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Letter XXX[1]

A small possession, once a kingdom with kings and queens, Bhurtpore is famous only for its Semiramides' gardens, its Deeg. His Raja is extremely proud of his independence in front of the less happy brothers, the Rajas of other possessions of Rajputana, forgetting that he owes his independence to the completely closed geographical position of his territory. In Bhurtpore there is neither a resident, nor even any English official, for the simple reason that, bound as if in a vise between Agra, Jaipur and Alvur, this small state is like a prisoner surrounded by so many soldiers that for an extra sentry there would be no place but on the shoulders or head of the prisoner. Despite this situation, the population, that is, the upper classes (kshatriyas, the warrior caste), of which there are more than the lowest, with pride worthy of the Spanish hidalgo, despise the Marathas and even the Rajputs, whom are now no longer feared. Brought to ruin by the English, they are content with little and live in their “Kingdom of Peacocks” (so named because there are up to 6,000 sacred peacocks in one Bharat valley) carefree and even happily. Once energetic and militant people, they plunged into a state of hibernation and literally spend their whole lives in religious festivals and sacrifices to the gods since 1826, when Lord Sleigh ravaged their capital, taking it by storm. Bhurtpore is home of bards and sacred chanting, where the valiant exploits of gods and mortals are glorified from morning till night. Therefore, out of seven hundred thousand inhabitants, in an area of some 77 miles [123.92 km] in length and 50 [80.47 km] in width, there are four hundred thousand brahmins, doing absolutely nothing, and three hundred thousand people spending their whole life taking water from Deeg lakes and carrying it on their shoulders for irrigation of 1978 square miles [5123 sq km]. Apart from these lakes, which occupy only a few miles, there is not a drop of water in the entire possession.

Raja and 99% of the total population are the Jats. This tribe, which once made up the vast majority of the population of Rajasthan, is the “aborigines of the scorching plains” that spread along the Indus and its tributaries. Todd assures and proves,[2] in his own way, that the Jats are of the same clan and tribe with the Geats, Massagetae and Utes of Jutland, and as a result also with the Anglo-Saxon conquerors of England. He even finds between the fair-headed Jutland man, his red-haired cousin John Bull, and the black, as the ace of spades, Jat, “a very strong family resemblance” in the lower jaw (sic) and probably in the ears. There is nothing intricate here. Under the despotic orders of “philologists,” “ethnologists” and “anthropologists,” our poor mother nature can only remain silent.

One thing is true: the Jats are one of the most ancient peoples of India, and although the “aborigines” for the Rajputs who came later, they are not aborigines, but also newcomers for the real aborigines, tribes scattered throughout India, hiding in inaccessible mountain gorges, in forests and jungles. Their legends (like history itself, or rather those tattered pages that are now circulating among us under the name of history) point to the Jats as a tribe whose foremost colonies came to India beyond the Himalayas, probably beyond the Oxus (now the Amu-Darya), even before the time of Cyrus. In the IV century, history finds the Jat kingdom in the Punjab, but does not indicate the era of its foundation and does not give any information about the first appearance of the Jats. Todd also wants to prove their identity with the Asians of the Oxus, the tribe that overthrew the Greek Empire in Bactria. These Asians are the tribe, a branch of which, having burst into northern Europe, settled, by the way, in Jutland. Of all the tribes living now in India, whom they want to impose the Scythians as their progenitors, the Jats are the most suitable for the hypothesis. They have the appearance of the Scythians, as we find it described by Herodotus, as if imprinted on them. Squat, thickset, hairy, with strongly developed muscles, the Jats fit this description as much as the tall, slender Rajputs and Bhili do not. It is enough to look at the purely Greek profiles of the Rajputs to make sure that it is impossible for them to originate from the Scythians. This is as absurd as throwing the Punjabi Sikhs, eagle-nosed colossi with a purely European type of face, into a common “Scythian pit,” just because before they were converted to monotheism they sacrificed horses. The Sikhs and Rajputs, according to the general opinion of Orientalists, have one of the most beautiful types of the human race.

The pure Rajputs and Jats scattered throughout a huge part of Rajasthan under the “beneficent rule of England” (a stereotypical expression), and their thakurs and zemindars enjoy the same rights, or, perhaps it will be more correct, they do not equally enjoy any rights, except for the rights of an ordinary landowner and master in their own estates. But between the Rajput Thakuras and Jat ones, popular opinion, rarely mistaken, created an impenetrable abyss. The Jut Thakur is a feudal baron who robs at night. The Rajput Thakur is a knight, un chevalier sans peur ni reproche[3] in the full sense of the word. To quiet the former and thus gain loyal allies for themselves, the government, although it forbade the daytime robberies de jure, allowed them de facto, permitting the robbers, like the Bedouin sheikhs in Palestine and Syria, to collect contribution from the visiting caravans and travelers, as if guaranteeing the latter complete safety from the Bhils. But the Rajput Thakurs did not accept any of the favors offered to them. Owning and controlling almost autocratically a handful of their subjects, they hardly leave the borders of their villages and even often the castle. Proud and indomitable, now made impossible to fight with each other, they seem to have submitted to their fate, but they only communicate with the Rajas, to whom, as vassals, they are obliged to pay tribute in people and money. With the English, they have almost no direct relations, and have business, if necessary, through the ministers of their suzerain, the Maharaja.

As elsewhere, the conquerors of the “superior race” appeared here as Cains in relation to the innocent Abels. They shuffled India like a deck of cards. It is a pity to look at this once flourishing corner of Bharatra[4] under the Rajput and even under the Muslim kings, now Bhurtpore, lying in the dust of age-old palaces and temples, like a charred piece of moldy rusk. At the beginning of this [19th] century, magnificent aqueducts from the inexhaustible Deeg lakes cut across the country, and Bhurtpore was considered one of the main granaries of India. The country blossomed and turned green all year round. But in 1825 the troops of the insatiable East India Company appeared under the leadership of Lords Sleigh and Combermere. The city was built on lowlands and the water of the huge, now non-existent and buried lake Moti-djil (Pearl Lake), being at a higher level, could, at will and at any time, be released into the fortification ditches and flood them, and the city became impregnable. Since 1805, the English tried four times to take Bhurtpore by attack, and each time they were repelled with a huge loss. In the course of twenty years, all the military tricks that the humane British were so keen on were put into operation in order to take possession of the Peacock Kingdom with its salt lakes and fisheries, giving about 170,000 pounds of annual income; but they succeeded only in 1826. According to the stories of the Diwan and especially the old under-tutor of the Rajah, the responsibility for the pogrom of the city lies with the conscience of God Krishna, his patron. During the first siege, native soldiers serving in the English ranks swore that they saw Krishna in the air over the city, “dressed in a yellow ascetic dress and armed with his special armor: a bow, a mace, a conch shell and a sacred trumpet,” and as a result they fled. But in 1826, the deity blundered ... The superstition of the Jats can only be compared with the superstition of the Dravids of southern India; this is some kind of magical, enchanted world. Spending a few days with the Jats is like reading fairy tales day and night ... At every step there is a temple with its own special legend, into the foreground of which knights and gods with goddesses who always play the roles of good and evil sorceresses are brought, like in Perrault's tales,[5] where virtue always triumphs, and vice is always punished...

“Do you see those ruined walls of fortresses, over there on the rampart, where that huge tree with golden flowers grows?” asks us the envoy of the Diwan.

We drove up to the capital of Bhurtpore, and piles of rubbish, the ruins of once famous fortifications, towered in front of us and behind them in a dirty and stuffy depression lay a city, a collection of dilapidated shacks. Ugly idols stood on the flat terraces of houses, and among them peacocks walked importantly, sparkling in the rays of the setting sun with their hundred-eyed tails.

“I see ... What is so amazing in that tree?” squinted the colonel.

“Nothing now,” the envoy answered, sighing. “But those yellow as gold flowers, these innumerable clusters of fragrant calyces, all these are Krishna's tears ... Seeing that the English cut the road for our engineers to the pond and cross over the city moat, the dev (god) threw in despair the mace under the feet of the first detachment and at this point a tree immediately grew. Then sacred tears fell on the tree like frequent rain, and from each drop a flower grew.

