Presently three beggar-women came up to sing from door to door. In their arms, like babies at the breast, they carried shapeless idols painted red, bedizened with spangles and gilt paper. They wailed out a ditty repeated again and again, knocked perseveringly at the doors, insisting on alms; and[Pg 96] then, when they had received it, they touched the threshold with their blood-coloured puppets and departed.
A plain of dried mud, dull grey, with scarcely a tinge of yellow in places; all round the horizon softly undulating hills which looked transparent, here a tender blue, there delicately pink, in flower-like hues. One of them, rising above all the eastern chain, might be a fortress, its towers alone left standing amid the general wreck. To the west the highest summits were lost in the blue of the sky, identically the same, but that the peaks were faintly outlined with a delicate line of snow.Then the sunset, in the furnace of heavy purple and red, reflected in the water in fiery copper-colour streaked with violet, till soon it all faded together, to gold, to lemon-colour; the mist rising from the river spread over all the country, and everything looked the same in the cloudless gloom. One quarter of the sky glowed faintly, through the haze a crimson globe rose into view, the moon appeared, and soon lighted up all the sky with a soft greenish glow, pallid but deep, lying on the tranquil Ganges in broad rippling sheets of gold and green, spangled with light where a fish leaped, or a white bird dipped its wing as it skimmed swiftly across without a sound. The gold grew cold and dead, the moon turned to steel against the intensely blue sky, to cold blue steel on the lustrous face of the waters.
Very late in the evening came the sound of darboukhas once more. A throng of people, lighted up by a red glow, came along, escorting a car drawn by oxen. At each of the four corners were children carrying torches, and in the middle of the car a tall pole was fixed. On this, little Hindoo boys were performing the most extraordinary acrobatic tricks, climbing it with the very tips of their toes and fingers, sliding down again head foremost, and stopping within an inch of the floor. Their bronze skins, in contrast to the white loin-cloth that cut them across the middle, and their fine muscular limbs, made them look like antique figures. The performance went on to the noise of drums and singing, and was in honour of the seventieth birthday of a Mohammedan witch who dwelt in the village. The car presently moved off, and, after two or three[Pg 49] stoppages, reached the old woman's door. The toothless hag, her face carved into black furrows, under a towzle of white hair emerging from a ragged kerchief, with a stupid stare lighted up by a gleam of wickedness when she fixed an eye, sat on the ground in her hovel surrounded by an unspeakable heap of rags and leavings. The crowd squeezed in and gathered round her; but she sat perfectly unmoved, and the little acrobats, performing in front of her door, did not win a glance from her. And then, the noise and glare annoying her probably, she turned with her face to the wall and remained so. She never quitted her lair; all she needed was brought to her by the villagers, who dreaded the spells she could cast. Her reputation for wisdom and magic had spread far and wide. The Nizam's cousin, and prime minister of the dominion, never fails to pay her a visit when passing through Nandgaun, and other even greater personages, spoken of only with bated breath, have been known to consult her.
I turned back into Grant Road, where bands of tom-toms and harmoniums were hard at it, where the gamblers were stifling each other round the roulette-boards in a frenzy of amusement and high spirits, eager for enjoyment before hovering death should swoop down on them.Under each plate, a large square cut out of a banana leaf serves as a finger-napkin. Innumerable are the dishes of sweetmeats made with ghee (clarified butter), the scented ices, the highly-coloured[Pg 18] bonbons; while the young couple walk round the rooms, and hang garlands of flowers about the necks of the feasters.
The Cingalese women, of languid gait, wear a long dark robe clinging about their legs and reaching to the ground. The poorer women have only a scanty saree to complete the costume; the more wealthy display stockings and boots; a white bodice cut low, with open sleeves and no basque leaves a roll of skin visible between the skirt and the bodice. The men wear a long loin-cloth of English trouser-stuff, a white jacket buttoned over the bare skin, and a twist of back hair like a woman's, in which they stick a celluloid comb, coronet-fashion—such a comb as is used in Europe[Pg 125] to keep the hair back from a child's forehead. And all the race are too slender, too pliant, their eyes too long and slightly darkened with kohl; the boys especially have an unpleasant, ambiguous look.In the evening, at the railway terminus, there was a crush of coolies packed close up to the ticket-office of the third-class, and holding out their money. Never tired of trying to push to the front, they all shouted at once, raising their hands high in the air and holding in their finger-tips one or two shining silver rupees. Those who at last succeeded in getting tickets slipped out of the crowd, and sang and danced; others who had found it absolutely impossible to get anything retired into corners, and groaned aloud.
Further on we came to a courtyard surrounded by a cloister, where the market for precious stones was held. The empress, invisible under her wrappers of gauze as thin as air, and surrounded by her women fanning her, would come out on her high balcony to choose the gems that pleased her for a moment by their sparkle, and then disappear into the gardens behind insurmountable walls. In another court, a[Pg 209] pool kept stocked with fish gave Shah Jehangir the pleasure of fancying he was fishing.Very early in the morning we met a many-coloured caravan of men, women, and children riding astride on asses, amid baskets and bundles. They were on their way to a wedding: they had stopped to rest for the last time; and alone, far from the merry, noisy group, a "bad woman" sat down on a stone. She was on the way to the same festival, and was allowed to travel with the[Pg 288] caravan for succour in case of need; but she was not permitted to join the party.
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.
In the middle of the course was a stand, and there, with the officers and civil functionaries, were four English ladies who had accompanied their husbands to this remote station. They thought of their dress and took care of their babies, living among these Sikhs whom the native priests are perpetually inciting to rebellion, and seeming to have not the least fear of danger.
For our noonday rest I took shelter under a wood-carver's shed. On the ground was a large plank in which, with a clumsy chisel, he carved out circles, alternating with plane-leaves and palms. The shavings, fine as hairs, gleamed in the sun, and gave out a scent of violets. The man, dressed in white and a pink turban, with necklaces and bangles on his arms of bright brass, sang as he tapped with little blows, and seemed happy to be alive in the world. He gave us permission to sit in the shade of his stall, but scorned to converse with Abibulla.A golden mass, an enormous shrine chased all over and starred with tapers, now came forward, borne by a score of naked men. Against the gold background, in a perfect glory of diamonds and pearls, sat Vishnu, decked out with flowers and jewels, his head bare with a huge brilliant in his forehead.详情
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