admiring women, and to have your face hidden by a teasing gold fringe—impossible and insulting!

They should hear what he could do! That, at least, was the privilege of seven-months-old.

The ruse succeeded. The bridegroom’s veil was withdrawn in a panic; and Ali Akhtar beamed once more, watching the hated symbol on its further progress—held to the foreheads of the married women present. “The luck of the married be upon you,” was what that meant.

By this time Ali Akhtar’s father’s father had arrived. He was a dear old Maulvi Sahib, looking like the traditional priest of all the world. It was his duty to perform the priestly office at the sweet-stuff ceremony.

He knelt beside Ali Akhtar and said prayers and blessings, talking gently in Arabic with outspread hands.

You would have thought that the child understood every word. His eyes never watered from the face of the priest: and his stillness was that of a fellow prayer-offerer.

Ā-min!” said the Muslim women as the Arabic whisperings died down. And one of the young girls removed the fine darned-net covering from a collection of flat dishes which sat on a silver tray, before the “bridegroom.” The important “change-of-diet” dish was sweetened milk overlaid with gold-leaf.

His mother stepped forward, and gently removing the gold-leaf shovelled the “sweet-stuff” on to a gold-mohur coin (it looked like a sovereign), which she carried to Ali Akhtar’s mouth.

Every member of the family had to do the like. Ali Akhtar smacked his lips over the first portion or so. But the monotony of the same gold-mohur, and the same unsought sensation, began to pall. He shut his eyes, and moved his defenceless head, so that the shy young bride whose turn it was to feed him daubed his cheek with the sticky mixture.

“May all savours savour sweet.”

“May Life itself thus feed you with things rare and delicious, at the hands of those who love you!” said the women in the concluding ritual, recognizing the fact that a feast is always as good as “enough”!

And Ali Akhtar was free to resume the more seasonable one-piece garment of bachelordom. Sensing this, in some silent instinctive way, the child moved to crawl off the “couch-of-state.”

“He must cry first,” says his mother. “It is unlucky without.”

But Ali Akhtar’s gaiety was proof against even the furtive pinchings of “the couch of state.”

“Put the fringe against his forehead,” advised an observant English visitor. And we were rewarded by a howl!

The only differences I could discover when I went to a like ceremony in Boho Rani’s house, shortly afterwards, was that the Hindu baby was fed with a few grains of cooked rice, carried to his mouth once only, in his mother’s fingers; the bridegroom’s outfit was dispensed with, and the priest said his Sanskrit mantras not on “the stage,” but in the family chapel.

Unfortunately, the children were not old enough to compare notes; but I could not help recalling the Oxford legend of the baby Benjamin Jowett, lying in his cradle while his parents sitting either side discuss Lutheran doctrine across his swaddling clothes.

“Bosh!” says B.J. in a high treble voice.

And I imagine that both Ali Akhtar and Boho Rafi’s Sushil felt “Bosh!” though they could not say it.

“Bosh! what a fuss about a taste of starch or sugar!”

I have never been able to discover the reason for the “bridegroom” motif in this ceremony.

The fact, however, that I met it in Eastern Bengal alone, helps me to a guess.

The Muslims of Eastern Bengal were originally Hindus, converted to “the true Faith” during the overlordship of the later Mogul Empire, about the time when infant marriage is supposed to have been resorted to, as a protective measure against the looting of women.

Is it possible that the clothes emphasized the announcement of his parents to prospective mothers-in-law at the first public showing of the child? As who should say: “Here is our candidate, a fine fellow, an individual from to-day, and open to offers in the marriage market.”

And this relic of Hinduism was carried by the convert into his new religion, and retained as a tradition; although Hindus themselves had rejected it—the need for protection being overpast.

This explanation finds support in other customs and incidents of Hindu origin confined, in like manner, to the practice of the Muslim community in Eastern Bengal and in that province alone.

Chapter VI

The Worship of Hari’s Feet — And the Mother of Sneezes

So many children-ceremonies there are—I often wonder whether the East, for all its ignorance of child culture as regarded in the West, does not really spend more thought on the spiritual welfare of the child than is common in Christian countries.

Each season brings some picturesque new prayer-offering.

It is mid-day in Bengal, and I am paying a first visit to Omio and her mother. Out of doors the misty haze of the languorous morning shimmering beyond the still-green maidan has yielded to a fierce blister of heat, terrible even in memory, smiting the eyes of him who must face it. The brain-fever bird sings its maddening one-note tune: the thirsty bullocks crawl under a creaking yoke-pole, unheeded by their tail-twister, himself asleep and glistening with sweat.

Indoors there is darkness—all shutters closed against the day. On the walls the small white lizard calls to his brother as he snaps up the flies and mosquitoes and fish insects, the cockroaches and spiders which even the best housekeeping cannot wholly eliminate in the months of heat. Scavenger chipmunk revels in them—his energy is no way affected.

And there is one other exception to the deadness of the heat-time—the flowering trees are ablaze: we renew our life, as it were, in a moment: we awake from sleep full grown, with a flush of voluptuous colour and maturity. The gold mohur, a wonder of red and orange slashed with palest pink, trails a Victorian Court train in the dust of the roadway; the Japanese crêpe myrtle holds up mauve-grey spirals of rectitude. Along its willowy tresses as out of some great urn the amyltas pours primrose-coloured tears of joy; while by its side the pink japonica spreads kindly arms in wanton welcome.

Yes—all these flowering trees of the Indian spring are women. You can see that for yourself.

The blood-red gold mohur is a lady-in-waiting who luxuriates in courts, and looks at every one along the length of her high-born nose, yea even at her tangerine cousin whom some folk think the more attractive of the two; the strictly proper crêpe myrtle is a governess asserting herself with her deportment and her quiet-coloured garments, as much for the benefit of Lady gold mohur, as for that sentimental spinster, the amyltas, and that frivolous flapper of a japonica. . . .

My thoughts turn inward to England—with the red buds bursting from the dry wood, and the park trees powdered with the lightest touch of green; with the daffodils a-waving by the Row, and the faint scent of hyacinths on the fresh morning air: how gently and gradually does Spring come, “now that April’s there”. . . and I do not wonder that where Nature speaks in such different tongues, there should be the songs and plays of children for spring-time revels in one country, and in the other the fierce illicit “ploys” of the grown-up Holi Festival—the abuse and indecencies, the singing of lewd songs. Yet why blame Nature? We too, have our ideals. No high caste Brahmin of Western India certainly keeps Holi, which is supposed to be the worship of Devata Rakshashi, the Goddess of Evil, and originally was celebrated with the slinging of mud. And I have known Zenana courtyards all over the country where there is no lewdness or thought of the licentious in the spring-time (holi) games; where the young girls and children welcome the spring as their “Swinging Festival,” standing in graceful draperies on the boards hung from the branches of the newly budded trees, and swinging higher and yet higher to the shouts of the watchers; while even the stern mother-in-law will look on approvingly and maybe join in the fun herself. Or it is the first springtime of a bride and bridegroom, and the entire Zenana leads them to a lowly-hung wide-benched swing, where they must sit tied together by silken cords helpless, while the women pelt them with little cushions of the red powder used for anointing and dusting the gods.

And in Bengal there is a special game and puja for the children at springtime. Omio taught me all about this the year we first met. She was six years old and full of excitement at the thought that her great age would now admit her to the spring brata, The Worshipping of Hari’s Feet in the New Year, and for four years thereafter.

She was the child of orthodox Hindu parents who kept strictly to the old ways, and found in them security in the big town in which they lived, where all things seemed drifting towards the unaccustomed.

They were simple folk. The father was head clerk in a bank, a Brahmin; the mother, a perfect housewife and expert in all that related to the practice of religion; but unlettered even in her vernacular.

In some ways this made her all the better company; and I would often drop in to ask for the story of the moment’s festival, or the interpretation of the “ceremonies and green rushes” which punctuate the Hindu year in its passage. Sometimes I took an English friend with me to show her a Bengali household; and its sincere simplicity never failed to please. There was the living room with the bedding rolled away from the takht-poshes (low wooden platforms) on which the family slept. Omio’s miniature garments, her mother’s sarees, her father’s dhoties, twisted cleverly into the shape of an unclosed 8, hung on wooden pegs against the wall. A picture or two the only other decoration—Krishna playing his flute, Saraswati on her lotus. . . . The floor was daily smeared with cowdung baked to a pale khaki colour. There were no rugs on the floor.

Head Clerk Babu’s room held a table and chair and a shelf of books, and you passed through this into a tiny courtyard built, so it seemed, round an altar—a white flower-pot on a white-plaster pedestal, holding nothing but a growing tulasi plant.

In one corner of the courtyard was the bathing place—just a tap; no wells, alas, for small houses, in a big city. Against the wall opposite grew a pepiya tree, and the lau, a vegetable-creeper.

But the pride of Omio’s mother lay in her kitchen—the hearth as carefully tended as any temple. It was, in a way, a temple, where the god-rules as to caste were most strictly obeyed. No widowed aunt might cook at the fire used for Omio’s father, no outcaste foot cross the threshold.

Out of the kitchen opened a tiny store-room. The jar-shaped bins made of mud and plastered over with cowdung held grain, and rice and pulse. Here, too, would be found melted butter and pickles.

Vegetables were bought daily at the nearest market; spices daily ground afresh, rolling-pin on nether stone. Already little Omio was learning the duties of a housemother running in and out of the kitchen, and feeling mightily important.

But on April 13th, she was just bursting with pride; for it was her New Year’s day, and she was to begin the springtime worship of Hari’s Feet.

She was up with the dawn, bathing under the tap, her long black hair loosened to her knees, and her body shining with the mustard oil with which she had rubbed it. To end all she poured over her head a brass pot full of Ganges water, and changed into a clean saree without any ceremony of drying—just as she had seen her mother do. Was she not grown-up now, on the eve of saluting the feet of Hari?

Then the puja properties, ready overnight and examined and danced round a hundred times, must be collected—a copper plate, red and white sandal paste, corn, grass and flowers . . . they lay huddled together on the little square of space before the kitchen in front of Omio’s ashan (prayer mat).

Very grave was the little face, as under her mother’s direction Omio sat cross-legged on the mat and smeared the plate with the white paste, painting with her tiny forefinger upon this background the two feet of Hari, god of love, in red sandal-wood powder. Then, picking up the corn and grass and flowers, item by item between thumb and second finger, she put the offerings upon the feet, saying—

“Hari, Hari, it is spring-time.”

In a gruffer voice—(her own “annotation,” this voice, upon the mantras) she answers—

“Why do I, Hari, feel my feet so cold to-day, Mother? Which of my worshippers is it that worships me, and what does she ask?”

Now she is herself again, speaking in a high little treble, reciting after her mother who is teaching her the mantras.

“I want a father like Giri Raja,
A Mother like Menaka.”9

(“Oh, Mother, I want a father like my father, and a mother like you. I don’t like this mantra.”)

“A husband like a king,
Sons-in-law beautiful to look upon,
Brothers ever cheerful,
House-keeping daughters-in-law,
Daughters coloured like ripe corn,
Brothers-in-law like Lakshman,
I want my parents to love me as Durga was loved.
I want servants and maidservants and silver charpais (bedsteads) on which to stretch my feet.”

(“Oh, Mother, the beginning of what I want has not yet come.”)

“I want kitchen utensils which will glitter,
Lovely clothes hanging on the pegs,
Cowsheds full of cows,
Barns full of corn,
The red mark of wifehood on my forehead,
My mouth full of betel-nut,
And good sons every ear.”

(“Oh, Mother, the first word of the beginning of what I really want has not yet come.”)

“Hush, child, these are the holy words of the Shastras; there is yet more to say.”)

“I want sons who will not die,
I want no tears to fall from my eyes.”

(“Oh, but, Mother, when Chandi pinches me, may I not cry?”

“Hush, my child, there is one verse more to the mantras. It is a hard verse, but it must be said.”)

“Giving my sons to the care of my husband,
May I die, neck-deep in Ganges water.”

(“Say that last three tunes, my child, and nomo (bow down) to the feet of the god Hari. Now your puja is over. Say—

‘I bow down to you, Hari,
I bow down, I bow down,
Nomo, nomo, nomo.’

Gather the offerings, and run along to throw them into Mother Ganga.”)

The Ganges which flows under Howrah Bridge ran just below the courtyard, and Omio slipped round to do her mother’s bidding, the importance of her first Hari Brata suddenly forgotten in the instant need for food, for the puja must be done fasting.

But, milk and puri, (pastry) safely bestowed, she returned to her questioning—

“But, Mother, I never asked the feet of Hari for the one thing I really want most of all.”

“And that, what is it, Omio?”

“A doll, dressed like a Mem-Sahib, such as Chandi has. May I ask that prayer to-morrow, mother?”

“How should I know, my child? Hari’s Feet may be angry. It is not written in the Shastras. Ask Pundit-ji when he comes.”

Pundit-ji said “No”—nor knew how his refusal was the starting point of heresy in the life of a Hindu saint, as will presently be seen.

That very evening, being a holiday, Omio held the forefinger of her father’s right hand, and went for the usual holiday treat, a walk to the maidan, her anklets jingling as she ran to keep pace with her father’s stride and her little body quivering with excitement. For deep in her mind was a plan. If Hari’s Feet would not listen, she would make her prayer to the Mem-Sahib’s goddess sitting on the maidan—she would run swiftly when they came to the Mem-Sahib shrine, before her father could stop her—yes, she would! . . .

And here they were beside her! and her father actually stopping to talk to a friend!

In a moment Omio was in front of Queen Victoria’s statue, bowing her head to the grass.

Nomo, nomo, nomo, Mem-Sahib’s goddess,
Send me a Mem-Sahib doll,”

was the prayer she made.

When Omio’s mother heard the story, she said to Omio’s father, “We must arrange the marriage of that child at once. What is this talk of dolls? It is a child of her own for which she hungers. Has she not begun the Hari Brata? She is of an age to marry. Indeed, my brother was here, even as you set forth, with talk of some good match he has in mind. He returns to-morrow with the father of the bridegroom.”

Not long after I had seen Omio at her worship of Hari’s Feet, I was travelling in Rajputana, and I made a detour from Udaipur to an ancient little temple near Chitor to see The Feet which one had so often seen depicted with soles upturned on the exquisite enamel-work amulets displayed in the shops of Hindu jewellers.

Shri Ram” read the Sanskrit lettering beneath The Feet; and I gathered that it meant that the wearer was for ever, in spirit, at the feet of his god, Shri Ram of the temple.

And, looking in through the open door, I saw The Feet, soles upward (just as depicted on the amulets) and a worshipper bent double on folded knees rapt in adoration.

Making my way down to my train, I heard that we should possibly be held up at the next station, as the “special” carrying the German Crown Prince north, was expected. It was even so, we were shunted into a siding; but I found ample compensation in the presence close by of another and a very grand train, consisting only of two saloon carriages, servants’ compartments and a commodious truck. This, I was told, was the private train of H.H. the Maharana of Udaipur, lent once a year to the chief priest of the Shri Ram sect for his parochial tours.

The chief priest of Shri Ram is an important person. His disciples are to be found in Cutch, Mewar, and among a section of the Hindu merchant community of Bombay. On his tours it is his main business to receive the gifts of the faithful; things ecclesiastical are the business of the lesser clergy. The chief priest stays his train at convenient centres on these tours; and to the nearest centre come the faithful pilgrims with their gifts.

I moved within sight of the presentation of the moment.

The chief priest stands, his acolytes behind him, and the pilgrim in falling at his feet, leaves his offering. No acknowledgment is made; the ritual is almost clandestine. But a clutching toe would seem to be a necessity, for noblesse oblige that the gift be retrieved without moving a muscle, while the donee stands stiff, and as if unconscious of the big toe on his right foot, which foot is then lifted for a moment behind him as a horse lifts its hoof for extraction of a pebble. Deftly did this member lift the offerings—bank notes, jewels, what not! And the acolytes were kept busy picking out the largesse from between the toe and its neighbour, and tossing it into an open-mouthed bag—the chief priest’s treasurer on guard to see that nothing was stolen.

Gifts too large for delicate leverage were loaded on to the truck.

The chief priest takes his wife on his tours, but as she is in purdah, and as her toe is denied access to the gifts, she has to invent her own amusements.

I saw her going for a walk, shut into a sentry-box of tent walls, carried by her waiting-women. Since nothing but the tent walls and many pairs of bare feet were visible, this device looked like some strange gigantic insect scuttling along the rails into the jungle beyond.

At Ajmer, I visited Lake Pushkur. Here I found one of the rare, deserted, temples to Brahma, and the shrines to the gods and goddesses who preside over the diseases which attack mortals, placed at intervals along the lake shore. There was a dear old priest in charge of the shrines who was good enough to tell me all about them; about Sitola, a naked female riding an ass, her face covered with pustules, the small-pox deity, with Kali for variant; Shoshti, kindly but with a long nose, who protects children in their ailments when a very frightening image, Bhishma, representing teething, convulsions, etc., threatens. Marhai (a goatskin stuffed with grass) for epidemics of cholera and fever. . . .

Skin diseases are honoured by a male deity who dwells in a lump of cowdung set on an earthen pot black with cooking.

Many of these gods and goddesses I had met in other parts of India. But we came upon a shrine new to me. A round O engraved on what looked like a tombstone; and beneath the O in Sanskrit “Chhīk Mathaji.”

“What’s this?” I asked of the priest.

“As it says,” he answered, “the shrine of the Sneezing Mother. Chhīk Mathaji means ‘O Mother of Sneezes.’”

“But where is her image?”

“Does not the Miss Sahiba see?—that round circle.” And indeed, how should a sneeze be drawn except as a round O?

I delighted in the Mother of Sneezes, who in England, I expect, presides over influenza, hay fever and colds in the head.

The priest told me that the practice of patients was to come and worship at the shrine of their disease, carrying away with them a little metal amulet on which was the image of the deity to whom they had cried for help. If they recovered, they brought back the amulet as a thank-offering, and the next pilgrim patient would buy it for luck.

A thrilling tale—for had I not an Irish friend who loved the country in the summer but to whom her visits were pain and grief because she was a victim to hay-fever? I was resolved what to do. I would buy her a returned amulet from the shrine of the Mother of Sneezes.

In due course I got this bauble, and sent it to my friend, Una Artevelde Taylor, who wrote me that she hung it on the corner of a Russian ikon in her possession, and was now free of the country all summer, with never a sneeze to trouble her!

As representing international sympathy, cooperation and security, I’m not sure that after this record to her credit the Mother of Sneezes does not deserve a shrine at Geneva!

Chapter VII

The Aged — And Garlands of Friendship

Old vagabond Time on his relentless way—how often it happens thus, in relation to the aged whom we love—refused to put up his caravan, even “just for one day”; and my Arnakali Devi was very near the end when I returned from Rajputana, and went to see her. For days she had lain listless, eyes towards the door through which, hoping against hope she might see enter that rebellious youngest son who had gone forth to meet the Rakshas (giants) and enemies-to-caste, who, she was sure, had pounced upon him as soon as he set foot in that enticing land across the black waters of Separation.

She made no complaint—“Bhalo noi!”—(not-good) was all she would say in answer to inquiries about her health. And, for her unwonted restlessness of mind we had no cure.

“The lad has already married some English Mem-Sahib,” said she. “I know it. And he is eating beef, and letting her show her teeth as she laughs and goes about with him in public, as if she were a prostitute. Did not Girish Babu’s grandson behave even so? And we saw with our eyes, for That One brought his Mem, yes, he dared to bring his Mem to his grandfather’s house.”

At first I tried reassurance, telling her about the customs of the West, and how men and women there regard one another: that her son need not be wicked nor his Mem (if he had one) abandoned, even though they companioned one another in public.

But the centuries of looking at life from a so-different angle, had fixed her pupils, so to speak, and they could not expand or contract to suit the luminosity of the West—of other latitudes of Thought and Light.

So, to help her to regain the serenity which I had always so admired in her—I talked to her of her religion, and in telling me in her poor thin voice, about the illusion of this mortal life, she recaptured Peace. After all, her love for her children, said she, was itself an illusion: and anxiety for the son in England was fruit of that bad illusion of human love. She must detach herself. . . . It was amazing how the weakness of her body was unable to hamper the vigour and concentration of her mind—but only where things religious were concerned. For mundane affairs we could not hold her attention for three minutes together.

I reflected upon her marvellous superiority to those of us who have more excuse for learning the habit of religious meditation—to myself, for instance. Certainly the Hindu woman has a great deal to teach the modern world about the undaunted practice of religion.

She slipped away from us quite peacefully one day; and her eldest son saw that her death ceremonies were duly performed at the Kali Burning Ghat on the banks of the Ganges.

She was laid on a bed of faggots—they use the wood of the sal tree in Bengal for funerals, a tree not unlike the birch—covering the great hole dug in the earth, which held a fire of coals. With a live coal in his hand, her son lighted the frail wasted body on its way, standing by to collect the ashes of her nails and eye-lashes; and to pluck out her navel—the navel is de rigueur for this purpose—to be cast into the Sacred River to ensure her re-birth.

It is a torturing memory, this final disposal of the Hindu dead; and as long as the belief in Hinduism, as now practised, lasts in India, it is vain to hope that a modern crematorium will replace the scene at the Burning Ghat. While she lay dying her eldest son had tried divination for her, as if she were a man. His object was to discover, if possible, what her next genesis would be. He put out, over-night, ashes from the fire which had cooked her meal (and hers alone, since she was a widow). If the ashes were found next morning with anything recognizable as human, he said she would come again as a human being; if he found a calf’s hoof, she would have attained blessedness indeed, she would be a cow; if claws, a bird; if wavy lines, a tree. He had ascertained that she and his father had never bathed in the Ganges, with their clothes tied together, so it was certain that they would not again be man and wife. . . .

But the ashes as shown to me in the morning said nothing; a centipede or caterpillar might have been imagined from the wriggly trailing marks I saw—an impossible future for that beloved saint.

And I consoled her son, by reminding him that divination was usually practised for males alone, and maybe therefore, the ashes could not speak.

He offered the pinda, a ball of rice and flour, for tea days. He said that after the burning, her body would wander as a homeless ghost, unless he did this; and that it took ten days for a new body to be built.10

This pinda (death-cake) offering ceremony is repeated monthly for a year; and big shradhs with the feeding of Brahmins, follow at intervals, thereafter, according to the vows taken by the chief survivor.

But that the memory of the Burning Ghat can be transmuted into beauty, I learnt when I went to visit the Chattri (memorial place) of an old Jat Maharani friend of mine, not long after I had said good-bye to my Arnakali Devi.

It was in the autumn that Maiji Sahiba, my Jat Princess friend, left us, she who was grandmother to Bishun Singh, of whom I write at the end of this book.

And, when my touring took me to within reach of the Cemetery of Kings, beyond the walls of the city where she had ruled so wisely, I felt that I must make a pilgrimage to her resting-place. . . . I found a collection of memorial chapels, set in lovely gardens.

Her own was very simple, a chattri, rather like the chattris (umbrellas) in marble lace-work which sit at the corners of the Taj Mahal platform, although the latter is a memorial to a Muslim lady. I liked the unifyingness of that thought; and, “An umbrella, of course,” I reflected, “an umbrella because the memory of my Jat Princess is still as the Sun when it shineth in its might.”

A priest sat in the Chattri, reading the Shastras. He lives beside it, and serves it daily: it is his benefice.

Flowers and offerings of fruit awaited her spirit. I stood silent remembering my friend, and her wonderful acts of love and hospitality. Indeed, I seemed her guest anew, in that lovely place of utter peace. . . . One was conscious of her personality, more vividly adjacent than in its earthly vesture.

No veils divided now, no custom hampered, no ignorance tyrannized. . . . And regret itself fell away; no room was there for personal loss and regret, in such an overflow of peace, in such reality of communion. . . .

The priest’s voice called me back to the visible. “Will you not have some of these nuts and fruits?” he said. “She does not like her friends to go away without refreshment. And she has left this garland of roses for you.”

When I think of Arnakali and my Jat Princess, and many such—widows mostly—who live to a great age in India (due, as they themselves believe, to their habits of self-discipline and fasting), of their loving service of others, and their utter unselfconsciousness, I do not wonder that the Hindu religion has included in its ritual “the worship of the aged”; and the doctrine that the true guru (spiritual guide) is the mother. And, with this reflection in my mind, I went with pleasurable anticipation to Boho-Rani’s “Worship of the Aged” festival.

As the youngest bride in the house, she was mistress of the ceremonies; but all the children helped her. They had been busy since dawn; they cleaned the brass food-vessels with sour tamarind juice, and made them shine like the face of the sun itself. They had helped (what fun it was!—the older women probably called it “hindering”) to cook the dinner-rice, and than cakes of wheat, curries of lentils and of every kind of vegetable in season, flour of grain baked into thin crisp biscuits as large as saucers; and they served it all by themselves, walking one after the other, Boho-Rani first—piling the rice in a snowy mound in the centre of the large brass plates, and arranging around it small brass cups containing an embarrassing choice of highly-spiced curries, pickles and chutneys.

The brass plates stood in front of the ashans (mat-seats), the dining-chairs of Hinduism, placed side by side against the walls of the spacious kitchen, the floor of which had been swept clean and sprinkled with Ganges water.

The little hostesses, dressed in their best clothes and jewels, received their guests at the door of the kitchen.

They looked lovely, a living posy of the gayest flowers imaginable. Their sarees were worn off their heads, as is the Bengal custom for young children, and their glossy long hair was braided closely. From the parting in the middle of their foreheads hung a jewel; and gold chains extended from this across their heads to their ears, in some cases tasselled with finer chains of gold, decorating the lobe of the ear, and ending in jewelled ear-rings.

They wore innumerable bracelets, on their arms below the elbow; above the elbow heavy circlets of gold contrasting oddly with the dirty little bags of unbleached cotton, tied to a dirty string which hung just below the bands of gold. The bags contained charms of different kinds—a tiger’s whiskers, a khar ghosh’s (hare’s) claws, the fat of some animal taken from a definite part of its body, oddments blessed by a priest, asafoetida, musk, roots and medicinal plants gathered at dead of night by a nude woman with her hair hanging down her back; a medallion of god or goddess, a tuft of hair, a shell—what not!

Some children wore their charms in little boxes, flat or barrel-shaped, round their necks; and these then included sacred texts or mantras. They all wore anklets of gold; and the anklets and bangles made a pretty tinkle as the children moved. But only Boho-Rani wore decorations on hands and feet, fine chains of gold depending from gold bands, and ending in toe and finger rings of gold and rubies, none of which seemed to impede in the least her deft movements, as chief observer. It was easy to tell which of the children were already married—the red kunkum covering the parting of their hair betrayed them.

They stood then, this posy of hostesses at the kitchen door. And as each “Aged One”—Great Grandmother, Great Aunts . . . down to the generation of Aunts and Mothers—arrived, the little would take the dust of their feet, falling in that most gracious of salutations, and rising with hands joined, touching their foreheads.

Namaskār!” We salute those to whom we owe reverence!” said they.

And “Ashirwād!—Blessings on you;” said the aged ones.

Now all was laughter and merriment. Indian women are really very witty; and for once the children could speak freely in the presence of their elders—capping their puns, teasing them, calling them by nicknames carefully concealed from the elders, a year long.

Loochies (sweet balls in syrup) and other sweets followed, with fruit—pomegranate seeds, sliced bananas, sliced melons and mangoes, orange pips—all ready to eat; for, of course, there were no knives or forks or spoons at the meal. . . . And then, Boho-Rani came carrying a pitcher of water, while her lieutenant followed, with a basin. Over the hands of each guest was poured the water, the towel which was also offered rejected as a modern invention by the most aged. Hands dried themselves, as bodies dried themselves when you bathed!

And now, the serving-women having removed the plates, came pan-supari, the recognized digestive of a Hindu meal. This is not a pill, or any physic-like decoction. All you saw were little packets in the shape of cocked hats—cleverly fastened with a clove, and covered on this festive occasion with gold and silver leaf—crowded together on the large silver trays which the children handed round. The women took as many as they pleased. The packets were really made of the pungent green pan leaf smeared on the inside with lime. They contained chopped supari (areca-nut), nutmeg, clove seeds and other spices. It is an offering of affection; no respectable Hindu woman ever offers pan-supari packets to a man not her husband or father, or one of the age and position of a father. And the preparation of pan-supari is a great art. My Boho-Rani and all the little children had learnt, together with other wifely domestic duties, how this should be done.

Chattering and chewing—the pan wads in their checks, and reddening their lips—the women rose to go.

“Have we leave to depart, O! little Mothers?” they asked. And:

“Come again!” said the children.

But, one more obligation remained. The servers brought in more trays, laden this time with flowers— mogras (little white buttons of flowers), jasmine, roses, marigolds all strung together into garlands of fragrance. And, as she passed out of the door, each guest bent her head to receive a flower necklace.

This ancient custom is more than a courtesy. It means “I select you, as one whom I worship.”

It is not polite, even if it should be dripping with water (as so often it is), to remove the garland in the presence of the giver.

The modern, English-educated, Indian girl knows this fact; but she does not always know or remember the historical significance of the gift of a flower-garland from a woman to a man, although she may from childhood have known the tale of Samyukta and the Own-Choosing.11 This ignorance had, once at least to my personal knowledge, led to disaster.

