HotFreeBooks.com
By-Ways of Bombay
by S. M. Edwardes, C.V.O.
1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

BY-WAYS OF BOMBAY.

BY

S. M. EDWARDES, C.V.O.



PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.

The various chapters of this book originally appeared under the nom-de-plume of "Etonensis" in the Times of India, to the proprietors of which journal I am indebted for permission to publish them in book-form, They cannot claim to be considered critical studies, but are merely a brief record of persons whom I have met and of things that I have seen during several years' service as a Government official in Bombay. In placing them before the public in their present form, I can only hope that they will be found of brief interest by those unacquainted with the inner life of the City of Bombay.

HEAD POLICE OFFICE,

BOMBAY, June 1912.

S. M. E.



PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.

The first edition of "By-ways of Bombay" having been sold out within a month, Messrs Taraporevala Sons and Co. have interested themselves in publishing the present edition which includes several illustrations by Mr. M. V. Dhurandhar and an additional article on the Tilak Riots which appeared in the Bombay Gazette in August, 1908. My acknowledgments are due to the Editor for permission to republish this article.

HEAD POLICE OFFICE,

BOMBAY. November, 1912.

S. M. EDWARDES.



CONTENTS

I. The Spirit of Chandrabai

II. Bombay Scenes

III. Shadows of Night

IV. The Birthplace of Shivaji

V. The Story of Imtiazan

VI. The Bombay Mohurrum

VII. The Possession of Afiza

VIII. A Kasumba Den

IX. The Ganesh Caves

X. A Bhandari Mystery

XI. Scenes in Bombay

XII. Citizens of Bombay

XIII. The Sidis of Bombay

XIV. A Konkan Legend

XV. Nur Jan

XVI. Governor and Koli

XVII. The Tribe Errant

XVIII. The Pandu-Lena Caves

XIX. Fateh Muhammad

XX. The Tilak Riots



ILLUSTRATIONS.

1. Spirit of Chandrabai

2. A Mill-hand

3. A Marwari selling Batasa

4. The seller of "Malpurwa Jaleibi"

5. A Koli woman

6. The "Pan" Seller

7. An Opium Club

8. A "Madak-khana"

9. Imtiazan

10. The Possession of Afiza

11. A Bhandari Mystery

12. An Arab

13. A Bombay Memon

14. Sidis of Bombay

15. The Parshurama and the Chitpavans

16. Nur Jan

17. A Koli

18. A Deccani Fruit-seller

19. The Coffee-seller

20. Fateh Muhammad



I.

THE SPIRIT OF CHANDRABAI.

A STUDY IN PROTECTIVE MAGIC.

Fear reigned in the house of Vishnu the fisherman: for, but a week before, his wife Chandra had died in giving birth to a child who survived his mother but a few hours, and during those seven days all the elders and the wise women of the community came one after another unto Vishnu and, impressing upon him the malignant influence of such untimely deaths, bade him for the sake of himself and his family do all in his power to lay the spirit of his dead wife. So on a certain night early in December Vishnu called all his caste-brethren into the room where Chandra had died, having first arranged there a brass salver containing a ball of flour loosely encased in thread, a miniature cot with the legs fashioned out of the berries of the "bhendi," and several small silver rings and bangles, a coral necklace and a quaint silver chain, which were destined to be hung in due season upon the wooden peg symbolical of his dead wife's spirit in the "devaghar," or gods' room, of his house. And he called thither also Rama the "Gondhali," master of occult ceremonies, Vishram, his disciple, and Krishna the "Bhagat" or medium, who is beloved of the ghosts of the departed and often bears their messages unto the living.

When all are assembled, the women of the community raise the brass salver and head a procession to the seashore, none being left in the dead woman's room save Krishna the medium who sits motionless in the centre thereof; and on the dry shingle the women place the salver and two brass "lotas" filled with milk and water, while the company ranges itself in a semi-circle around Rama the Gondhali, squatting directly in front of the platter. For a moment he sits wrapped in thought, and then commences a weird chant of invocation to the spirit of the dead woman, during which her relations in turn drop a copper coin into the salver. "Chandrabai," he wails "take this thy husband's gift of sorrow;" and as the company echoes his lament, Vishnu rises and drops his coin into the plate. Then her four brothers drop a coin apiece; her sister-in-law, whispering "It is for food" does likewise; also her mother with the words "choli patal" or "Tis a robe and bodice for thee";—and so on until all the relatives have cast down their offerings,—one promising a fair couch, another an umbrella, a third a pair of shoes, and little Moti, the dead woman's eldest child, "a pair of bangles for my mother," until in truth all the small luxuries that the dead woman may require in the life beyond have been granted. Meanwhile the strange invocation proceeds. All the dead ancestors of the family, who are represented by the quaint ghost-pegs in the gods' room of Vishnu's home, are solemnly addressed and besought to receive the dead woman in kindly fashion; and as each copper coin tinkles in the salver, Rama cries, "Receive this, Chandrabai, and hie thee to thy last resting-place."

When the last offering has been made, the women again raise the salver and the party fares back to Vishnu's house, where a rude shrine of Satvai (the Sixth Mother) has been prepared. "For," whispers our guide, "Chandrabai died without worshipping Satvai and her spirit must perforce fulfil those rites." Close to the shrine sits a midwife keeping guard over a new gauze cloth, a sari and a bodice, purchased for the spirit of Chandrabai; and on a plate close at hand are vermilion for her brow, antimony for her eyes, a nose-ring, a comb, bangles and sweetmeats, such as she liked during her life-time. When the shrine is reached, one of the brothers steps forward with a winnowing-fan, the edge of which is plastered with ghi and supports a lighted wick; and as he steps up to the shrine, the relations and friends of the deceased again press forward and place offerings of fruit and flowers in the fan. There he stands, holding the gifts towards the amorphous simulacrum of the primeval Mother, while Rama the hierophant beseeches her to send the spirit of the dead Chandrabai into the winnowing-fan.

And lo! on a sudden the ghostly flame on the lip of the fan dies out! The spirit of Chandrabai has come! Straightway Rama seizes the fan and followed by the rest dashes into the room where Krishna the medium is still sitting. Four or five men commence a wild refrain to the accompaniment of brazen cymbals, and Rama passes the winnowing-fan, containing the dead woman's spirit, over the head of the medium. "Let the spirit appear" shrieks Rama amid the clashing of the cymbals.

"Let the spirit appear" he cries, as he blows a cloud of incense into Krishna's face. The medium quivers like an aspen leaf; the dead woman's brothers crawl forward and lay their foreheads upon his feet; he shakes more violently as the spirit takes firmer hold upon him; and then with a wild shriek he rolls upon the ground and lies, rent with paroxysms, his face stretched upwards to the winnowing-fan. Louder and louder crash the cymbals; louder rises the chant. "Who art thou?" cries Rama. "I am Chandrabai," comes the answer. "Hast thou any wish unfulfilled?" asks the midwife. "Nay, all my wishes have been met," cries the spirit through the lips of the medium, "I am in very truth Chandrabai, who was, but am not now, of this world." As the last words die away the men dash forward, twist Krishna's hair into a knot behind, dress him, as he struggles, in the female attire which the midwife has been guarding, and place in his hand a wooden slab rudely carved into the semblance of a woman and child. "Away, away to the underworld" chant the singers; and at the command Krishna wrenches himself free from the men who are holding him and dashes out with a yell into the night.

Straight as an arrow he heads for the seashore, his hands clutching the air convulsively, his 'sari' streaming in the night-breeze; and behind, like hounds on the trail of the deer, come Rama, the brethren, the sisters, and rest of the community. Over the shingle they stream and down on to the hard wet sand. Some one digs a hole; another produces a black cock; and Rama with a knife cuts its throat over the hole, imploring the spirit's departure, at the very moment that Krishna with a final shriek plunges into the sea. They follow him, carry him out of danger, and lay him, stark and speechless, upon the margin of the waves.

Thence, after a pause and a final prayer, they bear him homeward, as men bear a corpse, nor leave him until he has regained consciousness and his very self. For with that last shrill cry the ghost of Chandrabai fled across the waste waters to meet the pale ancestral dead and dwell with them for evermore: and the house of Vishnu the fisherman was freed from the curse of her vagrant and unpropitiated spirit. "She has never troubled me since that day," says Vishnu; "but at times when I am out in my fishing-boat and the wind blows softly from the west, I hear her voice calling to me across the waters. And one day, if the gods are kind, I shall sail westward to meet her!"



* * * * *



II.

BOMBAY SCENES.

MORNING.

"Binishin bar sari juyo guzari umr bibin kin isharat zi jahani guzeran mara bas."

So wrote the great poet of Persia: "Sit thou on the bank of a stream and in the flow of its waters watch the passing of thy life. Than this a vain and fleeting world can grant thee no higher lesson." Of the human tides which roll through the streets of the cities of the world, none are brighter or more varied than that which fills the streets of Bombay. Here are Memon and Khoja women in shirt and trousers ("kurta" and "izzar") of green and gold or pink or yellow, with dark blue sheets used as veils, wandering along with their children dressed in all the hues of the rainbow. Here are sleek Hindus from northern India in soft muslin and neat coloured turbans: Gujarathis in red head-gear and close-fitting white garments; Cutchi sea-farers, descendants of the pirates of dead centuries, with clear-cut bronzed features that show a lingering strain of Med or Jat, clad in white turbans, tight jackets, and waist cloths girded tightly over trousers that button at the ankle. There, mark you, are many Bombay Mahomedans of the lower class with their long white shirts, white trousers and skull-caps of silk or brocade: there too is every type of European from the almost albino Finn to the swarthy Italian,—sailors most of them, accompanied by a few Bombay roughs as land-pilots; petty officers of merchant ships, in black or blue dress, making up a small private cargo of Indian goods with the help of a Native broker; English sailors of the Royal Navy; English soldiers in khaki; Arabs from Syria and the valley of the Euphrates; half-Arab, half-Persian traders from the Gulf, in Arab or old Persian costumes and black turbans with a red border. Here again comes a Persian of the old school with arched embroidered turban of white silk, white "aba" or undercoat reaching to the ankles, open grey "shaya," and soft yellow leather shoes; and he is followed by Persians of the modern school in small stiff black hats, dark coats drawn in at the waist, and English trousers and boots. After them come tall Afghans, their hair well-oiled, in the baggiest of trousers; Makranis dressed like Afghans but distinguished by their sharper nose and more closely-set eyes; Sindis in many-buttoned waistcoats; Negroes from Africa clad in striped waist cloths, creeping slowly through the streets and pausing in wonder at every new sight; Negroes in the Bombay Mahomedan dress and red fez; Chinese with pig-tails: Japanese in the latest European attire; Malays in English jackets and loose turbans; Bukharans in tall sheep skin caps and woollen gabardines, begging their way from Mecca to to their Central Asian homes, singing hymns in honour of the Prophet, or showing plans of the Ka'aba or of the shrine of the saint of saints, Maulana Abdul Kadir Gilani, at Baghdad.



