CALCUTTA offended me. As a town it was bad enough fifteen years ago. Now, with endless electric car-lines, with numberless taxicabs as well as private automobiles, the second largest city of the British Empire was unendurable beyond description. Business -was the genesis of this town when it was built and fortified in the last lap of the seventeenth century; and it will be business, I hope, that will kill it some day. The unbearable Gothic and French-Renaissance architecture of the offices of the Government produced an excruciating effect on me, particularly when they were reinforced by European houses modeled after the horrible mediocre middle-class homes of the 70’s in Britain and Germany. A thousand years from now, when visitors marvel at the beauteous architecture of the Mogul India, they will marvel equally at the ugliness of British India. If there is anything more exotically ugly and unnatural than those Gothic horrors in tropical Calcutta, I should like to be warned, that I may forever avoid seeing it. I might advise a Western tourist not to judge India by Calcutta, for it would be nothing short of judging salvation by suicide. If you can imagine Brixton, East Ealing, Bayswater, all on the shores of the Ganges, then you can imagine the unimaginable — Calcutta.
It has a long river-front covered with jute mills owned by Scotchmen, Americans, Greeks, Jews, and Englishmen. And, where there are bathing-ghats for Hindus, the steps down are of cast iron made in Sheffield. Where there are no ghats nor factories there are steamboat landing-stations as ugly as any the world over. Added to this a horrible steam freight-train line runs along the full length of the town up and down the river to carry jute from factory to warehouse and back again. The only relief from the reign of ugliness is a few Indian temples and the Maidan.
The Maidan is a large park with gardens, cricket fields and polo grounds, the centre of which is occupied by the garrison called Fort William. Beautiful gray macadam and redgravel roads serpentine their way through the thick tropical verdure of this park which is, however, being encroached upon rapidly by statues and public buildings whose untropical character I have already described. Even in the Maidan, if one has any hope left for Beauty, it is well crushed by the military band that plays indifferent Western music there with great gusto. Think of bits from Meyerbeer, Verdi, Victor Herbert, and Tchaikowsky’s tenth symphony— all groaning, booming, and bombarding your hearing, while the sunlight falls on you like a thunderbolt of heat, and the breeze is oppressive with a thousand whisperings of the forest lands where tigers creep, taut as a rope, stretched to the full, ready to leap on bisons twice their size, and the flute of the savage calls his beloved to the tryst through the thickly fragrant night.
Where thousands of elephants used to walk through jungle lands, now honk and pass auto-taxis intent on speed and profit. Speed and profit — yes; that is the breath and pulse-beat of modern Calcutta.
Yet — it is my own town, and I love it. The language of Bengal is spoken there as nowhere else. Every tongue has the style of Tagore’s prose — pellucid, haunting, wicked. The first Bengali sentence that Calcutta spoke to me on my return was, ‘ Come, amuse thyself with kind words; the day is young, and we all know life is brief as a sparrow’s hop.’
The speech of men is the ring of gold in which may shine the precious stone of Thought; and there is no speech so attractive as Bengali, unless it be Spanish — ‘a language of caprice and orderliness. ‘ Tears came to my eyes when I heard the railway porter say, ‘The parched tongue needs a cool drink or the voice of the beloved to slake its thirst.’
Of course we Bengalis are tremendous talkers. But what a picturesque speech we utter! The best poet of India as well as the best scientist is a Bengali, and Jagadish Bose is as much of a poet (read his inaugural address before his institute) as Tagore is a scientist.
So when I am accused of being a talkative Bengali I am complimented, and I say to myself, ‘ If you had such a tongue as mine you too would talk.’
