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NANDGAUN
Is a long row of bungalows in their own gardens, on each side of an avenue of thick trees that meet above the road. We crossed the bed of a dry torrent and came to the native village, a labyrinth of clay huts and narrow alleys through which goats and cows wandered, finding their way home to their own stables. On a raised terrace[Pg 47] three Parsees, bowing to the sun with clasped hands, prostrated themselves in adoration, and watched the crimson globe descend wrapped in golden haze; and as soon as the disc had vanished, leaving a line of fiery light in the sky, all three rose, touched each other's hands, passed their fingers lightly over their faces, and resumed their conversation.

In every house a tiny lamp allowed us to see the women, squatting while they pounded millet, or cooked in copper pots. Then night suddenly fell, and I could no longer find my way about the dark alleys, stumbling as I went over cows lying across the path, till I suddenly found myself opposite a very tall pagoda, three storeys high. On the threshold the bonzes were banging with all their might on gongs and drums, alternately with bells. And on the opposite side of the street, in a sort of shed enclosed on three sides, but wide open to the passers-by, people in gay robes were prostrate before two shapeless idols, Krishna and Vishnu, painted bright red, twinkling with ornaments of tinsel and lead-paper, and crudely lighted up by lamps with reflectors. And then at once I was between low houses again, and going down tortuous streets to the river-bed,[Pg 48] whither I was guided by the sound of castanets and tambourines.

At the further end of the last turning I saw a fire like blazing gold, the soaring flames flying up to an enormous banyan tree, turning its leaves to living fire. All round the pile on which the dead was being burned was a crowd drumming on copper pots and tom-toms.

Very late in the evening came the sound of darboukhas once more. A throng of people, lighted up by a red glow, came along, escorting a car drawn by oxen. At each of the four corners were children carrying torches, and in the middle of the car a tall pole was fixed. On this, little Hindoo boys were performing the most extraordinary acrobatic tricks, climbing it with the very tips of their toes and fingers, sliding down again head foremost, and stopping within an inch of the floor. Their bronze skins, in contrast to the white loin-cloth that cut them across the middle, and their fine muscular limbs, made them look like antique figures. The performance went on to the noise of drums and singing, and was in honour of the seventieth birthday of a Mohammedan witch who dwelt in the village. The car presently moved off, and, after two or three[Pg 49] stoppages, reached the old woman's door. The toothless hag, her face carved into black furrows, under a towzle of white hair emerging from a ragged kerchief, with a stupid stare lighted up by a gleam of wickedness when she fixed an eye, sat on the ground in her hovel surrounded by an unspeakable heap of rags and leavings. The crowd squeezed in and gathered round her; but she sat perfectly unmoved, and the little acrobats, performing in front of her door, did not win a glance from her. And then, the noise and glare annoying her probably, she turned with her face to the wall and remained so. She never quitted her lair; all she needed was brought to her by the villagers, who dreaded the spells she could cast. Her reputation for wisdom and magic had spread far and wide. The Nizam's cousin, and prime minister of the dominion, never fails to pay her a visit when passing through Nandgaun, and other even greater personages, spoken of only with bated breath, have been known to consult her.


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