The manager also traded in clocks, and a selection was displayed for sale at one end of the stalls.
As we returned the wind had fallen, and the men rowed. The moon rose pale gold, and in the distance, in the violet haze, the lights of Bombay mingled with the stars. The boatmen's[Pg 23] chant was very vague, a rocking measure on ascending intervals.The storm raged on all day, bringing down clouds that swept the earth and yawned in cataracts, to the awful roar of the thunder that shook the foundation of rock.
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.Bakaoli bewails her lover's departure, for which no one, not even her mother, can comfort her.
Very early in the morning, on emerging from[Pg 164] the gloom of the narrow streets, there is a sudden blaze of glory, the rising sun, purple and gold, reflected in the Ganges, the waters throbbing like fiery opal. The people hurry to the shore carrying trays piled high with flowers and offerings. The women carry little jars in their hands looking like burnished gold, and containing a few drops of scented oil to anoint themselves withal after bathing. These jars are covered with roses and jasmine blossoms, to be sent floating down the sacred stream as an offering to the gods. The steps are crowded already with the faithful, who have waited till Surya the day-star should rise, before going through their devotional ablutions. With a great hubbub of shouts and cries, and laughter and squabbling, this throng pushes and hustles, while those unimaginable priests sit stolidly under their wicker sunshades, mumbling their prayers, and accepting alms and gifts. All along the river there are people bathing on the steps which go down under the water, the men naked all but a loin-cloth, the women wearing long veils which they change very cleverly for dry ones after their bath, and then wait in the sun till their garments are dry enough to carry away.And the figures go down after long discussions, till at last the question as to whether I know the worth of pashmina begins all over again—endless.
The actors were exclusively men and boys, those who took female parts wore rusty wigs over their own long, black hair; these were plaited on each side of the face, and waxed behind to fall over the shoulders. The costumes of velvet and satin, heavily embroidered with gold and silver, were hideous.
In the evening calm, the silence, broken only by the yelling of the jackals, weighed heavy on the spirit; and in spite of the twinkling lights and the village at our feet, an oppressive sense of loneliness, of aloofness and death, clutched me like a nightmare.
A little study of manners, as related to me by my neighbour at dinner:—The two chairs are now placed side by side, and the priest goes on chanting his prayers to a slow measure, in a nasal voice that is soon lost again in the chatter of the bystanders. Rice is once more shed over the couple, and incense is burnt in a large bronze vessel, the perfume mingling with that of the jasmine wreaths on the walls.
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.详情
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