HPB-Caves-29

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The days and weeks passed quickly, and even faster did we move from place to place; but despite the fact that we did not waste time, we had not seen even the twentieth part of those historically famous places for which India was famous. And the heat, meanwhile, was getting more intense every day. At the beginning of May, it reaches – in general throughout Hindustan – its highest point; but Rajasthan is in this deadly month is really scorching hot, even for India, in comparison with which Allahabad is able to charm with its coolness. While in St. Petersburg and Moscow the fields are barely beginning to don their green raiment, and lilac bushes are still standing naked, on the scorching plains of Rajputana everything has already been baked, overcooked, and the surface of the earth's crust, like a biscuit left in the oven for too long, having dried out, begins crumbling to dust. Its huge spaces, burnt out, sad, yellow-brown in colour, where they are not so densely populated, resemble Russian steppes: the same dry feather grass, the same frequent mirages on the red-hot horizon...

As if an old woman dried up to the marrow of her bones, the tired, fading nature of India slumbers around us, enduring to the end the “hot season” under the scorching arrows of the fierce sun. Spring, summer, winter and autumn for the native are just a sound without any meaning. The Hindu has only three seasons and, speaking of them, he distinguishes between the “hot,” “cold” and “rainy” seasons. In three or four weeks, the first rain clouds will appear on the bright sapphire sky, cloudless nine months a year... It will thunder, cyclones and devastating storms will fall down on the Bengal shores. Several people will die, several buildings will collapse; but on the other hand, flying from the south, the hurricane will bring on its powerful wings the much-desired monsoon, all saturated with the fragrances of Ceylon and South India. And here again, in two or three days, under the pouring rain, all India will bloom all the way through from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. The flooded valleys of Rajasthan will look less like a sea, from the depth of which rise but the rocks of the Thakurs with their half-ruined fortresses and castles. These rocks, scattered now, like ugly warts, over the face of Suryavamsha – “Land of the Sun” – will be washed clean and covered with blossoms, and again all nature will rejoice ... The cuckoo, the singer of love of Hindustan, a bird dedicated to Kama, the god of love, will burst into song. Vapour will rise from the ground – the most fragrant of all the scents of nature in Hindu terms – vapour from the first rain, and weddings, feasts and fun will start...

But until the rain, the “beloved of the earth,” in the words of the Greek poet, Rajputana could offer us no more than she herself possessed. Everything around is burned out, and there is nothing more to burn out. Miss B*** is right, the first glance at the surroundings of the country does not win one’s favour. Everything is dead and silent, and even the usual figure of a farmer, a poor black skeleton digging like a mole, in all other seasons is not visible in the bare fields ... Until the first rains, he has nothing to do in the field. In such heat, even a hardy camel obediently lies down, wherever it is: his cud loses all its taste, and for whole days it either sleeps soundly or dies right there. Everything seems dead and congealed, and its activity is now manifested in death and decay alone... On such days, dozens of birds fall dead on dry ground. The general silence is interrupted only by a long, plaintive trill of a hawk, somewhere motionlessly hanging on hot air streams, and somewhere on a hillock, a flock of vultures, surrounding carrion, stands motionless, drooping head and not touching the tasty food, content to merely dream about it. Death in various forms soars over the head of the European. It blinks at him from quivering light waves, threatening sunstroke; quietly sneaks up on him in the carriage, promising “apoplexy from the heat,”[1] caused on the railway by the hot air cut by the speed of movement, at home – by the suffocating temperature. It waits for a victim in every darkened, relatively cool corner, where the dampness of the watered shutters and doors attracts poisonous millepedes, scorpions, even snakes.

Death in India will not miss a single chance: it is the native's best ally and it often relieves him of the tyrant. It watches the Anglo-Indian from every corner; all means are good for it. An eternally sweating Englishman finds it everywhere: in artificial coolness; in pankhas, a kind of perpetuum mobile in India – under which he eats, sleeps, drinks, swears, fights and performs his official duties – and in every glass of ice drink. Pneumonia and cholera end his career in a few hours.

All this we knew, and we were warned of the Rajputan heat. But up until then all had gone so far, and impunity made us daring. In Delhi the Thakur told us: “Do not be afraid; I can vouch for you two, and if both of our Englishmen will listen to my advice, I will vouch for them also.” And we were completely calm.

