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Roving East and Roving West
ALTHOUGH India is a land of walkers, there is no sound of footfalls. Most of the feet are bare and all are silent: dark strangers overtake one like ghosts.
Both in the cities and the country some one is always walking. There are carts and motorcars, and on the roads about Delhi a curious service of camel omnibuses, but most of the people walk, and they walk ever. In the bazaars they walk in their thousands; on the long, dusty roads, miles from anywhere, there are always a few, approaching or receding.
It is odd that the only occasion on which Indians break from their walk into a run or a trot is when they are bearers at a funeral, or have an unusually heavy head-load, or carry a piano. Why there is so much piano-carrying in Calcutta I cannot say, but the streets (as I feel now) have no commoner spectacle than six or eight merry, half-naked fellows, trotting along, laughing and jesting under their burden, all with an odd, swinging movement of the arms.
One of one's earliest impressions of the Indians is that their hands are inadequate. They suggest no power.
Not only is there always some one walking, but there is always some one resting. They repose at full length wherever the need for sleep takes them; or they sit with pointed knees. Coming from England one is struck by so much inertness; for though the English labourer can be lazy enough he usually rests on his feet, leaning against walls: if he is a land labourer, leaning with his back to the support; if he follows the sea, leaning on his stomach.
It was interesting to pass on from India and its prostrate philosophers with their infinite capacity for taking naps, to Japan, where there seems to be neither time nor space for idlers. Whereas in India one has continually to turn aside in order not to step upon a sleeping figure—the footpath being a favourite dormitory—in Japan no one is ever doing nothing, and no one appears to be weary or poor.
India, save for a few native politicians and agitators, strikes one as a land destitute of ambition. In the cities there are infrequent signs of progress; in the country none. The peasants support life on as little as they can, they rest as much as possible and their carts and implements are prehistoric. They may believe in their gods, but fatalism is their true religion. How little they can be affected by civilisation I learned from a tiny settlement of bush-dwellers not twenty miles from Bombay, close to that beautiful lake which has been transformed into a reservoir, where bows and arrows are still the only weapons and rats are a staple food. And in an hour's time, in a car, one could be telephoning one's friends or watching a cinema!
I DID not have to wait to reach India for that great and exciting moment when one is first called "Sahib." I was addressed as "Sahib," to my mingled pride and confusion, at Marseilles, by an attendant on the steamer which I joined there. Later I grew accustomed to it, although never, I hope, blasé; but to the end my bearer fascinated me by alluding to me as Master—not directly, but obliquely: impersonally, as though it were some other person that I knew, who was always with me, an alter ego who could not answer for himself: "Would Master like this or that?" "At what time did Master wish to be called?"
And then the beautiful "Salaam"!
I was sorry for the English doomed to become so used to Eastern deference that they cease to be thrilled.
IT is difficult for a stranger to India, especially when paying only a brief visit, to lose the impression that he is at an exhibition—in a section of a World's Fair. How long it takes for this delusion to wear off I cannot say. All I can say is that seven weeks are not enough. And never does one feel it more than in the bazaar, where movement is incessant and humanity is so packed and costumes are so diverse, and where the suggestion of the exhibition is of course heightened by the merchants and the stalls. What one misses is any vantage point—anything resembling a chair at the Café de la Paix in Paris, for instance—where one may sit at ease and watch the wonderful changing spectacle going past. There are in Indian cities no such places. To observe the life of the bazaar closely and be unobserved is almost impossible.
It would be extraordinarily interesting to sit there, beside some well-informed Anglo-Indian or Indo-Anglian, and learn all the minutiæ of caste and be told who and what everybody was: what the different ochre marks signified on the Hindu foreheads; what this man did for a living, and that; and so forth. Even without such an informant I was never tired of drifting about the native quarters in whatever city I found myself and watching the curiously leisurely and detached commercial methods of the dealers—the money lenders reclining on their couches; the pearl merchants with their palms full of the little desirable
jewels; the silversmiths hammering; the tailors cross-legged; the whole Arabian Nights pageant. All the shops seem to be overstaffed, unless an element of detached inquisitiveness is essential to business in the East. No transaction is complete without a few watchful spectators, usually youths, who apparently are employed by the establishment for the sole purpose of exhibiting curiosity.
I picked up a few odds and ends of information, by degrees, but only the more obvious: such as that the slight shaving of the Mohammedan's upper lip is to remove any impediment to the utterance of the name of Allah; that the red-dyed beards are a record that their wearers have made the pilgrimage to Mecca; that the respirator often worn by the Jains is to prevent the death of even a fly in inhalation. I was shown a Jain woman carefully emptying a piece of wood with holes in it into the road, each hole containing a louse which had crawled there during the night but must not be killed. The Jains adore every living creature; the Hindus chiefly the cow. As for this divinity, she drifts about the cities as though they were built for her, and one sees the passers-by touching her, hoping for sanctity or a blessing. A certain sex inequality is, however, only too noticeable, and particularly in and about Bombay, where the bullock cart is so common—the bullock receiving little but blows and execration from his drivers.
The sacred pigeon is also happy in Bombay, being fed copiously all day long; and I visited there a Hindu sanctuary, called the Pingheripole, for every kind of animal—a Home of Rest or Asylum—where even pariah dogs are fed and protected.
I was told early of certain things one must not do: such as saluting with the left hand, which is the dishonourable one of the pair, and refraining carefully, when in a temple or mosque, from touching anything at all, because for an unbeliever to touch is to desecrate. I was told also that a Mohammedan grave always gives one the points of the compass, because the body is buried north and south with the head at the north, turned towards Mecca. The Hindus have no graves.
In India the Occidental, especially if coming from France as I did, is struck by the absence of any out-of-door communion between men and women. In the street men are with men, women with women. Most women lower their eyes as a man approaches, although when the woman is a Mohammedan and young one is often conscious of a bright black glance through the veil. There is no public fondling, nothing like the familiar demonstrations of affection that we are accustomed to in Paris and London (more so during the War and since) and in New York. Nothing so offends and surprises the Indian as this want of restraint and shame on our part, and in Japan I learned that the Japanese share the Indian view.
It seemed to me that the chewing of the betel-nut is more prevalent in Bombay than elsewhere. One sees it all over India; everywhere are moving jaws with red juice trickling; but in Bombay there are more vendors of the rolled-up leaves and more crimson splashes on pavement and wall. It is an unpleasant habit, but there is no doubt that teeth are ultimately the whiter for it. Even though I was instructed in the art of betel-nut chewing by an Indian gentleman of world-wide fame in the cricket field, from whom I would willingly learn anything, I could not endure the experience.
Most nations, I suppose, look upon the dances of other nations with a certain perplexity. Such glimpses, for example, as I had in America of the movement known as the Shimmie Shake filled me with alarm, while Orientals have been known to display boredom at the Russian Ballet. Personally I adore the Russian Ballet, but I found the Nautch very fatiguing. It is at once too long and too monotonous, but I dare say that if one could follow the words of the accompanying songs, or cantillations, the result might be more entertaining. That would not, however, improve the actual dancing, in which I was disappointed. In Japan, on the other hand, I succumbed completely to the odd, hypnotic mechanism of the Geisha, the accompaniments to which are more varied, or more acceptable to my ear, than the Indian music. But I shall always remember the sounds of the distant, approaching or receding, snake-charmers' piping, heard through the heat, as it so often is on Sundays in Calcutta. To my inward ear that is India's typical melody; and it has relationship to the Punch and Judy allurement of our childhood.
It was in Bombay that I saw my first fakir, and in Harrison Road, Calcutta, my last. There had been so long a series in between that I was able to confirm my first impression. I can now, therefore, generalise safely when saying that all these strange creatures resemble a blend of Tolstoi and Mr. Bernard Shaw. Imagine such a hybrid, naked save for a loin cloth, and smeared all over with dust, and you have a holy man in the East. The Harrison Road fakir, who passed on his way along the crowded pavement unconcerned and practically unobserved, was white with ashes and was beating a piece of iron as a wayward child might be doing. He was followed by a boy, but no effort was made to collect alms. It is true philosophy to be prepared to live in such a state of simplicity. Most of the problems of life would dissolve and vanish if one could reduce one's needs to the frugality of a fakir. I have thought often of him since I returned, in London, to all the arrears of work and duty and the liabilities that accumulate during a long holiday; but never more so than when confronted by a Peace-time tailor's bill.
