home | authors | books | about

Home -> Mark Twain -> Following the Equator -> Chapter 49

Following the Equator - Chapter 49

1. Contents

2. Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 9

11. Chapter 10

12. Chapter 11

13. Chapter 12

14. Chapter 13

15. Chapter 14

16. Chapter 15

17. Chapter 16

18. Chapter 17

19. Chapter 18

20. Chapter 19

21. Chapter 20

22. Chapter 21

23. Chapter 22

24. Chapter 23

25. Chapter 24

26. Chapter 25

27. Chapter 26

28. Chapter 27

29. Chapter 28

30. Chapter 29

31. Chapter 30

32. Chapter 31

33. Chapter 32

34. Chapter 33

35. Chapter 34

36. Chapter 35

37. Chapter 36

38. Chapter 37

39. Chapter 38

40. Chapter 39

41. Chapter 40

42. Chapter 41

43. Chapter 42

44. Chapter 43

45. Chapter 44

46. Chapter 45

47. Chapter 46

48. Chapter 47

49. Chapter 48

50. Chapter 49

51. Chapter 50

52. Chapter 51

53. Chapter 52

54. Chapter 53

55. Chapter 54

56. Chapter 55

57. Chapter 56

58. Chapter 57

59. Chapter 58

60. Chapter 59

61. Chapter 60

62. Chapter 61

63. Chapter 62

64. Chapter 63

65. Chapter 64

66. Chapter 65

67. Chapter 66

68. Chapter 67

69. Chapter 68

70. Chapter 69

71. Conclusion


He had had much experience of physicians, and said "the only way to keep
your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what; you don't like,
and do what you'd druther not."
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

It was a long journey--two nights, one day, and part of another day, from
Bombay eastward to Allahabad; but it was always interesting, and it was
not fatiguing. At first the, night travel promised to be fatiguing, but
that was on account of pyjamas. This foolish night-dress consists of
jacket and drawers. Sometimes they are made of silk, sometimes of a
raspy, scratchy, slazy woolen material with a sandpaper surface. The
drawers are loose elephant-legged and elephant-waisted things, and
instead of buttoning around the body there is a drawstring to produce the
required shrinkage. The jacket is roomy, and one buttons it in front.
Pyjamas are hot on a hot night and cold on a cold night--defects which a
nightshirt is free from. I tried the pyjamas in order to be in the
fashion; but I was obliged to give them up, I couldn't stand them. There
was no sufficient change from day-gear to night-gear. I missed the
refreshing and luxurious sense, induced by the night-gown, of being
undressed, emancipated, set free from restraints and trammels. In place
of that, I had the worried, confined, oppressed, suffocated sense of
being abed with my clothes on. All through the warm half of the night
the coarse surfaces irritated my skin and made it feel baked and
feverish, and the dreams which came in the fitful flurries of slumber
were such as distress the sleep of the damned, or ought to; and all
through the cold other half of the night I could get no time for sleep
because I had to employ it all in stealing blankets. But blankets are of
no value at such a time; the higher they are piled the more effectively
they cork the cold in and keep it from getting out. The result is that
your legs are ice, and you know how you will feel by and by when you are
buried. In a sane interval I discarded the pyjamas, and led a rational
and comfortable life thenceforth.

Out in the country in India, the day begins early. One sees a plain,
perfectly flat, dust-colored and brick-yardy, stretching limitlessly away
on every side in the dim gray light, striped everywhere with hard-beaten
narrow paths, the vast flatness broken at wide intervals by bunches of
spectral trees that mark where villages are; and along all the paths are
slender women and the black forms of lanky naked men moving, to their
work, the women with brass water-jars on their heads, the men carrying
hoes. The man is not entirely naked; always there is a bit of white rag,
a loin-cloth; it amounts to a bandage, and is a white accent on his black
person, like the silver band around the middle of a pipe-stem. Sometimes
he also wears a fluffy and voluminous white turban, and this adds a
second accent. He then answers properly to Miss Gordon Cumming's
flash-light picture of him--as a person who is dressed in "a turban
and a pocket handkerchief."