More and more the Thakur took possession of our will, all our thoughts – I'm talking about the colonel and myself. And having ruled all our mind and soul, exciting our curiosity to the utmost, making us feel that with one wave of his hand we are ready to follow him without hesitation into fire and water, finally having mastered our will, he apparently did not want to make use of his power ... Always even and friendly with everyone, he was with us, perhaps, in some minutes more affectionate, but also still impenetrably reserved about his mysterious undoubted knowledge in “secret science,” as with anyone else. That he knew about our passionate desire to learn from him, to get an explanation of his extraordinary, and for us absolutely proven psychological power, is also undoubtedly clear to me, as well as that he, being at this moment in Tibet, knows, if only he so wishes, every word that I am writing. But knowing this, he kept silence. For minutes it seemed to me that he was studying us; he wants to see how much he can confide in us, and I was afraid to talk about him even with the colonel. Belonging to our “society,” he remained a common member, refusing even the title of “honorary member of the General Council” offered to him more than once. One of such chief councilors of the Theosophical Society in London, Lord, Earl and, most importantly, a man recognized as one of the most learned members of the Royal Society, having learnt about him, wrote last year to another member of the council of our Society, editor of the main journal of the Government: “For God's sake, ask the Thakur to answer me if there is any hope for me to achieve the results that I have been vainly expecting for fifteen years... Spiritualism betrayed me treacherously. Its phenomena are a fact; but explanations are nonsense. How to resume previous relations with the one to whom I once spoke so fluently at a distance of three thousand miles, each of us being in his room? Now everything has disappeared, he does not hear me anymore, does not even feel me... Why?!!..” When I handed over a letter to the Thakur at the request of the editor, Gulab-Singh asked me to write the following under his dictation: “My lord, you are an Englishman and your daily life follows the English mode. Ambitions and the Parliament began the destruction and meat food and wine have finished it. For assimilation of human spirit with the universal soul of Parabrahma, there is only one narrow and thorny path that you will not follow. The material man has killed the spiritual one in you. You alone can resurrect the latter and no one else is capable of it...”

Of course, skeptics and materialists, both those who attribute the phenomena of spiritualism to evil spirits, and others, convinced that after death nothing will remain of us, and as Bazaroff says, “weeds will grow,” will not believe anything, but some will laugh at us with the Thakurs and Lords, others will disown us. And we are no strangers to this. Yet serious people, scientists, experienced in mediumistic phenomena, like professors Butleroff, Wagner, Zöllner, Wallace and others, whom facts defeated and forced to recognize them as facts, those scientists, convinced of the existence of a force capable of tying knots on an endless rope, will believe the reality of strange and unexplained phenomena seen by us in India. In one thing we disagree with them: they believe that the invisible force working on the transformation of matter in séances belongs to spirits: we do not believe in the active intervention of the departed and attribute this power only to the spirit of a living person. Who of us is right, who is wrong, only time can decide. First of all, people must be convinced of the objectivity of these controversial phenomena, and then they must begin to explain them. Spiritualism was most damaged by the theory of its believers.

All of the above is not a digression from my story, but a necessary explanation of what has to be explained. “Letters from the Caves and Jungles of Hindustan” is not a geographical and ethnographic description of India with fictitious heroes and heroines woven into it, but rather a diary of the main members of the Theosophical Society, whom both spiritualism and materialism in Europe and most importantly – negligent orientalists have already begun to take into account.

Embarrassed by the conduct of Miss B*** and getting into the carriage of the Bhurtpore Maharaja, we were startled by the contact with it. It was a huge half-open landau, half-prehistoric, quite comfortable, however, and capable of easily accommodating six or even eight people. But its seat before our arrival managed to turn into a chair on which the victims of the Inquisition were once fried ... On the steps and iron sheathing of the landau one could cook eggs, and after touching it with a bare hand the skin on my palm peeled off ... Withdrawing my hand in horror, I did not dare to get in; and even the dashing colonel stopped in embarrassment ... In such a chariot, probably only Beelzebub, the prince of hell, rides around!

“You can’t go in this carriage until evening,” the Thakur remarked, frowning. “You’ll have to spend the day nearby. You can stay at the buffet until I send for the covered carriage...”

We held a consultation. The magical gardens of Deeg, watered with 600 fountains (the historically known heritage of the Bhurtpore Maharajas) were 18 miles away; the state capital was 5 miles away; the place where we can have breakfast 15 miles away. The train was late, and it was already ten o'clock. To ride in the midday heat, when even then we were quite dizzy and everything went dark before our eyes, would be madness. All felt so except the Thakur, even the Indians turned pale, that is, they had earthy complexion, and fanned themselves with scarves... And the Babu seemed to be blissful. With uncovered hair, as always, and bouncing on the front seat, on which he had already sat with his legs, crossed, he dived in the waves of hot air, as another dives in the cool streams of the river, assuring that it is not so hot yet, and that in Bengal such a day would be considered cool by many.

While the Thakur was giving the order, and the two bodyguards galloped off somewhere for the carriage, Miss B***, completely exhausted from the heat and finding fault with everything and everyone, considered it her duty to be offended by the words of the Babu:

“C'est du persifflage, cela!”[2] she kept on repeating, fanning herself in excitement. “He feels cool when we are all dying from the heat!”

“Well, what is it to you? Can you forbid a person to feel differently from how you feel?” I persuaded her, anticipating a new quarrel between them.