A Hindu family after marrying its eldest daughter to a Raja, had renounced Hinduism proper for laxity, and a pseudo-Brahmoism (Theism). They were not definitely Brahmo however, and their Hindu daughter and son-in-law visited them from time to time.

The unmarried younger daughter was very smart and up to date. She attended an English-teaching school, played tennis and badminton, had no intention of ever going into purdah; and, dressed in an English habit, took riding lessons from an Englishman at the school of riding in the town in which she lived.

Her sister and brother-in-law came on a visit after a length of time during which Ganeshbala, the little sister, had grown from six years of age to sixteen.

Her parents, trying to be as orthodox as the Raja son-in-law believed them to be, had served a vegetarian meal, followed by pan-supari, and finally the garlanding ceremony. Ganeshbala ran forward, and picking a garland of red roses off the tray, put it round her brother-in-law’s neck, not hearing the cry of alarm from her sister the Rani, who had tried to stop her.

The brother-in-law, not a satisfactory creature in things marital, who had been ogling the lively modern miss all evening, seized his opportunity.

“You must know what you have done,” said he. “You have selected me as a husband!”

The parents were aghast. But, although the general practice of Hinduism is monogamy, the brother-in-law was within his rights and had his way. He carried Ganeshbala off to his distant Raj, in company with her poor superseded sister, handicapped now permanently in her efforts to retain her husband’s affections even within her own home.

What had she to offer but the service of his gross needs—the dishes he loved to eat; worship; devotion; and a blind eye for neglect! While Ganeshbala could give him all that he got from the gay women in the balconies of Harrison Street.

She died very soon after the second marriage, though she showed no resentment against her sister or towards her husband.

She just died, quietly, and without giving trouble to any one, or raising suspicion against any.

Not even her mother knew what she had endured. For in her father’s house she professed only joy at the prospect of having Ganeshbala, from babyhood her favourite sister, beside her for always in her exile from Bengal.

A faithful old waiting-woman who had taken pity on the brave little senior Rani, could have enlightened us as to the cause of her early “attainment,” her quick release to another chance.

But, to this day, keeping a promise to the mistress she loved, she has not uttered a word.

Chapter VIII

The Many-Headed — The Many-Handed

Have you noticed how informing the symbolism of Hindu gods and goddesses can be? Take the goddesses, for instance, with many heads and faces, many hands. . . . May that not be descriptive of actual fact? To the Hindu, women have one function and use in life, one alone; they are baby machines. But their temperaments, their faces, vary (many-headed); and the only allowable expression of this difference, the things they do with their hands, their activities, vary (many-handed).

Not being ground in one mill of education, this variety is perhaps greater than the variety found in Western countries; certainly it is, what we might call, more widely spaced.

Having met Ganeshbala, and others like her—inevitable product of unequal and too-rapid change in an ancient country—I began to understand the attitude of the older women to English-educated maidens. There was, of course, the demand for a larger bride-price if the girl were educated (the figure rising to something colossal for an M.A.!); that was easy of comprehension. But their antipathy to freedom of movement, to preparation for companionship in the marital life, for work in a world needing service—was not so easy to understand. The older women were themselves so kindly, so easily stirred to sympathy with suffering, so insistent upon devotion to a woman’s one man. Of the service of others’ needs they were high-priestesses. . . .

I took my puzzle to Mathaji Maharani—the shrewdest, the most humorous, the most liberal-minded, as well as the most aged (she was 103) of my Hindu friends.

She explained that beliefs grounded in religion took long to change; that the older women thought in terms of religion alone and in terms of the rules imposed upon religion by the priesthood.

“But,” I objected, “there was no infant marriage in ancient Hinduism. Think of Samyukta, and the practice of adult girls selecting their husbands. Think of the comparative equality of men and women as to inheritance, emphasized by the Laws of Manu; of the equality implied during puja, when a woman was necessary for the offering of the sacred grass, and how the man could not adequately worship the gods without her help. If you come to that, think of the gods and goddesses themselves. That story of Brahma the great god. I have heard the women recite it. How, one day, Brahma got impatient because Saraswati his wife was long over dressing, and kept him waiting to perform his puja; and in his impatience made the priest marry him to a passing milkmaid so that she might supply the wife’s part at ‘Morning Chapel’ and release him for his hunting. How Saraswati arriving thereafter resplendent in blue-green and gold, riding on her peacock, heard the tale; and hearing dared to curse the god—‘May you never be worshipped in a temple of your own while the world of men shall last!’ ‘Even Brahma,’ say the women, ‘had no power to nullify a woman’s curse.’ And indeed I have with my eyes seen his deserted temples by Lake Pushkur and elsewhere.”

“It is true,” said Mathaji, with a twinkle in her eye. “Saraswati cursed Brahma, and what woman can find fault with her? Neglect of the things which are paid for in re-birth is foolishness, even in a god. Besides, she’d been making herself particularly lovely for him.”12

“And there were other rebellious Great Ones,” I continued. “Durga flouted her husband. And look at Kali. The Suffragettes in Vilayat (England) of whom I told you would have made a fine shastra of Kali if she had belonged to them. There was Siva, the great Lord of Destruction himself, sending her to fight the giants of wickedness of whom the sons of men complained. He might have hurled his thunderbolt or sent fire from his third eye to blast them in a moment. But no! he sends a woman.”

“Yes,” said Mathaji,” so he did. But can you wonder that the illiterate Hindu woman is afraid of that example? Did not Kali get drunk with success, changing from the beautiful one to the Terrifying Mother, losing her loveliness, unable to stop herself in her dance of death, drinking the blood of her victims, wearing their skulls round her neck as a garland, their hands round her waist for a skirt. Power, action, in a world of men, is not for women. . . . It was eventually her husband who stopped her. Subjection to your Lord is always the end, even if he himself has allowed liberty.”

“But she is still worshipped, and is feared more than Siva himself.”

“Does a woman want to be feared? Or to be worshipped because she is feared? That would be the state of a childless one turned shrew. No; our illiterate women have a better ideal. And you have seen how, though they teach their children to raise their hands and pray in terror when they see Kali’s bird the red-throated Brahmani kite, in their puja ghar it is the little Baby Krishna that you find most often; and the stories of Sita and Draupadi, faithful wives sacrificed for their husbands, are the tales which they most often tell.

“Maybe these flouters of men in Vilayat would be wise to take heed from the story of Kali. As I have said, women are not yet capable of power, not in our country at any rate. It makes them drunk. And to seek to reform the world without the help of man is not good. The Giants of Wickedness cannot be conquered by women alone.

“Before Kali began her independent life of action, see how gentle she was and merciful, as a home-keeping wife.

“You remember that other story of how she helped the sons of men by her wit and her shrewd management of Siva when the King of Death was banished from the earth.13

“In the home the exercise of power, even the deceiving of man for his good, is lawful. It is not lawful in the outside world, even if the object be to do good.”

I sat sulkily silent. I had expected other views from my wisest of the wise, as I called Mathaji.

She smiled, as at a child. “This, remember, is the Kali Yog, the Black Age. Think how the world has changed from the early days of the Own-Choosing. We Hindus believed when the Muslims came to India conquering and looting that we could protect our girl-children only by marrying them in infancy, and our married women only by keeping them in seclusion, safe from the eye of the alien who might desire them. The ancient custom had to give place to new customs for our protection. And later on the priests, seeing that advantage was to be made out of the new custom and knowing that the only way to hold the new was to give it religious sanction, put the law as to the age of marriage—of which law we have often spoken, you and I—into the Shastras.

“If you can get the priests to acknowledge this and to wipe out the new law from our Sacred Books, the great-grandmothers will renounce Infant Marriage without a struggle.

“But to accept the new ways of going with shameless open face before men will take longer. For in that respect the man must be educated too—to curb promiscuous desire and to learn that the Unveiled of the Hindu religion need not of necessity be prostitutes, having renounced respectability.

“There is something more too. The world is not changing as a whole. I mean that only a few of us are changing. We do not move all together, and we do not move a step at a time.

“Men, when they are wicked, take advantage of this. Look at the Raja and Ganeshbala. If that younger sister had had knowledge of the customs of her race, her freedom would not have worked harm to her married sister. She would never have hung the garland round that man’s neck; and he, who in his personal life has, as I know, thrown away the rules of religion and custom which bind him, could not falsely, as he did, have taken advantage of her ignorance to obtain his desire.”

I still brooded gloomily, for I knew that she was right. “I had hoped,” I said, “that the educated ones would make a bridge between the old and the new, turning the grandmothers from customs and practices dangerous to health, helping women to find the work for which God had fitted individuals. You know, Mathaji, how women in the old tales of Hinduism had uses additional to child-bearing.”

“Yes,” she said, “I know; and it may yet be so. But if the educated ones would make that bridge of which you speak, they must learn more about the past history and customs of our country, about their own discarded religion.

“If they could see the wisdom of observing customs based on religion when they are not harmful, they would be able to persuade against harmful customs. But, as with Kali, freedom and success in the personal ambitions they set before them have gone to their heads. They travel too fast and think too much of their little knowledge. You should be sorry for the grandmothers, Miss Sahibaji. It is a time of difficulty.”

“Yes,” I said, “I know; and I am sorry for every one in these changing days, for the young as well as the old. But why do the grandmothers say that the educated girl who is an Indian is a worse menace to the peace of a Hindu home—Ganeshbala, for instance—than even the English Mems whom their sons sometimes marry in England? “

“Don’t you see,” said Mathaji, “the son, who should in his mother’s opinion be orthodox, cuts himself off from the family when he marries an other-country wife; but an own-country wife, even if she has never kept caste rules, he can force upon the family? The Mem can be kept where his other wives or the wives of his brothers in the joint-family house could not see her, could not eat their hearts with knowing that she shared a man’s life outside as well as within, that she fulfilled all his needs, understanding his work, his business, his pleasures; that she was not only a machine to do the house-work and supply children at his desire.

“They see the own-country educated wife at close quarters, and they are angry because she has, as they believe, outraged their religion. What may be right conduct for the Mem they do not know. What is right conduct for a woman born Hindu they know. Then, again, there’s jealousy. Have you not learnt that jealousy bites deepest when it is excited by someone who is even as ourselves, on a level with us in circumstance and opportunity? ‘I could give what she gives if I had the chance,’ says one’s heart.

“It does not speak thus of those far removed from us, like the women of other races.

“Then the mother-in-law, who arrives at her own time of ruling when she is head of the Zenana—think how she suffers at the hands of That One—flouted, mocked, and laughed at.”

Yes, I saw all that. “But do you not think,” I said, “that the new kind of wife is desirable, and that in the end when every wife is educated to share a man’s life and thoughts, as well as to serve his bodily needs, it will make the kind of home which is needed in India? The extravagances of the moment will pass; we must not dwell on them.”

“Yes,” she said, answering my question. “But only when all in a home are moving at the same pace. Let education come first within the purdah, keeping the god-rules about subjection—indeed, keeping all the rules of our race which it is possible to keep. Believe me, Miss Sahibaji, this is true talk. Freedom can come to women that way alone.”

That she was right I knew in my heart; and I saw with my eyes when I went to visit my Prithivi Maharani—Choti Mees had now a younger sister and a little brother, and Prithivi’s cup was full.

Her home was a joyful place, indeed. Her kind Maharaja adored her, and let her lord it over him. She was a good Hindu, did her puja, and as with Choti Mees’s worship of the cow, made her children do puja too and observe the child-ceremonies in due season. She kept strict purdah, but she had a large secluded garden, where she and the children played, and she had a purdahed motor-car in which she drove daily . . . so that light and air were not denied her.

She still cooked her husband’s food and served him while he ate; her big bunch of keys still dangled from the end of her saree. Before the older womenfolk of her family and her husband’s family she was the demurest little piece of wifely and motherly conservatism. But as they lived not in a joint family but in a separate palace of their own, she could in her daily life be as individual a Prithivi Maharani as her gay little nature demanded.

But her rule, her area of conquest never extended beyond her Maharaja. She had no desire for any extension whatsoever.

She was certainly pleased with herself and with her cleverness.

“I’m a ripe one, Aunt-Mother,” she would boast laughingly. “He”—her Maharaja, it is not Hindu etiquette to say your husband’s name—“was in debt, the foolish one; and his father’s house in Calcutta was put up for sale—a talk of shame for the oldest Brahmin family in Bengal. I sent for the old vakil who did my grandmother’s business, and speaking through the children’s governess from behind the purdah, I told him to buy it for me.” Here Prithivi laughed, and her laugh was always a delight. “When I was serving the Maharaja Bahadur’s dinner that night, I said quietly, ‘I have a present for you. After dinner you shall see it?’ He teased me: ‘Have you been saving pice out of the housekeeping money?’ he asked: and ‘Are you becoming a Mem, giving presents to her husband, instead of sitting sulking till I bring you a new saree?’

“I said nothing because he had finished his meal, and my secret could be told. I put before him the large crackling papers of writing, sewn together with green ribbon, which the vakil had brought me. It was the writing of my present to himself, of his Bap-dada’s (father-grandfather’s) house.

“My grandmother left me a lot of money, you remember, Aunt-Mother; and I’ve been careful with it and made it more. His face made me laugh and laugh, till the force of my laughter nearly threw me down. But when he said that I had the head for business of a Lat Sahib, I said that truly I knew that I had! And that what he must do was to break down the old palace and build—what is that English word?—falats which could be let to poor people, rent coming from many, sometimes being greater than what one man could give, even if he were a Raja.”

“Did the vakil give you this advice?” I asked.

Chut! no!” contemptuously. “The vakil comes to hear my orders and my advice, not to advise me.

“Do I not drive out in my car? Have I not eyes to see? Near our old empty palace there are many new houses, built very high, looking like the small-windowed houses we build for pigeons. I asked the old Diwan to tell me about them and he said they were ‘falats’ and brought much money to the landlords. So I said to myself ‘My Maharaja Bahadur shall be a landlord of falats!’”

But she was not content that he should have this title alone to a possible increment of income. “My Maharaja Bahadur,” she said to me, “must be in cousél.”

“What do you know of councils?” I asked.

“Oh, I read the newspapers! Did you not yourself, Aunt-Mother, make Promoda Devi teach me to read when I was a child? So, if this thought which has come to me is wrong, my Aunt-Mother must pay for it in her re-birth!” she said mischievously.

Her idea was that her Maharaja should get into the Executive Council of his Province, “and draw a big salary (which he will give to me!); and for himself he will keep the honour of Cousél and sit near the Lat Sahib at big ceremonies. And they get some kind of kitab (title) when they are in Cousél—‘the Hon.’ it is called (Oh yes, I found out all about it!); and they get the chance to give orders to other Zemindars. It would be fun if my Maharaja got the chance to order about that Maharaja Zemindar who told my mother that she made a mistake marrying me to a Maharaja who was in debt and had to sell his Bap-dada’s house. Heu! I’d like my Maharaja Bahadur to be in Cousél to give orders to That One!”

Prithivi got her way. Her Maharaja was in the Council; and Prithivi made him pay over to her every month the Rs.3,000 (£225) which he drew as the salary of his office. Out of this sum she gave him back Rs.10 (15s.) to spend on himself!” It’s quite enough,” said she; “and you will give me an account of how you spend your ten rupees!”

She was really an adorable creature, and the Maharaja with a laugh took her largesse and rendered his accounts faithfully month by month.

The money she saved mounted rapidly; for she had always saved out of the housekeeping allowance which came from her own Zemindary. In one thing alone was she a child. She kept her money in cash in a tin box, in her dressing-room. And all her waiting-women knew this. Maybe her husband knew it too; but he had promised not to interfere with her “business,” and he was reluctant to do more than warn, and suggest a bank.

When I discovered the flimsiness of her safe depository and the ease with which it could be carried off bodily, I took the matter in hand myself; and got her to consent to deposit her money in the Imperial Bank, telling her how easily she could draw a cheque when she needed money. I also told her about investments. She said she had long known about “Government Paper” (her own choice), but had been making her women listen to gossip about what bunias (money-lenders) did with money. “Those are the ‘ripe’ people of the world of money,” she concluded.

But a little money in the bank, and to write cheques, and get money when she wanted it, instead of opening her tin box while the waiting-women’s eyes dropped out of their heads at the rolls of notes—yes, that would be a fine thing, and she would feel like “the Hon.”!

But disappointment awaited my negotiations at the bank. They could not open an account in the name of a purdahnashin, said the agent. It was not safe. Identification was difficult, in regard to dealings from behind a purdah. “Could they not have women clerks?” I suggested. “It might mean a great increase of business to secure purdahnashin clients, and it certainly would be a protection for the purdahnashins themselves.”

But they could not see their way to this innovation. And Prithivi Maharani had to do the best she could with a reliable safe, in favour of which I persuaded her to discard the tin box.

Chapter IX

The Rod of God

Prithivi Maharani was an increasing delight. Every time I went to see her I found some new joyful aspect of her adorable little nature.

She was a strict martinet with the girls as they grew—though a martinet with a wink in her eye, as it were. Choti Mees and her sister did lessons with a governess—Bengali and English lessons.

“See! I’m becoming a shameless one,” said Prithivi Maharani to me. “After the learning of English, maybe a showing of my face will follow” (for she shared the English lessons: and took good measure, pressed down and running over, out of the services of the governess). The children were ordered on my visits to read and recite for me, to write and figure for me, Prithivi watching me anxiously, for, though so proud of herself, she had the sense to recognize when she might be insufficient. I saw through her device; she was not just “showing off.” I was used as “policeman” as well as “Educational inspector.” Music—the vina (a stringed instrument) and the singing of the country she added to the schoolroom time-table, getting the best possible teachers. And, because they were men, compelling the governess to sit by as chaperon for even eight and six years old.

Her son was her chief pride. She indulged him shamelessly; but allowed no one else to spoil him. And she did make him keep rules as to times of meals, sleep, etc. There was a toy-room where the girls kept their dolls—dolls of cloth, and wax, and china in all stages of womanhood. Choti Mees used to put them to sleep—the original “Mees” still alive, among them—on one huge bedstead built for her many generations of dolls, ending with the baby.

Thak! (let be!)” said Prithivi. “It’s not the new wisdom, but where so much that is new is being taught, let them practise the old ways for their dolls. It will not hurt them.”

But the greater part of the toy-room was commandeered by Gyanendra, the little Maharaja. He had conceived a passion for motor-cars, and at four years old knew the names of the different makes, and would roll them off his tongue. They were most lovely cars, perfect miniatures complete with electric fittings, clutches and brakes which worked as did the real thing. And he learnt to drive, putting out his small hand to indicate the direction he was taking, on a garden path full of “pretend” traffic.

I had to see him perform when he was perfect, and was treated to a “play acting” which would be invaluable to Mr. Hore-Belisha in his “Safety First” propaganda for schools.

Gyanendra would pull up suddenly—and jump out. “I’m a policeman now,” he would say. “That taxi ran into me trying to smash my car. I must take its number.” He would pause at the back of an imaginary taxi, and pretend to scribble in a notebook, standing with a straight back and a most forbidding countenance, abusing the “pretend” taxi-driver roundly and correctly, in truly grown-up lascivious vernacular, of which happily he did not understand the import; he would suggest that the payment on the spot of a hundred rupees would alone prevent the man being dragged before a Judge-Sahib next morning! . . .

A variation would be something wrong with his carburettor. He would put up the bonnet and, after anxious examination, declare that the “carbrutton” was out of order, or that the trouble was “boro garm injin” (engine too hot). . . .

And then I had to see the car put into its garage, in a corner of the toy-room—Prithivi Maharani and his sisters with adoring eyes scuttling before him to clear furniture, etc., out of the way as he drove across the verandah, right through the drawing-room, over priceless Persian carpets, into his garage!

But who can forecast the future? There came a day when Prithivi Maharani’s gay little world lay in ruins around her. Her Maharaja, so young and strong and apparently impregnable, was stricken with a sudden illness, and lay dead in a night.

“God’s rod makes no noise,” said Prithivi, quoting an Indian saying. The priests told her that she deserved “the rod” because she was admitting foreign ways into her household.

Had she not allowed the Maharaja to dine at the Calcutta Club, eating who knew what? (She had, only requiring that he should bathe in Ganges water upon his return.) Had she not become an English Mem in some of her habits? (Poor little Prithivi, all she had done was to give an English tea-party in purdah—pouring out the tea herself, as her husband told her the wife of an English fellow-councillor had done, when he had been to see her. “I only wanted to show that I could do it too!” she wailed. “I drank no tea myself; and he was pleased.”) Had he not—this and that, they continued, piling up supposed sins in order to demand a more costly atonement at the time of the Burning.

Choti Mees had to go with the beloved corpse and the firing party to the Burning Ghat, to set light to the body—the boy Gyanendra being too young for this office; and Prithivi lay in an agony of grief before her altar. The god she worshipped was replaced by a photograph of the Maharaja; and her puja was now never shorter than three hours at a time, beginning at dawn, even as she remembered was the habit of her widowed mother and grandmother. She also fasted to emaciation.

Her children and her home she tended as carefully as ever; and Gyanendra would sometimes bring a smile to her lips. . . . But her gaiety lay dead. It came back in a measure, three years later, roused by two things. One was the Sarda Act, which raised the age of marriage. She had never meant to marry Choti Mees till she was fourteen, and had flouted the priests on that point, saying that she was obeying the Maharaja’s orders, and inventing tales of his having appeared in visions of the night threatening her with his curse, if she disobeyed.

But the Sarda Act was coercion of the living. She would not obey. Choti Mees was eleven, she would marry her, and yet not break the law, for there was grace of a few months before the Act came into force. She told me she had found a bridegroom, and that I was to be bidden to the wedding. She was defiant and mischievous and almost gay.

“Don’t do this thing,” I begged. “It does not become a great Maharani to run to get inside a room before the door is shut”—which was, I explained, what her action looked like to me, trying to marry Choti Mees during the days of grace.

“And does it become the dignity of a Lat Sahib and all his Cousél and Judges of the High Cor-rut, to run to get through the door to see what is happening? What Lat Sahibs can do, surely a poor little widowed Prithivi Maharani can also do!”

Her eye was joyous, and as wicked as of old, I saw to my delight. And I knew to what she referred. A neighbouring Maharaja was marrying his daughter under the new permissible age; but within the days of grace. He had invited all the English Great Ones to the ceremony, and they had gone!

But she did yield to my prayer that she should not copy him, trying, however, other tactics. “Choti Mees is fourteen,” she declared. “The priests will make me a horoscope to prove this.”

But I recalled the story of the neglected original “Mees” on the auspicious day of the arrival of a flesh-and-blood baby—did she forget that Choti Mees’s birth was noted in my official diary? And, with a laugh, she gave in.

But she was stirred out of her listlessness, ready for the second urge to which I have referred. It was her estate which pricked her into action. Since her husband’s death it had been under Government management. She demanded to examine the accounts, she criticized Government methods—all discreetly from behind the purdah; fierce also the while, in the practice of orthodox Hinduism, giving the priests no handle. She then insisted that management be given into her own hands . . . she was literate, she urged, and capable. In the end she prevailed; the estate was made over to her. . . The first thing she did was to clear it of encumbrances with her own money (a proceeding beyond the capacity of Governments); boasting gleefully that it was well for her little son that he had a mother; and (wistfully, wet-eyed) that she knew that her Maharaja Bahadur was laughing at her for outwitting the “Cor-rut” (of Wards)!

Chapter X

The Worship of Obstacles — The Scapegoat — How to Deal with Scolding Husbands and Wives — Bawaji

Many of the most interesting customs, pushed out of the larger towns by so-called progress, are to be found in the villages; though this statement must be qualified in regard to the homes, in Presidency towns, of the strictly orthodox. His sisters, for instance, never failed to observe the Brother-worship day for Gyanendra, anointing his forehead; tying the rākhi or amulet of red thread round his wrist to keep him from harm; preparing with their own hands a festive meal, including all the things for which he clamoured, and which were so bad for him to eat, waiting on him, letting him tease and bully extra much—he, the while, taking the situation as his right and even demanding that his mother should join in. “Why go to your puja ghar? It is I who am the god to be worshipped to-day!” And—“Badmash” (little rogue)—Prithivi Maharani would say lovingly.

Also on the Friendship Day, these children, as well as children of a larger growth, would tie round one another’s wrists the same kind of twisted red-cotton bracelet as is used in the brother-worship, which bound two together in a friendship of inexorable service.

Originally, as practised in Rajputana, the bracelet-bound was a brother. The habit, I am told, came into being when a woman’s natural protector went to the wars, and she might be in trouble for lack of a male defender. In such plight she could send her “bracelet of friendship” to the “brother” who wore its duplicate, and he was bound to come to her aid, and did so come, at whatever hazard of danger or inconvenience. It is to be said to the credit of this relationship that the “brother-bondage” was never abused or exploited, even in the early days of the seclusion of women.14

From these early chivalrous Rajput Kshatriya15 beginnings, the practice was extended to friendship generally, and among all classes. It is true that in Bengal the Ram-Rākhi or festival of the bracelet is said to belong specially to Brahmins, in the month of Shrāvan (July-August) when it is the duty of the Brahmin to tie the rākhi or protecting circlet of red- cotton thread to the wrist (willy-nilly) of his employer, and demand a tip in return, on pain of a curse! And there are few employers, even among Europeans, in Clive Street, Calcutta, who would refuse acceptance of the new relationship or its immediate penalty. But this is clearly exploitation of a beautiful custom, and should be taken, as the English broker or merchant takes it, with a laugh and the wagging of a forefinger.

A variant more agreeable to recall is the bracelet-bound sister, also met in Bengal. . . . I have in my heart the pathetic memory of two children who had played together, one heir to a Zemindary, one a beggar’s child; and how they held together, the beggar forsaking her countryside and her gay vagrant life with her mother, at eight years of age, to follow her friend, to the distant town where she was carried to die of an insidious and infectious disease.

The friendship ceremony as practised by these two children belongs to Eastern Bengal and is rather elaborate.

Two tanks are dug, contiguous; and the children stage a little play with fishes and boats, floating them on the water, and offering rice and feastings on the grass, with garlands of marigold flowers. They sing quaint songs.

“Who is worshipping the water with garlands of flowers while the sun is overhead?”

“It is I—chaste and virtuous, lucky sister of a brother, and of a sister bracelet-bound.

May I have sons who will not die.” . . .

Or again, there is the festival of a girl’s first visit after marriage to her childhood’s home (a festival seen by me in a Bihar Zenana) when she must “salute the door” i.e. come loaded with presents, to a door shut in her face till she knocks loudly on it declaring that she is “saluting” it with largesse to such and such an amount. . . .

And, once inside, and her presents distributed, her husband is admitted to the Zenana too, for the bangle ceremony.

The girl-wife sits before a tray full of glass bangles, of every colour under the sun; and holds out her wrists to have her husband smash all the bangles she wears, and which she took with her on leaving her mother’s home. He then refits her—-there, in that same old home of her birth, as who should say—“Even here I am your Lord and Master.” . . .

Now, these customs—the Bhatriditiya (Brother-worship), the Ram-Rākhi (the Festival of the Bracelet-Bound), the Salutation of the Door—do still linger in the towns. But the Worship of Obstacles is to be seen in the villages alone.

The classic name of the god who presides over obstacles, who playfully puts them in the way of men and women to test their strength—is Ganesh. But he has other local names; and Vigna (Vigneshwara) was what he was called when I met him.

The wife of a peasant-farmer was in great trouble, her man lay desperately ill, and neither the village medicine-man, nor the village priest could help her. The village priest said that if she had a son he could be sacrificed to Kali, to assuage that goddess’s thirst for human blood, in place of his father; or that if she had a baby son or daughter the child’s head could be battered into idiocy (!) and it would then be a “mouse” in the service of a shrine close by and be trained to go about begging for the benefit of the shrine. (Children so dedicated are called the “mice” of the presiding deity.) He had known these things to have proved, he said, an acceptable sacrificial offering for the prolonged life of a father.

But the woman had neither son nor daughter, and Kali had “not said a word” in acknowledgment of the little black kids, which by selling her ornaments she had managed to buy for a daily offering.

The medicine-man was sympathetic, and ground herbs and charms together, feeding the patient himself, now with liquid concoctions, now with hard pellets of nastiness. But the fever did not abate. The brindled cow, the farmer’s favourite, was brought to his side, as he lay on his mat in the mud-walled hut; and his wife lifted the wasted hand which plucked at the old black-grey kamâl (blanket) in delirium; she raised it so that the restless fingers might stroke the cow’s side, might pass down her tail. . . .

She had long since trained her maina, the talking bird, to say the name of God, so that God might be called upon when she herself was too busy to worship Him. And the faithful bird kept saying, “Ram, Ram, Shiv, Ram,” with maddening persistence . . . but still the patient was no better.

“The Obstacle Worship!” said she, “there remains that!” She watched in an agony for the swift darkness which follows the setting of the sun in India—for that was the hour appointed for the worship—and, carrying with her a hollow little earthen lamp, together with a bottle of coconut oil, and five little coarse cotton wicks twisted by herself (it was the lamp with five indentations used at the Arāti, or evening service)—she walked as quickly as she could— her saree drawn tightly across her face, leaving exposed only the tip of her nose, and one eye to guide her steps—to the cross-roads at the market place. This was the place of greatest traffic in the village, and traffic was brisk at this hour. It was market day, a specially good day for “obstacles.” The usual fair had been held at the Chauk, four-roads market centre; the sellers squatting in the road were packing their wares and demolishing their booths; in “the cow-dust hour,” the cattle were going home from grazing; ox carts which had brought buyers and sellers to the fair, from outlying villages, were creaking on their homeward journey. . . . It would be right in the middle of all this, that Vigna would be found sitting, invisible to mortal eyes.