All day long one has this monotony of dust-colored dead levels and
scattering bunches of trees and mud villages. You soon realize that
India is not beautiful; still there is an enchantment about it that is
beguiling, and which does not pall. You cannot tell just what it is that
makes the spell, perhaps, but you feel it and confess it, nevertheless.
Of course, at bottom, you know in a vague way that it is history; it is
that that affects you, a haunting sense of the myriads of human lives
that have blossomed, and withered, and perished here, repeating and
repeating and repeating, century after century, and age after age, the
barren and meaningless process; it is this sense that gives to this
forlorn, uncomely land power to speak to the spirit and make friends with
it; to, speak to it with a voice bitter with satire, but eloquent with
melancholy. The deserts of Australia and the ice-barrens of Greenland
have no speech, for they have no venerable history; with nothing to tell
of man and his vanities, his fleeting glories and his miseries, they have
nothing wherewith to spiritualize their ugliness and veil it with a

There is nothing pretty about an Indian village--a mud one--and I do not
remember that we saw any but mud ones on that long flight to Allahabad.
It is a little bunch of dirt-colored mud hovels jammed together within a
mud wall. As a rule, the rains had beaten down parts of some of the
houses, and this gave the village the aspect of a mouldering and hoary
ruin. I believe the cattle and the vermin live inside the wall; for I
saw cattle coming out and cattle going in; and whenever I saw a villager,
he was scratching. This last is only circumstantial evidence, but I
think it has value. The village has a battered little temple or two, big
enough to hold an idol, and with custom enough to fat-up a priest and
keep him comfortable. Where there are Mohammedans there are generally a
few sorry tombs outside the village that have a decayed and neglected
look. The villages interested me because of things which Major Sleeman
says about them in his books--particularly what he says about the
division of labor in them. He says that the whole face of India is
parceled out into estates of villages; that nine-tenths of the vast
population of the land consist of cultivators of the soil; that it is
these cultivators who inhabit the villages; that there are certain
"established" village servants--mechanics and others who are apparently
paid a wage by the village at large, and whose callings remain in certain
families and are handed down from father to son, like an estate. He
gives a list of these established servants: Priest, blacksmith,
carpenter, accountant, washerman, basketmaker, potter, watchman, barber,
shoemaker, brazier, confectioner, weaver, dyer, etc. In his day witches
abounded, and it was not thought good business wisdom for a man to marry
his daughter into a family that hadn't a witch in it, for she would need
a witch on the premises to protect her children from the evil spells
which would certainly be cast upon them by the witches connected with the
neighboring families.

The office of midwife was hereditary in the family of the basket-maker.
It belonged to his wife. She might not be competent, but the office was
hers, anyway. Her pay was not high--25 cents for a boy, and half as much
for a girl. The girl was not desired, because she would be a disastrous
expense by and by. As soon as she should be old enough to begin to wear
clothes for propriety's sake, it would be a disgrace to the family if she
were not married; and to marry her meant financial ruin; for by custom
the father must spend upon feasting and wedding-display everything he had
and all he could borrow--in fact, reduce himself to a condition of
poverty which he might never more recover from.

It was the dread of this prospective ruin which made the killing of
girl-babies so prevalent in India in the old days before England laid the
iron hand of her prohibitions upon the piteous slaughter. One may judge
of how prevalent the custom was, by one of Sleeman's casual electrical
remarks, when he speaks of children at play in villages--where
girl-voices were never heard!

The wedding-display folly is still in full force in India, and by
consequence the destruction of girl-babies is still furtively practiced;
but not largely, because of the vigilance of the government and the
sternness of the penalties it levies.

In some parts of India the village keeps in its pay three other servants:
an astrologer to tell the villager when he may plant his crop, or make a
journey, or marry a wife, or strangle a child, or borrow a dog, or climb
a tree, or catch a rat, or swindle a neighbor, without offending the
alert and solicitous heavens; and what his dream means, if he has had one
and was not bright enough to interpret it himself by the details of his
dinner; the two other established servants were the tiger-persuader and
the hailstorm discourager. The one kept away the tigers if he could, and
collected the wages anyway, and the other kept off the hailstorms, or
explained why he failed. He charged the same for explaining a failure
that he did for scoring a success. A man is an idiot who can't earn a
living in India.