“But he said it on purpose! He is laughing at us,” the spinster muttered loudly. “He, like all Indians, hates us, the English! He is rejoicing at our suffering!”

“It’s in vain to think so,” the Babu teased her from the carriage. “I do not at all hate our good masters. Only when they are hot, I always feel cool and – vice versa ... Will you sit down next to me, and I will fan you with your fan ... You know how I ... respect you!”

“Thank you!” she burst out. “You can sit in the sun, which is powerless as such as you ... regular amphibians!” she said in rage.

“Do you mean salamanders?” the Babu bared his teeth. “Don’t be mistaken, chand ka tukra sahib!”

“I ask you not to teach me, even if I was mistaken!” screamed she, turning pale with rage. “It's not your ... race to teach us – the English!”

“I seriously advise you to be more careful ... in this heat,” interjected the Thakur, dismounting from his horse and stressing on the last words meaningfully. “The slightest excitement can be disastrous in our climate, which even the English authorities have not yet managed to enslave.”

Again, the same sharp lightning flashed in the Rajput's half-closed eyes, and his nostrils fluttered slightly at the tone of contempt with which she uttered the words “your race.” But the enraged islander could no longer be held in check, and there was no way to stop her. She began to complain that she was taken by deception to the country where there is not a single Englishman to protect her, where the natives mock her and insult in her person the greatness of the whole nation, the Queen herself. She spoke such nonsense that we, puzzled, silently looked at her like at as a mad woman. W*** took her by the arm and tried to take her to the buffet. He was terribly embarrassed, but as an Englishman, he probably considered it beneath his dignity to make her listen to reason and thus, at least indirectly, justify the native in a quarrel with the daughter of the “superior race.”

This scuffle was destined to become the last one, and its results were the most unexpected. The ill-fated Babu, the innocent cause of the storm, wanting to make peace with Miss B*** “for the sake of the peace of the whole society,” as he later explained to us, instead of restoring it, ruined the whole thing.

Taken away by W***, Miss B*** was already heading for the station, and I, standing under a huge canopy umbrella, which was opened over the colonel and me, was only expecting to receive the binoculars and gripsack left in the carriage, when suddenly Narayan Krishnarao, Mulji and the Babu, as if by agreement, approached the colonel and began asking permission to return with the same train to Agra and then home. Our venerable president waved his both arms. He will not part with them ... that quarrel is nothing and will be forgotten in an hour.

“I’ll never let you go! I'd rather be back with you myself!” he replied loudly.

At the first words of the conversation, the Englishwoman stopped and pricked up her ears. Hearing what was the matter, she tore her hand out from under the arm of W*** and, running up, rattled off about the fact that those gentlemen Hindus (mockingly pressing on the word gentlemen) – anticipating her own request.

“We can no longer be in the harmony necessary for a pleasant journey,” she announced. “Let Mr. President choose now between the European members and Asian ones!”

“There can be no choice,” he began slowly, very angry, and in his embarrassment, beating the hot ash out of the pipe onto the pillows of the landau of His Grace. “All members of the society entrusted to me in New York, no matter what race or religion they belong to, are equally respected by me and dear to the General Society. Therefore I refuse to choose; but I sustain my right to resolve disputes and misunderstandings between members. I heard every word of your rather loud talk and I must confess that I do not find in it anything resembling a quarrel! The venerable Miss B*** flared up and uttered insolence (emphasizing the word insolence) to the Babu. He remained silent and acted like a gentleman. I hope that Miss B*** will now understand that he is offended, but not she, and in his person the rest of the native members; I hope that she will add her request to mine that they would forget this insignificant outburst and ask our kind, respected friends not to leave us...”

Miss B*** was shaking all over with rage.

Standing a couple of steps from me and leaning on the saddle, the Thakur had his eyes fixed on her, which were shining at that moment with some ominous phosphoric radiance. Narayan, casting down his eyes and dropping his head, was silent; but a large drop of blood appeared on his severely bitten lip...

“What! Me... should I ask him for an apology?” hissed the Englishwoman. “Me ... when he...”

“Not an apology, but to give a hand of reconciliation… you are asked,” W*** interrupted her.

He was pale and spoke with apparent effort. Natural honesty fought in him with an innate national arrogance and, unfortunately, the latter won. At the angry glance that a compatriot threw in his direction, he caught himself and added:

“Apologizing for the interference, I allow myself to explain the just expressed desire of the President only in the sense conveyed by me ... Because ... you should agree ... that American ideas about decency are diametrically opposed to ours (the English), and I cannot suppose for a single minute of such absurdity that even Mr. President could come up with the idea to propose to a lady ... an English lady ... to apologize to ... to ... to ... a man!” he finished, stammering, and evidently replacing the last word with the term he managed happily to swallow.

“So much for the Brotherhood of Humanity,” I thought.

