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BOMBAY
In the spacious harbour, where a whole fleet of steamships lies at anchor, a swarm of decked boats are moving about, sober in colour, with the bows raised very high in a long peak, and immense narrow sails crossed like a pair of scissors, and resembling a seagull's wings.

The noise in the dock is maddening. The Customs, the police, the health-officers, all mob the voyager with undreamed-of formalities, such as a paper to be signed declaring that he has but one watch and one scarf-pin, and that their value is in proportion to the wearer's fortune. Then, again, the dispersal of the luggage, which must be fished out at another spot amid the yelling horde of coolies who rush at[Pg 4] the trunks and use the portmanteaus as missiles, till at last we are in the street.

Under the blinding sunshine reflected from the whitewashed houses, an incredibly mixed crowd, squeezed against the railings of the custom-house wharf, stands staring at the new arrivals. Natives, naked but for a narrow loin-cloth rolled about their hips; Parsees in long white tunics, tight white trousers, and on their heads hideous low square caps of dark wax-cloth, pursuing the stranger with offers of money-changing; Hindoos, clad in thin bright silk, and rolls of light-hued muslin on their head; English soldiers, in white helmets, two of whom stare at me fixedly, and exclaim that, "By Jo', Eddy has missed this steamer!"

There are closed carriages, victorias, vehicles with a red canopy drawn by oxen, the shafts set at an angle. The drivers bawl, shout to the porters, fight for the fare with their whips, while, overhead, kites and hawks wheel incessantly, uttering a plaintive cry.

Along the roads of beaten earth, between tall plastered houses, a tramway runs. In the shopfronts the motley display suggests a curiosity shop, and the goods have a look of antiquity under the thick layer of dust that lies on everything. It is[Pg 5] only in the heart of the city, in the "Fort," that the shops and houses have a European stamp.

Opposite the hotel, beyond the tennis club, is a sort of no-man's-land, where carriages are housed under tents. Natives dust and wash and wipe down the carriages in the sun, which is already very hot; and the work done, and the carriages under cover, out come swarms of little darkies, like ants, who squall and run about among the tents till sunset.

Further off, under the banyan trees, is the sepoys' camp; they have been turned out of barracks on account of the plague; and flashing here and there among the dark, heavy verdure there lies the steely level of motionless ocean.

In the English quarter of Bombay the houses are European: Government House, the post office, the municipal buildings—perfect palaces surrounded by gardens; and close by, straw sheds sheltering buffaloes, or tents squatted down on common land; and beyond the paved walks are beaten earth and huge heaps of filth, over which hover the birds of prey and the crows.

A large building of red and white stone, with spacious arcades and a central dome, as vast as a cathedral, stands at the angle of two avenues—the[Pg 6] railway terminus; and a great market of iron and glass—Crawford Market. Here are mountains of fruit, greenery, and vegetables of every colour and every shade of lustre; and a flower garden divides the various market sheds, where little bronze coolies, in white, scarcely clad, sell oranges and limes.

At the end of the garden are the bird sellers, their little cages packed full of parrots, minahs, and bulbuls; and tiny finches, scarcely larger than butterflies, hang on the boughs of ebony trees and daturas in bloom.

In the native town the houses are lower and closer together, without gardens between. Down the narrow streets, between booths and shops, with here and there a white mosque where gay-coloured figures are worshipping, or polychrome temples where bonzes are drumming on deafening gongs, run tramways, teams of oxen, whose drivers shriek and shout, and hackney cabs, jingling and rattling. Among the vehicles there moves a compact crowd of every race and every colour: tall Afghans, in dingy white garments, leading Persian horses by the bridle for sale, and crying out the price; bustling Parsees; naked Somalis, their heads shaven and their[Pg 7] oiled black skins reeking of a sickening mixture of lotus and pepper; fakirs, with wild, unkempt hair, their faces and bodies bedaubed with saffron and the thread of the "second birth" across their bare breast; Burmese, with yellow skins and long eyes, dressed in silks of the brightest pink; Mongolians, in dark-hued satin tunics embroidered with showy colours and gold thread.