The ebb and flow of life remains much the same from day to day. The earliest street sound, before the dawn breaks, is the rattle of the trams, the meat-carts on their way to the markets, the dust-carts and the watering-carts; and then, just as the grey thread of the dawn fringes the horizon, the hymn of the Fakir rings forth, praising the open-handed Ali and imploring the charity of the early-riser who knows full well that a copper bestowed unseen during the morning watch is worth far more than silver bestowed in the sight of men. On a sudden while the penurious widows and broken respectables are yet prosecuting their rounds of begging, the great cry "Allaho Akbar" breaks from the mosques and the Faithful troop forth from their homes to prayer—prayer which is better than sleep. More commonplace sounds now fill the air, the hoarse "Batasaa, Batasaa" of the fat Marwari with the cakes, the "Lo phote, lo phote" (Buy my cocoa-cakes) of a little old Malabari woman, dressed in a red "lungi" and white cotton jacket, and the cry of the "bajri" and "chaval" seller, clad simply in a coarse "dhoti" and second-hand skull-cap, purchased at the nearest rag-shop. And as he passes, bending under the weight of his sacks, you catch the chink of the little empty coffee-cups without handles, which the itinerant Arab is soon to fill for his patrons from the portable coffee-pot in his left hand, or the tremulous "malpurwa jaleibi" of the lean Hindu from Kathiawar who caters for the early breakfast of the millhand. Mark him as he pauses to oblige a customer; mark his oil-stained shirt, and loose turban, once white but now deep-brown from continual contact with the bottom of his tray of oil-fried sweetmeats: watch him as he worships with clasped hands the first coin that has fallen to his share this morning, calling it his "Boni" or lucky handsel and striking it twice or thrice against the edge of his tray to ward off the fiend of "No Custom." But hark! the children have heard of his arrival; a shrill cry of "Come in, jaleibiwala" forces him to drop the first coin into his empty pocket; and with silent steps he disappears down the dark passage of the neighbouring chal.



Now, as the Faithful wend their way homewards, bands of cheerful millhands hasten past you to the mills, and are followed by files of Koli fisherfolk,—the men unclad and red-hatted, with heavy creels, the women tight-girt and flower-decked, bearing their headloads of shining fish at a trot towards the markets. The houses disgorge a continuous stream of people, bound upon their daily visit to the market, both men and women carrying baskets of palm-leaf matting for their purchases; and a little later the verandahs, "otlas," and the streets are crowded with Arabs, Persians, and north-country Indians, seated in groups to sip their coffee or sherbet and smoke the Persian or Indian pipe. Baluchis and Makranis wander into the ghi and flour shops and purchase sufficient to hand over to the baker, who daily prepares their bread for them; the "panseller" sings the virtue of his wares in front of the cook-shop; the hawkers—the Daudi Bohra of "zari purana" fame, the Kathiawar Memon, the Persian "pashmak- seller" crying "Phul mitai" (flower sweets), start forth upon their daily pilgrimage; while in the centre of the thoroughfare the "reckla," the landau, the victoria and the shigram bear their owners towards the business quarters of the city. "Mera churan mazedar uso khate hain, sirdar," and past you move a couple of drug-sellers, offering a word of morning welcome to their friend the Attar (perfumer) from the Deccan; while above your head the balconies are gradually filling with the mothers and children of the city, playing, working, talking and watching the human panorama unfold before their eyes.



So the morning passes into mid-day, amid a hundred sounds symbolical of the various phases of life in the Western capital,—the shout of the driver, the twang of the cotton-cleaner, the warning call of the anxious mother, the rattle of the showman's drum, the yell of the devotee, the curse of the cartman, the clang of the coppersmith, the chaffering of buyer and seller and the wail of the mourner. And above all the roar of life broods the echo of the call to prayer in honour of Allah, the All-Powerful and All-Pitiful, the Giver of Life and Giver of Death.

* * * * *

EVENING.



As the sun sinks low in the west, a stream of worshippers flows through the mosque-gates—rich black-coated Persian merchants, picturesque full-bearded Moulvis, smart sepoys from Hindustan, gold-turbaned shrewd-eyed Memon traders, ruddy Jats from Multan, high-cheeked Sidis, heavily dressed Bukharans, Arabs, Afghans and pallid embroiderers from Surat, who grudge the half-hour stolen from the daylight. At the main entrance of the mosques gather groups of men and women with sick children in their arms, waiting until the prayers are over and the worshippers file out; for the prayer-laden breath of the truly devout is powerful to exorcise the demons of disease, and the child over whom the breath of the worshipper has passed has fairer surety of recovery than can be gained from all the nostrums and charms of the Syed and Hakim. Just before and after sunset the streets wear their busiest air. Here are millhands and other labourers returning from their daily labours, merchants faring home from their offices, beggars, hawkers, fruit-sellers and sweetmeat-vendors, while crowds enter the cookshops and sherbet shops, and groups of Arabs and others settle themselves for recreation on the threshold of the coffee-sellers' domain.

There in a quiet backwater of traffic a small crowd gathers round a shabbily-dressed Panjabi, who, producing a roll of pink papers and waving them before his audience, describes them as the Prayer-treasure of the Heavenly Throne ("Duai Ganjul Arsh"), Allah's greatest gift to the Prophet. "The Prophet and his children," he continues, "treasured this prayer; for before it fled the evil spirits of possession, disease and difficulty. Nor hath its virtue faded in these later days. In Saharanpur, hark ye, dwelt a woman, rich, prosperous and childless, and unto her I gave this prayer telling her to soak it in water once a month and drink thereafter. And lo! in two months by the favour of Allah she conceived, and my fame was spread abroad among men. The troubles of others also have I lightened with this prayer,—even a woman possessed by a Jinn, under whose face I burned the prayer, so that the evil spirit fled." He asks from two to four annas for the prayer sheet and finds many a purchaser in the crowd; and now and again he rolls the sheet into a thin tube and ties it round the neck of a sick child or round the arm of a sick woman, whom faith in Allah urges into the presence of the peripathetic healer. "Oh, ye lovers of the beauties of the Prophet," he cries, "Faith is the greatest of cures. Have faith and ye have all! Know ye not that Allah bade the Prophet never pray for them that lacked faith nor pray over the graves of those of little faith!"

Hark, through the hum of the crowd, above the rumble of wheels and the jangle of bullock-bells, rises the plaintive chant of the Arab hymn-singers, leading the corpse of a brother to the last "mukam" or resting-place; while but a short distance away,—only a narrow street's length,—the drum and flageolets escort the stalwart young Memon bridegroom unto the house of the bride. Thus is it ever in this city of strange contrasts. Life and Death in closest juxtaposition, the hymn in honour of the Prophet's birth blending with the elegy to the dead. Bag-pipes are not unknown in the Musalman quarters of Bombay; and not infrequently you may watch a crescent of ten or twelve wild Arab sailors in flowing brown gowns and parti-coloured head-scarves treading a measure to the rhythm of the bagpipes blown by a younger member of their crew. The words of the tune are the old words "La illaha illallah," set to an air endeared from centuries past to the desert-roving Bedawin, and long after distance has dulled the tread of the dancing feet the plaintive notes of the refrain reach you upon the night breeze. About midnight the silent streets are filled with the long-drawn cry of the shampooer or barber, who by kneading and patting the muscles induces sleep for the modest sum of 4 annas; and barely has his voice died away than the Muezzin's call to prayer falls on the ear of the sleeper, arouses in his heart thoughts of the past glory of his Faith, and forces him from his couch to wash and bend in prayer before Him "Who fainteth not, Whom neither sleep nor fatigue overtaketh."

During the hot months of the year the closeness of the rooms and the attacks of mosquitoes force many a respectable householder to shoulder his bedding and join the great army of street-sleepers, who crowd the footpaths and open spaces like shrouded corpses. All sorts and conditions of men thus take their night's rest beneath the moon,—Rangaris, Kasais, bakers, beggars, wanderers, and artisans,—the householder taking up a small position on the flags near his house, the younger and unmarried men wandering further afield to the nearest open space, but all lying with their head towards the north for fear of the anger of the Kutb or Pole star.

"Kibla muaf karta hai, par Kutb hargiz nahin!" The Kibla forgives, but the Kutb never!

The sights and sounds vary somewhat at different seasons of the year. During Ramazan, for example, the streets are lined with booths and stalls for the sale of the rice-gruel or "Faludah" which is so grateful a posset to the famishing Faithful, hurrying dinnerless to the nearest mosque. When the evening prayer is over and the first meal has been taken, the coffee-shops are filled with smokers, the verandahs with men playing 'chausar' or drafts, while the air is filled with the cries of iced drink sellers and of beggars longing to break their fast also. Then about 8 p.m., as the hour of the special Ramazan or "Tarawih" prayer draws nigh, the mosque beadle, followed by a body of shrill-voiced boys, makes his round of the streets, crying "Namaz tayar hai, cha-lo-o," and all the dwellers in the Musalman quarter hie them to the house of prayer.