“Why not?” answered the Colonel quite calmly. “You may suppose it, as it was precisely such an absurdity that I had in mind”

“Well, I don't even think to demand, or even hope for an apology!” interposed the Babu good-naturedly. “I do not even understand to this day what I have done wrong to the venerable Miss B***, whom I have always respected as a mother...”

If lightning fell at the feet of a forty-five-year-old spinster at that moment, it would not have produced such a terrible effect as this innocent word “mother” uttered in complete innocence by a twenty-year-old fellow. Knowing her strongest weakness, I was positively frightened, expecting that she would pounce upon the Babu like a wild cat. The Thakur silently threw aside the reins of his horse and, taking a step forward, fixed an even more attentive gaze at the raging Englishwoman.

She turned purple all over. The veins on her neck swelled like twines, and she screamed almost foaming at her mouth: “What?.. mother!.. mother ... you ... me ... you!.. You should know, sir,” – she suddenly added, majestically drawing herself up – “that you are not obliged to respect me as a mother, but as a member of that great nation that holds ... your most ... contemptible ra...”

The Thakur suddenly and rapidly stretched out his hand to her... Choking and muttering incoherent sounds, she suddenly crashed like a beveled sheaf, wheezing and in convulsions, right into the arms of W***, into whose arms Gulab Singh deftly threw her falling body...

“It is, as I warned her,” the Thakur said quietly and calmly, bending over the trembling body. “Heat apoplexy; take her to the ladies' restroom!”

In all of Bhurtpore, and it seems, in the entire kingdom of the Jats, numbering 100,000,131 people, there is not a single European doctor, but there are only native “hakim” (healers). Going anywhere that day was unthinkable; and so, having sent the carriages away until another morning, we carried the unfortunate Englishwoman to the tiny telegraph operator's room at an equally tiny railway station and tried to revive her by home remedy. But there was not even ice at the station – the first medicine for heat apoplexy. Remembering the box with vodka and ice of the blond spy following on our heels, we sent Y*** to his compatriot to explain our difficulty and humbly ask him if he would not yield for the dying English lady a little bit of his stock while it is sent to us from Agra. The spy listened very politely and – refused! A small piece won't help and he himself can get sick here from the heat ... Babu, whom had been insulted by Miss B***, tried the last desperate resource and – was her and our saviour. He ran with Narayan into the field and brought a whole bunch of herb called kuzimakh. This herb, which has the properties of nettles, covers the body after one light touch with a rash and terrible blisters. Without saying a word, he asked me to put on gloves and rub the legs of Miss B*** with kuzimakh. His face and hands instantly swelled like a bubble, but he paid no attention to it. I confess that I have carried out the task entrusted to me with a vicious zeal. For some reason, I hoped ... I felt that the Thakur would not allow such a tragic end as the death of an Englishwoman during our journey, and it suited me fine to give her an unpleasant but beneficial itch for several days. After five minutes of rubbing, the legs of the Englishwoman turned into bloody blisters, but she opened her eyes and had the pleasure of seeing (at least I hoped) how the “son of a contemptible race” was taking care of her. But the Babu did not stop at this: whereas at nine o'clock in the evening W***, her compatriot, under the pretext of ill health and fatigue, went to bed in the next room, the little Bengali did not leave her for a minute. He alone changed her head bandages with ice, which was finally sent from Agra in the evening as a result of our telegram, and left her only the next morning, when an English doctor arrived with the first train.

Learning about the strange medicine of the Babu, the doctor muttered something under his breath, and then declared that even kuzimakh was good, like any other counter-attraction of blood from the head. Having ordered to take the patient back to Agra, and upon recovery immediately back to Bombay, he took 50 rupees and went to have breakfast while waiting for the return train, asking W***, en passant, to see to it that those “negros” would not bother him. W***, feeling that I was looking at him, blushed very much, but promised – without making the slightest comment. He went with her, because it was impossible to let her go alone in such a condition, and it was impossible for us to leave without seeing Swami Dayananda.

But let's go a few hours back. The day before, in the evening after the disaster and when the patient fell asleep, the four of us: the Thakur, the colonel, Narayan and me, gathered together behind the small garden of the station, near the tents that were pitched for us. The tents belonging to the Thakur, appeared in a few minutes, as if summoned by magic from the ground, and were very curious. At other times, their internal arrangement, where there was a corridor, a bedroom, a living room, and even a bath room, would have attracted all the attention of our inquisitive president, especially their rather oriental furnishings. But at the present moment he was too excited. His only thought was the responsibility of his position as President of the Society; the thought that our company is upset, and one of its members, no matter how guilty, was in danger of death. Uncertainty of the future and sincere grief due to the factual impossibility of reconciling two so opposite elements in the Society presided by him and entrusted to him, like the arrogant Englishmen and the natives, who, like fire and water, only hissed at the slightest contact, all this did not give him rest. And the poor colonel, in the greatest confusion, strolled back and forth in front of the awning of the middle tent, where the Thakur, calm and serene as always, smoked on the carpet at the door.