The way to propitiate him was to light her little lamp and set it just there, in that dangerous Chaurasta (four-roads place). And if it stayed alight despite the busy trampling, Vigna would have accepted her worship and propitiation. Her husband would live.

She lighted her lamp behind the shelter of a shop, tense wth excitement; and when the traffic seemed most deterrent—a condition of “propitiation”—she ran in among the beasts and the cart-wheels, cursed by the coolies whose mighty burdens had struck her head nearly knocked down by the stout bania hurrying home from his warehouse; she narrowly escaped being gored by a run-away bull—but her precious lamp was still burning, and she was able to put it down in the very middle of the Chauk traffic. Then, swift as a hare, she ran through more hazards back to her shop-shelter, and watched, an agony of prayer in her eyes. . . . If the lamp should stay alight for sixty seconds, even for that short space of time alone—“Oh, if it only would! Oh, Vigna, let it, let it!”—her husband would live.

She had no way of telling the time, but it had withstood the worst of the traffic, mercifully not trampled out, and she turned her face towards home, racing now, hoping, praising, fearing. . . .

He was breathing, and he slept quietly; the worst was over. The jester of a godling who puts obstacles in the way, that women might grow strong by overcoming them—was propitiated.

It has always seemed to me deep wisdom, the thought behind this harrowing ritual, making women, not men, the removers of obstacles.

What man would have the faith, the courage? And, in daily life, is not woman, whatever her race or circumstance, the ultimate remover of obstacles, the ultimate propitiator of the gods? Sometimes it can be done by wit or instinct, sometimes by endurance, sometimes by the offering of herself a living sacrifice to appease anger, to avert ill-luck. But, that she is considered worthy and is counted upon as willing to be a scapegoat for those she loves—this seems to me a high compliment.

Talking of scapegoats, it was in a village in Orissa that I came across another quaint custom. I was travelling in the stretch of country which lies below the foothills, where the wild peacocks dance in the moonlight on the days of the full moon; and I travelled primitively, in an ancient carrying-chair. The chair was of wood painted emerald green, and decorated with the history of ancient kings, delicious bejewelled figures in full-pleated skirts and mitres. They carried swords and what looked like fly-flappers; they were fierce of countenance; and were shown sometimes beating a woman, sometimes cutting the head off a slave, sometimes chasing a deer. It was the one cross-country journey on which I was not impatient when my carriers dumped me down unceremoniously in order to rest and smoke because they claimed to be tired.

I was usually furious at delays of this kind, fretting to get on to my objective. But in my “picture” carrying-chair I felt otherwise.

I got out at the rest-places, and studied the panels. It was a chair, not a “dandy”—the kind of unlidded coffin in which one travels in the Himalayas—a capacious and generously wadded chair, in which I sat upright, my feet resting on a board. But like a dandy it was swung on poles.

The third “dump” was beside a sacred pipal tree, and my eye was caught by a collection of clay animals grouped beneath it. I got out to examine them. They were goats of clay painted white and brown—very realistic goats indeed. The tree was smeared with red kunkum—turmeric and lemon juice—round about a flat stone which stood against the trunk. The stone was obviously an idol, also anointed with kunkum, and hung with garlands of marigolds. It was very ancient and I could not decipher the marks on its surface.

My carriers could not help me to an explanation. “Devata”—a godling—was all they said. And about the goats, how should they know? Maybe a goat was the animal which that particular god liked to ride, his vahana (mount).

That was, I felt sure, a bad guess; and I persisted in my inquiries at the end of my journey.

What I learnt, eventually, was this.

When men did what they knew to be wrong, but for which readiness to suffer punishment in re-birth was insufficient—they had, by custom, to take a clay goat to this particular shrine, and leave it there. And all was well. Their sin, or the evil spirit which had caused them to sin, passed from them. It was now inhabiting the goat. A scapegoat, clearly. But no one could unravel the mystery further for me; and I must leave it to scholars like Sir James Frazer of The Golden Bough.

The Muslims living in that countryside have a clay animal offering also—-but it is of horses. I found an example of this near the tomb of a Muslim saint. About this there was no mystery. The saint had loved horses, so the faithful brought him this clay stud to tell him that the horses still remembered him.

It was in Bihar that I met Buddha’s Wells, during the administration, as Lieutenant Governor, of Sir Archdale Earle. I was staying with the Earles, and Sir Archdale said, “I have discovered something that will interest you. You have heard of ‘Buddha’s Wells’ found in this district securely sealed? Well! I decided to have them opened. And we discovered at the bottom of the wells little hollowed-out bamboo boxes, like bits of bamboo rod chopped off between two consecutive knots. They were very carefully fastened up both sides, with some kind of cement. I sent for a man who knows about things like this. He said they were devil boxes. That in the old days when a man became inexplicably tiresome, his wife, if unable to control him, had one remedy.

“‘Poor man!’ she would say. ‘A devil has entered into you. No wonder that even devils long to live with such a Great One as my Lord. But they trouble you unduly. Let me send for a priest to take the devil away and shut him into a box to lie still at the bottom of Buddha’s Well!’ And the priest would come and there would be a ‘casting out of the devil!’—the man no doubt playing up to ‘the possession’ (what else could he do?).”

I had often seen the usual casting-out ceremony; the possessed dancing in a whirl to the beating of drums, the awed yet much entertained villagers standing in a circle round him—till he dropped, exhausted. It was at this point, I gathered, that in olden days “the priest collected the devil, and shutting it into the bamboo box threw it down the well.”

The man went home sane and well-behaved. “It must have been a wholesome check on his temper,” I reflected. “For no man surely would risk a second exorcism, upon the instigation of a courteous, loving and adoring wife!”

But it does seem to me a great idea, recalling the procedure described in “Erewhon”, this public ministration for incompatibility of temper—far superior to the vulgarities of law courts.

Sir Archdale offered me a devil-box. But I was afraid to accept it. I knew that I should not be able to resist opening it—and then what old-time devil might I not release? It might even enter into me! Col. Cameron Somerville of the King’s Own Regiment (brother of the author of An Irish R.M.), a fellow-guest, was less timid. He gloated over possessing a devil-box of his very own. He retired to Ireland. I need follow my suspicion no further!

When Bawaji, my old Sadhu friend, next came to see me, I told him about the devil-boxes. And he confirmed the information given to Sir Archdale Earle.

“Women have to get protection sometimes,” said he, “within their homes; and from whom except the priests should they get it? But sometimes a man wants protection against a woman—wants it courteously without harsh words.” . . . He laughed and, looking rather sly, told me this story.

“Not far from Prayag (Allahabad),” he said, “live two of my disciples, a man and a woman. When their only child died, the woman, empty-handed, and angry that no other child came to take its place, began to use her tongue upon her husband.

“He is a good and thanda (cool-tempered) man, a grower of melons; and his only refuge from her tongue was to escape to his melon-beds. But he could not stay on pretending to work when night fell; and the woman’s tongue began to lash him as soon as he came home.

“When I passed their way on my journeyings, I always stayed at their bari. The woman cooked well; and before me her tongue was still. So that during my visits the man her husband had peace.

“Not long ago, at the close of one of my visits, he took me out to the melon-beds for a talk. ‘Bawaji,’ he said, ‘teach me some way by which I can hear and not heed the scoldings of my house (wife).’

“And then—he is a good man—he told me that her scoldings meant nothing; they were but ease for the heart-hunger of which I knew. ‘But me! I cannot endure them. They steal all quietness from my mind. Give me aid, show me some way of help, Bawaji my guru! The only time when she is quiet is when some sickness takes me. Then she tends and soothes me, as if I were her lost child.’

“It was that, Miss Sahiba, which gave me my thought for a remedy,” said Bawaji. “Meditation . . . I would teach him to meditate and to send his soul away from his body, becoming behosh (unconscious) just when she was beginning to scold. She would think him ill, and would tend him; and there would be no more scoldings in that house of my friends.

“And, even so I did, coming more often than was my wont to help my melon-grower disciple. It was settled between us that the teaching should be secret. We met at the far end of his melon-patch, and I taught him how he should sit-cross-legged, the soles of his feet upturned (though the posture is not important), and how to send his soul away from his body.”

“How?” I asked.

“As I have already oft-times told the Miss Sahiba. To make the mind empty by thinking of one’s self as a hollowed-out bamboo; and to send the mind up and down that hollow, up and down—allowing no other action of the mind. At first this can be done only less than a second at a time; but soon ability grows, and one loses consciousness, becomes behosh And, when a man arrives at that stage of meditation, he can train himself to become behosh at will, for five, ten, twenty minutes—instructing himself about the selected time, when he enters upon his meditation.

“I told the melon-grower that when he was perfect in this habit, I would test him, and being satisfied, would give him leave to slip off into meditation as soon as his wife began to scold.

“I have lost virtue as a Sadhu, Miss Sahiba; for was I not joyful as a child, gloating over the deceiving of that poor woman. And one day, after I had pronounced my melon-grower disciple perfect, I went to the bari begging shelter. You remember that our meetings for the teaching had been secret, far from the house; she had no knowledge of our doings, or that I was in the neighbourhood. And, as I approached, I could hear her scoldings; from the distance of the lowing of a cow could I hear her.

“I crept to the window and looked in, myself unseen. That rogue of an apt pupil instantly became behosh. His wife stared at him, her tongue stilled, her eyes wide with horror. Then she fell on her knees beside him, chafing his hands, saying words of love and tenderness, accusing herself, trying to unlock his folded feet.

“In five minutes he brought himself back, slowly, and with moans of pain (the rogue, I never taught him that!)—and I entered. He would not look at me, as I harkened to her talk of this strange new sickness.

“‘Sri Siva, the god whom I worship, has sent you to me to-night, Bawaji,’ she concluded. ‘Your prayers will make him well!’ And she left us together to bustle about making an extra good meal such as her melon-grower might love. . . .

“Sometimes,” continued Bawaji after a pause, “I am ashamed of the thing I have done, degrading the practices of the spirit, in its strivings after God, to the uses of illusion. But—there is peace in the house of my two friends; and the gods do sometimes enjoy a laugh with mortals.”

“What do you bring back from your meditations,” I asked, “when they are practised in the interest of the spirit?”

“One need bring back nothing,” said he. “The doctrine is that the fact of going out of the body in itself buys merit; and when Sadhus learn to do this for two or three days at a time—yes, even for a week or fortnight at a time—they are buried in a sitting posture, a watch being kept over them to see and report that ‘the sending forth of the soul’ is genuine. And the faithful come and look at the behosh Sadhu, and believe him to be a very holy man, one who can work miracles.

“No—one need bring back nothing from that far journey of the soul. But for myself I try to discover, to remember where my soul has been—in order that, haply, this way I might learn something of the big-little questions. . . . Once or twice,” he said softly, “I have seen, I have remembered.” . . . But he did not offer to tell me what he remembered.

At Lanowli, in the Western Ghauts, I have seen a Sadhu buried alive in meditation, for a week; and maybe he brought spiritual aid to his disciples by that exhibition of unconsciousness, alone.

But to me my old friend Bawaji has always remained the greater saint, despite his application of spiritual aids to the base needs of a world of illusion.

In 1918 Bawaji’s disciples brought me word that he had “attained.” They spoke joyously, as of a victory. He was sitting in meditation by the junction of the sacred rivers at Prayag, during the Magh Mela Festival.

He sent his soul away from his body.

It never returned. . . .

“Maybe be omitted to tell it when to return,” said they.

Dear old Bawaji! So many things come to mind as I think upon him. The way, for instance, he would lay a finger along his nose and shut his eyes in meditation before answering a question, and then give one the most delightful answers in story or parable. Once when we had discussed the big-little things, as he called them, to my great enlightenment, I said: “We’ve had a good talk to-day, Bawaji.”

Heu!” said he. “We have not talked at all, we have only made a clearing in the jungle where we can sit down and think.” One very characteristic story is of his meeting with Lord Radstock at my flat in Calcutta.

The two men liked one another at sight.

Bawaji said, “Bring that Sadhu Sahib of the English people to the Hindu Sadhus’ discussion to-morrow night.” Lord Radstock was delighted to go. He read them a chapter of the Book of Isaiah, which they discussed with him. (I acted as translator.) It was a great experience for myself. The pure in heart would seem to find common ground, whatever their form of Faith.

When Lord Radstock was leaving Calcutta, Bawaji said to me—“Write my name and that English Sadhu Sahib’s name on two pieces of paper. Write the names together; write underneath ‘These two are Friends and Brothers.’ Write all this in Hindi and in English. Give one paper to the Sahib, and one to me.”

I did as he bade me. His paper he tied into a knot of his turban saying—“I whose rule of religion forbids the possession of anything—I will possess this, this memory of my friend.” And he smiled. . . . Lord Radstock died soon after this meeting, and when Bawaji next came to see me I told him. He stood very still for a moment. Then, “Is it permitted me to go outside?” said he.

And he went and stood on the balcony, looking across the great open stretch of maidan, to the sunset. He was gone some little while. When he came in again, he said:

“I am no longer a Sadhu. I know it. That news of my friend’s passing out of sight has hurt me, as nothing has hurt me for all the years of Sadhuhood. ‘Detachment’ has left me. I cannot be absorbed into the ‘Abstraction’—which is God.”

I sat silent; and knew that he was unconscious of me, when he added softly, smiling that half-humorous smile of his—

“I am glad that my love for my friend has robbed me of merit!”

And he was gone, without salutation.

Chapter XI

Sadhuins, or Holy Women

Holy women are less frequently met with in India than holy men. I refer to Sadhuins and Sadhus. But I have been privileged in knowing two holy ones, though they were not connected with any particular order—Mathaji Maharani and Narayani, entirely different types.

Shri Mathaji Maharani Tapaswini came of a Raj family in South India. One may not question nuns and monks about their origin. But one day seeing the curiosity in my mind, Mathaji herself told me a little; and Bawaji filled in the gaps in her tale.

Before her birth it was prophesied that the child that would be born to her parents would be holy; and must be so regarded from the moment of conception. Due preparation was made by her parents for the coming one. Her father built a shrine with room enough inside in which to swing a hammock—the Indian baby’s cradle. Their thought was of a boy; “and when he has grown to manhood, he will sit on the floor of this holy place, and the faithful will come from the ends of the earth to hear his wisdom,” said the father. The niche for the image was empty. “He will choose his own patron deity,” said they. And when the baby arrived, it was a girl-child. Amazing! But the prophecies could not lie, so the little baby was put into the shrine forthwith; and was tended there through all the growing years. And she was taught Sanskrit, and the learning which belongs to the highest order of priests alone. Her gifts were indeed unique. She could perform every yoga and read one’s thoughts in any language.

In 1857 she was about fifty years old, and already a famous Sanskritist, and so powerful that her influence was mistaken for political; and a guard of soldiers was set round her shrine.

She made no objection. “If I had wanted to help those against the Sirkar (Government),” she said simply, “my thought would have carried help straight through the guard of red coats.” And that she had some wonderfully developed gift of thought transference I had personal evidence. At one time a Power outside British India was giving trouble; and it was necessary to get certain information. On my own initiative I asked Mathaji to get me this. She sat still awhile, eyes shut in meditation; then she spoke; and what she said was found later to be true. Nor could her fore-knowledge be accounted for by rumour, which in India has often travelled from person to person by devious and symbolic means,16 for this was not a case in which any common Indian questions or concerns were involved.

When I asked Mathaji how she had obtained her knowledge, she said, “If the windows of the soul are kept clean, knowledge of truth or true happenings is available to him who looks through.”

But to return to her history—through the troublous days of the Mutiny she lived placidly in her shrine devoting herself to the individuals who sought spiritual guidance. And when the country settled down she went on pilgrimage from one holy place to another throughout India, staying her steps in the Himalayas, where she lived solitary in a cave. Her one meal was left daily at the entrance to her cave by a disciple, who never saw her.

During this time of solitude she was on friendly terms with the beasts in the jungle around. She brought to Calcutta with her a curious mountain deer. I saw it. It had two blind eye-sockets just above its eyes. Mathaji explained this to me. All animals originally had these false eyes, she said, for their protection, so that while they slept those who preyed upon them might believe them awake. Animals living in the haunts of men did not reproduce these sham eyes, was her theory, because there was not the same need for protection.

Finally she left her cave for the plains, settling in Calcutta, where she founded schools for orthodox Hindu girls. “Having spent sixty years in meditation, I felt I was a little less unfit to try to do some work.”

In these schools the children were taught the rudiments of their vernacular and the practice of the Hindu religion. But her interpretation of the worship of Siva was something which the priests never taught; though she observed the ritual and vedic formulas, and compelled the use of the Sanskrit language. Fridays were devoted to puja. The babies ranging in age from three years old to nine, all Hindus of the strictest orthodoxy, came, like the birds and lizards of the Muslim legend, to the hour of prayer at 9 a.m.

They came with their damp hair streaming, for they had bathed in Ganges water. They came bringing their prayer-baskets of offerings.

They were of all stations in life; one in castehood, but ranging from princess to beggar; and their gifts, one in principle, varied similarly in value.

The princesses had prayer-baskets of chased gold or silver, the beggars had clay, others had brass or copper. These baskets were all of the same shape, circular, with a handle, and with “pockets” for the offerings. In the centre was a lump of Ganges mud; and a pitcher or pilgrim’s bottle of green sand blown fine as glass, carried the holy water which was indispensable to worship. The offerings were of rice, grass, fruits and vegetables; and rich man’s daughter would share unobtrusively with waif or stray any property which she lacked.

The ritual was as performed by Arnakali Devi, but Mathaji had obliterated all that might mislead. The children were not allowed to mould the mud into Siva’s symbol. It was, she taught, just a lump of clay, as we also were each one—a lump of clay which the Great Potter would mould by the experience of life. And that they used it only to invoke the God in themselves to dwell for the period of their worship in some concrete thing, in order that they might make their visible offerings to something visible—since as children they could not, without this aid, hold still their minds. They invited God then to come into the clay; and when the puja was over they asked Him to come back again to His dwelling-place in their hearts—using the ancient vedic motions of their hands and fingers which Mathaji taught them. I often watched the babies at puja, five hundred of them, both wives and widows, the cropped head and the absence of the red kunkum line of “wifehood” betraying the baby “unfortunates.” I was first taken to see the puja by an orthodox Hindu ward; and that was the beginning of my acquaintance with Mathaji. She was an arresting figure, dressed like a man—the sex of the ascetic must not be proclaimed—loose white draperies about the legs and a long coat. Her hair was worn in coils on the top of her head, and round her neck hung sacred beads and Kali’s necklet of skulls in old and enamel work—a disfiguring costume to almost any woman, however beautiful; but Mathaji’s grace of mind and personality were so dominating that it was only after you’d left her that you reflected on trifles like the fashion of hair or dress. She had serenity of one who has “attained”; a look of “remembrance in tranquillity” of one whose battles have been well fought, of one entitled to rest from labour and conflict. And withal she was humorous, quick to see the funny side of a situation, with the wit to express what she’d seen; to be in herself “great fun”, without wounding even the most unseeing.

I got into the habit of visiting her every Sunday. And I would sit beside her while pilgrims from all quarters of India passed before her, prostrating themselves to the floor. She took no notice of them except to speak words of comfort or counsel or good cheer to the genuinely needy. Only once have I heard her speak words of sternness.

“No,” said she to a pilgrim who came in sheer curiosity, though he pretended interest in Sanskrit formulas. “No, you shall not hear whence I come or anything about my private life.” And the man slunk away, found out. On another occasion when she waved away a pilgrim about to take the dust of her feet, I said: “Oh, Mathaji, he may have come a long way! Why did you stop his namaskar?” She made answer, “I would not insult my feet!” She had recognized by a look, or had perhaps felt in the atmosphere as he entered, the kind of man he was in his daily life.

As we sat together on the housetop, in the hour between the twilights, Mathaji would talk out of her mystic imaginings. One day I asked her about the ability of the Hindu woman to die at will. She said it was only that, being given free will, it was within our power to steal the key of the house of death.

“Has any one ever stolen the key of the house of life?”

“I know of none such,” was her cautious answer.

Then I: “Talk to me, Mother, of life and death; what is life?”

“A dream in the heart of a dream.”

“And death?”

“To-morrow’s dream. The next-door house. God’s tenant am I, in this house of my body in which you find me. But agreement I have none. God will tell me to quit, nor give me notice. Death is but taking possession of the next house I inhabit. There will be other houses after that.” She enlarged on that. Death is but a change of house. We have failed to repair the present basti, or it is too small for us, or our neighbourhood is insalubrious; so we are given the chance of another, and perhaps yet another and another . . . through all the lives appointed to us.

Again she spoke of death as “the innermost dream — but we shall wake. The end of the death-dream is only sleep, that is life; when we wake from life, it is to life eternal.”

“And what is that?”

“Rest—in the perfect attainment of all truth, of all knowledge and of all reality.”

The body, she held, was degradation to the soul. Any “house” is in a measure degradation, and belongs to a state of travel. “Some day we shall be free of all ‘houses,’ shall lose ourselves in the Great Soul. That is the final ‘twilight,’ the hour of Union awaiting every individual soul. . . . Then alone, shall there be no more death.” She ceased speaking, and a silence fell between us as we looked at the dying sun.

“And the King of Death is but the first sunset,” said Mathaji.

It was at her house, as I have said, that I met Bawaji, my old Sadhu friend. And one day Bawaji came to me in rare anxiety. It was during the visit to India of our King George and Queen Mary as Prince and Princess of Wales. “They are in danger,” said he, “those Raj Badshah Bahadur Two; the foolish ones, destroyers of peace, have planned to make trouble about the killing of the cow and to demand from the Two an order that the cow shall be no more killed in India. If this demand is refused, they swear that the Two shall be held from returning to their own country.”

“What is to be done, Bawaji?” I asked, for I knew that he spoke truth. “Go to Mathaji and tell her to forbid it,” said he; and he was gone, before I could say a word more. So to Mathaji I went straightway.

“Foolish ones, indeed,” said she. “They have asked me to preside at a secret meeting in a Tantric temple. It must be about this cow business. I will go.”

And she went. The Hindus believed her authority higher than the authority of the Benares priests; and told her that they wanted her blessing and direction in their enterprise. She heard all their plans, with patience; and then solemnly cursed every one who should lift a finger against the Two, or move an inch in the silly plan propounded. Who were they to interfere with the business of protecting the sacred cow? That was the care of the gods; and this and this would certainly befall him who interfered. She told me with a twinkle in her eye, and a twist of her mouth, the curses she had uttered. The worst curse I had heard from Shastric Hindus “one thousand years as a caterpillar in hell,”17 seemed a future of bliss to the weird conceptions which Mathaji had strung together! I knew that she did not believe in curses, and said so. “That is so, I believe not in any words of evil. But God has a use for them, where foolish ones are concerned!”

Even so did she use, in like manner, a picturesque and deadly curse to good effect, on yet another occasion. The chief trustee of the property left for continuation of her schools after her death had promised, as his contribution, to erect a new school building. He had claimed that this was his right as the head of the orthodox community in his part of India, and that no one else should be allowed to subscribe, and so diminish the merit he would buy. . . . He was rich enough to give the necessary funds and more, and Mathaji accepted his offer. But he hated parting with money, and Mathaji, knowing his weakness provided against it. She wrote an awful curse, and upon the day she died entrusted this to her disciples. “Give this paper to the Miss Sahiba,” said she, “and if the school is not built within a reasonable time, ask her to wave it in his face.”

After Mathaji’s death, the disciples brought the paper to me, reading aloud the curse; which I was sure the darling old saint had written with the greater enjoyment, in that one person at least would appreciate the jest. I bade them keep it safely, and bring it me again, when I should ask for it. “We must give him more time,” I decided.

But within a week the disciples returned distraught. The Prime Minister had heard of the curse and “borrowed” it, “because his Maharaja so valued Mathaji that even her words of cursing were of moment to him, and he wanted to keep them in his heart for guidance.”

Of course the curse was “lost” when the simple ones came, as ordered, to retrieve it next day! But Mathaji’s diplomacy was nevertheless not fruitless. Meeting me soon after the “losing” of the paper, His Highness said casually, Do you believe that the dead can curse?”

“If I believed in curses, which I do not, I would I feel certain that the most potent curse was the curse of the dead, of those released from the body, and able to use to the full their more than mortal powers!” I ventured.

The school got its building!

One day in 1906 I went to see Mathaji very early in the morning. I was alarmed by her looks; her face was drawn with pain, and she seemed to me for the first time a very old woman indeed. “Mathaji, you are ill,” I challenged.

“No! my puja hours were delayed this morning, I have been unable to sit in meditation. That is all that is the matter with me.” But I was not satisfied. “See a doctor,” I begged, “an English doctor, whom I will bring you.”

“I’ve never seen a doctor in my life; there is no need.”

“Oh, but just to please me!”

She smiled at me. “What a little thing to do to please my Miss Sahiba. Bring him when you will.”

Thus did that saint toss aside what was a principle as well as a personal reluctance, bless her! So I took a Colonel, I.M.S., of my acquaintance to see her. “Your old friend is ill,” he said, after his examination. “She has cancer of the throat. I give her no more than a month to live. You must tell her.” I told her; and at first a glad light made her face almost luminous. “To attain so soon!” said she. Then she shook her head and added sadly; “It may not be; there is work to be done. I will die in a year and a month, and a day.” . . . Her life proceeded as usual, and her face I never saw again drawn with pain, for I saw her only after her hours of meditation when it was smoothed out and placid. And she was no better and no worse than she had always seemed to the casual observer. After “the month” of the doctor’s warning was safely overpast, and she lived on, I thought he had been mistaken, and I rested my anxieties. I forgot; we all forgot Mathaji’s resolution.

In the spring of 1907, I came away to England on holiday, and returning to Calcutta, was met by her disciples with the news. She had “attained” a week or so before I landed. In April the schools were closed, and she told her disciples that she wanted to go to Benares. She spent a month (“the month”) in the sacred city in great serenity, teaching them as she had never taught before. Then one morning she said quite calmly, “This is the last time that I shall worship in this house of my body.” And in answer to their dismay, added: “Have you forgotten—a year, and a month, and a day? This is the day, the day I shall attain. Now, waste no time in regret; let us talk the things we should be sorry to have left unsaid.” And all that day the faithful gathered about her, and she expounded the Scriptures. . . . She ate nothing:“Why prop up the house that is falling into ruins!” said she.

At night she asked to be taken down to the sacred river, that her feet might rest in the water. And there she sat on the steps of the ghat, upright, refusing support or physical comfort, now silent, now setting afloat some beautiful thought, in words which will always live for those who loved her . . . and then just in the grey mystery of the dawn-hour—“It is right”—said she and fell back dead. They put her into a boat, and took her to the “Ghat of the Soul’s Departing,” and here they “slipped her gently into the stream”—for that is all the ceremony or burial service needed for one who is holy. . . .

*  *  *

Narayani was an entirely different type of Sadhuin—sad-faced and immersed, if that is the word to use of a holiness which was a kind of infusion, recognizable but not communicable. She was of a Mewar Rajput family of good caste and tenacious orthodoxy. And being early widowed she had adopted the life of a “religious,” and lived in a cell, a hut at Rishikesh near Hardwar, practising austerities in the way of self-denial (but no tricks of faqir-dom like beds of spikes or atrophied limbs), and doing kindnesses to the pilgrims who came to visit the source of the Ganges—a lovely bouldery spot in a green gorge, the water in clear and limpid pools, or frothing over the stones, so unlike the muddied waters of the river as I knew it in Bengal. Her rule of life was her own, as it is with many holy ones, men and women; and being devoted to her family reduced now to an only brother in Calcutta, she visited him yearly.

It was on one of these visits that I met her at Mathaji’s, and she would often come to see me, and arrange to take me to interesting Hindu ceremonies, or talk to me of the customs of Mewar and of Hindu Sadhuhood as practised by Kali Kainal—the black-blanketed one, her guru who lived at Hardwar. She once did me a great service. An Englishwoman disciple of a pseudo-swami had been ordered to stay in an ashram at Hardwar, at the time of the big festival; and to mingle among the pilgrims and bathe in the sacred pool. Narayani wrote me how dangerous it was for any non-Hindu to attempt such a thing; and I begged her to go and see the lady, who spoke Hindi, and try to dissuade her from her foolish programme. Narayani went, but was unsuccessful. She was terribly distressed about the Englishwoman who called herself a Hindu. She was living without a single woman attendant in an ashram of men and she would not believe that she could not be accepted by practising Hindus as a Hindu.