It is in the comparative quiet of the streets by night that one hears more distinctly the sounds in the houses. Here rises the bright note of the "shadi" or luck songs with which during the livelong night the women of the house dispel the evil influences that gather around a birth, a circumcision or a "bismillah" ceremony. There one catches the passionate outcry of the husband vainly trying to pierce the deaf ear of death. For life in the city has hardened the hearts of the Faithful, and has led them to forget the kindly injunction of the Prophet, still observed in small towns or villages up-country:—"Neither shall the merry songs of birth or of marriage deepen the sorrow of a bereaved brother." The last sound that reaches you as you turn homewards, is the appeal of the "Sawale" or begging Fakir for a hundred rupees to help him on his pilgrimage. All night long he tramps through the darkness, stopping every twenty or thirty paces to deliver his sonorous prayer for help, nor ceases until the Muezzin voices the summons to morning prayer. He is the last person you see, this strange and portionless Darwesh of the Shadows, and long after he has passed from your sight, you hear his monotonous cry:—"Hazrat Shah Ali, Kalandar Hazrat Zar Zari zar Baksh, Hazrat Shah Gisu Daroz Khwajah Bande Nawaz Hazrat Lal Shahbaz ke nam sau rupai Hajjul Beit ka kharch dilwao!" He has elevated begging to a fine art, and the Twelve Imams guard him from disappointment.



III.

SHADOWS OF NIGHT.

There are certain clubs in the city where a man may purchase nightly oblivion for the modest sum of two or three annas; and hither come regularly, like homing pigeons at nightfall, the human flotsam and jetsam, which the tide of urban life now tosses into sight for a brief moment and now submerges within her bosom. Halt in that squalid lane which looks out upon the traffic of one of the most crowded thoroughfares and listen, if you will, for some sign of life in the dark, ungarnished house which towers above you. All is hushed in silence; no voice, no cry from within reaches the ear; the chal must be tenanted only by the shadows. Not so! At the far end of a passage, into which the sullage water drips, forming ill-smelling pools, a greasy curtain is suddenly lifted for a minute, disclosing several flickering lights girt about with what in the distance appear to be amorphous blocks of wood or washerman's bundles. Grope your way down the passage, push aside the curtain with your stick—it is far too foul to touch with the hand—and the mystery is made plain. The room with its tightly-closed shutters and smoke-blackened walls is filled with recumbent men, in various stages of deshabille, all sunk in the sleep which the bamboo-pipe and the little black pellets of opium ensure. The room is not a large one, for the habitual smoker prefers a small apartment, in which the fumes of the drug hang about easily; and its reeking walls are unadorned save with a chromo plan of the chief buildings at Mecca, a crude portrait of a Hindu goddess, and oleographs of British royalty. It were all the same if these were absent; for the opium-smoker comes not hither to see pictures, save those which the drugged brain fashions, and cares not for distinctions of race, creed or sovereignty. The proprietor of the club may be a Musalman; his patrons may be Hindus, Christians or Chinese; and the dreams which riot across the semi-consciousness of the latter are not concerned as a rule with heroes of either the spiritual or temporal kind.



The smokers lie all over the room in groups of four or five, each of whom is provided with a little wooden head-rest and lies curled up like a tired dog with his face towards the lamp in the centre of the group. In his hand is the bamboo-stemmed pipe, the bowl of which reminds one of the cheap china ink-bottles used in native offices, and close by lies the long thin needle which from time to time he dips in the saucer of opium-juice and holds in the flame until the juice frizzles into a tiny pellet fit for insertion in the bowl of the pipe. The room is heavy with vapour that clutches at the throat, for every cranny and interstice is covered with fragments of old sacking defying the passage of the night air. As you turn towards the door, a fat Mughal rises slowly from the ground and makes obeisance, saying that he is the proprietor. "Your club seems to pay, shet-ji! Is it always as well patronised as it is this evening?" "Aye, always," comes the sleepy answer, "for my opium is good, the daily subscription but small; and there be many whom trouble and sorrow have taught the road to peace. They come hither daily about sundown and dream till day-break, and again set forth upon their day's work. But they return, they always return until Sonapur claims them. They are of all kinds, my customers. There, mark you, is a Sikh embroiderer from Lahore; here is a Mahomedan fitter from the railway work-shops; this one keeps a tea shop in the Nall Bazaar, that one is a pedlar; and him you see smiling in his sleep, he is a seaman just arrived from a long voyage."

You hazard the question whether any of the customers ever die in this paradise of smoke-begotten dreams; and the answer comes: "Not often; for they that smoke opium are immune from plague and other sudden diseases. But the parrot which you see in the cage overhead was left to me by one who died just where the saheb now stands. He was a merchant of some status and used to travel to Singapore and South Africa before he came here. But once, after a longer journey than usual, he returned to find that his only son had died of the plague and that his wife had forgotten him for another. Therefore he cast aside his business and came hither in quest of forgetfulness. Here he daily smoked until his money was well-nigh spent, and then one night he died quietly, leaving me the parrot." You peer up through the fumes and discern one bright black eye fixed upon you half in anger, half in inquiry. The bird's plumage is soiled and smoke-darkened; but the eye is clear, wickedly clear, suggesting that its owner is the one creature in this languid atmosphere that never sleeps. What stories it could tell, if it could but speak-stories of sorrow, stories of evil, tales of the little kindnesses which the freemasonry of the opium-club teaches men to do unto one another. But, as if it shunned inquiry, it retreats to the back of its perch and drops a film over its eye, just as the smoke-film shutters in the consciousness of those over whom it mounts guard.

Further down the indescribable passage is a similar room, the occupants of which are engaged in a novel game. Two men squat against the wall on either side, surrounded by their adherents, each holding between his knees a long-stemmed pipe built somewhat on the German fashion. Into the bowls they push at intervals a round ball of lighted opium or some other drug, and then after a long pull blow with all the force of their lungs down the stem, so that the lighted ball leaps forth in the direction of the adversary. The game is to make seven points by hitting the adversary as many times, and he who wins receives the exiguous stakes for which they play. "What do you call this game," you ask; and an obvious Sidi in the corner replies:—"This Russian and Japanese war, Sar; Japanese winning!" The game moves very slowly, for both the players and onlookers are in a condition of semi-coma, but the interest which they take in an occasional coup is by no means feigned, and is perhaps natural to people whose daily lives are fraught with little joy. Round the corner lies a third room or club, likewise filled with starved and sleepy humanity. Near the door squats a figure without arms, who can scratch his head with his toes without altering his position, "What do you do for a living, Baba?" you ask; "I beg, saheb. I beg from sunrise until noon, wandering about the streets and past the "pedhis" of the rich merchants, and with luck I obtain six or eight annas. That gives me the one meal I need, for I am a small man; and the balance I spend in the club, where I may smoke and lie at peace. No, I am not a Maratha; I am a Panchkalshi; but I reck nothing of caste now. That belongs to the past."

A light chuckle behind you, as the last words are spoken, brings you sharp round on your heels; and you discern huddled in the semi-darkness of the corner what appears in the miserable light of the cocoanut oil lamp to be a Goanese boy. There are the short gray knickers and the thin white shirt affected by the Native Christian boy; there is the short black hair; but the skin is white, unusually white for a native of Goa, and there is something curious about the face which prompts you to ask the owner who he is and whence he comes. The only reply is a vacant but not unpleasant smile; and the armless wastrel then volunteers the information that the child—for she is little more—is not a boy but a girl. Merciful Heaven! How comes she here amid this refuse of humanity? "She is an orphan," says the armless one, "and she is half-mad. Her parents died when she was very young, and her mind became somehow weak. There was none to take charge of her; so we of the opium-club brought her here, and in return for our support she runs errands for us and prepares the room for the nightly conclave. She is a Mahomedan." You look again at the dark-eyed child smiling in the corner and you wonder what horror, what ill-treatment or what grief brought her to this pass. Peradventure it is a mercy that her mind has gone and cannot therefore revolt against the squalor of her surroundings. It is useless to ask her of herself; she can only smile in her scanty boyish garb. It is the saddest sight in this valley of the abyss, where men purchase draughts of nepenthe to fortify themselves against the cares that the day brings. The opium-club kills religion, kills nationality. In this case it has killed sex also!



IV.

THE BIRTHPLACE OF SHIVAJI.

About half a mile westward of the town of Junnar there rises from the plain a colossal hill, the lower portion whereof consists of steep slopes covered with rough grass and a few trees, and the upper part of two nearly perpendicular tiers of scarped rock, surmounted by an undulating and triangular-shaped summit. The upper tier commences at a height of six hundred feet from the level of the plain and, rising another 200 feet, extends dark and repellant round the entire circumference of the hill. Viewed from the outskirts of the town, the upper scarp, which runs straight to a point in the north, bears the strongest similarity to the side of a huge battleship, riding over billows long since petrified and grass grown: and the similarity is accentuated by the presence in both scarps of a line of small Buddhist cells, the apertures of which are visible at a considerable distance and appear like the portholes or gun-ports of the fossilised vessel. Unless one has a predilection for pushing one's way through a perpendicular jungle or crawling over jagged and sunbaked rock, the only way to ascend the hill is from the south-western side, from the upper portion of which still frown the outworks and bastioned walls which once rendered the fortress impregnable. The road from the town of Junnar is in tolerable repair and leads you across a stream, past the ruined mud walls of an old fortified enclosure, and past the camping-ground of the Twelve Wells, until you reach a group of trees overshadowing the ruined tombs of a former captain of the fort and other Musulmans. The grave of the Killedar is still in fair condition; but the walls which enclose it are sorely dilapidated, and the wild thorn and prickly pear, creeping unchecked through the interstices, have run riot over the whole enclosure.

