W. A. (William Alexander) Fraser.

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obese, four-armed, jovial son of Shiva, bobbing in the
rhythmic stride of his carriers, seemed to nod his
elephant head at the horseman approvingly, wishing
him luck as was the wont of Ganesha. The proces
sion drove in upon Barlow's mind the thought that
they were nearing Mandhatta; he realised it with a
pang of reluctance. It seemed but a matter of just
minutes since he had lifted Bootea to the saddle.

It had hurried the Gulab's mind, too, for at another
turn where the road slid into the valley, bringing to
their nostrils the soft perfume of kush-kush grass and
the savour of jamun that grew luxuriantly on the
banks of the Narbudda, the Gulab asked: "The Sahib
will marry the young Memsahib who is at the city of
the Peshwa?"

Barlow was startled. It was like a voice crying out
in the night that shattered a blissful dream.

"Why do you ask that, Gulab?"

"Because it was said. And the Missie Baba's heart
will be full of the Sahib, for he is like a god."

"Is the Gulab jealous of the Missie Baba?" Barlow
asked mundanely, almost out of confusion.

"No, Sahib, because because one is not jealous of
a princess; because that is to question the ways of the
gods. If I had been an Englay and he loved me, and

254 Caste

the Missie Baba claimed him, Bootea would.kill her."

This was said with the simple conviction of a child
uttering a weird threat, but Barlow shivered.

"And now, Gulab," he persisted, "if you thought I
loved you would you kill the Missie Baba?"

"No, Sahib, because it is Bootea's fault. It can't
be. It is permitted to Bootea to love the Sahib, but
at the shrine Omkar will take that sin and all the
other sins away when she makes sacrifice "

"What sacrifice, Gulab?"

"Such as we make to the gods, Sahib."

Then something curious happened. The girl broke,
she clung to Barlow convulsively; sobs choked her.

He clasped her tight and laid his cheek against hers
soothingly, and said, "Gulab, what is' it? Don't go to
the Shrine of Omkar. Come with me to your people
at Chunda, and if you do not want to remain with
them I will have it arranged, through the Resident,
that the British will reward you with protection. You
have done the British Ra} a great service."

"No, Sahib." The girl drew herself erect, so that
her eyes gazed into Barlow's. They were luminous
with an intensity of resolve. "Let Bootea speak what
is in her heart, and be not offended; it is necessary.
There is, at the end of the journey the place that is
called jahannam (hell) for Bootea. The Nana Sahib
waits like a tiger crouched by a pool at night for the
coming of a stag to drink."

"The Resident will protect you against the
Mahratta," Barlow declared.

"Bootea could do that," and in her small hand

Caste 255

there gleamed in the moonlight the sheen of her dagger
blade. She thrust it back into her belt.

"What then do you fear, Gulab?" he queried.

"The Sahib."

"Me, Gulab?"

"Yes, Khudawand. To see you and not be per
mitted to hear your voice, nor feel your hand upon my
face, would be worse than sacrifice. Bootea would
rather die, slip off into death with the goodness, the
sweetness of to-night upon her soul. There, where
the Sahib would be, Bootea's heart would be full of
evil, the evil of craving for him. No, this is the end,
and Bootea will make offering of thanks marigolds
and a cocoanut to Omkar, and sprinkle attar upon his
shrine in thankfulness for the joy of the Sahib's
presence. It is said!" and the girl nestled down
against Barlow's breast again as though she had gone
to sleep in content.

But he groaned inwardly: there was something of
dread in his heart, her resignation was so deep sug
gesting an utter giving up, a helplessness. She had
named sacrifice; the word rang ominously in his mind,
beating at his fears. And yet, what she had said was
philosophy wise; a something that had been worded,
perhaps differently, for a million years; the brave
acceptance of Fate's decree something that always
triumphed over the weak longings of humans.


Now they could see the wide silver ribbon of Mother
Narbudda lying serene and placid in the moonlight,
in the centre of the river's wide flow the gloomy rock
embrasures of Mandhatta Island. Where it towered
upward in cliffs and coned hills the summit showed
the flickering lights of many temples, and like the
sing of a storm through giant trees there floated on
the night wind the sound of many voices, and the
beating of drums, and the imperious call of horns and

They came upon the tonga waiting by the roadside,
and Barlow, thrusting back the covering from the girl's
face said: "Now, Gulab, I will lift you down. We
must find a place in the village beyond for you to
rest to-night; I, too, will remain there and in the
morning we will make our salaams."

Then he drew her face to his and kissed her.