Major Sleeman reveals the fact that the trade union and the boycott are
antiquities in India. India seems to have originated everything. The
"sweeper" belongs to the bottom caste; he is the lowest of the low--all
other castes despise him and scorn his office. But that does not trouble
him. His caste is a caste, and that is sufficient for him, and so he is
proud of it, not ashamed. Sleeman says:

"It is perhaps not known to many of my countrymen, even in India,
that in every town and city in the country the right of sweeping the
houses and streets is a monopoly, and is supported entirely by the
pride of castes among the scavengers, who are all of the lowest
class. The right of sweeping within a certain range is recognized
by the caste to belong to a certain member; and if any other member
presumes to sweep within that range, he is excommunicated--no other
member will smoke out of his pipe or drink out of his jug; and he
can get restored to caste only by a feast to the whole body of
sweepers. If any housekeeper within a particular circle happens to
offend the sweeper of that range, none of his filth will be removed
till he pacifies him, because no other sweeper will dare to touch
it; and the people of a town are often more tyrannized over by these
people than by any other."

A footnote by Major Sleeman's editor, Mr. Vincent Arthur Smith, says that
in our day this tyranny of the sweepers' guild is one of the many
difficulties which bar the progress of Indian sanitary reform. Think of

"The sweepers cannot be readily coerced, because no Hindoo or
Mussulman would do their work to save his life, nor will he pollute
himself by beating the refractory scavenger."

They certainly do seem to have the whip-hand; it would be difficult to
imagine a more impregnable position. "The vested rights described in the
text are so fully recognized in practice that they are frequently the
subject of sale or mortgage."

Just like a milk-route; or like a London crossing-sweepership. It is
said that the London crossing-sweeper's right to his crossing is
recognized by the rest of the guild; that they protect him in its
possession; that certain choice crossings are valuable property, and are
saleable at high figures. I have noticed that the man who sweeps in
front of the Army and Navy Stores has a wealthy South African
aristocratic style about him; and when he is off his guard, he has
exactly that look on his face which you always see in the face of a man
who has is saving up his daughter to marry her to a duke.

It appears from Sleeman that in India the occupation of elephant-driver
is confined to Mohammedans. I wonder why that is. The water-carrier
('bheestie') is a Mohammedan, but it is said that the reason of that is,
that the Hindoo's religion does not allow him to touch the skin of dead
kine, and that is what the water-sack is made of; it would defile him.
And it doesn't allow him to eat meat; the animal that furnished the meat
was murdered, and to take any creature's life is a sin. It is a good and
gentle religion, but inconvenient.

A great Indian river, at low water, suggests the familiar anatomical
picture of a skinned human body, the intricate mesh of interwoven muscles
and tendons to stand for water-channels, and the archipelagoes of fat and
flesh inclosed by them to stand for the sandbars. Somewhere on this
journey we passed such a river, and on a later journey we saw in the
Sutlej the duplicate of that river. Curious rivers they are; low shores
a dizzy distance apart, with nothing between but an enormous acreage of
sand-flats with sluggish little veins of water dribbling around amongst
them; Saharas of sand, smallpox-pitted with footprints punctured in belts
as straight as the equator clear from the one shore to the other (barring
the channel-interruptions)--a dry-shod ferry, you see. Long railway
bridges are required for this sort of rivers, and India has them. You
approach Allahabad by a very long one. It was now carrying us across the
bed of the Jumna, a bed which did not seem to have been slept in for one
while or more. It wasn't all river-bed--most of it was overflow ground.

Allahabad means "City of God." I get this from the books. From a printed
curiosity--a letter written by one of those brave and confident Hindoo
strugglers with the English tongue, called a "babu"--I got a more
compressed translation: "Godville." It is perfectly correct, but that is
the most that can be said for it.

We arrived in the forenoon, and short-handed; for Satan got left behind
somewhere that morning, and did not overtake us until after nightfall.
It seemed very peaceful without him. The world seemed asleep and

I did not see the native town, I think. I do not remember why; for an
incident connects it with the Great Mutiny, and that is enough to make
any place interesting. But I saw the English part of the city. It is a
town of wide avenues and noble distances, and is comely and alluring, and
full of suggestions of comfort and leisure, and of the serenity which a
good conscience buttressed by a sufficient bank account gives. The
bungalows (dwellings) stand well back in the seclusion and privacy of
large enclosed compounds (private grounds, as we should say) and in the
shade and shelter of trees. Even the photographer and the prosperous
merchant ply their industries in the elegant reserve of big compounds,
and the citizens drive in thereupon their business occasions. And not in
cabs--no; in the Indian cities cabs are for the drifting stranger; all
the white citizens have private carriages; and each carriage has a flock
of white-turbaned black footmen and drivers all over it. The vicinity of
a lecture-hall looks like a snowstorm,--and makes the lecturer feel like
an opera. India has many names, and they are correctly descriptive. It
is the Land of Contradictions, the Land of Subtlety and Superstition, the
Land of Wealth and Poverty, the Land of Splendor and Desolation, the Land
of Plague and Famine, the Land of the Thug and the Poisoner, and of the
Meek and the Patient, the Land of the Suttee, the Land of the
Unreinstatable Widow, the Land where All Life is Holy, the Land of
Cremation, the Land where the Vulture is a Grave and a Monument, the Land
of the Multitudinous Gods; and if signs go for anything, it is the Land
of the Private Carriage.

In Bombay the forewoman of a millinery shop came to the hotel in her
private carriage to take the measure for a gown--not for me, but for
another. She had come out to India to make a temporary stay, but was
extending it indefinitely; indeed, she was purposing to end her days
there. In London, she said, her work had been hard, her hours long; for
economy's sake she had had to live in shabby rooms and far away from the
shop, watch the pennies, deny herself many of the common comforts of
life, restrict herself in effect to its bare necessities, eschew cabs,
travel third-class by underground train to and from her work, swallowing
coal-smoke and cinders all the way, and sometimes troubled with the
society of men and women who were less desirable than the smoke and the
cinders. But in Bombay, on almost any kind of wages, she could live in
comfort, and keep her carriage, and have six servants in place of the
woman-of-all-work she had had in her English home. Later, in Calcutta, I
found that the Standard Oil clerks had small one-horse vehicles, and did
no walking; and I was told that the clerks of the other large concerns
there had the like equipment. But to return to Allahabad.

I was up at dawn, the next morning. In India the tourist's servant does
not sleep in a room in the hotel, but rolls himself up head and ears in
his blanket and stretches himself on the veranda, across the front of his
master's door, and spends the night there. I don't believe anybody's
servant occupies a room. Apparently, the bungalow servants sleep on the
veranda; it is roomy, and goes all around the house. I speak of
menservants; I saw none of the other sex. I think there are none, except
child-nurses. I was up at dawn, and walked around the veranda, past the
rows of sleepers. In front of one door a Hindoo servant was squatting,
waiting for his master to call him. He had polished the yellow shoes and
placed them by the door, and now he had nothing to do but wait. It was
freezing cold, but there he was, as motionless as a sculptured image, and
as patient. It troubled me. I wanted to say to him, "Don't crouch there
like that and freeze; nobody requires it of you; stir around and get
warm." But I hadn't the words. I thought of saying 'jeldy jow', but I
couldn't remember what it meant, so I didn't say it. I knew another
phrase, but it wouldn't come to my mind. I moved on, purposing to
dismiss him from my thoughts, but his bare legs and bare feet kept him
there. They kept drawing me back from the sunny side to a point whence I
could see him. At the end of an hour he had not changed his attitude in
the least degree. It was a curious and impressive exhibition of meekness
and patience, or fortitude or indifference, I did not know which. But it
worried me, and it was spoiling my morning. In fact, it spoiled two
hours of it quite thoroughly. I quitted this vicinity, then, and left
him to punish himself as much as he might want to. But up to that time
the man had not changed his attitude a hair. He will always remain with
me, I suppose; his figure never grows vague in my memory. Whenever I
read of Indian resignation, Indian patience under wrongs, hardships, and
misfortunes, he comes before me. He becomes a personification, and
stands for India in trouble. And for untold ages India in trouble has
been pursued with the very remark which I was going to utter but didn't,
because its meaning had slipped me: "Jeddy jow!" ("Come, shove along!")

Why, it was the very thing.

In the early brightness we made a long drive out to the Fort. Part of
the way was beautiful. It led under stately trees and through groups of
native houses and by the usual village well, where the picturesque gangs
are always flocking to and fro and laughing and chattering; and this time
brawny men were deluging their bronze bodies with the limpid water, and
making a refreshing and enticing show of it; enticing, for the sun was
already transacting business, firing India up for the day. There was
plenty of this early bathing going on, for it was getting toward
breakfast time, and with an unpurified body the Hindoo must not eat.