At this point one must leave the main road, which runs forward to the crest of the Pirpadi Pass, and after crossing a level stretch of rock, set one's steps upon the pathway which, flanked on one side by the lofty rock-bastions of the hill and on the other by the rolling slopes, leads upwards to the First Gate. At your feet lies the deserted and ruined village of Bhatkala, which once supplied the Musulman garrison with food and other necessaries, and is now but a memory; and above your head the wall and outwork of the Phatak Tower mark the vicinity of the shrine of Shivabai, the family goddess of the founder of the Maratha Empire. The pathway yields place to a steep and roughly-paved ascent, girt with dense clumps of prickly pear, extending as far as the first gateway of the fortress. There are in all seven great gateways guarding the approach to the hill-top, of which the first already mentioned, the second or "Parvangicha Darvaja," the fourth or Saint's gate, and the fifth or Shivabai gate are perhaps more interesting than the rest. One wonders why there should be seven gateways, no more and no less. Was it merely an accident or the physical formation of the hill-side which led to the choice of this number? Or was it perhaps a memory of the mysterious power of the number seven exemplified in both Hebrew and Hindu writings, which induced the Musulman to build that number of entrances to his hill-citadel? The coincidence merits passing thought. The second gateway originally bore on either side, at the level of the point of its arch, a mystic tiger, carved on the face of a stone slab, holding in its right forepaw some animal, which the Gazetteer declares is an elephant but which more closely resembles a dog. The tiger on the left of the arch alone abides in its place; the other lies on the ground at the threshold of the gate. Local wiseacres believe the tiger to have been the crest of the Killedar who built the gate and to have signified to the public of those lawless days much the same as the famous escutcheon in "Marmion," with its legend, "who laughs at me to Death is dight!"

The Saint's gate, so called from the tomb of a "Pir" hidden in the surrounding growth of prickly pear, is the largest of all the gates and is formed of splendid slabs of dressed stone, each about 8 feet in length. On either side of the gateway are rectangular recesses, which were doubtless used as dwellings or guardrooms by the soldiers in charge of the gate. Thence the pathway divides; one track, intended for cavalry, leading round to the north-western side of the hill, and the other for foot-passengers, composed of rock-hewn steps and passing directly upwards to the Shivabai gate, where still hangs the great teak-door, studded with iron spikes, against which the mad elephants of an opposing force might fruitlessly hurl their titanic bulk.

Leaving for a moment the direct path, which climbs to the crest of the hill past the Buddhist caves and cisterns, we walk along a dainty terrace lined with champak and sandalwood trees and passing under a carved stone gateway halt before the shrine dedicated to Shivaji's family goddess. The dark inner shrine must have once been a Buddhist cave, carved out of the wall of rock; and to it later generations added the outer hall, with its carved pillars of teakwood, which hangs over the very edge of a precipitous descent. Repairs to the shrine are at present in progress; and on the day of our visit two bullocks were tethered in the outer chamber, the materials of the stone-mason were lying here and there among the carved pillars, and a painfully modern stone wall is rising in face of the austere threshold of the inner sanctuary. The lintel of the shrine is surmounted with inferior coloured pictures of Hindu deities, and two printed and tolerably faithful portraits of the great Maratha chieftain. "Thence," in the words of the poet, "we turned and slowly clomb the last hard footstep of that iron crag," and traversing the seventh and last gate reached the ruined Ambarkhana or Elephant-stable on the hill top. It is a picture of great desolation which meets the eye. The fragment of a wall or plinth, covered with rank creepers, an archway of which the stones are sagging into final disruption, and many a tumulus of coarse brown grass are all that remain of the wide buildings which once surrounded the Ambarkhana. The latter, gray and time-scarred, still rears on high its double row of arched vaults; but Vandalism, in the guise of the local shepherd and grass-cutter, has claimed it as her own and has bricked up in the rudest fashion, for the shelter of goats and kine, the pointed stone arches which were once its pride.

Another noteworthy feature of the summit of the hill is a collection of stone cisterns of varying ages, still containing water. The smaller open cisterns, in which the water is thick and covered with slime, are of Musalman origin, but there are one or two in other parts of the hill which clearly date from Buddhist ages and are coeval with the rock-cells. The most important and interesting of all are four large reservoirs, supported on massive pillars and hewn out of the side of the hill, which date from about 1100 A.D., and were in all probability built by the Yadav dynasty of Deogiri. One of them known as Ganga and Jamna is full of clear cool water which, the people say, is excellent for drinking. Here again the hand of the vandal has not been idle; for such names as Gopal, Ramchandra, etc., are scrawled in English characters over the face of the chief reservoir— the holiday work no doubt of school-boys from Junnar. The presence of these four reservoirs, coupled with other disappearing clues, proves that between the Buddhist era and the date of the Musulman conquest, the hill must have been fortified and held by Hindu chieftains, probably the Yadavas already mentioned. The purely Musulman remains include the Ambarkhana, a prayer-wall or Idga, the skeleton of a mosque, with a delicate flying arch, and a domed tomb. In front of the prayer wall still stands the stone pulpit from which the moulvis of the fortress preached and intoned the daily prayers; but neither the prayer-wall nor the mosque have withstood the attacks of time as bravely as the tomb. For here scarce a stone has become displaced, and the four pointed arches which rise upwards to the circular dome are as unblemished as on the day when the builder gazed upon his finished work and found it good. The Gazetteer speaks of it as a man's tomb; but the flat burial-slab within the arches points to it being a woman's grave; and local tradition declares that it is the body of the mother of one Daulat Khan which lies here. Had those she left behind sought to bring peace to her dust, they could have chosen no more fitting site for her entombment. For each face of the grave commands a wide prospect of mountain and valley, the massive hills rising tier after tier in the distance until they are but faint shadows on the horizon; the intense solitude peculiar to mountain-country is broken but fitfully by the wild-dove's lamentation; and even when the sun in mid-heaven beats down fiercely upon the grassy barrows of the hill top, the breeze blows chill through the open arches and the dome casts a deep shadow over all.

At a little distance from the flying-arch mosque are two rooms built of stone, in one of which according to our Muhammadan guide Shivaji was born. Whether it was actually upon the rough walls of this small chamber that Shivaji's eyes first rested is open to considerable doubt, and probably they are but a small portion of a once spacious mansion which covered the surrounding area, now relic-strewn and desolate, and in which the family of the chieftain resided. These crumbling halls, the shrine of Shivabai, and the outwork at the extreme north point of the hill are the only remains directly connected with Maratha supremacy. The out-work which overhangs the sheer northern scarp performed the same function as the famous Tarpeian Rock of old Rome. Thence the malefactor of Maratha days was hurled down to swift death; and history records one instance of seven outlaws being cast "unrespited, unpitied, unreprieved" into space from this inaccessible eyrie by an officer of the Peshwa. Viewed from this point the whole plain seems a vast brown sea streaked here and there with green: and the smaller hills rise like islands from it, their feet folded in the mist which creeps across the levels. To the north beyond the larger ranges which encircle the valley the peak of Harischandragad is dimly visible, towering above the Sahyadris; and across the plain to eastward the Suleman range ends in the huge rounded shoulders of the Ganesh Lena spur.

Shivner has known many changes. It gave shelter to the Buddhist in the first and second centuries of the Christian era; It was excavated and fortified by early Hindu Kings who in turn yielded place to the "imperial banditti," and they held it until the English came and cried a truce to the old fierce wars. And all these have left traces of their sovereignty amid the rocks, the grass and the rank weeds of the hill. It is a living illustration of the words of the poet:—

"Think, in this batter'd Caravanserai Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day, How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp. Abode his destined Hour and went his way."



V.

THE STORY OF IMTIAZAN.

The scene of her earliest memories was a small room with spotless floor-cloth, the windows whereof looked out upon the foliage of "ber" and tamarind. During the day a black-bearded man would recline upon the cushions, idly fondling her and calling her "Piyari" ( dearest); and at night a pretty young woman would place her in a brightly-painted "jhula" (swinging-cot) and sing her to sleep. Then the scene changes. He of the black beard is away, and the form of the beloved lies stark beneath a white sheet while mysterious women folk go to and fro within the house. A kindly-faced old man, who in earlier days had helped her build little dust-heaps beneath the trees, takes her from the warm cot and hands her over to a woman of stern face and rasping tongue, with whom she dwells disconsolate until one fateful day she finds herself alone in a market-place, weeping the passionate tears of the waif and orphan. But deliverance is at hand.

The sight of the weeping child touches a chord in the heart of Gowhar Jan, the famous dancing girl of Lahore. She takes the orphan home, christens her Imtiazan, and does her best to blunt the evil memories of her desertion.

Gowhar Jan did her duty by the child according to her lights. She engaged the best "Gawayyas" to teach her music, the best "Kath-thaks" to teach her dancing, the best "Ustads" to teach her elocution and deportment, and the best of Munshis to ground her in Urdu and Persian belles lettres; so that when Imtiazan reached her fifteenth year her accomplishments were noised abroad in the bazaar. Beautiful too she was, with the fair complexion of the border-races, slightly aquiline nose, large dark eyes and raven hair, the latter unadorned and drawn simply back in accordance with the custom of her mother's people which forbids the unmarried girl to part her hair or deck it with flowers. Her Indo-Punjabi dress, the loose many-folded trousers, the white bodice and the silver-bordered scarf of rose pink—but added to her charm. Yet was Gowhar Jan troubled at heart, for the girl was in her eyes too modest, too retiring, and cared not at all whether her songs and dances found favour with the rich landholders, Sikh Sardars and the sons of Babu millionaires, who crowded to Gowhar Jan's house. "Alas," sighed Gowhar Jan, "she will never be like Chanda Malika, gay, witty and famous for generations; her education has been wasted, and her name will die!" But Imtiazan only pouted and answered; "I care not to throw good saffron before asses!"



Then Fate cast the die. Her Munshi one day brought to the house a Musulman, dressed in the modern attire of young India, who had acquired such skill in playing the "Sitar", that he was able straightway and without mistake to accompany Imtiazan's most difficult songs. Thereafter he came often to the house and gradually played himself into the affection of the young girl, who after some hesitation consented to marry him and elope with him to a distant city. Thus Imtiazan left the house of her girlhood and fled with her husband to Bombay. Money they had not, where-fore Imtiazan, not without a pang, sold her necklace of gold beads and bravely started house-keeping in the one small room they chose as their home, while he went forth to seek employment worthy of his degree at the Calcutta University and of his Rohilla ancestry But alas! work came not to his hands: and as the money slowly dwindled, he grew morose and irritable and often made her weep silently as she sat stitching the embroidery designed to provide the daily meal. She knew full well that vain pride baulked his employment; and after many a struggle she prevailed upon him to become a letter-writer. "An undergraduate, who has read Herbert Spencer, Comte and Voltaire," said he, "cannot demean himself to letter-writing for the public," to which she justly replied that an education which prevents a man earning his daily bread must be worthless.

So in due course he installed himself with an ill grace upon the footpath of Bhendi Bazaar with portfolio and inkhorn, writing letters for uneducated Musulmans, petitions for candidates and English accounts for butlers. And the more he wrote the more convinced he became that he was sacrificing himself for a woman who could not realize the measure of his fall. Thus for a time matters remained—little Imtiazan wearing her delicate fingers out at home, he plying his pen in the street, until one day a dancing-girl from Lucknow called him to her house to write an important missive on her behalf. This chance acquaintance ripened into a friendship that boded no good for Imtiazan: for within a month, amid specious statements of lucrative employment and fair promises of future well-being, he bade her prepare to leave the small room and accompany him to a larger house, fronting a main thoroughfare, which, said he, would henceforth be their home. The sight of the unscreened windows of her new home struck a chill into Imtiazan's heart; and when the door opened and she was met by three elderly Muhammadans who saluted her as their "Bai-Saheb," fear took possession of her soul. The thin red cases hanging on the wall told her that the men were musicians; and in response to the mute appeal in her eyes her husband bade her with almost brutal candour prepare to adopt her old profession of dancing and singing in order to save him from the hateful duties of a public letter-writer.

For two days Imtiazan tended by the musicians and their wives was a prey to the blackest despair, and then deeming it useless to protest, she set herself courageously to do her husband's bidding and to dance as she had danced in the house of Gowhar Jan. But she little knew the true depths of her husband's selfishness. "Money comes not fast enough" was his perpetual cry and he urged her, at first gently but with ever-increasing vehemence, to sink still lower. The memory of the past and who knows what higher instinct helped her to withstand his sordid demands for many days; but at length, realizing that this was kismet and tired of the perpetual upbraiding, she consented to do his bidding. So for three weary years the waters closed over Imtiazan. One day she awoke to find that her husband had crowned his villainy by decamping with her valuables and all her savings. She followed and found him, and, pressing into his hand a little extra money that he had in his hurry overlooked, she bade him a bitter farewell for ever. She rested a day or two to get herself properly divorced from him, and then returned alone to the hated life in Bombay.

There Fortune smiled upon her and wealth poured into her lap. Two years later by dint of careful inquiry she discovered that the stern-faced woman who had abandoned her in the Lahore market was her uncle's wife, now widowed and in poverty; and to her she of her bounty gave a pension. For Imtiazan, though she never forgot, could always forgive and had never lost the sense of her duty to relations. She also provided for the old man who had helped her when a child to build the dust-castles beneath the trees of her old home; and then, while still young and with enough money left to keep herself in comparative affluence, she turned her back for ever upon the profession which she loathed and devoted the rest of her life to the careful rearing of an orphan girl, whom the desire for a child of her own and the memories of her own youth urged her to adopt. When she died, the child who had grown up and under her guidance had married a respectable merchant, mourned for her as one mourns for those who have lovingly shielded our infancy and youth; and many of the neighbours were sincerely grieved that Imtiazan had departed for ever.

Such is the life-history of Imtiazan, one of the most famous dancing-girls Bombay has ever known—a history that lacks not pathos. After her final renunciation of the profession of singing and dancing she might have remarried and in fact received more than one offer from men who were attracted by her kindliness of heart and by her beauty. But she declined them all with the words "Marriage is not my kismet," which is but the Indian equivalent of "My faith hath departed and my heart is broken." Surely the earth lies very lightly upon Imtiazan.



VI.

THE BOMBAY MOHURRUM.

STRAY SCENES.

The luxury of grief seems common to mankind all the world over, and the mourning of the Mohurrum finds its counterpart in the old lamentation for the slain Adonis, the emotional tale of Sohrab's death at the hand of his sire Rustom, and the long-drawn sorrow of the Christian Passion. The Persian inclination towards the emotional side of human nature was not slow to discover amid the early martyrs of the Faith one figure whose pathetic end was powerful to awaken every chord of human pity. The picture of the women and children of high lineage deceived, deserted and tortured with thirst, of the child's arms lopped at the wrist even at the moment they were stretched forth for the blessing of the Imam, of the noblest chief of Islam betrayed and choosing death to dishonour, of his last lonely onset, his death and mutilation at the hand of a former friend and fellow-champion of the faith,—this picture indeed appealed and still appeals, as no other can, to the hidden depths of the Persian heart. The Sunni may object to the choice of Hasan and Husain as the martyrs most worthy of lamentation, putting forward in their stead Omar, companion of the Prophet himself, who lingered for three days in the agony of death, or Othman, the third Khalifa, who died of thirst, or "the Lion of God," whose life came to so disastrous a close. But the Shia, while admitting that the death of the first martyrs may have wrought severer loss to Islam, cannot admit that their end surpasses in pathos the tale of the bitter tenth of Mohurrum when the stars quivered in a bloodied sky and the very walls of the palace of Kufa rained tears of blood as the head of the Martyr was borne before them. He cannot also approve the Sunni practice of converting a season of mourning into one of revelry and brawl, for he does not realize the influence of the local Hindu element upon the Mohurrum and cannot comprehend that the Indian additions to the festival have their roots in the deep soil of Hindu spirit-belief. For to the Hindu, and to the Sunni Mahomedan who has borrowed somewhat from him, all seasons of death and mourning act as a lode-stone to the unhoused and naked spirits who are ever wandering through the silent spaces of the East. Some of these spirits we can appease or coax into becoming guardian-angels by housing them in handsome cenotaphs; others we can lodge in the horse-shoe or in that great spirit-house, the tiger, letting them sport for a day or two in the bodies of our men and youths, who are adorned with yellow stripes symbolical of their role; while other more malevolent spirits can only be driven away by shouting, buffeting and drumming, such as characterize the Mohurrum season in Bombay. The Indian element of nervous excitement might in course of ages have been sobered by the puritanism of Islam but for the presence of the African, who unites with a firm belief in spirits a phenomenal desire for noise and brawling; and it is the union of this jovial African element with the sentimentality of Persia and the spirit-worship of pure Hinduism which renders the Bombay Mohurrum more lively and more varied than any Mahomedan celebration in Cairo, Damascus or Constantinople.

Although the regular Mohurrum ceremonies do not commence until the fifth day of the Mohurrum moon, the Mahomedan quarters of the city are astir on the first of the month. From morn till eve the streets are filled with bands of boys, and sometimes girls, blowing raucous blasts on hollow bamboos, which are adorned with a tin 'panja,' the sacred open hand emblematical of the Prophet, his daughter Fatima, her husband Ali and their two martyred sons. The sacred five, in the form of the outstretched hand, adorn nearly all Mohurrum symbols, from the toy trumpet and the top of the banner-pole to the horseshoe rod of the devotee and the 'tazia' or domed bier. Youths, preceded by drummers and clarionet-players, wander through the streets laying all the shop-keepers under contribution for subscriptions; the well-to-do householder sets to building a 'sabil' or charity-fountain in one corner of his verandah or on a site somewhat removed from the fairway of traffic; while a continuous stream of people afflicted by the evil-eye flows into the courtyard of the Bara Imam Chilla near the Nal Bazaar to receive absolution from the peacock-feather brush and sword there preserved. Meanwhile in almost every street where a 'tabut' is being prepared elegiac discourses ('waaz') are nightly delivered up to the tenth of the month by a maulvi, who draws from Rs. 30 to Rs. 100 for his five nights' description of the martyrdom of Husain; while but a little distance away boys painted to resemble tigers leap to the rhythm of a drum, and the Arab mummer with the split bamboo shatters the nerves of the passerby by suddenly cracking it behind his back. The fact that this Arab usually takes up a strong position near a 'tazia' suggests the idea that he must originally have represented a guardian or scapegoat, designed to break by means of his abuse, buffoonery and laughter the spell of the spirits who long for quarters within the rich mimic tomb; and the fact that the crowds who come to gaze in admiration on the 'tazia' never retort or round upon him for the sudden fright or anger that he evokes gives one the impression that the crack of the bamboo is in their belief a potent scarer of unhoused and malignant spirits.

Turn off the main thoroughfare and you may perhaps find a lean Musalman, with a green silk skullcap, sitting in a raised and well-lighted recess in front of an urn in which frankincense is burning. He has taken a vow to be a "Dula" or bridegroom during the Mohurrum. There he sits craning his neck over the smoke from the urn and swaying from side to side, while at intervals three companions who squat beside him give vent to a cry of "Bara Imam ki dosti yaro din" (cry "din" for the friendship of the twelve Imams). Then on a sudden the friends rise and bind on to the Dula's chest a pole surmounted with the holy hand, place in his hand a brush of peacock's feathers and lead him thus bound and ornamented out into the highway. Almost on the threshold of his passage a stout Punjabi Musulman comes forward to consult him. "Away, away" cry the friends "Naya jhar hai" (this is a new tree), meaning thereby that the man is a new spirit-house and has never before been possessed. A little further on the procession, which has now swelled to considerable size, is stopped by a Mahomedan from Ahmednagar who seeks relief. He places his hand upon the Dula's shoulder and asks for a sign. "Repeat the creed," mutters the ecstatic bridegroom. "Repeat the durud," say the Dula's supporters; and all present commence to repeat the "Kalmah" or creed and the "Durud" or blessing. Then turning to the Mahomedan who stopped him, the bridegroom of Husein cries: "Sheikh Muhammad, thou art possessed by a jinn—come to my shrine on Thursday next," and with these words sets forth again upon his wanderings. Further down the Bhendi Bazaar a Deccan Mhar woman comes forward for enlightenment, and the Dula, after repeating the Kalmah, promises that she will become a mother before the year expires; while close to Phulgali a Konkani Musulman woman, who has been possessed for six months by a witch (Dakan), is flicked thrice with the peacock-feather brush and bidden to the Dula's shrine on the following Thursday. So the Dula fares gradually forward, now stopped by a Kunbi with a sick child, now by some Musulman mill-hands, until he reaches the Bismillah shrine, where he falls forward on his face with frothing mouth and convulsed body. The friends help the spirit which racks him to depart by blowing into his ear a few verses of the Koran; whereat the Dula, after a possession of about four hours, regains consciousness, looks around in surprise, and retires to his home fatigued but at last sane.