Narayani begged her to come and stay in her hut. She said she would furnish it with the things which English people use, she knew where she could get a tin bath, a bed, and a table and chair; and she would cook for her and take care of her. . . . But her offer was refused. The lady who wore a saree meant to take a beggar’s bowl and a rosary, and said she had vowed to eat none but broken food, such as the faithful give to pilgrims. Cholera would be the end of her, wrote Narayani, if she did that, even if the people did not do her damage. So she made herself bodyguard to the Englishwoman, when she appeared at the riverside, and told the Hindu-bathers that she was indeed a Hindu from Kashmir and her own chela (disciple); (“that is the kind of lie which is forgiven,” she wrote me. “Does not the Scripture say ‘to save the life of a cow, or of a human being; or to counteract the wasteful foolish ways of a husband, it is permissible to lie’?”) And so she gave “that so obstinate one” her desire, seeing to it also that she had a decent meal at the hut, and ate no pilgrim’s food. . . .

The last hazard of another which she took upon herself, nor counted it meritorious, was a charge against her brother, in a criminal court. His “enemy” and rival in business said he had stolen a trifling gold ornament. The ornament was produced in Court as recovered from the hut of the Sadhuin whom her brother had been to see. Narayani protested that the offence was hers, and said she was willing to face punishment!

There was no evidence to support the charge against the brother, or the statement that the ornament was recovered from the Sadhuin’s hut. So the hazard passed. But Narayani’s readiness to run out and catch to herself any blame that was going, when those she loved were abroad, was very characteristic. And but for her known sainthood, it would often have got the dear soul into trouble from which there was no exit.

She still lives, getting feeble now, seldom moving from her hut at Rishikesh. When “the black-blanket” Sadhu died, she was asked to adopt his blanket and his following; but she refused. She was never, she said, a teacher; and if she could still serve the pilgrims at the Hardwar festivals, it was all she needed: journey’s end was in sight.

Chapter XII

Village India

Gauri’s father and mother lived in a village on the banks of the Padma, which is what the Ganges is called in its upper reaches.

It was a village far from the great world of men and affairs, and it had kept the old ways of Hinduism in their simplicity and piety and alas! also in their disregard of health. Her father was dying of consumption, tended as a god by his faithful wife, herself riddled with malaria and utterly ignorant how to minister to either disease.

Gauri, the light of their eyes, was saved by the fact that no one had time to look after her. Ever since she could toddle, she had lived in the open air, playing mostly outside the father-and-mother “patch” which was crowded on to the edge of a bank, dank with decaying vegetation, and humming with mosquitoes.

The village was just a group of huts, built of bamboo and plastered over with mud; the roofs were thatched. A round little house of mud and bamboos was built as a place in which to store the rice which was now their only crop. They had two huts built vis-à-vis with a mud wall binding them round, as it were a protecting hand guarding a confidential conversation.

In the courtyard thus formed grew a papiya tree or two; and a vegetable creeper covered the further hut wall with a tangle of rope-like tendrils. Sometimes they got things to eat off the papiya tree and the creeper. Their own farm-servant would climb up the papiya, his legs and arms embracing the trunk as he pushed himself up; and Gauri would shout for joy at the performance. Sometimes he detached the fruit with a bamboo pole into which he had fitted an iron hook.

Her mother rose very early in the morning, and after bathing and sprinkling the earth with Ganges water she would draw a draught of milk from the cow which shared the courtyard with the family. The milk was for her husband. If the cow had been kind there was a brass pot of milk for Gauri also.

The morning went in household duties, husking rice, grinding curry stuffs, cooking the day’s one meal. And as she grew older, Gauri was allowed to help.

What she best loved was patting the cowdung into cakes, and sticking the cakes on to the wall of the hut to dry. These cowdung cakes were all the fuel they ever had.

Her father would go out to the fields, but he came home for his mid-day meal; and again he came at sunset time, when her mother would feed him with milk and flour-cakes; and “Bawa” would drop asleep at once, exhausted. At such times Gauri’s mother used to take her out on to the cowdung plastered patch before the cooking-hut, and tell her stories to keep her quiet. As the child grew in years, she would also teach her the ceremonies and ritual which punctuate the life of an orthodox Hindu girl. For Gauri’s mother had come from a village higher up the river, and from an old family which prided itself on having taught its daughters performance of all the bratas of Hinduism—far more bratas than the smallest-village families had ever dreamt of. It was a village on the outskirts of Navadwip, the home of Sanskrit orthodoxy and priesthood.

So Gauri was taught the bratas. In due season, she worshipped the cow (to pray for domestic prosperity); she worshipped Hari’s Feet (to pray for a good husband and fine sons, and that she might predecease her husband); she had also learnt the wartime brata. A Bengali regiment had once passed through the village on a route-march; and Gauri’s mother had said, peeping from behind her shelter: “The child might marry a soldier man, since even tillers of soil are now made soldiers—and he would go to the war and die, hi! hi! and she would become a widow. Let me teach her at once the war-time brata of prayers for long life to a soldier husband.”

So Gauri at seven years of age was really a most accomplished servant of the gods. Her quiet little life seemed full of excitement and happiness.

One day after the incident of the soldiers, which had indeed coincided with a rather sharp attack of pleurisy, Gauri’s father spoke to his wife, sitting humbly at his feet, in an agony of ignorance how to relieve his suffering. She had just told him about Gauri and the war-time brata in order to bring to his face the smile of happiness always called forth by mention of the child.

“We must arrange for her marriage,” he said. “She is a great girl now, and should be going to the house of her mother-in-law. Besides—you see me. I have not long to live, and if I die before she is married, who will put through that business for you?”

“Speak not of dying, my lord,” said the woman. “If you die. I die also. How could I live widowed?”

“Then the more reason still,” said Gauri’s father, “to give her to the keeping of her husband and her mother-in-law.”

He dragged himself up next day and made a journey to a farmer at the far end of the village. The farmer had a son who was marriageable; he was well to do. His little Gauri would know no want. Before going, he dug up his pot of savings from under the cooking place where it lay hidden, and counted out the rupees and the smaller coins. It was a good little hoard for a man of his poor acreage. Times had not always been bad. As a young man, he had grown wheat and sugar-cane as well as rice; and he had grown vegetables and taken them to the nearest steamer station, driving a prosperous trade. When the illness began to waste him he had sold the fields of wheat and sugar-cane; but all the purchase money was in the pot for Gauri. He and his wife were at one on that point also. She needed no trinkets. They would keep the money for Gauri just so, in coins hidden in the earth and under the fireplace—for was it not a sacred place? And Gauri’s mother was most often there, and could guard it while the man went about his business.

The coveted father-in-law had shifty eyes. Prosperity had made him avaricious; and, unable to measure the dealings of the straightforward he would not believe the sick man’s “It is all that I have; and when I am gone, there will be my land also.”

“My son has other offers,” he said. “I have it in mind to marry him to one from a town.”

So Gauri’s father toiled the long way back, in sadness—often stopping to cough and gasp for breath. He did not sleep that night, and, lying awake, kept puzzling over Gauri’s future. By morning he had found a way—Gauri must go to his mother’s sister, an aunt about his own age, who had been his playmate and special friend. She would care for her when he died. She had married a man who had grown rich, and being childless had often begged him to bring his wife and child to her home in Calcutta. He sighed contentedly at the remembrance of this invitation. To-morrow morning he would go to Girish Babu, who knew how to write, and have a letter sent to the aunt.

Next morning Girish Babu wrote the letter for him: “Sri Sri Hari (in the name of the God Hari), I bow at your lotus-feet, oh, sister of my mother.”

Then followed the simple request—he was very ill. Many days longer did not remain to him in this house of clay. Might he and Gauri and her mother come to the aunt’s house on a visit, even as she had begged that they would do? And would she arrange a marriage for Gauri, aged nearly seven years now—a great girl?

The response was swift and cordial; and in twenty-four hours, going by a flat-bottomed river steamer, they arrived in Calcutta.

They had not far to go when they landed. Gauri’s father had brought her dowry with him, and he spent 8 annas (ninepence) with a sense of wild extravagance on a third-class ticca gari giving to the driver the address of the aunt’s house in the Strand beyond Howrah Bridge.

The aunt’s welcome was as unstinted as her large and comely person: and Gauri was gathered straightway into her roomy arms, with real heart hunger.

“A bridegroom? the very best shall be found. Fear not, son of my sister.” And she held Gauri at arm’s length, appraising her.

It was well the poor consumptive had come to a house that could care for him, for he was almost spent with the journey, and in less than a week he died, and they carried him to the ghat and burnt him.

Then the kind aunt insisted that Gauri and her mother should be permanent members of her family in the hospitable house on Strand Road beyond the Howrah Bridge. For Gauri life was now one long cinema show of delight, and she probably never gave a thought to the walled-in courtyard of her village home.

Through my Sadhuin friend, Narayani, I got to know Gauri and her mother, just about the time that she was to perform the rain-making brata.

I had never seen this ceremony, and by grace of great-aunt and mother, I was allowed to be present the first morning. It must be done in the months of May and June, fasting, and at mid-day.

Gauri sat with all her “properties” around her—a new earthen pitcher, pointed iron gimlet, some rice-paste, and twigs of the fig tree and other auspicious trees, a shiny brass lota (bowl) and offerings of eight fruits and eight flowers.

She was trembling with excitement because she was allowed to do the brata on the bank of the Ganges itself. She was allowed to walk into the river at the bathing ghat, and, after bathing, she came up carrying the pitcher in her hand, and filling it with water from her brass lota while she said this invocation:

“O, eight gods of the eight directions of the winds, in what house sits now the god of Thunder? What sons of my Mother Ganges are holding the god of the thunderbolt fast bound, that he may not move?”

Then she stood quite still, and holding her brass lota towards the river, she said: “My golden pitcher is shaking; there is Ganges water in the vow-taker’s pitcher.”

She now put aside her vessels, and donning a clean saree she sat down once more among the puja-playthings, cross-legged like any priest. She painted eight stars on the pitcher, with the ground-rice powder, and calling the eight sons of the Ganges and the eight stars to witness that there were eight separate offerings of fruits and flowers, she cried excitedly:

“Rain, O rain from the Basus (the sons of Mother Ganges); the Basus jump on the lap of their mother. The whole earth is laughing with water!”

With her gimlet she pierced a hole in the pitcher, and stuck in the twigs of the auspicious plants, chanting the while beseeching mantras to Mother Ganga and the moon, and the gods of water, and of the earth, and of the thunderbolt—and ending up with:

“I bow down to you, O gods, in eight directions!” and the pretty little ceremony was over.

Not long before the ceremony I had asked permission to bring a Mem-Sahib friend to see this Hindu household. Gauri’s eyes nearly dropped out of her head. “A Mem-Sahib? What will she look like? Shall I feel fear of her? Is a Mem-Sahib like a giant or a goddess? Shall I have to cover my eyes? Shall I have to salute her feet?” . . . But when the great day arrived Gauri was seized with shyness. She crept out of the room, peeping through the shutters.

“Well,” said the great-aunt, when the visitor had gone, “have you seen what a Mem-Sahib is like? “

“I have seen,” she said—and then, looking dreadfully puzzled: “But she is so very like—a woman!”

Now, remembering her, and remembering also that we had spoken of a severe drought prevailing about that time in England, she ran to me. In what direction is the house of the Mem-Sahib? I must bow to that direction eight times. Now has the rain come? If I sit very still, shall I hear it in the Mem-Sahib’s country? . . . If I sit very still, shall I hear the Rajhus (Rajhu was the name of her father’s farm servant) driving the oxen in the fields in the Mem-Sahib’s country? Or must I do the brata for three years longer?”

No one was allowed a chance of answering when Gauri was in these excited moods. And I, for one, was not sorry on this occasion. What answer could I give?

But if the drought should break in the west before the year’s ending, in any time of drought, you will never persuade me that Gauri’s brata had nothing to do with it, although she could not hear the noise of the rain, or the noise of the Rajhus driving the plough-bullocks, in the country of the Mem-Sahib whom she loved!

To the student of folklore that ceremony should give matter for meditation. There are many such ceremonies, seen now in villages only, which are not likely to outlive the eventual plasterings of modern civilization. And there is a specialized study of animism, of village godlings, and curses, of devils and incantations, awaiting research. But to the welfare worker the health conditions in which Gauri’s family lived (and her home is typical) should make immediate appeal.

And much else there is, which cannot here be stressed, both purely agricultural and incidental; such as village streets and sanitation, food supplies, mad dogs, flies.

I discovered a simple way of bringing home the lesson as to flies, for instance, to an orthodox Hindu friend.

I was passing the open door of her kitchen.

“Come in!” said she.

“No! As you know I never enter your kitchens; I would not leave you foodless to-night.”

Her good manners had invited me to enter, because I had looked in, and she thought that I might like to go in. But all the food then cooked or cooking would have been thrown away, after I had gone, thrown away quite cheerfully: and the family would have slept fasting.

“What talk is this?” said she. “Have I offended you? The food would taste better still because your foot had crossed the threshold. What talk is this of fasting?” (Dear, polite deceiver!)

But I laughed, and said—“Come upstairs. I want to tell you something.” And then I told her of the habits of the common fly.

There was a municipal dust-bin, just outside the unscreened kitchen window; and I had seen the flies swarm in from their earlier course—the hors-de-oeuvres represented by the dust-bin garbage, to the more substantial items afforded by the charpotas and sweets, the curries and savouries on the kitchen table.

“I am careful not to outcaste you,” I said, “by entering your kitchen. But those flies are outcasteing you every day, at every meal.”

“Tell me what to do,” she begged, horrified, and instantly convinced. And, before I left the house, I had written a letter for her to the Municipal Commissioner of her Ward, asking removal of the dust-bin; and she had sent a messenger hot-foot, to the nearest wire-screen merchant, for a frame which her tame carpenter fitted into the window before the sun had set. It is, you see, as easy as that. But easy or difficult it is worth doing, because it is such fun.

In village settlements bordering the river, floods are a constant menace, the river-bound huts collapse completely. If you are on a river steamer, a river in flood is a glorious sight, viewed from your safely moving point of observation.

There is something exhilarating in seeing the uprooted trees, the rafts of thatch or broken walls of matting, riding the rapid stream. The masses of red cotton-tree blossom and the floating vegetables suggest a water-garden, and the earthenware pots and pans dance like water nymphs with swollen heads. You must turn your eyes away when the goats or poultry come along. But they do not come often, for the villagers are practised in salvage.

As the river begins to rise they make preparation, clinging to their mat and mud steading, as long as possible. Water up to their knees does not matter at all. But the man then ties up the bundles of their scant possessions, which his wife and he will carry on their heads; the children go on shoulder or hip, or are slung in a blanket on the backs of their elders.

When the poor creatures dare not wait any longer, they wade out to the nearest dry land; the cows or oxen driven before them. And they camp till rescued, as they soon are, by the Government Relief Officer, who takes them to flood-relief camps where they are cared for till a return, to the wreckage of their huts, is safe.

There is now a dam controlling one of the worst of my familiar touring experiences. And the side of me which enjoys the picturesque and the river in its might is a little regretful.

The villagers are regretful for another reason. Floods, they say, are a godsend and should not be prevented. They lose, yes, they lose their bastis and their crops for the year of flood. But, the year after, they have a bumper harvest because of the rich silt which has been brought down, and left behind when the waters recede. . . . Which things are a parable, and would make the text for a sermon to keep more than the agriculturists in a congregation awake.

In the Rungpur District of Western Bengal, records tell of floods which I wish I had seen.

The villagers had all departed safely, the only living things in sight were two rent-collecting peons, who had climbed into the topmost branches of the only tree above water. They held their post valiantly (maybe perforce) till the floods subsided, and the villagers returned. But not even process of law got them their rents. The tenants claimed that, as the high places had been made low, and the river had taken a new course, obliterating all landmarks, they were no longer responsible. And the Courts upheld them.

An equally exciting Court session was held over a porcupine, never seen before in that district, which was brought into Court as treasure trove, the property of the Crown. It had been thrown up on to dry land by the wash of the floods.

A puzzled Court, to whom the harmless creature was equally a novelty, sat upon the reference for a week, recording the evidence of ancient priests, and soothsayers, and even of the village natural. And, finally, decreed that the porcupine should be delivered to the finder.

“This rare and strange animal,” said the Court, “appears to be either an over-grown rat, or an elephant in consumption! “ . . .

I consider it great luck that in my touring days I came so often upon the young civilian recruit, fresh from English universities, in his strange surroundings; and was able to realize at first hand how splendid many of these lads really were—squires ruling areas, larger on occasions than half an English county, representing in their office the one person to whom those around them looked for everything; and I was glad to have opportunity of realizing also the charm of the village peoples, so simple and trusting, ready to be friends, absurdly responsive to the most trifling kindness; lovable and needing help so desperately in every direction. I suppose that for complete happiness in this world we need either some one on whom we are glad to be solely dependent, or some one solely dependent on ourselves, as was the case with the isolated administrator in sub-division or district thirty years ago. Perhaps that was why the keen young officer was able to face loneliness and doing without so many of the things which had made his life in England.

Yet his life was still “full of a number of things.” . . .

I have compared the District Officer to an English squire, but he is more than a squire; he is practically responsible for every branch of administration in his jurisdiction—public health, education, law and order. . .

Some of these controls are now delegated to District Boards under the Local Government Acts. But most often he is compelled to be President of the Board; and at any rate it is his duty to help and direct, to train in self-government—which in itself is a more difficult and testing experience than actually doing the job oneself.

I am apt (we are all so apt, I think) to state a case as it would appeal to myself. And the increasing difficulties of the civilian’s job in our now changing India is what I would emphasize. For that is what would draw me, personally.

Take the instance of sanitation—-a department in which the indigenous Indian has had no chance, unassisted, of learning the new knowledge, which Europe itself has had to learn. And let me tell you the story of a jute-growing area in Bengal. This tract of country was proverbially unhealthy. Something had to be done about the malaria, fever, what not! And the mill owners, with new zeal for better health conditions, tackled the problem. The drainage, they discovered, was at fault. They offered to replace it with an entirely new system, which they laid down at their own expense. It made an immediate difference to the health of the countryside, and the Progressive-Indian Secretary of the District Board devoted a high-sounding paragraph to this fact in the Annual Report.

“The malodorous waste matter from the mills no longer clogs our drains,” he read out to the meeting.

The President of the moment was an orthodox Hindu.

“Stop!” said he. “Where does it go?”

It was a startling question, but the Secretary was equal to the occasion. “Where all drainage goes, into the river, and thence,” he added after a pause—“out to the sea.”

“The river—you mean Ganga Ma?”

“What else?”

“The sacred river, our Ganga Mata, to receive malodorous stuff from the jute mills!”

“It’s only decaying vegetable matter,” soothed the Secretary, “and Ganga Ma would accept that.”

“How do we know?” said the stern observer of the written law as he knew it. “The Holy Books say that dead human bodies are to be cast into the sacred river—decaying human matter. Nothing is said about decaying vegetable matter!” And, regardless of the feelings of the mill owners (mostly Scotsmen), he insisted on scrapping the new drainage; getting a majority for a resolution requiring its instant removal.

That is rather like the story of a small boy which I longed to write on many a file sent to me for comment when I worked in the Secretariat at Headquarters during my official life.

The boy stood at the door of a museum to collect sticks and umbrellas. There came a visitor without stick or umbrella.

“Where,” said the boy, “is your stick, and where is your umbrella?”

“I have brought neither.”

“I can’t help that; go home and get them and leave them with me before I let you enter!”

It is that kind of situation which the worker in India has constantly to meet.

Chapter XIII


The entire year in orthodox India is punctuated with bratas and festivals: and these would seem to take the place of such distractions as theatres, concerts, picture shows—in the lives of women of the West.

All occupations, outside the daily business of living and the needs of the body, are in India connected with religion for the orthodox Hindu woman.

In ancient times, strolling-players recited or sang the tales of gods and heroes. This, I am glad to say, can still be commandeered, and is so, by the zemindars (land-holders) in their village homes.

Again—pilgrimages to the sacred shrines and holy places of Hinduism appease the travel-lust, and offer a great relaxation. For the women, though closely purdahed, whether in train, car or palanquin—can peep discreetly through their curtains at the outside world, can get some air, and feel themselves a part of the movement of Nature and the stir of men. Pilgrimages may be undertaken at stated times to well-known shrines, as are the pilgrimages to the snowy heights of Amarnath in the north to worship the block of ice which is supposed to be Siva’s symbol: or to Puri at the Car Festival of Jagannath in Orissa: or to the Magh Mela at Prayag (Allahabad). . . . Or, they may be in performance of a vow, or independently of a vow, merely as an act to buy religious merit.

Sometimes the vow involves ashtanga, prostration of the eight members of the body, as the mode of progression. The vow-taker lies full length upon the earth with arms extended, marks the spot reached by his fingers, and toes the mark—prostrating himself thus again and again till he arrives at his objective. Instances are recorded of such vows faithfully performed, every inch of ground travelled by prostration at full length, between two shrines at distances of 500 miles.

I myself have seen women fulfilling an ashtanga vow, at the temple of Kali, having travelled many miles from their distant villages. The object of the vow may be to buy merit for the dead or to obtain a wish—as for a son.

At the historic fort of Mandu, the source (as it is supposed to be) of the Nerbudda, I saw in 1934 a group of widows of varying ages, who had been walking for four complete and continuous years on pilgrimage—in fulfilment of a vow to follow the sacred Nerbudda to its source.

A priest and his disciple were in charge of them. They had halted to cook and eat their one daily meal, and to sleep either at serais (pilgrim rest-houses) or in the open. Their luggage—a cooking-pot, a pitcher of Ganges water, an extra saree apiece—was carried in a little bundle tied to the end of their pilgrim staves.

They looked extraordinarily fit for their four years of exercise and air; and I felt genuinely that both the vow-takers and the gurus who had prescribed this particular way of buying merit deserved the shahabashi (commendation) of teachers of Health and Hygiene in the modern world.

In many orthodox Hindu homes the grandmother still tells the god-tales and the tales of the Great Ones to the children, as they gather round her in the hour “between the twilights.” There are also tales, often humorous, told of the different professions—not even priests escaping; and of the different arts and handicrafts.

Indeed, the women, as they embroider or weave, make their own fresh tales, and tell them to their stitching or weaving.

In the Punjab before a girl was given in marriage she had in olden days to weave or embroider at least one length of stuff for a “marriage petticoat,” such as Punjab women wear.

These lengths are still to be found among the purana saman (old things) of North Country merchants; and are known to the buyer of to-day as phulkaris, now used as purdahs or bedspreads.

If the phulkari is old it will often be unfinished, have an end unembroidered.

The meaning of that is this. The girl who was making her “marriage petticoat” had told to her work the story of her life as she would like it to be, her heart’s secret romance. . . . But before she finished her tale her betrothal was announced, she could no longer go on with her make-believe: it was disloyal; and the unfinished end remained—to taunt her if reality proved disastrous; cause for thankfulness, that the gods knew better than she had known, if she were happy.

In 1897 I was in a district of the United Provinces where they made the lovely washing-satins, woven in those days only in three places throughout the country.

The women sat in the open, before the doors of their huts, in the village streets, weaving trapped sunbeams of colour on the rough and primitive hand-looms which their menfolk, mostly cultivators, had fashioned for them. If you wished to drive down the street, the poor creatures had to uproot the looms, and set them up again, after the road was clear of traffic.

Inside their huts they often had also “sunk looms,” as they called them. A hole was dug in the mud-floor of the hut, and the loom was placed over the opening. The women sat at work on the level of the floor, their feet in the hole. (This device is still in use, as I found, in 1935.)

I loved to walk among the women at their work in the early mornings, and to delight myself with the way they seemed to catch the very motes of the sunbeams and hold them in their weaving.

One day they told me this story—

“A Sahib from Vilayat (England) came to see us weave. He said to us, ‘How much do you weave in an hour?’ We said, ‘Maybe so much, maybe not so much.’

“‘I’ll teach you how to weave as much in an hour as you weave in a day,’ said he.

“And we said, ‘To what purpose?’

“‘That you may grow rich,’ said the Sahib.

“And when again we said, ‘To what purpose?,’ he got angry with us; and he told us about a wonderful machine which by a kind of jadu (magic) would help us to weave four hundred yards a day without fatigue or trouble.

“We were frightened at this parlog (foreign) magic, and we asked, ‘Would your jantra (machine) know or understand the stories we tell to our weaving?’

“And he said, ‘What talk of foolishness is this! Of course not. It is a machine, how should it understand talk?’

“Then we shook our heads and said, so that he knew it was our last word, and that he need not stay in our village any longer—we said, ‘Then the devil would be in your machine!’

“And he went away, very angry indeed, calling us ‘na gawar (illiterate people)’ whom he would have helped, had we allowed. ‘Your poverty for ever and ever,’ said he, ‘be upon your own heads!’”

The men tell stories too, to one another, as they sit smoking or chewing betel-nut18 in the Outside, after their day’s work is done.

They are, of course, less poetical than the tales of the women, are often very biting and witty, and may sometimes be lewd.

I cannot resist telling the story against my own profession, which is, I think, the best of those which I have heard. It is the tale of The Boat laden with Lies. . . .

“I weary of this town,” I said one day to a town-bred Bengali in Calcutta. “When I wander from village to village not only much that is new do I see, but the simple village folk speak in parables, and tell me stories. Long is it since I have heard a tale worth the telling.”

“And yet,” quoth he, “you live on the banks of the Hooghly within a stone’s throw of the High Court and the Strand.”

“What do you mean?”

“Come and see.”

And we went down the Strand and even to the jetties where the big ships come and go. And this was the tale which he told me.

Every year at the time when men open their new books of account, with a drawing of that wise one, the god Ganesha, to bless their new adventures, every year at this time if you have the seeing eye you will see seven ships of ancient make sailing into the ghat, not far from the High Court . . . and you will see a great gathering of men—brokers and merchants and insurance agents, lawyers, and doctors, and yea even, hath it been said, even priests and holy men—pushing one another aside in their eagerness to leap on board to claim the cargo which bears their name—and having received what is theirs, they go away triumphant.

One day a certain lawyer of this town came down to meet the boats. Yes, just here—and there was no crowd, and it took him some time to find any person with whom he could speak a single word at that deserted landing stage. At last he came upon a ship’s officer. “Are these not the seven boats full of lies which come yearly up the Hooghly to this town of Calcutta?” said he. “Even so,” said the ship’s officer, “I have come to buy some lies. Allot to me one hundred maunds.19 You shall be well paid.”

“The boats are empty,” said the ship’s officer.

“Nonsense,” said the lawyer, who was accustomed to getting his way. “Be quick about it. There will be something afterwards for your trouble.”

“The boats are empty,” said the officer, “the cargo was all bespoken before ever the ships set sail, and every man has claimed his own—seven hours since.”

Then, realizing that this was even so, for every boat of the seven boats was indeed void and empty—the lawyer sat down on that stone there under the shadow of the High Courts of Justice, his face towards the fleet of dupes, and he wept aloud.

“How,” cried he, “am I to face the work of the year, without my cargo of lies?” And in his desolation, that miserable man called upon Siva, the god of Destruction; “You alone, O Siva,” said he, “can aid me.” And Siva inclined his ear to his petitioner, and this was what he said: “Be comforted, O man of law. Because you have had the wisdom to realize that when you wish for lies, it is to the Destroyer and not to the Preserver that you make your prayer, I will reward you. I will endow you with the gift of lying for ever and ever. Never more need you come down to the Hooghly at the time when the seven boats come in with their miserable cargo, so many maunds or tons or pounds per man. No—to you I give the gift which creates its own supply—unfailingly, for ever and for ever.”

And that tale did indeed console me for being town-bound for the moment. And I told the tale to a wise man of the West, even to my guru, Sir Frederick Pollock, who has all knowledge, and memory of tales that were told before the worlds were, East and West. And this was what he wrote forthwith:

“I think that your Calcutta lawyer had the infinite capacity of lies in him all the time, and was like Kabir’s fish in the water who says he is thirsty. What Siva really did for the lawyer was only to rend the veil. Contrariwise there must have been somewhere, some time, a man of law who prayed to Ganesh for grace to speak truth and truth only. Ganesh revealed himself and said, ‘Behold I tie this knot in my trunk for remembrance, and a month hence I come again.’ At this month’s end Ganesh returned, and, having untied the knot in his trunk, he said—‘I can enable you to speak truth and truth only, but neither I nor all the gods can answer for others believing it.’

“After a while divers practitioners of the law, in that town, being perplexed by the conduct of the truth-speaking lawyer, consulted a wise Brahmin. The Brahmin said, ‘Belike you fear that this man known to be a fool is weaving some new and subtle web of deceit. It may be so, but I rather think that, wishing to gain singular merit, he has made a vow to some very powerful god, by whose aid he can afford to speak truth even to his own apparent hindrance. In either case it is a prudent man’s part to stand well with him till more be known.’

“So the lawyers of every degree praised that upright man exceedingly and held him in great worship, and some even tried to imitate him; and he and his family prospered. But those others gained no merit, their desires not being purified.

“Then Ganesh showed himself again to that man with a smiling countenance and said, ‘Know that for the sport you have shown me you shall in due time feast with me in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, and none of my wisdom shall be hidden from you.’

“Thenceforth it is a proverb even among heretics and Yavanas that honesty is the best policy.”

Now this parable of the laden boats may be told of merchants or brokers, or politicians as need arises. And being much pleased with the tales of my friends, East and West, I have here set them down. For maybe, up the grey, fog-misted Thames, below the towers of Westminster, there also come year by year seven shiploads of lies; and maybe there be some in the City of London who trade with Siva, as well as those who go to the trunk-headed one to ask for truth and wisdom, and for these alone. . . .