ONE of the first peculiarities of Bombay that I noticed and never lost sight of was the kites. The city by day is never without these spies, these sentries. From dawn to dusk the great unresting birds are sailing over it, silent and vigilant. Whenever you look up, there they are, criss-crossing in the sky, swooping and swerving and watching. After a while one begins to be nervous: it is disquieting to be so continually under inspection. Now and then they quarrel and even fight: now and then one will descend with a rush and rise carrying a rat or other delicacy in its claws; but these interruptions of the pattern are only momentary. For the rest of the time they swirl and circle and never cease to watch. Bombay also has its predatory crows, who are so bold that it is unsafe to leave any bright article on the veranda table. Spectacles, for example, set up a longing in their hearts which they make no effort to control. But these birds are everywhere. At a wayside station just outside Calcutta, in the early morning, the passengers all had tea, and when it was finished and the trays were laid on the platform, I watched the crows, who were perfectly aware of this custom and had been approaching nearer and nearer as we drank, dart swiftly to the sugar basins and carry off the lumps that remained. The crow, however, is, comparatively speaking, a human being; the kite is something alien and a cause of fear, and the traveller in India never loses him. His eye is as coldly attentive to Calcutta as to Bombay.
It is, of course, the indigenous birds of a country that emphasise its foreignness far more than its people. People can travel. Turbaned heads are, for example, not unknown in England; but to have green parrots with long tails flitting among the trees, as they used to flit in my host's garden in Bombay, is to be in India beyond question. At Raisina we had mynahs and the babblers, or "Seven Sisters," in great profusion, and also the King Crow with his imposing tail; while the little striped squirrels were everywhere. These merry restless little rodents do more than run and scamper and leap: they seem to be positively lifted into space by their tails. Their stripes (as every one knows) came directly from the hand of God, recording for ever how, on the day of creation, He stroked them by way of approval.
No Indian bird gave me so much pleasure to watch as the speckled kingfishers, which I saw at their best on the Jumna at Okhla. They poise in the air above the water with their long bills pointed downwards at a right-angle to their fluttering bodies, searching the depths for their prey; and then they drop with the quickness of thought into the stream. The other kingfisher—coloured like ours but bigger—who waits on an overhanging branch, I saw too, but the evolutions of the hovering variety were more absorbing.
When one is travelling by road, the birds that most attract the notice are the peacocks and the giant cranes; while wherever there are cattle in any numbers there are the white paddy birds, feeding on their backs—the birds from which the osprey plumes are obtained. One sees, too, many kinds of eagle and hawk. In fact, the ornithologist can never be dull in this country.
Wild animals I had few opportunities to observe, although a mongoose at Raisina gave me a very amusing ten minutes. At Raisina, also, the jackals came close to the house at night; and on an early morning ride in a motorcar to Agra we passed a wolf, and a little later were most impudently raced and outdistanced by a blackbuck, who, instead of bolting into security at the sight or sound of man, ran, or rather, advanced—for his progress is mysterious and magical—beside us for some forty yards and then, with a laugh, put on extra speed (we were doing perhaps thirty miles an hour) and disappeared ahead. All about Muttra we dispersed monkeys up the trees and into the bushes as we approached. Next to the parrots it is the monkeys that most convince the traveller that he is in a strange tropical land. And the flying foxes. Nothing is more strange than a tree full of these creatures sleeping pendant by day, or their silent swift black movements by night.
I saw no snakes wild, but in the Bacteriological Laboratory at Parel in Bombay, which Lt.-Col. Glen Liston controls with so much zeal and resourcefulness, I was shown the process by which the antidotes to snake poisoning are prepared, for dispersion through the country. A cobra or black snake is released from his cage and fixed by the attendant with a stick pressed on his neck a little below the head. The snake is then firmly and safely held just above this point between the finger and thumb, and a tumbler, with a piece of flannel round its edge, is proffered to it to bite. As the snake bites, a clear yellow fluid, like strained honey in colour and thickness, flows into the glass from the poison fangs. This poison is later injected in small doses into the veins of horses kept carefully for the purpose, and then, in due course, the blood of the horses is tapped in order to make the anti-toxin. Wonderful are the ways of science! The Laboratory is also the headquarters of the Government's constant campaign against malaria and guinea worm, typhoid and cholera, and, in a smaller degree, hydrophobia. But nothing, I should guess, would ever get sanitary sense into India, except in almost negligible patches.
THE Parsees have made Bombay their own, more surely even than the Scotch possess Calcutta. Numerically very weak, they are long-headed and far-sighted beyond any Indian and are better qualified to traffick and to control. All the cotton mills are theirs, and theirs the finest houses in the most beautiful sites. When that conflict begins between the Hindus and the Mohammedans which will render India a waste and a shambles, it is the Parsees who will occupy the high places—until a more powerful conqueror arrives.
Bombay has no more curious sight than the Towers of Silence, the Parsee cemetery; and one of the first questions that one is asked is if one has visited them. But when the time came for me to ascend those sinister steps on Malabar Hill I need hardly say that my companion was a many years' resident of Bombay who, although he had long intended to go there, had hitherto neglected his opportunities. Throughout my travels I was, it is pleasant to think, in this way the cause of more sightseeing in others than they might ever have suffered. To give but one other instance typical of many—I saw Faneuil Hall in Boston in the company of a Bostonian some thirty years of age, whose office was within a few yards of this historic and very interesting building, and whose business is more intimately associated with culture than any other, but who had never before crossed the threshold.
The Towers of Silence, which are situated in a very beautiful park, with little temples among the trees and flowers, consist of five circular buildings, a model of one of which is displayed to visitors. Inside the tower is an iron grating on which the naked corpses are laid, and no sooner are they there than the awaiting vultures descend and consume the flesh. I saw these grisly birds sitting expectantly in rows on the coping of the towers, and the sight was almost too gruesome. Such is their voracity that the body is a skeleton in an hour or so. The Parsees choose this method of dissolution because since they worship fire they must not ask it to demean itself with the dead; and both earth and water they hold also too sacred to use for burial. Hence this strange and—at the first blush—repellant compromise. The sight of the cemetery that awaits us in England is rarely cheering, but if to that cemetery were attached a regiment of cruel and hideous birds of prey we should shudder indeed. Whether the Parsees shudder I cannot say, but they give no sign of it. They build their palaces in full view of these terrible Towers, pass, on their way to dinner parties, luxuriously in Rolls-Royces beside the trees where the vultures roost, and generally behave themselves as if this were the best possible of worlds and the only one. And I think they are wise.
Oriental apathy, or, at any rate, unruffled receptiveness, may carry its owner very far, and yet if these vultures cause no misgivings, no chills at the heart, I shall be surprised. As for those olive-skinned Parsee girls, with the long oval faces and the lustrous eyes—how must it strike them?
It was not till I went to the caves of Elephanta that I saw vultures in their marvellous flight. It is here that they breed, and the sky was full of them at an incredible distance up, resting on their great wings against the wind, circling and deploying. At this height they are magnificent. But seen at close quarters they are horrible, revolting. On a day's hunting which I shall describe later I was in at the death of a gond, or swamp-deer, at about noon, and we returned for the carcase about three hours later, only to find it surrounded by some hundreds of these birds tearing at it in a kind of frenzy of gluttony. They were not in the least disconcerted by our approach, and not until the bearers had taken sticks to them would they leave. The heavy half-gorged flapping of a vulture's wings as it settles itself to a new aspect of its repast is the most disgusting sight I have seen.
To revert to the Towers of Silence, one is brought very near to death everywhere in the East. We have our funeral corteges at home, with sufficient frequency, but they do not emphasize the thought of the necessary end of all things as do the swathed corpses that one meets so often being carried through the streets, on their way to this or that burning place. In Bombay I met several every day, with their bearers and followers all in white, and all moving with the curious trot that seems to be reserved for such obsequies. There were always, also, during my stay, new supplies of fire-wood outside the great Hindu burning ground in Queen's Road; and yet no epidemic was raging; the city was normal save for a strike of mill-hands. It is true that I met wedding parties almost equally often; but in India a wedding party is not, as with us, a suggestion of new life to replace the dead, for the brides so often are infants.
One of the differences between the poor of London and the poor of India may be noticed here. In the East-End a funeral is considered to be a failure unless its cost is out of all proportion to the survivors' means, while a wedding is a matter of a few shillings; whereas in India a funeral is a simple ceremony, to be hurried over, while the wedding festivities last for weeks and often plunge the family into debts from which they never recover.