In a tumultuous state of mind — horrified at Calcutta’s ugliness, and thrilled at the Bengali speech — I reached our home. It was all there, yet all seemed so empty without my mother to welcome me. My widowed sister and her children and my brother, all put together, could not fill the place of my mother. They too felt as I did, and the home-coming, though sweet, was infinitely sad. Everything reminded me of her — the picture of Vishnu and Shiva on the white polished walls which had been hers. The bare floors, immaculate and red-tiled as before, the tree in the front yard and the empty backyard — each thing was familiarity itself, yet none spoke out its heart to me. As my brother and sister said: ‘The goddess is gone, only the devotees are left.’
Then I went to look at our family temple. How beautiful it was and how old! It had been ours for many, many centuries. I was told that it had hardly any beams and rafters and that all its three stories were held up by cunningly contrived arches — the product of an art and a science that are no more within the command of the master builders. It was strange to think that here I might have remained to carry on the tradition of my family in peace, instead of leaving all in exchange for t he strange turbulent, years in a foreign land. But something had always driven me from the settled path, some urge toward an unknown goal, where should await me ‘The ThousandFaced One’ — at last.
I must not delude the reader into believing that the moment of reunion was a perfectly happy one for our family. It took nearly two days for us to overcome strange obstacles of thought and to make the necessary adjustment to them. I had to unlearn many things. For an example: in America young and old smoke together, but in India one does not smoke in the presence of one’s elders, whether relatives or friends. Since I am the youngest I have no end of elders in my family and the result was that I could hardly light a cigarette and smoke for a few seconds without hearing footsteps which were the signal for me to fling the cigarette at once from the window, and sit still like a nice boy. It was agonizing to see a good cigarette smoking itself out of existence just outside one’s own window. And I took the only way out of that difficulty — I gave up smoking. The cigarette episode proved to me beyond the shadow of a doubt that, in my family, we have an extraordinarily large number of elderly relations.
I must say also that beside unlearning many things I was forced to learn a great deal. The younger members of the family, mostly my nephews and nieces, were very forward and assertive. I said to myself, ‘They have no manners at all. Why, when we were their age — eighteen or twenty — we were seen, never heard! The young are a horrible spectacle nowadays, the world over. No doubt they have their excellence, but that does not excuse their demerits. Imagine young people thirty years ago arguing to prove one of their seniors wrong! We never did such rude things.’ My nephews and nieces not only contradicted me, but told me to my face that I was not good but — goody-good! I was so enraged that I could have murdered the lot of them, and felt no regret.
Every dog must have his day, however, even those modern youngsters. My niece told me that she thought men ought to attempt to ‘live up’ to the women. (Yes, she spoke English!) As if they had done anything else these centuries! She added insult to injury by saying that a man like me, who relaxes too much at home, will not be tolerated within another twenty years. I was advised to keep up to the mark at home as I did abroad. Then another niece, an orthodox soul, enjoined upon me two baths and three meditation hours a day. She also thought my relations with God were too loose. Now I ask the traveled reader if this does not sound like his own home-coming. I have since then decided to live on steamships and Pullman trains. Never shall I willingly go where the young are shaping the future nearer to their heart’s desire.
I have a nephew, a lad of twenty or thereabouts. He and his friends opened my eyes to another aspect of modern Indian life. They are all university men and not a single one of them has any respect for the Western mind. I remember that when I was a boy of their age I went to the Occident to learn at its feet. The young college men of India, to-day, would rather sit on the head of the West. I had one unforgettable afternoon with these youngsters. There were four of us myself, two students of physics, and one medical student who was very fair, with a round face, pug nose, and extremely strong ungracious chin. The other two were of a professional and retiring type, as dark as ripe olives, and with exquisite features, but they both lacked strength of jaw, and looked very much alike.
The young doctor began the conversation by saying: ‘Civilization comes from the East as does the sun. The West has nothing to teach us.’