Again, if the men happen to be philosophers at heart they answer, with stories, even the puzzles of religion which you may put before them. This was my glad experience on several occasions. When my day’s work was done, I would encourage any such philosopher to come and instruct me, at the Circuit House or outside my tents, when in camp.

One’s camping days—surely they are among the abiding memories of service in India!

The group of tents, pitched, it may be, in a mango-grove when the grey-white blossoms exude fragrance with every breath of morning air, and every ray of the moon, whispering their secrets perhaps most intimately in the deep, starlit darkness.

And what a darkness it is! Unknown in the countries of man-made illuminations: the stars not embedded like plums in a sky whose colour is suet-pudding-like, dun, or grey; but hanging like lamps out of a Titian-blue immensity, which suggests more and more colour behind it, inexhaustible. . . . And nothing stirs as you sit outside your tent door. Maybe there’ll be a gentle plop of some early fruit in the orchard, or the wood crickets will wake and rub their wings together, creaking a little. You are happily too far off to hear the noises of the village, and the eternal drum which is beaten in the temples.

It is a little drum, held in the palm of the hand, and struck by the sticks tied to either end. You play this drum by a twist of the wrist right and left—no easy trick to learn. To me the noise is maddening at close quarters, maddening because incessant. But in your camp if the sound of the temple drums comes to you at all—it is only as a pulse-beat; and you can pretend that it comes from the Earth-Mother, who seems so close to you in camp. But the acrid pungent smell of wood-smoke, which I love, this I do get as I watch the smoke curling blue and comfortable, the incense offered to the firmament, at the edge of my mango-grove, where the servants are tending their fires, the day’s work done, cooking their evening meal.

They speak softly, knowing the wishes of the Miss Sahiba; and my solitude and sense of aloneness is invaded no more than to give me at the back of my mind a feeling of security. Human help is at hand if needed.

Then, waking from the refreshing sleep which comes only to those who bed out-of-doors, that also has its peculiar delights. . . .

The first thing you hear, as you lie in your cosy camp bed, safeguarded by mosquito nets, is the sound of the luggage-cart oxen, munching hay; then the twitter of birds, and the cautious call of the watchman, rousing the servants.

You turn over comfortably for the best sleep of all— it will soon be time to get up. The ayah will lift the tent screen bringing your morning tea, and telling you that the bath is ready. You knew that; you heard it noisily through your dreams pouring itself into the tin bath in the tent next door. . . . And you leap out of bed examining your slippers before you step into them, for scorpions and centipedes are friendly creatures in a camp, and love warmth as you do yourself in the crisp Indian winter-time.

But you wake with no grudges—for the skies are certain; and certain, yet full of surprises, is the work which awaits your day.

The most dignified of my camp visitors was an old Deputy Collector, met in Bihar.

I remember, one day, when I had just come from a how-many-th visit to Benares, where I had puzzled fruitlessly over the mixture of sainthood and villainy which I found there, the old Deputy Collector came to see me at my camp, in the evening hour, bringing with him two other old men, who were very learned, said he, in the matters which I sought to understand about the Hindu religion and practice.

“Ask us questions, Miss Sahibaji, and we will answer. What is there you would like to know? “

“Well.” I said, “my mind is full of questions. I have just come from Benares.” The three men wagged their heads in anticipation of likely questions, and a full meal of discussion.

“I have come from your Kasi, the place where you buy salvation, where I stood for minutes together at many points of the river, watching the faithful bathe. And the chief difficulty in my mind is this. You say that the basis of your religion represents Karma, the principle that as a man sows so must he reap. Yet I saw many, both men and women, whose own priests assured me that having lived an ungodly life they had come to Benares in anticipation of death in order that by bathing in the sacred river, and dying at the sacred city, they might escape the just fruits of their sowing. And that, assuredly, they would so escape. The Hindu religion seems to me illogical in this instance. Put far my doubt and difficulty for me, O you men of learning, my friends.”

The first old man made answer—“The Hindu religion could not be illogical. It is ‘illusion’ on the part of the Miss Sahiba that she finds it so.”

But the second old man hastened to say—“No! No! the Hindu religion is not illogical. The wicked imagine that they can escape the Karma for which their life has prepared them, and when they are at the point of death they rush to Benares even as you said, in order to buy merit, and a higher regeneration than they deserve. But the gods are not deceived—the wicked man recovers, so that he leaves Kasi full of glee that his days are extended, and full of anticipation of a return to his life of enjoyable wickednesses. But—the gods are not deceived. His illness returns in the train and he dies—just outside the cantonment limits of the Holy City. He has not been allowed to purchase merit as easily as he had in mind he could do. The Hindu religion is not illogical!”

And he folded his crossed knees the tighter as if in determination to hold to that fact, in face of whatever further instances I might adduce, out of my observations of “illusion”, however apparently damaging to his theories.

But my friend the Deputy said in his quiet voice: “No, neither is that the answer to your question, Miss Sahiba; both the learned Gurujis have forgotten that the tales of the gods answer the questions of doubters better than arguments. Have I permission to tell the Miss Sahiba a simple ancient god-tale, a story of Siva and Parvati?”

“Please tell it,” I begged.

“One day, Parvati, resting her arm on the window-sill of Heaven, looked down upon Earth. Her gaze stayed at Benares where even as you saw, Miss Sahiba, there were thousands of people of all kinds, rich men and beggars, old and young, holy and wicked, bathing in Mother Ganga. . . . And she turned impatiently to Siva her husband who stood behind her, looking down also, and spoke. ‘Do you mean to say that all those people are coming to crowd us out of Heaven!’

“And Siva said, ‘O! Foolish One, ever is it the way of women to ask wise men questions which involve trouble and tiresomeness in the answering! In order to answer you, we must go down together to Kasi. I will be your dead husband lying on the bank at the last ghat, the ghat of the soul’s departing. You will be my widow mourning me and as each bather approaches, he will say, ‘Mother, why do you weep?’ And you will answer--‘See, my husband is dead. But Siva has promised me that if a Holy One but touches him, he will come to life again. So touch him for me, pray you.’

“And they went down to the Earth together even as Siva had planned, and he lay dead, and she stood by, mourning him. . . . And as each faithful Hindu came down to the river, and passed by the woman he said—

“‘Mother, why do you weep?’

“And she, turning and pointing to the burden on the bier, all ready for the burning, said:

“See—my husband is dead, but Siva has promised in that if a Holy One but touch him he will come to lite again; so touch him for me, I pray you.’

“But priest, or disciple, prince or beggar, weary pilgrim or satiated rake, aged widow or shy young bride—Brahmin or non-Brahmin—all shook their heads and passed on to bathe in the Sacred River. None would put holiness to the test. . . . The bathers had almost all gone now, the sun was getting unbearable, and Parvati was tired of repeating her question, when a solitary figure came almost furtively down to the river. He was an outcaste, a Chamar, or worker in leather; he had humbly waited till no great caste ones were left to question his use of the bathing ghat. He passed close by Parvati, deep in meditation, but hearing her sobs, stopped and said gently, ‘Mother, why do you weep?’ And she made the answer she had made fruitlessly all morning. ‘Hi! Hi! Mother,’ said he, ‘for I am not holy,’ and he went on his way to the water. Then he stopped suddenly, and retraced his steps, coming back to her.

“I am not holy, Mother,” said he—“but I go to bathe in the Ganges. And when I come back, I shall be holy, and gladly will I touch your husband for you. Siva keeps his promises, I know.”

“So he went down to the river and bathed, and coming back he touched the corpse, and departed on his homeward way.

“And Siva, as he yawned back to life, said to Parvati:

“‘Woman, are you answered? There was but one man who bathed in the Ganges this morning. Now come, let us return whence we came!’”

“I also am answered——” said I. “Faith would seem to have one meaning, alike in all religions.”

The dear old Deputy-Sahib was a saint akin to Bawaji, though he did not live the life of a pink-robed guru, but worked monotonously and hard in a Court of Wards office. Like Bawaji he was full of shrewd humour, of a gentle wisdom, and of kindness and understanding, untarnished by self-regard.

Not long after he had told me the enchanting story of Parvati’s fear of an over-crowded heaven, he was superannuated, in his official post, and himself retired to Benares—a Kasi-basi, inhabitant in anticipation of death, unable ever to leave that city.

And when I was next in Benares, and went to find him—for I wanted him to tell me why Benares always depleted me physically, making me feel on my departure as if bodily strength and virtue had gone out of me—it was to hear that he had been speeded on his journey of regeneration, only a month earlier by his devoted family, at Parvati’s ghat of waiting.

So my puzzle still reaches after solution, each time that I go back to that devastating Sacred City, to watch the bathers on the crowded banks of Mother Ganga.

One last memory in this connection must be set down here. I was in Allahabad during the Great Adhi-kumbh-Mela—the junction of the rivers festival of 1936. Every train disgorged pilgrims, some coming from vast distances—men and women, old and young: women and widowed-women predominated. I had travelled on one of the pilgrim trains and during a long wait in the early morning at a junction I walked among the pilgrims, as they sat on their heels, wrapped in quilts and shawls, beside their bundles. How well I knew what the bundles contained—cooking vessels, a brass jug with a handle and long spout to carry the sacred water; a man here and there would have a hookah, the tubes showing through the knotted handkerchief bundle which was his sole luggage; staves were general; of clothing neither sex carried more than one spare saree or dhoti, if that. They sat patiently, knees drawn up to chin: few talked. Some of the men were taking their turns at the station water-pipe—-bathing head and body, deftly and entirely, as if they were in the privacy of a home, gurgling out their mouths with fearsome noises, chewing the neem twig which is the Hindu’s toothbrush. One or two were being shaved, sitting cross-legged, before a barber on his haunches, who held their noses and lathered and plied his trade in equal unselfconsciousness with his client. There were sellers of foods acceptable to their religion—fresh fruit, fried rice and gram, nuts, crisp flat cakes of wheat and savoury vegetable puffs and curries. But these things did not tempt them. They were within an hour of Prayag, and they would not eat till they had bathed in the thrice holy water.

When their train came in, they roused from their lethargy and rushed, shouting, pushing, crowding. Women held one another by the hand or tied their saree ends together, to prevent separation. The railway officials and police hustled and helped—not unkindly; but were powerless to prevent the close-packing of which casual observers accuse the railways. The pilgrims just would not be deterred from climbing in one upon another. And as for examining tickets, I wondered how ten times the usual staff could compass that! . . .

A few days later—for I myself was at Prayag—I drove out to the river to see the mela (fair). Preparations began some time before you got to the junction. There was a fair-sized encampment on an open space within reach of the Fair—the tents of the extra police drafted in to help in keeping order—and then you found yourself facing a long wide stretch of sand flanked on either side by booths and shops and pandal (tent awning) encampments, by bamboo and plaster shelters set up in a night . . . the street of a mushroom sacred city. Here were found grocers’ and fruit and food shops, also the priestly shops—glazed and highly coloured pictures of the gods, images in clay and brass: requisites for the toilets of godlings and men—ashes, red kunkum, sandalwood paste—lovely green bottles made of fine Ganges sand, and of a fashion not unlike the vases I had seen at the glass blowers’ factory near Venice. They were meant, these last, for the safe carriage of holy water on the pilgrims’ return journey. . . . Lordly elephants walked with slow dignity through the clogging sand towards the water’s edge; pert little ponies pulled their embroidered or painted springless ekkas closely curtained; motor-cars with English visitors hooted through the crowds and crowds of priests and pilgrims—all moving in the same direction.

This—save for the cars—was immemorial India. Great Britain came in, in the Scouts’ and Guides’ tents, the Red-Cross stations, the booths of Christian missionaries, imitated by the Rama Krishna, Sanatan Dharma, and Vedantic Missions who had erected not only bookshops, meeting houses and clubs, but chemists’ shops and dressing-stations adjoining a small field hospital.

I stayed my car, and walked among the pilgrims. Some of the holy men, in their yellow-pink robes, looked good and kind, seekers after truth. We talked awhile and they courteously asked me to visit the Sadhus’ camp, pointing to a big enclosure set back a little from the stream of traffic, which flew a pilgrim flag.

They would meet after noon, they said, for discussion. They seemed, these pink-robed ones, to have no connection with the ash-smeared, really revolting faqirs (the generic term for holy men in this region),20 their hair matted with filth, their bodies naked, their faces frightening, in the expression of lewd cupidity or cruel power plain to even the most casual observer. Groups of widows were sometimes in the care of the faqirs, or sometimes were conducted by the pandas or temple attendants who act as pilgrim guides.

The face of an aged pilgrim carrying her green bottle of holy water and holding by the hand a woman of about forty years of age, attracted me. They were both widows, their unbleached cotton sarees drawn well forward over their closely-cropped heads. A panda walked just behind them.

I stopped—“Whence come you, Mother?”

“From Kasi—Benares.”

“And why?”

“But to bathe—is it not the holy Adhi-kumbh-Mela Festival?”

“And why do you bathe, Mother? “

She looked at me, wondering—“To find peace.”

“Does Mother Ganga at Benares not give peace?”

“Know you not, at Prayag, the sacred rivers join—there is three times the chance here of finding peace——”

“Have you bathed this morning? “

“I come but now from the river. We walked, my daughter-in-law and I to that point over there—look—” (and she pointed) “and a boat carried us across to the very holiest spot in all this holy water.”

“And have you found peace, my Mother?”

The sadness in her face was greater than any sadness I have ever seen, yea, even in the faces of Hindu widows.

“If peace is not found,” said she, slowly, “even after the bathing here, and now—it is the fault of the bather.”

We stood silent awhile—even the panda did not dare to intervene. Then she said, with a smile, looking at me—

“And you, have you come to bathe, too?”

“This is not my way of finding peace,” I said, and would have said more—I loved that dear, sad lady— but the panda thrust forward, with a laugh. “Can you not see,” he said, “the Miss Sahiba’s way of peace is Isu Masi (Jesus Christ)”—and laughing again derisively, he carried the women away.

But my Sad One looked back and smiled at me as if to say . . . “Our ways of peace shall meet some time. . . . For sometime every seeker finds the sought.”

Chapter XIV

“There Is No Heavenly Region for a Sonless Man” — Hindu Shastra

I have told of how a boy-child (it is alike for both girls and boys indeed) is ushered into the world, is named, has his “rice-taking” ceremony, when food extends beyond his mother’s breasts (or in modern times, beyond Cow and Gate and Allenbury): and how, if his father goes a-hunting during babyhood, his head must be shaved.

But there is a de rigueur head shaving (churakaran) in every family for a boy, even if his father is not a hunter. For a Brahmin child this occurs at three years of age, when the entire head is shaved, leaving a little tuft or fringe in the middle of his forehead. At five or six years of age this little fringe is itself shaved off, and the tuft is arranged at the top of the head to grow long, and hang behind.21

This tuft is called in different parts of India chura choti, tik, shikha, shendi.

The Zenana says that the object of the shaving is to remove the impurities contracted in the womb. And an old Pundit of my acquaintance adds the information that the meaning of the tuft left behind, is that the devil wants something to hold on to! That you must, in your courtesy, offer him a forelock when you are young and full of wickedness; but that as you get older, you learn how to run away from him, so you grow it behind like a pigtail.22

But I suspect him of being a joker: and this explanation is not to be taken seriously—although I can give you no other save that of a learned Tamil Brahmin who says that the shikha (tuft) is most important, “moulding our consciousness godwards”; and aiding the will-power of a man for attaining Brahminhood, preserving as it does our spiritual powers. That in actuality, to be most effective, it should have the circumference of a calf’s hoof; and that the religious duties of a man’s day may be without point if he has not seen to it that drops of water from his shikha have fallen upon his body after his morning bath.

The Brahmo-Theistic community does not wear the shikha or observe the ceremonies enumerated in this record: and even orthodox Hindus when they adopt English dress wear their hair normally and cut the shikha down, so that it appears only as a slightly longer sprouting of hair, often standing stiff and upright, at the top of their heads.

Outcastes, of course, have no business to wear a shikha at all. But I knew a darling child of the sweeper caste who deliberately and defiantly performed churakaran when he was nine years old, upon his own initiative—getting the barber at an English shop to shave him to the correct mode of the twice-born!

I made his acquaintance at my chambers in Calcutta the very day I took possession. A charming child with a Brahmin’s head (the top-knot) dressed in spotless white and carrying a broom, appeared at the door.

“The Presence,” said he, “has taken fine chambers. Barwell-Sahib to the left of her, and a Sahib who was in the War and got a kitab (title)”—as a matter of fact he is a V.C.—“for killing giants, to the right of her. All she needs is a good sweeper to keep the chambers clean, and do the work honestly, before she arrives in the morning, when the Cor-rut doors are opened, and after she leaves in the evening, when they are shut.” He was perfectly self-possessed and serious over this long speech.

“Who are you?”

“I am Punasi of the sweeper caste. My father is a sweeper, but the old man does not like work now that he is thirty years old. And why should he work when he has a man-child who is of the age of a man?”

“How old are you?”


“Have you ever worked before?”

“How can the Presence ask such a question? Was I not born in order to do her work? How could I work till she arrived in these chambers to need my work. I have waited for her.”

“Punasi, why do you wear a shikha? Are not the Brahmin clerks and vakils offended with you for wearing what belongs to them? What will my own Brahmin clerk say to you?”

“Why should I not wear a shikha?” said he, “what Brahmin can touch me or taunt me, when I belong to the High Cor-rut of the Ingrez (English). Do I not so belong? I sleep on the roof of the chambers, and now”—with an engaging smile—“I shall be of the staff of the Ballister Miss Sahib. . . . It is for the honour of the Miss Sahib that I wear a head like a Brahmin!”

I need hardly say that I engaged him on the spot: and he was a most efficient little sweeper. I had a Parsee girl secretary—Khurshed Gazdar—to whose service as to mine he attached himself loyally.

He would come to Court and swagger in the corridors if I were pleading, and would run back to chambers to report to her how he thought the case was progressing, using contemptuous language of Counsel on the other side! Pleading in the High Court is in English, of which language he had only a word or two. But what did that matter!

Having realized that we had no objection to his coming in while we lunched—and his pleasure in that realization was pathetic—he would turn up regularly in recess, and entertain us with vivid descriptions of the night-school which he now began to attend, or the political meetings held on the roof of the block of chambers, or his thrilling adventures during riots when he ran between Hindu and Muslim combatants, mercifully unscathed, and feeling himself a fine fellow. “Perhaps I might some day myself get a Vhi-she (V.C.)” said he, “from the Chief Sahib (Chief Justice).”

I tried to persuade him to give up sweeping and go to a day school. He was so very intelligent that I hoped we might set his feet on the way of some higher employment. But with much talk of my wish being to him a command, he politely refused.

He was born a sweeper and a sweeper outcaste he must remain, or the gods would be angry. To night school he could go, and did go, because it was a High Cor-rut night school (it was for the employees and children of the employees at Court and chambers), and he belonged to the High Cor-rut. More learning than that school gave would anger the gods. True, he wore a shikha, that was nothing. It was only a kind of namaskar (salutation) to the Miss Sahib. But to take the learning which belonged to Brahmins, that was a different matter. No! Sweeper he was born, and for this incarnation, he concluded, with a smile, sweeper he must remain!

Brave little Punasi, aged nine, with his solution of age-old problems, and his liberal interpretation of class distinctions. I have known no other individual handicapped by re-birth as an outcaste who has ventured thus far. But certainly Punasi did not suffer for his audacity. The Brahmins in and about the High Court laughed at him, and no doubt loved him, as every one did. for his very own possession, his attractive personality.

I last saw him in January, 1936, when I was back in Calcutta. His shikha was reduced to the little upright tuft of which I have spoken as affected by the English educated. “What would you?” said he. “My mother says that soon I must go to our village busti (hutment), and be married. And those na gawar (ignorant) folk of the village would not understand. But” (confidentially) “I put a rubber band off an umbrella round my shikha in the sleep-time, so that the oil which my mother plasters on it may not make it quite entirely lie down!”

After the seventh year (in Western India) or about the tenth, eleventh, or twelfth year (in Bengal) comes the Thread Ceremony (Upanayan), the most important ceremony of boyhood.23

The ancients divided the life of a caste Hindu into four stages. At seven years old or later, when the thread ceremony was performed, he was admitted into the Hindu religion. Before this admission, he was not a Hindu proper: he could not lose caste.

But now, provided he belonged to one of the three highest castes, he was invested with the sacred Brahminical thread, solemnly and with much ceremony, the priests chanting mantras as he sat cross-legged beside the sacred fire.

The thread is finely woven of cotton, the khush grass, and a black deer’s skin.

He was robed in the dress of a pilgrim, and carrying across his shoulders a staff of the bel (or other sacred tree), and in his hand a beggar’s bowl, he went round the circle of visitors and relations bidden to the investiture, begging alms.

He was then, in ancient times, ready to go out into the forest for the stage of tutelage (Brahmacharya) with his guru (spiritual teacher), and in the forest he stayed till he was twenty-one—when he was allowed to marry and become a householder (Grihastha).

The third stage was when he retired to the forest to meditate or make his soul (Varaprastha).

And this he might do any time he chose, his wife not being forbidden to accompany him, also as a recluse.

In old age came the final stage, when he was compelled to take nothing but his staff and his beggar’s bowl, and wander the country homeless. It was a period of complete renunciation and solitude (Sanyasa).

In these days the boy no longer seeks the forest with his tutor after the thread ceremony of initiation: but he makes believe that he does so, by going into a hut built in one corner of the family courtyard, where the ceremony has taken place, and sitting beside his guru for a while before departing to the Zenana to be spoiled and petted with sweets and feastings.

In some parts of India instead of the “pretend” hut in the forest, there is a separate ceremony called Shri Mangal. The boy has a stout strand of grass tied, by his maternal uncle, round his waist; and he makes as if to go to Benares to become an ascetic.

One of the guests at the ceremony runs after the boy and brings him back, offering him his daughter in marriage . . . and he consents to forgo asceticism.

It is only after the thread and Shri Mangal ceremonies that a boy is privileged to mourn for the dead.

The Adoption ceremony is also performed for a boy alone; for none but a boy may be taken in adoption. It should be recorded in passing, however, that there is a custom among dancing girls—Naikinis—by which a girl may be adopted. But the Bombay and Calcutta High Courts have refused to recognize this custom, holding it immoral. Madras recognizes the custom, provided that the girl is not given to prostitution.

“There is no Heavenly region for a sonless man,” says holy writ. And if a man has no son of his body, “let him assemble his kinsmen, give humble notice to the King, and then having made an oblation to Fire, with words from the Vedas, in the midst of his dwelling-house, he may receive as his son by adoption a boy nearly allied, or (on failure of such) one more remotely allied.”

There were formerly five kinds of sons adoptable. Now there are only two acknowledged by law and custom—the Dattaka (a son given and taken), the Kritima (a son made). Though indeed a son may also be Dryayamursh ya yana, the son of two fathers, inheriting by contract, in both families.

The most attractive Dattaka ceremony which I have seen was one with which I was officially connected.

I had to apply all the rules of the Shastras; to assure myself that the boy was of the right caste; that he had not already had his thread ceremony in his natural father’s home (for in such circumstances, he would have been pledged to the service of his natural father, in death, and unable to save, therefore, the soul of his adoptive father): that he was “the shadow of a son,” i.e. that his mother was one whom his adoptive father could have married (not his daughter, sister, aunt): that he was not an orphan: and that his adoptive mother was not unchaste and had remained a widow, i.e. had not contracted a second marriage. . . .

My widowed Rani, “the adoptive mother,” was acting under authority, left to this end, by her husband. But the adoption (as needs must be) was not to herself but to the deceased husband.

I had known this Zenana all the years of her widowhood; and well did I remember my first visit. I was led through the usual outer courtyards, past the two painted lion-dragons, which helped the armed sentries to keep guard, through narrow passages, opening suddenly on the Inside, a garden “springing” roses, and so to the women’s staircase. And here my guide left me and fled, incontinent: for good reason, as I soon found. The Zenana was guarded by peacocks, whose jurisdiction was the staircase—peacocks trained to pluck the eyes out of any male intruder!

They were terrible protectors, pouncing silently, despite a be-ringed right ankle: and all my security of womanhood and draperies did not prevent a chill clutch at my heart as they came to reconnoitre.

“Do they never make a mistake?” I asked the Rani Sahiba; “in the winter, for instance, when men also wrap themselves in Kashmiri shawls?”

“No! never! These are the traditional guardians of the Zenana in my husband’s family.”

“Yet—men must come up this staircase sometimes—father, brother, sons-in-law, the Zenana amlas (officers). How about these?”

“Oh,” she told me, “the birds are chained up till they learn the faces of the privileged ones.”

The boy we needed had been difficult to find—the “adoptive” family was Kashmiri Brahmin, settled in Orissa for five generations; and of Kashmiri Brahmins there are not many in British India. But the State of Gwalior in Rajputana produced, finally, a candidate whom we could approve: and the priests having selected the most auspicious day for the adoption ceremony, I travelled to Orissa to see it through.

At three o’clock in the morning—I was travelling by road in a palanquin—I was set down at the foot of the jungle-grown hills.

“If the Miss Sahiba cares to wait till the dawn hour or for a night of the moon,” said my escort, “she will see the wild peacocks come out of the jungle and dance.”

Did the sentry peacocks take their “days-off,” I wondered, attending the wild peacocks’ ball, and did peacocks superannuated for official Raj service retire to the jungle to be professional chaperons at dances?

“And if the Miss Sahiba will come in the days of cold and stay in the little bungalow beyond the canal, she can join in the big shikar (shooting). O! a very big shikar is made every year, to kill the creatures that are not peacock-people in this same jungle, look Miss Sahiba, which climbs to the hill-tops.”

We drove for a while in an English phaeton—an incongruity, I felt—but “at the fourth mile,” said the Raj officer sent to conduct me, “the carriage-road stops; the Miss Sahiba will forgive that there will then be conveyances of the country.” The Miss Sahiba rejoiced.

The countryside was full of pictures. To my right the sluggish canal, slimy and shiny as a snake, drowsed between mud banks. This is the chief waterway for country boats laden with hay, or other merchandise, and for the “green-boat,”24 the local houseboat, with its stuffy cabins and its low-thatched or unlidded kitchen in the stern. Now we had come upon a boat at anchor, a very populous green-boat, taking an entire colony to another part of the country.

The mother, safely on shore, was cooking the evening meal, and a small “goose-boy” aged four, and dressed in an amulet, was trying with a long wisp of cane to gather his chickens back to the boat.

Beyond the canal, the country, now disengaged from the hills, spread itself out flat and low, as if a giant hand had pushed away the horizon to its limit. It was some time before I realized that the hazy effect of love-in-a-mist, grown to a great height, was made by clumps of dying bamboos, in the middle distance. They gave a weird cobwebby aspect to a landscape in which, indeed, nothing at that moment seemed real.

To my left, the low scrub in the foothills was full of movement—birds and lizards, jackals and khargosh (hare): the air was alive with butterflies. . . .

We were now approaching the Temple where the ceremony was to be performed: it was on the top of a hill, and we were already within the precincts, in the Temple grazing grounds. The cows were sacred to the Temple, but were really the Rani Sahiba’s, the offering made to herself as representative of the Raj by the Temple pilgrims. They had to be milk-white without a spot or blemish, or the Temple priest-shepherd would reject them. And they made a charming picture, a harmony in green and white, stalled in the Temple fields.

Straight from the grazing grounds began the ascent to the Temple itself. I was now in my “conveyance of the country”—a red-enamelled carrying chair, most comfortable, but terribly noisy. For my lusty Ooriya carriers shouted at the top of their voices hum-hum, hum-hum, hum-hum” between middle C and its octave, till they got tired, when they would begin on the higher note and end on the lower.

“What does it mean!” I begged, thinking that maybe a meaning would help me to bear it.

“Oh, just mad talk!” they grinned, and went at it again.

The wood thickened as we climbed, planted with white bark trees slim and tall, and dressed in spring clothes of the colour of the olive groves at Bordighera.

Before I had done loving the trees we had arrived at the Temple, and the bearers set me down in a lane of flag-staffs, their light-hearted welcome all a-flutter—red ochre and indigo blue, yellow-pink, pilgrim colour, primrose and deep amber, earth-brown, and wheat-colour. It is impossible to describe the beauty of the effect, as colour called to colour on the breeze.

Between the flags I walked to an enclosure made of plaited twigs threaded with cotton (to ward off devils)—the enclosure sheltered a great pool fed by a sacred spring. The Rani bathed in this pool and then walked past more little flag-decorations to her special Temple-house. Here she sat in purdah watching the preliminary ceremony conducted by a college of Priests in the ancient temple, grey stone against forest green. It was a wonderful temple. There was nothing to outward seeing which kept it from being the Temple of All the World. Siva and his bull, and other gods and godlings lived in some secret niche within doors. The ceremony was performed on the spacious pillared verandahs, facing God’s out-of-doors, and all the beauty of that Temple not built with hands.

The actual adoption was very simple indeed. The boy stood between his natural father and mother and the Rani.

“Will you give?” said the Rani’s priests.

“Will you take?” answered the priests of the parents, pushing the boy towards his new mother.

And there was my Rani with a man-child of her very own, who would save the soul of her dead Raja, and fill up also all that was wanting on her sonless hearth.

As for the boy himself—he stood wide-mouthed, wistful, with the listening look of the deaf-mute.