Then we struck into the hot plain, and found the roads crowded with
pilgrims of both sexes, for one of the great religious fairs of India was
being held, just beyond the Fort, at the junction of the sacred rivers,
the Ganges and the Jumna. Three sacred rivers, I should have said, for
there is a subterranean one. Nobody has seen it, but that doesn't
signify. The fact that it is there is enough. These pilgrims had come
from all over India; some of them had been months on the way, plodding
patiently along in the heat and dust, worn, poor, hungry, but supported
and sustained by an unwavering faith and belief; they were supremely
happy and content, now; their full and sufficient reward was at hand;
they were going to be cleansed from every vestige of sin and corruption
by these holy waters which make utterly pure whatsoever thing they touch,
even the dead and rotten. It is wonderful, the power of a faith like
that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and
the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such
incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining.
It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is.
No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination
marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites. There are choice great
natures among us that could exhibit the equivalent of this prodigious
self-sacrifice, but the rest of us know that we should not be equal to
anything approaching it. Still, we all talk self-sacrifice, and this
makes me hope that we are large enough to honor it in the Hindoo.

Two millions of natives arrive at this fair every year. How many start,
and die on the road, from age and fatigue and disease and scanty
nourishment, and how many die on the return, from the same causes, no one
knows; but the tale is great, one may say enormous. Every twelfth year
is held to be a year of peculiar grace; a greatly augmented volume of
pilgrims results then. The twelfth year has held this distinction since
the remotest times, it is said. It is said also that there is to be but
one more twelfth year--for the Ganges. After that, that holiest of all
sacred rivers will cease to be holy, and will be abandoned by the pilgrim
for many centuries; how many, the wise men have not stated. At the end
of that interval it will become holy again. Meantime, the data will be
arranged by those people who have charge of all such matters, the great
chief Brahmins. It will be like shutting down a mint. At a first glance
it looks most unbrahminically uncommercial, but I am not disturbed, being
soothed and tranquilized by their reputation. "Brer fox he lay low," as
Uncle Remus says; and at the judicious time he will spring something on
the Indian public which will show that he was not financially asleep when
he took the Ganges out of the market.

Great numbers of the natives along the roads were bringing away holy
water from the rivers. They would carry it far and wide in India and
sell it. Tavernier, the French traveler (17th century), notes that
Ganges water is often given at weddings, "each guest receiving a cup or
two, according to the liberality of the host; sometimes 2,000 or 3,000
rupees' worth of it is consumed at a wedding."

The Fort is a huge old structure, and has had a large experience in
religions. In its great court stands a monolith which was placed there
more than 2,000 years ago to preach (Budhism) by its pious inscription;
the Fort was built three centuries ago by a Mohammedan Emperor--a
resanctification of the place in the interest of that religion. There is
a Hindoo temple, too, with subterranean ramifications stocked with
shrines and idols; and now the Fort belongs to the English, it contains a
Christian Church. Insured in all the companies.

From the lofty ramparts one has a fine view of the sacred rivers. They
join at that point--the pale blue Jumna, apparently clean and clear, and
the muddy Ganges, dull yellow and not clean. On a long curved spit
between the rivers, towns of tents were visible, with a multitude of
fluttering pennons, and a mighty swarm of pilgrims. It was a troublesome
place to get down to, and not a quiet place when you arrived; but it was
interesting. There was a world of activity and turmoil and noise, partly
religious, partly commercial; for the Mohammedans were there to curse and
sell, and the Hindoos to buy and pray. It is a fair as well as a
religious festival. Crowds were bathing, praying, and drinking the
purifying waters, and many sick pilgrims had come long journeys in
palanquins to be healed of their maladies by a bath; or if that might not
be, then to die on the blessed banks and so make sure of heaven. There
were fakeers in plenty, with their bodies dusted over with ashes and
their long hair caked together with cow-dung; for the cow is holy and so
is the rest of it; so holy that the good Hindoo peasant frescoes the
walls of his hut with this refuse, and also constructs ornamental figures
out of it for the gracing of his dirt floor. There were seated families,
fearfully and wonderfully painted, who by attitude and grouping
represented the families of certain great gods. There was a holy man who
sat naked by the day and by the week on a cluster of iron spikes, and did
not seem to mind it; and another holy man, who stood all day holding his
withered arms motionless aloft, and was said to have been doing it for
years. All of these performers have a cloth on the ground beside them
for the reception of contributions, and even the poorest of the people
give a trifle and hope that the sacrifice will be blessed to him. At
last came a procession of naked holy people marching by and chanting, and
I wrenched myself away.

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary