Such as were able to work at making rope or straw mats earned an anna a day, the children half an anna. This was extra to their food, a cake of gram flour, which was all the allowance for twenty-four hours. But among those admitted to the poorhouse about a quarter of the number were unable to work. In a similar but smaller enclosure adjacent was the infirmary, a hospital with no physician, no remedies. The shrunken creatures lay shivering in the sun, huddled under rags of blanket. All were moaning, many were unconscious, wandering in delirium, shrieking, and writhing. One man, too weak to stand, came up grovelling on his hands and knees, taking me for a doctor, and beseeching me to go to his wife who was lying over there, and by her a dusky moist rag as it seemed—her very inside purged out by dysentery.
Still the tonga; uphill and down, over the hilly country, with a horizon of dull, low mountains, and the horses worse and worse, impossible to start but by a storm of blows. Towards evening a particularly vicious pair ended by overturning us into a ditch full of liquid mud. The sais alone was completely immersed, and appealed loudly to Rama with shrieks of terror. Abibulla on his part, after making sure that the sahibs and baggage were all safe and sound, took off his shoes, spread his dhoti on the ground, and made the introductory salaams of thanksgiving to the Prophet, while the coolie driver returned thanks to Rama.
After bathing, during their long prayers to the gods of the river, almost as sacred here as it is at Benares, the pilgrims threw grain to the half-tame fish. Steering vigorously with their tails, the creatures turned and rolled, making eddies of light in the water, and hurrying up to the falling grain occasionally upset the equilibrium of some old woman still taking her bath. At the top of the bank, in the blazing sunshine, two fakirs, squatting in the dusty road, remained unmoved by all this turmoil, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, absorbed in a fixed thought which concentrated their gaze[Pg 297] on an invisible point. The fall of an old woman into the Ganges, with all the shouting that such an incident entails in India, left them quite indifferent; they did not stir, did not even glance at the river as the woman was taken out unconscious.
Heavy coaches with solid wheels, hermetically covered with red stuff patterned with white, were bringing home the invisible but noisy ladies of the zenana.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.Immediately on entering we were in the maze of vaults, sanctuaries, great halls and arcades, where stall-keepers sell their goods, priests keep school, and flower-sellers wander. Statues, repeated in long rows, lead up to temples all alike, of a bewildering uniformity of architecture and identical decoration.
Two or three thousand haggard and fleshless beings were digging or carrying earth to form an embankment for a railway or a road. With arms scarcely thicker than the handles of the tools they wielded, the labourers gasped in the air, tired in a minute, and pausing to rest in spite of the abuse of the overseers. Emaciated women, so small in their tattered sarees, carried little baskets on their heads containing a few handfuls of earth, but which they could scarcely lift. One of them, wrinkled and shrunken, looked a hundred years old tottering under her load; on reaching the spot where she was to empty out the soil, she leaned forward a little and let the whole thing fall, indifferent to the dust which covered her and filled her mouth and eyes; and after taking breath for a moment, off she went again as if walking in her sleep.Soldiers, bristling with daggers and pistols in their belts, are on guard at the gate. Pikes and long muskets stand piled in the background; over this arsenal, flowering jasmine and convolvulus with enormous bell flowers hang their graceful shade.
In the sleeping town of Darjeeling a bell and drum were sounding to announce the Tibetan Christmas. The Brahmin paradise remained invisible and mysterious behind a clear sky studded with stars.
At night, in the crowded station, a guard of honour was waiting, composed of sepoys. There was shouting among the crowd, a fanatical turmoil, a storm of orders, and heavy blows. Some great[Pg 93] magnate got out of the train, surrounded by secretaries and officers. The soldiers, bearing torches, attended him to his carriage; they remounted their horses, following the vehicle, in which a light dress was visible. Very fast, and with a great clatter, they rode away into the silent night fragrant with rich scents; they were lost under the trees to reappear in the distance on a height, the torches galloping still and the smoke hanging in a ruddy cloud above the bright steel and the white cruppers. Then, at a turn in the road, they all vanished.As the sun sank, a magical light of lilac fading into pink fell on the mountain temples, on the rock partly blackened by ages or scorched to pale yellow, almost white; it shed an amethystine glow, transfiguring the carved stone to lacework with light showing through. A wheeling flock of noisy parrakeets filled the air with short, unmeaning cries, intolerable in this rose and lavender stillness, where no sound could be endurable but the notes of an organ. A ray of fiery gold shot straight into the red temple, falling on the marble Buddha. For a moment the idol seemed to be on fire, surrounded by a halo of burning copper.
Outside the fort which guards the opening of the pass there was confusion; a mad scurry of men, running, shouting, hustling. Quite a complicated mêlée of animals bolting, elephants and camels let loose and impossible to overtake, but caught at last.
Then, suddenly, there was a clatter of tom-toms, and rattling of castanets, a Hindoo funeral passing by. The dead lay stretched on a bier, his face painted and horrible, a livid grin between the dreadful scarlet cheeks, covered with wreaths of jasmine and roses. A man walking before the corpse carried a jar of burning charcoal to light the funeral pile. Friends followed the bier, each bringing a log of wood, to add to the pyre as a last homage to the dead.From a quite small garden close to the palace a bronze gate with three medallions of lilies in high relief, of marvellous workmanship, opens on the Pearl Mosque, exquisitely white, at the end of its forecourt of immaculate pavement enclosed by a marble balustrade. Three polished and shining domes are supported by columns of snow made of a hard white marble, scarcely broken by [Pg 218]ornament, and carrying a roof hollowed into three vaults. The rings are still to be seen on the marble walls outside, to which, when the great Mogul came to prayer, curtains were attached made of gold net and spangled with diamonds and pearls.
Soldiers, bristling with daggers and pistols in their belts, are on guard at the gate. Pikes and long muskets stand piled in the background; over this arsenal, flowering jasmine and convolvulus with enormous bell flowers hang their graceful shade.[Pg 201]详情
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