He slipped from the saddle and lifted the girl down,
carrying her in his arms to the tonga.

As they neared the village that was situated on the
flat land that swept back from the Narbudda in a
wide plain, and nestled against the river bank, they
were swept into a crowd such as would be encountered
on a trip to the Derby. The road was thronged with
people, and the village itself, from which a bridge
reached to the Island of Mandhatta, was a town in
holiday attire, for to the Hindus the mela of Omkar
was a union of festivity and devotion.


Caste 257

Both sides of the main street were lined with booths
for the sale of everything; calicoes from Calicut,
where these prints first got their name; hammered
Benares ware; gold-threaded cotton puggris from
Mewar; tulwars and khandas from Bhundi. In some
of the little shops, bamboo structures that thrust an
underlip out into the street, there was Mhowa liquor,
and julabis, and kabobs of goat meat. Open spaces
held tiny circuses abnormal animals and performing
goats, and a moon-bear on a ring and strap.

The street was full of gossiping men and women
and children dodging here and there; it was an outing
where the ryot (farmer) had escaped from his crotched
stick of wood that was a plough, and the village trades
men had left his shop, and the servant his service, to
feel the joyousness of a holiday. Mendicants were
in abundance prowling in their ugliness like spirits in
a nightmare; some naked, absolute, others with but
a loin-cloth, their lean shrivelled bodies smeared with
ashes sometimes the ashes of the dead and cow-
dung, carrying on their arms and foreheads the red
and white horizontal bars of Shiva who was Omkar
at Mandhatta. In their hands were either iron-tongs,
with loose clattering ring, or a yak's tail, or the three-
ribbed horn of a black-buck.

Some of the yogis, perhaps Goswamies that had
come from the country where Eklinga was the tutelary
deity, had their hair braided and woven around their
foreheads, holding in its fold lotus seeds; beneath the
tiara of hair a crescent of white on their foreheads.
A flowing yellow robe half hid their ash-smeared limbs.

258 Caste

A tall Sannyasi the most ascetic of sects his lean
yellow-robed form supported by a long staff at the end
of which swung a yellow bag, strode solemnly along
with eyes fixed on a book, the Bhagavad Gita, mutter
ing, "Aum, to the light of earth, the divine light that
illumines our souls. Aum!"

To Barlow it was like a grotesque pantomime with
no directing head. Nautch girls tripped along laugh
ing and chatting, bracelets jingling, and tiny bells at
their ankles tinkling musically. It depressed him; it
was such a terrible juxtaposition of frivolity and the
gloomed shadow of idol worship that lay just the
bridge's span of the sullen Narbudda: the gloomy,
broken scraps of the long since deserted forts that cut
with jagged lines the moonlit sky; and beyond them
again the many temples with their scowling Brahmin
priests, and the shrine wherein the god of destruction,
Omkar, sat athirst for sacrifice. He shivered as
though the white mist that veiled the river crept into
his marrow.

The Gulab seemed at home amongst these gathered
ones. Two or three times she had bade the driver
stop his creeping pace, and looking out from beneath
the curtain had questioned a man or woman. At last,
as they were stopped by a wall of people watching
the antics of some strolling players upon a platform,
Bootea spoke to a stout woman who was pressed
against the opening into the cart by the mob.

"Lucker khan Bhaina, Bowree" the Gulab said in
a low voice, and the woman's eyes took on a startled
look for it was a deceit password, and the Bowrees

Caste 259

were a clan of deceits akin to the Bagrees. From the
woman Bootea learned where she could find a good
resting place with the family of a shop-keeper. There
was no doubt about it, the Bowree woman assured her,
for the tonga would impress him, and he was one who
profited from the loot of deceits.

The Gulab was given a place to sleep in the shop
keeper's house that extended back from his little shop.
The driver was ordered to return in the morning to
the Pindari camp. Barlow was for keeping the tonga,
hoping that perhaps Bootea would change her mind
and go on to Chunda, but the girl was firm in her
determination to end it all at Mandhatta.

Before Barlow left her to seek some camping place
in hut or serai, and food for himself and horse, the
girl said: "If the Sahib will delay his going to-morrow
for a little, Bootea will proceed early to the shrine
to see the Swami then she will return here, for she
would want to see his face once more before the

"I'll wait, Gulab," he acquiesced; "I'll be here at
the tenth hour." He felt even then an unaccountable
chill of their parting, for, many being about, he could
not take her in his arms to kiss her; but their eyes
spoke, and the girl's were luminous, and sweet with a
look of hunger, of pathetic longing, of sublime trust.

