होम 5 Indian Masters: Short Story Masterpieces

5 Indian Masters: Short Story Masterpieces

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यह पुस्तक आपको कितनी अच्छी लगी?
फ़ाइल की गुणवत्ता क्या है?
पुस्तक की गुणवत्ता का मूल्यांकन करने के लिए यह पुस्तक डाउनलोड करें
डाउनलोड की गई फ़ाइलों की गुणवत्ता क्या है?
साल:
2012
प्रकाशन:
Jaico Publishing House
भाषा:
english
ISBN 10:
8179922170
फ़ाइल:
EPUB, 546 KB
डाउनलोड करें (epub, 546 KB)

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आप पुस्तक समीक्षा लिख सकते हैं और अपना अनुभव साझा कर सकते हैं. पढ़ूी हुई पुस्तकों के बारे में आपकी राय जानने में अन्य पाठकों को दिलचस्पी होगी. भले ही आपको किताब पसंद हो या न हो, अगर आप इसके बारे में ईमानदारी से और विस्तार से बताएँगे, तो लोग अपने लिए नई रुचिकर पुस्तकें खोज पाएँगे.
1

An Unrestored Woman

Language:
english
File:
MOBI , 503 KB
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2

Unlacing Lilly

Year:
2008
Language:
english
File:
EPUB, 264 KB
0 / 0
5 Indian


Masters


SHORT STORY MASTERPIECES





Raja Rao

Premchand

Rabindranath Tagore

Dr. Mulk Raj Anand

Khushwant Singh





Published by Jaico Publishing House

A-2 Jash Chambers, 7-A Sir Phirozshah Mehta Road

Fort, Mumbai - 400 001

jaicopub@jaicobooks.com

www.jaicobooks.com


© Jaico Publishing House

The Serpent and the Rope © Raja Rao

The Cat and Shakespeare © Raja Rao

The Chessmaster and His Moves © Raja Rao


5 INDIAN MASTERS

ISBN 81-7992-217-0


First Jaico Impression: 2003

Ninth Jaico Impression (Reformatted): 2012


No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.


Printed by

Repro India Limited

Plot No. 50/2, T.T.C. MIDC Industrial Area

Mahape, Navi Mumbai - 400 710.





Contents





Raja Rao

1 The Serpent and the Rope

2 The Cat and Shakespeare

3 The Chessmaster and His Moves


Rabindranath Tagore

4 The Cabuliwallah

5 Price of a Head

6 Guru Govinda

7 The Ungrateful Sorrow


Premchand

8 Box of Jewels

9 The New Bride

10 The Police of Justice


Dr. Mulk Raj Anand

26 Lajwanti

27 The Gold Watch


Khushwant Singh

28 Karma

29 The Mark of Vishnu

30 The Portrait of a Lady





Acknowledgements




For The Serpent and the Rope

This excerpt is from The Serpent and the Rope as published in Raja Rao: Fictions in 1998 by Katha, a registered, nonprofit society devoted to enhancing the pleasures of reading. The excerpt was taken from The Serpent and the Rope, published by John Murray, London (1960). The copyright for the story is held by the author.

For The Cat and Shakespeare

These excerpts are from The Cat and Shakespeare as published in Raja Rao: Fictions in 1998 by Katha, a registered, nonprofit society devoted to enhancing the pleasures of reading. These excerpts were taken from The Cat and Shakespeare: A Tale of Modern India, published by Macmillan, New York (1965). An earlier v; ersion was published as The Cat in the Chelsea Review (New York) in 1959. The Copyright for the story is held by the author.

For The Chessmaster and his Moves

This excerpt is from The Chessmaster and his Moves as published in Raja Rao: Fictions in 1998 by Katha, a registered, nonprofit society devoted to enhancing the pleasures of reading. The excerpt was taken from The Chessmaster and his Moves, published by Vision Books, New Delhi (1988). The original punctuation has been retained. The copyright for the story is held by the author.





Raja Rao





1 The Serpent and the Rope




I was born a Brahmin – that is, devoted to Truth and all that. “Brahmin is he who knows Brahman,” etc, etc…But how many of my ancestors since the excellent Yagnyavalkya, my legendary and Upanishadic ancestor, have really known the Truth excepting the Sage Madhava, who founded an empire, or, rather, helped to build an empire, and wrote some of the most profound of Vedantic texts since Sri Sankara. There were others, so I’m told, who left hearth and riverside fields, and wandered to mountains distant and hermitages “to see God face to face,” And some of them did see God face to face and built temples. But when they died – for indeed they did “die” – they too must have been burnt by tank or grove or meeting of two rivers, and they too must have known they did not die. I can feel them in me, and know they knew they did not die. Who is it that tells me they did not die? Who but me.

So my ancestors went one by one and were burnt, and their ashes have gone down the rivers.



This excerpt is from the beginning of The Serpent and the Rope (1960).

Whenever I stand in a river I remember how when young, on the day the monster ate the moon and the day fell into an eclipse, I used with til and kusha grass to offer the manes my filial devotion. For withal I was a good Brahmin. I even know grammar and the Brahma Sutras, read the Upanishads at the age of four, was given the holy thread at seven – because my mother was dead and I had to perform her funeral ceremonies, year after year, my father having married again. So with wet cloth and an empty stomach, with devotion, and sandal paste on my forehead, I fell before the rice-balls of my mother and I sobbed. I was born an orphan, and have remained one. I have wandered the world and have sobbed in hotel rooms and in trains, have looked at the cold mountains and sobbed, for I had no mother. One day, and that was when I was twenty two, I sat in a hotel – it was in the Pyrenees – and I sobbed, for I knew I would never see my mother again.

They say my mother was very beautiful and very holy. Grandfather Kittanna said, “Her voice, son, was like a vina playing to itself, after evensong is over, when one has left the instrument beside a pillar in the temple. Her voice too was like those musical pillars at the Rameshwaram temple – it resonated from the depths, from unknown space, and one felt God shone the brighter with this worship. She reminded me of Concubine Chandramma. She had the same voice. That was long before your time,” grandfather concluded, “it was in Mysore, and I have not been there these fifty years.”

Grandfather Kittanna was a noble type, a heroic figure among us. It must be from him I have this natural love of the impossible – I can think that a building may just decide to fly, or that Stalin may become a saint, or that all the Japanese have become Buddist monks, or that Mahatma Gandhi is walking with us now. I sometimes feel I can make the railway line stand up, or the elephant bear its young one in twenty four days; I can see an aeroplane float over a mountain and sit carefully on a peak, or I could go to Fatehpur Sikri and speak to the Emperor Akbar. It would be difficult for me not to think, when I am in Versailles, that I hear the uncouth voices of Roi Soleil, or in Meaux that Bossuet rubs his snuff in the palm of his hand, as they still do in India, and offers a pinch to me. I can sneeze with it, and hear Bossuet make one more of his funeral orations. For Bossuet believed – and so did Roi Soleil – that he never would die. And if they’ve died, I ask you, where indeed did they go?

Grandfather Kittanna was heroic in another manner. He could manage a horse, the fiercest, with a simplicity that made it go where it did not wish to go. I was brought up with the story of how Grandfather Kittanna actually pushed his horse into the Chandrapur forest one evening – the horse, Sundar, biting his lips off his face; the tiger that met him in the middle of the jungle; the leap Sundar gave high above my Lord Sher, and the custard apples that splashed on his back, so high he soared – and before my grandfather knew where he was, with sash and blue Maratha saddle, there he stood, Sundar, in the middle of the courtyard. The lamps were being lit, and when stableman Chowdayya heard the neigh he came and led the steed to the tank for a a swish of water. Grandfather went into the bathroom, had his evening bath – he loved it to be very hot, and Aunt Seethamma had always to serve him potful after potful – and he rubbed himself till his body shone as the young of a banana tree. He washed and sat in prayer. When Atchakka asked, “Sundar is all full of scratches…?” Then grandfather spoke of the tiger, and the leap. For him, if the horse had soared into the sky and landed in holy Brindavan he would not have been much surprised. Grandfather Kittanna was like that. He rode Sundar for another three years, and then the horse died – of some form of dysentery, for, you know, horses die too-and we buried him on the top of Kittur Hill, with fife and filigree. We still make an annual pilgrimage to his tomb, and for Hyderabad reasons we cover it up with a rose-coloured muslin, like the Muslims do. Horses we think came from Arabia, and so they need a Muslim burial. Where is Sundar now? Where?

The impossible, for grandfather, was always possible. He never – he, a Brahmin – never for once was afraid of gun or sword, and yet what depth he had in his prayers. When he came out, Aunt Seethamma used to say, “He has the shine of a Dharmaraja”.

But I, I’ve the fright of gun and sword, and the smallest trick of violence can make me run a hundred leagues. But once having gone a hundred leagues I shall come back a thousand, for I do not really have the fear of fear. I only have fear.

I love rivers and lakes, and make my home easily by any waterside hamlet. I love palaces for their echoes, their sense of never having seen anything but the gloomy. Palaces remind me of old and venerable women, who never die. They look after others so much – I mean, orphans of the family always have great aunts, who go on changing from orphan to orphan – that they remain ever young. One such was Aunt Lakshamma. She was married to a minister once, and he died when she was seven or eight. And since then my uncles and their daughters, my mother’s cousins and their grandchildren, have always had Lakshamma to look after them, for an orphan in a real household is never an orphan. Lakshamma preserved, all the clothes of the young in her eighteenth century steel and sheesham trunk, in the central hall, and except when there was a death in the house these clothes never saw the light of the sun. Some of them were fifty years old, they said. The other day – that is, some seven or eight years ago – when we were told that Aunt Lakshamma, elder to my grandfather by many years, had actually died, I did not believe it. I thought she would live three hundred years. She never would complain or sigh. She never wept. We never wept when she died. For I cannot understand what death means.

My father, of course, loved me. He never let me stray in to the hands of Lakshamma. He said, “Auntie smells bad, my son. I want you to be a hero and a prince.” Some time before my mother died, it seems she had a strange vision. She saw three of my past lives, and in each one of them I was a son, and of course I was always her eldest born, tall, slim, deep voiced, deferential and beautiful. In one I was a prince. That is why I had always to be adorned with diamonds – diamond on my forehead, chest and ears. She died, they say, having sent someone to the goldsmith, asking if my hair-flower were ready. When she died they covered her with white flowers – jasmines from Coimbatore and champaks from Chamundi – and with a lot of kumkum on her they took her away to the burning ghat. They shaved me completely, and when they returned they gave me Bengal gram, and some sweets. I could not understand what had happened. Nor do I understand now. I know my mother, my Mother Gauri, is not dead, and yet I am an orphan. Am I always to be an orphan?

That my father married for a third time – my stepmother having died leaving three children, Saroja, Sukumari, and the eldest, Kapila – is another story. My new stepmother loved me very dearly, and I could not think of a home without her bright smile and the song that shone like copper vessels in the house. When she smiled her mouth touched her ears – and she gave me everything I wanted. I used to weep, though, thinking of my own mother. But then my father died. He died on the third of the second moon month when the small rains had just started. I have little to tell you of my father’s death, except that I did not love him; but that after he died I knew him and loved him when his body was such pure white spread ash. Even now I have dreams of him saying to me, “Son, why did you not love me, you, my Eldest Son?” I cannot repent, as I do not know what repentance is. For I must first believe there is death. And that is the central fact – I do not believe that death is. So, for whom shall I repent?

Of course, I love my father now. Who could not love one that was protection and kindness itself, though he never understood that my mother wanted me to be a prince? And sine I could not be a prince – I was born a Brahmin, and so how could I be a king? – I wandered my life away, and became a holy vagabond. If grandfather simply jumped over tigers in the jungles, how many tigers of the human jungle, how many accidents to plane and car have I passed by? And what misunderstandings and chasms of hatred have lain between me and those who first loved, and then hated, me? Left to myself, I became alone and full of love. When one is alone one always loves. In fact, it is because one loves, and one is alone, one does not die.

I went to Benares, once. It was in the month of March, and there was still a pinch of cold in the air. My father had just died and I took Vishalakshi, my second stepmother, and my young stepbrother Sridhara – he was only eleven months old – and I went to Benares. I was twenty two then, and I had been to Europe; I came back when father became ill. Little Mother was very proud of me – shed said, “He’s the bearing of a young papal tree, tall and sacred, and the serpent-stones around it. We must go round him to become sacred.” But the sacred Brahmins of Benares would hear none of this. They knew my grandfather and his grandfather and his great-grandfather again, and thus for seven generations – Ramakrishnayya and Ranganna, Madhavaswamy and Somasundarayya, Manjappa and Gangadharayya and for each of them they knew the sons and grandsons (the daughters, of course, they did not quite know), and so, they stood on their rights. “Your son, “they said to Little Mother, “has been to Europe, and has wed a European and he has no sacred thread. Pray, Mother, how could the manes be pleased?” So Little Mother yielded and just fifty silver rupees made everything holy. Some carcassbearing Brahmins – “We’re the men of the four shoulders,” they boast – named my young brother Son of Ceremony in their tempestuous high and low of hymns – the quicker the better, for in Benares there be many dead, and all the dead of all the ages, the successive generations of manes after manes, have accumulated in the sky. And you could almost see them layer on layer, on the night of a moon-eclipse, fair and pale and tall and decrepit, fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, nephews, friends, king, Yogis, maternal uncles – all, all they accumulate in the Benares air and you can see them. They have a distanced, dull-eyed look and they ask – they beg for this and that, and your round white rice-balls and sesame seed give the peace they ask for. The sacred Brahmin too is pleased. He has his fifty rupees. Only my young brother, eleven months old, does not understand. When his mother is weeping – for death takes a long time to be recognized – my brother pulls and pulls at the sari fringe. I look at the plain, large river that is ever so young, so holy – like my mother. The temple bells ring and the crows are all about the white rice-balls. “The manes have come, look!” say the Brahmins. My brother crawls upto them saying “Caw-caw,” and it’s when he sees the monkeys that he jumps for Little Mother’s lap. He’s so tender and fine limbed, is my brother. Little Mother takes him into her lap, opens her choli and gives him the breast.

The Brahmins are still muttering something. Two or three of them have already washed their feet in the river and are coming up, looking at their navels or their fine gold rings. They must be wondering what silver we would offer. We come from far and from grandfather to grandfather, they knew that everyone in the family had paid, in Moghul gold or in rupees of the East India Company, to the more recent times with the British Queen buxom and small-faced on the round, large silver. I would rather have thrown the rupees to the begging monkeys than to the Brahmins. But Little Mother was there. I took my brother in my arms, and I gave the money, silver by silver, to him. And gravely, as though he knew what he was doing, he gave the rupees to the seated Brahmins. He now knew too that father was dead. Then suddenly he gave such a shriek as though he saw father near us not as he was but as he had become, blue, transcorporeal. Little Mother always believes the young see the dead more clearly than we the corrupt do. And little Mother must be right. Anyway, it stopped her tears, and now that the clouds had come, we went down the steps of the Harishchandra Ghat, took a boat and floated down the river.

I told Little Mother how Tulsidas had written the Ramayana just there, next to the Rewa Palace, and Kabir had been hit on the head by Saint Ramanand. The Saint had stumbled on the head of the Muslim weaver and had cried Ram-Ram, so Kabir stood up and said, “Now, My Lord, be Thou my Guru and I Thy disciple.” That is how the weaver became so great a devotee and poet. Farther down, the Buddha himself had walked and had washed his alms-bowl – he had gone up the steps and had set the Wheel of Law a-turning. The aggregates, said the Buddha, make for desire and aversion, pleasure and ill, and one must seek that from which there is no returning. Little Mother listened to all this and seemed so convinced. She played with the petal-like fingers of my brother and when she saw a parrot in the sky, “Look, look, little one,” she said, “that is the Parrot of Rama.” And she began to sing:

O parrot, my parrot of Rama

and my little brother went to profoundest sleep.

My father was really dead. But little Mother smiled. In Benares one knows death is an illusory as the mist in the morning. The Ganges is always there – and when the sun shines, oh, how hot it can still be …..

I wrote postcards to friends in Europe. I told them I had come to Benares because father had died, and I said the sacred capital was really a surrealist city. You never know where reality starts and where illusion ends; whether the Brahmins of Benares are like the crows asking for funereal rice-balls, saying “Caw-caw”, or like the Sadhus by their fires, lost in such beautiful magnanimity, as though love were not something one gave to another, but what one gave to oneself. His trident in front of him, his holy books open, some saffron cloth drying anywhere – on bare bush or on broken wall, sometimes with an umbrella stuck above, and a dull fire eyeing him, as though the fire in Benares looked after the saints, not the cruel people of the sacred city – each Sadhu sat, a Shiva. And yet when you looked up you saw the lovely smile of some concubine, just floating down her rounded bust and nimble limbs, for a prayer and a client. The concubines of Benares are the most beautiful of any in the world, they say; and some say too, that they worship the wife of Shiva, Parvathi herself, that they may have the juice of youth in their limbs. That is why Damodhara Gupta so exaltedly started his book on bawds with Benares. “O Holy Ganga, Mother Ganga, thou art purity itself, coming down from Shiva’s hair,” When you see so many limbs go purring and bursting on the ghats by the Ganges, how can limbs have any meaning? Death makes passion beautiful. Death makes the concubine inevitable. I remembered again grandfather saying, “Your mother had such a beautiful voice. She had a voice like Concubine Chandramma. And that was in Mysore, and fifty years ago.”

I could not forget Madeleine – how could I? Madeleine was away and in Aix-en-Provence. Madeleine had never recovered in fact she never did recover from the death of Pierre. She had called him Krishna till he was seven months old. Then when he begain to have those coughs, Madeleine knew; mothers always know what is dangerous for their children. And on that Saturday morning, returning from her college Madeleine knew, she knew that in four weeks, in three and in two and in one, the dread disease would take him away. That was why from the moment he was born – we had him take birth in a little, lovely maternity home near Bandol – she spoke of all the hopes she had in him. He must be tall and twenty three; he must go to an Engineering Institute and build bridges for India when he grew up. Like all melancholic people, Madeleine loved bridges. She felt Truth was always on the other side, and so sometimes, I told her that next time she must be born on the Hudson. I bought her books on Provence or on Sardinia, which had such beautiful ivy-covered bridges built by the Romans. One day she said, “Let’s go and see this bridge at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port,” that she had found in a book on the Pays Basque. We drove through abrupt, arched Ardèche and passing through Cahors I showed her the Pont de Valentŕe. She did not care for it. It was like Reinhardt’s scenario at Salzburg, she said. When we went on to the Roman bridge of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port she said, “Rama, it makes me shiver,” She had been a young girl at the time of the Spanish Civil War, so we never could go over to Spain. Then it was we went up to some beautiful mountain town perhaps it was Pau, for I can still see the huge chateau, the one built by Henri IV – and may be it was on that night, in trying to comfort Madeleine, that Krishna was conceived. She would love to have a child of mine, she said and we had been married seven months.

At that time Madeleine was twenty six, and I was twenty one. We had first met at University of Caen. Madeleine had an uncle – her parents had died leaving her an estate, so it was being looked after by Uncle Charles. He was from Normandy, and you know what that means.

Madedeine was so lovely, with golden hair – on her mother’s side she came from Savoy and her limbs had such pure unreality. Madeleine was altogether unreal. That is why, I think, she had never married anyone in fact she had never touched anyone. She said that during the Nazi occupation, towards the end of 1943, a German Officer had tried to touch her hair; it looked so magical, and it looked the perfect Nordic hair. She said he had brought his hands near her face, and she had only to smile and he could not do anything. He bowed and went away.

It was the Brahmin in me, she said, the sense that touch and untouch are so important, which she sensed; and she would let me touch her. Her hair was gold, and her skin for an Indian was like the unearthed marble with which we built our winter palaces. Cool, with the lake about one, and the peacock strutting in the garden below. The seventh-hour of music would come, and all the palace would see itself lit. Seeing oneself is what we always seek; the world, as the great Sage Sankara said, is like a city seen in a mirror. Madeleine was like the Palace of Amber seen in moonlight. There is such a luminous mystery – the deeper you go, the more you know yourself. So Krishna was born.

The bridge was never crossed. Madeleine had a horror of crossing bridges. Born in India she would have known how in Malabar they send off gunfire to frighten the evil spirits, as you cross a bridge. Whether the gunfire went off or not, Krishna could never cross the bridge of life. That is why with some primitive superstition Madeleine changed his name and called him Pierre from the second day of his illness. “Pierre tu es, et sur cette Pierre…” she quoted. And she said – for she, a Frenchwoman, like an Indian woman was shy, and would not call me easily by my name – she had said, “My love, the gods of India will be angry, that you a Brahmin married a non-Brahmin like me; why should they let me have a child called Krishna? So sacred is that name,” And the little fellow did not quite know what he was to do when he was called Pierre. I called him Pierre and respected her superstition. For all we do is really superstition. Was I really called Ramaswamy, or was Madeleine called Madeleine?

The illness continued. Dr. Pierre Marmoson, a specialist in child medicine especially trained in America gave every care available. But bronchopneumonia is bronchopneumonia, particularly after a severe attack of chickenpox. Madeleine, however, believed more in my powers of healing than in the doctor’s. So that when the child actually lay in my arms and steadied itself and kicked straight and lay quiet, Madeleine could not believe that Pierrre was dead. The child had not even cried.

We were given special permission by the Prefet des Bouches-du-Rhône to cremate Pierre among the olive trees behind the Villa Sainte-Anne. It was a large Villa and one saw on a day of the mistral the beautiful Mont-Sainte-Victoire, as Cezanne must have seen it day after day, clear as though you could talk to it. The mistral blew and blew so vigorously; one could see one’s body float away, like pantaloon, vest and scarf, and one’s soul sit and shine on the top of Mont Sainte-Victoire. The dead, they say in Aix, live in the cathedral tower, the young and the virgins do – there is even a Provencal song about it – so Madeleine went to her early morning Mass and to vespers. She fasted on Friday, she a heathen, she began to light candles to the Virgin, and she just smothered me up in tenderness. She seemed so far that nearness was further than any smell or touch. There was no bridge – all bridges now led to Spain.

So when my father had said he was very ill, and wished I could come, she said, “Go, and don’t you worry about anything. I will look after myself.” It seemed wiser for me to go. Madeleine would continue to teach and I would settle my affairs at home. Mother’s property had been badly handled by the estate agent Sundarayya, the rents not paid, the papers not in order; and I thought I would go and see the University authorities too, for a job was being kept vacant for me. The Government had so far been very kind and my scholarship continued. Once my doctorate was over I would take Madeleine home, and she would settle with me – somehow I always thought of a house white, single-storied, on a hill and by a lake and I would go day after day to the University and preach to them the magnificence of European civilization. I had taken history, and my special subject was the Albigensian heresy. I was trying to link up the Bogomilites and the Druzes, and thus search back for the Indian background – Jain or may be Buddisht of the Cathars. The “Pure” were dear to me. Madeleine, too, got involved in them, but for a different reason. Touch, as I have said, was always distasteful to her, so she liked the untouching Cathars, she loved their celibacy. She implored me to practice the ascetic Brahmacharya of my ancestors, and I was too proud a Brahmin to feel defeated. The bridge was anyhow there, and could not be crossed. I knew I would never go to Spain.

Walking back and forth in my Kensington room that day – it was a Thursday, I clearly remember, the day of Jupiter – I thought of the letter I should write to Pratap. For how could I have gone to Cambridge and seen so much of Savithri without dropping him a line, some concatenation of words (and images) that might give him hope? For hope he certainly could have. Savithri always talked of Pratap as one talks of one’s secretary – it must have come from the atmosphere of palaces – as an inevitable support in all contingencies, a certainty in a world of uncertainty. If she talked of him with a touch of condescension it was not because of social differences; it was just because she liked being kind to something, something inevitable, unknown, such as a lame horse in the stable or it might be an old bull, fed in the palace yard till it die; but meanwhile being treated as an elder, a palace bull, given the best of Bengal gram and the choicest of green grass. And when it died, for it would “die”, it would be given a music and flower funeral and have orange trees planted over its grave. And one day some virgin would light a lamp and consecrate it, and every day from that time on the sanctuary would be lit with an oil lamp, as dusk fell over the palace grove…



The excerpt which follows occurs towards the middle of The Serpent and the Rope and describes, among other things, Savithri’s ritual “marriage” with Ramaswamy.

To speak the truth, I hated this attitude of Savithri’s. I felt she was so truly indifferent, so completely resigned to her fate like all Hindu women – that for her, life was like a bullock-cart wheel: it was round, and so it had to move on night after night, and day after day, smelling chilli or tamarind, rice or coconut, over rut and through monsoon waters purring at the sides to the fairs in the plains; or to the mountains, high up there, on a known pilgrimage. What did it matter, she would ask, whether the sun scorched or the rain poured, or you carried tamarind or saffron? Life’s wheel is its own internal law. Nobody could marry Savithri, nobody could marry a soul, so why not marry anyone? And why should not that anyone be stump Pratap? It certainly could not be Hussain Hamdani; and thank heavens his vanity and self-interest took him to Pakistan and a good job – and Pratap was, anyway, so very clean, so gentle, so sincere. If one should have a husband at all, said Savithri, Pratap was the very best.

“What do you think” she had asked me one evening, a day or two before my departure from Cambridge. We were not by the river, which was reserved for us, for our conjoint intuitions of poetry and history – of a song of Mira’s and again may be of some historical character from Avignon, Nimes, Carcassonne, Albi or Montpellier. But when we came out into the open street light we could talk of anything, of Nehru’s Government, of father’s despair at having three elephants instead of eight, a tradition which had come down from Rajendra Simha III, in the sixteenth century. Finally, in the heart of this extrovent world one can always dig a hollow, make oneself comfortable in a bus shelter, an ABC, or with hot coffee at the Copper Kettle one can sit and talk of Pratap.

“There’s such goodness in him. I have never seen anyone so good in life. Not even you,” she had said, in mock severity.

“I never said I was good.”

“Of course not,” she teased, “but you want to be called a saint.”

“You say so,” I laughed, “and that is your responsibility.” I could hear the bells ring the hour on Trinity Tower, so gathering her notes we had jumped into a taxi at the Market Square and rushed off to deposit her safely at the gate of Girton.

“It’s me,” she said, with that enchanting voice, and even the gatekeeper did not seem to mind very much. “Am I very late?”

He had looked at the clock first, and then at me. “Well, Miss Rathor, the world does not always function by the clock, does it?” he said with a wink.

She laid the red rose I had bought her on his table, saying, “This is for Catherine,” and turning to me she had added, “She’s such a nice girl, seven years old; we’re great friends. Good night, Ramaswamy, good night, Mr. Scott. Good night.”

Back in the taxi I said to myself, “Catherine or Pratap, for Savithri it makes no difference. Both are dear because both are familiar, innocent, and inevitable in her daily existence.”

Thinking over all this, my letter to Pratap never got written. It was a damp day and I did not go to the British Museum for my work, but as it was already long past three, I took a stroll by the river.

What an imperial river the Thames is – her colour may be dark or brown, but she flows with a majesty, with a maturity of her own knowledge of herself, as though she grew the tall towers beside her, and buildings rose in her image, that men walked by her and spoke inconsequent things – as two horses do on a cold day while the wine merchant delivers his goods at some pub, whispering and frothing to one another – for the Londoner is eminently good. He is so warm, he is indeed the first citizen of the world. The mist on the Thames is pearly, as if Queen Elizabeth the First had squandered her riches and femininity on ships of gold, and Oberon had played on his pipe, so worlds, gardens fairies and grottoes were created, empires were built and lost, men shouted heroic things to one another and died, but somewhere one woman, golden, round, imperial, always lay by her young man, his hand over her left breast, his lip touching here in rich recompense. There’s holiness in happiness, and Shakespeare was holy because Elizabeth was happy. Would England not see an old holiness again.?

For me, as I have said already, the past was necessary to understand the present. Standing on a bridge near Chelsea, and seeing the pink and yellow lights of the evening, the barges floating down to some light, the city feeling her girth in herself, how I felt England in my bones and breath; how I reverenced her. The buses going high and lit; the taxis that rolled about, green and gentlemanly; the men and women who seemed responsible, not for this Island alone, but for whole areas of humanity all over the globe; strollers – some workman, who had stolen a moment on his way to a job, some father who was showing London to his little daughter, two lovers arm hooked to arm – how with the trees behind and the water flowing they seemed to make history stop and look back at itself.

London was esoteric and preparing for the crowning of another Queen; and Englishmen felt it would be a momentous insight of man into himself. The white man, I felt, did not bear his burden, but the Englishman did. For, after all, it was the English who founded the New World, yet now it was America that naively, boastfully, was proclaiming what every English man and woman really felt – that the dominion of man, the regulation of habeas corpus or the right delivery of some jute bales on Guadalcanal Island in the Pacific, was the business of these noble towers, clocks, balances, stock-books, churring ships, and aeroplanes above, and that there would be good government on earth, and decency and a certain nobility of human behaviour, and all because England was. That I, an Indian who disliked British rule, should feel this only revealed how England was recovering her spiritual destiny, how in anointing her Queen she would anoint herself.

It was nearing six by now and knowing that about this hour Julietta would be at the Stag, I dropped in, took an orangeade and sat waiting for her. Julietta was a great friend of Savithri’s. She had left Girton the year before and though I had met her only once I felt I could talk to her about anything.

Julietta and a whole generation of young English people who had either fought in the war or matured during it – Julietta was eighteen in 1945 – were fascinating to me. That is why for an outsider pub life seemed so valuable – he saw the new England, even when the English men and women he met were not particularly young. But England herself had become young and sovereign. Young Englishmen looked so open, so intellectually keen, and the girls seemed so feminine, so uninhibited. It was all so far from the world of Jane Austen of Thackeray, or even from the world of Virginia Woolf. Boys and girls met and mated and helped each other through life with, as one girl remarked to Savithri, the facility of eating an apple. “In fact I was eating an apple,” said Marguerite Hoffiner,” when he did it to me. What is there in it, anyway, to talk about so much? Indeed it was explained to me that the coupling of male and female had gone on more and more normally, and that a modern Lady Chatterley would not have to go so far as a gamekeeper, but would find her man beside her in a theatre, on Chelsea Bridge, or in a pub. I only knew the foulsmelling bistros in France, and almost never went to any – could you imagine Madeleine at the Café des Marroniers or in the Rencontre des Pecheurs? – but the pub, the Stag, was so civilized.

Julietta came in, accompanied by Stephen, a Logical Positivist with a curve of sparse golden hair, a high forehead and lilting green eyes. In his opinion Aristotle had proved that the world was very real; he could not understand how one could doubt one’s self.

“And who doubts the doubter?” I asked.

“The doubter.”

“Who sees the doubter?”

“My mind,” he answered.

“Can my mind see itself?” I pressed.

“Of course. Why not?”

“Can you have two thoughts at a time?” I continued.

“Come, come,” he said, waving his glass and feeling very happy, “you don’t want me to grow mystical, do you?

“No,” I said, “I am talking to Aristole.”

“Well, Aristole has decided on the nature of syllogisms.”

“Why, have you never heard of the Nyaya system of Indian logic?”

“Nyaya fiddlesticks,” said Stephen good-humouredly.

“Come, come,” said Julietta, with womanly tenderness, pushing back Stephen’s golden hair. Her hands, I noticed, were not as elegant as the sensitivity of her face.

“Can light see itself?” I asked.

“Obviously not,” said Stephen.

“Then how can the mind see itself”?

“I told you,” shouted Stephen, “not to talk mysticism to me!”

“He’s talking sense – and you, nonsense,” said Julietta, chivalrously.

“And you my love.” He said, kissing her richly before everyone, “you own the castle of intelligence, and I am the Lord.” He was obviously getting drunk. I stopped, bought them each a drink and sat down. There was by now a gay crowd of artists in patched elbows, old stockbrokers with indecipherable females, landlords with their dogs, writers who talked, their noses in the air, as though publishers belonged to the tanners’ or the drummers’ caste-writers, of course, being Brahmins – and there were silent, somnolent painters carrying the tools of their trade, with canvases hidden under some cover, chatting with the bartender. “Half of bitter, please,” came the refrain, gently and gruff, elegant and cockney, and the whole place filled with smoke, silence and talk. The smell of perfumes mingled with other smells of females and men, making one feel that the natural man is indeed a good man – lo naturale e’ sempre senza errore – that logic had nothing to do with life. Life was but lovely, and loveliness had golden hair and feminine intimacy, while the Thames flowed.

“One last question,” I said, bringing more beer to Julietta and Stephen. “The brain is made of matter….” “That is so, my inquisitor,” said Stephen, laughing.

“…so the brain is made of the same stuff as earth?”

“That is so, my Indian Philosopher.”

“Then how can the earth be objective to the earth – understand the earth?”

“It’s just like asking—I beg pardon, Julietta – If I copulate with Julietta, as I often and joyfully do and the nicer, the better when there’s drink – then how do I understand Julietta? The fact is I don’t understand Julietta. I never will understand Julietta. I don’t know that I love her – even when I tell her sweet and lovely things. I’m happy and that’s all that matters. I’m a solipsist,” he concluded laughing.

Julietta was pursuing her own thoughts, seemingly undisturbed by his statements. “I’m reviewing a book on the subject,” she broke in, “which says God is because evil is. Is that what you mean?”

“I don’t know what you mean by God. But it needs a pair of opposites to make a world. Only two things of different texture and substance can be objective to one another. Otherwise it’s like two drops of mercury in your hand, or like linking the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea – they are both water and the same. I ask you, how can the mind, made of the same stuff as the earth, be positive about the earth? Water is not positive to water – water is positive to nothing. Water is. So something is. And since is ness is the very stuff of that something, all you can say is, Is is.”

“I knew Indians were mad, that Gandhi was mad. And now, now I have the proof,” said Stephen. “I’m an old anarchist. I believe that matter is true, that Julietta is true, that I am true, and you also my friend, who stands me drinks, and spends nine pence each time on me and nine pence on Julietta. Now, go and get me another. This time I don’t want a half. I want the whole damn thing, and long live Pandit Nehru.”

People from the counter turned to look and lifted their glasses to India, to me. How wonderful to be in an English pub, I thought. Such humanity you would get in France only amongst the working classes, never among the dark-faced, heaving, fingering bourgeois. The sensuality of the bourgeois is studied, it is a vice, because he was defeated before he went to it: Baudelaire was already defeated by his stepfather and his smelly mother before he went to his Negress. You see the dark because you want to prove yourself the light; dialectic is on the lip of the rake. But in this young England, which I knew so little, I felt man was more primary and innocent, more inexhaustible. He did not have a “judas” on his door – he did not cultivate the concierge yet. Flowers grew in his gardens, red fluorescent lights lit the top of the buildings, and beneath them, the Thames flowed. White cliffs of chalk begird the isle at the estuary, and you could see seagulls rising with the ferry lights and returning to the night. Soon I’d have to be back in France, and I shivered to the bottom of my spine. Lord, would that I could make the moment stay, and make the world England.

Walking beside Savithri the next day, towards the evening – we were on the Embankment – I told her of my premonition of England, of this new island, knowing she was going to have a Queen: the King was already a little not there, he was so ill, and the leaves and the water in Hyde Park, the very sparrows and doves and dogs seemed to feel that there was something new happening to England, that the Regency was going soon to end.

“What Regency?” asked Savithri, with the air of a pupil to her teacher.

“Why, don’t you see, ever since the death of King George the Fifth. Ever since the abdication of Edward the Eighth – that new King Hal who could have created his own Falstaff, and which a fat and foolish bank clerk civilization drove into exile – this country, which chose her own church because her King preferred to choose his own wives – having become big, with an Empire and all that involves: and she became so afraid of the Stock Exchange, and of what Mrs. Petworth would say in Perth or Mr. Kennedy would say in Edmonton, Alberta – for remember it’s all a question of wool shares or the London-Electic – this mercantile country drove away what might have been her best King, or at least the best loved, since Henry the Fifth. Do you remember those broken French sentences addressed to his Kate: Donc vostre est France, et vous estes miennes? And England put in his place of noble Bharatha who apologized every time he spoke, saying. You think I am your King, but I am only brother to the King; I tremble, I hesitate, I wish my brother were here. And he ruled the land with the devotion of a Bharatha, worshipping the sandal of his loved brother placed on the throne.”

“Kingship is an impersonal principle; it is life and death, it knows no limitations. It is history made camate, just as this Thames is the principle of water made real. And when a king apologizes for being a king he is no king; he establishes a duality in himself, so he can have no authority. The King can do no wrong, comes from the idea that the Principle can do no wrong, just as the communists say, the Party can do no wrong. Talking of the communists the other day in Cambridge, I forgot to say that communism must succeed; happily for us, to be followed by kingship. Look at the difference between Hitler and Stalin. Stalin, the man of iron, the mystery behind the Kremlin, the impersonal being; to whom toture, growth or death are essentials of an abstract arithmetic. As the Catholics looked for omens in the Bible, Stalin looked to impersonal history for guidance. Stalin lives and dies, in history as history, not outside history. Hitler, on the other hand, lived in his dramatic Nuremberg rallies, visible, concrete, his voice the most real of real; his plans personal, demoniac, his whims astrological, his history Hitlerian-Germanic, if you will – dying a hero, a Superman; Zarathustra. Duality must lead to heroism, to personality development, to glory. The dualist must become, saintly, must cultivate humility, because he knows he could be big, great, heroic and personal, an emperor with a statue and a pediment.”

Here, silently Savithri led me on to Chelsea Bridge; and looking down at the river, I continued:

“But the impersonal is neither humble nor proud who could say whether Stalin was humble or proud? But one can say so easily and so eminently of another Cathar, another purist, Trotsky – that noble revolutionary of perfect integrity – that he was vain. He would gladly have jumped into the fire, down the campo di cremates, smiling and singing, I am incorruptible, I am pure, I am the flame. Stalin would have the Kremlin guarded with a thousand sentries, a few thousand spies, killing each one when he knew too much, first a Yagoda, then a Yezhov. For him history killed them, just as an Inca chief believed his god, not himself, wanted a sacrifice. Stalin bore no personal enmity to Trotsky, for this was real history. Even if Stalin the man was jealous of Trotsky, the flame of pure Revolution (and Stalin might have admitted this), Stalin who is history, had to kill Trotsky the anti-history. The pure, the human, the vainglorious leader’s personal magic was an unholy impediment to the movement of history. In the same was Marshal Toukhachesvsky had to die – the impersonal cannot allow that any man be a hero. Stalin was no hero: he was a king, a god.”

“How well you hold forth,” teased Savithri, tugging my arm. She wanted me to look at the barges as they floated down, or at the clear moon that played between the clouds and delighted Savithri as it might have a child.

“Moon, moon, Uncle Moon,” I chanted a Kanarese nursery rhyme, “Mama, Chanda-mama,” and then we went back to history.

“The Superman is our enemy. Look what happened in India. Sri Aurobindo wanted, if you please, to improve on the Advaita of Sri Sankara – which was just like trying to improve on the numerical status of zero. Zero makes all numbers, so zero begins everything. All numbers are possible when they are in and of zero. Similarly all philosophies are possible in and around Vedanta. But you can no more improve on Vedanta than improve on zero. The zero, you see, the sunya, is impersonal; whereas one, two, three and so on are all dualistic. One always implies many. But zero implies nothing. I am not one, I am not two, I am neither one, nor two: Aham nirvikalpi nirakara rupih. I am the I. So, to come back to Sri Aurobindo, he shut himself in Pondicherry and started building a new world. If you can build a house of three storeys, you can build one of five, eight, ten or twelve storeys – and go as high as the Empire State Building or any other structure, higher and yet higher. And just as aeroplanes at first went fifty miles an hour, then eighty, then a hundred, two hundred, three, and now go far beyond the speed of sound, similarly you can build any number of worlds, can make the mind, the psyche so athletic that you can build world after world, but you cannot go beyond yourself, your impersonal principle. And just as the materialism of Stalin and not his impersonal sense of history, but his material interpretation of history made him end up like the Egyptians in being embalmed and made immortal as history, Sri Aurobindo tried to make this perishable, this chemical, this historical body, this body of eighteen aggregates, an Nagarjuna called it, permanent. Moralism and materialism must go together. The undying is a moral concent – for death is a biological phenomenon, an anti-life phenomenon, against the nature of the species. Not to die, to drink the elixir of life, is moral it is to transcend the phenomenal as celibacy is the transcending of nature. The moral end in mummification and the pyramid.”

“I am breathless,” said Savithri, “you take me too far and too quickly.”

“Just a moment,” I begged, “I’ll soon finish. The Superman is the enemy of man – whether you call him Zarathustra, Sri Aurobindo, Stalin, or Father Zossima.”

“That’s a new gentleman in history,” laughed Savithri.

“Oh,” I remarked, a little irritated by her disturbance, “it’s a saintly character in Dostoevsky: he smells – he decomposes – when he dies, and thus disturbs the odour of sanctity his miracles had brought to him. When Sri Aurobindo died his disciples must have felt the same: the deathless master, who wanted to consecrate his body, consign it to immortality, died like any other. His breath must have stopped, his eyes must have become fixed in their sockets, but being a Yogi he may have been sitting in a lotus posture, and that would have given him beauty and great dignity.”

“And now?” begged Savithri. The damp of the river was rising, “I am a biological phenomenon, and food and warmth are necessary. Besides, “she added, pulling her sari over her breast as though it was she who would suffer, “besides, I am terrified of your lungs.” So I obeyed and we slowly strolled along the Embankment.

“You know,” I said, “Julietta is probably at the Stag.”

“Ah,” she burst out laughing, “so you remember geography and biography, do you? Come, let us go.”

“Oh, never never!” I shouted. “You, Savithri, in a pub?

“Pub or no pub, take me anywhere, my love,” she said, so gently, so dedicatedly and with such a pressure of her fingers on my arm that the whole world rose up into my awareness renewed; “take me anywhere, and keep me warm.” Was it I, the foolish schoolteacher, this miserable five foot eleven of Brahmin feebleness, this ungainly, myopic over-bent creature to whom she had said those two tender, commonplace but perfect words? It was the first time she ever said them to me, and perhaps she had never said them to anyone else. History and my mind vanished somewhere, and I put my arms round that little creature – she hardly came to my shoulder – and led her along alleyways and parkways, past bus stop, bridge and mews to a taxi.

“Let’s go to Soho,” I said, and as I held her in my arms, how true it seemed we were to each other, a lit space between us, a presence – God. “Dieu est loge dans I’intervalle entre les homes,” I recited Henri Frank to her.

“Yes, it is God,” she whispered, and we fell into the silence of busy streets. After a long moment, she whispered again, “Take me with you, my love.”

“Will you come, Savithri?”

“Take me with you my love, anywhere.”

“Come,” I said “this minute, now…..”

“No, I cannot. I must go back. I must go back to Pratap.”

I pressed her against me ever more tenderly. “Come, I’ll take you,” I persisted.

“To God,” she said and fell into my lap. I touched her lips as though they were made with light, with honey, with the space between words of poetry, of song. London was no longer a city for me, it was myself: the world was no longer space for me, it was a moment of time, it was now.

At Barbirolli’s I ordered a Chianti, and said, as though it had some meaning,” And now you must learn Italian.

Io ritornai dalla santissima onda

Rifatto si come piante novella

Renovellate di novella fronda

Puro e disposto a salire alle stelle,”

I recited, “You must learn Italian, for God has texture in that language. God is rich and Truscan, and the Arno has a bridge made for marriage processions.”

“So has Allahabad,” she added, somewhat sadly. “And appropriately it is called the Hunter Bridge.”

“May I go on with my Superman?” I begged.

“The biological sense of warmth having come back to me and how nice this Chianti is” – she raised her glass – “I can now follow any intricacy of thought. I like to play chess with you in history.”

“The Minister is the Superman,” I started.

“And the King?”

“The Sage. The Vedantin, himself beyond duality, is in himself, through duality and nonduality.”

“That’s too difficult with Chianti. I wish, Rama – shall I call you that from now? I wish you could sing me a song, and I would lie on your lap, far away where there is no land or road, no river or people, no father, fiancé, filigree, palace or elephants – perhaps just a mother – and on some mountain….”

“In Kailasa….” I said.

“You would sit in meditation”

“And you?”

“Pray, that you might awaken and not burn the world with that third eye-that eye which plays with history,” she laughed.

“And parrots would sing, and the mango leaf be tender, be like copper with morning sunshine.”

“And I would go round you three times, once, twice, thrice, and fall at your ash-coloured feet, begging that the Lord might absorb me unto himself….. I am a woman,” she added hesitantly, “a Hindu woman.”

Meretho Giridhara Gopala….,

Mine the mountain-bearing Krishna,

My lord none else than He.”

History, Stalin and the Superman had vanished. Trying to solve the puzzle of history, like some hero in a fable, I had won a bride. A princess had come out of the budumekaye, but the moment I had entered the world of the seven sisters the Prime Minister’s son had led a revolution in the palace, had imprisoned the other six, and put us two under arrest. King Mark of Tintagel awaited his Iseult. I would have to give her to him, but having drunk the potion the potion of Granval I would meet her by brooks and forests; I would be torn by dragons, but someday we would lie in the forest, the sword between us. Some day love would be strong enough to shatter the rock to fragments, and we should be free to wander where we would, build an empire if we cared.

“And we shall have a bambino,” she said, and laughed as though she had caught my thought.

‘Two,” I added. “One is Ganesha and the other Kumara.”

“And we shall throw colours on each other at Holi under the mountain moon. Our Indian Eros shoots with a flower, so why burn him?”

“Why not?” I asked. “The third eye opens when the attraction has ended. I hope you are not attracted by me?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “If I were attracted by attraction, there would be no one like Hussain. He looks like someone from a Moghul painting, lovely with a long curve of eyebrow, a thin waist, very long gentle hands and inside here,” she pointed to her head, “all empty. His heart is filled with popped rice, curly and white and isolated. Muslims know how to please a woman,” she finished, rather sadly.

“And a Hindu?”

“A Hindu woman knows how to worship her Krishna, her Lord. When the moon shines over the Jumma and lights are lit in the households, and the cows are milked, then it is Janaki’s son plays on the banks of the Yamuna in Brindavan. The cattle tear their ropes away, the deer leave the forests and come leaping to the groves, and with the peacocks seated on the branches of the asoka, Krishna dances on the red earth. What Gopi, my Lord, would not go to this festival of love? Women lose their shame, and men lose their anger, for in Brindavan Krishna the Lord dances. We women are bidden to that feast. Come,” she said, as though it was too much emotion to bear.

As we wandered down the streets, Piccadilly with its many coloured lights, the Tube entrances and the bus queues gave us a sense of reality. Finally I took her to some women’s hostel off Gower Street – where she always had rooms reserved for her and where she was looked after by her friend Gauri from Hyderabad, round as Savithri herself, but loquacious, big and protective. I was always so afraid of Savithri getting lost. It was not only a matter of bringing back her glasses or pen, but one always felt one had to bring Savithri back to Savithri.

“Ah, I m very real,” she protested. “And tomorrow you will see how clever I am at taking buses. I’ll jump into a 14 at Tottenham Court Road and be in Kensington at ten precise,” she promised as I left her. I knew that at ten she would still be talking away to Gauri about some blouse pattern or somebody’s marriage in Delhi. I knew I would have to telephone and ask her if she knew the time. “I promise you, you need not telephone. Tomorrow I will be punctual as Big Ben.” With Savithri the profound and the banal lived so easily side by side.

I touched her hand at the door, to know I could touch her, and carried the feel of it home. It was like touching a thought, not just a thought of jug or water, or a pillow or a horse, but a thought as it leaps, as it were, in that instant where the thought lights itself, as the meteor its own tail, I felt it was of the substance of milk, of truth, of joy seen as myself.

Next day, when I was washed and dressed and had meditated and rested – I was in a muslin dhoti and kurtha – there was still no sign of Savithri at ten or at ten past ten. Not long after, she entered in a South Indian sari of a colour we in Mysore call: “colour of the sky,” with a peacock-gold choli, and a large kumkum on her forehead. She looked awed with herself, and full of reverence. As I went to touch her I refrained – something in her walk was strange.

“I have been praying.”

“To whom?”

“To Shiva,” she whispered. Then she opened her bag and took out a sandal-stick. Her movements were made of erudite silences. “Please light this for me,” she begged.

By the time I had lit the sandal-stick in the bathroom and come out she had spread her articles of worship about her. There was a small silver censer, with the camphor. There was a silver kumkum-box. She had a few roses, too, fresh and dripping with water.

“Bring me some Ganges water in this.”

I put some plain water in her silver plate. She put kumkum into the water.

“Will you permit me?” she asked. “Permit this, a woman’s business?”

“Oh, no!” I protested.

“But it was you who told me at home a man obeys a woman, that it’s Hindu dharma”

“I obey,” I said.

Then she knelt before me, removed one by one my slippers and my stockings and put them aside gently-distantly. She took flower and kumkum, and mumbling some song to herself, anointed my feet with them. Now she lit camphor and placing the censer in the middle of the kumkum-water she waved the flame before my face, once, twice and three times in arathi. After this she touched my feet with the water, and made aspersions of it over her head. Kneeling again and placing her head on my feet, she stayed there long, very long, with her breath breaking into gentle sobs. Then she gently held herself up. Taking the kumkum from the box I placed it on her brow, at the parting of her hair, and there where her bosom heaved, the abode of love. I could not touch her any more, nor could she touch me, and we stood for an isolate while. Then suddenly I remembered my mother’s toerings.

“Stop where you are for a moment,” I begged.

“I can go nowhere,” she answered, “I belong to you.”

Gently, as if lost in the aisles of a large temple, I walked about my room, opened my trunk and slowly removed the newspaper cover, then the coconut, the betel nuts, the kumkum that Little Mother had destined for her daughter-in-law. “I, too, had come prepared for this morning,” I said.

“Really?” she smiled, for in me nothing astonished her.

“Yes, but it was a preparation made a very long time ago – a long, long time, Savithri. Not a life, not ten lives, but life upon life…..”

“Yes,” she said. “This Cambridge undergraduate, who smokes like a chimney and dances to barbarian jazz, she says unto you, I’ve known my Lord for a thousand lives, from Janam to Janam have I known my Krishna…..”

“And the Lord knows himself because Radha is, else he would have gone into penance and sat on Himalaya. The Jumna flows and peacock feathers are on his diadem, because Radha’s smiles enchant the creepers and the birds, Radha is the music of dusk, the red earth, the meaning of night. And this, my love, my spouse,” I whispered, “is from my home. This is coconut, this is betel nut, this is kumkum and these the toerings my Mother wore, and left for my bridal.” Slowly I anointed her with kumkum from my home, offered her the coconut and the betel nuts – there were eight, round and auspicious ones. “And now I shall place the toerings on your feet.”

“Never,” she said angrily. “You may be a Brahmin for all I know. But do you know of a Hindu woman who’d let her Lord touch her feet?”

“What a foolish woman you are!” I said, laughing. “And just by this you show why a Brahmin is necessary to educate you all, kings, queens, peasants and merchants. Don’t you know that in marriage both the spouse and the espoused become anointed unto godhead? That explains why in Hindu marriages the married couple can only fall at the feet of the Guru and the Guru alone – for the Guru is higher than any god. Thus, I can now place them on your feet.”

So much theology disturbed and convinced her, and she let me push the toerings on to her second toes, one on the left and other on the right. The little bells on them whisked and sang: I was happy to have touched Savithri’s feet.

The toerings were the precise size for her. Little Mother was right: for Madeleine they would have been too big.

Savithri sat on my bed, and the sun who had made himself such an auspicious presence fell upon her clear Rajput face as she sang Mira.

Sadhu matha ja … Sadhu matha ja …

O cenobite, O cenobite, do not go.

Make a pyre for me, and when I burn,

Put the ashes on your brow,

O cenobite, do not go.

We were at Victoria by nine o’clock. We were so happy and so sad altogether, as though no one could take us away from each other and nobody marry us again. We were not married that morning, we discovered, we had ever been married – else how understand that silent, whole knowledge of one another?

“My love, my love, my love,” she repeated, as though it were a mantra, “my love, and my Lord.”

“And when will Italy be, and the bridge on the Arno, and the bambino?” I asked.

She put her head out of the window of the train, and for the first time I noticed the collyrium that tears had spread over her checks and face.

“I promise you one thing,” she said.

“And what, Princess, may that be?” I replied, laughing.

“Parvathi says she will come to Shiva, when Shiva is so lost in meditation that were he to open his eyes the three worlds would burn.”

“Meaning?” I was so frightened that my voice went awry and hollow.

“I’ll come when you don’t need me, when you can live without me, O cenobite.” I knew the absolute meaning of it, the exactitude, for Savithri could never whisper, never utter but the whole of truth, even in a joke. But it was always like a sacred text, a cryptogram, with different meanings at different hierarchies of awareness.

“I understand and accept,” I answered, with a clear and definite navel deep voice. I can hear myself saying that to this day.

“Italy is,” she continued, relentless, ‘when Shivoham, Shivoham is true.”

“Meanwhile?”

“Meanwhile I go back to Allahabad and become Mrs. Pratap Singh.”

“And run the household of the new Governor,” I added, to hide any acknowledgement and pain. For by now Pratap had become Personal Secretary to His Excellency the Governor of some Indian Province. “Palace or Government House, they’re equal and opposite,” I laughed.

“And what will the learned historian do?” she asked.

“Finish the history of the Cathars, and well-wed and twice-wed, become Professor of Medieval European History at some Indian University. India is large and very diverse,” I pleaded.

“I shall always be a good pupil,” she joked. The train whistled, and took her away.

I took a taxi, went back to the Stag or the Bunch of Grapes, for I do not remember exactly and stood a drink to some bearded painter who talked abstract art and had a beautiful face. Holy is a pub when one is holy oneself.





2 The Cat and Shakespeare




Mother cat sits in cage between the office table and the almirah. In the office there are thirteen clerks. And the boss Bhoothalinga Iyer sneezes from his room. His office is partitioned off and has a swinging door. Every time anyone goes in to answer the boss’s calls the cat seems to rise up. There’s a painful irritating grating – the hinges have not been oiled. When the boss calls and the hinges creak, the cat sits up on her haunches, then lies down again. When Govindan Nair lifts her cage (for it’s a she; after all, one discovered it) mother cat lifts up her head and says “meowmeow.” Then, bending down, Govindan Nair gives his pen nib to her and she chews it. “Ah, she chews the origin of numbers,” says Govindan Nair, to whom every mystery seems to open itself. If Lavoisier, as textbooks say, divided oxygen and hydrogen after years of experimentation, our Govindan Nair born in France would only have to stand and say, “Water, show thyself to me!” And hydrogen would have stood to one side somewhat big and bellied, and oxygen would have curled herself shy at his knees and suddenly gone shooting like a mermaid into the big sky. And he would not have lost his head at the Revolution. The British, too, chopped of their kings’ heads. A king chops off your head, or you chop his, but the police state is different from the state Truth policed. The fact is that when the mother cat carries you across the wall and to anywhere, there is nothing but space. Space is white and large and free. Why don’t you go there? Sir, you will say, kneading your snuff, but there is a wall. To which Govindan Nair make answer: Like Usha, why don’t you put stones one over the other, and standing under the bilva tree, you can speak to Shridhar. You can say: That is why Shridhar died. Usha spoke over the wall and the cat carried him away. Funny, sir, that a child is carried away by a cat. Anyway, tell me where is Shridhar gone? He has gone to house three storeys hight. “Is that what you say, mother cat?”Asks Govindan Nair. The mother cat says “meow”. Govindan Nair cannot keep her in the cage any longer. He opens the cage and the cat leaps onto his lap. It is a trained cat. It knows what is right from what is wrong.



This excerpt is from The Cat and. Shakespeare: A Tale of Modern India (1965). An earlier version was published as The Cat in the Chelsea Review (New York) in 1959.

Children below were playing hide-and-seek among the rice bags. The ration shop was also their playground. While the mothers waited, the children played among the bags. Govindan Nair wanted to go down and play with the children, but there was this Ummathur file and seventeen sacks lost. Who had stolen the sacks? Was it a gang of poor men or was it merchants’ marauders? Stroking the cat, his pen in his mouth, Govindan Nair was contemplating. When he thinks in this manner it means he wants to do something mechanical. He always carried a pen knife with him, for sharpening pencils and such other things (including rose twigs). He usually took this out pulled out the blade and started rubbing it up and down the edge of table. Just where he worked on his files, he had written, or rather carved, many names – his own, the name of his boss, and Usha’s (I was surprised once when I went to visit him to find Usha’s name there, but it was there). Sharpening the knife, he started humming to himself.

“Hey nonny, nonny, nonny …”

GOVINDAN NAIR: What a kind thought, Abraham. Whoever it is that had the idea. I was thinking this morning. There are so many rats at home. There are so many rats in the office. You remember the Sidpur file? It might have been the rats. Big ones like bandicoots, they be. And then, at home there are so many. Even they seem to have famine. A country at war has rations. A rationed country has little food. When there is little grain to eat, the rats become so courageous. They will bite off anything. Even the nose of a man. (He looks around him and speaks to John.). So, I say, thank you for having had such a kind thought, Mr. John (Everybody bursts out laughing again. The boss also sneezes.) Thank you, Mr. John, for this wonderful gift. A cat, sir, a cat.

Now, now let me make a speech in the manner of Hamlet.

To be or not to be. No, No. (He looks at the cat.)

A kitten sans cat, kitten being the

diminutive for cat. Vide Prescott

Of the great grammatical fame.

A kitten sans cat, that is the

Question. (He turns the cage round and round.)

To live is not difficult

sir, for flesh is the form of

existence, and man in his journey to

the ultimate knows that

to yield to the flesh is to

grow grain. To yield to the pipe

is to blow flame. Asthma is

the trouble that Polonius reveals

for fool; he did behind the curtain

asthamatic.

John:

And what happened to him?



Govindan Nair:

Sir, Lady, by now I pierce (he makes as if he pierces something with the right arm) the veil, and the ashthamatic falls (A thud)



John:

Murder, murder.



Govindan Nair:

Rank muder.





Rank murder and dark desolation. For Ophelia



Syed Sahib:

Go, get thee to a nunnery.



John:

Why, Abraham, that’s the place for you. Isn’t that so?



Syed Sahib :

To the nunnery, maid (looking at the cat)



Govindan Nair:

To the rank growth I go,





Hey nonny, nonny





To the slipping world I go,





Hey nonny, nonny





I tell you what, sir. In the kingdom of Denmark there’s one blessed thing. Whatever they are they are not made (Lets the cat out of the cage. It leaps on a desk familiar, affectionate, but distant. It licks its front paw.) The kingdom of Denmark is just like a ration office.



John:

How so, Mr. Nair? That’s a great idea – Shakespearean, I should say.



Govindan Nair:

Shakespeare knew every mystery of the ration shop. Here however we haven’t to murder a brother to marry his wife. Here we marry whom we like. The ration card marries. You are married even when there is no wife. You are married without looking at horoscopes. The dead are not buried in ration shops. There will be no grave scene. Ophelia will die but she will have no skull left for Hamlet, a future Hamlet, to see. We slip, sir, from sleep to wake from wake to sleep. We marry the wife in dream, and we wake up king of Denmark. We marry Ophelia in dream and wake up having a Polonius to bury. We live in continual mystery. In fact I ask you, John, my friend (sharpening his knife on the table), when one commits murder in a dream, is that murder or not?



John:

(very clever) That’s jurisprudence. I’m only a clerk, Y.P. John is only a clerk.



Govindan Nair:

I ask you, what is dream? Are you sure you are not in dream (laughing)? As asthamtic cough, with the cry of children under the creak of balance, and the cat, a Persian cat on the table of Ration Office No.66. Is it a dream or is it real?



John:

Every bit is real, but the whole is not. So it is not a dream



Govindan Nair:

In the dream the whole is real.



Abraham:

The Boss is worried about the Ummathur file.



Govindan Nair:

Are you are sure the wagon did not go to Coimbatore? Or did it go to Cannore? Both have C in them. Even when awake we make such an error. The reason, sir, why I ask you “are you in dream or in waking state?” is simple. In dream the dead appears.



John:

That is so. (The cat comes and lies before Nair, It seems to be listening carefully to what Nair is saying.)



Govindan Nair:

In ration offices, as we all know, the dead have numbers. Killing be no murder.



John:

(addressing himself to Abraham) What ho, Horatio.



Now, Govindan Nair walked straight over to John’s table. Perhaps he just wanted to consult a file.

“John,” he said, while the mother cat stood behind him.

“Yes, mister,” said John, very sure of himself.

“John, this is a cat,” he said, lifting up the cat and placing it on John’s table. The whole office stopped work. Even Bhoothalinga seemed involved in this silence.

“What’s that? Cried Abraham, and came over to John’s table.

“Oh, I am only talking to him about the cat.”

“What cat? said Syed, his hand on Govindan Nair’s shoulders.

“Why, man, cat. There’s cat only. All cats belong to one speices-cat. Call it cat or call it marjara which is Sanskrit or better still poochi which is Malayalam, it’s the same – isn’t that so, John?”

“Yes, my lord,” said John, rising from his seat.

“So, gentlemen, I wanted to know how much zoology our friend knew. What is a Persian cat called in Latin? In fact what is the Latin name for a cat?”

“Felinus,” said Abraham, remembering his church instructions.

“Then Felinus Persiana would be a Persian cat,” said Govindan Nair, who knew of course everything.

“Yes,” said Abraham dubiously.

“And man?”

“Humanus.”

“And I?” he said

“Ego.”

“Make me a Latin sentence, Abraham. Ego esse humanus malabario et lux esse felinus persiana, or some such thing..”

“I don’t know that much Latin,” said Abraham.

The curious thing was that the boss did not call. The cat continued to raise her tail and bunch herself to be caressed. Govindan Nair still held the penknife in the other hand as if it were his pencil. Man must hold something with his hands, otherwise how could he know what he is about? If you carry a penknife like a pencil in your hand you are a clerk. Is there any doubt about it? “Speaking biologically,” Govindan Nair used to say “a hundred generations of clerks will secrete lead from their bowels and clerks’ fingers will bear capillaries like those in the new office pencils. You write morning, noon, and night. You could even write in your dreams.”

“What is clerk in Latin?”

“Clericus is Latin itself.”

“Ha, Ha,” said Govindan Nair. Seeing the whole office around him, and the boss silent – it was a hot morning – he added: “Define the cat, Mr. John.”

“Mr. Govindan Nair, a cat is a feline being.”

“What are its characteristics?” Govindan Nair started making a firm and rapid movement with his knife (back and forth), as if he were sharpening the pencil on the beautiful skin of the cat.

“Its characteristics are – its characteristics are,” mumbled John, and as somebody said, he had cleared his bladder audibly. It poured an acrid smell in to the room. Bhoothalinga Iyer had a bad cold, and one could hear him snuff in snuff. There was such silence in the office (but for the burring sound of Govindan Nair who always burred anyway) that Bhoothalinga Iyer was sure everybody was at work. There was suddenly silence even in the ration shop. And this was the sort of silence which sometimes rises like a temple pillar from earth to heaven; all creation seems still, as if the universe pondered: What next?

“First of all, it’s of the same family as the lion,” said Rama Krishna, a young clerk. He had joined them only three months ago, fresh from college.

“Then?” asked Govindan Nair.

“Then,” said Abraham, getting very anxious, ‘it goes in and out of one’s house as not even a man can.”

“What very intelligent colleagues I have,” remarked Govindan Nair, smiling. “Then?”

“At cat is the purest animal in the world.”

“Why so? Hey, there, Syed, what does your Muslim theology say about it?

“In Muslim theology only the chameleon is evil. It betrayed Muhammed. And the hog. But the cat, it is sacred.”

“No, man, I know your theology better. The cat is not sacred in Islam. It is sacred in Egypt. It was called Bastet.”

“And it wore a crown?” said John, a little reassured that all this was a joke.

Govindan Nair quickly made a paper crown; he cut the three sides of a triangle and gave it a point, and placed it on the head of the cat and said: “Hey, Bastet, you are sacred, don’t you understand?”

“And, Syed, what is it your people do when what is sacred is treated as what is sacred?”

“We kneel and touch the ground and ask for Allah’s blessing.”

“Now, Mr. John, you understand. Here is Bastet. You have brought a very God to our poor ration office. You be the priest.”

“Oh, no,” said John. He knew Govindan Nair had something up his sleeve.

“Kneel!” shouted Govindan Nair, “Kneel, man!” And he brandished his knife, holding the cat firmly with his left hand. “Or say: No sir, I am a low-born, I am a coward. Kneel!” he shouted. Bhoothalinga Iyer’s chair creaked. “You don’t insult a cat like this, stuffing a cat in to a rat cage.”

John knelt devoutly.

“There, once again,” shouted Govindan Nair.

John knelt again, crossing himself. Syed had his hands brought together. All the office was one noumenal silence.

“Kiss it,” shouted Govindan Nair again.

John kissed the cat. Bhoothalinga Iyer came and stood behind the crowd. He thought some file was being tampered with.

“Govindan Nair!” he shouted.

“Yes, sir,” And Govindan Nair went toward his boss. The cat jumped down the table and everybody gave way to the cat. By now she’s lost her crown. Rubbing against his legs it cried “meow, meow” and Govindan Nair lifted her up and placed her on his shoulder with his right hand. His knife was still in the left.

“What is this?” asked Bhoothalinga Iyer.

“We’ve being discussing the Latin formation for Persian cat.

Do you know it, sir?”

“In Sanskrit it is called marjoram,” he said as if he were saying it with only the tip of his tongue. “And for Persian cat there’s no word in ancient Sanskrit.”

“In Malayalam it is called poochi-poochi,” said Govindan Nair, as he went back with the boss to the inner office.

The boss sat down in his chair.

The cat jumped on to Bhoothalinga Iyer’s table. It saw another tassel of a file and started playing with it. Bhoothalinga Iyer, seeing all the eyes of the office (for everybody, as it were, came to see what was happening), wanted to shout: Get out! Get away! But his tongue would not say it. How can you say with what is not what is? How can you shape words that cannot come from yourself? What do you do you do if you find yourself a prisoner? You want to escape. Govindan Nair laid the knife on the table and said Bhoothalinga Iyer. “Sir, tell me a story.”

“What story?”

“Any story.”

“I know no story.”

“I’ll tell you a story,” said Govindan Nair, and lifted the cat and placed her on his shoulder.

“Once upon a time,” he began, and before he could go on, the cat jumped onto Bhoothalinga Iyer’s head. Bhoothalinga Iyer opened his eyes wide and said, “Shiva, Shiva” and he was dead. He actually sat in his chair as if he could not be moved.

Govindan Nair rushed back home with the beautiful Persian cat in the cage and let it loose in the house. Then it was he went to Bhoothalinga Iyer’s funeral. Bhoothalinga Iyer’s wife, Lakshamma was moved, deeply moved, by all the consoling words Govindan Nair spoke to her. He spoke of death and birth and such things. He too was weeping. His boss had died. Bhoothalinga Iyer had asthma. And asthmatics have weak hearts. And the snuff did not help, did it – said the Brahmins at the door of the temple.

For some strange reason, everybody came to console Govindan Nair at his office as if he had lost something. Kunni Krishna Menon from the next house came and spoke as though Govindan Nair needed condolence. Perhaps he would be promoted to his boss’s place – there was such a rumour. Then he could not run down and play with the children, remarked Abraham. An officer could not do it. “Then you be boss, Abraham,” said Govindan Nair, hugging him.



The excerpt on the following page is the famous climactic Court Scene from The Cat and Shakespeare.

The white-clad judge, Mr. Gopala Menon, said in the palace like court by the railway line which every advocate knows so well – the name boards of the advocates look like coconuts on a tree, there are so many in the building across: Vishwanatha Iyer, BSc., LLB; Ramanujan Iyengar, MA ML Advocate High Court; Mr. Syed Mohammed Sahib, Advocate; P. Gangadharan Pillai, High Court advocate; Sr. Rajaram Iyer, Advocate; etc., etc – the judge said: “I cannot follow your argument, sir. Will you repeat?”

“Mr. Bhoothalinga Iyer, of blessed memory,” Govindan Nair started, “used to visit certain places whose names are not mentioned in respectable places.” (“Ho, ho!” shouted one or two persons in the gallery.) “If I do not mention the name, it is because many persons whose faces I see before me now, if I may say so, betake themselves there.”

“My Lord, such insinuations are not to be permitted in open court,” shouted a member of the bar.

“The sun shines on the good and on the wicked equally, like justice. Please go and close the sunshine before you say: this should not be discussed in open court.”

“Court: The Accused is free to do what it likes.”

“I was only saying: Whether you close the door and sit like photographers in the dark room or you come out, the sun is always open. The Maharaja of Travancore, sir –”

“Say His Highness.”

“Yes, His Highness the Maharaja of Travanocore is there, whether his subjects – say some fellow in the hill tribes – knows his name or not.”

“So?”

“So what is real ever is.”

‘That is so, cried the Government Advocate.

“Yes, but we never want to see it. For example that a worthy man like Bhoothalinga Iyer (of blessed memory) used to visit places of little respectability.”

“So?”

“So, he met there, one day, a lady of great respectability.”

“Your statements are so contradictory.”

“Your Lordship, could I say Your Lordship without the idea of an Accused? Could I say respectable without the ideas of unrespectable coming into it? Without saying, I am not a woman, what does the word man mean?

“Yes, let us get back to Bhoothalinga Iyer.”

“Mr. Iyer used to visit such a place.”

“And then?”

“One day after visiting such a place, he met me at the door.”

“Yes, go on. Did he?”

“Of course. I went there regularly. My wife will tell you.”

“Oho,” exclaimed Advocate Tirumalachar from the bar table.

“And, at the door he said: Every time I commit a sin, I place a rupee in the treasure pitcher of the sanctuary. I tell my wife this is for me to go to Benares one day. But the treasure pitcher is tightly fixed with scaling wax. There is here in this place a respectable woman. I like her and she likes me. When I went in, as usual, this time, however, a new woman, a Brahmin women, I think an Iyengar woman, came. She said her husband was dead. I knew I was going to die soon, being old. But I was in a hurry. So I told her: Do not worry, lady. I will go and tell your husband everything. He will understand. She became naked and fell on the bed. Her breasts were so lovely.”

“This is sheer pornography,” said an elderly advocate with a big nose.

“I am quoting evidence, sir,” continued Govindan Nair.

“And she played with her necklace that lay coyly on her bosom.”

“And what did he do?” asked a counsel for the Government

“He did nothing.”

“Ha, ha, ha,” laughed many of the advocates.

“The dignity of the Court demands better behaviour,” said the Government Advocate. He had never had to argue against so strange a man. He got terrifically interested in his opponent.

“He not only did nothing, sir. Mr. Bhoothalinga Iyer was a man of generous heart –”

“To propose immorality as a generous thing!” mumbled Advocate Tirumalachar. Tirumalachar, who looked fiftyish and fair, was known for his deep religious sympathies. He was president of the Radha Sami Sangh, Trivandrum.

“What do advocates defend?” asked the judge.

“Morality,” said Tirumalachar, rising and adjusting his turban.

“You defend man,” said the Government Advocate. “But law says we defend the Truth. The law is right.”

“The Government Advocate has said the right thing. Now, Accused, continue.”

“My Lord, I was saying: One day after the whole office was empty and Bhoothalinga Iyer was alone, he said: Govindan Nair, stay there, I have a job for you. And he produced the Benares pot that he had hidden deeply in the sample rice sack. There was one sack always in the office. Who would look into it? So he produced the Benares pot and said: Go to Mutthalinga Nayak Street and in the third house right by the temple mandap there must be a widow called Meenakshiamma. Please hand over this one hundred and nine rupees. That is all there is in it. I told my wife yesterday to go to the cinema with my son-in-law. She went. I stole this and came here. I opened the office. I had the key. Today I have sent her to the zoo with my son-in-law. Then there is Pattamal’s music at the Victoria Jubilee Hall. Therefore they will come late, but I must return home quietly. I know you are a man with a big heart, so please do this service for me. She will wait for you.”

“In English you call this a cock-and-bull story,” said Tirumalachar.

“You could, if you so want, call it a hen-and heifer story,” said Govindan Nair, and laughed.

“Who then was the witness?”

“As one should except in such a cock-and bull story, a cat, sir, a cat,” said Govindan Nair seriously.

The judge rose and dismissed the court, He called the accused, and said: “Please speak the Truth.”

And Govindan Nair, with tears running down from his big black eyes answered: “Your Lordship, I speak only the Truth. If the world of man does not conform to Truth, should Truth suffer for that reason? If only you knew how I pray every night and say: Mother, keep me at the lotus feet of Truth. The judge can give a judgement. The Government Advocate can accuse. Police Inspector Rama Iyer can muster evidence. But the accused alone knows the Truth.”

“How right you are,” said the judge, flabbergasted. He had never thought of this before. “Tell me then, Mr. Govindan Nair, how can a judge know the Truth?”

“By being it,” said Govindan Nair as if it were such a simple matter. After all, he had cut a passage in the wall where Shridhar used to talk to Usha. After all, who could say Bhoothalinga Iyer had not gone to Coimbatore? For example, Abraham could not, as he would lose his job (and with it his green BSA bicycle) if the boss returned. Suppose Shantha’s child were really Bhoothalinga Iyer reborn? Who could know? The cat could, was Govindan Nair’s conviction.

“Tomorrow I’ll bring the cat to court,” he said, as if asking the judge’s permission. Of course what wrong could Govindan Nair have done? Could you ever see a man so innocent? Anybody could see he played with children and the scale. And when one side was heavy, he put two kids on the other side to make the balance go up. Then he brought the needle to a standstill, holding it tight. Thus the balance was created among men. When two things depend on each other for their very existence, neither exists. That is the Law of law.

“The cat, sir, will do it,” he said. The judge consented.

Next day I sent Usha with Shantha (the baby was left at home with Tangamma to look after him). The cat was carried in a big cage.

When the court opened its deliberations, the Government Advocate said: “My Lord, we are facing judgment against judgment. We must be careful. We have, as witness, a cat.”

“Why not? We are in Travancore.”

“I thought so too, Your Lordship. Why should we follow the proceedings of any other court of the world, were it His Majesty’s Privy Council in London? If a cat could be proved to prove any evidence we might set a precedent.”

“My Lord,” said Govindan Nair, rising. Crowds had gathered at the courthouse. Such a thing had never happened before. It was not even a political case. (There was no Gandhi in it.) Women were somehow convinced Govindan Nair was an innocent man. Some of them had seen him in the ration shop. Others had gone to have ration cards issued. Some had noticed him give way to ladies when the bus was overcrowded. Such things are never forgotten by women. They always feed the child in their womb whether the child be there or not. Who knows, someday …

“My Lord, I am not sure this copy of my signature is correct. Could I have the original?”

“The original is in the files,” said the court clerk.

“How could it be wrong?”

The cat escaped from Shantha’s hand and ran all over the court. Nobody wanted to stop the proceedings or to laugh. Either would be acknowledging that the cat was there. It went right over the Government advocate and sat in front of him as if it were going toward itself. The silence was so clear, one could see the movement of the cat’s whiskers. One had no doubt the cat was there. And it knew everything, Each movement was preceded by a withdrawal, recognition, and then the jump. The cat jumped straight onto the judge’s table. And before the attendants could brush it away, it leaped down and fell over one of those huge clay office inkpots kept under tables, and turning through the back door, went into the record room. The court clerk was looking at the file. The cat did nothing. It stood there. The attendants came and stood watching the cat. Then the cat lay on the floor and started licking its fur. Govindan Nair was burring something in the court. The attendants, seeing the cat doing nothing, went back to the court.

The cat suddenly jumped onto the shoulder of the clerk and started licking his neck. He felt such sweetness in this, he opened file after file. The cat now jumped over to the table and sat. Usha came from the back, led by an attendant, and took the cat in her arms. The clerk had indeed found the paper.

“May I see it, Your Lordship?” asked Govindan Nair.

“Yes, here it is,” said the judge, but at the last moment he held it back. For just as he was handing the paper over, the light from the ceiling – a sunbeam, in fact – pierced through the paper, or maybe it was just electric light. Underneath the signature was another signature. When the judge had read it, he handed it over to the Government Advocate. He read it and said: “Bhoothalinga Iyer himself signed this. How did this happen?”

“Yes, sir. That is how it was. Rama Iyer made a slight mistake. After all Bhoothalinga Iyer and he are both Brahmins. He wanted to save Bhoothalinga Iyer. It is plain as could be.”

“Then why did you admit all that you have admitted?”

“I have in all honesty admitted nothing.”

“Oho,” shouted Tirumalachar.

“Go on,” said the judge.

“Sir, why do we admit then that a chair is a chair?”

“Why, have you not seen a chair?”

“Ho, ho!” shouted the crown.

“Has anyone seen a chair?” asked the judge.

“Nobody has,” said the Government Advocate. He was plainly taking sides with the accused.

The judge said: “I sit on a chair.”

“Who?” asked Govindan Nair.

The judge in fact rose up to see who sat on the chair. He went round and round the table looking at who? There was such silence, the women wept. The cat jumped onto the dais. The attendants said nothing. The Government Advocate was chatting happily with Govindan Nair. Who said there was a case? The clerk was looking for the file to put back the paper. Usha put a garland around the neck of Govindan Nair.

That was the fact. Govindan Nair was not set free. He was free. Nobody is a criminal who has not been proven criminal. The judge had to find himself, and in so doing, he lost his seat. Who sits on the judge’s seat became an important subject of discussion in Travancore High Court. Since then many learned treatises have been written on the subject.

It was all due to Govindan Nair. He had, while in prison, written out a whole story to himself. Bhoothalinga Iyer had signed the paper. It had nothing to do with ration permits. It had to do with Bhoothalinga Iyer’s extramarital propensities. In this business he came across virtue. So instead of going to Benares he gave the money to the widow of a Brahmin, an Iyengar woman in fact. (The breasts and other things were added to make the story comply with film stories.) The story came true as he wrote it. He was sure that it was a fact. He told himself again and again and told it in the court again and again. At Night the prison wardens were surprised to see him talking to himself. Actually he thought he was addressing the court. He even made and remade the necessary gestures. Wardens could think he was practicing acting. He recited his prose precisely till he knew every situation by heart. That is why he was so cocksure in the open court. After all, only a story that you write yourself from nowhere can be perfect. You can do with it what you want to do with it. (Abraham wrote romantic poetry and he said it did with him what it wanted. So, eventually he married Myriam, etc.) But Govindan Nair had the liberty the judge did not have. Only the Government Advocate knew everything. A fact is a prisoner. You are free, or you become the prisoner, and the fact is free, etc. etc. So the Government Advocate knew the Accused was no Accused. He was one with the Accused. That showed why the cat went to the Government Advocate first. The cat also kissed the clerk on the neck.

Bhoothalinga Iyer’s signature was revealed by a sunbeam. Was Bhoothalinga Iyer then in Coimbatore?

Mr. Justice Gopala Menon was the son of the late Peshkar Rao Bahadur Parameshwara Menon, and he had only three months of service before retirement. He took leave preparatory to retirement and went to the Himalayas, so people said. Govindan Nair laughed and remarked “You no more find the truth in the Himalayas than you find in the Indian Law Register. You may find it on your garden wall and not know it was it. You must have eyes to see,” he said desperately to me.





3 The Chessmaster and His Moves




I was in a dispirited mood that whole afternoon, as it were, half asleep and half awake, but my mind absolutely clear, sparking for an adventure. Unable, however, to work, I went to the salon, where there were always logs burning at the fireplace, – summer not being official yet – the coffee ever ready, to awaken me. I was standing warming myself by the mantelpiece, prodding the sugar to melt into my coffee, when who should I see but Michel Irene, the secretary, had brought him to me. Michel looked grim, almost unfriendly.

“Bon jour, patron,” he said, somewhat ironically.

“Bon jour camarade,” I laughed to unfreeze him a little.

With his thick glasses, his short stature, his clothes ever awkward, he seemed incongruous in this magnificent salon, with so many candelabras, gilt-edged fire-shields, and the thick Persian carpet shining with mythology, transmuting shimmering colours, and deep ancientness. I showed him a comfortable seat and myself chose a stiff chair, for I always thought more logically with my spine against a straight background. We did not speak for a long time.



The excerpt is from The Chessmaster and His Moves (1988) and contains the famous conversation between the Brahmin and the Jew. The original punctuation has been retained.

“I have come” he said, finally seating himself on the plush sofa, green with yellow stripe, the flames from the fireplace playing on his face, giving it a sudden nobility, “I have come on une enterprise grave.” Yes, those were the very words he used, as he crossed his legs, his heavy hunch, looking more like an archaeological lump then than a physical one. “I am a strange creature, not an Indian, of course not, and not Asian or African. Hitler has told you we are not European either. But we may call ourselves, if you will, Asiatique, Oriental, something kin or kins of the Pharaohs, of your Vedic ancestors, of the Chinese, but not in species. A race somewhat forgotten maybe, but it has not forgotten itself, despite Mr. Toynbee. He thinks we are an archaic society to be dumped between the interstices of History. Sir, I am a Jew.” He had come obviously to say just that. I had an instant shudder, a tremor, as if he were not a human speaking, but a geophysic event, a volcanic sputter through time’s rude holes. He seemed, that evening, to be made as if of steel, but alchemically turned back from gold, so to say – not a steel of today, but an ancient metal, encrusted perhaps in the depths of the Pacific, from Lemuria, where legends say gold and steel were made from each other, for the benefit of primal man. It was a voice firm, dead, stomachal, but yet spoke, if you understand what I mean. It spoke not for himself, but, as it were, for the species, a whale upsurging in the ocean, leaping, cavorting, white-breasted, diving back, its mammal face prehistoric, but its movements contemporary. “You said the other day,” he continued, the neighbours of the apartment opposite and above, playing some loud raucous music, and yet his voice was distinct, finite, irreversible – each word just a fact. “You said the other day, how could I laugh, how could I joke?”

“Yes, I did,” I agreed.

“Now, I understand. I understand. But the truth is – and I say it as Moses must have, when he spoke to God: Who, my friend, can see my face, our face? – Is there anyone on earth who dare look on not merely the nazi stripes, broken rib-ends, gun-butt marks-holes, chunkless dimples, bumps – but the stripes and stigmata we bear from Assyrians, the Romans. The Romans even they took away our ancient city of Jerusalem, the holy, and made it their provincial headquarters. And again, what stripes from the wirewhips the Zoroastrians gave us in Babylon, and earlier still the pharaohs’ eunuchs in Egypt. We are a simple, people, we never were meant for war or government, the Moshe Dayans or the Rothschilds, as one of our great scientists, but himself an aide to Moshe Dayan, told us recently. We were made for books – for the Book and the Torah. We are a procession. We were always a procession. The nazi trains have always existed. We are ever on departure and arrival. In fact, sometimes on arrival before departure. Or on at once both. If so, and here my friend, may I say we would agree with your Vedanta – the world, in fact, a dire illusion. Going from the ghetto to the train, and from the train to a railway siding – you see, it being war, the Wehrmachi has so many trainloads of soldiers and material to carry to the Front-nach Stalingrad, nach Leningrad, nach Moskau-and then again, the train starts. And we come to another railway siding, the same evening, the next day, the day after, who can remember? We spit, squat, squeeze, dung, vomit, scratch, shout, fistfight, and sometimes even make love in corners, and fight again. And then suddenly, the train stops. Even it, the long train, seems tired. It really stops. And now the loudspeaker howls, yells, Schnell, schnell, jump down, get out, quick, quick. So man, woman and child, grandchild, granduncle, we all jump down, for we are just being transported. Taken, because of war conditions in Poland, from one town to the other, away, from the great battle to be, and for the convenience of troop movements. Then when we arrive at another railway siding, then again another, with rubble and barbed wire and snarling dogs. The stations all look alike, skies’ spittle, bombstruck, monumental. Schnell, schnell. And now a shout again. Enter, go back. And we leap, like circus animals, back to the opened-in-wagons. There is, however, no audience to clap hands. Tickets sold out. There is an SS man, and he closes our doors, seals them. And we enter our permanent night again. There’s, do not forget, there is always an SS man in history, Egyptian, Iranian, Roman, the Roman legionnaires. Why, for ought I know, there might even have been Indian, Buddist or Mughal SS men. Who knows, who knows? And schnell, schnell again. We leap out. And now we are marched off, all of us, bundles, children, grandfathers with canes, caftans, halts and shoes, to the lager, large as a hanger. They now tell you, you have just to undress, have yourself shaven, and there’s guard with whom to leave your treasures-wallets, jewels, eyeglasses, talismans – and they even give you back a certificate, you understand, a real receipt, stamped and all that in good german with Heil Hitler seals. Now, you men go this way, and you women go that way – it’s meant only for registration. And then naked and fresh, the number, your number, is tattooed on the arms, and once you are numbered, you now become a real man, a woman, why even a child. We become mathematical entities. When a man is no man, yet a man, he is a real man, the superman, you understand. Now you march, you march to music, listen to fine music, to Bach, Beethoven, Richard Wagner, played by excellent musicians, and some may be even famous-music played by our own people, and through a corridor, in which you find geraniums, in pots, on either aisle,” he said, did Michel, and crossed his leg from one side to the other. “Never, never forget the geraniums,” he said, and abruptly crossed his leg again to the other side. I was aghast. Aghast at the simplicity, the truth of the human animal. So this is man. Such is man. From the caverns of the Dordogne to the Gobi desert and beyond, man, exists, and tells his story, the same, long, hun story.

“So, since we are what we are, and we know what has happened – and will happen, and remember, there was an Attila before Genghis Khan, Rasputin before Hitler, so we Jews, we laugh,” said Michel, and burst into a sob. It was not a loud sob, but like in death’s early agony, there’s an intake and outflow of breaths, which is like a rattle, a slight miss in rhythm. “Since we die, and we are dead – and we are always dead, remember, since Job, oh that good, good Job,” and he laughed, did Michel, this time a good grave laugh, somewhat like the Africans do, that would seem, as if, the tree or the stone laughed, and Michel added, “The good Job carried God’s dirt pail, la merde de Dieu, tu comprends. You see, our Job was young. Thus he did not become a regular musalman. He was taken to work for the masters, to clean laboratories, factories, real ones, and for the very young like me – for I was only thirteen – we were separated efficiently, at the end of the geraniums – to dig trenches, trenches to push the dead into, the dead that died of cold, or starvation, on the bunkers. They were too costly to be sent to the crematorium. There were already too many there. Now, you understand. Now, this task had its fortunate side. Sometimes a gold tooth fell out, and this could buy things, many things on the blackmarket – the SS and the Kapos ran this – you could buy there, at this black-exchange, soap, shirts, tobacco and what not. Even a woman sometimes – for, on the other side of our camp was, so to say, Odin’s harem. Yes, that is it, you understand. And thus the woman had somehow direct contact with the golden-haired gods, and knew what was happening to Rommels in Africa, to General Paulus in Stalingrad, to our own Rommels and Ludendorffs, outside and inside, the women knew more than we did. Thus God dispensed his justice, without stint, and he never, never failed.”

“So, sometimes we did not carry corpses, we carried man’s muckpails. I am sure you have never carried anything so heroic,” and he laughed at me again, somewhat contemptuously. “You are not an untouchable. You are a Brahmin, a Nazi. Only untouchables carry pails of human dung in your country. I know it, because an uncle of mine told me so. And what my uncle said, the good Rabbi Zeev Moshe Fervan, God bless his soul, was ever true. He never told a lie, never hurt a bee.”

“So, the