But he was neither deaf nor mute: his expression was but the result of an intense desire to please. He had seen his very own mother give him away, not sadly but with much self-gratulation.

The family would all now belong to Raj-people. Her girls would make better matches.

He had heard his “points,” his merits and demerits, discussed by a hundred folk: and he was nine years old—old enough to understand.

He was a loving little soul, the greatness and importance thrust upon him were swallowed up in the hurt of losing his own people, and in the desire to please these new Great Ones to whom he would now belong.

“Well,” I said, as he sat on the Temple plinth, a pathetic lonely figure weary with the excitement of the day. “Tell me all about it.”

“I was bathed and had new clothes, and my head was shaved. So I am a ‘Son given’: and my mother cannot love me any more. It would be sin.”

Now all things being well over at the Temple, a procession was formed to travel back through the forest to the feasts and rejoicings at the Rajbari. First came the dancers and pike-bearers, naked and tattooed, or gorgeous in scarlet uniforms, their arms bound about with peacocks’ feathers. They were followed by crowds and crowds of people . . . purdanashins in palanquins and gaily-hooded carrying-chairs, men on elephants, or horses, on foot or riding in ekkas—umbrellas on wheels, drawn by minute ponies. It was an endless coil, priest and layman, raja and peasant, jester and devotee—winding between the grey-green saplings towards the sunset.

And such riot of colour as met the eye is achieved, surely, seldom even in this land of colour and pageantry—the great open cauldron of the sky, the hot-coal colour of the wild-men’s uniforms, the patchwork of the crowd—all set against the cool green background of the forest trees.

We were passing the canal now, and I looked in vain for my mystic cobweb landscape. It was blotted out by the fantastic motley of that human theatre.

Then, suddenly, it was dark, and as suddenly, a hundred torches leapt into life: all that was gorgeous or garish was now lurid and sinister and creepy. The pageant had gone, this was some one’s too-real inferno. The naked dancers leapt higher, and the beat of the drums grew frenzied.

But the heart of the uncanny lay in the continued orderliness of this great disorder as it passed from the deep shadows of the forest into the greater darkness which the torches created.

And across the drums and conch-shells the wild peacocks called their mates to the evening dance in the scrub below the foothills.

The Zenana rose-garden seemed “the veriest school of peace” after all this tumult. But as I turned to the staircase I found it unguarded. Where were the terrible sentry peacocks, I asked.

“But they have been let fly, Miss Sahiba,” said my Rani, “and we think they have gone to the foothills. My son will now choose such bird or beast-person as pleases him, to guard this Zenana.25

“To-night he himself sleeps guarded by the lamps which lit the home-coming of The-Son-Taken.”26

The Kritima form, adoption of an adult son, I met for the first time in Bihar (Mithila custom).

Either man or woman may adopt in this form, and either a wife or widow may adopt, and adopt to herself. Among the Agrawala-Jains even a married man may be adopted. . . .

There was a certain wealthy widow among our Mithila-Bihati wards, who was childless. She had made no move to adopt, nor had she any thought of adoption. But her riches were a lure to those acquainted with the custom, in that part of the country where it was legal: and one application after another came to us, offering sonship.

The Kritima son inherits the entire property of his adoptive parent, it should be said, while keeping his rights in his natural family.

Requisites for candidature are negligible—the boy must be of age, of the same caste as the parent upon whom he has turned his eye, and must consent to the adoption, i.e. he must not be forced upon the Adoptive One against his will.

No ceremonies are necessary.

Among the Agrawala money-lenders a turban must be tied round the boy’s head in the presence of the Sacred Fire. But, as the would-be Kritima sons pointed out to the Court of Wards, even this would not be required.

What I found most amusing in the letters from these unsolicited candidates for sonship, was the legend of a dream which revealed that they were indeed the lawful sons of our wealthy widow-ward, in a previous incarnation!

“I was lying in adoration, at midnight, at the feet of the Goddess Kali” (or Saraswati, or the brothers and sister at Puri or some other patron deity) “when the Divine Mother appeared to me, revealing my close bodily connection with the Maharani. . . .”

This kind of dream is almost current coin. An English friend of mine, horrified, brought me, one day in Bengal, a letter from a most unpersonable youth, who while lying at the feet of the godlings at the Temple of Jagannath in Orissa had dreamt that he was in reality the son of this English lady (quite discreetly, in a previous birth), and upon this authority he claimed that she should support him, paying all the expenses of an education which he outlined as desirable, both in India and England: and setting him up in life thereafter.

I was glad to be able to reassure her as to personal liability!

At the back of such offers, as I have come to realize, is, oddly enough, the belief that the “beggar” is giving the person to whom he applies for largesse, a chance of “ buying merit,” of saving her own soul.

I remember one occasion in Calcutta when I was accosted by an unknown and smiling individual. “I have great good news for the Miss Sahiba, great good news . . . we are in debt,” (naming a Society of which I had no knowledge and in which I could have no possible interest), “and at a meeting of all the members held last night the Miss Sahiba was unanimously elected as the payer of our debts. O! Yes! Great good news, no doubt!”

Chapter XV


Choti Mees was really now of marriageable age, as allowed by the Sarda Act (“See how good I am, Aunt-Mother,” said Prithivi Maharani, “you should shahabash me!”)

There was much talk to and fro, Prithivi Maharani herself conducting the bridegroom negotiations from behind the purdah.

She accepted meekly her priest’s lists of names, set out in order of income and worldly advantage; and even humoured him so far as to have the bridegrooms elect come one by one to the house; when, pretending that she was too strictly secluded to see them herself, she requisitioned me to interview and report.

“Please make a note on each one, Aunt-Mother,” she urged, putting a great sheaf of foolscap paper into my hand. “It is most important, so that my priest should see that we do honour to his lists and his mantras and horoscopes.”

But Prithivi, watching through a hole in the purdah, was her own best commentator, weighing each individual in that solemn and absurd “march past,” in shrewd and witty scales.

The list included a Ghar Jamai (domesticated son-in-law), i.e. a boy in whom his parents were willing to forgo all rights. He would come naked of income or hope of income, to live in her family, under her roof, as a son-in-law. “And so, the Maharani need never part with her Choti Mees,” was the inducement.

Giribala had joyfully accepted and indeed sought for a Ghar Jamai and no other for my “Lightning-Belovéd.” But Prithivi showed (though not to the priest) a fine scorn of the very idea—“Yes! I am to marry my Choti Mees to an Ūllū (owl) who will lie about all day in the Baithak Khana dressed only in a shirt, secure as to his daily bread, chewing betel-nut, and spitting and bako-ing (gossiping) with the servants. Poor little Choti Mees will have to worship—that—living on her and her widowed mother. And my little Maharaja will have a fine leech sucking the blood out of his veins and out of the estate, when I am no longer in the world to guard him!

“And what about Choti Mees’s sons? They will be fit to be nothing but Ghar Jamais themselves. A family of Ghar Jamais, whom mothers must accept for their ugliest daughters because they can get no better offers! No! Aunt-Mother, cross out his name even before you’ve seen that one. Don’t waste a clean sheet of paper on him.” Her anger was superb. Then she laughed suddenly.

“I will have to do puja for an extra hour because I deceive my guru.” And she came closer to whisper: “I have already chosen my son-in-law, and—he is none of these!”

She had indeed chosen, after much thought and personal investigation. He was an only child (“we don’t want brothers and sisters-in-law for our Choti Mees, people who might marry—who knows whom!”): and his father, now in very bad health (“but no sickness that his son will carry on!” said Prithivi), was a neighbouring Raja whose property adjoined Prithivi’s estate.

“Choti Mees will soon be a Rani,” said she confidently—“Yes, very soon!” (She had gone to the length of interviewing the Raja’s doctor, on the pretext that she had to be assured that there was no hereditary disease in the family.) “And I mean to discipline and train my son-in-law myself. Some day he too shall be a Maharaja like Choti Mees’s father,” she concluded demurely. After a pause—“I enquired also about his habits and character. He is thanda (cool) in temper, in build he is like a Rajput; and his schoolmaster says he takes pains at his lessons. He is not clever, but I do not want him to be clever. My Choti Mees is clever, and I— I am very clever! What, need for more goods of that kind for our store-room!”

“Changing India indeed!” I reflected, casting my mind back twenty years to a time when parents accepted, unquestioning, the priest’s choice and the priest’s reading of the horoscope.

For months before the wedding Prithivi was busy with jewellers, silk merchants, sewing men . . . she sent her agents to Benares to select the most wonderful of gold tissue sarees, shot with every colour of the rainbow, and of cloth of gold kincobs: to Dacca for the finest hand-woven muslins, to Murshidabad for the famous ancient soft-silk weavings patterned with designs taken from old Indian sculpture; she chose from English shops (“This is to please my first child ‘Mees,’ whom so long I have neglected,” said she) their richest brocades, to make petticoats and “breast-supports” for the bride.

The sewing-man sat on the verandah working under her eye. The jewellers were given detailed instructions about the sets of ornaments to be made; and finished goods were tested by herself, were weighed in her presence—the nuggets of gold out of which they were fashioned, and all the precious stones (used in the making of selected designs) having first been passed by herself.

Enjoying herself immensely over the process, she put the fear of—woman, into all around her.

Till Choti Mees’s father-in-law died, the newly-married were to live in a separate house built in Prithivi’s compound as a “dower house”—in preparation for the days when the little Maharaja would be married and live in the Palace. And this house, she furnished magnificently—English style, but with an addition in the shape of fiercely orthodox kitchen and puja ghar, to avoid ill-luck.

The garden had been carefully planned—mamuli (everybody’s ordinary) flowers, puja flower offerings, vegetables. And in the garage was a lovely car, the little six-year-old Maharaja’s present, selected by himself, after so comic a cross-examination of the English Burra Sahib (Head) of the shop, and so solemn a testing that the entire staff, standing round, wished that he would come daily to buy a car.

The pots and pans were a shining array of silver. “When her lord becomes a Maharaja I’ll change them for gold,” said Prithivi. And the store-room would have satisfied the most exacting housekeeper. Grains of every kind, rice and spices, stood in jars graded in size like the dolls in the children’s toy room. And, much enjoying defiance of the older Jis, and the old cook, Prithivi had a modern kitchen range, and a modern device for washing vegetables fitted into an English kitchen complete with all accessories, to replace the usual smoky Hindu fireplaces made of plastered mud.

Thak! (let be),” said she, “have I not had a kitchen and store-room made next door with the great-grandmother devices—cowdung smeared over the floor, over the mud fireplaces, and even over the ranjans (earthen storing jars); the courtyard has its tulasi plant. When I bring my priest to see these things, the door of the English kitchen and store-room will be locked. And he will give us his blessing!”

The morning of the wedding day—the date chosen by the horoscope—-Prithivi’s mother and ancient women relations, the wedding house-party, were up early. She wisely invited them to do all that religion directed. The marriage awning, a Durbar shamiana (marquee), pitched in the big courtyard, and hung with yellow marigolds, had had its floor correctly cowdunged, before being decorated with auspicious marks of good omen.

Choti Mees was anointed with oil and bathed, the soles of her feet were painted with red henna and her hair was braided by her grandmother. But Prithivi herself put on the ornaments of gold and rubies which decked her entire little person from head to toe. To-day for the first time, the child, as a wife, would have a red line (kunkum) covering the parting of her hair. She wore a gold-spangled red saree. Truly no bride in any country could have looked lovelier.

And now the priests had assembled, and sitting cross-legged in the courtyard, were arranging their properties—the godlings, the puja vessels, the bowls of Ganges water, with the little boat-like spoon (for sprinkling), the lamps and incense burners—on their altar beside the Sacred Fire.

The bridegroom arrived in a motor-car decorated with flowers. For a similar journey his grandfather had, in his time, sat under a canopy, on a little platform that looked like a machān—-jungle shooting shelter—carried high on “stilts.” But, as of old, the modern boy had a long procession to herald him . . . a band, models cut in pith, of elephants, camels, ancient chariots, flat-bottomed boats, what not!—pushed along on wheels, or carried aloft by coolies in red and yellow uniforms. Red and gold turbaned linkmen, with unlighted torches of pitch-pine wood, brought up the rear.

The bridegroom wore magnificent clothes, but over his face was a veil of flowers made of strings of jasmine and roses. I could not see his face. Choti Mees had a like veil. The veils depended from circlets of flowers. Neither party might look at the other before the ceremony was concluded.

They were led by the hand inside a circle marked out in ground rice paste with signs of good luck.

The women were all gathered behind purdahs which overlooked the courtyard; and the priests began muttering the mantras.

At some point in the ceremony the marriage ring (an iron bracelet) is put on the bride’s arm, the mangal sutra (thread of happiness)—being in Bombay two gold beads and in Madras a gold pendant with Siva’s symbol—is hung round her neck; and the bride and bridegroom are tied together, each at one end of a silken scarf.

Prithivi had insisted on an innovation, an exchange of English marriage rings; and it was amusing to see how each priest tested the gold, on the sacred fire, before accepting the gift for his principal.

The essential act constituting a marriage is Satapadi, i.e. the taking of seven steps round the Sacred Fire, after duly invoking it as a witness to the Hindu sacrament and contract of marriage. Till this is done, the marriage is revocable in Law—though few Hindus would dare to cancel a ceremony which had gone so far. After the seventh step the marriage is complete and irrevocable.

The newly-wed then return to the sacred circle and the older relations (not the women in purdah) may enter the circle to bless them. To my delight, I was invited inside the circle, to bestow my blessing: and was able to pull aside the flower-veils a little, to find two very happy and beaming faces.

At last a tired Choti Mees was released.

Her husband had been carried off to feast in the Outside with the men folk; and the women drew her in behind the purdah, and took off her finery, and fed the famishing child who had begun her day with a dawn-hour puja to pray for “a hundred sons and a hundred daughters,” and who had to fast till the steps were taken.

In the evening there was music and a theatre for the Outside, followed by a festal meal, men and women dining separately.

As her married life was to begin in the dower house, the bride was saved a long journey and an elaborate procession. The linkmen lit their torches, and the pageantry of the morning followed the band across the garden—Choti Mees and her husband together now in the flowery motor-car.

Prithivi sternly forbade the ancient Gurbadhan ceremony, the barricading of the young people into their home by the women and giggling girls. She did not approve the customary songs and allusions.

And life began with dignity for this adult Choti Mees, with the newly red-painted parting in her hair.

Chapter XVI

Festivals — The Wisdom-Lady — The Feast of Lights —The Horse Festival

To try to set down in this simple record all the many festivals of Hinduism would be to exceed the wise limit of “enough,” to overload appetite.

There are bratas for the months and seasons of the year, bratas in honour of different gods and godlings, even for propitiation of demons and evil spirits; and bratas for human relationships.

Some bratas are the outcome of folk-tales such as the Jam Pukur Brata, which has behind it the cranky tale of a mother-in-law who is punished for ill-treatment of a daughter-in-law who had served her faithfully. The mother-in-law is punished by being compelled to wander through the three firmaments—till the children’s brata saves her.

They dig a tank and plant it with flowers: they make a fancied image of the Naughty One; they make a whole army of clay toys—sharks and crocodiles, tortoises and fishes; crows, cranes, kites. They light little lamps. The dwellers in water they arrange by the pool; the birds they place on sticks planted in the tank.

And they then sing exciting mantras about king’s sons who kill the birds and cause drought; about fishermen and washermen—songs to assuage thirst and ward off disease; songs to buy blessings for the Naughty One, now forgiven.

Oddly enough this is done in the month when married women go down to the river in the dawn hour to pray for beautiful children.

Is there, one wonders, some subtle fear that the restless mother-in-law, her thirst not assuaged, may blight the earthly beauty of the coming little one? This is the only occasion (discoverable by me) when beauty is definitely prayed for; desire being generally expressed in numbers. And how wise and safe it is to name beauty alone—for to every mother her child is beautiful—whatever the world may say.

How busy the trusting women are over their harmless dissipations! How unquestioning is their belief! How punctilious their routine!

It is, perhaps, Ganesh Chaturti, the Festival of the God of Wisdom, who rides on a mouse. They worship his image (from one to ten days according to local custom), and throw it into the sacred river—the waters of oblivion are safest for the gods and godlings who might be vexed by daily knowledge of the lives of men.

The Goddess of Wisdom, Saraswati, is likewise slipped into the water after a three-days’ visit. But first her image, a lovely lady, standing on a lotus flower, lives on a special altar, not in a puja ghar but in the most frequented part of the house—entrance hall or passage.

And even the children steal in, to lay upon her altar the “implement of their calling”—their thumbed lesson books or reed pens, their slates or inkpots. Artists bring their brushes, musicians their vinas or cymbals, carpenters their rules, gardeners their pruning hooks. My own chaprassis, the red-coated messengers of my official life, stole, I found, the red tape lying on my desk, for their particular trade-mark offering—nor knew how very amusing (and true) was the symbol!

The learned say that the worship of tools and implements of trade or occupation has behind it the feeling that these things by which you live (or die) have an inherent power of blessing or banning.

At the last “wisdom-worship” which I witnessed, my little Rani-hostess laid before me a great difficulty. “My Raja Bahadur has taken to racing, and see, he has put his betting book on the altar. What will the Wisdom goddess say? Will she be vexed?”

The goddess of Wisdom is also the goddess of Perfect Speech; and there is one offering which no worshipper, big or little, should omit. This is a cake made of rice and sugar; and, as it is placed on the altar, the worshipper must say—“Oh, goddess of Wisdom, and of Perfect Speech, remember all the lies I have told through the year—too many are they for me to remember. Remember and forgive!” I have often wished that Lord Curzon, when Viceroy of India, had known that fact. He could then have expressed what he had to say in his last Convocation speech about lapses from truth, without raising the storm of hatred which followed. His hearers would have interpreted his knowledge of custom as sympathy; and this would have overborne resentment.

It is helpful to remember that lapses from truth are recognised as needing forgiveness, and that ideals of truth are set forth in the Brahmanas (Satapatha Bra. II., ii. 2, 19). Furthermore, that although there is a Shastric list of permissible lies, “to save a life, to keep faith, to raise a laugh, to humour an idiosyncrasy, to defraud an enemy, to punish evil doers,” the one unforgivable sin is brainlessness in interpretation of that permit.

A very learned Pundit in the United Provinces explained this to me, apropos of a whole series of lies which he told in my presence to an English tourist whom I had taken to see him. When the tourist left us I expressed my sadness at the old Pundit’s lapses from truth.

“Have you been so long a time with us, Miss Sahibaji,” said he with a twinkle in his eye, “and not yet learnt that we keep truth for gods and wise men—for the fool, a lie!”

Certainly the tourist had asked the silliest of questions, based upon assumptions more foolish still, and I could not accuse my old Pundit of the sin unforgivable, especially as I had in truth been vastly entertained. I expect in canonical language the Pundit’s plea would have been “to humour an idiosyncrasy.”

One festival there is when the women exchange little coloured seed-pearls made of sugar; and another when they exchange sprouting plants of ground-nuts and sugar cane. This latter is a spring festival when the goddess of Fertility is worshipped.

Of purely agricultural festivals, propitiations and customs there are many, varying with the seasons, as well as with the locality. They relate to crops and cattle, to village industries and village godlings, to epidemics and the behaviour of the elements; they verge on totemism and animism; and cannot be dealt with herein.

Of the larger festivals, common to all India, perhaps Divali,27 the Feast of Lights, is the one which I most enjoy.

Rao Bahadur B.A. Gupta, a learned Bengali who in my time in Bengal was known as the leading authority on Hindu festivals, had much that was interesting to tell about the various theories of the origin of Divali, though he admitted that few if any Hindus know its origin to-day. He said that the god Vishnu had allotted it to the Vaisyas or trading caste alone; and indicated that its observance by all castes was irregular.

The present record however is of things actually seen and experienced, and told by the living “keepers of the rule” of Hinduism, chiefly in the Zenanas. And I have found Brahmins and men and women of all castes keeping this gay festival, as of right, unafraid.

All they knew was that its object was the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of Wealth. Few had heard of the folk-tales attaching to the festival, not even of the agricultural version, to which in Bengal is due the rule (which they observed), that sessamum seeds, rice, paddy, durva grass, sugar cane, a winnowing basket, a corn treasure . . . must be included among the articles placed on Lakshmi’s altar.

“Is it your harvest festival?” you will ask a landholder. And he will smile at your ignorance and say, “God knows. It is the worship of wealth.” Then, “It comes in September-October, and,” meditatively, “yes, that is harvest time. But it is wealth we worship, not the Earth-Mother; it is dangerous to neglect the worship of wealth at harvest time. That, we know.” They also know that Lakshmi (they call her Lakkhi in Bengal) rides on a barn-owl, sits on a lotus, wears yellow draperies, carries in her hand either a lotus flower or the club of Vishnu her husband, and must be worshipped by the lighting of little lamps on the day of her autumn visitation.28 In Calcutta where Kali, the wife of Siva, is the favourite goddess, the women sometimes on Divali day call Kali “Lukhi” and perform their puja in her name.

Merchants pay her particular devotion; and as Divali is also the Hindu New Year’s Day, they open new account books with the picture of Ganesh, the Giver of Success (Siddhidata—invoked at the beginning of any undertaking), on the front page.

A visit to the banking and trade quarters of any city will show the artist-priest men early astir, hurrying from one account book to another . . . I have my suspicions that Ganesh’s high popularity as a frontispiece in ledgers is due not only to his monopoly of success, but also to the fact that he is the sovereign of demons!

In the homes, the women have been up earlier still; and after a bath in holy water have busied themselves decorating the floor of that corner in the house-place which is to be Lakshmi’s guest-chamber upon her visit. The marks, which are made with rice-flour paste, are all traditional, and each has a meaning, of which the women are ignorant. But mother-in-law to daughter-in-law they have learnt to make with great skill the symbolic welcomings. Then the image is put into position with the offerings of fruit and oranges, of conch-shells and seed-grains—all ready for the hour of prayer.

The puja is on the lines of all worship of great goddesses: and Wealth even as Wisdom has no formal chapel, but comes as a distinguished guest to the household.

I have said that my friends of the Zenana were ignorant of the folk-lore belonging to this Festival. But one thing, it is evident, they have had handed down from the same ancient source. It is the moral of all the Divali stories, and especially of the attractive Bengali variant, about the good little daughter who kept, to her personal detriment, the promise broken by her mother in an inordinate love of riches. She married the son of the man who had lost all the wealth which he possessed when the marriage contract was made. She rejected the fine new suitor substituted by her mother in the altered circumstances; she chose to be poor that her mother might be counted promise-abiding. For this, Lakshmi rewards her—not immediately, but after she has faced cheerfully all the implications of her sacrifice. It was in her house that the first Divali lights were lighted—a blaze of little chiraghs, earthenware containers holding a cotton wick floating in oil.

“You must fulfil your obligations,” say the women, “if you would have the goddess of Wealth and her seven sisters visit you, so that the eldest and ugly sister, Poverty, slinks out of the back door, to remain outside for ever.”

Thus is wisdom once more justified of her children in attaching the rule, “Fulfil your obligations” to a festival which originally belonged to the trading and money-lending class; and which has for allure the reputed goal of that class, the amassing of wealth. . . .

The cooking of special delicacies, the wearing of fine clothes, the feasts to which friends and family are bidden, crowd the women’s busy hours. If the town is near a river, especially a sacred river, the women and children set little rafts afloat, down stream. The rafts are laden with lighted chiraghs and are watched breathlessly: if the lights stay burning till the rafts are out of sight, all the omens for the year are good. . . .

Then, as day draws her curtains, the house lamps are lighted, twinkling along the balconies, picking out the stories of buildings, the door and window casements, the little shrines in the garden . . . arranged in clusters before Lakshmi herself, and in every room in the bari.

The doors of the Outside are left wide—“Come,” say the little lights to Lakshmi Devi, “do you not see that we are ready for you, with the welcome which you love!”

After the evening meal, the children, all in gay new clothes, are taken by the menfolk—or, in more progressive houses, by the women in a closed conveyance—to see the illuminations.

And the wonder that is theirs at the new kind of lighting of their city—electricity, flood-lighting, eclipsing the brave little chiraghs—finds expression in ecstatic repetitions of “Bap-re-Bap” (Father—oh—Father!), the exclamation superlative.

But the grandmother will shake her head, and say: “Who knows if Lakshmi will accept anything but chiraghs”; tending the little wicks herself, in the house-place, with a prayer that the barn-owl rider may not pass her by.

One small boy in the house of the particular grandmother I have now in mind was her favourite. She had taught him reverence for Saraswati and Lakshmi, and for the Baby Krishna. He had shared her puja since he was three years old: and now that he was seven he called himself a religious and even threatened to go into the forest and meditate, as soon as he should get his Sacred Thread.

On the night of the Festival of Lights, he was full of orthodox zeal and devotion: and on return from the drive, full of wrath caught from his grandmother, at the unusual kind of illumination, which he had seen for the first time. “Let me offer propitiation, Thakur Ma (Grandmother),” said he.

“Let me sleep, not in my bed in the house, but outside on a charpai, with chiraghs burning the night through, all round my bed, in adoration of Lakshmi Devi.”

The proud grandmother allowed this.

“What a man-child! Religious so early. Surely the goddess will leave her best blessing upon this household in recognition of the child’s love and trust, will stay with us longer than with any—for who else possesses a ‘religious,’ aged seven!”

A charpai (four legged string bed) was carried out of doors, and the grandmother herself placed and lit the little lamps for a jubilant Sushil who leapt the flaming guard, to climb into bed. . . .

Alas! that night the winds blew suddenly fresh and strong, and caught the shawl-covering, which loving hands had wrapped around the child, against the early morning dew, caught and carried it to the flame . . . and the rest of the sad story you will be able to imagine.

Sushil, dear lad, was happily unconscious of the tragedy. Awakened by the heat, he sat up in bed radiant, clapping his hands—“Oh! Thakur Ma! come, see the blaze! Surely now, Lakshmi Devi will live with us for ever”. . . and then the flames suffocated him.

*  *  *

Another autumn festival which may not be passed by is the worship of the goddess Durga.

It was just before this puja was due that I sat one evening in my favourite hour between the twilights on Rani Ma’s roof terrace—the dear old grandmother, and all the women of the family gathered happily together.

“Tell me the story of this great puja,” I had begged. And Thakur Ma, the grandmother (she had a lovely face; often I asked questions, solely to be justified in looking at her as she spoke) answered me.

“There are many stories. The one I love best is of Durga, the wife of Siva the Destroyer, who felt an hungered on the sixth day of the Festival we keep in her honour, for a baby to nurse: and told this to her Lord. Siva smiled. ‘Why!’ said he, ‘you are the Mother of all the World.’

“‘I know, but I crave to have just one live baby to suckle. Lend me Kartik.’

“Now Kartik was a son of Siva’s, born of another wife, to whom she was forbidden access.

“‘Very well,’ said Siva. ‘I’ll go borrow him for you.’

“But while he was away, Durga waxed impatient, and she made a doll, and pretended that it was a baby.

“Vishnu, the Lord of Life, looking on, said—‘Poor goddess! I’ll give her her desire.’ He entered into the doll, and it came to life, living and breathing, a lovely child.

“When Siva returned with Kartik, he found his wife with a child already in her lap. The child made Durga fearless of his anger, and she told him exactly how it had happened in response to her great and impatient longing.

“‘It can be none but Vishnu who has done this thing,’ said he; but so adorable was the child, that there was no room in his heart for anger.

“‘Now you and I each have one of our own,’ he said happily. And he summoned all the gods and godlings, and all the heavenly host to rejoice with them.

“Among the hosts of the Firmament, came Shani (Saturn) he who has the evil eye: and when he looked at the child its head dropped off. The consternation was great: and poor Durga was inconsolable, dissolved in tears.

“Siva could not bear to see her grief, and sent his ganas (attendants) to look for the lost head. But none could find it. So he sent them out again, with the command to cut off forthwith and bring to him the first head whether of sleeping man or beast upon which they should chance. The head, he said, should be turned towards the north, the direction of ill-luck.

“An unfortunate she-elephant was found in this position, and her head was cut off, and brought to Siva, who put it on to the poor little headless doll and it came to life again.

“But Durga could not bear the awful sight: and to comfort her, Siva said: ‘This child shall be Gan-pati—chief of the Ganas—or Gan-esh,29 and in all pujas your son shall be the first god to be invoked. Moreover, whoever shall invoke Ganesh at the beginning of any undertaking whatsoever, cannot fail to succeed, from henceforth and for evermore. Therefore shall this lucky one be called Siddhi-data, Success-giver.’

“That,” concluded Thakur Ma, “is the tale I like best: because it makes me feel nearer the Great Ones to think that even a goddess longed for a baby; and because it makes ugly and misshapen children holy, to my mind, and the bringers of luck when they disappoint us as to comeliness.”

Darling old Thakur Ma! No wonder all the women loved her in that Zenana!

But the youngest mother amongst us said as hotly as she dared speak in that gentle presence—

“No babies are ugly or uncomely. Who ever heard a mother admit defect in her child?”

And Thakur Ma smiled in the growing dusk. “No, Mrinalini,” said she, “thank God you are right. That is why when you mothers go down to the Ganges, in the dawn hour, on Kartik-puja day, to pray for a son, it is for beautiful sons alone that you pray. You name no other attribute.” We were silent for a space digesting this. Then, a shy little daughter-in-law said, “I know another Durga puja story.”