THE selective processes of the memory are very curious. It has been decreed that one of my most vivid recollections of Bombay should be that of the embarrassment and half-amused self-consciousness of an American business man on the platform of the railway station for Delhi. Having completed his negotiatory visit he was being speeded on his way by the native staff of the firm, who had hung him with garlands like a sacrificial bull. In the Crawford Market I had watched the florists at work tearing the blossoms from a kind of frangipani known as the Temple Flower, in order to string them tightly into chains; and now and again in the streets one came upon people wearing them; but to find a shrewd and portly commercial American thus bedecked was a shock. As it happened, he was to share my compartment, and on entering, just before the train started, he apologised very heartily for importing so much heavy perfume into the atmosphere, but begged to be excused because it was the custom of the country and he didn't like to hurt anyone's feelings. He then stood at the door, waving farewells, and directly the line took a bend flung the wreaths out of the window. I was glad of his company, for in addition to these floral offerings his Bombay associates had provided him with a barrel of the best oranges that ever were grown—sufficient for a battalion—and these we consumed at brief intervals all the way to Delhi.
"IF you can be in India only so short a time as seven weeks," said an artist friend of mine—and among his pictures is a sombre representation of the big sacred bull that grazes under the walls of Delhi Fort—"why not stay in Delhi all the while? You will then learn far more of India than by rushing about." I think he was right, although it was not feasible to accept the advice. For Delhi has so much; it has, first and foremost, the Fort; it has the Jama Masjid, that immense mosque where on Fridays at one o'clock may be seen Mohammedans of every age wearing every hue, thousands worshipping as one; it has the ancient capitals scattered about the country around it; it has signs and memories of the Mutiny; it has delectable English residences; and it has the Chadni Chauk, the long main street with all its curious buildings and crowds and countless tributary alleys, every one of which is the East crystallised, every one of which has its white walls, its decorative doorways, its loiterers, its beggars, its artificers, and its defiance of the bogey, Progress. Another thing: in January, Delhi, before the sun is high and after he has sunk, is cool and bracing.
But, most of all, Delhi is interesting because it was the very centre of the Mogul dominance, and when one has become immersed in the story of the great rulers, from Babar to Aurungzebe, one thinks of most other history as insipid. Of Babar, who reigned from 1526 to 1530, I saw no trace in India; but his son Humayun (1530-1556) built Indrapat, which is just outside the walls of Delhi, and he lies close by in the beautiful mausoleum that bears his name. Humayun's son, Akbar (1556-1605), preferred Agra to Delhi; nor was Jahangir (1605-1627), who succeeded Akbar, a great builder hereabout; but with Shah Jahan (1627-1658), Jahangir's son, came the present Delhi's golden age. He it was who built the Jama Masjid, the great mosque set commandingly on a mound and gained by magnificent flights of steps. To the traveller approaching the city from any direction the two graceful minarets of the mosque stand for Delhi. It was Shah Jahan, prince of Mogul builders, who decreed also the palace in the Fort, to say nothing (at the moment) of the Taj Mahal at Agra; while two of his daughters, Jahanara, and Roshanara, that naughty Begam, enriched Delhi too, the little pavilion in the Gardens that bear Roshanara's name being a gem. Wandering among these architectural delights, now empty and under alien protection, it is difficult to believe that their period was as recent as Cromwell and Milton. But in India the sense of chronology vanishes.
After Shah Jahan came his crafty son, Aurungzebe, who succeeded in keeping his empire together until 1707, and with him the grandeur of the Grand Moguls waned and after him ceased to be, although not until the Mutiny was their rule extinguished. As I have just said, in India the sense of chronology vanishes, or goes astray, and it is with a start that one is confronted, in the Museum in Delhi Fort, by a photograph of the last Mogul!
In Bombay, during my wakeful moments in the hottest part of the day, I had passed the time and imbibed instruction by reading the three delightful books of the late E. H. Aitken, who called himself "Eha"—"Behind the Bungalow," "The Tribes on My Frontier" and "A Naturalist on the Prowl." No more amusing and kindly studies of the fauna, flora and human inhabitants of a country can have ever been written than these; and I can suggest, to the domestically curious mind, no better preparation for a visit to India. But at Raisina, when the cool evenings set in and it was pleasant to get near the wood fire, I took to history and revelled in the story of the Moguls as told by many authorities, but most entertainingly perhaps by Tavernier, the French adventurer who took service under Aurungzebe. If any one wants to know what Delhi was like in the seventeenth century during Aurungzebe's long reign, and how the daily life in the Palace went, and would learn more of the power and autocracy and splendour and cruelty of the Grand Moguls, let him get Tavernier's record. If once I began to quote from it I should never stop; and therefore I pass on, merely remarking that when you have finished the travels of M. Tavernier, the travels of M. Bernier, another contemporary French observer, await you. And I hold you to be envied.
The Palace in the Fort is now but a fraction of what it was in the time of Aurungzebe and his father, but enough remains to enable the imaginative mind to reconstruct the past, especially if one has read my two annalists. One of Bernier's most vivid passages describes the Diwan-i-Am, or Hall of Public Audience, the building to which, after leaving the modern military part of the Fort, one first comes, where the Moguls sat in state during a durbar, and painted and gilded elephants, richly draped, took part in the obeisances. Next comes the Hall of Private Audiences, where the Peacock Throne once stood. It has now vanished, but in its day it was one of the wonders of the world, the tails of the two guardian peacocks being composed of precious stones and the throne itself being of jewelled gold. It was for this that one of Shah Jahan's poets wrote an inscription in which we find such lines as
By the order of the Emperor the azure of Heaven
was exhausted on its decoration . . .
The world had become so short of gold on account of its use in the
throne that the purse of the Earth was empty of treasure . . .
On a dark night, by the lustre of its rubies and pearls
it can lend stars to a hundred skies . . .
That was right enough, no doubt, but when our poet went on to say,
As long as a trace remains of existence and space
Shah Jahan shall continue to sit on this throne,
we feel that he was unwise. Such pronouncements can be tested. As it happened, Shah Jahan was destined, very shortly after the poem was written, to be removed into captivity by his son, and the rest of his unhappy life was spent in a prison at Agra. On each end wall of the Hall of Private Audience is the famous couplet,
If there is a Paradise on the face of the earth,
It is this, Oh! it is this, Oh! it is this.
I think of the garden and palace of Delhi Fort as the loveliest spot in India. Not the most beautiful, not the most impressive; but the loveliest. The Taj Mahal has a greater beauty; the ruined city of Fatehpur-Sikri has a greater dignity; but for the perfection of domestic regality in design and material and workmanship, this marble home and mosque and accompanying garden and terrace could not be excelled. After the Halls of Audience we come to the seraglio and accompanying buildings, where everything is perfect and nothing is on the grand scale. The Pearl Mosque could hardly be smaller; and it is as pure and fresh as a lotus. There is a series of apartments all in white marble (with inlayings of gold and the most delicately pierced marble gratings) through which a stream of water used to run (and it ran again at the Coronation Durbar in 1911, when the Royal Baths were again made to "function") that must be one of the most magical of the works of man. Every inch is charming and distinguished. All these rooms are built along the high wall which in the time of Shah Jahan and his many lady loves was washed by the Jumna. But to-day the river has receded and a broad strip of grass intervenes.
ONE of my best Indian days was that on which Colonel Sir Umar Hayat Khan took us out a-hawking. Sir Umar is himself something of a hawk—an impressive figure in his great turban with long streamers, his keen aquiline features and blackest of hair. All sport comes naturally to him, whether hunting or shooting, pig-sticking, coursing or falconry; and the Great War found him with a sportsman's eagerness to rush into the fray, where he distinguished himself notably.
We found this gallant chieftain in the midst of his retainers on the further bank of the Jumna, at the end of the long bridge. Here the plains begin—miles of fields of stubble, with here and there a tree and here and there a pool or marsh, as far as eye can reach, an ancient walled city in the near distance being almost the only excrescence. Between the river and this city was our hunting ground.
With the exception of Sir Umar, two of his friends and ourselves, the company was on foot; and nothing more like the middle ages did I ever see. The retainers were in every kind of costume, one having an old pink coat and one a green; one leading a couple of greyhounds in case we put up a hare; others carrying guns (for we were prepared for all); while the chief falconer and his assistants had their hawks on their wrists, and one odd old fellow was provided with a net, in which a captive live hawk was to flutter and struggle to attract his hereditary foes, the little birds, who, deeming him unable to hit back, were to swarm down to deride and defy and be caught in the meshes.
