The dinner-table was covered with flowers—Maréchal Niel and Gloire de Dijon roses—but enormous, as big as saucers, and of such a texture, such a colour! a tissue of frost and light; and round the table, which was loaded with silver plate, were grey and red uniforms. Strains of music were wafted in through the open windows from the regimental band playing slow waltz-tunes a little way off.Next came a long file of carts, conveying cases of goods "made in Manchester," or loaded, in unstable equilibrium, with dry yellow fodder like couch grass, eaten by the horses here; and they struggled along the road which, crossing the limitless plain, appeared to lead nowhere.In front of the palace, beds filled with common plants familiar in every European garden fill the place of honour; they are very rare, no doubt, in[Pg 54] these latitudes, and surprising amid the gorgeous hedges of wild bougainvillea that enclose the park.
In the sacred tank, where Vishnu bathes when[Pg 165] he comes on earth, an old woman was standing pouring the stagnant green water over her body, while others of the faithful, seated on the steps, were piously drinking the stuff from a coco-nut that they handed round. In one corner of this pool was an exquisite bower of floating wreaths—yellow, white, and violet—a splash of bright colour on the squalid water.
Amid hanging swathes of creepers, in a fold of the hill stands another temple, of red stone, very gloomy; and, in its depths, a rigid white Buddha, with purple shadows over his eyes of glittering crystal. And so on to temples innumerable, so much alike that, seeing each for the first time, I fancied that I was retracing my steps; and endless little shrine-like recesses, sheltering each its Buddha, make blots[Pg 43] of shadow on the bright ochre-coloured stone of the cliffs. For centuries, in the rainy season, thousands of pilgrims have come, year after year, to take up their abode in these cells, spending the cold weather in prayer and then going off to beg their living and coming back for the next wet season.>At the top of Malabar Hill, in a garden with freshly raked walks and clumps of flowers edged with pearl-shells, stand five limewashed towers, crowned with a living battlement of vultures: the great Dokma, the Towers of Silence, where the Parsees are laid after death, "as naked as when they came into the world and as they must return to nothingness," to feed the birds of prey, which by the end of a few hours leave nothing of the body but the bones, to bleach in the sun and be scorched[Pg 30] to dust that is soon carried down to the sea by the first rains of the monsoon.The sun had just set, a violet haze was rising and enwrapping every object. Fires were being lighted in the villages on the road to the holy place. Tom-toms were rattling in the distance,[Pg 115] and nearer at hand a vina, gently touched by an invisible player, murmured a tune on three notes.
There are women, too, in the throng of men, but fewer in number. Parsee ladies, draped in light sarees of pale-hued muslin bordered with black, which shroud them entirely, being drawn closely over the narrow skirt, crossed several times over the bosom, and thrown over the right shoulder to cover the head and fall lightly on the left shoulder. Hindoo women, scarcely clothed in red stuff, faded in places to a strong pink; a very skimpy bodice, the chol, embroidered with silk and spangles, covers the bust, leaving the arms and bosom free; a piece of thin cotton stuff, drawn round the legs and twisted about the waist, covers the shoulders and head, like a shawl. On their wrists and ankles are silver bangles; they have rings on their fingers and toes, broad necklaces with pendants, earrings, and a sort of stud of gold or copper, with coloured stones, through the left nostril. They go barefoot, pliant[Pg 8] forms avoiding the jostling of the crowd, and carrying on their head a pile of copper pots one above another, shining like gold, and scarcely held by one slender arm with its bangles glittering in the sun. The tinkle of the nanparas on their ankles keeps time with their swinging and infinitely graceful gait, and a scent of jasmine and sandal-wood is wafted from their light raiment. Moslem women, wrapped from head to foot in sacks of thick white calico, with a muslin blind over their eyes, toddle awkwardly one behind the other, generally two or three together. Native children beg, pursuing the passenger under the very feet of the horses; their sharp voices louder than the hubbub of shouts, bells, and gongs, which exhausts and stultifies, and finally intoxicates the brain.At last the bridegroom goes up the steps. The mother-in-law repeats the circular wave of welcome over the young man's head with rice and sugar and an egg and a coco-nut; then she takes the garland, already somewhat faded, from his neck, and replaces it by another twined of gold thread and jasmine flowers, with roses at regular intervals. She also changes his bouquet, and receives the coco-nut her son-in-law has carried in his hand.
Our boat stole slowly past the palaces, where there were no lights, through the haze rising from the river, and all things assumed a dissolving appearance as though they were about to vanish; all was shrouded and dim with mystery.The crimson sky seen above the tall coco-palms turns to pink, to pale, vaporous blue, to a warm grey that rapidly dies away, and almost suddenly it is night.
After him came another little Hindoo, dragging a mongoose, very like a large weasel with a fox's tail. He took a snake out of a bag, and a battle began between the two brutes, each biting with all its might; the sharp teeth of the mongoose tried to seize the snake's head, and the reptile curled round the mongoose's body to bite under the fur. At last the mongoose crushed the serpent's head with a fierce nip, and instantly a hawk flew down from a tree and snatched away the victim.ELLORAThe poorhouse is about two miles from the city; it consists of a courtyard enclosed by walls, from which awnings are stretched supported on poles. And here from twelve to fifteen hundred wretched skeletons had found shelter, spectres with shoulder-blades almost cutting through the skin, arms shrunk to the bone, with the elbow-joint like a knot in the middle, and at the end hands which looked enormous and flat and limp, as if every knuckle were dislocated. Their gnarled knees projected from the fearful leanness of their legs, and the tightened skin between the starting ribs showed the hollow pit of the stomach. Men and women[Pg 192] alike were for the most part naked, but for a ragged cotton loin-cloth. And all had the same scared look in their eyes, the same grin of bare teeth between those hollow cheeks. Almost all had bleeding wounds where the bones had come through the skin.
At the railway station thousands of people had collected to take leave of a great turbaned moollah from Mecca, dressed in yellow silk. Long after we had left Darjeeling the faithful ran by the side of the carriage to kiss his hand, on which blazed an enormous diamond cut in a cone; and all along the road, when the train going downhill went too fast for anyone to keep up with it, Moslem natives bowed and prostrated themselves in the road, shouting words of Godspeed to the holy man. And at one stopping-place a little carpet was spread, on which he took off his shoes and prayed—hurried through his last prostrations by the whistle of the locomotive.
The Rajah's residence, of plaster like the rest of the town, is pink too outside, but the interior is aggressive with paint of harsh colours. In the living rooms is shabby furniture, gilt chairs turned one over the other, as on the day after a ball. The curtains over the doors and windows are of silk,[Pg 214] but frayed and threadbare. In the shade of a marble court with carved columns, clerks are employed in counting money—handsome coins stamped with flowers and Indian characters, laid out in rows. They count them into bags round which soldiers mount guard.
Outside, under a thatched screen, sits the punkah coolie, his legs crossed, the string in his hand; and as soon as everyone goes into the room he wakes up, rocks his body to and fro, his arm out in a fixed position, swaying all of a piece with a mechanical see-saw, utterly stupid. He will go to sleep lulled by his own rocking, and never wake unless the cord breaks, or somebody stops him.详情
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