“Tell it,” said everyone.

And she told of Durga’s visit to her father in the Himalayas during the days when we keep festival in Bengal; of how, when her father had flouted her husband by failing to bid him to the feast, she herself went uninvited, and of all that befell her thereafter, cursed by her father and husband alike for her championship. Of how in wifely grief and devotion she passed, out of life, and was born again as Uma the Dawn, with no memory of Durga, the ten-headed: of the grief too late of her husband, Siva: of how his penitence was rewarded by the re-capture of Durga in her new and lovely form: and of the happy family reunion, the parents reconciled to their daughter and son-in-law. . . . “And for three days every year, at Durga puja time still does Uma go to visit her parents and her swanlets in the mountains of snow. . . . That is my best-loved Durga story,” said the little one. . . .30

Then all the women began talking at once. They told me of the days before the puja when presents of clothes and money are got together for family and household, a great excitement, “like your burra din (Christmas),” said Mrinalini: of how an image of the Ten-Headed, Ten-Handed One, must be newly fashioned for the puja; of how they bathe in the Ganges, using the words “Forgive me, Mother,” as they put their feet into the water, and cup up a handful to sprinkle over their heads: of all the getting ready in the house place, both for extra meals, and Durga’s temporary chapel; of how they talk and think of Durga from day to day; of the gift-giving; and of the last, the ninth, day when Durga is carried with music and singing, to be cast upon the waters of Life—though dead to her human worshippers for a whole year to come. . . .

“In Rajputana and other parts of India they call Durga puja, Dasera,” said I, “or at any rate that festival covers the same period.

“I am to spend Dasera in a Native State, in Rajputana.”

“Come and tell us about it when you return,” said the women.

“And indeed I should love to do that,” was my natural response.

When I got back from Rajputana, I sought the roof-terrace again, and found a happy group of purdahnashins awaiting me.

“Tell quickly!” said the girls.

And I told how the Maharaja rose early on Dasera day, and went to his private chapel escorted by his Sirdars and chief military officers, all mounted on elephants, to worship the flags of the State, and its implements of war.

I was allowed to attend this unique Rajput ceremony. The soldiers booted and spurred, the scabbards of their swords aglitter with jewels, the civilians in kincob achkans (coats) of tapestry of gold, and gold-flecked turbans of many colours, dismounted and gathered round His Highness under a sacred tree in the temple courtyard. The standard bearers stood like tall golden candlesticks on an altar, after laying their flagstaffs prone before His Highness. The priests seemed not to count at this worshipping. The Maharaja was both priest and sovereign. It was, as it were, a field service.

He put a spot of red sacrificial kunkum on each flag staff, and did the like to the swords and ancient weapons of his following.

After which, the men hung their arms upon the branches of the tree, as who should say—“Make these as potent as the weapons of the Pandava Hero-Warrior-Brothers, who once gave their weapons, just so, into your care” (for that is history): and they rode away to yet another “worship”—the worship of the gadi, the ancestral throne of the State. It is a roomy seat of antique design, led up to by steps. It is made of beaten gold, but so cunningly and smoothly wrought that the Maharaja looks, when seated, as if he had mounted a golden cloud.31

This gadi is believed, like the throne of the great Vikramaditiya, to bestow wisdom upon him who uses it, even as in the old-time legend.32 And none but he “whose heart is as pure as the heart of a little child” may approach it even in worship.

Audience of the nobles is the next item in the programme, and the Maharaja rides to the Durbar-i-Khas dressed in chain-armour of gold, upon a horse also wearing the like closely fitting golden lively. The standard bearers and the heralds go before. The bodyguard—their pennant shafts planted in their boots—the nobles, detachments of the army and the Household Cavalry follow after.

At the Durbar in the Diwan-i-Khas or Hall of the Nobles you rub your eyes, for you are surely dreaming. Some magic has carried you back to the seventh century. The nobles, each man in his hereditary dress of office, stand in a semi-circle awaiting the Maharaja. The fabrics of their robes are woven of colours so vivid that you might be in some mediaeval hall of which the nobles are the stained glass windows.

His Highness enters from the back of the dais, and seats himself against cushions set upon the floor.

Then, in order of rank, the nobles approach to offer nazar. It is the homage ceremony. The soldiers salute, presenting their swords, the civilians bend low, raising both hands to their foreheads and present gold mohurs. His Highness touches the offerings, and the courtiers retire, stepping backwards.

It is a ceremony symbolical of laying at the feet of their king all that they possess; and every man his utmost service after his kind.

The Maharaja then changes into jewelled robes of state; and, sitting under the gold umbrella of royalty in a gold and lacquered open chariot, drawn by four elephants and four camels, is driven to the Diwan-i-am, the Audience Hall of the Common People. Here he mounts a throne in view of the people, who press close up to the railed-in platform, and may talk to their Maharaja, if they please. . . . The combination of informality and etiquette at this audience is a triumph of tact.

But the wonder of the great procession set for 3 o’clock after the adjournment for the mid-day meal—how can mere words convey it?

But there it was, the procession, gathering outside the palace: elephant after elephant in gay trappings—gold and green, and red, and purple, and yellow—every colour of the rainbow, and every gradation of colour: howdah saddles, long silken tasselled earrings, anklets, painted trunk and tusks complete; artillery, cavalry, infantry, soldiers of His Highness’s different regiments, including household cavalry and chobdars (mace-bearers); gun carriages; camel corps; mules and muleteers; baggage waggons; tanks—nothing was lacking, even to shikari coolies, and fareshi (carpet layers)—the streets were on fire with colour.

At the main gateway of the palace sat the standard-bearer still and erect as a statue, on his magnificent horse, with the danka (war drum) on the saddle before him.

Now the Maharaja appears, seated under his golden umbrella in a golden howdah on an elephant dressed in cloth of gold—riding towards the great gate; his chobdars in attendance, with golden maces upraised. Beside him in the howdah sits the British Resident. As soon as he is sighted the Commander-in-Chief comes forward and salutes.

This is the signal that the procession is to begin. The war drum is sounded, the trumpets blow and as the Maharaja rides out of his palace gates—in a marvellous setting of fluttering pennants, of bodyguard mounted and on foot, of men in brilliant old-time uniforms, carrying the ancient symbols of State which belong to a monarch descended from the sun—the royalties, Sirdars, nobles and officials line up behind the leading elephant in punctilious order of precedence.

H.H. the Queen-Mother and the Maharani come first, in a purdahed howdah. They are making history. For the very first time, the women of this State are taking part in a Dasera procession. Next, by grace of the Maharaja, comes my elephant. I am appointed to ride with the Revenue Member of Council, in a silver howdah on a green and gold elephant, attended by silver chobdars. Other State officials and guests follow; next come the infantry, cavalry, artillery, etc., each body in its allotted place; and last of all the State mascot—a monkey driving a goat in a cart built specially for him!

We rode about two miles through the city. The streets were lined with men wearing coloured turbans—tied the attractive Rajput way. . . . They gave the impression of a living border of lovely old-fashioned garden flowers.

The windows overlooking the streets were hung with split bamboo screens; and we knew that behind the screens sat the secluded women; seeing, themselves unseen, all the panoply and pageantry of this wonderful festival; this also, for the first time in that city. For it was an order from His Highness to every householder that thus must it be, to do honour to his mother and to Her Highness who themselves rode forth to-day. . . .

And so we came to the outer walls of the city. The gates were flung wide to a fanfare of trumpets and a royal salute of guns; and we rode through on to the spacious parade ground, without the walls.

Here we found tea awaiting the guests in a Durbar shamiana, pitched on a mound which commanded the parade ground. We dismounted, the elephants courteously kneeling while an army (so it seemed) of genii appeared from nowhere, to adjust and hold in place the little ladders which saved mortals the risk of descent. While the troops and various corps were getting ready for their Dasera parade we adjourned to the tea tent. It was getting dark now and His Highness took by torchlight the salute on the march past of that great company.

Back then the way we had come; but not in procession—the guests indeed in matter-of-fact motor cars, to save fatigue; back to one of the old palaces situated near the temple of the Maharaja’s ancestors. The guests sat on the palace roof, and had a wonderful view of what followed.

His Highness, now dressed as a simple worshipper, did puja and gave thanks to the Patron Deity who had brought his State to yet another Dasera celebration. And then he was conducted to the temple roof-terrace, to receive the homage of his elephants and horses. There must have been a hundred and more of each, and they stood in mass formation, the elephants raising their trunks, the horses their right-forelegs, in a salaam, trumpeting and neighing together, an ear-splitting experience . . . after which we were free to proceed to yet another palace, to witness the worship of the horse.

We sat on a balcony and watched what was perhaps the most alluring picture of all that dazzling day, unroll itself at our feet.

A flight of steps led down to a sunk courtyard, the entrance to a long and lofty Durbar Hall. On the steps stood link-men, motionless, holding aloft great torches of burning pitch pine. They looked like magnificent bronze statues. The torches stabbed the darkness and lighted the Durbar Hall, which we saw was lined with Sirdars and nobles each holding by the bridle his favourite horse.

The Maharaja now entered the courtyard, leading his own best-beloved charger; and when he got to the top of the hall before his dais, he fed that perfect thoroughbred, garlanded it, and put a red mark on its forehead, before relinquishing it to a groom, and mounting the dais. Likewise also did the Sirdars, each man of them, first leading his horse to stand before His Highness. . . .

One of the nobles told me that in this State they believe the ceremony to be a relic of an ancient horse festival. “In the olden days,” said he, “when a Raja was spoiling for a fight, he would release a horse among the neighbouring Rajput States. Whoever caught the horse, had picked up the gauntlet—a war followed. We may not do that now; and the poor horses must miss the fun of a battle; so we atone by paying our horses reverence on Dasera Day.”

I have not found this explanation confirmed by records, ancient or modern. But whether it is right or wrong, I do not care. I love it! . . .

At the end of my report of a Rajput Dasera, my flattering audience on the Zenana roof-terrace sighed, a great sigh of contentment and pleasure. They had listened breathless, their eyes wide. . . .

Once again it was Mrinalini who spoke:

“Why are we not Kshatriyas and Rajputs, instead of dull Brahmins and Bengalis?” said she.

This was indeed rebellion; and I hastened to throw a protecting cloak over her.

“She may be Kshatriya and Rajput in her next incarnation, may she not, Thakur Ma?” I said.

And Thakur Ma, for all her gentleness unrelenting about caste, made answer—

“Yes! maybe her rebellion will indeed be punished by that degradation!”

Chapter XVII

Bishun Singh and the Consecration of the Motor Garage — An Oblation to the Changing Times

I have set down some of the customs and ceremonies which I have seen holding their own in India through the last fifty years. They are still to be found firmly entrenched in parts of the country. But throughout this period India has herself been moving in isolated groups in those directions where contact with the West has awakened a desire for change. There have been those who cut themselves adrift from old moorings with never a twinge of regret, maybe even with contempt for the past. But others there are, like Bishun Singh’s grandmother, who recognize the need for change; but feel that change should come slowly, with propitiation of the great forces which have held an ancient people captive for centuries; should come with conservation of all that can be conserved without damage to progress in essentials.

My record would lack reality without mention of the changing lights through which impressions came to me. Something of the shifting shadows, the glints of sunlight, I have tried to convey in my stories of individuals. But a memory which is both significant history, and apt parable, comes to my mind, as I look back over the years that have passed—and I set it down as concluding commentary on this India of the Cross-Roads.

It is the story of a small Rajput boy who was chief actor in the propitiation of The Old, upon introduction of The New into his father’s State—the story of three-year-old Bishun Singh and the consecration, by Hindu rites, of the most up-to-date Western motor garage which riches and science could devise.

Bishun was the eldest son of his father; and a fine upstanding young Rajput in every muscle of his well-knit frame. Strictly speaking, he should have been an odious child. His “body-guard” carried him about all day upon his hip, the waiting-women stuffed him with sweets when “Discipline’s” back was turned, and, “Maharaj,” would say the mace-bearers and carpet-beaters, the clerks, the cooks, the chauffeurs, the grooms and gardeners, the maids and servants of every description in his father’s great palaces, “Maharaj, your slaves are under your feet, what is your will?”

But “Discipline,” as I called his grandmother, and his unspoilable temperament, saved the child. He would slip off Mahabir’s great hip, and push away the officious helpers as he toddled along the garden walks or marble verandahs. He insisted on being mounted on his black pony “Ruksh,” astride--no supporting rail for Bishun, the descendant of kings.

Toys, which the palace steward commandeered from the chief English shops in three Presidencies, strewed the floor of the billiard room, and nursery, of his father’s study and his grand-dame’s boudoir. . . . But what chiefly interested Bishun was how toys were put together. What made the motor wheel turn?

He would look solemnly at the funny man exercising on his parallel bar.

“I shall find the secret of you,” said his steadfast eyes and his firm jaw, while in lisping vernacular he would ask: “Mahabir, what moves the legs of that magic-making man?”

“Who knows, Maharaj Kumar?”

I will know. Give him to me.”

And with pursed up little lips he would sit on the floor of the billiard room, patiently investigating, first the unbroken, then the deliberately broken toy—servants and waiting-women crowding round in an admiring circle, absolutely unheeded by him. “Maharaj, Ram Ram Maharaj,” they would say, wagging their heads.

Presently one and another would come with offer of velvet cushion or Persian-woven prayer mat, with reminder that it was time for food or sleep, with entreaties and as near scoldings as their servility would let them go.

My three-year-old Bishun was as securely wrapped away from the world as if he were a Mahatma in meditation; but his eyes and fingers and his screwed up lips were wholly busy on that fascinating production of a good Birmingham toy factory. Last resort was “Discipline.”

“Discipline” lived between her own palace, quarter of a mile away, and the palace of her son.

Among purdahnashins I have seldom known her like. A strictly orthodox Hindu, she was yet one of the most progressive of women. She brought the whole world into her Zenana, so to speak, without betraying the rules of religion and custom which bound her. Her liberality of thought, her wisdom, her foresight, her great tact, the loving watchful care spent on the education of her son, her perfect manners, the charm of her personality and her special charm in whatever capacity—hostess to an alien race, mother, Maharani, firm disciplinarian, good business woman, strict caste-Hindu and dweller behind shut doors—made a combination rare and entirely attractive.

She told me something of her history. Married in early childhood to a neighbouring Maharaja, she came to dwell in his great State; and soon discovered that he was prey to a disease from which self-control might have set him free, had he ever been taught to control his impulses. The poor man was forced to abdicate and live where he could be medically treated, while yet his son was an infant. She made herself acquainted as far as was possible with the business of the State. She employed governesses to teach her English, that she might read how the race which she considered the most successful administrators of modern times managed its affairs, and that she might talk to English officials.

Oddly enough, the governesses were resented by her subjects, when things revolutionary were allowed to pass; and perhaps the Maharani Mother-lady’s chief claim to wisdom lay in the simple fact of her instant and cheerful deference to her people’s wishes. It cost her something. She was not sufficiently advanced to carry on alone, and she loved her new acquisition. “But at any rate I can understand what is said,” she comforted herself; “and when he grows up, my son will help me to understand what is written in books. No situation is desperate which is not created by our own wilfulness.”

For her son she lived, and round him, day and night, revolved her thoughts and prayers and plannings. When he was yet a child she had converted her orthodox relations and subjects to the view that in order to avoid his father’s fate the sole representatives of an ancient Raj must be taken a voyage to England. She would go with him and see that no caste rules were broken. Yes—she would keep purdah.

Of that journey she has told me much . . . the clutch of fear of the “black waters,” the stuffiness of a voyage done in purdah when you loathed the sea, the fierce rebellion of a heart which was beating wildly, angrily—”I want to see and hear and talk and learn and gather with both my hands what all the worlds have to give of good to my son: and here I must sit, tied and bound by a lengthening chain held in dead hands. . . .”

When finally she got to England she had her programmes ready. Reflection, on the long dull voyage, had helped her to certain conclusions.

“I want from this country what my own country cannot give, that in which my own country is lacking. I recognize what we lack, because we, as Rajputs, have not always lacked these things. But enough. We lack them now. Moreover, some things we did always lack.

“In the God-things and mind-things, if we take pains, still can we be equal. Perhaps we can be superior. We know secrets which are hidden from those who are great in the things of the world. But in man-made things they are superior. These things are what my son must learn.”

She discovered through her English-speaking secretary the names of the big manufacturing districts. “I want to see steel and iron works,” she said, “ and to show my son where toys are made. I want to see the field and agricultural work of the English people.”

She spent a week in Kent and was taken to the hop-picking fields. She insisted on joining the hop-pickers, her Diwan and waiting women with her, the little prince also, accompanied by a donkey in imitation of a ragged family group which had attracted her.

The big manufacturing works of the Black Country both fascinated and appalled her. In her heart she had somewhat despised man-made devices. But as she looked at the long steel arm working “by itself” (ap-se-ap), as she watched molten fire poured from the great buckets, she got the thrill which few of us miss in that setting of black blackness, of orange-gold deepening to orange-red, of burnt sienna and murky primrose, of grey and blue and amethyst, of blue-white and of a cold steely dead-whiteness which is most terrible of all. . . . She watched, and a great fear was at her heart—the stirring within her of her Eastern religion, her traditional beliefs. She clutched at the boy beside her; for all her despisings of man-made devices, might these things not after all be but the rakshas, the demons of her childhood, made visible? . . . Half-understood forces demanded propitiation even as demanded Kali Ma, the great Force, help-mate of Siva, The Destroyer.

The coolies knew that fear, who spread the tale at every bridge-building that so many babies had been sacrificed to the giant before he would stretch his iron and steel back from bank to bank of some great river. She had laughed at them. She knew better. But did she? Might it not be true after all?

When she got home she scolded herself for an ignorant purdahnashin and Hindustani, but the works saw her no more. She turned instead to the human side of progress, drinking in all that could be told her of the condition of girls and women workers, of provision for sickness, of sanitation communal and domestic.

On her returns to India she had her first real fit of despair. She had forgotten that the Raj was still in the middle ages . . . the beautiful old palace with its turrets and its walls (the thickness of the height of a man) with its spacious Durbar halls, and the infinitesimal insanitary rooms behind marble lattices for the women’s dwelling places; with its foundations and orange groves and its round towers overlooking the great tank where men and women, buffaloes and cows alike came for daily baths and daily worship. . . . She had forgotten all that. Yet it was there all the time. It had never moved. It had never moved since the eighteenth century when her husband’s ancestor had built and garrisoned the fort against his own friends, come to fetch away and punish another friend; a friend in trouble, who had sought sanctuary of this Maharaja. It was at this point of her reflections that she took courage. That need never be changed, that old sense of honour, and of what was due to the defenceless, to those who trusted you and claimed your help and protection. People who understood that could not be so very difficult to convert about the lesser things of life. She would have patience, and try and teach them what her eyes had seen, and what her heart had approved; and she would never, no never, rob them of anything which might without damage be kept, even among these old outworn furnishings. To change and yet to retain—that surely must be the way.

She showed me some of the pamphlets in the vernacular which she wrote at this time. She was preparing the minds of her people for the hospitals and schools which on my visit I saw in being; and her propaganda work about a pure milk and water supply, built round the Hindu reverence for the cow, and the necessities of Hindu ritual in relation to water, might be envied by a councillor of state.

When I went to stay with her, her son had not long been put on the gadi. He had built himself modern palaces; for his mother, now retired to the nominal position of a disciplinarian of her grandson (little three-year-old Badmash) he had also built a palace close at hand. But daily she drove to her son’s palace where one wing was hers, secure from intrusion. She drove sitting in a motor, an open umbrella acting as purdah—and no arrangement within or without the gates was considered complete without her presence.

At military sports, polo matches, hunts, her purdah motor was the centre of reverential interest. “I won that round, mother,” her son would run up to say, or “I won that competition.” Half the fun of winning was that she would see, that she would be glad.

He was a son after her own heart—a thorough sportsman—self-disciplined and hard; straight and reliable. He did everything with his men, who adored him—the servility of ancient times was transmuted into a beautiful comradeship at work and play, a comradeship which was yet set firm in the love for autocracy—a fine combination. But this is Bishun’s story, not his father’s, and I have digressed to Bishun’s father and Bishun’s grandmother only in order to give my important princeling his proper setting.

I saw him first when I went to visit his grandmother. He was quick to recognize an admirer, and promptly climbed on to my lap to point out to me that the thing to admire was his shoes—little green and gold brocaded shoes with pointed toes.

Next day I saw him the chief performer in a solemn ceremony, typical of Ma-ji (the mother-lady, as his grandmother was called in the Raj) and her policy.

The Maharaja had a passion for motors, of the mechanism of which he was no mean judge. He had thirty or forty cars already, but new ones of his own designing were expected from England, and he had built them a wonderful new garage hung with blue velvet curtains.

But the new ways must be blessed by the old—must be blessed by the old in the shape of my Bishun baby sitting solemnly on the ground, cross-legged, in white achkan and tight white trousers and big yellow turban, the chief priest vis-à-vis, before the closed doors of the garage, while a whole Christmas camp of guests, and his grandmother in her purdah motor, and his father and all the staff and retainers, looked on—a mighty gathering. He was indifferent to everybody, absolutely self-possessed and dignified. The green and gold shoes with the tilted tops had to be taken off (that must have cost a pang): but they were placed where he could see them. And the blessing of the door ceremony might by this action be said to have begun. Between the priest and Bishun was a tray of auspicious things—milk, dhup-grass, rice, melted butter, Ganges water. Blessings were invoked. All the goddesses, Ganesh, the elephant-headed, the State patron god; Hanuman the monkey, the god of buildings and the Earth Mother—-all were invited to be present and bless the door which would open on to those man-made things from a far country, jantar (magic) which would carry the descendant of the ages to and fro in the country of the ages.

Then, while the priest recited mantras, the child touched each offering in turn, as who should say “Won’t you accept this, and this, and this . . . the foods and avertings of ill which you yourself have prescribed?” Finally, the priest anointed Bishun’s forehead with the red paste of sacrifice; and Bishun lifted an infinitesimal forefinger and did the like courteous office for the priest. This part of the ritual was quite adorable. The door being now safe from fear of evil, the green and gold shoes were resumed and Bishun pattered away with the priest, the tray of auspicious foods carried at his heels, to be presented to Bhairab, the god with the frightening face who protects little children.

The doors were open and the Western guests were filling the empty rooms with talk and laughter as they did motor “stunts” on the switch-back slide. . . . But my heart lingered on the threshold, “shoeless” like Bishun, pondering over his propitiation to the things that had passed. . . . For the place where we now stand, in this country, surely it is holy ground.

Chapter XVIII


Now, as has been stated, the survey in this book has been strictly limited to the orthodox Hindu community in the changing times of the last decade or so. But in order to assess the influences at work it would seem expedient that we should consider, for a moment, the history of the progressive movement, the evolution of emancipation, the interaction of the swiftly moving and the static.

How, for instance, did the progressives get to the place where they are? What were the methods of the pioneers? And will study of contemporary reaction to those methods teach us how to deal with our present problem, which is—the right appeal to the left behind ones of to-day, content (as it would seem) to be out-paced?

I shall hope to let the pioneers themselves answer these questions.

But first let us set the stage, by examining a few facts, the tapestry of the past which is their background.

We must remember that the conditions described in the foregoing pages, as applicable in 1936 to the orthodox alone, applied in 1886 and earlier to Hindu women generally all over India. How was this Hindu stronghold invaded?

There were of course many influences at work; but the determining and most effective changes were brought about by religious reformers. The leaders of the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal, as the leaders of the Arya Samaj in North India and, later still, of the Prathana Samaj in Bombay, realized that since the customs which they deplored as injurious to life and health and education were based upon religion, they could most easily be demolished by discarding or reshaping religion.

The Brahmos, as they came to be called, went farthest: influenced by the Unitarianism of Bristol, they preached a new religion, a theism wholly divorced from Hindu practice.

The Arya Samajists, loath to relinquish Hinduism as such, claimed that the Hinduism taught by the priests was not the Hinduism of the Vedas; and they proceeded to formulate a version of their own, i.e. a Hinduism—the point of their argument lay in retention of the name—which, though not forbidding outward observance of such practices as were not harmful, abolished, as a fundamental necessity to reform, all caste distinctions whatsoever.

The Prathana Samaj lay midway between the theism of the Brahmos and the new Hinduism of the Arya Samajists.

That Ram Mohun Roy and Keshub Chunder Sen, the leaders of Brahmoism, had rightly measured the consequences of an entire break-away was soon apparent. Social reform followed religious conversion; the community was led by the spirit into conditions where mind and body got a better chance.

The taboos of Hinduism as taught by the priests being raised by this single and conclusive venture of a change of religion, needed reforms—as in caste distinctions, the seclusion of women, infant marriage and perpetual widowhood—were reduced to items on a programme. It was really as easy as that. I do not say that there was no struggle or that the courage of the theistic community is to be minimized (Rabindranath Tagore in his novel Gora gives a moving picture of what individuals had to face), but that the Theists had gone to the root of the matter in their recognition of the fact that Hindu custom was based on religion—was, in fact, religion.

Another advantage was that, as adherents multiplied, including most of the English-educated in Bengal, a well-defined fold emerged into which those who wished for social reform without definitely changing the Hindu label might venture and be sure of a welcome. The ostracism of the orthodox community ceased to matter; the Brahmo community was untrammelled and self-sufficing; it evoked etiquettes and a social life of its own which grew yearly more imitative of the West, especially in regard to intercourse between men and women. Arya Samajists had done much by the abolition of caste. This declaration, by itself, brought vast numbers of outcastes into the Arya Samajist pen. But, with this mass movement, reform came to a standstill. There was no corresponding alteration in the lot of the Hindu woman, no concerted leap forward, as in Bengal.

The case of Bombay (Western India) was peculiar. Seclusion had never here—except in Raj and the larger Zemindary families—been the rigid disability that it was in the North. Moreover, the sturdy forthright Maratha character had saved the majority of the Hindu population of the Province from both the emotional reactions to alien influences of Bengal, and the timidity of the Northern Arya Samajists in regard to social reform. Something too must be set down to the co-citizenship of the Parsee community, who, since the seventh century, when they settled in Western India, had been demonstrating that the freedom allowed to women need not degenerate into licence; and to the fact that Bombay, being largely commercial had no caste complex,33 no outcaste problem rightly so called. Caste existed here in its earliest form of trade guilds.

The Arya Samaj movement which had spread to the west, burrowing underground like the pipal tree, threw up the local sapling already mentioned which called itself the Prathana Samaj, the Society of Prayer; and which contrived, while retaining the approval of the priests, to press forward with needed social reform. The efforts of the leaders were happily unhampered by the side issues and sinister motives of the eighteen-nineties: for when Malabari, Ranade, and Telang—who came to be called The Three, shouldered the burden of reform, there were only two opposing forces all over the country—the reformers and the priest-ridden conservatives. In every Province the reformers stood solidly together, braving the wrath of an unreasoning stagnation, in their fearless statement of the case for progress.

They tackled social problems one by one. The census computation of twenty millions of widows in India set them hot-foot on the search for a remedy; and as a result of their effort, the Widow Re-marriage Act of 1856 was put on the Statute Book. It freed the Hindu widow from compulsion (by custom) to perpetual widowhood. Re-marriage was given the protection and blessing of the law. But the enactment remained a dead letter for close on years.

A Widow Re-marriage Society did its best to help, maintaining what was in effect a Widow Re-marriage Bureau. Unfortunately the reformers themselves found practice not as easy as profession. A story was current at the time of a young reformer who announced at a public meeting to the cheers of his audience that he would marry a widow and none other. The W.R.B. fell upon his neck, and offered him first choice. Before the marriage actually took place he gave a dinner to his boon companions. “How many,” he asked, “how many of you will accept my invitations to dinner, after my marriage?”

Shamefaced, the guests confessed in a body that they could not go so far. There was not even one “righteous”! . . . The marriage never took place. Social ostracism at the hands of the orthodox the young reformer was ready to face ; but to be shut out from the group that had approved and indeed inspired his action was too much to be borne. . . .

Widow re-marriages did take place in course of time, but were events of extreme rarity.

It is difficult for us to appreciate the feeling, even in these progressive days, of the priestly-shastric-bound orthodox Hindu upon this question.

I remember in 1913, a poignant incident, the more remarkable in that reaction came from a lad, and not from a woman.

My Sadhuin friend Narayani came to me one day in Calcutta in great distress about “a new kind of difficulty.”

Her favourite nephew Ram Krishna, aged twelve, when coming home from school had fallen upon a marriage procession. A bystander told him that it was the re-marriage of a Hindu woman (not a Brahmo—that would not have mattered to him) to a progressive male, professing to be a Hindu by religion, as Hindu he was by race. The boy would not at first believe his informant, and he followed the procession even to the house of the bride, and saw her stand unveiled, an actor in some revised version of the Hindu marriage ritual. Thrusting in among the guests he informed himself as to facts.

“Was she really a widow?”

“Yes, she’d been widowed at twenty.”

“Had she a Hindu husband?”

“Yes, orthodox Hindu; and he died five years ago. She was now twenty-five, her only child had died also.”