There are women, too, in the throng of men, but fewer in number. Parsee ladies, draped in light sarees of pale-hued muslin bordered with black, which shroud them entirely, being drawn closely over the narrow skirt, crossed several times over the bosom, and thrown over the right shoulder to cover the head and fall lightly on the left shoulder. Hindoo women, scarcely clothed in red stuff, faded in places to a strong pink; a very skimpy bodice, the chol, embroidered with silk and spangles, covers the bust, leaving the arms and bosom free; a piece of thin cotton stuff, drawn round the legs and twisted about the waist, covers the shoulders and head, like a shawl. On their wrists and ankles are silver bangles; they have rings on their fingers and toes, broad necklaces with pendants, earrings, and a sort of stud of gold or copper, with coloured stones, through the left nostril. They go barefoot, pliant[Pg 8] forms avoiding the jostling of the crowd, and carrying on their head a pile of copper pots one above another, shining like gold, and scarcely held by one slender arm with its bangles glittering in the sun. The tinkle of the nanparas on their ankles keeps time with their swinging and infinitely graceful gait, and a scent of jasmine and sandal-wood is wafted from their light raiment. Moslem women, wrapped from head to foot in sacks of thick white calico, with a muslin blind over their eyes, toddle awkwardly one behind the other, generally two or three together. Native children beg, pursuing the passenger under the very feet of the horses; their sharp voices louder than the hubbub of shouts, bells, and gongs, which exhausts and stultifies, and finally intoxicates the brain.

Everything seems fused in a haze under the sun, as it grows hotter and hotter, and in that quivering atmosphere looks like a mass in which red and white predominate, with the persistent harmony of motion of the swaying, barefooted crowd.

The air is redolent of musk, sandal-wood, jasmine, and the acrid smell of the hookahs smoked by placid old men sitting in the shadow of their doors.

The ground here and there is stained with large pink patches of a disinfectant, smelling of chlorine,[Pg 9] strewn in front of the house where anyone lies dead. And this of itself is enough to recall to mind the spectre of the plague that is decimating Bombay; in this excitement, this turmoil of colour and noise, we had forgotten it.

Shops of the same trade are found in rows; carpenters joining their blocks, and workmen carving ornaments with very simple tools—clumsy tools—which they use with little, timid, persistent taps. Further on, coppersmiths are hammering the little pots which are to be seen in everybody's hands; under the shade of an awning stretched over the tiny booth, the finished vessels, piled up to the roof, shed a glory over the half-naked toilers who bend over their anvils, perpetually making jars of a traditional pattern, used for ablutions. There are two men at work in each shop, three at most, and sometimes an old man who sits smoking with half-closed eyes.

In a very quiet little alley, fragrant of sandal-wood, men may be seen in open stalls printing patterns with primitive wooden stamps, always the same, on very thin silk, which shrinks into a twisted cord reduced to nothing when it is stretched out to dry.

Here are carvers of painted wooden toys—red[Pg 10] and green dolls, wooden balls, nests of little boxes in varied and vivid colours.

Far away, at the end of the bazaar, in a street where no one passes, are the shoemakers' booths littered with leather parings; old cases or petroleum tins serve as seats. Among the workmen swarm children in rags, pelting each other with slippers.

And, quite unexpectedly, as we turned a corner beyond the coppersmiths' alley, we came on a row of tea-shops, displaying huge and burly china jars. Chinamen, in black or blue, sat at the shop doors in wide, stiff armchairs, their fine, plaited pigtail hanging over the back, while they awaited a customer with a good-humoured expression of dull indifference.

After breakfast a party of jugglers appeared in front of the hotel; they performed on a little carpet spread under the shade of a banyan tree. Acrobatic tricks first, human ladders, feats of strength; then nutmegs were made to vanish and reappear; and finally they conjured away each other in turn, in little square hampers that they stabbed with knives to prove that there was nobody inside;[Pg 11] and to divert the spectators' attention at critical moments they beat a tom-tom and played a shrill sort of bagpipe.

The jugglers being gone, a boy, to gain alms, opened a round basket he was carrying, and up rose a serpent, its hood raised in anger, and hissing with its tongue out.

After him came another little Hindoo, dragging a mongoose, very like a large weasel with a fox's tail. He took a snake out of a bag, and a battle began between the two brutes, each biting with all its might; the sharp teeth of the mongoose tried to seize the snake's head, and the reptile curled round the mongoose's body to bite under the fur. At last the mongoose crushed the serpent's head with a fierce nip, and instantly a hawk flew down from a tree and snatched away the victim.

By noon, under the torrid blaze which takes the colour out of everything, exhaustion overpowers the city. Vehicles are rare; a few foot-passengers try to find a narrow line of shade close to the houses, and silence weighs on everything, broken only by the buzzing of flies, the strident croak of birds of prey.

[Pg 12]

Along Back Bay lies the Malabar Hill, a promontory where the fashionable world resides in bungalows built in the midst of gardens. Palm trees spread their crowns above the road, and on the rocks which overhang the path ferns of many kinds are grown by constant watering. The bungalows, square houses of only one storey, surrounded by wide verandahs, and covered in with a high, pointed roof, which allows the air to circulate above the ceilings, stand amid clumps of bougainvillea and flowering jasmine, and the columnar trunks of coco-palms, date trees, baobabs and areca palms, which refresh them with shade.

The gardens are overgrown with exuberant tropical vegetation: orchids, daturas hung with their scented purple bells, gardenias and creepers; and yet what the brother of a London friend, on whom I am calling, shows me with the greatest pride, are a few precious geraniums, two real violets, and a tiny patch of thickly-grown lawn of emerald hue.

Colaba is the port; the docks, with tall houses between the enormous warehouses. The silence is appalling; windows, doors—all are closed. Only a few coolies hurry by in the white sunshine, with[Pg 13] handkerchiefs over their mouths to protect them against the infection in these streets, whence came the plague which stole at first through the suburbs, nearer and nearer to the heart of the city, driving the maddened populace before it.

One morning a quantity of dead rats were found lying on the ground; next some pigeons and fowls. Then a man died of a strange malady—an unknown disease, and then others, before it was known that they were even ill. A little fever, a little swelling under the arm, or in the throat, or on the groin—and in forty-eight hours the patient was dead. The mysterious disease spread and increased; every day the victims were more and more numerous; an occult and treacherous evil, come none knew whence. At first it was attributed to some dates imported from Syria, to some corn brought from up-country; the dates were destroyed, the corn thrown into the sea, but the scourge went on and increased, heralded by terror and woe.

At Mazagoon, one of the suburbs of Bombay, behold a Parsee wedding.

The bridegroom sits awaiting his guests, in his garden all decorated with arches and arbours, and[Pg 14] starred with white lanterns. An orchestra is playing, hidden in a shrubbery.

Presently all the company is assembled, robed in long white tunics. The bridegroom, likewise dressed in white, has a chain of flowers round his neck; orchids, lilies, and jasmine, falling to his waist. In one hand he holds a bouquet of white flowers, in the other a coco-nut. A shawl, neatly folded, hangs over one arm.

Over the gate and the door of the house light garlands, made of single flowers threaded like beads, swing in the breeze and scent the air.

Servants carrying large trays offer the company certain strange little green parcels: a betel-leaf screwed into a cone and fastened with a clove, containing a mixture of spices and lime, to be chewed after dinner to digest the mass of food you may see spread out in the tables in the dining-room.

Then follow more trays with tufts of jasmine stuck into the heart of a pink rose; and as the guest takes one of these bouquets the servant sprinkles first the flowers and then him with rose-water.

Shortly before sunset the dastour arrives—the high priest—in white, with a white muslin turban[Pg 15] instead of the wax-cloth cap worn by other Parsees.

The crimson sky seen above the tall coco-palms turns to pink, to pale, vaporous blue, to a warm grey that rapidly dies away, and almost suddenly it is night.

Then an elder of the family deliberately lights the first fire—a lamp hanging in the vestibule; and as soon as they see the flame the High Dastour and all those present bow in adoration with clasped hands. The bridegroom and the priest go into the house and have their hands and faces washed; then, preceded by the band and followed by all the guests, they proceed to the home of the bride.

There, again, they all sit down in the garden. The same little packets of betel, only wrapped in gold leaf, are offered to the company, and bunches of chrysanthemum sprinkled with scent.

Then, two and two, carrying on their shoulders heavy trays piled with presents, women mount the steps of the house, the bridegroom standing at the bottom. The bride's mother comes forth to meet them in a dress of pale-coloured China crape covered with a fine white saree. She waves her closed hand three times over the gifts, and then, opening it, throws rice on the ground. This action[Pg 16] she repeats with sugar and sweetmeats, and finally with a coco-nut. And each time she empties her hand a naked boy appears from heaven knows where, gathers up what she flings on the ground, and vanishes again, lost at once in the shadows of the garden.

At last the bridegroom goes up the steps. The mother-in-law repeats the circular wave of welcome over the young man's head with rice and sugar and an egg and a coco-nut; then she takes the garland, already somewhat faded, from his neck, and replaces it by another twined of gold thread and jasmine flowers, with roses at regular intervals. She also changes his bouquet, and receives the coco-nut her son-in-law has carried in his hand.

In the midst of a large room crowded with women in light-hued sarees, the bridegroom takes his seat between two tables, on which are large trays of rice. Facing him is a chair, and one is occupied by the bride, who is brought in by a party of girls. She is scarcely fourteen, all in white; on her head is a veil of invisibly fine muslin ten folds thick; it enfolds her in innocence, and is crowned with sprays of myrtle blossom.

The ceremony now begins. The dastour chants his prayers, throwing handfuls of rice all the time[Pg 17] over the young couple. A sheet is held up between the two, and a priest twines a thread about the chair. At the seventh turn the sheet is snatched away, and the bride and bridegroom, with a burst of laughter, fling a handful of rice at each other.

All the guests press forward, ceasing their conversation, which has sometimes drowned the voice of the dastour, to ask which of the two threw the rice first—a very important question it would seem.

The two chairs are now placed side by side, and the priest goes on chanting his prayers to a slow measure, in a nasal voice that is soon lost again in the chatter of the bystanders. Rice is once more shed over the couple, and incense is burnt in a large bronze vessel, the perfume mingling with that of the jasmine wreaths on the walls.

Then the procession, with music, makes its way back to the bridegroom's house. On the threshold the priest says one more short prayer over the bowed heads of the newly-married couple, and at last the whole party go into the room, where the guests take their places at the long tables.

Under each plate, a large square cut out of a banana leaf serves as a finger-napkin. Innumerable are the dishes of sweetmeats made with ghee (clarified butter), the scented ices, the highly-coloured[Pg 18] bonbons; while the young couple walk round the rooms, and hang garlands of flowers about the necks of the feasters.

Outside the night is moonless, deep blue. Venus seems quite close to us, shining with intense brightness, and the jasmines scent the air, softly lighted by the lanterns which burn out one by one.

In the evening, at the railway terminus, there was a crush of coolies packed close up to the ticket-office of the third-class, and holding out their money. Never tired of trying to push to the front, they all shouted at once, raising their hands high in the air and holding in their finger-tips one or two shining silver rupees. Those who at last succeeded in getting tickets slipped out of the crowd, and sang and danced; others who had found it absolutely impossible to get anything retired into corners, and groaned aloud.

In the middle of the station groups of women and children squatted on the flagstones, their little bundles about them of red and white rags, and copper pots looking like gold; a huddled heap of misery, in this enormous hall of palatial proportions, handsomely decorated with sculptured marble.

[Pg 19]

They were all flying from the plague, which was spreading, and emptying the bazaars and workshops. The Exchange being closed, trade was at a standstill, and the poor creatures who were spared by the pestilence were in danger of dying of hunger.

When the gate to the platform was opened there was a stampede, a fearful rush to the train; then the cars, once filled, were immediately shut on the noisy glee of those who were going.

At the last moment some porters, preceded by two sowars in uniform and holding pikes, bore a large palankin, hermetically closed, to the door of a first-class carriage, and softly set it down. The carriage was opened for a moment: I could see within a party of women-servants, shrouded in white muslin, who were preparing a couch. An old negress handed out to the porters a large sheet, which they held over the palankin, supporting it in such a way as to make a covered passage screening the carriage door. There was a little bustle under the sheet—the end was drawn in, and the sheet fell over the closed door.

The last train gone, all round the station there was quite a camp of luckless natives lying on the ground, wrapped in white cotton, and sleeping under the stars, so as to be nearer to-morrow to the train[Pg 20] which, perhaps, might carry them away from the plague-stricken city.

In a long narrow bark, with a pointed white sail—a bunder-boat—we crossed the roads to Elephanta, the isle of sacred temples. Naked men, with no garment but the langouti, or loin-cloth, navigated the boat. They climbed to the top of the mast, clinging to the shrouds with their toes, if the least end of rope was out of gear, hauled the sail up and down for no reason at all, and toiled ridiculously, with a vain expenditure of cries and action, under the glaring sky that poured down on us like hot lead.

After an hour's passage we reached the island, which is thickly planted with fine large trees.

A flight of regular steps, hewn in the rock, under the shade of banyans and bamboos, all tangled with flowering creepers, leads straight up to the temple. It is a vast hall, dug out of granite and supported by massive columns, with capitals of a half-flattened spheroidal shape—columns which, seen near, seem far too slender to support the immense mass of the mountain that rises sheer above the cave under a curtain of hanging creepers. The temple opens[Pg 21] to the north, and a very subdued light—like the light from a painted window—filtering through the ficus branches, lends solemnity and enhanced beauty to this titanic architecture.

The walls are covered with bas-reliefs carved in the rock, the roof adorned with architraves of stone in infinite repetition of the same designs. The stone is grey, varied here and there with broad, black stains, and in other spots yellowish, with pale gold lights. Some of the sculpture remains still intact. The marriage of Siva and Parvati; the bride very timid, very fragile, leaning on the arm of the gigantic god, whose great height is crowned with a monumental tiara. Trimurti, a divinity with three faces, calm, smiling, and fierce—the symbol of Siva, the creator, the god of mercy, and of wrath. In a shadowed corner an elephant's head stands out—Ganesa, the god of wisdom, in the midst of a circle of graceful, slender, life-like figures of women. Quite at the end of the hall, two caryatides, tall and elegant, suggest lilies turned to women. In the inner sanctuary, a small edifice, with thick stone walls pierced with tiny windows that admit but a dim light, stands the lingam, a cylinder of stone crowned with scarlet flowers that look like flames in the doubtful light; and in deeper darkness,[Pg 22] under a stone canopy, another such idol, hardly visible. The Brahman priests are constantly engaged in daubing all the statues of these divinities with fresh crimson paint, and the votaries of Siva have a spot of the same colour in the middle of the forehead. Two lions, rigid in a hieratic attitude, keep guard over the entrance to a second temple, a good deal smaller and open to the air, beyond a courtyard, and screened with an awning of creepers.

In the atmosphere floated a pale blue smoke, rising from a heap of weeds that some children were burning, a weird sort of incense, acrid and aromatic, fading against the too-blue sky.

As we went down to the shore a whole swarm of little dark boys wanted to sell scarabs, rattans, birds' nests shaped like pockets, and dream-flowers, gathered from the creepers on the temples; large almond-scented lilies, and hanging bunches of the ebony-tree flowers, so fragile in texture and already faded in the sun, but exhaling till evening a faint perfume of verbena and lemon.

As we returned the wind had fallen, and the men rowed. The moon rose pale gold, and in the distance, in the violet haze, the lights of Bombay mingled with the stars. The boatmen's[Pg 23] chant was very vague, a rocking measure on ascending intervals.

Afternoon, in the bazaar, in the warm glow of the sinking sun, wonderfully quiet. No sound but that of some workmen's tools; no passers-by, no shouting of voices, no bargaining. A few poor people stand by the stalls and examine the goods, but the seller does not seem to care. Invisible guzlas vibrate in the air, and the piping invitation of a moollah falls from the top of a minaret.

Then, suddenly, there was a clatter of tom-toms, and rattling of castanets, a Hindoo funeral passing by. The dead lay stretched on a bier, his face painted and horrible, a livid grin between the dreadful scarlet cheeks, covered with wreaths of jasmine and roses. A man walking before the corpse carried a jar of burning charcoal to light the funeral pile. Friends followed the bier, each bringing a log of wood, to add to the pyre as a last homage to the dead.

A Mohammedan funeral now. The body was in a coffin, covered with red stuff, sparkling with gold thread. The bearers and mourners chanted an almost cheerful measure, as they marched very slowly to the[Pg 24] burial-ground by the seaside, where the dead rest under spreading banyans and flowering jasmine.

Then a Parsee woman stopped my servant to ask him if I were a doctor.

"A doctor? I cannot say," replied Abibulla, "but the sahib knows many things." The woman's eyes entreated me. Would I not come? it would comfort the sick man, and help him, perhaps, to die easily if the gods would not spare him.

At the door of the house the sick man's wife was washing a white robe, in which he would be dressed for the grave on the morrow. The nearest relation of the dying must always wash his garment, and the woman, knowing that her husband had the plague and was doomed, as she was required by ritual to prepare for the burial while her husband was yet living, wore a look of mute and tearless resignation that terrified me.

The plague-stricken man lay on a low bed struggling with anguish; large drops of sweat stood on his face, his throat was wrapped in wet bandages, and he spoke with difficulty, as in a dream.

"Pané, sahib!"—"Water, sir!"

Then he closed his eyes and fell asleep at once, and so would he sleep till the end.

[Pg 25]

Out of doors, meanwhile, one funeral procession almost trod on the heels of the last; at the latest gleam of day, and out towards the west, above the Field of Burning, a broad red cloud filled all one quarter of the sky.

In the heart of Girgaum, one of the suburbs of Bombay, at the end of a street, under a large areca palm an old man was selling grain and rice in open baskets. A whole flight of bickering sparrows settled on his merchandise, and he looked at them with happy good humour without scaring them away.

In the town a zebu cow was trotting along with an air of business. To avoid a vehicle she jumped on to the footpath and went her way along the flagstones, and every Hindoo that she passed patted her buttock and then touched his forehead with the same hand with great reverence.

Outside Bombay, at the end of an avenue of tamarind trees, between hedges starred with lilac and pink, we came to Pinjerapoor, the hospital for animals. Here, in a sanded garden dotted with shrubs and flowers, stand sheds in which sick cows, horses and buffaloes are treated and cared for.[Pg 26] In another part, in a little building divided into compartments by wire bars, poor crippled dogs whined to me as I passed to take them away. Hens wandered about on wooden legs; and an ancient parrot, in the greatest excitement, yelled with all his might; he was undergoing treatment to make his lost feathers grow again, his hideous little black body being quite naked, with its large head and beak. In an open box, overhung with flowering jasmine, an Arab horse was suspended to the beams of the roof; two keepers by his side waved long white horsehair fans to keep away the flies. A perfect crowd of servants is employed in the care of the animals, and the litter is sweet and clean.

At Byculla in the evening we went to Grant Road, the haunt of the street beauties, where the gambling-houses are. At the open windows under the lighted lamps were coarsely-painted women dressed in gaudy finery. In the entries were more of such women, sitting motionless in the attitude of idols; some of them real marvels—thin, slender bronze limbs scarcely veiled in dark, transparent gauze, gold rings round their neck and arms, and heavy nanparas on their ankles.

[Pg 27]

One of them was standing against a curtain of black satin embroidered with gold; muslin that might have been a spider's web hardly cast a mist over her sheenless skin, pale, almost white against the glistening satin and gold, all brightly lighted up. With a large hibiscus flower in her hand she stood in a simple attitude, like an Egyptian painting, then moved a little, raising or lowering an arm, apparently not seeing the passers-by who gazed at her—lost in a dream that brought a strange green gleam to her dark eyes.

Japanese girls, too, in every possible hue, with piles of tinsel and flowers above their little flat faces all covered with saffron and white paint; little fidgeting parrakeets flitting from window to window, and calling to the people in the street in shrill, nasal tones.

In booths between these houses, the gamblers, standing round a board with numbered holes, were watching the ball as it slowly spun round, hit the edge, seemed to hesitate, and at last fell into one of the cups. Four-anna pieces, ten-rupee notes—anything will serve as a stake for the Hindoo ruffian in a starched shirt-front, low waistcoat and white tie, above the dhouti that hangs over his bare legs; or for the half-tipsy soldier and sailor,[Pg 28] the cautious Parsee who rarely puts down a stake, or the ragged coolie who has come to tempt fortune with his last silver bit.

All alike were fevered from the deafening music of harmoniums and tom-toms performing at the back of each gambling-booth—a din that drowned shouts of glee and quarrelling.

Turning out of this high street blazing with lamps, were dens of prostitution, and dark, cut-throat alleys.

Then a quiet little street. Our guide paused in front of a whitewashed house. An old woman came out, and with many salaams and speeches of welcome led us into a large, low room.

Here, one by one, in came the nautch-girls, dancers. Robed in stiff sarees, their legs encumbered with very full trousers, they stood extravagantly upright, their arms away from their sides and their hands hanging loosely. At the first sound of the tambourines, beaten by men who squatted close to the wall, they began to dance; jumping forward on both feet, then backward, striking their ankles together to make their nanparas ring, very heavy anklets weighing on their feet, bare with silver toe-rings. One of them spun on and on for a[Pg 29] long time, while the others held a high, shrill note—higher, shriller still; then suddenly everything stopped, the music first, then the dancing—in the air, as it were—and the nautch-girls, huddled together like sheep in a corner of the room, tried to move us with the only three English words they knew, the old woman repeating them; and as finally we positively would not understand, the jumping and idiotic spinning and shouts began again in the heated air of the room.

"Nautch-girls for tourists, like Europeans," said my Indian servant Abibulla. "Can-can dancing-girls," he added, with an air of triumph at having shown me a wonder.

>At the top of Malabar Hill, in a garden with freshly raked walks and clumps of flowers edged with pearl-shells, stand five limewashed towers, crowned with a living battlement of vultures: the great Dokma, the Towers of Silence, where the Parsees are laid after death, "as naked as when they came into the world and as they must return to nothingness," to feed the birds of prey, which by the end of a few hours leave nothing of the body but the bones, to bleach in the sun and be scorched[Pg 30] to dust that is soon carried down to the sea by the first rains of the monsoon.

One of these towers, smaller than the others, and standing apart at the end of the garden, is used for those who have committed suicide. The bearers of the dead dwell in a large yellow house roofed with zinc. There they live, apart from the world, never going down to Bombay but to fetch a corpse and bring it up to the vultures, nor daring to mingle with the living till after nine days of purification.

In another building is the hall where the dastours say the last prayers over the dead in the presence of the relations; the body is then stripped in a consecrated chamber and abandoned to the mysteries of the tower.

On the great banyan trees in the garden, and on every palm, torpid vultures sit in the sun, awaiting the meal that will come with the next funeral procession.

Far away a murmur is heard, a long-drawn chant, suddenly arousing the birds; they flap their wings, stretch themselves clumsily, and then fly towards one of the towers.

We could see the procession coming straight up a hollow ravine from the valley to the Dokma, a path that none but Parsees are allowed to tread;[Pg 31] eight bearers in white, the bier also covered with white, and, far behind, the relations and friends of the dead, all robed in white, two and two, each pair holding between them a square of white stuff in sign of union. They came very slowly up the steps of the steep ascent with a measured chant, in muffled tones, on long-drawn vowels. And from the surrounding trees, from far and near, with a great flutter of wings, the vultures flew to meet the corpse, darkening the sky for a moment.

In the evening, as I again went past the Towers of Silence, the palm trees were once more crowded with sleeping birds gorged with all the food sent them by the plague. On the other side of Back Bay, above the Field of Burning, a thick column of smoke rose up, red in the last beams of the crimson sun.

In the silence of a moonless night nine o'clock struck from the great tower of the Law Courts—a pretty set of chimes, reminding me of Bruges or Antwerp; and when the peal had died away a bugle in the sepoys' quarters took up the strain of the chimes, only infinitely softer, saddened to a minor key and to a slower measure; while in the distance[Pg 32] an English trumpet, loud and clear, sounded the recall in counterpart.

Outside the town the carriage went on for a long time through a poverty-stricken quarter, and past plots of ground dug out for the erection of factories. Fragile flowers, rose and lilac, bloomed in the shade of banyans and palm trees. Hedges of jasmine and bougainvillea, alternating with rose trees, scented the air. Then we came to Parel, a suburb where, in a spacious enclosure, stands the hospital for infectious diseases. It is a lofty structure of iron, the roof and walls of matting, which is burnt when infected with microbes, and which allows the free passage of the air. In spite of the heat outside it was almost cool in these shady halls.

All the sick were sudras, Hindoos of the lowest caste. All the rest, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisiyas, would rather die at home, uncared for, than endure the promiscuous mixture of caste at the hospital, and contact with their inferiors. Even the sudras are but few. There is an all-pervading dread of a hospital, fostered by Indian bone-setters and sorcerers, stronger even than the fear of the pestilence; the people hide themselves to die, like[Pg 33] wounded animals, and their relations will not speak of an illness for fear of seeing anybody belonging to them taken to the hospital.

All the sufferers lay on thin mattresses spread on low camp beds; they were all quiet, torpid in the sleep of fever. The doctor showed them to me, one after another; there was nothing distressing to be seen in their naked bodies lying under a sheet. Some, indeed, had dressings under the arm, or on the groin. One, who had just been brought in, had a large swelling above the hip, a gland which was lanced to inject serum.

This, then, is the malady of the appalling name—the Plague—hardened glands in the throat or under the arm; the disease that gives its victim fever, sends him to sleep, exhausts, and infallibly kills him.

In the ward we had just passed through there were none but convalescents or favourable cases. At the further end of the room a boy, fearfully emaciated, so thin that his body, lying in the hollow of the mattress, was hardly visible under the covering, was asleep as we approached. He had come from one of the famine districts, and in escaping from one scourge had come to where the other had clutched him. The doctor touched him on the[Pg 34] shoulder, and he opened his great splendid eyes. The awakening brought him gladness, or perhaps it was the end of his dream, for he had the happy look of a contented child, shook his shaven head waggishly, and the single corkscrew lock at the top, and was asleep again instantly.

In the further room were four sufferers past all hope: one in the anguish of delirium that made him cry out the same words again and again, in a hoarse voice that was growing fainter. He was held by two attendants. Another lay with chattering teeth; a third was struggling violently, hidden under his coverlet; the fourth seemed unconscious, apathetic.

Not far from the great hospital, in huts of bamboo and matting, some Hindoos were isolated, who refused to be attended by any but native doctors, or to take anything but simples. An old man lay there who had a sort of stiff white paste applied to the swellings under his arms. He, too, was delirious, and watched us go by with a vague, stupefied glare—eyes that were already dead.

In another hut was a woman, brought hither yesterday with her husband, who had died that morning. She had an exquisite, long, pale face and blue-black hair. On her arms were many[Pg 35] bangles, and gold earrings glittered in her ears. For a moment she opened her large gazelle-like eyes, and then with a very sad little sigh turned to the wall, making her trinkets rattle. She was still dressed in her blue choli. A striped coverlet had been thrown over her; by her bed she had a whole set of burnished copper pans and canisters. Charmingly pretty, and not yet exhausted by the disease, which only declared itself yesterday, she was sleeping quietly, more like a being in a storybook than a plague-stricken creature, who must infallibly die on the morrow under the incapable treatment of the Hindoo "bone-setter."

And then we came away from this hospital, where no sister of charity, no woman even, had brought some little consolation or the kindliness of a smile to these dying creatures, whose wandering or frantic black eyes haunted me.


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