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HYDERABAD
At night, in the crowded station, a guard of honour was waiting, composed of sepoys. There was shouting among the crowd, a fanatical turmoil, a storm of orders, and heavy blows. Some great[Pg 93] magnate got out of the train, surrounded by secretaries and officers. The soldiers, bearing torches, attended him to his carriage; they remounted their horses, following the vehicle, in which a light dress was visible. Very fast, and with a great clatter, they rode away into the silent night fragrant with rich scents; they were lost under the trees to reappear in the distance on a height, the torches galloping still and the smoke hanging in a ruddy cloud above the bright steel and the white cruppers. Then, at a turn in the road, they all vanished.

Beyond the new town of broad avenues planted with trees and bordered with gardens, was a brand-new bridge of gaudy bricks over a river, almost dry, where a swarm of naked natives were performing their ablutions—washing linen and shaking out red and white cloths, as far as the eye could see. Buffaloes lying in the mud were sleeping among the tame ducks, the ibis, and the herons, all seeking their food. An elephant plunged into the water, splashing it up and scaring thousands of bright birds, which flew up against the intensely blue sky.

A tall wide gate beyond the bridge opens into the ferocious fortress of Hyderabad.

[Pg 94]

Soldiers, bristling with daggers and pistols in their belts, are on guard at the gate. Pikes and long muskets stand piled in the background; over this arsenal, flowering jasmine and convolvulus with enormous bell flowers hang their graceful shade.

In the streets, swarming with people, every woman who is not a pariah, walks veiled in all the mystery of her unrevealed features, her long, dreamy eyes alone visible.

Country folks bring in cages of birds full of the poor little fluttering things, which are bought by children and by many men, captive at the end of a long string; pretty black-headed bulbuls, so bold in the land of the Buddhists, and victims here to the Moslems.

A palankin, hung with heavy red curtains, went by very quickly, borne by five men. They chanted a sort of double-quick march, marking the time with a plaintive sigh and a slight bend of the knees, which gave their pace the appearance of a dance, the litter swaying very gently.

A spell seemed to linger over this little bazaar, to slacken every movement and give the people an indolent grace. They spoke languidly in the shade of the awnings spread by the flower-sellers and the jewellers, who, with little ringing taps, were [Pg 95]hammering out minute patterns on silver anklets and necklaces.

Traversing the narrow avenues that intersect the bazaar, we came to a series of quiet courts; here were the police-station, the small barracks, and stables for camels and elephants. In a blind alley we found a white mosque, where men were praying robed in pink and green; while opposite, below a house consisting of three stories of arcades, some Syrian horses, as slender as gazelles, were exercising on the bright-hued mosaic floor of the open stable.

Between the houses tiny garden-plots full of flowers surround gravestones, on which fresh roses are constantly laid.

Elephants came along, stepping daintily, but filling the whole width of the street, looking, with one little slanting eye cocked, as if they were laughing at the foot-passengers who were compelled to squeeze against the wall.

Presently three beggar-women came up to sing from door to door. In their arms, like babies at the breast, they carried shapeless idols painted red, bedizened with spangles and gilt paper. They wailed out a ditty repeated again and again, knocked perseveringly at the doors, insisting on alms; and[Pg 96] then, when they had received it, they touched the threshold with their blood-coloured puppets and departed.

In the shops the salesmen, to weigh their merchandise, had a strange collection of curious weights—dumps, rings, balls of copper, iron, or lead, stamped or inlaid with symbols and flowers; fragments of spoons to make up too light a weight, even pieces of wood; and they used them all with perfect readiness and never made a mistake.

Where the roads cross there are basins where flowers are kept fresh, and above them white pigeons are always fluttering. Public scribes, squatting cross-legged on the ground, trace letters that look like arabesques, on rice-paper with a reed pen. Those who dictate them crouch beside them with an absorbed and meditative expression, dropping out the words one by one with long pauses between.

Then some men go past who have a stick like a distaff thrust through their belt with a net wound round it; they net as they walk, heedless of jostling, their eyes fixed on their work.

In the distance is the great mosque which no unbeliever may enter; the doors stand wide open. The only ornaments on the white walls are the lamps, hung with red. In the court of the mosque,[Pg 97] under magnificent trees, are the tombs of the Nizams, with stone lattices, jewellery of marble, fragile pierced work, whereon wreaths of pale flowers are wrought with infinite grace. Near these tombs are two large fountains, where a crowd of men were bathing, talking very loud; and a large basin of porphyry full of grain was besieged by grey pigeons.

All round the mosque, in narrow alleys, are more and yet more tombs, strewn with roses and enclosed in little plots. Some stand out in the street unenclosed, like milestones.

There was a children's garden-party to-day in the grounds of the English Resident; a crowd of fair-haired babies, excessively Greenaway in their long, light frocks with bright-hued sashes. They shouted with joy at the swings and wooden horses, clapping their hands when it came to their turn to ride the elephant that marched about the park—so fair, so bright, with their nurses or Indian ayahs wrapped in crude showy muslins.

And as they went home at nightfall enormous bats came out and flew across above the tall trees in heavy, steady, straight flight. Without a sound they made for the last gleam on the horizon, where[Pg 98] the vanished sun had left a crimson line; and what an insistent image of death and oblivion were those great black fowl, slowly flapping their five-fingered wings spread out round their bodies, headless as they would seem, so small is the head, and so close-set on the neck. One might fancy that they were bearing away the day, gliding noiseless and innumerable towards the west, where already the last gleam is dead.

Outside the fortifications is a peaceful township of large gardens with row on row of tombstones and mausoleums; some of enormous size, palaces of the dead, and others smaller, but wrought like lacework of stone. For a league or more the necropolis lies on both sides of the road. Across the door of each mausoleum hangs a chain by the middle and the two ends.

But this suburb is now no more than a heap of huts and hovels. The tombs, ruined and overthrown, are few and far apart, heaped with sand, and showing as arid hillocks amid the level of withered grass. The plain beyond, laid out in rice-fields of a tender green, furrowed with silver streamlets, spreads unbroken to the foot of a huge wall of the hue of red gold enclosing a hill; and on[Pg 99] entering the precincts, behold, in the bays of the thickness of the wall, a whole village where dwell the families of the soldiers who guard this citadel.

An inner fortress, another portal held by armed men, and a walled enclosure, is Golconda, the former capital of the sovereigns of the Deccan. The entrance is through a magnificent archway of gigantic proportions; to close it there are two gates of heavy wood studded all over with long iron spikes, against which, during a siege, elephants charged to their death.

All round the Royal Hill ancient buildings are piled in stages, the remains of still majestic magnificence. The thorn-brakes cover supporting walls as broad as crenellated terraces; fragments of light and fantastic architecture stand up from amid golden blossoms; tottering colonnades overhang tanks, all green at the bottom with a pool of brackish water.

At an angle of the stairs of violet-tinted stone, which lead to the summit of the hill, a tablet of green marble, engraved in flowing Arabic characters, remains uninjured, the record of the great deeds of some emperor of Golconda.

At the top, facing two immense rocks that look like couchant lions, there was another palace; one[Pg 100] wall alone is left standing; on the creamy marble a peacock spreads its tail, carved into very delicate sprays and flowers.

The view spread to the horizon of mauve-pink sky, very faintly streaked with green. We could see the white mass of Secunderabad, a town of English barracks, at the foot of chaotic red-brown rocks, looking like the heaped-up ruins of some city of the Titans; and among trees shrouded in blue smoke, Hyderabad, conspicuous for its two mosques—the tomb of the Empress and the Jumna Musjid, the mausoleum of the Nizams.

Further yet lay the artificial lake of Meer Alam, reflecting the palace of Baradari and the russet plain, infinite as far as the eye could reach towards the north, where other superb mausoleums were visible in their whiteness.

At our feet were the two walls, the outer wall enclosing the palace, the gardens, the arena, where fights were given between elephants and tigers; the inner wall, ten metres high, built round the zenana—the women's palace—of which even the foundations have almost disappeared under the overwhelming vegetation.

Mystery broods over this ruined past; grandeur seemed to rise up in the sunset glow. We went[Pg 101] down the hill, while behind us a saffron haze veiled the Royal Hill, effaced every detail of architecture, and shed over all an amethystine halo.

It was melancholy to return under the gloomy, spreading banyans, through the dimly-lighted suburbs, where the people were still at work and selling their wares; and the dungeon, the dead stones, the guns now for ever silenced and pointed at vacancy, were lost in blue darkness.

Our last evening at the Residency, where I had spent days made enchanting by music.

The servant who came to tell me that dinner was served went barefoot, like all native servants, in spite of his livery—a sash and a shoulder-belt arranged over the Indian costume, and bearing the arms of England, and a monogram placed in his turban.

He appeared without a sound, visible only as a white figure, his brown face lost, effaced in the gloom of the dimly-lighted room. For a moment I had a really uncanny sensation at this headless apparition, but in an instant there was the gleam of a row of brilliant teeth, the light in the eyes, and the eternally smiling face of the household coolie.

[Pg 102]

On quitting Hyderabad, to the right and left of the iron road, the landscape was for a long way the same; rocks, that looked as if they had been piled up and then rolled over, lay in russet heaps among peaceful little blue lakes without number, breaking the monotony of the wide, scorched fields, a sheet of pure gold. At one of the stations a beggar was rattling his castanets furiously, and singing something very lively and joyous. At the end of each verse he shouted an unexpected "Ohé!" just like the cry of a Paris ragamuffin.

Here in southern India the women wear hardly any trinkets, and their garb consists of sarongs and sarees, so thin that their shape is visible through the light stuff. In their hair, which is knotted low on the neck, they stick flowers, and occasionally light trailing sprays fall down on the throat. They all have gold studs screwed into the two upper front teeth; hideous are these two red-gold teeth among the others, sound and white under young lips!

Then, on the right, endless pools and rivers; naked men were ploughing in the liquid mud and splashed all over by the oxen drawing a light wooden plough, their bronze bodies caked ere long with a carapace of dry, grey mud.
 
The rice, lately sown, was sprouting in little square plots of dazzling green; it was being taken up to transplant into enormous fields perpetually under water. All the "paddy" fields are, in fact, channelled with watercourses, or if they are on higher ground, watered from a well. A long beam is balanced over the mouth of the well, and two boys run up and down to lower and raise the bucket; a man tilts the water into the runlets out of a large vessel of dusky copper, or perhaps out of a leaky, dripping water-skin.

The ripe rice, in golden ears, is cut with sickles; a row of women in red gather it into sheaves, which men carry on their back, at once, to the next village, and there it is threshed out forthwith on floors but just swept.

And so, on both sides of the way there are rice-fields without end; those that were reaped yesterday are ploughed again to-day.

As we went further south Moslem tombs became more and more rare; the lingam was to be seen here and there among the rice-fields: a gross idol made of stone and looking like a landmark, set up under a tree or sheltered by a little kiosk. Soon temples of Vishnu were seen, raising their[Pg 104] pyramidal piles of ten stories to the sky. Amid the cool shade of palms and bamboos, close to each temple, was a fine tank with steps all round it; and surrounded by this magnificence of architecture and vegetation Hindoos might all day be seen bathing, dwellers in hovels of plaster or matting, sometimes in mere sheds supported on sticks, within the shadow of the splendid building full of treasure, in which the god is enshrined.

Birds, green, red, black, and gold-colour, fluttered gaily among the palms, the bamboos as tall as pine trees, the baobabs and mango trees; butterflies with rigid tails and large wings beating in uncertain flight, floated over the bright verdure flecked with sunshine. Round one pagoda, towering over a wretched village that lay huddled in the shade of its consecrated walls, a proud procession of stone bulls stood out against the sky, visible at a great distance in clear outline through the heated, quivering air.

A kind of grey snipe, as they rose to fly, spread white wings which made them look like storks or gulls, and then, dropping suddenly, became dull specks again, scarcely distinguishable on the margin of the tank. Ibis, on the watch, with pretty, deliberate, cautious movements, stood on one leg,[Pg 105] their bodies reflected in the mirror on which lay the lotus and the broad, frilled leaves of the water-lily, and a sort of bind-weed hanging from the edge in festoons of small, arrow-shaped leaves, with a crowd of tiny pink starry flowers that looked as if they were embroidered on the water.

The country was nowhere deserted. Labourers in the rice-fields were transplanting the young seedlings or watering the taller growth that waved in delicate transparent verdure. Or again, there were the watchers perched on their platforms in the middle of the fields; fishermen pushing little nets before them, fastened to triangular frames, or grubbing in the mud in search of shell-fish—small freshwater mussels, which they carried away in clay jars of Etruscan form. A motley crowd, with animated and graceful gesticulations; the women red or white figures in fluttering sarees, with flowers in their hair, and a few glittering bangles on their arms; the children quite naked, with bead necklaces and queer charms of lead or wood in their ears or their nose; the men slender and active, wearing light-coloured turbans made of yards on yards of twisted muslin, their brown skin hidden only by the langouti or loin-cloth.

Along the line were hedges of glaucous aloes, of[Pg 106] gynerium all plumed with white, and over every plant an inextricable tangle of baja, its pink flowers hanging in bunches.

Fields of betel pepper, broad-leaved and fleshy, carefully enclosed with matting, were watched over by two or even three men, armed with heavy cudgels.

Under an enormous banyan tree, far from any dwelling, two fine statues of an elephant and a horse seemed to guard an image of Siva, rigidly seated, and on his knees an image of Parvati, quite small, and standing as though about to dance.

Images of horses recurred at intervals, singly, or in pairs face to face; and as evening came on we saw round a pagoda a whole procession of horses in terra-cotta, some very much injured, arranged as if they were running round, one after another, in search of the heads and legs they had lost.

Near a small station oxen were filing slowly past. On their heads were hoops hung with bells, and little ornaments at the tips of their horns dangled with quick flashes of light.

The evening was exquisitely calm, shrouding everything in rose-colour, and shedding a light, opalescent golden haze on the pools and streams. And out of this floating gauze, in the doubtful light, white figures seemed to emerge gradually,[Pg 107] only to vanish again in the pure, transparent atmosphere of the blue night.

Over the rice-fields, in the darkness, danced a maze of fire-flies, quite tiny, but extraordinarily bright; they whirled in endless streaks of flame, intangible, so fine that they seemed part of the air itself, crossing in a ceaseless tangle, faster and faster, and then dying out in diamond sparks, very softly twinkling little stars turning to silver in the moonlight.

Between the tracery of bamboos, behind clumps of cedars spreading their level plumes of fine, flexible needles, we still constantly saw the roofs of temples involved in clouds of tiny phosphorescent sparks weaving their maze of light; and the clang of bells and drums fell on the ear.



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