‘But is not medicine Western?’ I asked. ‘Hippocrates,Harvey,Osler— ‘ He said, ‘But what about our Hindu medicine, Ayurveda (translated, ‘how to lengthen life,’ which is our word for medicine)? And chemistry? Has the East known less of these than the West? Has it not contributed just as many valuable truths? Even now we find that a majority of the people of India lives by the aid of old Hindu medicine, and few ever get assistance from the West. You forget, sir. I am afraid you take the sordid European’s evil interpretation of our history and sciences. There are thirty Indians who go to Hindu practitioners to one who receives aid from European doctors. In the face of that — ‘
‘But you must admit that some things are lacking to our science,’ I ventured meekly.
‘Whatever it lacks in one way it can supply in another.’ He was firm. ‘The West may teach us something of surgery, but we can teach it the cure of leprosy. Does it not rather balance the account?’ questioned this aggressive young hopeful.
‘Surely in physics and chemistry Westerners teach us a lot.’ I turned to the two physicists, but I am afraid I had mistaken their meekness.
‘What can those aggressive barbarians teach us more than we ourselves have taught them?’ answered one.
‘What did we teach them, by the way, for they think of us as savages?' I remarked.
A flood of eloquence was the reward of my retort. ‘Did not we Hindus teach the Arabs algebra and the decimal system of notation and numerals, and did not the Arabs give these to the Western savages? Did not the Chaldeans, another Eastern people, teach them astronomy? Did not China teach them how to make gunpowder and the mariner’s compass? Did not Persia invent paper, the very thing on which printing — a Chinese invention — depends?’
The second physicist added to the list: ‘Did not India teach Pythagoras the scales of music? The very word, Pythagoras, is Sanskrit — Father, Teacher. India has her own geometry, her own mathematics, her own art, science, and philology. Should we bow to the Western savage simply because he has the lung power to shout that he is superior? He has invented poison gas, liquid fire, and peace proclamations; then he comes to us, Bible in one hand and hand grenades in the other. W ho is savage — he or we? They from the West send us whiskey with machine guns and we offer them Gandhism. Who is more spiritual, who more civilized, they or we?’
Here the medical student put the finishing touch to the afternoon’s argument: ‘Until the eighteenth century, the East and West were abreast of each other. If one were more advanced than the other, surely it was the East. Since the Crusades and before the eighteenth century, the Western swashbucklers came to us for gold, silk, Damascene work, and the real arts of civilization. They kept on coming as beggars to the gate of a royal palace. Till the eighteenth century they were our debtors. Then they stole a march on us — when they superseded man and animal-power by steam and electricity. During all these thousands of years civilization was the gift of the East to the West. Only a hundred out of thousands of years is European; their civilization began with the steam engine and will end with aerial navigation. In a hundred more years, they are finished — and their souls dead. I grant you that the nineteenth century is theirs, but not the other hundreds of years before that, when they took and we gave!’
‘But that hundred years is something, is n’t it?’ I asked.
‘Give us time. Let us have the equivalent of those hundred years, with all their material facilities, and I can wager that our Asiatic genius and concentration will in the end give them a better science than their own. We shall beat them in their own game. Bose, Sah, Dutta, Ghose, Ray, Shimo, Noguchi are illustrious names in science already. In thirtyfive years, working under discomfort and positive discouragement, the Asiatic genius has already shown what it can do. I repeat, give us a hundred years with full facilities, that is all we ask, — and then the W est will do what it did before; it will come to the East for culture and for civilization.’
I said: ‘I am glad to hear you talk like that. It illustrates the difference of your generation from mine. In mine we did not believe in anything hardly, not even in our own genius or race.’
‘We are hoping, sir,’ he said eagerly, ‘to bring in the new spirit. We are working against the adamantine obstructive conspiracy of the Westerners who have helped and taught the world to think that Asia has always been backward and always inferior. You know, sir, an ant grows wings to fly; but no sooner does it hop off the ground than the insect-eating bird catches it in mid-air and devours it. The Western ant is growing wings of vanity. Once it flies, the bird of the East will swallow it. It is a pity that you have lived so long in the West; it has dazzled your eyes, but it cannot dazzle ours. Our generation in Asia will brush the Western fly out of existence.’