Wherever a "tazia" or tomb is a-building, there gather all the Mohurrum performers, the Nal Sahebs or Lord Horse-shoes, the tigers and the mummers of Protean disguise. The spot becomes an "Akhada" or tryst at which the tomb-builders entertain all comers with draughts of sherbet or sugared water, but not with betel which has no place in seasons of mourning. Here for example comes a band of Marathas and Kamathis with bells upon their ankles, who form a ring in front of the "tazia", while their leader chants in a loud voice:—

"Alif se Allah; Be se Bismillah; Jum se meri Jan. Tajun Imam Husein Ki nyaz dharun."

"Alif for Allah; B for Bismillah; J for my life. An offering is this to Husein."

The chorus take up the refrain at intervals accompanying it with the tinkle of the ankle-bells; and then as distant drumming heralds the approach of a fresh party, they repeat the Mohurrum farewell "Ishki Husein" (Love of Husein) and pass away with the answer of the tryst-folk: "Yadi Husein" (Memory of Husein) still ringing in their ears. The new party is composed of Bombay Musulman youths, the tallest of whom carries an umbrella made out of pink, green and white paper, under which the rest crowd and sing the following couplet relating to the wife and daughter of Husein:—

"Bano ne Sakinah se kaha. Tum ko khabar hai Baba gae mare!"

"Bano said unto Sakinah. Have you heard that your father is dead?"

This party in turn yields place to a band of pipers and drummers, accompanying men who whirl torches round their head so skilfully that the eye sees nought but a moving circle of flame; and they are succeeded by Musulman men and boys, disguised as Konkani fishermen and fishwives, who chant elegies to Husein and keep the rhythm by clapping their hands or by swinging to and fro small earthen pots pierced to serve as a lamp. The last troupe, dressed in long yellow shirts and loose yellow turbans, represent Swami Narayan priests and pass in silence before the glittering simulacrum of the Martyr's tomb.

The most curious feature of the Mohurrum celebration is the roystering and brawling of the Tolis or street-bands which takes places for two or three nights after the fifth day of the month. Each street has its own band ready to parade the various quarters of the city and fight with the bands of rival streets. If the rivalry is good-humoured, little harm accrues; but if, as is sometimes the case, feelings of real resentment are cherished, heads are apt to be broken and the leaders find themselves consigned to the care of the Police. It is difficult to see the connection between these brawling street-companies and the lamentation for Hasan and Husein; but the rivalry of the mohollas recalls the free-fighting which used once to take place between the various quarters of Gujarat and Kathiawar towns during the Holi festival, while the beating, shouting and general pandemonium evoked by the Tolis are probably akin to the extravagance once practised at the beating of the bounds in England and Scotland and are primarily designed to scare away evil-spirits from the various quarters of the city. The Tolis are indeed a relic of pure Hinduism—of aboriginal spirit-belief, and have in the course of centuries been gradually associated with the great Mahomedan Festival of Tears. Originally they can have had no connection with the Mohurrum and are in essence as much divorced from the lamentation over the slaughter at Karbala as are the mummers, the Nal Sahebs and the Lords of the conchshell (Sain Kowra) of the modern celebration from the true Mahomedan who wanders back from the sea-shore uttering the cry of grief—

"Albida, re albida, Ya Huseini albida." "Farewell, farewell, ah, my Husein, farewell!"



VII.

THE POSSESSION OF AFIZA.

It was quite evident that something was seriously wrong with Abdulla the Dhobi. His features had lost their former placidity and wore an aspect of troubled wonder; the clothes which he erstwhiles washed and returned to their owners with such regularity were now brought back long after the proper date and occasionally were not returned at all; and the easy good temper which once characterized his conversation had yielded place to sudden outbursts of anger or protracted spells of sulkiness. The major-domo consulted on the point could only suggest that Abdulla's ill-temper was typical of the inherent "badmashi" of the Dhobi nature and that probably Abdulla had taken to nocturnal potations, while the youngest member of the household unhesitatingly laid down that Abdulla had been seized by a "bhut" or in other words was possessed of a devil. When the former suggestion was laid before Abdulla, he contemned it with unmeasured scorn and then turned and rent the spirit of the butler with winged words, but the small boy's opinion seemed to give him pause. He held his peace for a moment, gazing earthwards and rubbing a small heap of dust towards him with his toe; and then on a sudden he burst out into the tale which is here set down in his own words:—

"Nay, Saheb, I am possessed of no devil, but my wife Afiza is sore troubled by one. Only three months ago I sent for her from my village, as she was expecting to become a mother and I was desirous of looking early upon my first-born child; and for six weeks she dwelt contentedly with me in the house which I have rented near the ghat. And then the child was born—a child without blemish; and Afiza and I were happy. But, Saheb, the shadow of evil was even then drawing nigh unto us. For on the sixth day after birth, when the midwife was about to light the four-wicked lamp for the 'chatti' ceremony, Afiza suddenly cast the child from her, leaped wildly from the couch, tearing at her hair and swaying to and fro as one demented, and broke the lamp with her hands. And the midwife fled from the room crying for help, and brought my mother and my sister in to try and soothe her. And even while they wrestled with her spirit someone set light to the urn of frankincense, for it was the evening of Thursday; and as the thick smoke curled upwards towards Afiza, she trembled and gasped out: 'This is my house; and this woman hath been delivered on the spot where I died in childbirth five years ago! I will never cease troubling her, for she hath forgotten even to burn a little 'loban' (frankincense) for the repose of my spirit.' So saying my wife fell senseless on the ground and remained motionless for thirty minutes until the spirit had fled. And, Saheb, from that day forward not an evening passes but the 'suwandi' (the spirit of a woman who has died in travail) lays hold upon her, and my house has become a place of evil and a byword among the neighbours. Several exorcists, Siyanas and Syeds have we consulted, but all in vain. Their ministrations only make her worse. What can be done!"

One can hardly conjecture the ultimate fate of Abdulla and his family, had not some one who took an interest in the case suggested a final resort to the Syed from Cambay, who some little time ago opened in Goghari street a branch of the famous Gujarat shrine of Miran Datar. To him Abdulla half-hopeful, half-desperate, repaired: and the Syed came into his house and gave Afiza a potion composed of incense-ashes and water from the Miran shrine. But the evil spirit was terribly violent; and it required regular treatment of this nature for fully twenty days ere it could be dislodged. Evening after evening Afiza was taken into the presence of Syed, who summoned forth the spirit with a drink of the sacrosanct water; and at home Abdulla and his mother who had been supplied with water and ashes by the Syed, were wont likewise to summon the spirit at any hour which they felt would cause it inconvenience. Thus the struggle between the powers of light and darkness for the soul of Afiza continued, until at length the evil spirit deemed it wise to depart; and on the twenty-first day, when it was racking Afiza for the last time, it demanded as the final price of its departure the liver of a black-goat. So Abdulla hearkened to the spirit's will and buried the pledge of his wife's recovery in a new earthen pot just at the spot where the four roads meet near his house And Afiza was at peace.



Since that date nought has occurred to disturb Abdulla's peace of mind. The Syed of Goghari street has earned well-merited fame among the poorer Musulman inhabitants of that quarter; Abdulla has cast off his ill temper as it were a garment; Afiza the possessed has become Afiza the self-possessed, helping Abdulla to earn his livelihood and obtain the approval of his masters; and the child, unharmed by the Evil Eye and beloved of his parents, is daily waxing in favour with God and man. According to Abdulla the only spirit which occasionally attacks him is a spirit of mischief not unknown to the parents of healthy little boys.



VIII.

A KASUMBA DEN.

Wander down one of the greatest arteries of the city and you will perhaps notice on the east side of the street a double-storied house bearing all the appearance of prolonged neglect and decay. Enter the low door and take a sharp turn to the right and you will find yourself at length on an ill- smelling landing with a creaking ladder-like staircase in one corner, enveloped from top to bottom in darkness so profound that one can almost conjure up visions of sudden death from the assassin's dagger. After a moment's hesitation you commence to grope your way upwards: the staircase sways and creaks beneath your feet; the air is heavy with strange odours; something,—probably a cat—scuttles past you and nearly upsets your balance; and putting out your hand to steady yourself your fingers touch something clammy and corpselike which turns out to be a Ghati labourer, naked save for a loin-cloth, asleep in the narrow niche between the walls of the ground-floor and the first storey. One wonders what he pays for this precarious accommodation, in which a sudden movement during sleep may mean a sheer drop down the dark staircase. But fortunately he sleeps motionless, like one physically tired out, perchance after dragging bales about the dock sheds since early morn or wandering all day round the city with heavy loads upon his head.

At length on the second storey a half-open door casts an arrow of light upon your path. You hail it with joy after the Cimmerian gloom of the lower floors; and, pushing the door further ajar, you find yourself in a square low room lit by two windows which command a view of the street below. It is carpeted with cheap date-leaf mats and a faded polychrome "dhurri"; dirty white cushions are propped against the wall below the windows; a few square desk-like boxes lie in front of the cushions; and in a semi-recumbent attitude around the room are some 20 or 30 men—Bombay and Gujarat Mahomedans, men from Hindustan and one or two Daudi Bohras, the regular customers of the "Kasumba" saloon. There is one woman in the room—a member of the frail sisterhood, now turned faithful, nursing an elderly and peevish Lothario with a cup of sago-milk gruel, which opium-eaters consider such a delicacy: while the other customers sit in groups talking with the preternatural solemnity born of their favourite drug, and now and again passing a remark to the cheery-looking landlord with the white skull-cap and henna-tinged beard.