I may say at once that hawking, particularly in this form, does not give me much pleasure. There is something magnificent in the flight of the falcon when it is released and flung towards its prey, but the odds are too heavy in its favour and the whimperings of the doomed quarry strike a chill in the heart. We flew our hawks at duck and plovers, and missed none. Often the first swoop failed, but the deadly implacable pursuer was instantly ready to swoop again, and rarely was a third manoeuvre necessary. Man, under the influence of the excitement of the chase, is the same all the world over, and there was no difference between these Indians moving swiftly to intervene between the hawk and its stricken prey and an English boy running to retrieve his rabbit. Their animation and triumph—even their shouts and cries—were alike.
And so we crossed field after field on our gentle steeds—and no one admires gentleness in a horse more than I—stopping only to watch another tragedy of the air, or to look across the river to Delhi and see the Fort under new conditions. All this country I had so often looked down upon from those high massive walls, standing in one of the lovely windows of Shah Jahan's earthly paradise; and now the scene was reversed, and I began to take more delight in it than in the sport. But at a pond to which we next came there was enacted a drama so absorbing that everything else was forgotten, even the heat of the sun.
Upon this pond were three wild-duck at which a falcon was instantly flown. For a while, however, they kept their presence of mind and refused to leave the water—diving beneath the surface at the moment that the enemy was within a foot of them. On went the hawk, in its terrible, cruel onset, and up came the ducks, all ready to repeat these tactics when it turned and attacked again. But on one of the party (I swear it was not I), in order to assist the hawk, firing his gun, two of the ducks became panic-stricken and left the water, only of course to be quickly destroyed. It was on the hawk's return journey to the pond to make sure of the third duck that I saw for the first time in my life—and I hope the last—the expression on the countenance of these terrible birds in the execution of their duty: more than the mere execution of duty, the determination to have no more nonsense, to put an end to anything so monstrous as self-protection in others; for my horse being directly in the way, he flew under its neck and for a moment I thought that he was confusing me with the desired mallard. Nothing more merciless or purposeful did I ever see.
Then began a really heroic struggle on the part of the victim. He timed his dives to perfection, and escaped so often that the spirit of chivalry would have decreed a truce. But blood had been tasted, and, the desire being for more, the guns were again discharged. Not even they, however, could divert the duck from his intention of saving his life, and he dived away from the shot, too.
It was at this moment that assistance to the gallant little bird arrived—not from man, who was past all decency, but from brother feathers. Out of a clear sky suddenly appeared two tern, dazzling in their whiteness, and these did all in their power to infuriate the hawk and lure him from the water. They flew round him and over him; they called him names; they said he was a bully and that all of us (which was true) ought to be ashamed of ourselves; they daunted and challenged and attacked. But the enemy was too strong for them. A fusillade drove them off, and once again we were free to consider the case of the duck, who was still swimming anxiously about, hoping against hope. More shots were fired, one of the boys waded in with a stick, and the dogs were added to the assault; and in the face of so determined a bombardment the poor little creature at last flew up, to be struck down within a few seconds by the insatiable avenger.
That was the crowning event of the afternoon. Thereafter we had only small successes, and some very pronounced failures when, as happened several times, a bird flew for safety through a tree, and the hawk, following, was held up amid the branches. One of the birds thus to escape was a blue jay of brilliant beauty. We also got some hares. And then we loitered back under the yellowing sky, and Sir Umar Hayat Khan ceased suddenly to be a foe of fur and feathers and became a poet, talking of sunsets in India and in England as though the appreciation of tender beauty were his only delight.
THERE have been seven Delhis; and it required no little courage to establish a new one—the Imperial capital—actually within sight of most of them; but the courage was forthcoming. Originally the position was to be to the north of the present city, where the Coronation Durbar spread its canvas, but Raisina was found to be healthier, and it is there, some five miles to the south-west, that the new palaces are rising from the rock. Fatehpur-Sikri is the only city with which the New Delhi can be compared; but not Akbar himself could devise it on a nobler scale. Akbar's centralising gift and Napoleon's spacious views may be said to combine here, the long avenues having kinship with the Champs Elysées, and Government House and the Secretariat on the great rocky plateau at Raisina corresponding to the palace on Fatehpur-Sikri's highest point. The splendour and the imagination which designed the lay-out of Imperial Delhi cannot be overpraised, and under the hands of Sir Edwin Lutyens and Mr. Herbert Baker some wonderful buildings are coming to life. The city, since it is several square miles in extent, cannot be finished for some years, but it may be ready to be the seat of Government as soon as 1924.
As I have said, the old Delhis are all about the new one. On the Grand Trunk road out of Delhi proper, which goes to Muttra and Agra, you pass, very quickly, on the left, the remains of Firozabad, the capital of Firoz Shah in the later thirteenth century. Two or three miles further on is Indrapat on its hill overlooking the Jumna, surrounded by lofty walls. It is as modern as the sixteenth century, but is now in ruins. At Indrapat reigned Humayun, the son of the mighty Babar (who on his conquering way to Delhi had swum every river in advance of his army) and the father of the mighty Akbar. I loitered long within Indrapat's massive walls, which are now given up to a few attendants and an occasional visitor, and like all the monuments around Delhi are most carefully conserved under the Act for that purpose, which was not the least of Lord Curzon's Viceregal achievements. Among the buildings which still stand, rising from the turf, is Humayun's library. It was here that he met his end—one tradition relating that he fell in the dark on his way to fetch a book, and another that his purpose had been less intellectually amatory.
Another mile and we come, still just beside the Grand Trunk road, to Humayun's Tomb, which stands in a vast garden where green parrots continually chatter and pursue each other. There is something very charming—a touch of the truest civilisation, if civilisation means the art of living graciously—in the practice of the old Emperors and rulers, of building their mausoleums during their lifetime and using them, until their ultimate destiny was fulfilled, as pleasure resorts. To this enchanting spot came Humayun and his ladies full of life, to be insouciant and gay. Then, his hour striking, Humayun's happy retreat became Humayun's Tomb. He died in 1556, when Queen Mary, in England, was persecuting Protestants. The Tomb is in good repair and to the stranger to the East who has not yet visited Agra and seen the Taj Mahal (which has a similar ground plan), it is as beautiful as need be. Humayun's cenotaph, in plain white marble, is in the very centre. Below, in the vault immediately beneath it, are his remains. Other illustrious dust is here, too; and some less illustrious, such as that of Humayun's barber, which reposes beneath a dome of burning-blue tiles in a corner of the garden.
From the upper galleries of the Emperor's mausoleum the eye enjoys various rich prospects—the valley of the Jumna pulsating in the heat, the walls of the New Delhi at Raisina almost visibly growing, and, to the north, Delhi itself, with the twin towers of the great mosque over all. Down the Grand Trunk road, immediately below, are bullock wagons and wayfarers, and here and there is a loaded camel. Across the road is a curious little group of sacred buildings whither some of the wayfarers no doubt are bent on a pilgrimage; for here is the shrine of the Saint Nizam-ud-din Aulia, who worked miracles during his life and died during the reign of our Edward II—in 1324.
On visiting his shrine (which involved the usual assumption of overshoes to prevent our infidel leather from contaminating the floor), we fell, after evading countless beggars and would-be guides, into the hands of a kindly old man who pressed handfuls of little white nuts upon us and who remains in my memory as the only independent Mussulman priest in India, for he refused a tip. In this respect nothing could be more widely separated than his conduct and that of the three priests of the Jama Masjid in Delhi, who, discovering us on the wall, just before the Friday service began, held up the service for several minutes while they explained their schedule of gratuities—beginning with ten rupees for the High Priest—and this after we had already provided for the attendant who had supplied the overshoes and bad led us to the point of vantage! I thought how amusing it would be if a visitor to an English cathedral—where money usually has to pass, as it is—were surrounded by the Dean, Archdeacon, Canons and Minor Canons, with outstretched hands, and had to buy his way to a sight of the altar, according to the status of each. The spectacle would be as odd to us, as it must be to the French or Italians—and even perhaps Americans—to see a demand for an entrance fee on the Canterbury portals.
Were we to continue on the Grand Trunk road for a few miles, first crossing a noble Mogul bridge, we should come to a little walled city, Badapur, where a turning due west leads to another Delhi of the past, Tughlakabad, and on to yet another, the remains of Lal Kot, where the famous Minar soars to the sky.
One of the most pleasing effects of the New Delhi is the series of vistas which the lay-out provides. It has been so arranged that many of the avenues radiating from the central rock on which Government House and the Secretariat are being set are closed at their distant ends by historic buildings. Standing on the temporary tower which marks this centre one is able to see in a few moments all the ruined cities that I have mentioned. The Kutb Minar is the most important landmark in the far south, although the eye rests most lovingly on the red and white comeliness of the tomb of Safdar Jang in the middle distance—which, with Humayun's Tomb, makes a triangle with the new Government House. Within that triangle are the Lodi tombs, marking yet another period in the history of Delhi, the Lodis being the rulers who early in the fifteenth century were defeated by Babar.
The Kutb Minar enclosure, which is a large garden, where beautiful masonry, flowers, trees and birds equally flourish, commemorates the capture of Delhi by Muhammad bin Sam in 1193, the battle being directed by his lieutenant, Kutb-ud-din. From that time until the Mutiny in 1857 Delhi was under Mohammedan rule. One of the first acts of the conqueror was to destroy the Hindu temple that stood here and erect the mosque that now takes its place, and he then built the great tower known as the Kutb Minar, or Tower of Victory, which ascends in diminishing red and white storeys to a height of 235 feet, involving the inquisitive view-finder in a climb of 379 steps. On the other side of the mosque are the beginnings of a second tower, which, judging by the size of the base, was to have risen to a still greater height, but it was abandoned after 150 feet. Its purpose was to celebrate for ever the glory of the Emperor Ala-ud-din (1296-1316).
In front of the mosque is the Iron Pillar which has been the cause of so much perplexity both to antiquaries and chemists, and meat and drink to Sanscrit scholars. The pillar has an inscription commemorating an early monarch named Chandra who conquered Bengal in the fifth century, and it must have been brought to this spot for re-erection. But its refusal to rust, and the purity of its constituents, are its special merits. To me the mysteries of iron pillars are without interest, and what I chiefly remember of this remarkable pleasaunce is the exquisite stone carvings of the ruined cloisters and the green parrots that play among the trees.
AS we were leaving the Kutb after a late afternoon visit, my host and I were hailed excitedly by an elderly man whose speech was incomprehensible, but whose gestures indicated plainly enough that there was something important up the hill. The line of least resistance being the natural one in India, we allowed him to guide us, and came after a few minutes, among the ruins of the citadel of Lal Kot, to one of those deep wells gained by long flights of steps whither the ladies of the palaces used to resort in the hottest weather. Evening was drawing on and the profundities of this cavern were forbiddingly gloomy; nor was the scene rendered more alluring by the presence of three white-bearded old men, almost stark naked and leaner than greyhounds, who shivered and grimaced, and suggested nothing so much as fugitives from the grave. They were, however, not only alive, but athletically so, being professional divers who earned an exceedingly uncomfortable living by dropping, feet first, from the highest point of the building into the water eighty feet below.
One of them indicating his willingness—more than willingness, eagerness—to perform this manoeuvre for two rupees, we agreed, and placing us on a step from which the best view could be had, he fled along the gallery to the top of the shaft, and after certain preliminary movements, to indicate how perilous was the adventure, and how chilly the evening, and how more than worth two rupees it was, he committed his body to the operations of the law of gravity. We saw it through the apertures in the shaft on its downward way and then heard the splash as it reached the distant water, while a crowd of pigeons who had retired to roost among the masonry dashed out and away. The diver emerged from the well and came running up the steps towards us, while his companion scarecrows fled also to the top of the shaft and one after the other dropped down, too; so that in a minute or so we were surrounded by three old, dripping men, each demanding two rupees. Useless to protest that we had desired but one of them to perform: they pursued us into the open, and even clung to our knees, and of course we paid—afterwards to learn that one rupee for the lot was a lavish guerdon.
One meets with these divers continually, wherever there is a pool sacred or otherwise; but some actually leap into the water and do not merely drop. At the shrine of the Saint Nizam-ud-din, near Humayun's Tomb, I found them—but there they were healthy-looking youths—and again at Fatehpur-Sikri. But for this sporadic diving, the wrestling bouts which are common everywhere, the Nautch and the jugglers, India seems to have no pastimes.
THE returning traveller from India is besieged by questioners who want to know all about the most famous of the jugglers' performances. In this trick the magician flings a rope into the air, retaining one end in his hand, and his boy climbs up it and disappears. I did not see it.
ALL the Indian cities that I saw seemed to cover an immense acreage, partly because every modern house has its garden and compound. In a country where land is cheap and servants are legion there need be no congestion, and, so far, the Anglo-Indian knows little or nothing of the embarrassments of dwellers in New York or London. To every one in India falls naturally a little faithful company of assistants to oil the wheels of life—groom, gardener, butler and so forth—and a spacious dwelling-place to think of England in, and calculate the variable value of the rupee, and wonder why the dickens So-and-so got his knighthood. Agra seemed to me to be the most widespreading city of all; but very likely it is not. In itself it is far from being the most interesting, but it has one building of great beauty —the Pearl Mosque in the Fort—and one building of such consummate beauty as to make it a place of pilgrimage that no traveller would dare to avoid—the Taj Mahal. Whether or not the Taj Mahal is the most enchanting work of architecture in the world I leave it to more extensive travellers to say. To my eyes it has an unearthly loveliness which I make no effort to pass on to others.
The Taj Mahal was built by that inspired friend of architecture, Shah Jahan, as the tomb of the best beloved of his wives, Arjmand Banu, called Mumtaz-i-Mahal or Pride of the Palace. There she lies, and there lies her husband. I wonder how many of the travellers who stand entranced before this mausoleum, in sunshine and at dusk or under the moon, and who have not troubled about its history, realise that Giotto's Tower in Florence is three centuries older, and St. Peter's in Rome antedates it by a little, and St. Paul's Cathedral in London is only twenty or thirty years younger. Yet so it is. In India one falls naturally into the way of thinking of everything that is not of our own time as being of immense age, if not prehistoric.
Opinions differ as to the respective beauties of Agra Fort and Delhi Fort, but in so far as the enclosures themselves are considered I give my vote unhesitatingly to Delhi. Yet when one thinks also of what can be seen from the ramparts, then the palm goes instantly to Agra, for its view of the Taj Mahal. It is tragic, walking here, to think of the last days of Shah Jahan, who brought into being both the marble palace and the wonderful Moti-Masjid or marble mosque. For in 1658 his son, Aurungzebe, deposed him and for the rest of his life he was imprisoned in these walls.
His grandfather, Akbar, the other great Agra builder, was made of sterner stuff. All Shah Jahan's creations—the Taj, the marble mosque, the palaces both here and at Delhi, even the great Jama Masjid at Delhi,—have a certain sensuous quality. They are not exactly decadent, but they suggest sweetness rather than strength. The Empire had been won, and Shah Jahan could indulge in luxury and ease. But Akbar had had to fight, and he remained to the end a man of action, and we see his character reflected in his stronghold Fatehpur-Sikri, which one visits from Agra and never forgets. If I were asked to say which place in India most fascinated me and touched the imagination I think I should name this dead city.
Akbar, the son of Babar, is my hero among the Moguls, and this was Akbar's chosen home, until scarcity of water forced him to abandon it for Agra. Akbar, the noblest of the great line of Moguls whose splendour ended in 1707 with the death of Aurungzebe, came to the throne in 1556, only eight years before Shakespeare was born, and died in 1605, and it is interesting to realise how recent were his times, the whole suggestion of Fatehpur-Sikri being one of very remote antiquity. Yet when it was being built so modern a masterpiece as Hamlet was being written and played. Those interested in the Great Moguls ought really to visit Fatehpur-Sikri before Delhi or Agra, because Akbar was the grandfather of Shah Jahan. But there can be no such chronological wanderings in India. Have we not already seen Humayun's Tomb, outside Delhi?—and Humayun was Akbar's father.
They say the leopard and the jackal keep
The courts where Akbar gloried . . .
—this adaptation of FitzGerald's lines ran through my mind as we passed from room to room and tower to tower of Fatehpur-Sikri. There is nothing to compare with it, except perhaps Pompeii. And in that comparison one realises how impossible it is at a hazard to date an Indian ruin, for, as I have said, Fatehpur-Sikri is from the days of Elizabeth, while Pompeii was destroyed in the first century, and yet Pompeii in many ways seems less ancient.
The walls of Fatehpur-Sikri are seven miles round and the city rises to the summits of two steep hills. It was on the higher one that Akbar set his palace. Civilisation has run a railway through the lower levels; the old high road still climbs the hill under the incredibly lofty walls of the palace. The royal enclosure is divided into all the usual courtyards and apartments, but they are on a grander scale. Also the architecture is more mixed. Here is the swimming bath; here are the cool, dark rooms for the ladies of the harem in the hottest days, with odd corners where Akbar is said to have played hide-and-seek with them; here is the hall where Akbar, who kept an open mind on religion, listened to, and disputed with, dialecticians of varying creeds—himself seated in the middle, and the doctrinaires in four pulpits around him; here is the Mint; here is the house of the Turkish queen, with its elaborate carvings and decorations; here is the girls' school, with a courtyard laid out for human chess, the pieces being slave-girls; here is a noble mosque; here is the vast court where the great father of his people administered justice, or what approximated to it, and received homage. Here are the spreading stables and riding school; here is even the tomb of a favourite elephant.
And here is the marble tomb of the Saint, the Shaikh Salim, whose holiness brought it about that the Emperor became at last the father of a son—none other than Jahangir. The shrine is visited even to this day by childless wives, who tie shreds of their clothing to the lattice-work of a marble window as an earnest of their maternal worthiness. It is visited also by the devout for various purposes, among others by those whose horses are sick and who nail votive horseshoes to the great gate. According to tradition the mother of Jahangir was a Christian named Miriam, and her house and garden may be seen, the house having the traces of a fresco which by those who greatly wish it can be believed to represent the Annunciation. Tradition, however, is probably wrong, and the princess was from Jaipur and a true Mussulwoman.
From every height—and particularly from the Paneh Mahal's roof—one sees immense prospects and realises what a landmark the stronghold of Fatehpur-Sikri must have been to the dwellers in the plains; but no view is the equal of that which bursts on the astonished eyes at the great north gateway, where all Rajputana is at one's feet. I do not pretend to any exhaustive knowledge of the gates of the world, but I cannot believe that there can be others set as this Gate of Victory is in the walls of a palace, at the head of myriad steps, on the very top of a commanding rock and opening on to thousands of square miles of country. Having seen the amazing landscape one descends the steps to the road, and looking up is astonished and exalted by seeing the gate from below. Nothing so grand has ever come into my ken. The Taj Mahal is unforgettingly beautiful; but this glorious gate in the sky has more at once to exercise and stimulate the imagination and reward the vision.
On the gate are the words: "Isa (Jesus), on whom be peace, said: 'The world is a bridge; pass over it, but build no house on it. The world endures but an hour; spend it in devotion.' "
Having seen Fatehpur-Sikri, where Akbar lived and did more than build a house, it is a natural course to return to Agra by way of Sikandra, where he was buried. Sikandra is like the Taj Mahal and Humayun's Tomb in general disposition—the mausoleum itself being in the centre of a garden. But it is informed by a more sombre spirit. The burial-place of the mighty Emperor is in the very heart of the building, gained by a sloping passage lit by an attendant with a torch. Here was Akbar laid, while high above, on the topmost stage of the mausoleum, in the full light, is his cenotoph of marble, with the ninety-nine names of Allah inscribed upon it. Near the cenotaph is a marble pillar on which once was set the Koh-i-noor diamond, chief of Akbar's treasures. To-day it is part of the English regalia.
THE Ridge at Delhi is a sufficiently moving reminder of the Indian Mutiny; but it is at Lucknow that the most poignant phases are re-enacted. At Delhi may be seen, preserved for ever, the famous buildings which the British succeeded in keeping—Hindu Rao's house, and the Observatory, and Flagstaff Tower, the holding of which gave them victory; while in the walls of the Kashmir Gate our cannon balls are still visibly imbedded. There is also the statue of John Nicholson in the Kudsia Garden, and in the little Museum of the Fort are countless souvenirs.
But Lucknow was the centre of the tragedy, and the Residency is preserved as a sacred spot. Not even the recent Great War left in its track any more poignant souvenirs of fortitude and disaster than the little burial ground here, around the ruins of the church, where those who fell in the Mutiny and those who fought or suffered in the Mutiny are lying. Long ago as it was-1857—there are still a few vacant lots destined to be filled. Chief of the tombstones that bear the honoured names is that of the heroic defender who kept upon the topmost roof the banner of England flying. It has the simple and touching inscription: "Here lies Henry Lawrence, who tried to do his duty. May the Lord have mercy on his soul!"
In the Residency every step of the siege and relief can be followed. I was there first on a serene evening after rain; and but for some tropical trees it might have been an English scene. All that was lacking was a thrush or blackbird's note; but the grass was as soft and green as at home and the air as sweet. I shall long retain the memory of the contrast between the incidents which give this enclosure its unique place in history and the perfect calm brooding over all. And whenever any one calls my attention to a Bougainvillæa I shall say, "Ah! But you should see the Bougainvillæa in the Residency garden at Lucknow."
Everywhere that I went in India I found this noble lavish shrub in full flower, but never wearing such a purple as at Lucknow. The next best was in the Fort at Delhi. It was not till I reached Calcutta that I caught any glimpse of the famous scarlet goldmore tree in leaf; but I saw enough to realise how splendid must be the effect of an avenue of them. Bombay, however, was rich in hedges of poinsettia, and they serve as an introduction to the goldmore's glory.
Before leaving the Residency. I should like to quote a passage from the little brochure on the defence of Lucknow which Sir Harcourt Butler, the Governor of the United Provinces, with characteristic thoughtfulness has prepared for the use of his guests. "The visitor to the Residency," he wrote, thinking evidently of a similar evening to that on which we visited it, "who muses on the past and the future, may note that upon the spot where the enemy's assault was hottest twin hospitals for Europeans and Indians have been erected by Oudh's premier Taluqdar, the Maharaja of Balrampur; and as the sun sets over the great city, lingering awhile on the trim lawns and battered walls which link the present with the past, a strong hope may come to him, like a distant call to prayer, that old wounds may soon be healed, and old causes of disunion may disappear, and that Englishmen and Indians, knit together by loyalty to their beloved Sovereign, may be as brothers before the altar of the Empire, bearing the Empire's burden, and sharing its inestimable privileges, and, it may be, adding something not yet seen or dreamt of to its world-wide and weather-beaten fame."
I left Lucknow with regret, and would advise any European with time to spare, and the desire to be at once civilised and warm, to think seriously of spending a winter there instead of in the illusory sunshine of the Riviera, or the comparative barbarity of Algiers. The journey is longer, but the charm of the place would repay.
TO have the opportunity of hunting a tiger— on an elephant too—which by a stroke of luck fell to me, is to experience the un-English character of India at its fullest. Almost everything else could be reproduced elsewhere—the palaces, the bazaars, the caravans, the mosques and temples with their worshippers—but not the jungle, the Himalayas, the vast swamps through which our elephants waded up to the Plimsoll, the almost too painful ecstasies of the pursuit of an eater of man.
The master of the chase, who has many tigers to his name, was Sir Harcourt Butler, whose hospitality is famous, so large and warm is it, and so minute, and it was because he was not satisfied that the ordinary diversions of the "Lucknow Week" were sufficient for his guests, that he impulsively arranged a day's swamp-deer shooting on the borders of Nepaul. The time was short, or of elephants there would have been seventy or more; as it was, we were apologised to (there were only about six of us) for the poverty of the supply, a mere five and twenty being obtainable. But to these eyes, which had never seen more than six elephants at once, and those in the captivity either of a zoo or a circus, a row of five and twenty was astounding. They were waiting for us on the plain, at a spot distant some score of miles by car, through improvised roads, from the station, whither an all-night railway journey had borne us. The name of the station, if I ever knew it, I have forgotten: there was no room in my heated brain for such trifles; but I have forgotten nothing else.
It was after an hour and a half's drive in the cool and spicy early morning air—between the fluttering rags on canes which told the drivers how to steer—that we came suddenly in sight of some distant tents and beside them an immense long dark inexplicable mass which through the haze seemed now and then to move. As we drew nearer, this mass was discerned to be a row of elephants assembled in line ready to salute the Governor. The effect was more impressive and more Eastern than anything I had seen. Grotesque too—for some had painted faces and gilded toes, and not a few surveyed me with an expression in which the comic spirit was too noticeable. Six or seven had howdahs, the rest blankets: those with howdahs being for the party and its leader, Bam Bahadur, a noted shikaree; and the others to carry provisions and bring back the spoil. On the neck of each sat an impassive mahout.
To one to whom the pen is mightier than the gun and whose half a century's bag contains only a few rabbits, a hedgehog and a moorhen, it is no inconsiderable ordeal to be handed a repeating rifle and some dozens of cartridges and be told that that is your elephant —the big one there, with the red ochre on its forehead. To be on an elephant in the jungle without the responsibilities of a lethal weapon would be sufficient thrill for one day: but to be expected also to deal out death was too much. In the company of others, however, one can do anything; and I gradually ascended to the top, not, as the accomplished hunters did, by placing a foot on the trunk and being swung heavenwards, but painfully, on a ladder; by my side being a very keen Indian youth, the son of a minor chieftain, who spoke English perfectly and was to instruct me in Nimrod's lore.
And so the procession started, and for a while discomfort set acutely in, for the movement of a howdah is short and jerky, and it takes some time both to adjust oneself to it and to lose the feeling that the elephant sooner or later—and probably sooner—must trip and fall. But the glory of the morning, the
urgency of our progress, the novelty and sublimity of the means of transport, the strangeness of the scene, and my companion's speculations on the day's promise, overcame any personal want of ease and I forgot myself in the universal. Our destination was a series of marshes some six miles away, where the gonds—or swamp-deer—were usually found, and we were divided up, some elephants, of which mine was one, taking the left wing, with instructions on reaching a certain spot to wait there for the deer who would move off in that direction; others taking the right wing; and others beating up the middle.
We began with a trial of nervous stamina—for a river far down in its bed below us almost immediately occurred, and this had to be crossed. I abandoned all hope as the elephant descended the bank almost, as it seemed, perpendicularly, and plunged into the water with an enormous splash. But after he had squeeged through, extricating himself with a gigantic wrench, the ground was level for a long while, and there was time to look around and recollect one's fatalism. Far ahead in a blue mist were the Himalayas. All about were unending fields, with here and there white cattle grazing. Cranes stretched their necks above the grass; now and then a herd of blackbuck (which were below our hunting ambitions) scampered away; the sky was full of wild-duck and other waterfowl.
Of the hunting of the gond I should have something to say had not a diversion occurred which relegated that lively and elusive creature to an obscure place in the background. We had finished the beat, and most of us had emerged from the swamp to higher ground where an open space, or maidan, corresponding to a drive in an English preserve, but on the grand scale, divided it from the jungle—all our thoughts being set upon lunch—when suddenly across this open space passed a blur of yellow and black only a few yards from the nearest elephant. It was so unexpected and so quick that even the trained eyes of my companion were uncertain. "Did you see?" he asked me in a voice of hushed and wondering awe. "Could that have been a tiger?" I could not say, but I understood his excitement. For the tiger is the king of Indian carnivoræ, the most desired of all game. Hunters date their lives by them: such and such a thing happened not on the anniversary of their wedding day; not when their boy went to Balliol; not when they received the K.C.I.E.; but in the year that they shot this or that man-eater.
That a tiger had really chanced upon us we soon ascertained. Also that it had been hit by the rifle on the first elephant and had disappeared into the jungle, which consisted hereabouts of a grass some twenty feet high, bleached by the sun.
A Council of War followed, and we were led by Barn Bahadur on a rounding-up manoeuvre. According to his judgment the tiger would remain just inside the cover, and our duty was therefore to make a wide detour and then advance in as solid a semicircle as possible upon him and force him again into the open, where the hunter who had inflicted the first wound was to remain stationed. Accordingly all the rest of us entered the jungle in single file, our elephants treading down the grass with their great irresistible feet or wrenching it away with their invincible trunks. It was now that the shikaree was feeling the elephant shortage. Had there been seventy-five instead of only twenty-five, he said, all would be well: he could then form a cordon such as no tiger might break through. For lack of these others, when the time came to turn and advance upon our prey he caused fires to be lighted here and there where the gaps were widest, so that we forged onwards not only to the accompaniment of the shrill cries of the mahouts and the noise of plunging and overwhelming elephants, but to the fierce roar and crackle of burning stalks.
And thus, after an hour in this bewildering tangle, with the universe filled with sound and strangeness, and the scent of wood smoke mingling with the heat of the air, and the lust of the chase in our veins, we drew to the spot where the animal was guessed to be hiding, and knew that the guess was true by the demeanour of the elephants. Real danger had suddenly entered into the adventure; and they showed it. A wounded tiger at bay can do desperate things, and some of the elephants now refused to budge forward any more, or complied only with terrified screams. Some of the unarmed mahouts were also reluctant, and shouted their fears. But the shikaree was inexorable. There the tiger was, and we must drive it out.
Closer and closer we drew, until every elephant's flank was pressing against its neighbour, the outside ones being each at the edge of the open space; in the middle of which was the twenty-fifth with its vigilant rider standing tense with his rifle to his shoulder. The noise was now deafening. Every one was uttering something, either to scare the tiger or to encourage the elephants or his neighbour or possibly himself; while now and then from the depths of the grass ahead of us came an outraged growl, with more than a suggestion of contempt in it for such unsportsmanship as could array twenty-five elephants, half a hundred men and a dozen rifles against one inoffensive wild beast.
And then suddenly the grass waved, there was a rustle and rush and a snarl of furious rage, and once again a blur of yellow and black crossed the open space. Six or more reports rang out, and to my dying day I shall remember, with mixed feelings, that one of these reports was the result of pressure on a trigger applied by a finger belonging to me. That the tiger was hit again—by other bullets than mine —was certain, but instead of falling it disappeared into the jungle on the other side of the maidan, and again we were destined to employ enclosing tactics. It was now intensely hot, but nobody minded.; and we were an hour and a half late for lunch, but nobody minded: the chase was all! The phrase "out for blood" had taken on its literal primitive meaning.
The second rounding-up was less simple than the first, because the tiger had more choice of hiding places; but again our shikaree displayed his wonderful intuition, and in about an hour we had ringed the creature in. That this was to be the end was evident from the electrical purposefulness which animated the old hands. The experienced shots were carefully disposed, and my own peace of mind was not increased by the warning "If the tiger leaps on your elephant, don't shoot"—the point being that novices can be very wild with their rifles under such conditions. As the question "What shall I do instead?" was lost in the tumult, the latter stages of this momentous drama were seen by these eyes less steadily and less whole than I could have wished. But I saw the tiger spring, growling, at an elephant removed some four yards from mine, and I saw it driven back by a shot from one of the native hunters. And then when, after another period of anxious expectancy, it emerged again from the undergrowth, and sprang towards our host, I saw him put two bullets into it almost instantaneously; and the beautiful obstinate creature fell, never to rise again.
THE devout Hindu knows in Benares the height of ecstasy: but, if I am typical, the European experiences there both discomfort and inquietude. Nowhere else in India did I feel so. foreign, so alien. To be, of cool Christian traditions and an Occidental, an inquisitive sightseer among these fervent pilgrims intent upon their pious duties and rapt in exaltation and unthinking inflexible belief, was in itself disconcerting, almost to the point of shame; while the pilgrims were so, remarkably of a different world, a different era, that one felt lost.
This, however, is not all. India is never too sanitary, except where the English are in their own strongholds, but Benares—at any rate the parts which the tourist must visit—is least scrupulous in such matters. The canonization of the cow must needs carry a penalty with it, and Benares might be described as a sanctified byre without any labouring Hercules in prospect. Godliness it may have, but cleanliness is very distant. The streets, too, seem to be narrower and more congested than those in any other city; so that it is often embarrassingly difficult to treat the approaching ruminants with the respect due to them. Fortunately they are seldom anything but mild and unaggressive. Part perplexed, part inquisitive, and part contemptuous, they are met everywhere, while in one of the temples in which the unbeliever may (to his great contentment) do no more than stand at the entrance, they are frankly worshipped. In another temple monkeys are revered too, careering about the walls and courtyards and being fed by the curious and the devout.
Holiness is not only the peculiar characteristic of Benares: it is also its staple industry. In the streets there is a shrine at every few feet, while the shops where little lingams are for sale must be numbered by hundreds.
The chief glory of Benares is, however, the Ganges, on one side of which is the teeming sweltering city with its palaces and temples heaped high for two or three miles, and bathers swarming at the river's edge; while the other bank is flat and bare. A watering-place front on the ocean's shore does not end more suddenly and completely. There is nothing that I have seen with which to compare the north bank of the Ganges, with the morning sun on its many-coloured façades and towers, but Venice. As one is rowed slowly down the river it is of Venice that one instinctively thinks. As in Venice, the palaces are of various colours, pink and red and yellow and blue, and the sun has crumbled their facades in the same way. But there is this difference—that over the Benares roofs the monkeys scamper.
Gradually Venice is forgotten as the novel interest of the scene captures one's whole attention. At each of the ghauts (a landing place or steps) variegated masses of pilgrims—no matter how early the hour, and to see them rightly one ought to start quite by six—are making their ablutions and deriving holiness from the yellow tide. You saw them yesterday trudging wearily through the streets, the sacred city at last reached; and here they are in their thousands, brown and glistening. They are of every age: quite old white-bearded men and withered women, meticulously serious in their ritual, and then boys and girls deriving also a little fun from their immersion. Here and there the bathing ghaut is diversified by a burning ghaut, and one may catch a glimpse of the extremities of the corpse twisting among the faggots. Here and there is a boat or raft in which a priest is seated under his umbrella, fishing for souls as men in punts on the Thames fish for roach. And over all is the pitiless sun, hot even now, before breakfast, but soon to be unbearable.
I was not sorry when the voyage ended and we returned to the Maharajah's Guest House for a little repose and refreshment, before visiting the early Buddhist stronghold at Sarnath, the "Deer Park," where the Master first preached his doctrine and whither his five attendants sought a haven after they had forsaken him. Drifting about its ruins and contemplating the glorious capital of the famous Asoka column—all that has been preserved—I found myself murmuring the couplet,
With a friendly Buddhist priest I seek respite from the strife
And manifold anomalies which go to make up life
but the odds are that even the early Buddhists were not immune.
CALCUTTA and Bombay are strangely different—so different that they can only be contrasted. Bombay, first and foremost, has the sea ,and I can think of nothing more lovely than the sunsets that one watches from the lawn of the Yacht Club or from the promenade on Warder Road. Calcutta has no sea—nothing but a very difficult tidal river. Calcutta, again, has no Malabar Hill. But then Bombay has no open space to compare with the Maidan; and for all its crowded bazaars it has no street so diversified and interesting as Harrison Road. It has no Chinatown. Its climate is enervating where that of Calcutta, if not bracing—and no one could call it that—at any rate does not extract every particle of vigour from the European system.
But the special glory of Calcutta is the Maidan, that vast green space which, unlike so many parks, spreads itself at the city's feet. One does not have to seek it: there it is, with room for every one and a race-course and a cricket-ground to boot. And if there is no magic in the evening prospect such as the sea and its ships under the flaming or mysterious enveiling sky can offer to the eye at Bombay, there is a quality of golden richness in the twilight over Calcutta, as seen across the Maidan, through its trees, that is unique. I rejoiced in it daily. This twilight is very brief, but it is exquisite.
It is easier in Calcutta to be suddenly transported to England than in any other Indian city that I visited. There are, it is true, more statues of Lord Curzon than we are accustomed to; but many of the homes are quite English, save for the multitude of servants; Government House, serene and spacious and patrician, is a replica of Kedlestone Hall in Derbyshire: the business buildings within and without are structurally English, and the familiar Scotch accent sounds everywhere; but the illusion is most complete in St. John's Church, that very charming, cool, white and comfortable sanctuary, in the manner of Wren, and in St. Andrew's too. Secluded here, the world shut off, one might as well be in some urban conventicle at home on a sunny August day, as in the glamorous East. St. John's particularly I shall remember: its light, its distinction, its surrounding verdancy.
Ah, what avails the sceptred race,
Ah, what the form divine!
What every virtue, every grace!
Rose Aylmer, all were thine!
Rose Aylmer, whom these wakeful eyes
May weep, but never see,
A night of memories and sighs
I consecrate to thee.
ONE curious task which I set myself in Calcutta was to find Rose Aylmer's grave, for it was there that, in 1800, the mortal part of the lady whom Landor immortalised was buried. But I tried in vain. I walked for hours amid the sombre pyramidal tombs beneath which the Calcutta English used to be laid, among them, in 1815, Thackeray's father, but I found no trace of her whom I sought. I have seen many famous cemeteries, all depressing, from Kensal Green to Genoa, from Rock Creek to Montmartre, but none can approach in its forlorn melancholy the tract of stained and crumbling sarcophagi packed so close as almost to touch each other, in the burial ground off Rawdon Street and Park Street. Let no one establish a monument of cement over me. Any material rather than that!
IF I did not find Rose Aylmer's tomb, I found, in St. John's pleasant God's Acre, the comely mausoleum of Job Charnock, and this delighted me, because for how long has been ringing in my ears that line
"The tall pale widow is mine, Joe, the little brown girl's for you."
which I met with so many years ago in "The Light That Failed," where the Nilghai sings it to his own music! He got it, he said, from a tombstone, in a distant land; and the tombstone is now incorporated with Job Charnock's, the distant land being India; but the verses I have had to collect elsewhere. I found them in Calcutta, in my host's library.
Joe was Joseph, or Josiah, Townsend, a pilot of the Ganges, and tradition has it that he and Job Charnock, who, as an officer of the East India Company, founded Calcutta in 1690, saved a pretty young Hindu widow from ascending her husband's funeral pyre and committing suttee. Tradition states further that Job Charnock and his bride "lived lovingly for many years and had several children," until in due time she was buried in the mausoleum at St. John's, where her husband sacrificed a cock on each anniversary of her death ever after. The story has been examined and found to be improbable, but Charnock was a bold fellow who might easily have started many legends; and the poem remains, and if there is a livelier, I should like to know of it. I have been at the agreeable pains of reconstructing the verses as they were probably written, so that there are two more than the Nilghai sang. The whole is a very curious haunting ballad, leaving us with the desire to know much more of the lives of both men—Job Charnock the frontiersman, and Joseph Townsend, "skilful and industrious, a kind father and a useful friend," who could navigate not only the Ganges but the shifting Hooghli. Rarely can so much mixed autobiography and romance have been packed into six stanzas—and here too the adventurous East and West meet:—
I've shipped my cable, messmates, I'm dropping down with the tide;
I have my sailing orders while ye at anchor ride,
And never, on fair June morning, have I put out to sea
With clearer conscience, or better hope, or heart more light and free.
An Ashburnham! A Fairfax! Hark how the corslets ring!
Why are the blacksmiths out to-day, beating those men at the spring?
Ho, Willie, Hob and Cuddie!—bring out your boats amain,
There's a great red pool to swim them o'er, yonder in Deadman's Lane.
Nay, do not cry, sweet Katie only a month afloat
And then the ring and the parson, at Fairlight Church, my doat.
The flower-strewn path—the Press Gang! No, I shall never see
Her little grave where the daisies wave in the breeze on Fairlight Lee.
"Shoulder to shoulder, Joe, my boy, into the crowd like a wedge!
Out with the hangers, messmates, but do not strike with the edge!"
Cries Charnock, "Scatter the faggots! Double that Brahmin in two!
The tall pale widow is mine, Joe, the little brown girl for you."
Young Joe (you're nearing sixty), why is your hide so dark?
Katie had fair soft blue eyes—who blackened yours? Why, hark!
The morning gun! Ho, steady! The arquebuses to me;
I've sounded the Dutch High Admiral's heart as my lead doth sound the sea.
Sounding, sounding the Ganges—floating down with the tide,
Moor me close by Charnock, next to my nut-brown bride.
My blessing to Katie at Fairlight—Howell, my thanks to you
Steady!—We steer for Heaven through scud drifts cold and blue.
I ARRIVED in Bombay on the last day of 1919 and embarked at Calcutta for Japan on the evening of February 17th, seven weeks later. But to embark at Calcutta is not to leave it, for we merely dropped down the river a short distance that night, and for the next day and a half we were in the Hooghli, sounding all the way. It is a difficult river to emerge from; nor do I recommend any one else to travel, as I did, on a boat with a forward deck cargo of two or three hundred goats on the starboard side and half as many monkeys on the port, with a small elephant tethered between and a cage of leopards adjacent. These, the property of an American dealer in wild animals, were intended for sale in the States; all but one of the leopards, which, being lame, he had decided to kill, to provide a "robe" for his wife. Nothing could be more different than the careless aimless activities of the monkeys I had seen among the trees between Agra and Delhi and scampering over the parapets of Benares, all thieves and libertines with a charter, and the restriction of these poor cowering mannikins, overcrowded in their cages, with an abysmal sorrow in their eyes. Many died on the voyage, and I think the Indian Government should look into the question of their export very narrowly.