“Instead of crying, the god would be better not to make a mistake and immediately break necks of the entire detachment,” the Babu said through clenched teeth.

The young Rajput, who was riding beside the carriage, only looked up at the Babu. His pitch-black eyes expressed mute reproach.

“You are Bengali and ... probably a nastika,[6] aren’t you?” he cut him off.

“Yes and no,” answered the Babu, a little embarrassed by the direct question, and even more by Narayan's gaze intently fixed on him, “I am from Bengal, but I belong ... or rather belonged to Charvaka sect,[7] to the Lokayatas. But now,” he hastened to add, “I am a Theosophist and I am ready to believe in what the President will order us to do...”

We laughed, trying to turn this frank confession into a joke. Apparently, it made a heavy impression on his religious fellows. They probably did not know until now about belonging of our light-headed Babu to this sect so despised by other Hindus. Fortunately for him, the Thakur was absent. Having placed us in the carriage and sent under the protection of his riders, he himself, as usual, disappeared somewhere.

Bhurtpore was built on ruins, from which nothing is left now on the earth's surface, even there are no ashes of the ancient capital founded by the hero Bharat. The present capital is only one century old. The Maharaja's palace hides among the ruins of ancient bastions and towers, covered densely with creeping plants, as if ashamed of its modern scanty appearance. It is surrounded on all sides by towers and surviving domes on the flat terraces of an old fortress with numerous holes, and represents, as Ferguson remarks, “a terrible mixture of all styles of architecture” from the Saracen style to the Jat’s one.

Having passed several ancient gates with vaults and dilapidated walls, on the ruins of which the sentries were quietly sleeping or smoking chillums[8], we drove up to the palace. Maharaja was not at home, he went as a pilgrim with his retinue to Hardwar.[9] The first time since we had arrived in India, we entered an inhabited palace of the Rajah and, of course, expected to see something magically beautiful. The disappointment was complete...

The building is huge, like all the palaces of the Rajahs, but gloomy, sooty, with walls covered with mold, with an endless row of galleries, verandas, towers and turrets, stairs and corridors. Inside, endless rows of rooms of unknown purpose, but from the first to the last, from the durbar “throne” room to the smallest closet under the roof, each resembled the storeroom of a seller of old furniture. Everywhere the floors are without carpets, made of stone, but very uneven, not swept, probably since the day of the Rajah's departure, as each step raised clouds of dust, making us sneeze and cough. The rooms are cluttered with half-broken rubbish, rows of armchairs and sofas, once gilded, but now shabby, of all sorts and epochs, upholstered with precious but faded damask; on the walls there are cheap German cuckoo clocks (we counted about eight of them in one room!), pictures with the mechanism of moving boats and music next to huge, from ceiling to floor, numerous mirrors; in the library decorated with precious crystal and magnificent rosewood carvings you can find six, seven volumes of sixpence odd novels by James, and everywhere, as if for sale, women's dressing tables, the surface of which, due to years of dampness, represented geographical maps, distorting our reflections, as if making face at us: – that's what we have found in the palace of an independent rajah!

Noticing, probably, the absence of any delight on our frank faces, a bearded Jat who met us on the porch and intended to show us the royal chambers, wanting to make us, probably, change our minds about the splendor of the palace, took us into some secret, corner room, visited, as he told us very confidentially, by all the English bara-sahibs (great gentlemen) and highly praised by them. This room, which he ordered the under-tutor to unlock with some special key, also with a secret and in addition with music, turned out to be hung with paintings in the French taste of the most impermissible content. The colonel restrained his urge to curse the Jat, and Narayan, barely glancing, rushed out of the room, relieving his chaste heart with a whole stream of words that we did not understand, but which apparently made a depressing impression on the bearded confidant. He was very confused and hastened to lock the “secret” room, muttering something like an apology. We only realized one thing: all the firinghee “bar-sahibs” and even the “ma’am-sahibs,” their ladies, visited this European “museum” and always laughed very merrily. As a result of such a defeat, however, the bearded man hastened to retreat, leaving us in the care of the old under-tutor of the rajah.

Everywhere there is the same dirt, dust, bad taste, desolation and dilapidation. The maharaja himself does not live in his “royal” chambers. They are meant to delight visiting white barbarians. He himself had settled for a long time in a zenana, in a mansion, with half a dozen wives. Unfortunately, in India, the example of the virtue to subjects is not set by the rajas or princes. Except for the latter, the natives, from the highest Brahmin to the last coolie, are strict monogamists, but their masters, the maharajas, all adhere to polygamy. These potentates, so to speak, were born and live outside the caste, for most of them never had a caste. The grandfather of the Maharaja Holkar of Indore was born a simple shepherd; the gwalior of the Scindia family is the great-grandson of a footman. His great-grandfather Ranoji, the first Scindia, served as a trusted servant in 1714 of a Peshwa who took him from the family of common peasants, and in 1782 Ranoji's bastard son, Scindia, became the Maharaja of Gwalior. The Gaikwars of Baroda, as their very name means, were cow drovers a hundred years ago; and the present young Gaikwar, elected by the government to expel the unfortunate Malhar Rao,[10] accused (and completely unjustly) of trying to poison Colonel Feir, a political resident, is the son of a simple coolie, a distant relative of Malhar Rao, etc. Some Muslim rajas, if you believe them, all come from Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet, and their female lineage from the Mohammed mare (sic), although the way of evolution from the latter is not entirely clear. But the maharana of Udaipur, the ruler of Mewar in Rajasthan, without exaggeration and not at all for it sounds good, comes almost from Adam. In any case, the genealogy of this royal house was declared by the English government to be absolutely correct and legal; and this genealogy points to Iksvaku, the son of Manu, the great mythical legislator of Ariyavarta, as the ancestor of these maharanas. Ikshvaku was born 2225 years BC.[11] You can bet that there is no older genealogy in all of Europe. The Suryavansas, the descendants of the Sun, have the inalienable rights to despise the most ancient English surnames, relying on their own recognized genealogy. In due time, we will talk in more detail about these proud remains of the past and irrevocable greatness!

“Old curiosity shop (bric-a-brac[12]),” the still angry colonel muttered, looking around. “And where is the Thakur-sahib?” he asked suddenly. “Shall we not see him more today? Narayan!.. Mulji!.. do you know where the Thakur is?”

Maha-sahib (the great lord) never enters the palace of the Bhurtpore rulers,” Narayan whispered in our ear. “He went ahead to Deeg and is expecting us there tomorrow for chotta-khazri (for breakfast)...”

“Hm!” mumbled the president, looking at the Chinese porcelain mandarin with a broken nose, “the evening is ruined... And don't you know, dear Narayan, why the Thakur-sahib avoids ... the home of the local rajah?”

The Maratha was apparently embarrassed.

“I have no right, colonel, to interfere in private affairs and ... discuss them ... especially the actions of the maha-sahib,” he finally answered, stammering.

But the colonel's curiosity was not one that could be stopped by a comment. He turned to the old under-tutor of the Rajah, who trailed after us, surrounded by gatekeepers with bunches of keys. The question was repeated to the old man. Hearing it, the old Jat suddenly became even more embarrassed than Narayan.

At first minute he was completely confused. Then he began to obsequiously bow and assure the colonel that he, the American sahib, is the “patron of the poor” and “benefactor of widows and orphans”; after that he cunningly averted the direct question, as if suddenly realizing that the sun had already set and would be getting dark at once. In the end, instead of answering, he invited us to the premises assigned to us.

The colonel had no other reply.