Each occupant of the room has been provided with a tiny glass of weak opium-water from the large China jar on the landlord's desk, paying a pice per glass for the beverage. Some drink one glass, some two, some three or more; but as a rule the "kasumba" drinker confines himself to two glasses, being ashamed to own even to a brother "Tiryaki" the real quantity of the drug consumed by him: while a few, strengthened by prolonged habit, pay somewhat more than the ordinary price for a thicker and stronger dilution. When the glasses are empty the company calls for desert; for the opium-drinker must always have his "kharbhanjan" or bitter taste remover; and the landlord straightway produces sweets, fruit, parched grain, or sago-gruel known as "khir" according to the taste of his customers. Hardly has dessert ended when an elderly Mahomedan in shabby garb falls out of the group and clearing his throat to attract attention commences to recite a flowery prelude in verse. He is the "Dastan-Shah," own brother (professionally) of the "Sammar" or story-teller of Arabia and the "Shayir" of Persia and Cairo: and his stories, which he delivers in a quaint sing-song fashion, richly interspersed with quotations from the poets of Persia, are usually culled from the immortal "Thousand and one Nights" or are concerned with the exploits and adventures of one of the great heroes of Islam. Amir-Hamza for example is a favourite subject of the imaginative eastern story-teller. Amir-Hamza according to Professor Dryasdust died before the Prophet, but according to the Troubadours of Islam was the hero of a thousand stirring deeds by flood and field and by the might of his right hand converted to the Faith the Davs and the Peris of Mount Kaf (the Caucasus). You will hear, if you care to, of his resourceful and trusty squire Umar Ayyar, owner of the magic "zambil" or satchel which could contain everything, and master of a rude wit, similar to that of Sancho Panza, which serves as an agreeable contrast to the somewhat ponderous chivalry of the knight-errant of Islam.

* * * * *

Thus the Dastan-Shah whiles away time until about 8 p.m. when the club breaks up and the faded Aspasia helps her fractious Pericles down the rotten staircase and out into the night. Ere the company departs each member subscribes a pice for the story-teller, who in this way earns about forty pice a day, no inconsiderable income in truth for the mere retail of second-hand fables: and then with a word of peace to the landlord the men troop slowly forth to their homes. As we pass down the rotten staircase, lit this time for our benefit with a moribund cocoanut oil lamp, we mark the Maratha labourer still sleeping heavily in his niche, dreaming perhaps amid the heavy odours of the house of the fresh wind-swept uplands of his Deccan home.



IX.

THE GANESH CAVES.

Fifty-six miles to the north of Poona lies the old town of Junner, which owing to its proximity to the historic Nana Ghat was in the earliest times an important centre of trade. As early as 100 years before the birth of Christ, the Nana Pass was one of the chief highways of trade between Aparantaka or the Northern Konkan and the Deccan; and although the steep and slippery nature of the ascent must have prevented cart-traffic, the number of pack-bullocks and ponies that were annually driven upwards towards the cooler atmosphere and richer soil of Junner must have been considerable. Once the Nana Ghat had been crossed the traveller found himself in a land marked out by Nature herself for sojourn and settlement: for there lay before his eyes a fruitful plain, well-shaded, well-watered and girt with mighty hills of rock, which needed but the skill of man to be transformed into a chain of those "Viharas" or places of rest and recreation, which the Buddhists of pre-Christian and early Christian ages sought to establish. Thus it happens that in each of the mountain ranges which rise around Junner are found caves and shrines hewn out of the solid rock by the followers of Buddhism, some with inscriptions in obsolete characters and all of them in a wonderful state of preservation, considering the ages that have passed since their foundation.

Among those most easy of access are the Ganesh Lena, as they are called, hollowed out of the vast rounded scarp, which rising a hundred feet above the plain projects from the Hatkeshvar and Suleman ranges about a mile northward of the town. A fairly smooth but dusty road leads the traveller down to the Kukdi river dried by the fair weather into stagnant pools, in which the women wash their clothes and the buffaloes lounge heavily, and thence through garden-land and clumps of mango-trees to the under-slopes of the mountain. There the road proper merges into a rocky pathway, which in turn yields place some little distance further on to a series of well-laid masonry steps, of comparatively recent date, which, as they curve upwards, recall to one's mind the well-known Hundred Steps at Windsor Castle. The steps are divided into about ten flights, and are said to have been built at different times by devotees of God Ganesh in gratitude for his having granted their prayers. What prompted the first worshipper to prove his gratitude in this form none can say: he might have so easily satisfied his conscience with a presentation to the God or by the erection of a small shrine in the plains. But happily for all men he adopted the more philanthropic course of smoothing the road to the presence of the kindly Deity. Others, the recipients of like favours and fired by his example, added each in their turn to the work, until the once rude track was transformed into a massive stone-approach fit for the feet of princes.

The caves are twenty-six in number and consist mainly of dwellings and cells, with three water-cisterns two of which bear inscriptions, and a chapel. The cells are all hewn into somewhat similar pattern and shape, containing on one and sometimes two sides long stone benches, which served doubtless as the resting-place of their Buddhist occupants. The "Chaitya Vihara" or chapel cave alone is worth a visit. Pillars and pilasters with eight-sided shafts and waterpot-bases, which scholars attribute to the period B. C. 90 to A. D. 300, stand sentinel over verandahs stretching away into darkness on either side of the main aisle. Their capitals are surmounted with crouching animals, twin elephants, a sphinx and lion, twin tigers, all beautifully carved through in places broken; while above them the main walls of the cave rise steep into a pointed vault, the centre of which is some twenty-four feet from the ground-floor. The relic-shrine or "Daghoba" at the far end of the chapel stands upon a high plinth, and is crowned by a rounded dome, similar to the "Daghoba" at Vyaravali which overlooks the dead city of Pratappur in Salsette. One of the members of our party struck the plinth with a dhotar to awaken the echoes which eddy loudly round the vault and rouse the wild birds that have built their nests in the holes and cornices. The birds as well as the bats which lurk in the darker recesses of the chapel are said to be responsible for the very pungent and unpleasant odour which greets one on entering and forces one to cut short one's visit. And what of him who built the shrine? Deep in the back wall of the verandah is graven, in characters long since obsolete, an inscription interpreted some time ago by scholars, which tells how Sulasadata, the illustrious son of Heranika of Kalyana, presented the chapel to the monastery, to the glory of God and his own lasting merit. The rock-hewn words are headed and ended with the "Swastika" or symbol of good fortune, which appears in so many messages from Buddhist ages.

* * * * *

On the left of the chapel at a slightly higher level stands the largest of this group of caves, a large hall with a verandah and twenty cells around it. Later ages have converted the whole cave into a temple of Ganpati, whence the caves obtain their name of Ganesh Lena; and the once plain walls, whose very austerity reflected perhaps the life of the monks dwelling within them, have been rudely plastered, white-washed and covered with inferior representations of incidents in the lives of Devi, Krishna, Shiv and Ganpati. In the centre of the back wall, between two ancient stone seats, glowers a rude "eidolon," aflame with red lead and ghi, so thickly smeared indeed that the original features and form of the god have well-nigh disappeared. Yet this is Ganesh, the kindly Ganesh, who turns not a deaf ear to the prayers of his servants and in whose honour the stone steps were hewn and laid. Two pujaris of the Yajurvedi Brahman stock and three or four women, who are attached to the shrine, crave alms for the God. They and their forbears, they tell you, have been the officiating priests for years; wherefore, desirous of testing their knowledge, you enquire who built these mighty dwelling-places. "Hindus of a thousand years ago," say they, "who desired to acquire merit." But ask the untutored villager who has guided you up the hill; and straightway comes the answer:—"Sahib, these were not built by man, but by the Gods ere man came hither!"

Outside the cave is a pleasant verandah and balus trade, whence you look down over the bare lower slopes to the garden-studded course of the river. Beyond lies a long low trail of vapour, which marks the position of Junner, and behind that again climb heaven-ward the Manmoda hills. On the right, with its ruined mosque and conning-tower grey in the morning light, the massive pile of Shivner frowns over the valley, like some dismasted battleship, hurled upwards into sudden petrifaction by the hands of Titans. It is an impressive scene—the pre-Christian monastery behind you; the relics of Musulman and Maratha sovereignty in front; and below, bathed in a sea of morning-mist which Surya is hastening to disperse, Junner, the town of ancient memories, in her latest avatar of a British Taluka Headquarter station. Let us hope that the monuments which we raise will last as long as those of Buddhist monk or Mahomedan Killedar.



X.

A BHANDARI MYSTERY.



In the heart of the great palm-groves to the north-west of Dadar lies an "oart" known as Borkar's Wadi, shaded by tall well-tended trees whose densely-foliaged summits ward off the noon-day sun and form a glistening screen at nights, what time the moon rises full-faced above the eastern hills. Not very long ago, at a time when cholera had appeared in the city and was taking a daily toll of life, this oart was the scene of a bi-weekly ceremony organized by the Bhandaris of Dadar and Mahim and designed to propitiate the wrath of the cholera-goddess, who had slain several members of that ancient and worthy community. For the Bhandaris, be it noted, know little of western theories of disease and sanitation; and such precautions as the boiling of water, even were there time to boil it, and abstention from fruit seem to them utterly beside the mark and valueless, so long as the goddess of cholera, Jarimari, and the thirty-eight Cholera Mothers are wroth with them. Thus at the time we speak of, when many deaths among their kith and kin had afforded full proof that the goddess was enraged, they met in solemn conclave and decided to perform every Sunday and Tuesday night for a month such a ceremony as would delight the heart of that powerful deity and stave off further mortality. The limitation of the period of propitiation to one month was based not so much upon religious grounds as upon the fact that a Municipality, with purely Western ideas of sanitation and of combating epidemics, refused to allow the maintenance of the shed, which was to be the temporary home of Jarimari, for more than thirty days. Yet it matters but little, this time-limit: for a month is quite long enough for the complete assuagement of the anger of one who, though proverbially capricious, is by no means unkindly.

