Chapter 15-

1 December 2023

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AS THE TRAIN pulled itself northward, and we passed through A Eyguières, Tarascon, Avignon, Orange, there was much spring in the air-though it was only mid-February-and I thought of Savithri. There had been several letters from her- she was now in Assam, and her letters spoke of the rain, and the Bhutiya Nagas and the coffee plantations: 'Oh, it's so sad! It rains and rains, as though the earth never had enough water to seep. I hold receptions, and our young and new republic is growing strong. Ministers, Secretaries of State, come and go, and I think, what is this India we are building? Oh, Rama, it makes me sad, sad! Some want it to become like our neighbour China, and others like their foster-mother white England. And nobody wants India to be India. And Nehru is the Hamlet, who knows his madness is intelligent, while others only see ghosts. Ophelia, of course, is dead and buried. Pratap had a fall playing polo in Shillong. Write to me. S.' I read it over and over again, and I understood every word of it, every space and contour of her alphabet. With Madeleine everything was explanation. With Savithri it was recognition.

Not Nehru but I was the Hamlet. My madness was not even intelligent. I could have wept into my hands. Instead, I looked at the lovely manor-houses, little archways of sudden curve and comprehension, beneath which cart-horses dragged hay or manure, while the hens and ducks flew all over the courtyard. I remembered a French poet I had met in a Parisian salon, who had said:

"The best métier for a writer, sir, is to be a level-crossing keeper with squealing children. You only have to show the red and green signals, and that only when the bell rings; then you stand like a deserter before a court-martial, while the children cry from the barrier, making faces, showing fists, and sometimes the petit monsieur underneath their pants. It's such fun. You go in the afternoon to the nearest farm, to get milk and sausages, have a brief interlude with the Polish maids-there be many in the French countryside and go back home to write poetry. There is the ideal life for the modern poet. You must naturally have a fat wife, quarrelling but not too quarrelsome, who does not understand a word of what you write. But in bed she's warm and she will bear the necessary number of children. You have thus three jobs; writing poetry at leisure, letting down the bar when the train bell goes ting-tong, and manufacturing the requisite number of children for the State to feed all of us on and well. Then you could write like Baudelaire."

I thought of this middle-aged poet, fervent with poetry in his eyes, but weak with insulin in bis system. He was to die very soon, and without his Polonaise or his job.

Catherine was there at the station, and Georges, though I had begged them not to come. 'Rama is not my father's client, is he? And yet I go often and fetch Father's clients on some excuse or the other. Besides we have a car. So they took me straight to their flat in the rue Michel-Ange, though I had asked them to reserve a room in the Quartier Latin.

You will be far away from the Sorbonne here,' apologized Catherine, 'but I am the chauffeur de la maison. I enjoy going about in Paris. The Parisian is such an intelligent animal- it's a joy to watch him."

The apartment on the rue Michel-Ange was a large, old- fashioned, rambling egregious thing, with cupboards every- where, large corridors, and smelly corners. My own room was a small one-next to the kitchen: Like this you will be warm, and as long as you are here we promise not to cook meat. We can always go to a restaurant. And in the morning as we know you rise early and have your Brahminic bath, here is the coffee and here the milk, and you make yourself perfectly at home."

Georges had grown quiet, distant. His eyes were no more scintillating with vitality, but showed maturity, simplicity, and aloofness.

'Well, mon vieux,' he said, 'Paris is not Aix. There are too many things to do. The student in Paris does less work-he has too many distractions-but he understands things much more quickly. To think that at seventeen they are so clever makes one mad. This generation which has grown up from childhood to youth during the war years is exceptionally brilliant. Perhaps wars are not so bad after all.'

Dinner was laid on the table. I found Catherine looking splendid I was envious that marriage could bring so much ful- filment to anyone. She was gay, and talked of everything with assurance. Oncle Charles was getting old after all: he did not have the same strength he used to, and his phlebitis was worrying him. He might soon have to go to Luxeuil. Aunt Zoubie's stroke was not serious, but she would never be the same again. She had just been to her first husband's sister, Diane, who was married to a big-businessman in Brussels, and had a château in Normandy. The sea air, and the atmosphere of receptions, yachting, and so on seemed bound to do her good. But she returned more tired than ever. When one grows old, even one's joy seems to diminish.

'One day, ma petite, I tell myself,' said Catherine, 'you too will grow old. Meanwhile, let us be young, don't you think so, Georges?'

'I have news to give you,' said Georges, pursuing his own thoughts, and playing with a knife on the table. He was silent for a brief moment, looked at Catherine with adoration, and announced: 'Catherine will have a baby in five or six months. You are the first person to know it, Rama."

To this day I cannot tell you why, but I felt somewhere I had been washed clean and whole by the Ganges, dipped again and again and made shining with sravan Saturday sun. I must have looked very moved, for Catherine put the soup in front of me, touched my head as Saroja might have, and said:

'You will look after him, when he grows up, and give him all your wisdom, won't you?' We must have eaten our soup in silence for a very long time, as the first question after that came not from Catherine but from Georges.

'How is Mado?'

'She's more of an Indian than me. She already knows more about Buddhism than I do.' 'I tell you, Catherine, you must learn Russian. You can never understand me without knowing the language of my forefathers. It is in Russian, I have no doubt whatsoever, my most secret thoughts are made!'

'You want to have three children, and you want to have a nice home. And you want me to help you in your work. Oh, là là!' said Catherine. 'Men will never be satisfied with women.'

"To say that before Rama!'

'But Rama-is not, is not Catherine was trying to find the right expression. -a man,' whispered Georges, and made us all laugh.

'No, I mean he is not a man-man. He is an Indian,' she finished, convinced she had defined me.

It must have been past one o'clock in the morning when we all went to bed. Catherine saw me off at the door, and kissed me on the cheeks.

'You are like a prayer that is what I wanted to say. A prayer, I repeat. You have grown so old-I mean ancient, ancient, Rama,' she added, and heaved a large and affectionate sigh. I went to sleep, and for the first time slept very well. I had no dreams. I woke and thought of Madeleine, and knew she must haye slept very well too. Pity she had to make her own coffee in the morning, I thought; but I remembered it was a Thursday and she did not work. So I slept an hour more, and woke to Catherine grinding coffee-beans in the kitchen.

"This time it will be me,' she said, knocking at the door. 'Let the Brahmin have coffee in bed. He won't become an animal in the next life for breaking such minor rules. And you say women in my condition are auspicious,' she added, 'so you will have auspicious coffee, my brother-in-law,' and she closed the door behind herself.

As before, I divided my time between the Rue de Richelieu and the Sorbonne. Catherine took me every morning to the Bibliothèque Nationale, and she insisted, for the first few days, that I come back for lunch, driving to fetch me every day. But she soon realized this arrangement could not last very long, so she gave me sandwiches and I used to go and have a chocolate in a quiet café near by. There were always such interesting people about the place, and seeing them day after day I got to know their faces, their specializations. One was researching in Assyriology- into Sumerian texts concerning Kingship and Grammar, among the bilinguals from Assurbanipals library. Another was copying patterns of Central Asian dress, especially women's dresses, to prove his thesis that Nestorian Christianity was purely of Buddhist origin, for the women had no crosses on their dresses; in fact, to this day they wear a cross resembling the Buddhist swastika. These scholars would talk of their work and I of mine, but strange to say, nobody could help another. Research is always like a man lost in a desert. You can only see stars wheresoever you look. You will always find a star somewhere, and following it through dust and jungle you certainly will come to a kingdom, where you are sure to find a prince, and he has many daughters to marry. If you do the right thing in the right way-that is, if you show your originality by talking of your astronomy starting from your particular star, which is always unique, in position, coloration, and behaviour you can show an altogether different pattern for the whole round sky. It all depends on where you start. And there is always a princess to wed you eventually. My star, my unique star, was the theory that somewhere in the land between Persia, Turkey and Bulgaria-maybe in the valley of the Euphrates, or maybe a little higher up in Asia Minor, so full of the traces of almost every human civilization-I was certain to find a direct proof of India's link with the Catharheresy. I studied many texts, and was led mainly by that sort of intuition one develops in research, where almost by just looking at a book (when mind and body are in the best of states), one looks and says, 'In this book, in this large and lusty tome, perhaps in the second part of it-no, towards the middle of the third part, will be my precise reference.' And almost always you hit on the right information. I had gathered much information in this manner and Georges made fun of me, saying such power of divination must, no doubt, come from my yogic practices:

'You should announce your perceptive capacities on a board. at the door of the Bibliothèque Nationale: "Research through clairvoyance. Twelve lessons, and all mysteries will be solved." It would be a new job. Nobody has undertaken it so far.' Whether all others had this intution or not-and mapy re- search-workers I talked to seemed to possess it to an even greater degree than I did my finds were important. I looked into the history of the Druzes, that mysterious sect of Arabs who belong both to the Christian and the Muslim fold, and yet have their own priests and their own secret books, which nope dare examine. I had however found, first through the works of Gobineau-that extraordinary, if eccentric, ilnperial scholar and later in Count Sailly de Mollinfort, whose works on Arab history are a master- piece of erudition, precision and insight, that there were indeed references to India and Indian wisdom in the Druze texts, 'd'une nature métaphysique,' he wrote, 'qui nous laissent croire, que le Bulgarism, l'hérésie Vaudoise, plus tard et plus purement le mouvement Cathare, sont probablement d'une origine directement Hindoue, et pas comme pense Max Müller, un lointain écho des idées partho-boudhiste." I read all of Sailly on the Druzes, and Morganston, and Wellenby. The latter is a much better scholar than one thinks, despite his unscholarly use of language ("I have no doubt that', or 'it is silly to think', and such unacademic language is not permissible in scholarly writing). But after all he was a soldier and an ad- ministrator first, though it was he that discovered the Amharic text on Alexander's campaign in India, and edited it so admir- ably. Well, Wellenby was of much help to me. And then Mas- signon, with his deep learning and his immense devotion to India.

My thesis made quick progress. But I had to go to the Bodleian for further references to Wellenby; Garraud, in his study of the messianic tradition among the Semites, speaks of some very im- portant manuscripts there. It was also a good pretext, I thought, after nearly a month and half chez Catherine and Georges, to leave them. So I went over to England.

I arrived during those beautiful days in the spring of 1953 when the whole country was getting ready to receive guests from abroad. England had now a lovely, young Queen and she was going to be crowned. Even the trees and the earth seemed to have helped the English, so mild and kind the winter was, and so splendid; and soon had spring ushered itself in, bringing bunches of red and yellow and mauve of irises to the great parks. The Londoner looked better dressed and he seemed never to have been more courteous. Everybody who came was going to be the guest of England, and English men and women felt a very personal responsibility for their own behaviour. There was much less drunkenness in the streets and much better taste in the women's clothes, which were British in style and not cheap Dior or Fath. I was happy to see the English thus, in this new mood. There was no triumphant arrogance with them-as in the days of their Imperial grandeur-they were more centred in themselves, more sure and more elevated. True, they did not have a clear con- science about Africa, but how relieved they seemed to have 'washed their hands of India'. I laughed and said to myself, "They have grown more Brahminical."

Oxford was kind and docile, as she ever is, but seemed to have less vitality and purity in the air than Cambridge. Perhaps I had seen Cambridge through Savithri-and was now trying to see Oxford through my own eyes. Anand was at Balliol, but I did not go and see him.

I soon returned to London, where I had very good news. Cooks gave me a letter from Savithri. I always went into Green Park to open her letters; leaning against a tree-there was one spacious plane opposite the gate, not far from the 14 bus-stop that I liked particularly-I rubbed my hands against its trunk, to feel its freshness, and read Savithri's letter. It said that she was coming over to England for the Coronation with her father. Her father felt he had been so loyal to the British that he had to be with them when they were crowning their Queen.

'He feels it a prt of his loyalty to himself. The Government of India, of course, has ignored him. He has been sent on no missions, even his privy purse has been reduced. "How can you fight with minor officials, lack-manner idiots I would not employ as clerks. Such thorough incompetence!" he explodes. He will be happy to be back among his Lord Sahibs. It is sad to see an active man like Father grow old. Even though Surajpur was a sm all State, with a population of only a hundred thousand, he still did a lot of things. There were at least the elephant and the horses to look after. Then there were such picturesque family quarrels among his nobles and subjects, which he alone could disentangle, knowing all about every single important family, for four, five, or even six generations. And when he had had enough of that, he had his tiger-shooting. He enjoyed these enormously. Now they cost too much; besides, who is there left in India to enjoy them? I have been trying to persuade him to go south, on pilgrimage, and visit some 'Sages. The north is finished. It will soon be like Notting Hill Gate. Your south still, has so much beauty, wisdom and purity. Father says he will go to England first, and on his return will make a pilgrimage from Kailas to Kanyakumari. I know he will not do it. But still, I wish Father could find peace somewhere. He would look fresh as a bridegroom if Nehru called him and said, "Will you be our Am- bassador in Tokyo? In Washington?" London, he says, will go to some khadiwala, eating pan in Buckingham Palace, and spitting on the floor. Father exaggerates a great deal, but India is not particularly an exalting place today.... You are my India, and to see you will be my exaltation. Besides, I want Father to meet you, to know you. Maybe you could give him something he seeks. Think of me sometimes. S.' I looked down the green grass and through the mist to the naked orphrey trees. Beyond the road there, and beyond the park beyond, was Buckingham Palace. Somehow I felt grateful, grateful, walking towards it. I walked in the light of a new England.

My research, I fear, did not make very great progress during the next few months. Perhaps the trouble was not with the English climate, as some thought, or with my vegetarian diet, but with some more immediate and occult anxiety. I knew I was losing something and would not find anything again. And I felt lost in this new, this flowering England, with a feeling of desperation in my lungs. Just as a hunter knows 'My father often knows that a tiger is there,' Savithri had said, 'with the hairs on his toes, as it were, before his eyes or his ears have information' so did my body know of some annihilation before my being knew; the haemoglobules were more intelligent than my mind or my famous intuition. I felt I was sinking, though the X-ray showed no 'shadows' of increased activity. Oxford and the damp certainly did not agree with me. I felt I could not go to Cambridge again, so I tried Brighton-and re- turned to London seon, and even more ill, this time to a hospital. It was somewhere near Euston and specialized in tropical diseases. Being from India I managed to get in, with the help of our High Commissioner.

They were going to try prolonged bed-rest, and if that was no use, there was always thoracoplasty. The whole thing was a question of breathing well, and they sat me down in the appro- priate position and taught me this and that, and how to lie on the right side of my chest.

Good man,' said Dr Burnham, 'if you don't get well soon, I'll give you nice chicken-soup,' he laughed, 'and veal for your din- ner. The nurses were very kind and they winked at me. Dr Burnham, after he'd examined me and my temperature chart, went on, 'You must get better Mr Ramaswamy. You will.'

He was against pneumothorax, and spoke of it with marked contempt. He called it the Indian mango-trick. 'You can see the mango but cannot eat it.'

"Thoracoplasty,' he concluded, 'is like the Bank of England. But if you don't obey I'll write to Uncle Seetharamu. Good-bye, Achchajee, Namasthe,' and he went away.

Lord, I must have mentioned Uncle Seetharamu but once, and he had remembered it. What nobility there must be in the hearts of those who bear the pain of others.

Lakshmi (from Cambridge) whom I had accidentally met at India House when I was working in the excellent Library there, came often tee me. She was convinced I was a victim of some sort of malediction.

'God knows,' she said, protectively and femininely, 'Indian palaces are not homes of prayer and virtue.' I was not so dull of understanding, hence I discouraged her visits. But how virtuous she seemed, did Lakshmi Iyengar with her big kunkum mark, and deep-set melodious voice. Madeleine was right: Indian women do not look innocent. They look wise- and virtuous!

Lakshmi never talked to me of Madeleine. For her there were no European women. I think she disliked them, feeling that they were libidinous, always trying to please men.

'You can't press a man to your body, as they do at their dances, and talk of virtue. Oh, I am longing to be back in India.'

Lakshmi was doing child-psychology and would be going back to the Ministry of Education, in New Delhi. She would look after children's textbooks. Virtue certainly would flood India then.

I hated this moral India. True, Indian morality was based on an ultimate metaphysic. Harishchandra told the truth; and Jost his kingdom and his wife, but he found the Truth. I wanted to tell these virtuous ladies of India, the story of Satyavrata: The deer comes so the story goes in the Mahabharatha-leaping, with froth and foam, and whistling with the breath of fear, and takes shelter in the low hut of the ascetic. The hunter, pur- suing, comes after, making strange noises and imprecations, but seeing the ascetic falls low before him, and asks Satyavrata, 'Learned Lord, have you seen a deer?' Was he going to tell the truth, he Satyavrata. I have five children at home, puling, hungry creatures, and a wife, enormous and distraught; and they be without fire and flesh these six days of the moon. Lord, clear- seeing, compassionate ascetic, I have to save them from starva- tion and death. The drought has driven all the vulnerable beasts away, and we must lie and starve. Was Satyavrata going to give up the innocent deer to the hunter? No. So he went unto him- self and uttered that profound Vedantic truth. He who sees can not say, and he who says has not seen.'

Truth is the only substance India can offer and that Truth is metaphysical and not moral. Lakshmi was not India. Lakshmi was the India that accepted invaders,, come Muslim, come British, with sighs and salutations. Lakshmi would not read the Mahabharatha the whole night, cut her finger, and anointing her Lord with her young blood burn herself alive.  Satyavrata means, 'he who has taken the vow-of-truth". *"Page Boy tell me, ere I go, how bore himself, my Lord?"

'As a reaper of the harvest of battle. I followed his steps as a humble gleaner of his sword. On the bed of honour he spread a carpet of the slain, whereon, a barbarian his pillow, he sleeps ringed by his toes?'

Yet once again, O boy, tell me how my Lord bore himself?" 'O Mother, who can tell his deeds? He left no foe to dread or admire him.'

She smiled farewell to the boy, adding, 'My lord will chide my delay,' and like an Esclarmonde språng into the flames.

N' Esclarmunda, vostre noms signifia Que vos donatz clartat al mond per ver Et etz monda, que no fes mon dever: Aitals etz plan com al ric nom tamhia.

So wrote Guillaume de Montanhagol. The Cathar heroine leapt forward to Paradise, the Rajput princess withdrew into herself and became white as ash. Paradise is the inversion of Truth, and is feminine. It is the elongation of man to his celibate singleness: Vidi...credo ch'io vidi". The Holy Grail is the residue of delight.

Virtue is virile. Behind every 'virtuous' Indian woman I felt the widow. But we needed real wives, wives in life-as in death. I had too much surquedry to be but Brahmin. The Brahmins sold India through the back door-remember Devagiri- and the Muslims came in through the front. Purnayya sold the secrets of Tippu Sultan and the British entered through the main gateway of Seringapatam. Truth that is without courage can only be the virtue of slave or widow. Non-violence, said Gand- hiji, is active, heroic. We must always conquer some land, some country. Ignorance, pusillanimity, ostrich-virtue is the land we shall liberate. That is true staraj. The means is satyagraha. Come. Weak lungs, the doctors say, are bad for nerves. One day, however, I showed Lakshmi the door.

'You think Savithri would have married you? Oh my God, how many men she has turned round her sari-fringe and thrown to the elephants. You men will never understand us women- especially Indian women. Savithri would rather any day have wed a fat, spitting, nautch-girl, cricket-club Maharaja, or a rich banya like her sister did he is a banya, though he may be a Minister now than an intellectual like you, Ramaswamy, a Brahmin. Today in India you can buy anything for rupees.'

"Then I shall grow rich and buy myself a wife,' I said, and kept very silent. Lakshmi looked into my books, fingered them, read a line or two here and there; rose up and tucked me in, looked through the window, laughed and said:

'Oh, the English, this race of shopkeepers! They will crown a Queen with one hand and count the dollars in the other. They gave independence to India because it suited the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the great Board of Trade."

'I am a monarchist,' I said, quietly, pertinently, 'and I honour the Queen.'

'Funny thing to hear from an Indian,' she protested, rising and adjusting her scarf round her neck. I waited for her to put on her heavy overcoat. She had bought it in Prague, she said: 'It is so cheap, yet it is made of the best Astrakhan."

'I belong to the period of the Mahabharatha,' I said. 'I have nothing to do with the Board of Trade.'

She understood, and left me. She did not come to see me for several weeks. She sent a postcard from Cambridge saying she was busy with her final exams. It suited me that exams were in the summer, and I could go on dreaming of the coronation of Kings.

In a month mirie, Septembre Begynning, Baudwynn of Canterbirie Come to couronne the Kyng.

I started reading Coomaraswamy-that son of an Indian father and a delightful English mother, who characteristically enough spent most of his time in Boston, and eventually died there. The Anglo-Saxon mind does not understand India very well; the best interpreters of India in the west have been mostly French (I am thinking mainly of Sénart, Lévi, Guénon, Grousset, Masson-Oursel, Pryzulski); there have been a few Germans, but very few British. And yet when you have writers like Sir William Jones, Sir John Woodroffe-more Brahmin than any Brahmin-and Coomaraswamy, you feel grateful for those exceptional English- men. Even so, it cannot be that the Anglo-Saxon mind understands India so little, but possibly some shy kink in the British strain is frightened of what they name 'the imponderables' for who could be more Anglo-Saxon than Thoreau, Emerson, or even Whitman. This Boston Brahnfin, Ananda Coomaraswamy, was more of a smartha, a true, an orthodox Indian than some tottering old President of the Indian National Congress. India would never be made by our politicians and Professors of Political Science, but by these isolate existences of India, in which India is rememorated, experienced and communicated; beyond history, as tradition, as the Truth. Anybody can have the geographic even the political-India; it matters little. But this India of Coomaraswamy, who will take it away, I ask you, who? Not Tamurlane or even Joseph Stalin.

Woman is the earth, air, ether, sound; woman is the microcosm of the mind, the articulations of space, the knowing in knowledge; the woman is fire, movement clear and rapid as the mountain stream; the woman is that which seeks against that which is sought. To Mitra she is Varuna, to Indra she is Agni, to Rama she is Sita, to Krishna she is Radha. Woman is the meaning of the word, the breath, touch, act; woman, that which reminds man of which he is, and reminds herself through him of that which she be. Woman is kingdom, solitude, time; woman is growth, the gods, inherence; the woman is death, for it is through woman that one is born; woman rules, for it is she, the universe. She is the daughter of the earth, the queen, and it is to her that elephant and horse, camel, deer, cow, and peacock bow that she reign on us, as in some medieval Book of Hours where she is clad in the blue of the sky; all the animals and worlds surround her, and praise her that she be. The world was made for celebration, for coronation, and indeed even when the king is crowned it is the Queen to whom the Kingdom comes-lactur gens anglica Domini imperio regenda et reginae virtutis providentia gubernanda for even when it is a King that rules, she is the justice, the bender of man in compassion, the confusion of kindness, the sorrowing in the anguish of all. Woman is the duality made for her own pools of mirroring and she crowns herself to show that man is not of this kingdom. Man cannot even die. Then must he absorb himself into himself and be being. The coronation is the adieu of man to the earth. Be gay, earth, be beautiful, for man must go.

Woman is the world. Wohnan is the earth and the cavalcade, the curve of the cloud, and the round roundness of the sun. Woman is the space between mansions; those, secret, knowing emptinesses from which word goes from house to house and man to man. It is woman that looks out of the window and sees herself in the other, looks at the mirror and sees the light, looks at man and sees her high God; she touches the down of her hair in Piccadilly, and dreams of a world where all is spring, all flowers moving as in the waters, birds. Woman will sit in a coach and see herself as seen by others; she will wear the tiara and know she is no woman nor known being; she will dream of orb and dove, of annum and bacculum, of garter and of the knights; and she will think of the Abbey, where she will see herself as seen by a thousand years. Woman after woman has sat on the same seat, and has counted the same beads of love. Woman will be on the coin of England, woman will sound as silver all over the world, women will go round the world and bring the warmth of tenderness to many homes. Many a maid the world over, will marry the young man with the red scarf, for the Queen, the Queen will walk through the streets of Adelaide, and will bless the hearts of the chemist's assistant, the minister's daughter, the paralytic at the window. Woman will wander the seas, mount the stairways of many a palace and parliament, for woman is the only meaning of silence over the seas. In the little alleys in London, by parks and by pools, simple virgin grass grew all like words of a saying, and many a child played rejoicing on its birth, for the world would be handed over to a Queen.

Time flowed, and on barques and balustrades man stopped a moment and lived in his own presence. Everything: the towers, the trolley-bus tops; the zebra crossings and their orange lights, the horses of vegetable sellers with their short, restless tails; the electric company's cockney meter-reader; the leaves of eager trees brushed aside, the newspapers rags that floated on the air; the curse at the pubs, the songs of the Italians; all showed that there was much drink in the air and much sunshine. Men came from all over the globe the Abyssinians with their curled hair and their white, long togas; the Zambezi Zulus with their split noses and their large masticating fates; the Pakistani's on their white, slim horses; the humble Hindu in his proud tights; the Japanese lady with her large smile; the Togo-islanders, the Cana- dians, the hearty loud-spoken Australians; the French with their indiscretions, the Germans with their boasts; yes, even the Soviets came to drink of the beer of England. Fruit came parcelled from all the three corners of the world, from Malaya and from British Honduras; peat from the Falklands, pearls from many seas. Kings and Pashas came from everywhere, the lost race of a defeated people, who wanted to know, if knowing will want them from wanting; a great many students and pro- fessors came; journeymen to beg or sell; and married couples to believe that one can live one's life and find the meaning of con- nection in round freedom.

The world gave parties to itself, and everybody felt everywhere, drank champagne at the Prime Minister's party, and drank beer at home. No one was another's adversary, for there was no other and all was simplified, till politicians must have sat and wondered where the next world would be. Politics had lost its acuteness, vulgarity had lost its burthen, and man sang himself a song and went to sleep dreaming of the new birth. The hospitals had never been so full-for London was crowded-but nurse and doctor seemed to know of a common knowledge, in which giving and receiving we not two oppositions of a single act, but two acts of a single living; diseases seemed inappropriate, and some had the shyness of a dog or a thief that has strayed into wide- awakened worlds. Man was simple, simple as the road on which he walked, straight as the pathway of his park; and the sun seemed to come to him with a facility and an assurance, as though the globe were made for each individual, for his elliptical system; the sun came to him, to his face, his eyes, his hands, his breath. Many persons opened their cages and let out their parakeets and their minas, so that the London trees heard such talk and song as never had seemed permissible; and song linked man and woman over the brow of time, as though death were a superfluity. For a moment everyone looked into himself and found he had nowhere to go. Man was happy, he was very, very happy.

During those days I was reading Thomas le Trovere, that Anglo-Norman poet, to whom England and France were as Tristan and Iseult, and London that beautiful city:

Lundres est mult riche cité Meluir n'ad en cristienté, Plus vaillante ne meltz preisice, Melz garnie de gent aisice.

You could imagine Tristan le Preux moving on the boat, with Iseult, the daughter of the King of Ireland, she, the beautiful, who was to be married to King Mark. And the nephew was bringing her to him, for it was a promise that the young had made to the old and come fire, come water, it had to be respected and obeyed. But the winds rose on the sea, and the sun was hot on the oceans; and one night while they were playing chess they asked Brangien, the faithful, for wine and for more wine to drink. Brangien, the faithful, being full of sleep, it was the potion of love meant for King Mark that she gave unto one first and the rest to the other; and such passions rose in them that not even the waves in the sea would know of such rising and such demand. Just as the castle of Tintagel rounded itself and shone, on the rocks there, in the country of King Mark, in Cornwall, Iseult gave herself unto Tristan, who through fire and forest, through torture and exile was to be her love. And when he went away and tried to warm his heart through another Iseult, Iseult of the White Hands, no warmth came for there was no love in him. So the ships brought the news of his illness and hopelessness to Iseult of Cornwall, and she took her boat and sped towards him. But when she came Tristan was just dead, and she lay beside him dead. A bramble linked them even in their grave; it rose from the grave of Tristan Et de la tombe de Tristan sortait une belle ronce, verte et feuillue, qui montait par dessus la chapelle; le bout de la ronce retombait sur la tombe d'Iseut et entrait dedans. Ce que virent bien les gens du pays qui le rapportèrent au roi Marc. Le roi la fit couper par trois fois. Le lendemain, elle était aussi belle et en tel état qu'auparavant. Ce miracle était sur Tristan et sur Iscut.'

Sometimes I thought how beautiful it would be to have a tomb over oneself.

Banners flew in the air, trumpets were tried in the streets, and like thoughts seen in consciousness little aeroplanes returned to their starting-points; perhaps in one of them, I thought, looking out of my hospital window, was Savithri. I had not heard from her for a long time, but I knew she was coming. I knew she would come. And no sooner had she come would I know.

There was about London a restrained effervescence, as though princes, Zulus, soldiers and politicians; theatrical actors, workers on the arches, policemen on horses; the very manipulations of electric lights on houses and towers, were, so to say, inter- changeable entities, as though man were discovering himself. To be many is to be one, for when the many speak to the One in the many, one seems to speak to oneself. Objects seem to sink into voices, and voices seem to procreate objects; the streets seem wide or narrow according to considerations of mind, while objects seem to vanish and reappear according to distances and desires. Man gave himself for those thirty days a wide freedom.

The very aeroplanes seemed sure of themselves, like storks when they go a-mating and nobody thought the Thames could be anything ut a river, or that music would not sound where- soever you touched. Indeed one wondered why every man did not touch every woman and turn her into a monument, and then falling in love with himself (for ever and always does one fall in love but with oneself) he could hook his arm to a statue and walk through London as in a procession, with banners on both sides, and arches everywhere. For it was not that a Queen was being crowned, but that man was discovering his integrity as a being, like the sound in silence, or the swan in the cool, long waters. We were free, so we shone.

The walls were of cristal, The heling was of fine riwal That schône swithe brighte.

In the hospital the nurses all seemed reassured, as if the Queen would visit us, would visit every one of us. When they tucked us into our beds, or, when looking at the thermometers, they saw the width of the broad and sunnery sky, they were sure the Queen would visit us, and would shake hands with us, and with a whisk (made of pink feathers and birch-grass) she would drive away ur maladies pronouncing our sacral name. Yes, she would come and visit us, every one of us, the Queen would, the nurses thought, though they never said it; and the patients sat on their beds at night and asked themselves, were they wondering or was this the truth? There was a Malayan doctor next door who had dengue fever, and who roared in his bed saying some prayer-a Muslim one no doubt which seemed like a speech made to one- self: 'Calm yourself, my son, my child, the great day of resur- rection will come. And you heard trumpets and you saw flags fly. And nobody could die during those days, for there was no space or time for hearses. The horses were busy elsewhere, and man's thoughts were on such important objects that nobody thought of death. That was why every aeroplane flew with the assurance of a train seen in a dream, which goes everywhere inventing its own rails. There are no station-masters nor acci- dents in that kingdom, your children are at the station, and the station covered with flowers flies into the air. You felt you could just walk down the parks and the trees would be lit, and that you could talk to anyone and he would speak to you your language. When the train at Euston Station whistled, it was like Uncle Seetharamu's dhobi's donkey braying in the back-yard, dream- it was carrying the washing of a King.

Everything, in fact, lived in the reality, in such a way that each time the lift came up you thought the door would open and anyone, the one person-anyone could only be one-would step out, and you would hear her jalatrang voice. Water and vessel produce a sound, and you can hear it many a while. It seemed to me during those days as though the world had asked itself a question sometime at the beginning of the ice-age, at the beginning of the first man, and that the answer would now be accorded; that with trumpet and march of soldiery, with the pro- cession of Prime Ministers and Ministers of State, in the assembly of Kings and Prelates, the answer would be given; not as a word, or as a gift, but as a dot, a sign, a recognition. That a spot would be shown, where man concentrated on himself, all in a point; where man freed of himself would ultimately know the other, the Truth-that the kingdom of God was interior and well-built. 'Our feet shall stand in thy gates, O Jerusalem: Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity in itself. O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces.' And like the palace and empire of the budamékaye, the six sisters would come and the chamberlain-monkey be thrown into the milk; one would hear sounds, see objects, touch life. The world was not before, the world would not dissolve hereafter, but in the instant is the re- creation of the whole; the Te Deum Laudamus will sound, and the bells will peal, whereunto, for an instant, one stopped and became Queen. Everybody was born a King and became a Queen. Everybody was born a King, and became a Queen the instant the second hand had moved on itself-for nothing ever moves, nothing is ever said, one is oneself the truth.

Thy blessed unction from above Is comfort, life, and fire of love.

Lord, such a Queen shall be crowned, such a Queen shall be crowned, I said to myself and went to sleep.

Then one day I heard, "Thoracoplasty, Thoracoplasty'. It became the sound of a beautiful song, and whether I called Little Mother or Uncle Seetharamu, they always said to me, "Thoracoplasty'. The operation-table straps said: 'How do you do?' and I was all so white. It is good to be white. It is so light to be white. Dr Burnham said: 'Achchäjee namaste! I told you, it's solid as silver. I pray for you.'

The operation-table straps sang again like clappers of church bells, ether seemed precious and the world re-created out of nothing-the emptiness and sound was so true. Evil is just part of a lung, and the evil of evil is evil. To awaken is to see the world as a promise made in sleep. Truth is een inside. When seen outside, reality is as a name given to memory; as a waterfall heard from above, it is light, indeterminate. Man seeks his knowledge in the world but must know it is himself without him. Then the world shines as at a festival.

Death had been made into a poster, and left at the door. He could not come in. Nobody could come in only the Queen could come in clad in muslin white, single and followed by sixteen maids. She would come by the stone path of the hospital yard. mount up the steps, and all in united silence come along the lit corridors, with red and green lights, and kneel by us and pray. And after prayer she would laugh and we would open our eyes. The temperature charts would go shooting through the window, like evil become birds, and sit on plants, and flower. The Queen would remain with us for a long time, and the world resound with luminous song.

And with them eke, O Goddesse heauenly bright Mirrour of Grace and Maiestie divine Great Lady of the greatest Isle...

Then she came she came again, and yet again.

One day she came to me at that time she used to smoke a great deal and she said after a long silence:

"Woman should not be."

I said, 'Why, Savithri?'

'Woman is coeval with death.'

'Which means?'

'Woman is the meaning of death." 'I don't understand,' I protested.

'You said: The woman is the world. The truth of the world is dissolution. Or rather Truth can only be because death is. If the world were the world, there would be no Truth."

"Yes, that is so. If oxygen be oxygen or rhinoceros rhinoceros, there would be no Truth. There would be death, and that crown of death the pyramid. But death is not despite Tuk-Ank- Ammon and his crown. Death itself cannot be, for he who says it cannot be is.'

"Then the worsan is Tuk-Ank-Ammon. The woman must die, with crown and pyramid. Or rather the woman must be- come death. Woman is the disease, the historical lineage of man.'

'And man?'

"The Truth,' she said, 'the Supreme Light. We are the fakers, the makers. We make the falsehood that is life, the trinkets. That is why man has such contempt for us,'

"Will you exchange places with me?' I asked.

'Yes, if you like this wretched cloak.'

*If you become me, then there is no problem.'

'How so?'

'Then you, become me, will be the real Savithri.'

'And who's the Satyavan?"

"The self, the Truth,' I said, and heaved a sigh. My stitches seemed sweet and tranquil to feel, they lived their own cutaneous existence. No, Satyavan cannot die. Man must unto himself be himself and his bride. You remember I told you, all brides be Benares born."

'If Benares is inner, My Lord, the bride too is in Benares.'

"Man must die, Savithri, nevertheless."

'There never was a woman. There never can be a woman. When Tristan died, Iseult came. Iseult always comes too late.'

"If Iseult had died?'

'Iseult was death itself. When death dies..."

"Tristan is born. And there, never, never is an Iseult.'

"What happens to Iseult, then?'

'She is Tristan.'

"Tristan, do not die!'

'Satyavan will not die, Savithri."

 In the Mahabharatha Savithri marrics, against all odds, Satyavan (The Truthful) and conquers him back from Yama, the God of Death. "Truth must be,' she said.


'Because Savithri must live.'

"The woman is crowned a Queen,' I said.

'How so?' she asked.

'Man rejoices in his own death. For man, death is trans- cendence.'

'And transcendence?¹

"Transcendence is splendour. For man, glory is transfigura- tion. Not Ascension, but Asumption is the true nature of the Mother of God."

'And so?" she asked.

'So woman is the sacrifice.'

'And what rose out of the sacrifice.'

"The world."

"The world.'

'And of the world?"

'A Kingdom.'

*And in the Kingdom?"

'A Queen. Thus man gave himself back."

'So man is eternal-he is deathless,' she said. 'He is crowned a Queen.'

Indra the deity, the Tristubh metre,' I chanted,

The Panchadasa stone. Soma the King, I have recourse to the lordly power, I become a Kshatriya,1

O God, O fathers, O Father, O gods, I offer, being he who I am. This is my sacrifice, my gifts, my toil, my offering, Be Agni here my witness, Vayu my hearer, Aditya Yonder my proclaimer,

I who am I am I.'

The set of four-lions has now the face of a young queen, and Rig-Veda the sound of aftermath.

¹ Of the Royal fold. During those days she came to see me often-she came un- announced, for even the hospital rules seemed to have been relaxed during that month, and visitors came in and out as they liked. Only the nurses were often overworked, and one was sorry the temperature charts did not, like some meteorological charts, go marking their own lines. Savithri would come and look long and intently at the chart, take my temperature, making excuses to Sister Jean for her presence, and say, 'Today you have less fever, my love,' or 'Oh, I know I am the fever, I the temperature." And then she would sigh, and as she wiped her eyes the collyrium would trickle down, and she would rub it all away, giving her Bangalore blue sari or the white Lucknow a mark and a distinc- tion of me. 'Promise to burn me with this,' she would plead romantically. And I would answer: *Death is feminine and not masculine. So she must burn her- self.'

Then she would hum some song of Mira which brought peace, perfume, and elevation to that hospital room, and the sun seemed to shine the brighter, for a Rajput Queen could sing of Krishna in Brindavan.

'My love, my love,' she would say, putting her lips against mine, 'how I wish I could suck the sorrow out of these twists,' and she would lay her head against mine, and try to feel me.

'You know I don't love you?' she said one day.

"That I know," I said. 'For if you did, all would be Brindavan.' "Then why don't you play on the flute, and I leave the cattle and the children and that man called my husband.'

'Don't say, "that man, iny husband". He is your husband, and you are mine.'

'Of course he is. Alas he is."

'Pratap is a very fine person, Savithri. As a husband one needs nothing better.'

'But then where is Brindavan?'

"Where there is Krishna.'

'And who is Krishna?"

'I, when I am not Rama. Where the mind is not,' I con- tinued, 'nor the body, there is his home, Brindavan, and there he shines, Lord Muraré.' "Then why this sin of Radha?"

'Because Krishna is not Krishna yet. And when he is Krishna there is no Radha as Radha, but Radha is himself. That is the paradox, Savithri, the mortal paradox of man.'

'And the paradox is the fever. Lord, what would I not give that this fever should go, this fever that is me.... Lord take me, and let me forget the world.'

'Savithri, who can take who? As I once told Madeleine, there where we take there is no love, and there where we love there is no taking. You can but take yourself."

'Quickly then. How can it be achieved?'

'By-by discipleship,' I answered, as though I was com-

municating my ultimate secret. 'Discipleship of what to whom?'

'Discipleship of Krishna, of the Truth.'

She understood. She was silent for a long while; then she shut the window, and putting on her coat she said:

'Rama, I have a question.'

"Yes, Savithri? What is it?"

"To whom does one belong?"

"To one's self, Savithri.'

'What shall become of her that does not belong to her- self?'

'Then must she belong to someone.'

But if she belong to one wholely, or rather almost wholely, and to another she be tied, as a calf is tied to the tether, or as the plane is tied to the radar."

"The plane must accept the direction of the radar, that there be no accident. Either you are a plane and you follow national and international conventions or you do not fly." *And no garland put on your wings, and no coco-nut broken as you make your first flight."

"Yes, that is what I mean.'

'So, when the plane refuses the radar, and only loves the beauty of the broad sky, the sea below and sands of Santa Cruz shining in the sun...

"Then must it crash.'

'So the plane must obey the radar?' "Yes, that is dharma. The law is dharma. To disobey dharma is to give pain.'

'Pain to whom?'

*Pain to the infinite sky-knowing,' I said, smiling, 'that the plane is not flying saucer."

'Pain-what is it?' she asked, intent, stopping near me for a moment.

'Pain,' I answered, 'is the residue of action."

'And joy?'

'Joy is the identity of love."

'So what shall I become?' She heard her voice choke in her- self.

*A wife, Savithri, a wife. A true wife.'

I have not been one yet, you know,' she said, laughing. 'I have been waiting for Brindavan."

'Wheresoever there be no pain, Savithri, my love, that is where Krishna plays the flute, and the cows come and listen to the music, their faces uplifted, their ears stretched against their wide white shoulders. And the trees will flower and the peacock spread his wings, and the gods will come to see this festival of life.'

And what shall one do with one's pain?"

Know that to have pain is to give pain. Rejoice, Savithri! Rejoice in the rejoicement of others. That is the Truth."

"You ask too much, my Love. Can I still call you that?"

'Yes, my principle, my Queen, you can. Love is rejoicing in the rejoicing of the other.'

She touched me with the tip of her lips as though Truth had been there, just there, and the moment was the whole of Truth. Then she left me. A few days later she left London. The sky was blue with summer in the air, one's lungs felt compassionate to- wards oneself. Yes, the Queen has been crowned, the Queen,' I said, as my rain left Waterloo. The next day I was in Paris, and in a few days I was in the Engadine above the snows. I was happy, very happy. 1 was white and young as the snows. Snow is the benediction of the earth. It tells you joy is whole, is per- manent, and your lungs speak it to you. Oh, the marital air of the mountains, the convexity of spring; the anemones and the blue irises of the Alps; the lavender, the thyme, and the rose- mary; they seemed like death become white, like blood in the limbs and freshness in one's eyes.

Saroja wrote letters and I could understand, Madeleine did not write and I understood silences-words and silences again began to have meaning, and the earth was not the ecstasy of fever, but was solid; with milestones and trees, with the smell of tobacco-shops selling picture-postcards, the odour of rich, warm coffee, and the smell of Switzerland that makes the room feel the forest and the waters immaculate.

Man is born in pain. His rebirth is solitude, his song is him- self. Thus spake Zarathustra, and thus indeed Savithri to Ananda. Parsifal is the King of the earth, and he will walk mountains and stand tiptoe on the peaks, secing wave after wave of iridescent snow; and he will sing unto himself, for singing unto one's self is prayer. And when the planes shine over the Alps, you know they are led away through the mysteries of space into the kingdom where you will never be. Man, tell yourself, tell yourself in the simplicity of the night, you must go as you came, and assure yourself that the Ultimate is the solitude of joy. Rejoice, rejoice in the rejoicing of others, and know that you in- clude the world as joy in the depth of your sleep. It may be useful to remind the reader that Savithri and Ananda was the name of an opera Wagner wanted to write, which later became the Parsifal. 

The Serpent and The Rope
The Serpent and the Rope is an autobiographical-style novel by Raja Rao, first published in 1960 and the recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1964. The book explores themes of reality, existence, and self-realization. Throughout the novel, protagonist Ramaswamy's thought process develops in line with Vedantic philosophy.

Chapter 1-

28 November 2023

I WAS BORN a Brahmin-that is, devoted to Truth and all that. 'Brahmin is he who knows Brahman,' etc. etc.... But how many of my ancestors since the excellent Yagnyavalkya, my legendary and Upanishadic


Chapter 2-

28 November 2023

I CANNOT REMEMBER anything more about Benares. We spent a further two or three days there, and while Little Mother went to hear parayanams in a private temple I wandered, like a sacred cow, among the


Chapter 3-

28 November 2023

THE TRIP BACK to Aix started somewhat inauspiciously. My plane, after being five hours in flight and almost half-way Here they tinkered away on the tarmac, but somewhere in the middle of the night the


Chapter 4-

28 November 2023

MONTPALAIS is a little château on the top of a sharp monticule, as they say in France, a lone, eleventh-century bastion, with many gaping eyes and hands and feet, all torn to bits, first of all by the


Chapter 5-

28 November 2023

I STAYED at the Hotel d'Angleterre. It opened on to the north, and from my room the Pic du Midi seemed but a leap, a touchable stretch of murmuring, unsubsiding green. From the mornings the mist rose


Chapter 6-

29 November 2023

GRANDMOTHER Lakshamma used to tell us a sweet story: 'Once upon a time, when Dharmaraja ruled Dharmapuri, he had a young son of sixteen, Satyakama, who had to be sent away on exile because his stepmot


Chapter 7-

29 November 2023

PAGES from my Diary. October 17. Catherine came here the day before yesterday. It's no use pushing her and Georges into each other's arms. Of course she's shy-but she looks at men as she would a lega


Chapter 8-

29 November 2023

TOOK Savithri back to Cambridge. At the station we jumped into a taxi and I left her at Girton College; then I went on to reserved for me. The short porter, called John, led me up the staircase to my


Chapter 9-

29 November 2023

IN LONDON I could not say whether I was happy or unhappy. I walked back and forth in my room in Kensington-it was on the third floor of an old building, and looked out on a lovely square beyond which


Chapter 10-

30 November 2023

DESTINY is, I think, nothing but a series of psychic knots that we tie with our own fears. The stars are but efforts made indeterminate. To act, then, is to be proscribed to yourself. Freedom is to le


Chapter 11-

30 November 2023

I FOUND MYSELF saying the Gayathri mantra as we landed at Santa Cruz. I had said it flay after day, almost for twenty years; I must have said it a million million times: 'OM, O face of Truth with a di


Chapter 12-

30 November 2023

I GOT BETTER. Dr Pai ordered three months in Bangalore, so Little Mother, Sukumari, Stidhara, and I, with the cook and Baliga, all went up to Bangalore. I hired a house in upper Basavangudi and with c


Chapter 13-

30 November 2023

MADELEINE HAD MOVED to a new house. 'I could never again live in Villa Ste-Anne,' she had written to me. The new one was called Villa Les Rochers, for the sloping garden was strewn with brown and whit


Chapter 14-

30 November 2023

ONE DAY MONTHS LATER just a few days before I was to leave for Paris--I went into Madeleine's room. She had influenza, and was coughing a great deal. She seemed almost shocked that I should have come


Chapter 15-

1 December 2023

AS THE TRAIN pulled itself northward, and we passed through A Eyguières, Tarascon, Avignon, Orange, there was much spring in the air-though it was only mid-February-and I thought of Savithri. There ha


Chapter 16-

1 December 2023

WHEN I CAME BACK to Paris I found Catherine, and the baby so pretty, so happy. It seemed as though happiness was near at hand, could be cus from a tree like a jackfruit, like a bel. I took a room near


Chapter 17-

1 December 2023

I HAVE NOW TAKEN a room off the Boulevard St-Michel, just where the rue de Vaugirard goes up by the Lycée St-Louis. My room is on the seventh floor-I had long been waiting to live up here, and had ask