We were placed in a huge separate wing, which was connected to the main building by a covered terrace directly from the roof of our premises. Our rooms, although less cluttered with furniture, were still an unimaginable chaos. And here, as in the palace, there was a collection of the most varied decorations. The pot-bellied armchairs with straight, uncomfortable backs, taken from England, probably by the late Company, seemed to shun the intricate, ebony, carved chairs of the “inferior race” like pureblood Englishmen of the “superior race”. On the broken billiard, grass grew from cracks, clogged with earth and dust. Marble pier-glass tables on gilded and crystal legs with cracked slabs propped up expensive antique age-lopsided mirrors. The walls were completely covered with portraits of the rajas, painted in oil and full length; and beside them hung popular prints of cheap English factory work, with gentlemen and ladies riding on crimson horses, followed by pale pink and green dogs. In the pier of the dining room, under the same popular print of French mores, representing the tournament of young ladies on skates with noses hidden in muffs, with fat legs and in blue shoes, two dozens of paintings of the so-called work of Delhi were on the floor leaning against the wall... On thick parchment there were golden inscriptions in Urdu – clearly legends of the plots – and verses from the Koran, they depicted various historical durbars of Mogul and Indian rajas and rulers. In one of them, a square yard [0.84 sq m] in size, 80 human figures were represented. All of them obsequiously stood with folded arms and bowed bodies in the direction of some rajah sitting on the throne, except for a figure in a blue uniform, epaulettes and with red mustaches. It was dazzling in the eyes from one glance at this group painted with the brightest colors, but, like all oriental works, there were no shadows or priming. The room was lit only by one large hanging copper lamp, and the flame of a wick, immersed in the most primitive manner directly into coconut oil, blown in all directions by a through wind from all windowless openings and openwork doors, illuminated objects very vaguely. Neither I nor even the colonel paid attention to this picture pulled half way out among the other upside-down paintings of durbars and hunts.

Apparently, they tried to receive and treat us in a European way. The dining table was found in the possession of a whole colony of red ants; and since it turned out to be impossible to get them off without accidentally killing several – a crime specified in the laws of Manu, and which the Jat under-tutor did not dare to commit – they brought us another table. A marble board with a magnificent mosaic work on three gilded broken legs immediately collapsed under the weight of a whole pile of plates, to the horror of the under-tutor, who saw in this fall a clear omen of someone's unexpected death. To the undisguised disgust of our Hindus, a whole basket of French wines and liqueurs was brought to us, and to the indescribable amazement of the old Jat under-tutor, the drinks that delight the soul were in disgrace immediately ordered to be removed by the colonel. The tutor could not understand in any way that the “Sahib-feringhee” could refuse wine and vodka. His surprise knew no bounds when, to complete an eccentricity that apparently seemed to him extravagance, we asked him to let us have a native dinner on a mat and with plane tree leaves instead of dishes and plates.

It was only eight o'clock in the evening, when, having finished our meal on the floor, in the dubiously pleasant company of two huge centipedes which had disappeared from our pursuit in the bedroom prepared for me, we began to carry, with all possible precautions, several loosened armchairs over onto the veranda, where we finally sat down, being ready to have a breath of evening air after a sultry day. Our company was soon joined by two visitors, the assistant or secretary of the Diwan, who accompanied us from the station in the morning, and a very fat Bengali Babu, the inspector of the Maharaja schools, the only people in Bhurtpore who spoke English. The inquiring colonel bombarded them with questions. An hour later, we knew no worse than themselves all the ins and outs of the maharajas of Bhurtpore and the Peacock Kingdom.

Among other historical information, we learned that the current rajah, presented by the English as the real, legitimate heir to the throne, is a usurper in the eyes of his subjects, although he is not guilty of this crime, but the government. In 1825, upon the death of Buldeo Singh, the raj was legally required to pass to his cousin, Durjun Sal. He had a huge party and the laws of Manu on his side. But the East India Company had soldiers with guns and the right of the most cunning, if not the strongest. In addition, both now and then, John Bull insisted on his right to be the world protector of the weak and innocent and, under the pretext of a protectorate, to swallow the weak and innocent along with his kingdom. Uninvited guardians appeared here too. Their policy is to allow only those rajas who have been brought up by themselves to take possession, according to Metternich's wise mode in relation to Napoleon II, the ill-fated imperial prince. Like the Duke of Reichstadt, all these Indian rajahs perish a la [as] Marquis de Sade, thanks to their English tutors, who, from the very first day, lead them unnoticed on the path of early death from debauchery and drunkenness.[13]

So, in spite of the fact that Durjun Sal was already sitting on the throne at the choice of the people, there appeared in 1826 an army of 20,000 people with 122 guns, without any reason, to save a minor illegitimate prince. The army was repulsed with great damage, as they say, “by the god Krishna himself and the sacred peacocks of Sarasvati,” of whom twenty thousand descended on the army, and the peacocks, sitting on the heads of the soldiers, began desperately pecking out their eyes. The English failed then to take the city by storm. But they returned a month later and (I am translating from the words of the Bhurtpore chronicle), “taking advantage of Krishna’s doing topas[14] at that time,” but most likely due to the speed of action, the army, as already mentioned above, cut the road to the Rajah's engineers to the saving water of the pond, and then cut also innocent inhabitants, according to the storytellers, up to 9000. After that, having caught the raja Durjun Sal who was running away with his wives and two sons, the English sent the unfortunate prince to Benares for eternal life, generously allocating 50 pounds sterling (500 rupees) per month for his expenses. The Rajah died in 1851, leaving two sons and countless grandchildren. The meager pension was divided between the sons and the maharani-mother. The descendants of Buldeo Sing began to die out little by little, which suited the government fine.

And now I allow myself a brief digression and run ahead for a minute for clarity of the story.

In 1880, during our stay in Benares, we met his only surviving grandson. The rest all starved to death. The card that was sent to us read:

“Rao Krishna Deva Surna Singh. Grandson of the Maharaja of Bhurtpore.”

Rao Krishna turned out to be a very educated and handsome young man. In addition to this, we immediately remembered then that he was the hero of a very mysterious, albeit highly improbable, story told to us in Bhurtpore by our two visitors, which story I am now narrating.

His father, the son of the exiled rajah, already completely starving (the pension was finally stopped, taking advantage of the uprising of 1857), learned photography and made a living by taking pictures of pilgrims who came to the sacred shores of the Ganges, and views of various temples and pagodas. He had no money to pay for the education of his only son, and the government refused to help. Religious to the point of fanaticism, he went one fine evening – on the day of the eclipse of the moon, the greatest holiday among the Hindus – to the temple of his patron Krishna. Despite the oversight of Vishnu's avatar regarding the capital of his father's former kingdom, he did not stop offering sacrifices to him whenever he could. That evening a pocket of the ill-fated son of the maharaja was empty and so was his stomach. Fingering the rosary, squatting in front of the idol, he fell asleep out of grief. Some learned materialist and physiologist expressed the opinion that dreams come to the mortals only because of a tightly stuffed stomach; but this time there was an exception in favor of the starving: the young god appeared to him in a dream and, pointing to a leafy tree in the garden of the shack occupied by the raja, said to him: “Dig under this tree at every full moon night and, as long as you remain faithful to me, you will find monthly 1000 silver rupees on the southern side of it.” Waking up and remembering that it was just the full moon night, the prince-photographer went home and began to dig with a spade. Krishna kept his word and one thousand rupees were found. Then, in a fit of gratitude, the prince made a vow to go every year with his son to worship God in a famous temple near Hardwar. At the next full moon night, the same result: one thousand rupees under the tree. His only son, Rao Krishna (a name added to his former names by his father, in gratitude to his divine patron), was then only eight or nine years old. Every month the god Krishna put a bag of rupees under the tree, and every year father and son went barefoot to a distant temple, with a staff in hand and in full costume of Indian ascetics, that is, in the light and primitive attire of Adam.

Now I ask the reader to get ready for the aforementioned incredible story. Despite all the implausibility, among the two hundred and fifty million indigenous people of India, such stories are very common and for the natives they have nothing incredible in them.

When Rao Krishna was fourteen years old, his father took him as usual with him to his annual worship. That year, severe cholera raged among the pilgrims, killing the victim in less than an hour, and they died like flies along the way. Our young Rao also fell ill in a clearing near a forest of the deodar cedar; his father noticed with horror and despair that the boy was dying. The other pilgrims and sannyasis who were walking with them noticed this too, and immediately fled away, so as not to be defiled by touching the corpse with the help given... There remained a group of pilgrims who watched from afar... It was they who spread throughout India what had happened before their eyes.

