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.In the afternoon the Rajah wore a pale green dress embroidered with gold and gems, and sparkling with stones, and a wide rose-coloured sash fringed with pearls. He wore no jewels but priceless diamond buckles in his shoes. As I had lingered long in the morning at a jeweller's shop, the prince wished to show me his possessions. Servants, as solemn as gaolers, brought in many trays covered[Pg 83] with enormous emeralds cut into beads and strung on white cords, necklaces of pear-shaped pearls threaded on almost invisible silk. And then, from among the goldsmith's work, modelled into impossible flowers and chimeras twisted to make heavy anklets, from among coat-buttons, rings and sword-guards sparkling with diamonds, the Rajah took up a costly snuff-box and begged me keep it as a remembrance.In the courtyard a tall and gaudy cock was keeping the crows in order, driving them relentlessly away from the kitchen precincts. On the roof of the servants' quarters, always in the same spot, perched a kite, ready to pounce as soon as anything was thrown out. The doves, the house-pigeons, the fowls fled at once and squatted in corners; but the cock stood his ground, his feathers all on end, his crest erect, chuckling with rage and stalking round the yard within ten paces of the bird of prey.
Near her was another woman, gone mad, dancing, her skeleton limbs contorted in a caricature of[Pg 193] grace; and a child of some few months, like an undeveloped abortion, of the colour of a new penny, with a large head rolling on a neck reduced to the thickness of the vertebr?, and arms and legs no larger than knitting-pins, but, in a sort of mockery, the swollen belly of the fever-stricken. The eyes blinked in the little wrinkled face, seeking something in vacancy; it tried to cry, but the only sound was a feeble croak.An aggressive capital! Palaces of concrete and stucco washed with yellow stand cheek by jowl with commission agencies and hovels, and all without a suspicion of style, not even giving one the impression of a southern city. In the streets, thick with dust, an all-prevailing turmoil as of a fair is prolonged to the latest hours of night. Red uniforms and "young England" tourist suits ending their career in rags on half-breed coolies—a wearisome staleness and total effacement of local colour, worse than commonplace; and then, above all, a very strong and nauseating smell of lotus and tallow, with an after-gust of something peppery and acrid.[Pg 168]
In one room we heard music—guzlas, drums, and a vina. There were three dancing-girls. At first they only performed the Indian "goose-step," the slow revolutions growing gradually quicker. But urged by the soldiers who filled the room and beat time with their sticks on the floor, the nautch-girls marked their steps, wriggled with heavy awkward movements, and tried to dance a Highland jig, taught by two Scotch soldiers.Fakirs, holding out their begging-bowls as they squatted round an opening in the ground, showed that it was the entrance to a temple; a few steps down, a long corridor with little niches on each side, and then hall after hall full of grimacing gods, lighted up by our guide's torch, till at last we reached an immense vault where impenetrable darkness filled the angles lost in a labyrinth of arcades converging to some mystery. Here all the Hindoo gods, carved in stone, have been crowded together, with their horrible contortions, their stolid beatitude, their affected grace; and in their midst is a huge idol, hacked with a great cut by Aurungzeeb, the Moslem emperor, at the time of his conquest. Suddenly all about us was a crowd of Brahmins, appearing from what dark corners we could not discover. They looked nasty and half asleep, and vanished at once with a murmur of whispered speech that hung about the galleries in an echo.
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.Further away was one of the famine-camps—established all over India—to afford the means of earning a living to those whom the scourge had driven from their native provinces.
In the coppersmiths' street was a booth that seemed to be a school of art, where little fellows of seven or eight were engraving platters and pots with the decision of practised craftsmen.This cell is as dark as a cellar, barbarously squalid. But to all our questions the moollah who was our guide only replied:
[Pg 157]In the town camels were harnessed to a sort of carriage like a hut perched on misshapen wheels, and rumbling slowly through the streets, seeming very heavy at the heels of the big beast with its shambling gait.
Three musicians in white, with red turbans, squatted down on the ground in front of us. One sang to the accompaniment of a viol with three strings and nine frets, and a darboukha; a drawling strain, all on the upper notes, and rising higher to a shrill monotonous wail, retarded, as it were, to a rhythm against the accompaniment; then by degrees more lively, faster and faster, ending with a sudden stop on a word of guttural consonants. But the man began again; he sang for a long time, varying the tunes, always returning to the first. But nothing of them remains in my mind, not even the rhythm, only a vague recollection, a singular echo, confused but [Pg 67]charming, in spite of the weirdness of the too high pitch.
We saw the Jasmine tower from a corner of the garden in the glow of sunset. With its gilt cupola blazing in the low beams, its amber-hued walls as transparent as melting wax, and its pierced screen-work, it looked so diaphanous, so fragile, that it might be carried away by the evening breeze. And beyond the pavilion, above the ramparts carved with huge elephants, lies the old Hindoo palace, deserted by Jehangir for his house of pale marbles—an endless palace, a labyrinth of red buildings loaded to the top with an agglomeration of ornament supporting flat roofs. And pagodas that have lost their doors, a work of destruction begun by Aurungzeeb. One court is still intact, overhung by seventy-two balconies, where the zenana could look on at the dancing of bayadères. Perfect, too, is the queen's private apartment, with two walls between which an army kept guard by day and by night.The Rajah, a prisoner in his little state, a ruler only in name and deposed from his power, as I rose to take my leave, cast a glance of deep melancholy towards a last golden beam that quivered on the sacred hill, and seemed to awake from a dream.
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.On the sloping bank to the river stood a large wooden mosque falling into ruins. In front of this building was a plot full of tombstones, some overthrown, some still standing on the declivity.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.
As we go nearer, gothic towers are distinguishable among the buildings—faint reminiscences of Chester, clumsily revived under the burning light of white Asia.详情
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