As Barlow turned away leading his horse, he mut
tered over and over, "Gad! it's incomprehensible that
a Sahib should feel this over a yes, a native woman;
it's damnable!"

He reviled himself, declaring that it was harder on

260 Caste

the Gulab than on him and he was actually suffering.
It would be better if he swung to the saddle and fled
from the misery that prolongation but intensified.
And the girl's brave resignation in giving him up was
wonderful, was so like her.

Then the sight of Mahratta sowars, who, it being
Sindhia's territory, were a guard to watch the pilgrim
throng, flashed him back to a sense of duty, his own
mission. But it had not suffered because of Bootea;
it had benefitted through her; but for her the written
message from the British would have been lost stolen
by Hunsa, and would have landed in Nana Sahib's
hands; and he would have been slain as the Patan,
killer of Amir Khan.

But the Gulab was right; from that time forward
should she listen to him and go on to Poona, God
alone knew where it would lead to misery. It would
be utter ruin morally, officially, in a caste way; even
in time passionate enthusiasm, engendered by her lov-
ableness, dulled, would bring utter debasement, deg
radation of spirit, of man fibre. It was the wisdom
of God that entailed upon the union of the white and
dark-skinned the bar sinister.

Until he slept, wrapped in his blankets on the sand
beside his tethered horse, Barlow was tortured by this
mental inquisition. Even in his troubled sleep there
was a nightmare that waked him, panting and ex
hausted, and the remembrance was vivid Bootea lay
beneath the mighty paws of a tiger and he was beating
hopelessly at the snarling brute with a clubbed rifle.


In the morning Captain Barlow underwent a sar
torial metamorphosis; he attained to the sanctity of
a Hindu pilgrim by the purchase of a tight-ankled pair
of white trousers to replace the voluminous baggy
ones of a Patan, and a blue shot-with-gold-thread
Rajput turban. He shoved the Patan turban with its
conical fez in his saddle-bags, and wound the many
yards of blue material in a rakish criss-cross about
his shapely head, running a fold or two beneath his
chin. The Patan sheepskin coat was left with his

When Bootea came at ten to where Barlow who
was now Jaswant Singh paced up and down with the
swagger of a Rajput in front of the bunnia's shop,
she stood for a little, her eyes searching the crowd
for her Sahib. When he laughed, and called softly,
"Gulab," her eyes almost wept for joy, for not seeing
him at once, a dread that he had gone had chilled

"You see how easy it is, in a good cause, to change
one's caste," he said.

"With you, Sahib, yes, because you can also change
your skin."

There it was again, the indestructible barrier, the
pigmented badge. It drove the laugh from Barlow's


262 Caste

"Why has the Afghan Musselman become a
Hindu?" Bootea asked.

"I have no wish to anger these people who are on a
holy pilgrimage by going into their temples as a

"You are going to the shrine of Omkar?" the Gulab
asked aghast.

"Are you again?" Barlow parried.

"Yes, Sahib, soon."

"I am going with you," Barlow declared.

Bootea expostulated with almost fierce eagerness;
with a fervour that increased the uneasiness in Barlow's
mind. He had a premonition of evil; dread hung on
his soul perhaps born of the dream of a tiger devour
ing the girl.

"The Sahib still has the Akbar Lamp the ruby?"
the girl queried, presently.

"I have it safe," he answered, tapping his breast.

"If the Sahib is not going to the shrine Bootea would
desire that we could go out beyond the village to a
mango tope where there are none to observe, for she
would like to make the final salaams in his arms then
nothing would matter."

"Perhaps we had better go anyway," Barlow said
eagerly "though I am going over to the shrine with
you; for now, being a Hindu, I can pass as your
brother and there there would not be opportu

The girl turned this over in her mind, then said:
"No, we will not go to the grove, for Bootea can say

Caste 263

farewell to the Sahib in the cloister where Swami
Sarasvati has a cell for vigils."

Then asking Barlow to wait she went into the
house and soon returned clothed in spotless white
muslin. He noticed that she had taken off all her
ornaments, her jewellery. The bangle of gold that was
a twisting snake with a ruby head, she pressed upon
Barlow, saying: "When the Sahib is married to the
Englay will he give her this from me as a safeguard
against evil; and that it may cause her to worship
the Sahib as a god, even as Bootea does."

The simplicity, the genuine nobleness of this tribute
of renunciation, hazed Barlow's eyes with a mist
almost tears; she was a strange combine of dramatic
power and gentle sweetness.

"Now, come, Sahib," she said, "if you insist. It
will not bring misery to Bootea but to you."

Barlow strode along beside the girl steeped in omi
nous misgivings. Perhaps his presence at the temple
would avert whatever it was, that, like evil genii
seemed to poison the air.

There was a moving throng of pilgrims that poured
along in a joyous turbulent stream toward the bridge.
No shadow of the dread god, Omkar, gloomed their
spirits; they chatted and laughed. Of those who
would make devotions the men were stripped to the
waist, their limbs draped in spotless white. And the
women, on their way to have their sins forgiven, were
taking final license the purdah of the veil was almost
forgotten, for this was permitted in the presence of the

264 Caste

god. Even their beautifully formed bodies and limbs,
the skin fresh anointed, gleaming like copper in the
sunlight, showed entrancingly, voluptuously, with a
new-born liberty.

Once, half way of the bridge, a man's voice rang out
commandingly, calling backward, admonishing some
one to hurry, crying, "It is the kurban!"

Barlow started; the kurban meant a human sacrifice.
He looked at Bootea he could have sworn her head
had drooped, and that she shivered. The girl must
have sensed his thoughts, for she turned her eyes up
to his, but they held nothing of fear.

Beyond the bridge they passed across a lower level,
jungle clad with delicate bamboos and dhak, and
sweet-scented shrubs, and clusters of gorgeous olean
ders. The way was thronged with white-clothed
figures that seemed like wraiths, ghosts drifting back
to the cavern of the Destroyer.

Then they commenced the ascent following the bed
of a stream that had cut a chasm through black trap-
rock, leaving jagged cliffs. And the persistent jungle,
ever encroaching on space, had out-posts of champac
and wild mango, their giant roots, like the arms of an
octopus, holding anchorage in clefts of the rock. And
from the limbs above floated down the scolding voices
of lungoor, the black-faced grey-whiskered monkeys,
who rebuked the intrusion of the earth-dwellers below.
Where the path lay over rocks it was worn smooth and
slippery by naked feet, the feet of pilgrims for a
thousand years. On the right the mouth of a deep
cave had been walled up by masonry. Within, so the

Caste 265

legend ran, the High Priest of Mandhatta, centuries
before, had imprisoned the goddess Kali to stop a
pestilence, making vow to offer to Bhairava, her son, a
yearly human sacrifice. Higher up, approaching the
plateau where were the ruins of a thousand gorgeous
shrines, both sides of the pathway were lined by men
dicants who sat cross-legged, in front of them a little
mat for the receipt of alms cowries, pice, silver; the
mendicants muttering incessantly "Jae, Jae, Omkar!"
(Victory to Omkar).

In front of the temple within which sat the god, was
a conical black stone daubed with red, the Linga, the
generative function of Siva, and before it, the symbol
of reproduction, women made offering of cocoanuts,
and sweets, and garlands of flowers, generally mari
golds, and prayed for the bestowal of a son; even
their postures, carried away as they were by desire,
showing a complete abandon to the sex idea. A
Brahmin priest sat cross-legged upon a stone platform
repeating in a sing-song cadence prayers, and from
somewhere beyond a deep-toned bell boomed out an
admonishing call.

Holy water from the sacred Narbudda was poured
into the two jugs each pilgrim carried and sealed by
the Brahmins, who received, without thanks, stoically,
as a matter of right, a tribute of silver.

Towering eighty feet above the temple spire was a
cliff, and from a ledge near its top a white flag
fluttered idly in the lazy wind. It was the death-leap,
the ledge from which the one of the human sacrifice
to Omkar leapt, to crash in death beside the Linga.

266 Caste

Almost without words Barlow and the girl had toiled
up the ascent, scarcely noticed of the throng; and now
Bootea said: "Sahib, remain here, I go to speak to
the High Priest."

Barlow saw her speak into the open portal of one of
the cloister chambers that surrounded the temple, then
disappear within. After a time she came forth, and
approaching him said, "The Priest would speak with
thee, Sahib; for because of many things I have told
him who thou art, though mentioning not the nature
of the mission, for that is not permitted."

Barlow's foreboding of evil was now a certainty as
he strode forward.

The priest rose at the Captain's entrance. He was
a fine specimen of the true Brahmin, the intellectual
cult, that through successive generations of mental
sway and homage from the millions of untutored ones
had become conscious of its power. Tall, spare of
form, with wide high forehead and full expressive eyes,
almost olive skin, Barlow felt that the Swami was
quite unlike the begging yogis and mendicants; a man
who was by the close alliance of his intellect to the
essence of created things a Sannyasi. Larger in his
conceptions than the yogis who misconstrued the Vedas
and the Law of Manu as imposing an association of
filth smeared ashes, and uncombed, uncleansed
hair as a symbol of piety and abnegation of spirit,
a visible assertion that the body had passed from
regard that it, with its sensualities and ungodly crav
ings, had become subservient to the spirit, the soul.

Swami Sarasvati was austere; Barlow felt that he

Caste 267

dwelt on a plane where the trivialities of life were but
pestilential insects, to be endured stoically in a physical
way, with the mind freed from their irritation grasp
ing grander things; life was a wheel that revolved with
the certainty of celestial bodies.

It was so curious, and yet so unfailing, that Bootea,
with her hyper-intuition should have found, selected
this spiritual tutor from the horde of gurus, byragies,
and yogis that were connecting links between the
tremendous pantheon of grotesque gods and the com
mon people. Here she had come to an intellectual,
though no doubt an ascetic; one possessed of fierce
fervour in his ministry. There would be no swaying
of that will force developed to the keen flexible un-
flawed temper of a Damascus blade.

Now the priest was saying in the asl (pure) Hin
dustani of the high-bred Brahmin: "The Sahib confers
honour upon Sri Swami Sarasvati by this visit, for the
woman has related that he is of high caste amongst the
Englay and has been trusted by the Raj with a mission.
That he comes in the garb of my people is consider
ation for it avoids outrage to their feelings. I am
glad to know that the Englay are so considerate."

"I came, Swami, because of regard for Bootea for
she is like a princess."

The priest shot a quick, searching look into the eyes
of the speaker, then he asked, "And what service would
the Sahib ask?"

The question caught Captain Barlow unaware; he
had not formulated anything it had all been nebulous,
this dread. He hesitated, fearing to voice that which

268 Caste

perhaps did not exist in the minds of either the priest
or Bootea.

The girl perceived the hesitancy and spoke rapidly
in a low voice to the priest.

"Captain Sahib," the Swami began, " I see that thy
heart is inclined to the woman, and it is to be admired,
for she is, as thou thinkest, like a flower of the forest.
But also, Captain Sahib, thy heart is the heart of a
soldier, of a brave man, the light of valour is in thine
eyes, in thy face, and I would ask thee to be brave, and
instead of being cast in sorrow because of what I am
going to tell thee, thou must realise that it is for the
good of the woman whose face is in thy heart. To-day
she insures to her soul a place in kailas, the heaven of
Siva, the abiding place of Brahm, the Creator of all
that is."

Barlow felt himself reel at this sudden confirmation
of his fears the blow. The cry "Kurban" that he
had heard on the bridge was a reality a human

"God!" he cried in a voice of anguish, "it can't be.
Young and beautiful and good, to die it's wrong. I
forbid such a cruel, wanton sacrifice of a sweet life."

The Swami, taking a step toward the door, swept
his long thin arm with a gesture that embraced the
thousands beyond.

"Captain Sahib," he said solemnly, "if thou wert to
raise thy voice in anger against this holy, soul-redeem
ing observance thou wouldst be torn to pieces; not
even I could stop them if insult were offered to Omkar.
And, besides, the Englay Raj would call thee accursed

Caste 269

for breeding hate in the hearts of the Hindus through
the sacrilege of an insult to the High Priest of the
Temple of Omkar. This is the territory of the Mah-
rattas, and the English have no authority here."

Barlow knew that he was helpless. Even if there
were jurisdiction of the British, one against thousands
of religious fanatics would avail nothing.

The priest saw the torture in the man's face, and
continued: "The woman has told me much. Her heart
is so with thee that it is already dead. Thou canst
not take her to thy people, for the living hell is even
worse than the hell beyond. If thou lovest the woman
glory in her release from pain of spirit, from the deg
radation of being outcast that she judges wisely,
and there is not upon her soul the sin of taking her
own life, for if she went with thee, proud and high
born as she is, it would come to that, Sahib thou
knowest it. There are things that cannot be said by
me concerning the woman; vows having been taken
in the sanctity of a temple."

A figment of the rumour Barlow had heard that
Bootea was Princess Kumari floated through his mind,
but that did not matter; Bootea as Bootea was the
sweetest woman he had ever known. It must be that
she had filled his heart with love.

Again Bootea spoke in a low voice to the priest, and
he said: "Sahib, I go forth for a little, for there are

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