Finally, he uttered his desperate monologue. “Undoubtedly,” he reasoned, “Miss B*** is a terrible, awful woman! Selfish and quick-tempered, as ... as ... a Mexican mare!” –he cut short, not finding a better comparison. “All this is so. In addition, she is an Englishwoman, pompous and starched like her own skirts, and ready, like that frog in the fable, to swell every minute with pride due to her own and national greatness! She is rather stupid, in a word! But nevertheless she is a member of our Society! Isn't that so?” – he ended by addressing me.

“Only as long as she remains a 'member' nothing will come of this Society,” I replied. “She herself does not follow its constitution, and leads others astray.”

“But she’s still a useful member of the Society,” he argued. “She is helpful because she is both the English and a patriot. Mr. Y*** and her, both serve us as a bulwark ... a living protest, so to speak, well, at least against that idiot over there in a white tunic who is now drinking his almost twentieth peg on the veranda and takes us for spies, like himself ... And now, if she dies, what are we going to do?”

“Don't worry, Colonel; she will not die,” the Thakur said indifferently.

“Won’t she? Do you give me your word in that, my dear Thakur?” exclaimed the delighted American.

“Giving a word in the life or death of a sick person without being a doctor would be too impudent of me,” the Rajput objected, laughing. “But, judging by many years of experience, if she survived the first half hour and the symptoms of some other disease did not join the sunstroke, then, of course, the main danger is over...”

“And ... and you ... excuse me, my dear, my highly respected friend, will you not send other such symptoms on her?” asked the colonel mysteriously looking around and bending low over the Takur’s carpet.

I was sitting obliquely, leaning against the awning post, and listening in silence. At the president's words, I shuddered: they were an echo of my own unexpressed and deeply buried feelings, but, nevertheless, a true echo. Narayan, with an extinguished biri (a kind of small cigar made of the green leaves of the mango tree) in his teeth, was standing near Gulab-Singh. A black shadow also passed over Narayan's face, and he quickly looked up at the colonel. In this look, both anger and a mute reproach to the insolence of the questioner were clearly read.

In the deep and dark, like an abyss, mysterious eyes of the Thakur, I did not notice this time that burning, lightning-like light that illuminated them, as a lightning illuminates the distant sky, when Miss B*** behaved so unbearably stupid and insulting towards everything native; I did not find in them that sharp spark that, I confess, always frightened me, awakening a vague feeling of some kind of superhuman fear, which I was ashamed of, but could not overcome. At that moment his gaze remained calm and indifferent: only a slightly mocking smile raised the corner of his mouth...

“Your question, in other words, is a direct accusation that I sent the initial illness on her?” he asked, looking the Colonel straight in the eyes.

The colonel blushed from ear to ear, but did not demean himself to useless denial. He looked directly and boldly with his half-blind, honest eyes into the Thakur’s face and, stammering, confessed:

“Yes, as I understand this unfortunate circumstance ... But you needlessly call it “accusation”...”

“H’m! However, one cannot say that such a suspicion was very flattering,” after a pause, but still smiling, said the Rajput, looking into the distance. “To take revenge on a woman for the intemperance of her stupid language by almost death is even less in the customs of the robber tribe of Rajistan than it is in the taste of educated Europeans. But I have no right to blame you for such a thought, since knowing that you have formed some exaggerated, high concept of my ... psychological power, I, nevertheless, left you to your own conclusions and inferences ... In your own way, you are right...”

The American lifted up his clear blue eyes to him and, thoughtfully pinching his beard, obediently remarked:

“We came to India 10,000 miles away to study psychology and everything related to the spiritual person ... and ... at your call. We have chosen you as our guru,[3] and now, when we have found in you alone the embodiment of the “secret science,” will you really turn your back on us?”

There was a very sad note in the voice of our president. The Thakur glanced quickly at him and, after a pause, answered quite calmly and even affectionately:

“It is true that I am really initiated into that which is known to us as the Gupta-Vidya – secret science…”

“Do you know these sciences? Do you finally decide to confess this at least to us, your ignorant, but very devoted disciples?”

“I have never hidden it and I could not, even if I wanted to hide it ... I am a Brahmacharya[4]. But under the name “Brahmacharya” and the word “secret sciences” sometimes very much is meant, and their meaning is very elastic. Thousands of years have passed since the glorious times of the Rishis, India has fallen and degenerated,” he added sadly. “Now you will find in all the big cities “Brahmacharins” who replace a wife unlawful to them by caste rule with a secret harem (the zenana) and who are usurers; you can often meet charlatans who make and sell love potions in the name of the “secret sciences”! Will you really chase after such people and honor them for their name only?”