W hen they left me I felt drowned in melancholy. Could it be possible that boys, hardly twenty years younger, could be just the opposite of what we were at that age? I do not mean that they were wrong; there was a great deal of sense in what they said. But why so much optimism? It sounded so crude, so vulgar. Yet perhaps, I thought, boastfulness is only natural to the injured vanity of the young men of a long-conquered race.
Still the seed of the next war was being planted; arrogant West grappling the new arrogant East —and whose fault was it?
In passing, I may remark that the speech of the Indian young of to-day is not poetic and picturesque as it was thirty years ago. They speak with a realistic turn of phrase scarcely mitigated by a fluid use of historical fact. Instead of inventing a story in order to illustrate a point, the intelligent young man quotes an event in history. This is the beginning of a mental barrenness which will kill our fertile imagination; I can forecast a day that I shall live to see when no Hindu will make his point without quoting abundant statistics. The pestilence of figures is spreading from mind to mind.
That some of my old friends had grown rich in India while I was in America was no fault of mine. So far as I knew, the war so upset the economic life of India that some new groups had to become wealthy, and I admit I was a bit elated to find among them one or two friends of my own!
Nilu had begun life as a college professor; but now, at the age of thirty-six, he owned three factories and had about seventeen-hundred souls in his employ. I could not believe my eyes when I beheld the lad of five-feet-six, now grown somewhat rotund, jumping from his Rolls-Royce car! I simply could not entertain the vision as a reality. But there he was — coming to me with hands stretched out to take mine in his. How could he be my boyhood’s friend and grow rich? Impossible!
He was stout, and pale-brown in complexion, with a round, beneficent-looking face. The short, sharp nose was pugnacious, no doubt, but not the rest of him! Girlish eyes, large and deep, — dark brown, — an even brow, high, smooth, care-free forehead, and moderately marked chin — there was not a feature to indicate anything but the college professor. His mouth was small, its bow-shaped lips were like those of a child of six or seven. How could such a helpless fellow manage to be clever enough to be rich? To my mind, the acquisition of wealth presupposes a Mephistophelian ability, reinforced by a Napoleonic will-topower; yet lo, here was a rich man who was Napoleonic in nothing but in stature!
I asked Nilu to be seated on the floor of our temple porch. He had come all the way from Calcutta to the edge of the town where we dwelt. Before us were a few trees, a green pasture, and the Ganges where people were bathing.
I spoke to him in English; for I could n’t imagine any other of our languages suited to the Rolls-Royce car.
‘ It is very kind of you to come to see me, particularly now that you are so busy.’
He fanned his face with his silken chuddar. He was dressed in exquisite silk robes of ivory yellow from which his brown head rose like the fragment of a statue on an ivory pedestal. After having fanned himself for a while, he spoke in reminiscent vein.
‘I wish I had my old courage to be poor, and had stuck to teaching history, but I cannot afford to be poor, and so I have no time to live. Look here! I want you to see something of our rich people. I shall put that car of mine at your disposal.’
‘But, my dear fellow, I do not need your car,’ I answered earnestly.
‘Childish as ever,’ Nilu admonished me. ‘ If you do not own a car you are no gentleman. That is one of the rules of our set.’
‘But I am a Brahman; that I consider is passport to any place.’ I spoke loftily.
‘Oh no, my boy. That was all right before the war, but between the war and Gandhi the Brahman’s prestige has been knocked into a cocked hat. The rich, particularly the newly rich, are the model of our life. You must have the trappings of a rich man. Don’t demur, old fellow. I shan’t hear of it. In an hour, another car will come to fetch me. It is, let me see, four in the afternoon; I shall expect you to dine with us at seven. Use the car as your own as long as you are here; it will facilitate your entrée into many exclusive places.
‘By the bye, have you any telephone in this temple?’
That made me furious.
‘Telephone in the house of God!’ I exclaimed.
‘Of course not! How stupid of me,’ he said to himself, taking not the slightest notice of my indignation. ‘Well, I shall have to telegraph you from time to time. I want to show you what our Indian hospitality is. Let me just take charge of you; I want you to see what has happened here while you have been wasting your time in America. I myself wasted three years in Harvard, but knew better than to stay there, but you spent thirteen years. Golly! What a waste of time! Yet I must say that America taught me how to get where I am.’
Here my friend looked at his watch. It wanted some twenty minutes to five. He said, ‘ I married out of caste, as you know. My wife is coming to meet you.’
‘What? A Hindu girl going about alone in an automobile?’ I questioned in amazement.
‘What do you want her on — an elephant?’ Nilu hit back. ‘You have kept your mediævalism alive in spite of America. Why should n’t my wife go about in her husband’s car?’
‘Look here!' I began a long harangue. ‘I am very much obliged to you for your car. I am glad that you will show me the life of the new rich, but let us talk Bengali. Why are you so restless? India is eternal. Why look at your watch? Why should you count the minutes in Eternity ? There is the Ganges; she flows on now that the bathers are very few with the same inevitable ease as when the bathers were many in the morning.
‘The English tongue that we have spoken registers only the froth and scum of our being. Now give thy heart’s inmost talk. Let the wing of forgetfulness bear away the burden of work. Thou knowest that I long for the light of thy soul in the gaze of thine eyes, brother. It is an age since we dreamed on the green fields and by the rushing waters. I care not if thou art riding the stallion of wealth or walking on the unsandaled feet of poverty; only tell me thine inmost story, thy heart’s longing and thy spirit’s dream. I meet thee across the river of boyhood on the shore of middle-age! Tell me if thy head rests on the pillow of serenity and thy limbs repose on the couch of friendliness and love.’
‘Shiva Vishnu! Dost thou know I spend all my days speaking English?’ he burst forth. ‘I deal with English firms, they send men who are ignorant of any tongue save their own, and I speak better than they. The hours of the day I waste, talking alien speech! My soul has no time. My heart knows no serenity. My head rests — if rest that be — on the pillow of care. Gunga, mother of waters, I never see; I bathe in my private bath; I work in my private office. I am alone — lonely as I used to be in solitary confinement when the British put me in prison on my return from America at the inception of the war.’
‘Did they charge thee with treason? Wert thou tried?’ I asked.
‘Nay, brother,’ he answered. ‘In the time of that insane slaughter, the State turned the key on anyone it suspected, in any place it saw fit. I, among others, was never tried, and I was released after four years, when it suited the convenience of the State.’
‘How many were you?’
‘We were fifteen in one beauty parlor (exact translation of Shrighar). At first they put us in solitary cells in order to make us confess what we might know. There I meditated on God, but somehow that did not help to soften the hearts of our jailers, so we all began a hunger strike. I fasted sixty days. Rama, Rama, that broke the resistance of our jailers! Those protectors of peace did not wish to have us die; so when the third score of days passed and I would not break my fast, they gave us what we wanted and let us have our way in the King’s hotel, as we called the jail. From now on we had books, papers, good food, and no more solitary confinement, and my soul could dream untrammeled by telephones, and unsought by visitors.’
‘It is strange that India’s Harvard and Oxford graduates have given more of themselves to their country than Indians from other Western universities,’ I remarked.
Nilu answered, ‘True, very true. Harvard University at present has contributed more men that follow Gandhi’s teachings than any other American university where Hindus have studied. Harvard has the greatest prestige in India; for it has supplied us with the largest number of jail-birds!' he concluded in English.
Just then my friend’s wife arrived in her car. She wore a beautiful sari of violet fringed with gold. I noticed that she had slippers but no stockings — her bronze-colored ankles needed no covering.
It thrilled me when she knelt down and took the dust from my feet. Ah, still to be honored as a Brahman — what a privilege! I was on the verge of tears. I blessed her: ‘Be thou thy husband’s jewel of pride. Bear him royal sons.’
Then all three of us took off our slippers and climbed the cool cemented stairway to the shrine proper, two flights above. There we bowed to Krishna; then sat on the porch in silence for a time, until my sister came from our adjoining house to greet Nilu’s wife. She offered us sweetmeats from the remnants of the noon offering to the god.
Nilu’s wife touched the sacramental morsel to her forehead first, as a salutation to it, then put it in her curving mouth.
It was a pity they could not linger, but the Rolls-Royce stayed behind for my use. Again that violet-draped woman bowed to my sister and to me, took the dust from our feet, and went.
‘Is there anything more beautiful than the good old courtesies?’ I said to her husband, who saluted us after, following her example. I blessed them both.
As they climbed into their car, Nilu said in English, ‘You know this salutation-business is beautiful for you Brahmans; but we, who are not Brahmans, feel as if our backs would break! ‘
From the younger generation I went to my brother and sister for protection. It was evening. We sat on the roof under the starry sky — velvety black — from which the stars hung so low and warm that one could almost pluck them, like grapes. But to-night even the stars were out of key. In that darkness we spoke of our parents and, presently, all our talk concentrated upon our mother.
My sister, it appeared, had for her the same worship as my brother and I. She came to know her long before we did, because she was about fifteen years older than my brother, who was separated from me by four years. Doubtless she could tell us much about her that would be new to us.
I had found my sister little changed. She had never resembled the rest of us — she had lighter skin, ‘coffee, tempered by cream,’ my brother used to say, not coffee-clear like ours; her nose was aquiline, almost Semitic; her eyes were slanting, not round, darkened by long black lashes; there was some gray now in her thick jet hair and a line or two in that smooth brow, but nothing else, save her white widow’s sari, spoke of any change. In the darkness, I could distinguish nothing but the whiteness of her dress, but I knew that its severity was unmitigated by any borders of colorful design. She had never worn ornaments even in her youth. Great was her austerity, and fortunately she was very strong. None of us could remember a day when she felt tired enough to omit the fulfillment of a single duty. She lived on two small meals a day — altogether a one-half pound of rice and a pound of milk, while she superintended the work of a temple, fed forty or fifty people, and meditated on God three solid hours every day, beside which she took care of a daughter-in-law, son, and grandson. She gave an hour and a half each day to her grandson, as a part of religious communion. But, in spite of her competence, she was not like our mother; she had a plethora of common sense. Once, when a European lady had invited her to tea, my sister inquiring the hour and hearing that it was half-past four, answered, ‘Oh! I am sorry to say then that it will be impossible for me to come, as the important preparation of God-business begins after four, and if I do not attend to it, the evensong will not be as good as usual.
Such a reply would have been impossible from my mother; to her God was as light as a whim, not a heavy weight on her mind. I am certain that she would have found as much of Him in a tea-cup as in an evensong. Was he not spirit omnipresent?
While I was thinking of these things, my sister was saying: ‘ To me, mother gave different instructions from yours, my brothers. I was taught only stories and songs of devotion. I do not know whether she had a premonition that I should become a widow at twenty-two, but, none the less, she taught me as if she felt certain of it, her sweet understanding firmly paving the road, so that it would be firmer under my feet at the bleak hour of calamity. And I believe that was why she had me taught English.’
I expressed surprise at this for my mother herself knew not how to read or write. My sister explained that mother had said to her: —
‘I belong to the age when wisdom came to men’s hearts naturally, but thou, my child, art born in a time when only printed words are considered true. Learn English, my daughter; it is the ruler’s language and since thou canst not rule men without some cunning, the English tomes may help thee to hold thy place in this world.’
‘It did serve me in good stead after my husband’s death,’ went on my sister. ‘But, thank God, I have forgotten all of that language now.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘Oh, it has so little wisdom and so much beauty. The last story I read in English was about a dead man’s ghost who tells his son how he, his father, was murdered, then the young prince, an innocent dreamer, kills an old fool, whose daughter’s heart he breaks and fights her brother at her funeral. Later, the prince is killed by the brother whom he kills as well. It has luscious words in it, for an innocent young man’s sorrow tastes sweet to the reader; but how can it be a tale of wisdom which our mother would have had me learn ? Can ghosts be so revengeful? Is it right to tell one’s mother that she is unchaste, and all because of the idle talkativeness of a good-for-nothing spirit, who should go to Heaven instead of walking about at night to poison his son’s life with cruel thirst for vengeance? That tale destroyed all my ambition to know English. Thou dost know the language well; was I not right to give it up?’
‘Yes, that wanton tale of beauty should discourage anybody.’ Thus I disposed of Prince Hamlet.
My sister resumed: ‘ I took to learning from mother all the stories about our ancestor Chaitanya. She began them all in the same way. ‘Listen, oh listen to the prophet of love! He was born to preach love to Hindu and Mohammedan alike in order to show that there is only one God, though we give him many names, and he was our ancestor.’
‘How old wert thou, sister, when mother taught thee this story? I asked.
‘I was fourteen. After that she taught me line upon line of the story of Savitri and how she saved her husband from death. Next I memorized the trial of Sita. When I grew to be a woman, I was made to fast twenty-four hours in seclusion with her, and in that seclusion she taught me Gita Govinda, the Song of Songs, and imparted the secret and wisdom of love to my heart.’ Suddenly she stopped to ask me, ‘How do Western mothers teach their daughters the art and wisdom of love?’
‘Am I a woman or a Westerner that thou shouldst ask me that?’ I questioned.
Men always insist on remaining ignorant,’ she retorted and went on with her story. ‘I learned cooking, serving dinner, how to dress for cooking, then how to dress for dinner after cooking. The garment of the kitchen may be worn only after an arduous bath and the cleansing of the body. Once the cooking is done, the garment of the kitchen must be put away and the garment of the feast donned. I was not allowed to rest in the afternoon in the dress of the feast — Oh, there were a thousand little things that the woman-mind picks up as a miser gathers his pennies: there was the evening toilet, the meditation — all these things was I taught as well as the work of pleasing a husband. But now I seek only to please God,’ she concluded.
‘How much Sanskrit dost thou know, sister?’ I asked.
‘ A few hymns. The one I love most is: “Those who with steadfast love worship Me, seeking Me in all things, and all things in Me, shall attain the supreme Light.” I weary of all this; I hunger for the stealthy one — Death.’
Something in her voice made my brother who had been silent all this while ask gently, ‘Dost thou weary of us, my sister? Dost thou not love us?'
‘Oh, ho! What idle talk,’ she expostulated. ‘If I did not love you both — the images of herself— would I yet cling to this dancing dust?’
She turned to me: ‘Did I not fast for thy home-coming so that all the impurity of life might be cleansed and the paths of thorn turned into a river of blessing? Were she here she would have fasted to purify her thoughts in order to mirror for other souls their own purity. “Self-cleansing cleanses the world,” she said once — and, thinking of her, I fasted and prayed to make myself and the world worthy of thy home-coming.’
We were obliged to reassure our sister who was as conscientious in her affections as her duties. After a little more talk she rose to go saying, —
Now I must seek slumber; in old age two days’ fasting feels like a week of it. My prayers have been heard; thou art home again and at peace with thy soul.’
We lingered, happy in talk of our mother; and then my brother began to tell me gradually the story I had waited so long to hear — the story of his own life. But not only that night, but many others, passed beneath the stars before all of it was recounted.
- An earlier chapter of Mr. Mukerji’s experiences appeared in the June Allantic under the title ‘My Brother’s Face.’ — THE EDITOR↩