He stumbled home, almost blind with horror and emotion; and was physically sick. He would speak to none of the family about an experience which he said was devastating; death was all that was left for him. But his aunt, Narayani, got his confidence, and did what she could. In deference to her he said that he would not kill himself, but since he had just been given his sacred thread he would do as the Hindu boys of ancient times had done, and go into the forest to adopt the life of a recluse.

His father was a merchant, and Ram Krishna his only son; this reversion to an archaic type could not be allowed.

Poor Narayani, a visitor from her distant cell at Rishikesh, was under suspicion of inspiring rebellion. What should she do?

I said I should like to see the lad before I could discuss the case.

He came. I had known him since he was a baby, and he considered me a friend, which was greatly to the good.

It was a curious essay, trying to understand his outlook. He really was spiritually as well as physically nauseated at the bare thought of widow re-marriage.

In temperament he was a “religious”! He had been, more than are most boys, in the company of the priest who tutored him in Sanskrit; but he was a normally healthy lad, loving the movement of life, good at cricket which he played at school, and good at his books.

The only way he might be helped, I felt, was, as with my purdahnashins, through his religion.

I suggested to him that, the “play-acting” of “going into the forest,” which I had seen at his thread ceremony, had exhausted the shastric injunction, and that it would be irregular to revive it.

I do not know why the child accepted that un-canonical interpretation of a non-Hindu. But he did, bless him! and my Narayani was happy. The boy could not, however, after so profound an experience, go tamely back to his former school; so we planned for a year at the most sacred of the Sanskrit colleges near by to perfect his knowledge of that language, with a course thereafter at a commercial school, where he would get the necessary equipment for his father’s business.

I daresay the expulsive power of a new occupation cured him very quickly. But with me the lad’s genuine distress and emotion remained, teaching me many things. And in chief that we dare not lightly dismiss the thrills or shudders of any single person born with inhibitions and raised in circumstances to which we ourselves are strangers.

But to return. As far back as 1873, the reformers had obtained Government approval of a Bill for the raising of the marriage age to eighteen for boys, to fourteen for girls. But the measure had to be withheld because of public opinion. Undaunted, the reformers took the lesson to heart. They would not force legislative enactment upon an unready people; they would educate public opinion, and prepare the way before it. The responsibility for this decision lay with the redoubtable three, Malabari, Ranade and Telang.

Malabari was a Parsee. In the zeal of an enthusiasm which recognized no frontiers of nationality he gave his life to the study of Hindu social problems, secure in the knowledge that his own community was not in like necessity.

He was a frail little man, lit by an inward fire, the integrity of the spirit. In some ways he was rather like Gandhi at Gandhi’s best and most single-minded stage. But he was unlike Gandhi in being genuinely and intensely shy, and shunning all publicity and almost all human contact, except with those whom he sought to save. He never had, or dreamt of, a political party of his own, or even a following of chelas (disciples).

He went his lone way, pickaxe in hand, road-making; he went his lone way creeping on silent feet to the citadel of his difficult problems, unconcerned as to the attitude of even his fellow-reformers. How could he tell what they should do? Of one thing alone he was sure. This was his personal job. And faithfully he faced it, content if after months of toil he had succeeded in dislodging even a single brick from the walls of an outpost.

He had eccentricities, but he had no poses, and no press; sincerity protected him against the last; for even the hungry journalist hounding the hare of news, on catching up with Malabari, would retire without copy and without resentment before the barred door of his shynesses.

Telang and Ranade were Brahmin Judges of the High Court of Bombay, respected for their learning and for their courage in ranging themselves on the side of Malabari.

I can see them, now, as I recall their names. I see them as “three lights of infinite pity,” absolutely dissimilar. Ranade the ponderous, massive horn-lantern; Telang a classic sanctuary-lamp from some ancient temple; and Malabari?—almost a naked flame, so fiercely did he burn. . . .

Upon readjustment then of their programme of work, Malabari drew up practical suggestions upon a corporate basis. But as with the history of another adventure of faith, his League of Service failed for lack of support from the other members of the corporation. . . . And it was at this juncture that The Three bethought themselves of the women. “The women—we must work through them.” That was their verdict.

And the small handful of women who had been preparing through the years of struggle quietly in their own homes for just this opportunity took on the job. . . .

It is not within the scope of this summary that I should deal with the work of Christian Missions in India. But in fairness a word must be said about missionaries. They counted for everything in the earliest days. It is to them more than to the tardy efforts of the Government in its education department that the mothers of my generation owed education and enlightenment. And it is my considered belief that India cannot attain to the expression of her highest self, yes, even of her highest indigenous Indian self, without the continued example and teaching of the devoted and efficient men and women who throughout the country represent the Church of Christ. Indeed we would seem to need help and direction the more, now that we stand puzzled at the cross-roads, facing an inter-relationship of shifting standards of right and wrong.

I say this last with reference, not to Christian missionaries alone, but to all workers for the welfare of the country. To my mind the present moment offers the like glad adventure of pioneering and service which came to people of the British Isles a hundred years ago.

To come back, however, to our story—for close on fifty years individual women had been getting ready, studying not only books but conditions, threading living facts together as beads on a string ready for use. When appealed to by the reformers, they responded gladly; they undertook to help by action in the appropriate area, i.e. by trying to convince those in bondage to the past, of the immediate need for an abrogation of custom, though for the moment only in such particulars as affected life and health. Their programme included purdah lectures followed up by intensive work from house to house illustrating what they meant by their speeches, and establishing and maintaining contacts. Everything that was won in the direction of needed reform was won in this way. They worked wonders, these women; content with single conversions, aiming at reality with no thought of the spectacular.

I regard this period as the Age of the Individual. I have illustrated this fact by naming a few of the men whose personalities counted for more than legislative enactment. There were equally remarkable personalities among the women.

The names of Pundita Ramabai, Ramabai Ranade and Francina Sorabji in Bombay, the Province of my birth, come to mind.

They are mentioned in Blue books and other records of their generation. All three women owed their education and preparation for life to individuals: Pundita Ramabai to her father; Ramabai Ranade to her husband; and Francina Sorabji to her adoptive mother. But what they gave to the world was just themselves. Their hearts were stirred to the core to help, to save, to give; and they exhausted to the utmost what would seem to the present generation their meagre equipment, in this noble ambition. But what counted most was their personalities, their reality, and the crystal clarity of their motives.

Pundita Ramabai burst upon the world in a breathtaking way as a disputant in Sanskrit at ancient Sanskrit colleges throughout India.

Herself a widow, she was storming the chief stronghold of the enemy, attacking the Pundits and venerable quoters of obstructive texts. And it must be said to the credit of the Pundits that they received her with enthusiasm, bestowing upon her titles of learning reserved for male scholars alone, nor ever thought to twit her with those other texts which had for so long held up the education of women.

Her history was unique. Born in her father’s forest hermitage she was taught the classic Sanskrit of the sacred books from the age of eight; and accompanied her parents as they wandered all over India expounding the Shastras at places of pilgrimage. After the death of both parents in 1874 she and her brother tried to carry on this wander-life. They spent six years of hardship together; and in 1880, the brother having died also, she married a Bengali who shared her enthusiasms. In two short years she was widowed, and left alone in the world with a baby daughter.

Through personal experience she had learnt what it meant to be regarded by her community as a curse, for no reason but the calamity of widowhood; and, her natural protectors dead, she placed her child in safe keeping, and set out on her lecture tour, with a courage which is inconceivable by those who know modern India alone.

Not only was travel in those days less easy; but that a woman should travel alone, was a shock to the consciousness of the respectable, and led to implications that might well have deterred even the Western Suffragette. In the course of her tour she came to Poona in the Bombay Presidency, where Francina Sorabji then lived; and a meeting between the two was inevitable.

Pundita Ramabai, under the influence of her older and more experienced friend, realized that her lectures had fulfilled their purpose in preparing the ground for practical service. And after necessary tutelage first at a school in India founded by Francina

Sorabji, and then in England and America, she established at Poona the Widows’ Home which represented her life work, and which, with its branches, continues to this day to serve the luckless ones whom the Pundita had taken to herself as her portion.

How the administration of the Pundits changed to persecution when words were translated into deeds, and how Pundita Ramabai, now a Christian, went, bravely forward ignoring alike praise and blame, may be read in any of the many biographies which have been compiled.

I last saw her within a few months of her death. She had waded through deep waters. Manorama, the child who was to carry on her mother’s work, and who was proving a worthy lieutenant and successor-designate, died suddenly in her teens. Of the Pundita’s grief it is not possible to speak. She faced her sorrow in the secret of the presence of God, and emerged to continue her work with redoubled skill and judgment. The Widows’ Home was now part of a village settlement, which included schools, an industrial and domestic training centre, and a rescue home.

She was a pioneer in all these undertakings, nor had she any models in our own country on which to build. To the end, as a Christian, she kept orthodox Hindu rules as to diet, dress, hours of prayer and meditation. . . . To outward seeming she was a Hindu widow, in her white saree unadorned, no ornaments, a closely-cropped head. But she never shaved her head to the skull—her hair grew charmingly, curling upwards at the nape of her neck. Her eyes were of a strange grey-blue, her lashes and eyebrows dark, like her hair. Her face kept its roundness and its deep serenity, nor ever showed signs of age.

But it was the face of one who had withdrawn from life.

There is a painting by G. F. Watts of the head of a lovely woman, portraying the life ebbing away, as she turns into marble.

I have seen the same “withdrawn” look which the Pundita had, in that picture; only whereas the picture suggests life ebbing the Pundita somehow suggested reinforcement, a withdrawing into some fuller, inner life. . . . Her work lives on. The faith which was her chief spiritual grace, raised up workers—Indian, Australian, American; and the Pundita is still an ideal in Bombay, the Province of her adoption.

Ramabai Ranade also devoted herself to widows and solitary women; but in particular to their economic advancement. The Industrial Home of Service, which she founded at Poona, is a self-supporting and expanding organization, conducted by capable Maratha women upon the business lines of its foundation.

Ramabai was the young wife of Mr. Justice Ranade, the reformer already mentioned. She was educated by him personally; and from him drew the inspiration for the service of her fellows which comforted her long years of widowhood. Like the Pundita she observed the rules of orthodoxy as to her diet and to things temporal. The self-control and wisdom of these pioneers, in not provoking antagonism by discarding the rules of their race in things which were of no consequence in themselves, but of great import to those they had left behind on the highway of progress, seems to me something worth remarking and remembering.

Ramabai Ranade was a Prathana Samajist. She was deeply religious and of a sturdiness (no suggestion of mysticism) in her religious convictions which somehow matched her sturdy habit of body. And this fact made peculiarly suitable the work which she obtained the leave of Government to do in her latter years.

She visited Hindu women prisoners at the Yerowda Jail in order to read to them the Bhagavad Gita and other Hindu Scriptures. In gaining entrance to a prison, though only as Hindu women’s “chaplain”, she initiated the prison visiting which in Bengal was not permitted till 1911.

It is impossible to recall the name of Francina Sorabji without a clutch at one’s heart that she is not here to deal with our present difficulties. For her genius so exactly fits our need. She would have understood both the orthodox Hindu and the extreme modernist, and got the best out of both; better still, she had some magic which would have made them comprehend and like one another. Her chief influence was a unifyingness which compelled love and obliterated all differences.

For her, it was possible to hold fast by principle and yet understand an absence of principle. To the charity of the broad-minded she added the unswerving devotion of the zealot to the articles of her own faith; to the enthusiasm of one whose heart and imagination are stirred to their foundations she added the attention to detail and the labour of the research worker; to infinite pity she added the realization of maintaining the self-respect of the most abject; to the indescribable repose and serenity born of faith, the deep-seated joyousness born of love unfeigned.

In her many and varied human contacts she was amazing. Old or young, great or small—their eyes were always on a level with her own. . . .

And then her charm, and grace of person and of manner—of these attributes, as of all her gifts, she was utterly unselfconscious. . . .

Her recognition of the need for emphasizing self-respect was characteristic. She wanted retention of the Hindu loyalty to, of the Hindu service of, husband and family: but she saw the danger of abject submission and unintelligent dependence.

I have always thought that a parable which Mathaji told me best illustrates this ideal: “There was a king who loved his queen with all his soul, and one day overcome of this love he fell at her feet in an ecstasy, even in the presence of the co-wives, who being jealous, said, ‘Shameless one! lift up the hands of the king to your head.’

“And the king said, ‘Yea, my Queen, so even shouldst thou, since I have done thee this honour.’

“But she stood erect, smiling gladly—‘Nay,’ said she, ‘not so: for both feet and head are my lord’s. Can I have aught that is mine?’”

Francina Sorabji’s chief interest was education. And in the desire to solve the problems incidental to our diversities of race and religion she brought together children of all communities in the schools which she founded at Poona.

The Hunter Commission paid a tribute to the service she was rendering to the country and to education; and many were the delegates from all parts of India who from time to time came to study her methods and principles.

Her activities were not, however, confined to education; she did practical social service work in Poona and the adjoining villages wherein her intimate knowledge of custom, combined with tact and fearlessness, stood her in good stead.

These facts are recorded as history—because of such as these women is the Kingdom of Independence, the inheritance upon which the present generation has entered.

We cannot here follow events through the gradual widening of privilege down to our day. But let us use the shorthand of reliable statistics to cover our ground—keeping the while a watchful eye on the influences which helped to work so great wonders.

The 1881 census gives 1 girl in every 180 as under instruction.

In 1886 this position has improved to 1 per cent.

In 1931, 6 per cent can read and write. But the population increased so largely between 1921-1931, that we are warned that this means no more than an increase of 1 per cent, on the population as a whole.

The school going age has risen to 11 years, in some areas.

Ninety per cent of the schools are primary and vernacular, and the high schools are mainly a passage to the university. Higher education makes such progress that where only one Women’s Arts College existed in 1886, in 1935 there were seven, and three medical colleges where there were none. There is a great need for the establishment of more colleges or hostels for women, who miss half the benefit of a university career by living mostly at home as women students must, and having to do the best they can with lectures outside the regular college programme.

1,420,313 Hindu (but this figure includes and represents mainly the theistic, reformed communities) girls and women are under instruction; of which number 1,934 attend universities or do post-graduate work.

In medicine great strides have been made. There are 85 doctors of first grade; 55 assistant surgeons, and 52 hospital assistants.

The training of midwives and nurses is in hand; child welfare and health work are now organized departments of service in every province.

Vocational education is represented mainly by teaching and medicine. To which the law, technical and industrial courses, music and art, are now added.

The greatest leap forward however is shown in public life.

The vote; service on Municipalities and Juvenile Courts; representation in the Assemblies—all these things are open to women.

A goodly record truly—and in some Independent States, Mysore and Baroda, for instance, the advance made is even more remarkable; an advance brought about by the efflux of time and by many influences. . . .

And yet—the facts recorded in this book are true. Enlightenment coming mainly through religion has left untouched those who refuse to revise and re-examine their religion, or to change the customs which that religion is believed to have prescribed.

Health and social betterment mean nothing to the keepers of the law. And India, the country of paradoxes, produces yet another—religious conviction leading to enlightenment; and religious conviction, the only obstacle to enlightenment.

What is to be done about it?

Clearly progress as unequal as we know it to be in India cannot be healthy—what is it we need? How can we even the pace?

“You cannot walk backwards into the future!” That saying appeals to me; but it does not meet our case, does it? The backward ones are static; when they “walk backwards” it is as a reaction to the gallop into the future which they see ahead of them on the road, and which offends their conception of movement. We dare not dismiss their attitude with a slogan and a shrug of the shoulders. They matter too much to ourselves. . . . “You cannot walk backwards into the future.” No! but we need not, however unintentionally, force others to turn back into shelter; on the contrary it may be worth while to slip back ourselves to clear the road of obstruction, to lend a hand to the slower-moving; or it may be worth while to slacken speed ourselves so that those so far behind may catch up with us on our pilgrims’ way, our journey to the Light.

I said, however, that I should let the pioneers speak. Let me, in conclusion turn for direction to the study of their lives—comparing impulses then and now.

First then in the eighteen-eighties, feeling, the basis of action, would seem to have filtered through the heart; through other-regarding-ness. Now, it seems (does it not?) to filter through our sensitiveness to what others think of us ourselves, through personal ambition, in short through self-regarding-ness.

This is probably the result of our so different circumstances. The world has shrunk, and we have become competitors in a race with, women of other countries, women who are unhampered by our social, religious and racial difficulties; and in this competition we are like to lose our sense of values.

Then, reality was a necessity to the pioneers, all over India (not only in Bombay). Is it equally a necessity to us?

And one outcome of the reality which they demanded of themselves was the trouble they took to get acquainted with things as they were in actual fact around them.

And yet again—they placed more emphasis on being than doing.

“God weigheth more with how much love a man worketh, than how much he doeth.” Maybe not one of the pioneers had heard that saying of Thomas à Kempis, but it represents the impulse which would seem to have inspired their actions. Is that why, we wonder, they were able to release the right forces applicable to any particular need, when action was imperative? They were unhampered by conflicting motives, even by quite worthy ones. They were single-minded; their aim in doing could be the surer.

What I mean by singleness of aim is told as in a parable, by the story of the Master-Archer and the Pandava hero-brothers. The Master-Archer, as the Mahabharata tells us, was perfecting his pupils in archery.

He proclaimed a test. A blue bird made of clay was to be the mark at which the Pandavas, the five princes, would shoot. The bird was placed in the branches of a tree.

“What do you see?” asked the Master-Archer.

“I see a tree in a forest——” began the first Pandava brother.

“Stop!” said the Master-Archer; and turned to the next.

“I see the branches of a tree, spreading upwards——”

“No! do not proceed.” He turned to the next.

“I see a long branch, and on it——”

“Not you either——”

“I see,” said the fourth, “a blue bird sitting on a particular branch——”

“No!” Were they all going to fail? The poor Master-Archer’s heart must have sunk low as he came to the fifth, his last hope.

“I see,” said this one—“the spot on the breast of a bird at which I mean to aim!”

“Shoot!” said his glad preceptor; and the bird dropped to the ground almost as the arrow sped.

Things are more difficult now, because distractions are so many. And I am not making the charge that our leaders of to-day are lacking in the gifts or genius of our pioneers. We know that the Maharanis of Baroda and Travancore among others have stirred our hearts with the speeches made at women’s conferences; and we know how much the late Lady Dorab Tata did for high ideals of service.

But I write for ourselves, the rank and file, not for the leaders. And maybe we are misled by the crowds of young girls who flock to the examination halls, and by the women of all ages who attend the annual conferences organized by the South Indian theosophists (who have done so much for the advancement of women in public affairs); or by the many charming and attractive women we see in the assemblies of all races both at Delhi and in the capitals of Europe. We are apt to feel, as some of us say, that “purdah is dead,” that “we have nothing to learn from the West”; that “we are in line with, or superior to, the most progressive women of any country.”

We cannot—can we?—imagine the pioneers saying any of these things, for the simple reason that they did not, had no occasion to, look at themselves. They looked around for the other sheep not yet safely within the fold, without whom they could not be happy.

Perhaps they saw more clearly than we do, because they had no grudges against God or man. For they were truly Swadeshi (own-country) in being religious-minded. In darkness as in sunshine, in their troubles a in their joys, they saw God standing in the Light. And in that effulgence saw nothing else—yet saw everything. . . .

And here my winnowings have an ending.

Peace be to all Worlds!



Officer of the household.
Lit. Evening song; evening service.
Mat-seat, used as prayer mat or dining chair.
Ashtanga (Ashtanga dandavat)
Prostration of eight members of the body in performance of a vow en route to a shrine, or on pilgrimage.
Badm’āsh (strictly bad-ma’āsh = bad liver)
Bael or bel or bel-fruit tree
Aegle marmelos correa, a tree regarded as sacred by orthodox Hindus; the fruit of which is used medicinally and for soft drinks.
Sitting or reception room.
Băko (Baknā)
To gossip.
Unconscious (lit. without understanding).
The palm tree Areca catechu. Betel-nut = areca-nut, the nut of the areca palm tree. The term “betel” is used by the English as early as the seventeenth century (Hobson Jobson), and is probably derived from Malayalem bethila through Portuguese betre and betel.
Bhog, Bhojan
Food offerings to idols.
Ceremonies; ceremonies and sacrifices in performance of vows in memory of the dead.
Old (fem.); burha (masc.).
A worker in leather: outcaste.
Flat wheaten (or cereal) cake.
(Lit. Badge-bearer), messenger.
“four-legs”; a string bed.
Cake of wheat or flour.
Square in a town or village; open spaces where fairs and markets are held.
“Four roads”; the cross-roads place.
Light; primitive earthenware shallow container with a lip; filled with oil and supplied with a cotton wick it is the ordinary lamp of a village home. Chiraghs are the lights used for illumination in town as well as village.
Drum (the word is sometimes used for drumstick) .
Sewing man.
Thorn-apple (Datura alba or fastuosa).
The draperies used by men—one about the legs, one over the shoulders.
A fine kind of grass.
A light springless country cart drawn by a pony. It looks like an umbrella on wheels.
Carpet beaters or layers (Farsh: a carpet)
Lit. Cushion; throne.
Attendant. The word is usually used of the attendants on the god Siva.
Spiritual guide or director; priest.
Festival (Muslim).
Jantar (often jantar-mantar)
Spells, magic.
That which we have earned by our actions in a previous existence; the reaping of our sowing.
Manager (of joint-family property).
Kincob (Kam-khawab)
Brocade; cloth of gold.
The designation of the second or warrior caste among Hindus. All Rajputs are Kshatriyas.
A red mixture made of powdered turmeric and lemon juice used in the worship of the gods, in religious ceremonies and for religious markings.
Crêpe myrtle. The term Lagerstroemia is used of all Indian species of the crêpe myrtle. The kind referred to in the text is the tree (not the shrub) flos reginae.
A brass vessel used for water or milk.
Usually used of a shooting shelter: a thatched platform built on tall bamboo poles.
Ordinary; common to everyone; customary.
Strictly, Vedic texts believed to be divinely inspired, regarded by the common people as a spell or charm against evil.
A Muslim priest or learned man.
Unlearned, ignorant.
Tribute; an offering made to a sovereign or great person upon a ceremonial occasion or first visit for symbolic acceptance.
Azadirakta indica. A tree. Its leaves are supposed to be medicinal.
The end of a saree.
Piper betel, sometimes known as “the betel vine.”
Pan-supari, the packet made of the pan or betel-vine leaf, in which powdered areca-nut and spices are enclosed.
Temple server; pilgrim’s guide.
Unwalled tent shelter; canopy.
Other-country people; foreigners.
Pipal (or pimpal)
Ficus religiosa, a sacred tree to orthodox Hindus.
The bracelet made of twisted red cotton exchanged in the bracelet-bound ceremony of Friendship.
An earthenware jar for bolding stores or water.
A holy man; an ascetic.
Travellers’ shelter; rest house.
Commend; Shāhabashi: commendation. Also Shahābash: Well done!
Hindu scriptures.
Death ceremonies; offerings to the manes of dead ancestors; memorial ceremonies.
Platform; a wooden “four-legs” used as a bed or a place on which to sit.
Cool, mild (often used of temperament).
Ocimum sanctum, the sacred basil reverenced by orthodox Hindus.
Incense stick.
Mount, carrier; the term used for the animal on which a god is carried.
A stringed musical instrument.

  1. Mathaji said much the same; talking of resentment, one fruit of fear—“None can hurt self, but self,” said she. 

  2. Mathaji Maharani (described in Chapter 11) held an interesting theory about Suttee. She said that the burning of widows was first known as the voluntary immolation of Rajputnis, who dressed as brides would walk into a great fire which they caused to be lighted when word was brought them that their lord was slain in battle. That they did this in order to escape capture and appropriation by the alien conqueror during the Muslim invasion of India. That the form of Suttee found in practice by the British upon their occupation of India had its origin, in her belief, in the wanton or careless transcription of an ancient Shastra. “When her husband dies let the widow go within,” read the original text. “When her husband dies let the widow go into the fire,” copied the scribe. Sanskrit scholars will recognize the ease—the changing of a single word—with which the terrible custom was foisted upon religion. 

  3. In the Himalayas, if a man dies in debt his re-birth will be as an ox or pony belonging to a creditor. 

  4. Classic term for the room set apart for this purpose—cf. Boudoir

  5. I have given the version current in the Zenana. The Sanskritic a Purana (Scripture) of many volumes. There is no English translation—though extracts appear from time to time in one vernacular or another. The summary I have quoted is what has been handed down orally—mother-in-law to daughter-in-law—for generations . . . A Brahmin wife is supposed to worship the big toe of her husband’s right foot, when he wakes in the morning—bathing it, anointing it with kunkum, offering it incense, lights, fruit, flowers—as if it were a god. But this practice, though known to be observed in Kathiawar, is not “owned-up” to in Bengal and Bihar. “That is right doctrine” is all I could get when I questioned my friends. 

  6. All originally joint property in India is treated by Hindus as representing a rupee—16 annas. The shares are cited as proportions of that. An 8-anna share is a half-share. 

  7. Thirty days for a girl, twenty-one days for a boy are the periods of untouchability and uncleanness. 

  8. Dakka nam—calling name; as we might say Burhi for short. 

  9. Menaka, the mother of the goddess Parvati. 

  10. This is interesting as confirming Sir James Frazer’s lately published theory on the beliefs of primitive peoples in regard to death. 

  11. Samyukta (historical) the wife of Prithiviraja II of Delhi (1177-1193 a.d.) Samyukta loved Prithiviraja, the enemy of her father, King of Kanauj, and at the Own-Choosing Ceremony, the gathering of suitors, to which Prithiviraja had not been bidden—though a wooden image of him was placed in mockery at the gateway of the palace courtyard—Samyukta walked past the glittering Princes and garlanded the wooden statue. Cf. Prithivirajasan (Chand Bardai) in Hindi. Svayamvara, M. Yajnika (Sanskrit). The earliest version of the story of the loves of Samyukta and Prithiviraja is in popular ballads. 

  12. Saraswati’s curse of Brahma: see Skanda-purana, or Wilkins’ Hindu Mythology, pp. 111-113. 

  13. The story of Kali: see Markandeya-purana (Durgapatha), translated by F. E. Pargiter, Bibliotheca Indica. The story of The Boy who was always Thirteen: Brahma-vaivarta Purana, CXXIX, tells how the King of Death angered Siva when he came to claim the perfect boy who Siva himself had said should not outlive his thirteenth year. Siva banished the King of Death from the Earth. Great distress followed, till Parvati (Kali), Siva’s wife, intervened upon the appeal of the Sons of Men, and got Siva to readmit the King of Death to the Earth by persuading him that he had meant to say only that the boy should never look older than thirteen! Siva, his face saved, complied. 

  14. Colonel Tod, author of Annals of Rajasthan, was the bracelet-brother of a Rajput lady. 

  15. Belonging to the second highest, or warrior, caste. 

  16. Cf. the Chapattis used in the Mutiny; or in 1907 the leaves of the pipal tree which some insect had eaten into a sinister symbol; both these things were used as news, and a call to revolt. 

  17. Tod’s Rajasthan quotes a Shastric curse: “60,000 years as a caterpillar in hell.” 

  18. This is the areca-nut, believed to be a digestive which is pounded and enclosed in a pan (betel vine) leaf, also a digestive. It is often used constantly, as some Americans chew gum. 

  19. A maund—eighty pounds. 

  20. Faqir is, strictly speaking, a Muslim (not a Hindu) religious mendicant. But in the United Provinces, the language of the Hindus and Muslims being the same, the word is used for Hindu mendicants too. 

  21. In Bengal this important ceremonial head shaving, admitting to the practice of Hinduism, and the observance of caste, is performed when the boy gets his sacred thread. 

  22. Cf. the saying of Jane Welsh Carlyle: “We must take time by the forelock, because the pigtail is always coming away in one’s hand.” 

  23. Besides varying geographically, the year when the Upanayan is performed varies also, throughout India, for different castes. Sudras, the lowest caste, have no right to the investiture: like women, generally speaking, they may not be admitted to ceremonies which involve the use of Vedic texts. Marriage is an exception. 

  24. Since the days of Warren Hastings and earlier the flat-bottomed houseboat used for river transport has been called a ‘green-boat’. The popular belief is that this is so because it was originally painted green. 

  25. The Raja is the only person who can pronounce about anything relating to his Zenana. Earlier Rajas had successively elected to keep the peacock-guard; and the Son-Given might well follow their example. But his choice had to be left unfettered. 

  26. Literal translation of the vernacular word used for the son adopted in the form described. 

  27. This festival must not be confounded with Dīp—Amāvāsya—the Day of the Lamp (June-July) when the family lamps—dīps—are worshipped. 

  28. Visitors to the Ellora caves will be familiar with the representation of Lakshmii, carrying a lotus, while four attendant elephants pour water over her. . . . In the West of India no image is made on Divali day. Often a trayful of silver or gold coins suffices. 

  29. Ish = chief or head. 

  30. Durga and her Father: see Bhagavata purana; iv, 1-7. 

  31. Mounting or ascending the gadi, is the term used for enthronement. 

  32. The stories of Vikramaditiya’s throne, upon which whosoever sat did justice, are told in the Vikramarka-Charita. Eng. translation F. Edgerton in the Harvard Oriental Series. 

  33. Cf. Abbe Dubois’ reports of outcastes being warned off the road when a Brahmin was in sight.