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    Chapter 50

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    Chapter 51
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    The man who is ostentatious of his modesty is twin to the statue that
    wears a fig-leaf.
    --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

    The journey to Benares was all in daylight, and occupied but a few hours.
    It was admirably dusty. The dust settled upon you in a thick ashy layer
    and turned you into a fakeer, with nothing lacking to the role but the
    cow manure and the sense of holiness. There was a change of cars about
    mid-afternoon at Moghul-serai--if that was the name--and a wait of two
    hours there for the Benares train. We could have found a carriage and
    driven to the sacred city, but we should have lost the wait. In other
    countries a long wait at a station is a dull thing and tedious, but one
    has no right to have that feeling in India. You have the monster crowd
    of bejeweled natives, the stir, the bustle, the confusion, the shifting
    splendors of the costumes--dear me, the delight of it, the charm of it
    are beyond speech. The two-hour wait was over too soon. Among other
    satisfying things to look at was a minor native prince from the backwoods
    somewhere, with his guard of honor, a ragged but wonderfully gaudy gang
    of fifty dark barbarians armed with rusty flint-lock muskets. The
    general show came so near to exhausting variety that one would have said
    that no addition to it could be conspicuous, but when this Falstaff and
    his motleys marched through it one saw that that seeming impossibility
    had happened.

    We got away by and by, and soon reached the outer edge of Benares; then
    there was another wait; but, as usual, with something to look at. This
    was a cluster of little canvas-boxes--palanquins. A canvas-box is not much
    of a sight--when empty; but when there is a lady in it, it is an object
    of interest. These boxes were grouped apart, in the full blaze of the
    terrible sun during the three-quarters of an hour that we tarried there.
    They contained zenana ladies. They had to sit up; there was not room
    enough to stretch out. They probably did not mind it. They are used to
    the close captivity of the dwellings all their lives; when they go a
    journey they are carried to the train in these boxes; in the train they
    have to be secluded from inspection. Many people pity them, and I always
    did it myself and never charged anything; but it is doubtful if this
    compassion is valued. While we were in India some good-hearted Europeans
    in one of the cities proposed to restrict a large park to the use of
    zenana ladies, so that they could go there and in assured privacy go
    about unveiled and enjoy the sunshine and air as they had never enjoyed
    them before. The good intentions back of the proposition were
    recognized, and sincere thanks returned for it, but the proposition
    itself met with a prompt declination at the hands of those who were
    authorized to speak for the zenana ladies. Apparently, the idea was
    shocking to the ladies--indeed, it was quite manifestly shocking. Was
    that proposition the equivalent of inviting European ladies to assemble
    scantily and scandalously clothed in the seclusion of a private park? It
    seemed to be about that.

    Without doubt modesty is nothing less than a holy feeling; and without
    doubt the person whose rule of modesty has been transgressed feels the
    same sort of wound that he would feel if something made holy to him by
    his religion had suffered a desecration. I say "rule of modesty" because
    there are about a million rules in the world, and this makes a million
    standards to be looked out for. Major Sleeman mentions the case of some
    high-caste veiled ladies who were profoundly scandalized when some
    English young ladies passed by with faces bare to the world; so
    scandalized that they spoke out with strong indignation and wondered that
    people could be so shameless as to expose their persons like that. And
    yet "the legs of the objectors were naked to mid-thigh." Both parties
    were clean-minded and irreproachably modest, while abiding by their
    separate rules, but they couldn't have traded rules for a change without
    suffering considerable discomfort. All human rules are more or less
    idiotic, I suppose. It is best so, no doubt. The way it is now, the
    asylums can hold the sane people, but if we tried to shut up the insane
    we should run out of building materials.

    You have a long drive through the outskirts of Benares before you get to
    the hotel. And all the aspects are melancholy. It is a vision of dusty
    sterility, decaying temples, crumbling tombs, broken mud walls, shabby
    huts. The whole region seems to ache with age and penury. It must take
    ten thousand years of want to produce such an aspect. We were still
    outside of the great native city when we reached the hotel. It was a
    quiet and homelike house, inviting, and manifestly comfortable. But we
    liked its annex better, and went thither. It was a mile away, perhaps,
    and stood in the midst of a large compound, and was built bungalow
    fashion, everything on the ground floor, and a veranda all around. They
    have doors in India, but I don't know why. They don't fasten, and they
    stand open, as a rule, with a curtain hanging in the doorspace to keep
    out the glare of the sun. Still, there is plenty of privacy, for no
    white person will come in without notice, of course. The native men
    servants will, but they don't seem to count. They glide in, barefoot and
    noiseless, and are in the midst before one knows it. At first this is a
    shock, and sometimes it is an embarrassment; but one has to get used to
    it, and does.