The boy died, and the father filled the whole forest with cries of despair and hopeless grief. He implored fellow pilgrims to help him at least build a pile to burn the corpse; finally two of them decided to be defiled and approached. The boy lay blue and completely dead, and all the rituals prescribed by Manu were performed over him. Several hours passed, the pile was ready and all that they had to do was to put the dead body on it, when suddenly the pilgrims saw a new and completely unfamiliar person who had appeared from nowhere ... That was an old ascetic, over a hundred years old. The sacred triple lace over his shoulder indicated that he was a Brahmin, and the mark on his forehead in black and white paint showed that he belonged to the Vedantic sect called advaiti[15]. Quietly and barely dragging his feet, he approached the corpse lying aside and, bending over the face of the deceased, for a long time and without touching the body, peered into it. Father and the other pilgrims, seeing the triple lace, did not dare to come closer and silently watched the silent scene from afar. However, the old father, as they say, was so heartbroken that, perhaps, he would not have paid attention to him if something very strange had not happened here. The ascetic, who had stood before that motionless, began to stagger little by little and bow lower and lower towards the deceased. Another two or three seconds, and the pilgrims saw how the decrepit body trembled and his legs got bent... Suddenly, falling flat, the old man, like a cut down sheaf, stretched himself out next to the dead young boy and ... and at the same second, throwing his arms high, the latter sat down and, wildly looking around, began, to the horror of the pilgrims, slowly beckon them to him with his hand ...

When the first minute of confusion and horror passed, and the father, with a cry of joy, rushed to the resurrected son, other pilgrims approached. After examining the body of the ascetic, they found him dead and stiffen. But the strangest thing was that he seemed to be dead already a few hours before. All the cholera symptoms were visible on his body: black spots, swelling and twisted legs, while from the body of the young man, which seemed to begin to decay a few minutes before, all these signs disappeared, leaving no trace behind. His body was clean and seemed perfectly healthy. As if the old man and the young one had exchanged organisms.

Morality and explanation: everything in the world is maya, an illusion, and we should not believe even death. Hindus are deeply convinced of the secret power of mantras and mantrikas (charm prayers and charmers), as well as the ability of adepts of secret sciences to unceremoniously move, if necessary, into the bodies of other people, using deep sleep, illness or even the death of the latter. Therefore, they explain the incident with Rao Krishna by the fact that the old ascetic is tired of living in his decrepit perishable body. Besides, he was probably moved by the despair of his deserted father. Due to this double reason and being assured in the boy's death, the venerable ascetic recited the mantra, crawled out of his own skin and got into the body of the deceased, whom he thereby revived. At the same time, “everyone won, both sides were satisfied, and no one lost anything.”

“Has really no one lost?” argued we with the narrators. “The boy retained the body alone, or, rather, the decrepit old man acquired a new one ... but after all, Rao Krishna has probably lost his spiritual personality, the individuality of the immortal soul!”

“A very erroneous reasoning,” the Vedantists answered us then, as well as later. Belief in the individuality of our spirit and its own personality is the most powerful of all delusions and the most dangerous one. This, in our opinion, is a terrible heresy. The immortal spirit in man is no different from the Universal Spirit...

“So do you think that Parabrahma is in me too?” I ask them.

“Not it in you, but, so to speak, you have eternal being in it, and your spirit (atman) is no different from the spirit of another person ... And the soul, that is, the seat of your personal, inherent mind, is of course, yours...”

“Thank you even for that ... So is it all the same?”

“Of course, it doesn't matter. After all, the soul (manas, or vital soul) cannot be immortal like the spirit. The spirit is a part of the divine, uncreated Parabrahm, without beginning, as well as without end, and mind, having a beginning, must have an end. Manas is born, develops and dies. As a result, it cannot be immortal. Example: scoop up a few drops of water from the ocean with your hand and squeeze them, and have your neighbor do the same. Your hands are two completely different hands; one is white, the other is dark brown; but they are not immortal, and sooner or later both will turn to dust, but the water in both hands from one boundless ocean – the personification of Parabrahm in our case – must return in one form or another to its original source, to the one Paramatma (the Highest Universal Soul) ... See?”

“I didn’t understand anything; but it doesn't matter. Go ahead and believe as you like, but I will wait ...”

So the Hindu Theosophists taught us, confirming the story told to us. However, this is the teaching of Vedantists alone, followers of Shankaracharya, the greatest adept and yogi of southern India. Dvaitas, Visishtadvaitas and Brahmos[16] reject it and believe in the divine person, Ishvara, separating it from the human soul.

In those days of our first journey, we were not yet familiar with this doctrine, nor with the incident, nor even with its hero, who is the first to reject its truth, although it is good to remember his imaginary death. Therefore, we treated the story with great doubt and this upset our friends very much.

“But this is freethinking,” they reproached us in chorus. “After all, such facts are known throughout India, and there were many, many such historically famous incidents. The great Shankaracharya himself, the interpreter of Vedanta, moved several times during his lifetime into the bodies of rajas in order to correct their injustices and help the people. Remember his controversy with the goddess Saraswati.

And to assure us of the fairness of the incident, they repeated to us the following from the life of the great acharya (teacher). In Madhana (VIII, 34) there is a story about how he outwitted Sarasvati, the goddess of the secret sciences and wisdom. In the form of a mere mortal, the goddess somehow joined a learned dispute with Shankaracharya. She wanted to prove to him that there are things in the world that even he does not know about. Having received satisfactory answers to questions on all kinds of branches of knowledge, Sarasvati suddenly baffled him, demanding from him a definition of the science of love, about which Sankaracharya, as an ascetic and yogi since the age of eight, of course, could not know anything. Then, in order not to be ashamed in front of the witnesses, Shankaracharya asked for a delay of one month. The goddess, confident that not a single sannyasi, destined to celibacy and chastity, would be able to answer her question, agreed and triumphed in advance. But the great commentator of the Upanishads[17] called for the help of the jnana-khanda. This khanda is a secret science or correct understanding of the Vedas, something accessible only to a very few chosen ones (raja-yogis), while karma-khanda is the teaching of the Vedas, which is left to the ignorant majority, unable to perceive the truth beyond external ritualism and gross worship of form and the dead letter. ... And with the help of the khanda, Shankaracharya won the case. He immediately went with his disciples to the east of Amritapuri, where the Raja Amarak had just died, and, mingling with the crowd of his grieving courtiers, ventured on the very practical step in this situation. One had only to look at the handsome body of the deceased and at the despair of his 99 wives, in order to come to the conviction that the raja was a master in the science of love. Having entrusted his disciples to look after his temporarily abandoned body, Shankaracharya (or rather his soul) slipped out of the “scabbard”[18] and moved into the lifeless scabbard of the raja. The illusion of resurrection was complete. In one month, Shankara Raja studied the “science of love” perfectly and not only studied, but he himself wrote an excellent treatise in two parts. In the first, love is described by him in the most vivid colours and the attractiveness of this illusion is sung in shlokas (verses) that are just as ardent as those of scientists; in the second part all the arguments, all the brilliant sophistry of the first one – all this is crushed, crushed to dust by the author himself. He destroys the arguments of his first part and points to the bitter fruits generated by the attractive colour of the insidious “tree of love” ... Under the wise guidance of raja Shankara, in the “scabbard” of raja Amaraki, the people were blissful; and the cunning brahmins, familiar with the jnana-khanda, suspecting the truth and wanting to take advantage at all costs and as much as possible of the control of such a sage, went to the trick. In order to prevent the return to the own body of the one who took possession of the body of the deceased, apparently resurrected king, they issued a secret decree commanding to proceed immediately to the burning of every dead body on their land. Thus, acting secretly from the king, they hoped that the body of an unknown adept, a raja-yogi, who so opportunely settled in the corpse of their former handsome but stupid raja, would also perish. Shankaracharya's “scabbard,” although under the faithful protection of his disciples, was found and the left body was thrown onto a prepared pile. Thanks to the Yoga-Vidya, however, Shankaracharya immediately felt that something was wrong with his legal “scabbard” and immediately was enlightened that they wanted to forcibly keep him in the body of the Raja. Then he immediately slipped out of the kosha that did not belong to him and, leaving the empty shell of the raja this time to its inevitable fate, he returned to his own body, which he found already surrounded by flames. It did not burn out only thanks to the chain mail surrounding it, so to speak, made of non-combustible, although invisible material. Returning to Benares, he amazed even the goddess of secret wisdom Saraswati with his deep knowledge of the “science of love.” She declared herself defeated and recognized Sankaracharya as the greatest rishi (sage and saint).

It is clear that if the most sacred Shastras and Puranas (ancient legends) for the Hindus, and even the Upanishads, considered by the brahmins as divine revelations, are full of such stories about the moving of the soul from one body to another, then it would be unfair to mock the Hindus. For them, belief in such miracles is natural and sacred, and I cited this episode from the life of Shankaracharya, recognized by Orientalists as one of the most remarkable philosophers of India as an example justifying the natives’ belief in what we regard as a stupid superstition. The religious feelings of the Hindu and the Rajput are offended here at every step. Their sacred peepal trees, the refuge of pure spirits, fall daily under the ax of an English planter; and at the peacock, a bird dedicated to Krishna, they shoot with the same indifferent carelessness under the very nose of a native, as if it were a crow. The English do not understand, and do not want to understand that every such blow of an ax and every such bullet resonate in the heart of a pious Hindu, expanding with each passing hour more and more that abyss of hatred in the soul of a defenseless native, which the English themselves dug with their own hands. To what extent the English are aware of this, it is easy to see from their own confession.

“It is unreasonable and unworthy of a philosopher and even just of an honest person,” says colonel Tod, “to treat popular beliefs of such deep antiquity with contempt.

“The man should be a stranger to mercy who laughs at them; he is careless in politics who does not use any means to prevent such insults due to ignorance or thoughtlessness. An ungenerous display of strength over their (natives’) weakness is simply an abuse of our strength. Let us remember who the heirs of these ancient temples are, the patrons of the sacred peepal trees and peacocks: the children of Surya and Chandra (the Sun and the Moon), the descendants of the ancient sages who currently form the ranks of our brave army, attentive, albeit meek observers of all our actions: the most faithful, loyal and obedient mortals. Let us try to preserve their obedience and loyalty, respecting their faith and not offending in them every hour their self-esteem and national pride ... Let us ask ourselves, in all honesty, whether we made those who conquered almost all of India[19] for us happier, or ruined them, trampling underfoot everything that is only sacred to them.

“For the common good, for the mutual happiness of rulers and ruled, let’s try to correct all our past mistakes ... I solemnly declare here that I loved and still love the Hindu soldier. I proved what he was capable of once he got attached to the chief. In 1817, thirty-two riflemen from my convoy attacked, defeated and dispersed the enemy's camp of 1,500 men, capturing and killing enemies in number three times more than that of themselves. And what do we hear of the battle at Indian Thermopylae, Corigaum?[20] There were 500 riflemen against the 20,000 men, whom they put to flight! Could you find me in the annals of Napoleon something more magnificent and worthy of surprise ... But what gratitude did they, our brave sepoys, and their compatriots receive in return for all this?”[21]

But now they have received and are still receiving daily gratitude from 60,000 Anglo-Indians, who are headed by all the English newspapers in India, especially The Englishman. In 1857, disrespect and daily abuse sparked a mutiny by the sepoys. In 1883, that is, at the present moment, a rebellion of Bengali Babus is taking place, growing daily with greater force! But the consequences of the first rally of Anglo-Indian planters and shopkeepers in the Calcutta city hall, after the so-called Ilbert Bill became known to them, were not limited to general clashes and innocent squabbles. The legitimate and very respectable desire of Lord Ripon, now nicknamed “the Babu Ripon,” to finally render the simplest justice to the natives by giving rights to their educated judges in the crown service, similar to those of English judges, caused an unheard and unexpected storm on the part of non-civilians, that is, the aforementioned planters and speculators who are not in the civil and military service. The latter, some secretly and some openly, were followed by officials and officers. Such insults and ridicule were rained down on the innocent Babu that one must be positively Hindu and have the patience of the meekest mule in order to swallow them daily and hourly, barely answering them, adhering to only a defensive system. But the hurricane keeps getting stronger. It first moved from Calcutta to all the cities and towns of Bengal, but now there is no town and village that would not respond to the cries of offended Babus. It came already to Parliament. In The Englishman under the pseudonym Chau-Chi-Chfu, an alleged announcement appeared: “Several European-Asian families are required a large batch of water carriers, cesspool cleaners, coachmen, sweepers at butcher’s, etc.; nobody but Bengali Babus will get these vacancies. The advertisers prefer retired collectors, judges and crown lawyers” and so on and so forth. Then the fury of the offended Babus, and indeed of the whole nation, reached their last limits and they began to respond with the same insults. In Parliament, Mr. O'Donnell, one of the leaders of the Irish party, drew the attention of the House to this terrible, “undeserved insult”; the assistant secretary, Mr. Cross, replied that he had read this “dishonorable libel,” that instructions had already been sent to the Anglo-Indian government, and that The Englishman would probably be prosecuted for stirring up passions among already mutually hostile races. Nothing of the sort! Poor “Babu Ripon,” having made a mess, he himself does not know how to clean it up now. This suggestion, without any consequences, only inflamed our Babus even more. For more than three months the daily, weekly and monthly editions have been filled with just this. The unfortunate raja Shiva Pfasad, who dared to say a few words in the Viceroy Council against the Bill, was burned and is still being burned (in effigy, of course, that is, his dummy) in all cities of India. Terrible meetings, protests, addresses and fiery speeches are everywhere. There is groan and hum in the air all over India. For the first time since its existence, the native press rose as one person, and in the Anglo-Indian camp, the amazons, ma’am-sahibs and missi-bibis rose to the aid of husbands and brothers. To the six thousand signatures under the petition of the Anglo-Indian fair (but disdainful) sex in the “lady's address to the queen” against the Bill native women respond with an “address” to her majesty for a bill with 300,000 signatures. They protest at the same time against the systematic series of insults of Her Majesty subjects.

But all this is just a question of the Bill. During the very height of the case, there was an even worse unexpected turn, about which, of course, all our readers have already learned from the newspapers. The situation turned out to be even more serious, and how it will end, only Providence knows. Because of a penny candle, Moscow burned down, and because of the old stone idol, the shaligram, the hearts of all Hindus, believers and non-believers alike, burn with unquenchable hatred for the English. This insult is no longer of a political, but of a purely religious nature, against which even such non-believing as nastikas like our Babu have stirred up. “It's not the idol that matters,” they say, “but the insulting of an entire nation.” Superior judge Norris, sorting out some kind of quarrel over the ownership of the above idol, ordered it to be brought to the trial chamber, as he now explains, with the consent of both parties. But in the eyes of the whole nation, such an action turned out to be unheard of, intolerable. Native newspapers divided the attention between the Bill and the idol. All the Pandits, Brahmins, Shastras[22] rose up. An army of yogis, sanyasis and all the monastic and mendicant brethren rose menacingly... The government was frightened in earnest. But if, according to the proverb, with the Englishman much is winked at, then with the Anglo-Indian “the devil himself must rock children”. They calmed down for two days with a promise not to repeat such an insult, when suddenly thunder suddenly struck for the third time. The editor of The Bengalee offended the high court with a printed word, condemning the action of judge Norris and arguing that he, by law, had no right to summon the venerable idol to court and thereby desecrate the shrine. Norris was offended “for the greatness and inviolability of the court,” as the Anglo-Indian newspapers claim, and “wanted to take revenge in the person of an educated and influential native of all India,” according to the assurances of the native leaders, who immediately unmask the judge, showing how he threw his hat up at a rally against the Bill and scolded the natives. The editor, Babu Surendranath Banerjee was sentenced to two months imprisonment. What happened after that is impossible to tell. The Babu became a hero of the whole India for 24 hours. He is “a martyr for our mother India”; he “is suffering for the whole people and for the cowardice of all” others, and so on. Condolence addresses are being sent from all cities in India and huge sums are being collected for the “martyr.” Millions of signatures are being collected (literally) to submit a petition to Parliament, and several lawyers and speakers have already been sent to London...

What will it all end with and how? Great is that politician, I will say more, that prophet, who will be able to lift the veil of the future in this case. It all depends on the heart of India, Calcutta; and although it is shameful and bitter to brand an entire sixty-million-strong nation with one handwriting of the pen, the truth forces me to say frankly that, with a few exceptions, the Bengali Babus are not people, not men, but some kind of pastries with coconut oil. Yeast rose, came into temporary motion, and there it will fall and will sour for another whole century...

But, my God, where I have got to, how I got lost! It is difficult, while describing the past, not to dwell on the present, especially when it comes to a people full of excellent qualities, with a heart that is not malignant, like a child's, and with a sage's head, but unbalanced and just as spoiled now as the same child and not through pampering, but with cruel beatings of an uninvited and unsociable stepmother ... I will turn again to the beliefs of this strange, completely exceptional people.

It is impossible to convey even parts of the stories of the school teacher and the Jat about the ability of the Hindu spiritual Egos to visit and return a visit as for other people's bodies and to play a master in them. This would require a special book, with an appendix of selected stories from Baron Munchausen. However, being fed up for four years with similar narratives, with each pointing out the facts, that is, strangers with souls living in them (sic), the last disrespectful remark I write, perhaps, is written not by me at all, but only by my European scabbard. Sometimes my head gets dizzy, my brain gets cloudy, and I even cease to be aware and confuse my own personality. With such extraordinary stories, I did not dare to declare myself mentally that I was as if I were myself, and not (as in one of Mark Twain's stories) my own twin brother who drowned in the bathtthub next to me ...[23] We were sitting thus since eight o’clock in the evening till far past midnight on the veranda, listening to one story after another, one more extraordinary than the other!..

Finally, our guests asked permission to leave. We only then remembered that we ourselves were to be blamed for the length of their visit: we forgot to ask them to get out! In India, if the host does not take the trouble to send guests on time (an European by phrase: “I hope you will come back soon,” and a native by offering betel gum and sprinkling guests with rose water), then out of courtesy visitors are ready to stay with you the whole night. This is highly unpleasant duty, and at first it embarrassed us a lot. Now we have got used to it and we find this custom even very convenient, especially since such a delicate task does not even require Demyan’s fish-soup[24]. On the contrary, the guests themselves bring an offering in the form of fruits, sweets and flowers, and they would run away from the refreshments without looking back: the strict laws of an inexorable caste do not allow them to even touch a glass of water. When water is served to a European in the house of a Hindu, a glass or other utensil, as defiled forever, is broken immediately to smithereens. A courteous European will always smash it himself.

Our guests were already about to leave, when the colonel, stubborn and perky in arguments, like a true Yankee, laughing, again remarked to the Jat and the school teacher:

“Thank you for your visit and the information you have provided. Just excuse me, but I still do not believe that the soul of a living person could take possession of someone else's body by desire and whim alone.”

“We are not saying that every soul can do this, but only the mayavi-rupa (body of illusion, perisprit[25]) of the initiated yogi.”

“I fully believe in their might and secret force,” he interrupted, more seriously. “I believe because I was personally convinced of all this upon my arrival in India. But that the soul, even of the most powerful adept, and even he may be as clever as you please, but to move to another body at his will, – I cannot believe. After all, you make werewolves out of them!.. This way, perhaps, every yogi is able to turn, as in the fairy tales of our redskins, into crocodiles, cats, frogs ... Deuce knows!..”

“Don’t argue, colonel,” remarked the hitherto silent Narayan. “Don't argue; you cannot know what it can go to ... their might and to...”

“Why, there are boundaries for everything!” our president interrupted with a note of annoyance in his voice. “Well, our Thakur, for example ... I believe in his science, deep knowledge and psychic strength, as I believe in my own existence... Can I really believe that, using the body of a dead rat, he is able to move into it?.. Ugh, what disgusting!”

And he even spat, and for some reason I remembered W*** and his argument with the Thakur on the lake shore.

“Only jadus, sorcerers, and Tibetan dugpas and shamars[26] turn into rats and tigers,” Narayan exclaimed almost angrily, his eyes were flashing. “The great Saab will never condescend to this!.. But if he wanted to do so, then ... of course...”

The heavy sound of mighty wings a stone's throw from us suddenly interrupted Narayan in mid-sentence. He trembled all over and fixed his gaze to the corner of the veranda. A magnificent peacock, probably awakened by the loud voices of the disputants, flew off the roof and, heavily landing the ground, stood in front of Narayan, proudly spreading a magnificent fan of its tail...

The colonel roared with laughter...

“Don't you think, my poor Narayanji, that our Thakur is sitting in this peacock?.. Perhaps you are ready to assure yourself and us that Gulab Singh has deliberately turned into a peacock in order to stop your immodest disclosure of his power!.. Ha, ha, ha ...”

Our president was roaring with laughter, but Narayan did not even smile. We noticed that even Babu remained serious. Others apparently assumed an air of indifference and swagger that they did not feel. One fat teacher was sniffing, grinning and trying for several minutes to screw in a word. Finally he managed to take advantage of the momentary lull, and he cleared his throat pointedly.

“Colonel Saab does not believe our stories about the transmigration of souls from one living body to another ... But in front of him is, if to believe the whole of India, a living, so to speak, example,” he spoke loudly. “Ask whoever you want, and everyone will tell you that in the young Thakur Gulab Lal Singh there is the soul of the old sovereign Thakur, his grandfather, and that he...”

The Colonel and I pricked up our ears and was listening, trying not to miss a word.

“Can you finish up!..” Our president exclaimed impatiently addressing the teacher who suddenly fell silent and seemed to be thinking of something.

“That the Thakur ... during his lifetime...”

But we were not destined to hear the end of this interesting information. On the roof, over our heads, suddenly sharp sounds of peacocks could be heard and something has fallen thudding against the stone platform at the feet of the teacher who had sat down again. In the semi-darkness, and before we could see the image of this new phenomenon, the obese teacher jumped up with the elasticity of a rubber ball on a chair and immediately broke it into pieces, almost falling apart himself with it. Having somehow kept on his feet, he jumped aside and yelled in a high, frightened fistula:

“Cobra, cobra!.. beware... cobra!..”

Our little Babu, who believed just as little in the laws of Manu, forbidding the killing of any living creature, from a tiger to a bug, inclusive, as in werewolves, rushed right there with the speed of a monkey to help his compatriot. Having snatched a thin bamboo stick from his hands, he grabbed the snake, probably more frightened than we are, with one hand by the tail, and with the other, armed with a flexible stick, he at once broke its spine, then stepped on its head with a thick shoe and finished off with a whip. In the mouth of an unpleasant reptile, we found a peacock egg, which explained to us both the visit of the werewolf peacock and the appearance of the cobra. Having stuffed her mouth with an egg, which the cobra could not immediately swallow and, probably, feeling powerless before the attacking peacocks, it fell from the roof in fear.

We laughed at the superstition of Narayan and Mulji and, saying goodbye to the guests, entered our dining room. Taking advantage of our absence, the courtiers, who probably wished to earn the baksheesh expected here even by the royal servants the next morning, tried to put the rooms in order. Their main cleaning was the following: a billiard was covered with an old chintz and leaky blanket, and Delhi's paintings were placed on the tables and windows. One of them was especially striking, leaning against the mirror hanging opposite the entrance doors on the table under it. Our venerable president mechanically approached it and, raising his glasses to his forehead, began to examine the numerous figures of the depicted durbar by the light of a large lamp standing on the table. Waiting for him to finish his review, I sat by the window, very tired and yawning.

Everything was quiet around. Bhurtpore was asleep, our comrades went away, and the peacocks on the roofs were also sleeping, calming down after the alarm. We alone did not sleep, and also Narayan, who was still sitting with his head down on the steps of the veranda. He never went to bed before us and was ready for our services at any time of the day or night. Whether he did so because of the desire of the Thakur or of his own free will, we were unable to find out. But from the very day of our departure from Bombay, as soon as the mighty snoring of our good-natured boss was heard in the room or tent, Narayan lay down across the way leading to the door of my temporary bedchamber and did not leave the place until morning. Happy people in this respect are Hindus! They find comfort for themselves everywhere, from the Himalayan peaks to the hot soil of Hindustan. The richest Raja would never agree to sleep on the bed. A piece of rug and the bed is ready. And they don't care about the climate. A muslin dhoti[27] and a shirt, legs bare from the knees, barefoot and the same half-naked torso, this is their suit in all seasons and in all climates. The Bengali and Madras Indians who came with me to Darjeling – in October last year, dressed as usual on the scorching shores of the Hooghli in Calcutta, did not add a shred to their clothes in Sikkim, where I was freezing from the cold and damp, shivering under fur coats and blankets. For them, 8,000 feet [2,438.4 m] above sea level or 3 vershoks [13.34 cm, 5.25 inches] above sea level[28] makes no difference, and they bathed twice a day in the semi-frozen ice mountain streams with the same delight as in the heated water of their sacred tanks on the Bengal plains. And not one of them ever got sick even with a cold. In response to my question and a request to clarify this secret of invulnerability, they laughed, assuring that it was very simple: “You, white Saabs, wash with soap and rub your body with various poisonous essences; and since our first birthday our mothers has rubbed us after washing with coconut oil, and we continue this operation every morning during our whole life. All the pores of our body are saturated and filled with a substance that does not allow any dampness or cold inside the body...” I leave it to physiologists and allopaths to judge the correctness or incorrectness of this view. The latter will probably answer us that this is a harmful custom, that oil does not allow natural vapors to pass through, etc. perhaps; but our delicate grand dames could envy the skin (if not the color) of the last coolie or a simple peasant woman of India. This skin is softer and more delicate than any satin and velvet, and at the same time, as you can see, it is not subject, like ours, to colds.

Suddenly, a few cocks were heard crowing somewhere.

“You’d better go to bed, Narayan.” I said to the Marath who was sitting on the steps. “Hear, the Jat cocks have already begun to crow. Colonel, you’d better go too!?.. You are preventing Narayan from going to bed,” I added, standing up. “Good night, Sahibs ...”

There was no answer to my polite parting, and I turned in surprise to the colonel. He stood in the same place with the painting in his hands, half-turning his back to me, and was so deep in contemplation of the durbar that, bending low over the lamp, he did not even notice how baldness of the spot alone saved his hair from the inevitable burning.

“What's the matter with you, Colonel?..” I asked again. “Did you fall asleep, perhaps, over the lamp? Oh, Lord! Why don't you answer? What is the matter with you?”

And I rushed to him with unfeigned fear. The thought of “scabbards,” “werewolves” and various other wonders of India flashed through my mind.

Looking into his face, I was even more frightened. Red as a boiled crayfish, with white spots on his face, from which large drops of sweat were rolling, he stood like a statue of horror. In his wide-open eyes one could clearly read fear, amazement and some kind of helpless confusion ... I noticed that he was holding the painting with the picture down and that his gaze full of horror was fixed on the other side.

“But what do you see, at last, so terrible on the back of this parchment?..” I continued, shaking his arm with all my might. “Well, say at least a word!..”

My venerable president let out a kind of faint hum and jabbed with the finger of his left hand at the inscription written in gold in the Urdu language; unfamiliar with the squiggles of this dialect, I understood absolutely nothing.

“What is written here?.. Tell!”

Instead of a direct answer, he whispered in a weak voice:

“Narayan!.. Narayan!.. come here!..”

In one second, our faithful companion was standing next to us and looking at him with the same surprise as I myself.

“I do not know these letters very well ... I may be mistaken ... Can you read, Narayan, my son?” – whispered he softly in a weak voice.

“Durbar Shah Alam. His Majesty the Padishah grants the East India Company Bengal Diwani rights as well as the provinces of Bihar and Orissa... Meeting of Rajput ambassadors ... reconciliation ... by the will of the Blessed Prophet Mohammed ... after the bitter defeat at Patna in 1173. Painted by Ahmed-Din in 1177.”

“What is so terrible about that? And do we have something to their misfortune? I ask.”

“Do we have?” – the Colonel almost shouted. “We?.. We?.. But now you will see!! According to the Hegira, this is 1177, isn't it?”

“It seems so,” – Narayan answered, looking at him in amazement.

“Well, and what will the year 1177 of the Hegira be according to our European chronology?”

Narayan, thinking for a minute, answered:

“1765, I think, i. e. about 114 years ago...”

“1765! One hundred and four-teen years!” shouted the colonel, strongly pressing on each syllable, turning crimson. “Am I right? Well, have a look, both of you, try to find... guess the name! And then I have one thing left: to order to put myself in an asylum!”

Quickly snatching out the picture from Narayan’s hands, he turned it upside down and, pointing to the figure standing beside the Padishah, whispered in a hoarse voice:

“Look ... here, here he is ... undoubtedly he is ... And is there really another like him all over the world? It is he!” repeated he, pointing with his finger.

We looked, and I confess that such a surprise took my breath away and made my blood run cold ... The picture shook violently in Narayan's hands.

Before our eyes, among 70 or 80 figures of court Muslims and Brahmins, at the throne of the Padishah there was undoubtedly the image of Thakur Gulab Singh!.. Indeed, according to the colonel, is there really another in the whole world who is similar to him – it was him! It was a portrait of his double, if not he himself. Not to mention the fact that the figure of enormous height raised above the rest being head and shoulders above them, this was the only figure in the picture, completely free from the servile posture of all the other courtiers. The English officer barely moved out from under the elbows of the magnificent mustachioed serdars, and the painter's hatred pushed him completely into the background. One figure in whom we all at once recognized as Gulab Singh, towering high above the crowd, was striking eyes with its proud posture. Even the posture was his, peculiar to him alone: he stood with his arms folded on his chest calmly looking over the heads of the courtiers into space. Only the suit was different. A Rajput turban with a plume of feathers, steel gloves to the elbows, a kind of armour, several daggers at the belt, and a shield of transparent rhinoceros skin at the feet ... But long, wavy hair, beard, face, height left no doubt that it was him, our mysterious and inexplicable patron ...

“Why, this is impossible, it is incomprehensible!..” still very embarrassed the colonel broke the silence at last. “Well, can you understand anything?.. The man does not seem to be forty years old, and his portrait appears in a picture painted a hundred years ago!”

“Probably it is ... a portrait of his grandfather!” muttered Narayan, as if apologizing for the Thakur.

“Grandfather?” our president mimicked contemptuously, “why not your or my grandfather?.. Is there even such a family resemblance! No, no ... Not grandfather and not great-grandfather, but he himself ... I am going however crazy,” the colonel caught himself. “Indeed, if the picture is not forgery, then it's ... impossible!.. Tell me,” he suddenly turned to me in a comically pleading voice, “tell me ... it is impossible ... isn’t it?”

“I don’t know, Colonel ... For several days now, I have begun to lose the ability to even think. It seems that ... But don't ask me, ask him himself better ...” “if you dare,” I added mentally and without knowing why, getting angry with the poor colonel.

“No, no ... It's impossible,” he continued to reason as if himself. “Impossible!.. Therefore, we will stop this conversation.”

“Or may it really a portrait of his grandfather,” I said. “Remember what the school inspector started to tell us about him. But he said...”

I just shuddered from the look thrown at me by Narayan. At the very first words, he looked at me with such a burning and at the same time painful reproach that I felt the words stop in my throat. But a simple hint has already had its effect.

“Righteous heaven, but I had forgotten!..” the colonel exclaimed, slapping himself on the forehead. “But this is how the task becomes even more difficult ... Just think,” he went on as if to himself and thinking, – “if Thakur and his grandfather...”

“Enough!” I announced decisively. “If you really respect him, do not forget that he advised us many times: do not listen to different talk about him and do not try to find out anything about him. At least I feel enough respect for him that I shouldn't be against his wishes. Until tomorrow, gentlemen!”

I went into my room and pulled down the parda (curtain). After a few minutes, everything fell silent in the next room, and after a quarter of an hour, the familiar snoring with a whistle began to be heard.

. . . . . . .

What is it, a vision, reality, or just a fantasy, a dream?.. The stuffiness is terrible, and I cannot sleep. A huge punkah[29] swaying by two coolies on the veranda, instead of coolness, is bringing only unbearable heat. It’s like hot air from the oven blowing into my face! I’m not asleep, that’s true. There is my āya (maid), curled up in a ball like a black cat, sleeping on the mat at the foot of the bed... Here is my topee, lying on the floor, rolled back and forth by swaying punkah... No, I am not asleep... So what is it, why does it seem to me that I am beginning to see through the thick mat of the door and distinguish in the dark; all the objects, furniture, sleeping Narayan or at least lying across the doors and even a durbar picture left by the colonel on the table?.. In the next dining room, it is getting brighter, as if it is being illuminated by a full moon floating out from behind black clouds. Who is that?.. Is it really Thakur?.. But he is in Deeg! Well, he is quietly and inaudibly approaching the sleeping Narayan and touching his shoulder. Narayan is jumping up, and I see him prostrating in front of the maha-sahib, touching with his folded palms the Thakur’s feet... The Thakur is reaching out his hand to the picture, and, blushing with millions like electric sparks, it is instantly disappearing from my eyes ... Everything is getting confused, vague, and I open my eyes only in the morning, to the call of my āya, who quietly and with endless salams is waking me up, saying that the carriage is ready and the colonel-sahib has been already waiting for me.

What a strange, but surprisingly clear dream!.. – I think as I get into the gilded carriage sent to us by the Diwan.



  1. Russian Herald, November 1885, vol. 180, pp. 270-304. The beginning of this letter was published also in supplement to this magazine in August, 1883. From this letter the Second series begins with the additional subtitle: “Letters to the Motherland”.
  2. See Journal Asiatique [Asiatic Journal], May, 1827.
  3. A knight without fear or reproach (Fr.). – Ed.
  4. Or Bharata, the name of India, derived from the name of the legendary ancient Indian king Bharata. – Ed.
  5. Charles Perrault (1628-1703) was a French poet and art theorist, nowadays, however, known mainly for his expositions of folk tales. – Ed.
  6. Nastika is an atheist.
  7. Charvaka teachings are based on the Barhapastya sutram (scripture) and the short catechism of Charvaka, Epicurus of India, known as the Aphorisms of Barhapastya. The followers of these reject all pramanas – the sources of true knowledge, recognizing only pratyaksha (cognition through some senses) and only four tattvas (eternal principles), that is, four elements, from the totality of which intelligence or, rather, an animal instinct, which only in man turns into a mind. The soul, they teach, does not differ from the body; it develops and dies with it. The Charvaka Sutra is the most extreme materialistic school in India.
  8. Chillum is a small straight pipe for smoking cannabis. – Ed.
  9. In India, all great and small Rajas go at least once a year to worship at sacred places. They usually make at least part of the way on foot, dressed in the poor dress of an ascetic pilgrim, barefoot and painted with the signs of their sect.
  10. He died in exile in 1882 in Madras.
  11. See Asiatic Researches, “Vanshavali is a family tree of the Suryavansa family (descendants of the Sun) from the Rajasthan tribe.”
  12. Trinket (Fr.). – Ed.
  13. The young rajah of Cooch Behar, whom I meet every summer in Simla, in Darjeeling and in the Missur hills, has now become a purebred Englishman; he drinks champagne in barrels, presents all belles de la saison [beauties of the season (Fr.)] – “ma'am-sahib” and missi-bibi – who do him a great honour to waltz with him – with precious bracelets, necklaces and brooches and waste money for sports and revelries, doing all this not only with the consent, but with the approval of his tutor Colonel X not retreating a step from him... And he is not yet twenty years old! Even young girls are not ashamed to accept expensive gifts from him. It is clear what the ruler of the Cooch Behar Raj will be like. And if he breaks his neck or If he gets falling-down drunk all is blue, the complacent fathers-rulers, will immediately, under the pretext that they are legal guardians, first take all control into their own hands, and then slowly annex his princely state. Snug as bugs in a rug, and decency was observed.
  14. Religious meditation prescribed to all gods, as well as to people: self-absorption into Brahma, who sits in every mortal's heart.
  15. The Advaita (non-dualists) sect opposed to the Dvaitas (dualists); they do not recognize the gods, but Parabrahma alone, that is, the world divine essence, who in his omnipresence does not differ from the essence of the human spirit.
  16. Brahmos are followers of the teachings of Brahmoism, developed and disseminated by the Brahmo Samaj organization, founded in 1828. – Ed.
  17. The Upanishads, the third division of the Vedas, are also called rahasya or mystical teaching. One must have a key to the secret code in order to fully understand these metaphysical concepts of the human mind. As Professor Monier-Williams rightly noted, the Upanishads are the only religious school worthy of the wise thinkers of India. These are the sacred books of all educated natives. The Upanishads interpreted by Shankaracharya are the cornerstone of the Vedanta (that is, “the completion or end of all earthly science”).
  18. Kosha (scabbard) is the term used by the Vedantists when they speak of the body.
  19. Strange as this admission sounds, it remains and will remain a fact: the “conquerors of India” are not the British, but the Indians. Recently driven to mad despair by the Bengalis, as a result of unbearable daily insults in print and deed, in response to the Englishman newspaper (Calcutta), published a pamphlet in which they refute point by point the imaginary conquest of India by the English and call it “boasting,” proving this by official reports and correspondence of the Anglo-Indian government with the Foreign Office. The brochure was published under the title “Our Conquerors who are they?” In response to the exclamations: we belong to the higher race of conquerors and will not allow the government to subjugate us to the jurisdiction of people belonging to the lower one, the author of the brochure writes: “To this boastful vae victis [“woe to the vanquished” (Lat.)], which has been buzzing in our ears since the first day of rebuffing Ilbert Bill, we answer once and for all the following: it was not you, not your European soldiers, who conquered India, but our sepoys, the Hindus, and we throw down the glove, call upon the whole nation to refute us, if you can!” The author then lists all the battles the Indians won for England, from Plassie to the last mutiny when England was rescued by the Sikhs. He reminds the Anglo-Indians of the words of many generals, words printed and now belonging to history. Thus Lord Macaulay compares the loyalty of sepoys to Lord Clave with the loyalty of the 10th Legion to Julius Caesar and the old guard to Napoleon; further, the author repeats the comparison made by the same historian of the Hindu sepoys with the soldiers of Moritz of Saxony and the words of Lord Cornwells condemning the English soldiers, and his praise to the Hindus: “A brigade of our sepoys is capable of making anyone the emperor of Hindustan,” and so on. (See Kaye's Life of Cornwallis, p. 75). The “Black Act”, restricting freedom of the press, was abolished, and the English volens nolens swallowed the bitter truth.
  20. Or Koregaon. The Battle of Koregaon was fought on 1 January 1818 between the British East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy, at Koregaon Bhima.– Ed.
  21. History of Rajasthan, vol. I, p. 74.
  22. Learned brahmins who know all the Shastras, Puranas and Vedas by heart.
  23. A reference to "An Encounter with an Interviewer" (1874) by M. Twain. – Ed.
  24. Demyan’s fish-soup (iron.) is what being importunately offered, being imposed on someone in large quantity. The image from the fable "Demyan’s fish-soup" (1813) by I. A. Krylov, in which Demyan insistently treats his already well-fed neighbor Foka with fish-soup. – Ed.
  25. Perisprit (Fr.) is the etheric or astral double of a person; according to Allan Kardek's spiritistic dictionary: it is a layer of abstract etheric material that serves as a link between the spirit and the physical body. – Ed.
  26. Such is in original text. Today the word “shamar” is associated with holy individuals, and is used as a name or title of revered individuals, where “shaman” is often used as here, in a pejorative sense and seems to be more appropriate. – Tr.
  27. Dhoty is a piece of muslin, 8 or 10 arshins [5.69 – 7.11 m, 18.67 – 23.33 feet] long, wearing by men instead of wide trousers, and by women – instead of a skirt.
  28. The highest terrain in Kolkata is Clive Street, only 27 feet [8.23 m] above sea level during shallow waters.
  29. In every bedroom in India, a board with a wide, thick frill is stretched above the bed and across the room, and opposite the bed is a hole in the wall through which the ropes that set the punkah in motion are stretched. Coolies shake it all night. Otherwise, every European must suffocate.