I involuntarily glanced at the colonel, and we were both embarrassed. Before leaving Bombay, a certain great, according to Mulji and others, “sadhu” (saint) and alchemist was brought to us after great precautions and persistent requests. The “holy” anchorite emitted a very unpleasant smell and the most varied sounds by his nose and mouth, but all this was attributed by the colonel to his complete detachment from everything earthly and his holiness. Taking from us several hundred rupees in money with a promise to turn them into a “life elixir” and powder from all sorts of evils and publicly receiving from the colonel all kinds of signs of servile reverence (the latter, however, to the great and just indignation of the Englishwoman), our holy elder retired back to his unknown abode

“en nous disant: "Je reviendrai!",”[5]

as in “The Favourite.” We are still waiting...

“What are these "secret sciences"?” continued the Thakur. “For me, these sciences, as well as for anyone who has devoted the entire life to them, contain the key to all the secrets of nature and the worlds, both visible and invisible. But this key is more dearly bought than you think. Gupta-Vidya is a double-edged weapon, and you cannot approach it without sacrificing your life in advance, nay, your mind, since she overwhelms and destroys everyone who does not succeed in subduing her. Ancient fables are not based on fantasy alone. And in our antediluvian Aryavarta there is a sphinx, as in Egypt, and for one Oedipus, thousands of victims can be found. It is especially dangerous for you, Europeans and whites. That is why I hesitate seeing your passionate desire but ... unreasonable one to allow you even to begin your first trials...”

“Oh, Thakur, I beg for the sake of everything dear to you” exclaimed our president in a pleading voice “in the name of our entire society, in the name of science and humanity!.. You know, I'm not a coward. I do not value life, and if at the end of it a ray of truth does not flash for me, then the sooner this end ... the better!.. If you just once show me that path that leads to truth, I swear never to betray it…”

The Thakur’s reply was slow in coming.

“All right,” he said suddenly, to the great delight of the colonel. “Now that tomorrow you will probably be freed from your two Englishmen, I can invite you to my place, in D*** estate. There are still two weeks left before your trip to Swami Dayananda... At my place, Colonel, I will subject you to one preliminary and small test. If you are successfull – you will be my chela for seven years. If not, well, then everything will remain as of old. Do you agree?”

“With joy, with joy!” replied our cheered up president. “And you will see, Thakur, that I will not disgrace myself in any test!”

At the end of the conversation, the Thakur asked me to go to Miss B*** and inquire about her condition. All three, that is, Gulab Singh, the colonel and Narayan, then locked themselves in the tent. When I returned an hour and a half later, two bodyguards were walking quietly in front of the locked entrance, and three others were lying motionless across the entrance. Passing into my own tent, I ran into the blond spy in the dark, almost nose to nose, recognizing him more by the smell of vodka he spread than by his dress and figure. He was obviously eavesdropping, and upon my appearance he quickly disappeared into the darkness...

About an hour later, someone knocked on the crossbar of the entrance to me. I had not yet gone to bed, intending to visit the ill-fated Miss B*** again. Hearing the knock, I was, out of habit, ready to open my mouth and say as usual: “Come in!,” when suddenly two tall, shaggy Rajputs appeared as if from the ground at the entrance, where they stopped rooted to the spot, both leaning on their rifles and looking inquiringly into my eyes. I confess that this sudden appearance both confused and puzzled me. Neither they, nor I understood each other, and the explanations of both could have lasted until the morning, had it not been for the angry voice of our venerable colonel, already heard from the other side of the tent.

“What the devil!” he shouted. “Do they take me for a leopard, that they don’t let me come near the tent!? Will you go out for a minute,” he shouted even louder, with the obvious intention of being heard by me. “Look what they are doing! Are they holding you under arrest, or what?”

Faster than lightning, the fear flashed through my head as to whether the English spy, whom I had met almost at the threshold of the tent an hour earlier, was involved. The idea was stupid, but not incredible. It, however, immediately dispersed when, at the call of the colonel, I quickly walked to the front door. Not only did my hairy Rajputs let me pass completely unhindered, but even as I approached, both of them lay flat like cuttlefish on the sand as a sign of obedience and reverence, so that I almost had to walk over the heads of the warriors. When I came out my eyes saw a picture that reminded me of the similar ballets on American stages, representing the “war dance” of Red Indians on the “march.” Three other Rajputs, as hairy and armed as the first two, crossed three sabers held in their right hands and in their left hands shields made of rhinoceros hide, were barring the way of my respected President. Their energetic tactics were accomplished in utter silence and with an expression of complete devotion on their faces. If Mr. O*** made a step to the left – they would jump there, holding up their shields; were he to go to the right – they would do the same and meet him with the impenetrable wall of their shields. Seeing me, they instantly dropped their armor and stopped dead.

Extremely delighted at my appearance, the colonel noticed that he had something very important to tell me, and only then proceeded to explain the strange behavior of the Rajputs, and was about to enter the tent, when suddenly Narayan called to him.

“Colonel Sahib!” he quietly called him, “please, wait! The Thakur-sahib sent me to you...”

“What is it? What happened?” asked Mr. O***, perplexed.

“Maha-sahib (great lord, monseigneur) orders to tell you that you’d better not to enter Bai-sahib’s tent... We are here in Rajistan, and they have ... completely different concepts about ... etiquette than in Europe and even with us – in central India ... Do not go, otherwise you will shock them more than I am able to express.”

“But why and whom can this shock? Then, who are these strange people?”

“These people are bodyguards sent by the Dewan of the Bhurtpore Maharaja, the honorary guard of ma’am-sahib,” Narayan replied. “And the whole country will feel shocked. How can you enter zenana after sunset?”

“Zenana? Where did you find a zenana?”

“The quarters ... of Ma’am-Sahib!”

The Colonel whistled loudly and continuously.

“Oh, is it really!? Are there still women at her age in zenanas!?” he exclaimed, his eyes popping and bursting into irreverent laughter. I also laughed at such a frank comment.

“It's not about years, Sahib,” Narayan said earnestly, “but about respect for the female sex. Among the Rajputs, the older a woman is, the more respectfully she is treated...”

“Well, if we can't, we won't go in,” the colonel agreed good-naturedly. “And I was nearly suspecting them of wanting to rob me and did not understand at all why they were dancing in front of me! So let's walk to the station, I'll tell you on the way ... And we will find out what our old B*** is doing...” the colonel was beaming. “You know, – he said in a joyful whisper, when Narayan left,” the Thakur admits me to the “first trial”...

“I know; because he promised it to you in my presence, if you happily pass the preliminary test.”

“No, this is completely different ... he allows me to try kumbhakas and purakas ... whenever I wish!”

“Oh, Lord!” I threw up my hands in horror. “Why, does it mean that you will be hanging upside down and not breathing for hours? And you will certainly have a stroke! Are you out of your mind?”

“Why shall I have a stroke? Everything depends on willpower, and I never lacked it,” answered O*** slightly offended.

“Well, as you know ... Just see if he is laughing at you ... He only wants to prove to you how completely incapable a European is for the labours of Indian asceticism...”

For the first time since our acquaintance, the esteemed American almost quarreled with me over this remark. “It seems that you envy,” he repeated, in spite of my statement that I absolutely don’t see what one could envy in hanging head down like a bat; that anyone can hang himself in that position if he wishes, and that he is only courting trouble and everyone will laugh at him. Nothing worked and my reasoning did not convince him. He came here to study the “secret sciences” and he will study them.

“And what have you decided now?” I said somewhat angrily. “Do you want to be a fakir, painted with cow dung, or a Raja Yogi? So after all, you either forgot or do not know that the former knows the real Gupta-Vidya as you do, and real Raja Yogis, such as the Thakur, do not hang upside down and do not shake their brains out of themselves.”

The last argument apparently startled him.

“Why? Has not the Thakur practiced the 86 positions prescribed by Patanjali's Yoga[6]?”

“That would be quite like him wouldn’t it? He who speaks with such contempt about the folly of the hatha-yogins, those who follow only the dead letter of Patanjali’s teachings and stand for days on their heads, let their toenails grow into the ground, or hand an iron hook passed through their thigh and the skin of their back, with the hook fastened to a chakra,” – I replied, losing my patience.

“But why does he allow me?”

“He allows it to you to get rid of you, because you bother him too much, and he wants to teach you a lesson ... Do not be angry, Colonel; but where have you ever met a fakir or even a common bayrag-gossein (a wandering monk) with a belly like yours?”

O*** again got offended, even upset.

“But I can lose weight; I only wish to show him the power of my will, to prove that not only Hindus are worthy of initiation into the higher “secret sciences”.”

“It is not means of such tricks will you prove it! I know him better than you ... enough of this, do not fool yourself with vain hopes! Thank fate that despite of the fact, that both of us belong to the hated and despised “white race,” he seeing better than anyone else our unconditional ardent devotion to him, and perhaps even more our sincere sympathy for his people and respect for his homeland, he makes such an unheard-of exception for us. Do not demand from him what he cannot, does not dare to give us, and be content with the crumbs that he throws to us on the way.”

“But why,” the Colonel stayed after me, “tell me why! After all, does he have disciples?”

“Yes, he does, but not like you and me, children of a rotten civilization, heirs of all the vices of the West. Look at Narayan, the poor fellow is a mystic and fanatic by nature; he lives by him alone and is ready to lay down ten thousand lives, if he had them, for the Thakur with one wave of his finger. And he will never take him as a chela, although he is a natural Hindu.”

“But how can you know!? Did he say it to you?”

“No he did not, but I know; if only because I understand Patanjali better than you and I am not in India for the first time. The unhappy Narayan cannot become a Raja Yogi because he is married.”

“Why, he is nominally married: his wife is only eleven years old. This is just an engagement.”

“Does the Thakur have the right to destroy the whole life of a young, innocent creature? Is he that kind of person? You forget that if Narayan leaves his wife, she will be dishonored until the day of her death. Not only she, but also all her family and relatives up to the seventh generation will be deprived of their caste... She will shave her head as a widow, and one touch of her will be unclean. Her misfortune will be immediately related to grave sins in one of her previous lives, and after death she will not even be burned, but thrown to be devoured by jackals...”

“Unhappy young man!” exclaimed the colonel with heartfelt condolences.

“But ... perhaps fortune will smile on him ... she, perhaps, will ... die?” he added naively.

“Poor, little Avani-bai![7] Aren't you ashamed to hope for her death!”

“I don’t wish it at all ... but anything may happen ... and my only wish is for his good...”

Before he had time to finish the last word, something extraordinary happened. We were standing in the backyard of the station under a tree and speaking almost in whispers, and the Thakur tent was at least two hundred feet away. Suddenly, as if from the dense foliage of a mango tree, the clear, sonorous voice of Gulab-Singh was heard above our heads in response to the selfish remark of our president, who stayed put...

“He would build his own happiness on the misery of another, can never become be a Raja Yogin!..” said the voice clearly.

The last words of the phrase, begun almost above our ear, were gradually receding, sounding somewhere far away and finally merged with the plaintive howl and laughter of hungry jackals in the field.

The colonel ran as fast as his short stubby legs could carry him towards the Thakur’s tent, where he found him at dinner with Narayan and our two other Hindus. The Thakur was finishing his evening portion of milk – his only food (as much as we managed to notice during all the long weeks of his staying with us), and when asked if he had left the tent, the colonel received a negative answer from everyone present. The Thakur has not left his carpet since the time Mr. O*** stopped forcing his way into the Bai-sahib’s tent...

“I was looking at him as if under the influence of a momentary madness,” the Colonel told me later, “and he was sitting in the same manner as always, indifferent and calm, staring at me with his surprised eyes, with which he seemed to touch and pinch your soul at its very bottom!.. And do you know what he answered me to my involuntary exclamation of having probably heard his voice in the yard of the station? “It may well be, my dear Colonel. The invisible corridors of eternity and boundless space of akasa[8] are filled with all the voices of nature – past and present. It is quite natural if you accidentally stumbled upon a congealed wave of my voice and, setting it in motion, evoked an echo in one of these corridors... Remember, nothing disappears without a trace in nature; therefore, never say, nay, never even think of what you would not like later find imprinted on the tables of eternity...” The Devil take me if I can understand this living riddle which we all call the Thakur! Who and what is he?!”

The next day we put Miss B***, weak but already scolding, into the carriage and sent her back to Agra in the care of W*** and the doctor. On the parting greetings of the Babu, who was taking care of her until morning, she answered with a gracious, but stately and rather cold bow of her head. As for the Hindus, she did not shake hands with anyone; but W***, ashamed of our presence, hastily and as if hiding behind the backs of the audience, shook hands with all of them, except for the Thakur, who was not present at the farewell. The doctor, raising his hat slightly in front of us and with an unlighted cigar in his teeth, was about to turn to the “silent general” with the order to get him a fire. But he was immediately taken aback by the colonel, who, taking Mulji's arm, shouted aloud: “Hey! Who's there! Send a footman here!,” – boldly looking into the eyes of both the doctor and the “spy” who had already appeared on the platform. Miss B*** in tears threw herself into my rather cold embrace and for two minutes wiped her nose on my breast.

Finally, the last call freed us from this unsympathetic element, and we all sighed, as if a heavy mountain had been lifted off our shoulders. We were left alone, face to face with our Hidus and the Anglo-Indian spy. But on the same day he mysteriously disappeared somewhere and was replaced before our return to the English territory, as we learned from the Thakur, by Muslim spies.

In the evening of the same day, we went to the capital of the Maharaja, where we spent the first night in the palace of the independent prince of India. That story, however, and the narrative about our further adventures are yet to come.

Radda-Bai
END OF THE FIRST PART


Footnotes


  1. In India, doctors call this kind of death heat apoplexy.
  2. Well, this is just mockery! (Fr.). – Tr.
  3. Guru is a teacher.
  4. A kind of a secular monk, from birth dedicated to celibacy and obliged to study siddhis – the science of theurgy or white magic and miracles.
  5. Telling us: “I will come back!” (Fr.). – Tr.
  6. This system of the philosophy of asceticism is the most difficult to understand in India. Like the Chaldean Kabbalah, according to which Simeon Ben Yohai composed the Hebrew Kabbalah in the first century, or some treatises of the alchemists, each noun in it means something else according to a secret key. This key, according to generally accepted concepts, is in the possession of some Raja Yogis, and the Brahmans have no idea of the real meaning of these teachings.
  7. Avani means “stream” or “river,” bai means “sister” and is added to every female name by both the Parsis and the Hindus.
  8. Akasa is the ether of our teachings and, moreover, something else indescribable in our language and for which the metaphysics of the West has not yet found suitable name.