    There was one tree in the compound, and a monkey lived in it. At first I
    was strongly interested in the tree, for I was told that it was the
    renowned peepul--the tree in whose shadow you cannot tell a lie. This
    one failed to stand the test, and I went away from it disappointed.
    There was a softly creaking well close by, and a couple of oxen drew
    water from it by the hour, superintended by two natives dressed in the
    usual "turban and pocket-handkerchief." The tree and the well were the
    only scenery, and so the compound was a soothing and lonesome and
    satisfying place; and very restful after so many activities. There was
    nobody in our bungalow but ourselves; the other guests were in the next
    one, where the table d'hote was furnished. A body could not be more
    pleasantly situated. Each room had the customary bath attached--a room
    ten or twelve feet square, with a roomy stone-paved pit in it and
    abundance of water. One could not easily improve upon this arrangement,
    except by furnishing it with cold water and excluding the hot, in
    deference to the fervency of the climate; but that is forbidden. It
    would damage the bather's health. The stranger is warned against taking
    cold baths in India, but even the most intelligent strangers are fools,
    and they do not obey, and so they presently get laid up. I was the most
    intelligent fool that passed through, that year. But I am still more
    intelligent now. Now that it is too late.

    I wonder if the 'dorian', if that is the name of it, is another
    superstition, like the peepul tree. There was a great abundance and
    variety of tropical fruits, but the dorian was never in evidence. It was
    never the season for the dorian. It was always going to arrive from
    Burma sometime or other, but it never did. By all accounts it was a most
    strange fruit, and incomparably delicious to the taste, but not to the
    smell. Its rind was said to exude a stench of so atrocious a nature that
    when a dorian was in the room even the presence of a polecat was a
    refreshment. We found many who had eaten the dorian, and they all spoke
    of it with a sort of rapture. They said that if you could hold your nose
    until the fruit was in your mouth a sacred joy would suffuse you from
    head to foot that would make you oblivious to the smell of the rind, but
    that if your grip slipped and you caught the smell of the rind before the
    fruit was in your mouth, you would faint. There is a fortune in that
    rind. Some day somebody will import it into Europe and sell it for

    Benares was not a disappointment. It justified its reputation as a
    curiosity. It is on high ground, and overhangs a grand curve of the
    Ganges. It is a vast mass of building, compactly crusting a hill, and is
    cloven in all directions by an intricate confusion of cracks which stand
    for streets. Tall, slim minarets and beflagged temple-spires rise out of
    it and give it picturesqueness, viewed from the river. The city is as
    busy as an ant-hill, and the hurly-burly of human life swarming along the
    web of narrow streets reminds one of the ants. The sacred cow swarms
    along, too, and goes whither she pleases, and takes toll of the
    grain-shops, and is very much in the way, and is a good deal of a
    nuisance, since she must not be molested.

    Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than
    legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together. From a
    Hindoo statement quoted in Rev. Mr. Parker's compact and lucid Guide to
    Benares, I find that the site of the town was the beginning-place of the
    Creation. It was merely an upright "lingam," at first, no larger than a
    stove-pipe, and stood in the midst of a shoreless ocean. This was the
    work of the God Vishnu. Later he spread the lingam out till its surface
    was ten miles across. Still it was not large enough for the business;
    therefore he presently built the globe around it. Benares is thus the
    center of the earth. This is considered an advantage.

    It has had a tumultuous history, both materially and spiritually. It
    started Brahminically, many ages ago; then by and by Buddha came in
    recent times 2,500 years ago, and after that it was Buddhist during many
    centuries--twelve, perhaps--but the Brahmins got the upper hand again,
    then, and have held it ever since. It is unspeakably sacred in Hindoo
    eyes, and is as unsanitary as it is sacred, and smells like the rind of
    the dorian. It is the headquarters of the Brahmin faith, and one-eighth
    of the population are priests of that church. But it is not an
    overstock, for they have all India as a prey. All India flocks thither
    on pilgrimage, and pours its savings into the pockets of the priests in a
    generous stream, which never fails. A priest with a good stand on the
    shore of the Ganges is much better off than the sweeper of the best
    crossing in London. A good stand is worth a world of money. The holy
    proprietor of it sits under his grand spectacular umbrella and blesses
    people all his life, and collects his commission, and grows fat and rich;
    and the stand passes from father to son, down and down and down through
    the ages, and remains a permanent and lucrative estate in the family. As
    Mr. Parker suggests, it can become a subject of dispute, at one time or
    another, and then the matter will be settled, not by prayer and fasting
    and consultations with Vishnu, but by the intervention of a much more
    puissant power--an English court. In Bombay I was told by an American
    missionary that in India there are 640 Protestant missionaries at work.
    At first it seemed an immense force, but of course that was a thoughtless
    idea. One missionary to 500,000 natives--no, that is not a force; it is
    the reverse of it; 640 marching against an intrenched camp of
    300,000,000--the odds are too great. A force of 640 in Benares alone
    would have its hands over-full with 8,000 Brahmin priests for adversary.
    Missionaries need to be well equipped with hope and confidence, and this
    equipment they seem to have always had in all parts of the world. Mr.
    Parker has it. It enables him to get a favorable outlook out of
    statistics which might add up differently with other mathematicians. For

    "During the past few years competent observers declare that the number of
    pilgrims to Benares has increased."

    And then he adds up this fact and gets this conclusion:

    "But the revival, if so it may be called, has in it the marks of death.
    It is a spasmodic struggle before dissolution."

    In this world we have seen the Roman Catholic power dying, upon these
    same terms, for many centuries. Many a time we have gotten all ready for
    the funeral and found it postponed again, on account of the weather or
    something. Taught by experience, we ought not to put on our things for
    this Brahminical one till we see the procession move. Apparently one of
    the most uncertain things in the world is the funeral of a religion.

    I should have been glad to acquire some sort of idea of Hindoo theology,
    but the difficulties were too great, the matter was too intricate. Even
    the mere A, B, C of it is baffling.

    There is a trinity--Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu--independent powers,
    apparently, though one cannot feel quite sure of that, because in one of
    the temples there is an image where an attempt has been made to
    concentrate the three in one person. The three have other names and
    plenty of them, and this makes confusion in one's mind. The three have
    wives and the wives have several names, and this increases the confusion.
    There are children, the children have many names, and thus the confusion
    goes on and on. It is not worth while to try to get any grip upon the
    cloud of minor gods, there are too many of them.

    It is even a justifiable economy to leave Brahma, the chiefest god of
    all, out of your studies, for he seems to cut no great figure in India.
    The vast bulk of the national worship is lavished upon Shiva and Vishnu
    and their families. Shiva's symbol--the "lingam" with which Vishnu began
    the Creation--is worshiped by everybody, apparently. It is the commonest
    object in Benares. It is on view everywhere, it is garlanded with
    flowers, offerings are made to it, it suffers no neglect. Commonly it is
    an upright stone, shaped like a thimble-sometimes like an elongated
    thimble. This priapus-worship, then, is older than history. Mr. Parker
    says that the lingams in Benares "outnumber the inhabitants."

    In Benares there are many Mohammedan mosques. There are Hindoo temples
    without number--these quaintly shaped and elaborately sculptured little
    stone jugs crowd all the lanes. The Ganges itself and every individual
    drop of water in it are temples. Religion, then, is the business of
    Benares, just as gold-production is the business of Johannesburg. Other
    industries count for nothing as compared with the vast and all-absorbing
    rush and drive and boom of the town's specialty. Benares is the
    sacredest of sacred cities. The moment you step across the
    sharply-defined line which separates it from the rest of the globe, you
    stand upon ineffably and unspeakably holy ground. Mr. Parker says: "It
    is impossible to convey any adequate idea of the intense feelings of
    veneration and affection with which the pious Hindoo regards 'Holy Kashi'
    (Benares)." And then he gives you this vivid and moving picture:

    "Let a Hindoo regiment be marched through the district, and as soon
    as they cross the line and enter the limits of the holy place they
    rend the air with cries of 'Kashi ji ki jai--jai--jai! (Holy
    Kashi! Hail to thee! Hail! Hail! Hail)'. The weary pilgrim
    scarcely able to stand, with age and weakness, blinded by the dust
    and heat, and almost dead with fatigue, crawls out of the oven-like
    railway carriage and as soon as his feet touch the ground he lifts
    up his withered hands and utters the same pious exclamation. Let a
    European in some distant city in casual talk in the bazar mention
    the fact that he has lived at Benares, and at once voices will be
    raised to call down blessings on his head, for a dweller in Benares
    is of all men most blessed."

    It makes our own religious enthusiasm seem pale and cold. Inasmuch as
    the life of religion is in the heart, not the head, Mr. Parker's touching
    picture seems to promise a sort of indefinite postponement of that
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