* * * * *

Let us glance at the ceremony as performed on a Tuesday night towards the middle of the month of propitiation. In the darkest portion of the wadi stands a rude hut, containing the emblems of the Mother, occupied for the time being by Rama Bhandari, who acts as a species of medium between the goddess and his kinsmen. In front of the hut a space has been cleared and levelled, flanked on one side by mats for the Bhandari musicians, singers, drummers and cymbal-players, and on the other by four or five chairs and a few wooden benches for the initiates in the mysteries; and to the stems of several neighbouring trees lamps have been affixed about five feet from the ground, which cast weird shadows across the threshold of the goddess's home. Rama, the high-priest of this woodland rite—a dark, thin man with a look of anxiety upon his face—enters the hut with his assistant, Govind, while several fresh looking Bhandari boys take up their position near the gong, cymbals, and drum, prepared when the hour comes to hammer them with might and main. A pause—and Rama returns bearing the symbol or idol of the Mother, followed by Govind carrying a lighted saucer-lamp. The idol, for such we must perforce style it, is nothing more nor less than a bright brass pot, full of water, set on a wooden stool which is thickly covered with flowers. In the mouth of the water-pot rests a husked cocoanut, with a hole in the upper end into which are thrust the stems of a bouquet of jasmine, with long arms of jasmine hanging down on either side. Now the water-pot is the shrine, the very home of Jarimari and the thirty-eight cholera mothers. Behind the jasmine-wreathed stool Govind places another stool bearing a tin tray full of uncooked rice, camphor, and black and red scented powder; and close to it he piles the cocoanuts, sugar, camphor, cakes, betel-nuts, and marigolds which the Bhandari initiates have sent as an offering to Rama. He next produces a pile of incense-sprinkled cinders, which he places in front of the goddess, and several incense-cones which he lights, while Rama lays down a handful of light canes for use at the forthcoming ceremony. And while the rich scented smoke rises in clouds into the still night-air, shrouding the goddess's face, Govind takes a little rice from the tray and a few flowers, and places them on a Tulsi or sweet basil shrine which stands a little northward of the hut.

* * * * *

All is now ready. Rama bids the boys sound the note of gathering, and at once such a clashing and drumming arises as would frighten all the devils of the palm-groves. The people come but slowly, for many of them work late in the mills and have to go home and cook and eat their evening-meal before they can take part in the rites of the Mother. But at last groups of women appear out of the darkness, bareheaded save for flower-wreaths and a few gold ornaments, their saris wound tightly round waist and shoulder. They cluster silent and close-packed round the door of the hut; for they are the women whom the thirty-eight Mothers love to possess and to lash into the divine frenzy which only the human form can adequately portray. Govind stirs the incense-heap; the dense smoke rolls forth again and shrouds all; there is a feeling of witchery in the air and in the midst of the smoke-pall one can just descry Rama bending low before the Mother. Now he rises, draws the rattan-canes through his hands, and then leans against a palm-tree with eyes tightly closed and hands quivering as if in pain. But hark! there is something toward in the hut, and out of the darkness dash two young women right in front of the goddess, leaping and tossing their arms. They sway and twist their lithe forms in the smoke but utter no word. Only one can see their breasts heaving beneath the sari and can catch the sharp "Hoo, hoo" of their breathing, as their frenzy heightens. Now from the other end of the hut two more rush forth, staggering, towards the Tulsi shrine, and after the same mad gyrations dance towards the Mother and bury their heads in the smoke; and they are followed at momentary intervals by others who fly, some to the Tulsi shrine, others to the Goddess but all mad with frenzy, dancing, leaping, swaying, until they sink overpowered by fatigue. Meanwhile Rama is performing a devil dance of his own in the smoke-clouds; the gong is ringing, cymbals clashing, onlookers shouting; the tresses of the women have fallen down and in the half-light look like black snakes writhing in torture; the women themselves are as mad as the Bacchantes and Menads of old fable: in a word, it is Pandemonium let loose!

* * * * *

The noise ebbs and flows, now dying down as the first frenzy fades away, now rising more shrill as the spirit of the Mother wracks her devotees more fiercely. That tall finely-formed young woman, who dances like a puppet without will and who never seems to tire, is Moti, leader of the dancers and the favourite choice of Jarimari. There behind her is Ganga, the slightly-built, beloved of Devi, and in the midst of the smoke, swaying frog-like, is Godavari, lashed to madness by Mother Ankai. Around them dance by twos and threes the rest of the women with dishevelled locks and loosened robes, whom Rama taps from time to time with his cane whenever they show signs of giving in. But at length Nature reasserts her sway, and the dancers one and all crouch down in the smoke, their dark sides heaving painfully in the dim light like the implements of some ghostly forge. Now Govind appears again with a tray and marks the brows of the women with a finger-tip of vermilion, his own brow being marked by them in turn. He places a cake of camphor on the tray and sets light to it; and as the clear flame bursts forth in front of the Mother, the whole congregation rises and shouts "Devi ki Jaya" (Victory to the Goddess). Then Moti takes the tray and, balancing it on her head, dances slowly with long swinging stride round the Mother, while the music bursts out with renewed vigour, urging the other women, the human tabernacles of the cholera deities, to follow suit. Thereafter the camphor-cake is handed round to both women and men in turn who plunge their hands in the ashes and smear their faces with them; and so, after distribution of the offering of cocoanuts, sugar, and betel, the celebration closes. A few girls still dance and jerk their shining bodies before the altar, but Rama who is getting weary touches them with his hands, commanding the frenzy to cease, and with a sigh they withdraw one by one into the dark shadows of the palm-grove.

* * * * *

Such is in brief the ceremony of propitiation of the Cholera-Goddess. What does it signify? It appears that according to Bhandari belief the disease is the outcome of neglect of the Mother. The present conditions of life in the cramped and fetid chawls of the city, the long hours of work necessitated by higher rentals and a higher standard of living, leave her devotees but little leisure for her worship. She is maddened by neglect and in revenge she slays her ten or fifteen in a night. Yet is she not by nature cruel. Fashion for her a pleasant shrine, flower-decked, burn incense before her, beat the drum in her honour, let the women offer themselves as the sport and play-thing of her madness and of a surety will she repent her of the evil she hath done and will stay the slaughter. In spirit-parlance a woman chosen by the spirit, into whom as into a shrine the mother enters, is known as a "Jhad" or tree: for just as a tree yields rustling and quivering to the lightest breath of the gale, bends its head and moves its branches to and fro, so the women, losing all consciousness of self, play as the breath of the Mother stirs them, quivering beneath her gentler gusts, bending their bodies and tossing their arms beneath the stronger blasts, and casting themselves low with bowed heads and streaming hair as the full force of the storm enwraps them. They are in very truth as trees shaken by the wind. Nay more, the Mother herself once lived in human form: she knows the pleasure, the comforts of the body and she is fain, by entering the bodies of her female devotees, to renew the memories and suggestions of her former life.

* * * * *

In conclusion one may briefly record what the Bhandaris thought of the presence of a European at their sacred rite. Some feared him as one that contemplated the imposition of a new tax; others viewed him askance as a doctor from the Hospital despatched by higher authority to put an end to the ceremony; and yet others,—the larger number insooth,—deemed that here at last was a Saheb who had found physic a failure and had learned that the Mother alone has power to allay grievous sickness.



XI.

SCENES IN BOMBAY.

A MUSULMAN HOLIDAY.

Nearly all the Mahomedan inhabitants of Bombay observe as a general picnic day the last Wednesday of the month of 'Safar' which is known as 'Akhiri Char Shamba' or 'Chela Budh'; for on this day the Prophet, convalescent after a severe illness, hied him to a pleasance on the outskirts of Mecca. During the greater portion of the previous night the women of the house are astir, preparing sweetmeats and salt cakes, tinging their hands with henna, bathing and donning new clothes and ornaments; and when morning comes, all Mahomedans, rich and poor, set forth for the open grounds of Malabar Hill, Mahalakshmi, Mahim or Bandora, the Victoria Gardens, or the ancient shrine of Mama Hajiyani (Mother Pilgrim) which crowns the north end of the Hornby Vellard. To the Victoria Gardens the tram cars bring hundreds of holiday- makers, most of whom remain in the outer or free zone of the gardens and help to illumine its grass plots and shady paths with the green, blue, pink and yellow glories of their silk attire. Here a group of men and women are enjoying a cold luncheon; there a small party of Memons are discussing affairs over their 'bidis' while on all sides are children playing with the paper toys, rattles and tin wheels which the hawkers offer at such seasons of merry-making. Coal-black Africans, ruddy Pathans and yellow Bukharans squat on the open turf to the west of the Victoria and Albert Museum; Mughals in long loose coats and white arch-fronted turbans wander about smoking cigars and chatting volubly, while Bombay Memons in gold turbans or gold-brocade skullcaps, embroidered waistcoats and long white shirts stand on guard over their romping children.

* * * * *

The road leading from Mahalakshmi to the shrine of Mama Hajiyani is particularly gay, and the Vellard is lined throughout its entire length with carriages full of men, women and children in their finest attire; while under the palms on the east side of the road the hum of a great crowd is broken from time to time by the cry of the sellers of sweets, toasted grain, parched pistachio nuts and salted almonds, or by the chink of the coffee seller's cups. A happy, orderly crowd it is, free from all signs of quarrelling and excess, packed more densely than usual around the shrine of Mama Hajiyani, where every little vacant space is monopolised by merry-go- rounds and by the booths of bakers and pastry-sellers. Here are men playing cards; others are flying kites; many are thronging the tea, coffee, and cold drink stalls; while in the very heart of the crowd wander Jewish, Panjabi and Hindustani dancing-girls, who have driven hither in hired carriages to display their beauty and their jewels. Mendicants elbow one at every step,—Mahomedan and Jewish beggars and gipsy-like Wagri women from North Gujarat, who persistently turn a deaf ear to the "Maf-karo" or "Pardon" of those whom they persecute for alms.

* * * * *

Many of the holiday-makers carry packets of basil leaves and flowers, which they place upon the grave of the Mother Pilgrim, silently repeating as they do so the 'Fatiha' or prayers for the dead. Others more Puritanical, perchance more sceptical, utter not their prayers to the grave; but as the words pass their lips, turn their faces seawards, remembering Holy Mecca in the far west. Glance for a minute within the room that enshrines the tomb, and you will see the walls hung with tiny toy cradles,—the votive offerings of heartsick women from whom the grace of Mama Hajiyani has lifted the curse of childlessness. So, as the sun sinks, you pass back from the peace of the Mother Pilgrim's grave to the noise of the holiday-making crowd; and turning homewards you hear above you the message of the green parrakeets skimming towards the tomb "like a flight of emerald arrows stolen from the golden quiver of the Twilight."

1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse