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Chapter 2-

28 November 2023

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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 lanes and temples of the Holy City.

What I loved most were the shops, with their magnificent copper- work, inlaid with lacquer and ivory; the many bunches of false hair hanging from the roof; the multicoloured bangles; and the rich, fervid smell of bhang, as it was given mixed with buttermilk and spice. The Benares silk shops too were splendid, with saris of such intricate designs as to make one marvel that people still prepared such wonders and sold them for money. One day I went out alone and bought a rose-coloured sari, with pistachio green mango-leaf pallo for Madeleine-the pistachio would be so splendid against her gold. For Saroja I bought a simple white knitted sari from Lucknow. I wanted to buy bangles, too, but I was afraid they would break, and thought besides that when Little Mother had had to break them but the other day, to carry them would have been improper.

I wandered also among the cows tied up inside the temples, and touched their grave and fervent faces and fed them with green grass. What wonderful animals these be in our sacred land-such maternal and ancient looks they have. One can understand why we worship them. I bought some kunkum one day and decorated the faces of all the cows in a temple, then went out and bought bengal-gram and fed the monkeys. Evening was falling. I went back to Harishandra Ghat and collected Little Mother where she sat on the bank of the river, talking away to Sridhara. I hired an ekka somewhere in the outskirts of the Brahmin quarter and took Little Mother to the Annapurna temple for worship. How beautiful the Devi looked, in her saffron sari and with dark forehead bejewelled, and what strength emanated from her, what depth of Peace. O Thou who hast clothed Thyself in cloth of gold, Decked in ornaments made of many and varied gems; Whose breasts rounded like a water-jar Are resplendent with their necklace of pearls; Whose beauty is enhanced by the fragrance of the Kashmir aloe;

O Devi who presidest over the city of Kashi O vessel of mercy grant me aid.

Anna-Purné Sada-Purné,' I recited with Little Mother, and when the camphor was lit Sridhara was so absorbed and quiet that I knew this last child of my family could gather the holiness of generations. Maybe one day he would answer my questions; for I had serious questions of my own and I could not name them. Something had just missed me in life, some deep absence grew in me, like a coco-nut on a young tree, that no love or learning could fulfil. And sitting sometimes, my hand against my face, I wondered where all this wandering would lead to. Life is a Pilgrimage I know, but a Pilgrimage to where--and of what?

Everyone, for thousands of years, every one of the billion billion men and women since the Paleolithic ages, feels that something is just being missed. One in ten million perhaps knows what it is, and like the Buddha goes out seeking that from which there is no returning. Yet what is the answer? Not the monkhood of the sadhu, or the worship of a God. The Ganges alone seemed to carry a meaning, and I could not understand what she said. She seemed like Little Mother, so grave and full of inward sounds.

I was anxious about something, anxious with an anxiety that had no beginning, and so no maturity. Lying on the stone floor of the big Brahmin house where we were staying I could hear the bells ring all the hours of the day, and pilgrims, muttering man- tras to themselves, going down the steps. Sometimes, too, a fish caught something in the water, and you could almost feel the night tear with its swish and plunge.

Little Mother slept. Her hands on the head of Sridhara, pressed gently against her breast, Little Mother slept. She slept as though the waters of the Ganges were made of sleep and each one of us a wave. But she would suddenly open her eyes and ask, 'Rama, are you sure you are not cold? I am frightened of your lungs, Son."

Though the damp entered the very pores of my body the mosquitoes were worse. Little Mother had given me her mos- quito curtain that I at least should have real rest. Under the net I felt so much apart that sleep seemed unnecessary. Perhaps it was the damp, or perhaps I did not eat enough, but I started to cough again. Little Mother was frightened. By the next after- noon we had left for Allahabad. Getting down at the station Little Mother said: 'I fear everything now."

But she was warmed by the presence of Venktaraman on the platform. Venktaraman was a colleague of my father's in Hydera- bad. He now taught English at Allahabad University, and we had sent him a wire. Little Mother felt comforted too when a South Indian spoke to her in Telugu; and when we reached home, Oh, it was so wonderful to have rasam with asafoetida in it, and chutney with coco-nut and coriander-leaf! In the morning, when dosé came with filter-coffee, Little Mother really smiled.

How much we are dependent on familiar things for our feelings of sorrow or joy. In this new-found ambiance, Little Mother almost discovered her old spirits. Benares seemed hateful to her: the whole of the North, but for the Ganges, was one desolation of dirt. Lakshamma agreed. And they could talk of children and marriages, and who gave what and at which wedding. One daughter of Lakshamma was married to an I.F.S. in Delhi, and the other to someone in the railway services. The son was studying engineering in Benares, but he had come home for the holidays. Hints were thrown that though we belonged to two different com- munities Lakshamma would not mind thinking of Saroja for her, first daughter-in-law. Little Mother noted all this in silence, and simply said, 'It's a pity Rama is married already. Otherwise he would be so splendid for Kaumudi.' Kaumudi, the third daughter, was sixteen and was studying for the Intermediate. 'It may still happen,' said Lakshamma, blowing away at the kitchen fire. I was unconcerned. But I, too, was happy in these South-Indian surroundings. Since I left for Europe, I had never had an opportunity to live with other Indian families. We prayed-Kaumudi, Lakshamma, Little Mother and I-country chess that afternoon. In the morn- ing Mother and I went down to the Triveni for the ceremonies and later I showed her Ananda Bhavan.¹ One day I took her to the Museum. It must have been on the second or third evening of our arrival, while sitting in the drawing-room and reading some book on Mathematics for I had my father's interest as well-something happened which was to change the whole perspective of my life.

Venktaraman came from the University Club, bringing along a former student of his, Pratap Singh, to the house. Pratap Singh, as I was soon to learn, had been a very bright student at Osmaina University. He had taken English Honours, and indeed did so well that Venktaraman had given him special coaching for the

I.C.S. Pratap was a posthumous son-his family were Jagirdars of Mukthapuri in Aurangabad District. Of a melancholy tempera- ment, Pratap at least wished to brighten other people's lives. So he worked hard to brighten his mother's solitary existence. He sat for the examination but the competition was too severe: they took only seven Indians that year, and he was but the twenty- sixth or twenty-seventh on the list. The British Resident, however, immediately recommended him for nomination into the Political Services. He was a Raja Sahib of sorts; besides, he was such a clever lad, and the family had always been loyal to the Crown. He was of course chosen, and was sent over to England, being one of the last batch of civil servants to do this. His mother was so happy she went to live with her daughter in Parbhani.

One thing, however, remained to be done. If only the boy could be affianced, of course on his return, to the right party, then even if his mother should die before her time, she would breathe her last with peace in her soul. Pratap not only came from an ancient, if impoverished, family-they only owned some six or seven villages now-he also had a certain gravity of bearing. He was naturally 'virtuous. He was steady, and he was devoted.

That the choice should fail on the daughter of Raja Raghubir 1 The home of the Nehru family. Singh of Surajpur-on the daughter who has just been sent to Europe for her education-seemed neither strange nor impossible. That the Raja Sahib was a tyrant and even his servants were afraid to go anywhere near him, made no difference to the choice. On the contrary, having such a manly father-he had once tied one of his servants to a pillar and given him such a licking that his wounds took a month to heal in hospital-all this made the marriage even more desirable. A manly father has a gentle daughter always. Her mother was the gentlest of creatures, ever bent over her Ramayana and Gita. Her fasts and kirtans were known everywhere. She had lost a young son, her first-born, while she was only eighteen-and it had given her such a shock that nobody had heard her speak a loud world or seen her make a quick gesture the many long years since. Dignified in carriage, she was a contrast to the whip-bearing, pan-spitting father, who was known to have other and more common vices. But music is, after all, as much mine as yours, and if dancing girls are more learned in the art the fault is not theirs but that of our own women!

Savithri, for that was the daughter's name, was the eldest. She was sent to England as soon as the war was over, with the Lord Sahib's own recommendation. And so to be eventually married to a civil servant would be no real humiliation, even if the young man did not come from so good a family. After all to be in the Political Services was to belong to the most exclusive cadres of the Government of India: you were not quite an Englishman or a Maharaja, but about equidistant from both, and sometimes superior, because you played polo. You ruled Maharajas, who ruled Indians, and the British received you at the Club. Thus an Assistant Resident was still a highly respected party in the marriage market of North India. The British Governor's presence, music and a few Maharajas, would do the trick in the end. And then Pandit Nehru could pat his bald pate as long as he liked. And hurrah for the Congress Raj!

The story is too long to relate. Sufficient that the girl did not agree. She came home on holiday and was shown him, and he her and she suggested he arty Pushpavathi, her younger sister. It was nevertheless agreed that the engagement would be between Pratap and Savithri, for Savithri was still very young and she might yet change her mind. If in a few years she did not, Pushpavathi would certainly be ready to marry him. Push- păvathi did not care for her studies anyway, and she longed for a large family and a good mother-in-law. Pratap's mother actually liked the second daughter, but the first was the girl Pratap chose, and on the auspicious star, with coco-nut and kunkum, Savithri was officially engaged to Pratap. There were drum-beats and a lot of music. The best dancing girls had come from Lucknow, Rampur, and Benares, and the Raja Sahib of Surajpur had special illumination arranged on the dome of the palace. Guns popped off announcing the fiançailles and some ten soldiers of the army, for that was what protocol permitted, marched in front of the Palace. Horses and elephants were adorned; the temple of Amba Devi was lit with a thousand lights. Even the children at the local school were given sweets. Al- together it was a splendid occasion for all concerned.

When the family came back to their city home in Allahabad the girl refused to see Pratap. She said it was just her official engagement: nothing had been promised and nothing would ever take place. She had, besides, an aversion to British rule in India, and though Britain was giving up India, in Great Britain the mood had not changed. That Pratap had served the British so faithfully during the terrible war years was a point against him. There was no question of marriage. Months had passed since then, and there had been no letter from her. When she came back again from Cambridge she still said she would not see him. It was here that I was to come in and unweave the whole mystery. Why did she not want to see him? Why?

Living in Europe as I did, and having a French wife, seemed in their eyes to give me some special privilege in the under- standing of love, which I did not, of course, possess. But when Pratap invited me over with him to the Raja Sahib's house I, who hate all this decayed and false modernity of our small Rajas and Maharajas, went with some apprehension. That the whole set- up of Kumara Villa was i:: the bad taste I had anticipated did not surprise me. It is often difficult to be wrong about modern India. The crust is so superficial-it lies about everywhere but you can remove it, even with a babul-thorn.

The Rani Saheba received us in one of those modern drawing- rooms hung with huge oil-portraits of British ex-Governors and sundry Maharajas. There were a few Ravi Varma lithographs on the walls, too, with paper flowers round them. There were three tiger-skins, one of them almost a nine-footer that the Raja Sahib had killed in Kumaoan, and there were English-speaking servants. The tea-set was suburban, the English babu-English, and then came Savithri. There was nothing in her round, almost plump face and her thick spectacles to show but the most ordinary upper-middle-class Indian. Apart from France, and all that, the fact that I was a Brahmin by birth and a South Indian seemed to have given me a natural superiority. Though Pratap was at least four or five years my senior he .fumbled at every step and looked up to me for explanation and support. It seemed that even if my father's death had served for nothing else, it would serve to bring Pratap and Savithri together.

Savithri came with that sweep and nervousness of the modern girl and sat near me. She was fascinated with the idea that I was working on the Albigensians; she would herself have taken History, but her father had recommended English. So she was doing the English Tripos, and asked if I knew Cambridge. I told her I did not, but would take the earliest opportunity to go there when I was next in London. I also invited her to Aix-en-Pro- vence, showed her a picture of Villa Ste-Anne and spoke feelingly of Madeleine. I never mentioned the child. And the only curious thing I remember about Savithri that day was I said to myself: Here is a very clever person, but she never says anything that really matters. We had one thing in common: we both knew Sanscrit, and could entertain each other with Ultra Rama Charita or Raghuvansa.

Her presence never said anything, but her absence spoke. Even when she went to speak on the telephone one felt she had a rich, natural grace, and one longed for her to be back. I felt I did not like her, she was too modern for me; she had already started smo- king. If I remember right she was fixing up a dance engagement on the telephone. I could not understand these northerners going from strict purdah to this extreme modernism with unholy haste. We in the south were more sober, and very distant. We lived by tradition-shameful though it might look. We did not mind quoting Sankaracharya in Law Courts or marrying our girls in the old way, even if they had gone abroad. The elder brother still commanded respect, and my sisters would never speak to me as Savithri spoke to her father-the Raja Sahib had just come to say good-bye and he felt his future son-in-law and family were in good company.

When I went back home, what could I tell Little Mother? I told her I saw a strange family and dropped the subject there. We spoke of other and more urgent things. I told her about going to Hardwar and described to her the beauty of Dehra Dun and the foothills of the Himalayas, whence Mother Ganga surges out to purify mankind. You cannot have so much Sanscrit in your being and not feel, Devi Sureshvari Bhagavathi Gange... Saviour of the three worlds of restless waves, Clear is thy water circling upon the head of Shiva, May my mind ever repose at Thy lotus-feet.

Venktaraman spoke of the past and of Father. He said how much my father had loved me, and how he had wept showing him some of my letters from Europe. I tried to be sincere and told him I had a great respect for Father, but that somehow since Mother's death he could not inspire my love. Venktaraman knew some of my former sentences by heart and I could have wept for such brutality of language. Partly it was a defence of Madeleine; I think Madeleine hated my father because she wanted all of me. She loved India, for India was a cause to love. My father? Oh, no, why should one love him? She had a veneration for my mother, and hung her picture in my bedroom, my mother with her thick black hair and the central parting, and the big round kunkum on her forehead. It was already when the disease had eaten deep into her that the picture was taken. She was beautiful even so, and you almost felt that for her breathing's sake at least her nose-pendant should be removed from her face. It seemed heavy, incongruous, and somehow very self- conscious.

But Father had died now, and Mother was dead long ago. 'You must remember his mother,' said Little Mother to Lak- shamma when they were praising me for things I did not possess: dignity, deference towards elders, and a deep seriousness towards life. Only such a mother could have borne such a son,' added Little Mother again, and Sridhara looked at me as though he recognized my own mother in myself.

I laughed and recited, 'Kupathu jayatha, kachadapé kumāta nachavathu : A bad son may sometimes be born, but a bad mother never.'

On the morning of our departure for Hardwar I received via .Cooks in Delhi a letter from Madeleine. I did not open it. I knew: one can know in the moment of any event the whole nature of that event, if only we let our minds dwell upon it- meaning, in fact, is meaningful to meaning. I put the envelope into my right pocket, where I kept all her letters.

When we had said good-bye to the Venktaramans--the father and Kaumudi had come to see us off at the station-and Little Mother had wiped her tears, Sridhara began to look out and see the girders of the Ganges Bridge; he looked back at his mother to ask what it meant. Suddenly, without reason, Little Mother shook with sobs. She shook and shook with such violent sobs that I sat there, hands on my knees, with no understanding. Long after the bridge had passed it was that I guessed: perhaps for the first time she realized, Little Mother realized, that Father was really dead. Something in the big look of the child perhaps, or perhaps it was the Ganges, with her sweet motherliness that one was unhappy to quit who said it, for she it was, from age to age, who had borne the sorrows of our sorrowful land. Like one of our own mothers, Ganga, Mother Ganga has sat by the ghats, her bundle beside her. What impurity, Lord, have we made her bear.

I sang the Gangastakam again. Little Mother was very sensitive to Sanscrit hymns, being herselfbrought up the granddaughter of a learned Bhatta. "Kashikshatram, sharfram tribhuvana jananim...' And nigh the river-bank Thy water is strewn With kusha grass and flowers, There thrown by Sages at morn and even. May the waters of the Ganges protect us,

I chanted. Then it was I understood: Little Mother must have remembered the ashes and bones of Father that we let down into the Ganges at Benares. The Ganges knew our secret, held our patrimony. In leaving the Ganges she felt Sridhara was an orphan.

After the next station she looked towards me reassuringly. I was there, heir and protector and companion. By now a common pain had knit us together, and in the daily pressure of the un- expected, in which two humans thrown together have to live side by side, Sridhara became our means of understanding. We both of us played with him-what a lovely child he was!-and in that common language we communicated with each other. Little Mother was a shy and silent person. I used to say she spoke as though she were talking to the wall or to a bird on a tree. She always spoke to herself as it were. She spoke to me sometimes, with long silences, in simple sentences that she could not formu- late, for her education was meagre. But her voice was infinite in accent and tone, as though it were some primitive musical in- strument, that made some noise, which having been used from age to age had learnt the meaning of sound. And sound is born of silence.

So rich and natural was Little Mother's silence that she often lay with her eyes closed, almost motionless. She now stretched herself out on the berth, for we were alone in the whole com- partment, and with Sridhara against her breast she lay almost asleep. Only when the child moved you could see her hand cover its head with the fringe of the sari. Little Mother must later have fallen sleep, for I heard her snore once, and then she did not wake for many hours.

Meanwhile Manduadih, Balapur, Hardatpur, Rajatalab, Nigatpur passed by; little hamlets with green all around and clusters of ancient trees by gond or on mound, that seemed to guard the tradition of the race. One remembered that it was here that the Aryans, when they first entered the country, camped under the ancestors of these trees, and the Ganges flowing by brought them the richness of green wheat stalks, the yellow of sesame and the gold of sugar-cane. It was somewhere here, too, that Gargi and Yagnyavalkya must have walked, and out of their discussions by wood-fire and by river-steps was our philo- sophy born, and that noble, imperial heritage of ours, Sanscrit, the pure, the complete, the unique. He who possesses Sanscrit can possess himself.

A signal, a flag, and the clang of the train carried us towards the holy, thrice holy Himalayas. It was thither, when the work in the plains was over, or when one needed the integrity of selfness, that my Ayran ancestors went up the Ganges to seek the solitude of the snows and the identity of Truth. Somewhere over against the sky should Kailas stand, and Shiva and Parvathi besport themselves therein, for the joy of mankind. Nandi, the vehicle and disciple of Shiva, that bull without blemish, would wander round the world, hearing the sorrows of this vast countryside, hearing of painful birth and death, of litigation, quarrel, and paupery. Parvathi would know of it, for Nandi would never dare tell his master in speech, and Parvathi would plead with Shiva that orphan, beggar, and widow should have the splen- dour of life given unto them. You never knew when the door would open, and the sack of gold be found at your thres- hold.

The whole of the Gangetic plane is one song of saintly sorrow, as though Truth began where sorrow was accepted, and India began where Truth was acknowledged. So sorrow is our river, sorrow our earth, but the green of our trees and the white of our mountains is the affirmation that Truth is possible; that when the cycle of birth and death are over, we can proclaim ourselves the Truth. Truth is the Himalaya, and Ganges humanity. That is why we throw the ashes of the dead to her. She delivers them to the sea, and the sun heats the waters so that, becoming clouds, they return to the Himalaya. The cycle of death and birth go on eternally like the snows and the rivers. That explains why holy Badrinath is in the Himalaya git groclaims the Truth. Sri Sankara again came to my mind. Shines forth does the Devi, born in the snowy mountains; Her beautiful hands are like a red leaf. It is She with whom Shiva seeks shelter, Who stoops from the weight of her breasts, Whose words are sweet; Tender creeper of intelligence and bliss.

Reciting the hymn I slipped into one of those curious moods that fill us in the vastness of India; we feel large and infinite, compassion touching our sorrow as eye-lashes touch the skin. Someone behind and beyond all living things gave us the touch, the tear, the elevation that makes our natural living so tender. If there were no barbarian beyond our borders the Hindu would have melted into his nature, grown white as some women in the Zenana, and his eyes have seen the splendour of himself every- where. He might have grown emasculated, but he would have played in the garden of the Ganga.

My thoughts were, as you see, very Indian, and I thought it right, now that the evening was slowly stretching itself down, that in this atmosphere I should read the letter from Madeleine.

'M'ami, my friend,' she wrote. The letter was dated the 29th of March, 1951.

'M'ami, my friend. Will I give you pain if I told you I went down last week-end to Bandol? Somehow I had to visit it. You could never understand what Pierrot's birth was to me. You in your masculine isolation--I could almost say your Indian alone- ness can never understand what it is for a mother, and a French mother, to bear a child. It is the birth of the god in a chalice, the Holy Grail; you know, Christian or not, one feels the birth, and even one who is not a Christian would almost look around and see the stable and the Rois-Mages bringing offerings to the Lord.

'I bore him, your son, with such love, for ne was a child of love; but you were more interested in his sonship than in his being my son. The feminine to the Indian must always be accessory, a side issue. Yet I loved my son from the time I felt him kicking in- side me, for he was your son. You thought of his future: I thought of the present. You told me how in India you had to have different hymns and diet according to whether you wanted the child to be a hero, a wise man, a doctor, or a grammarian. I just wanted a man: my son.

'Your impersonal approach was strange to me, you yourself so impersonal. I loved you for it, for in touching you I smelt, as it were, some mountain air, the honey-pine of the heights, the smell of incense while the mist rises. Your heart was so like a mountain stream, its tenderness so pure. I loved to bathe in it. But how cruel it can be, how exasperating for a European. You people are sentimental about the invisible, we about the visible. And to me you were the invisible made concrete, so visible, incarnate, beside me and my husband.

'You will never know, m'ami, dear husband, what it was to have your little child beside me; how, as he lay against my breast, I told him a million silly things that I always wanted to tell you, but could never tell you. You make the simple too big, and every- thing human seems ridiculous before you. You remember how we laughed one day when you told me, "Madeleine, why put that nasty powder-some chemical-on your skin; it cannot make the skin more beautiful than it is. I hate to touch the chemical; I want the true." Then I told you a feminine lie, I said it pro- tected the skin in our climate; and how satisfied you were with my answer. You were cruel, as you would have been to a Hindu wife. But months later, when I told you the truth, instead of becoming angry you laughed and laughed at yourself. It is so easy to fool you: you have no understanding of woman at all, dear Rama. I thought I was the innocent one, but you are more foolish than me. No wonder Oncle Charles thinks it served me right to have married such an outlandish creature.

"The child in the cradle. And the cradle against the Mediter- ranean, the Mediterranean the cradle of our civilization. I slept, Rama, night after night in the nursing home, not thinking of Pierre or of you but of Demeter and Poseidon and the voyage of Ulysses. In fact at first I thought a second name for Krishna would be Ulysses. How I rounded the names on my tongue: Krishna Ulysses Ramaswamy. Absurd, absurd, said something to me, but I repeated them so often together, thinking that with familiarity it might become natural. No the name seemed so absurd. Then I thought of Achille, as I told you; Achille was the name of one of the servants in the clinic, but I thought it too heroic for the son of a Brahmin. Well, there was no hurry and Krishna was Krishna. Krishna. Krishna, Krishna, I said to myself, as one repeats a mantra, and I was so filled with delight. He would be copper-coloured, and with your eyes. He would have your limbs, but not your heavy lips or your big nose. A little bit of my nose might not do him any harm. And I prayed and I prayed to some unknown divinity that he should be just a son-not yours or mine, just ours.

'One night, the night before his birth, a great sweep of mistral cleared the air, and we could see as far as Corsica. Far away against the horizon lit boats went across the Mediterranean-to Africa perhaps, and to farthest America. The world moved. Fishing-boats were all about the place, for the fishes come up to the surface on moonlit nights; and as the hill went rolling down with the olives and the lone cypress stood against the tower by the Hôtel de Ville I wondered who I was: what I was doing there? You were away in the hotel, but I told you later of the vision I had that night. Demeter, with fruits and stalks in her hand, rose out of the invisible sea, as though she were made more of silken thread than of substance. It was as if you could see beyond her and she could vanish into herself, as some birds hide their faces in their down. Do you know that beautiful Homeric Hymn? Demeter Kourotrophos, I thought to myself, and she not even the daughter of Poseidon. But the sea was auspicious and the whole world bathed in simple delight. There was no sorrow, no place for imperfection, no death or misery for man. The corn grew, the gods played, the fife filled the valley, the girls danced before the altars and flowers grew everywhere-roses, crocuses, violets, narcissus. Beauty filled the magnanimity of creation and I was happy, Rama, happy as I have never been.

"The next morning at five the pain started, and by eleven the little baby was born. I was neither happy nor sorry to see him, and when I saw your glowing face I wondered why such a lump of flesh which gave me so much pain should give you so much joy. For you it was not a child, a son, your son, and my son; but your heir. For me it was just a something-but then suddenly when I took him in my arms and held him against my breast the whole of creation shone in a single second-the nativity, I repeat, the first and only birth, the proud proof of happiness. Yes, for me Pierre was happiness, he did not make me happy. He was proof that man is, and cannot be happy but be happiness itself.

"The olive trees still go down to the sea. Achille is still at Bandol, but he's become a gargon-de-café. There are no rich English people coming to have their babies in the South of France. I went down to the port; the jetty was still unrepaired, as it was during the German-Italian occupation. I bought flowers chez Henriette, where you said you bought me fresh tulips every morning. I wanted to sleep again in Bandol, so I went to your hotel, the Hôtel-des Pêcheurs, and got the self-same room. The patron did not recognize my name; he probably thought it was Russian. I put the tulips into a vase, put the car in the garage, and went out again into the night. I was not sad, I was just empty. Would I see Demeter again?

"The moon was still in the sky. I felt so pagan. I wish there were an Aliscamps, as in Arles, and that I could write a beautiful epitaph to my dead son. It would read something like this: 'He was born to the cypress, he was born to the syllable, he the child of silence and of Woman.' Or some such thing. He had your silence, Rama, and his hair smelt of thyme.

'The Greek gods are jealous. They are jealous of happiness. My votive offerings brought no answer. No Demeter came in vision with Polos and veil, nor did the sea throw up a broken raft on which was to be found the golden child. Like Penelope I sat on the sea-shore, weaving my web. When will you come, O Ulysses?

'Strange, Rama, nowadays I often go to church. I love ruins, and especially the ruins of cathedrals or chapels. On my way here I passed by St Maximin and visited the Dominican monastery. That is, I went to the chapel for Mass, and Oh, how deeply it affected me, that "Regina coeli, laetare". I wandered all over the place, visited the crypt and saw the relic of holy Mary Madeleine.

The smell of incense that used to hurt me now gives me a pained delight. I hate to kneel and yet sometimes I half bend my knees and remember what my mother always said: "Never kneel without cotton on your knees; God knows what infection may lie there." I still have such a fear of bacteria-how shall I ever stand India?

'You say you are going to Benares with your mother. Of Benares all I know is the bits of floating human flesh and the pyres of the dead, and that the Ganges water when chemically examined shows no bacteria. We Europeans are not yet holy enough to have crypts with no bacteria.

'I hated going to St Maximin, though. I could not visit the church without you; I almost felt you by my side and often turned back to see if by chance you had not suddenly come back, and missing me in Aix had followed me by that terrible intuition of yours. These days with aeroplanes everything is possible. And how sad, Rama, is a lonely woman. Without a man she can see nothing great or holy. There the Hindus are right. Man must lead woman to the altar of God.

'I love you, Rama, with a strange, distant, impenitent love- as though in loving you I say I do not in fact love you. I wish I had an assurance of love, that I did not love you for your purity, your inner strength-the wall, the stone wall that will never yield, 'celui qui ne décevra jamais, as the astrologer in the Boule- vard St-Germain told me. I wondered whether I could really love you-whether anyone could love a thing so abstract as you. Sometimes you seem almost here, and I have such delight that I think I will go down to teach at the College, almost singing, when you have given me my morning coffee. You the most choice, the most noble, the most unhuman husband. I wonder if Indians can love.

'I can. And therefore I await you, you my young love. MAD.

'P.S. How Indian sometimes I have become I see and I wonder. India is infectious, mysterious and infectious.

Even the Indian trains seem to chant mantras: Namasthethu Gangé twadangé bhujangé; Hari-Hari-Ram-Hari-Ram, Ram-Hare'; and going uphill, Shiva-Shiva, Harg-Hara, Shiva-Shiva-Hara'; and so to the morning. The night was quickly over; the child woke up only once or twice, and Little Mother said something incom- prehensible in sleep. 'Saroja,' she seemed to say, 'bring me a glass of white water.' Then came the silence, the long empty silences of the stations, the cry of hawkers, the sound of pilgrims, and then up again, and towards the mountains. The compart- ment was getting cold. I rose up to cover Little Mother's un- covered feet. She was awake, and said, 'Oh, I cannot bear to hear you cough like that.' Was I coughing?

The morning mists were already against the window-pane when the restaurant-car boy came to wake us up. The coffee was warm but very bad. The birches and the deodhars of the Hima- layas spread before us. Isolated forest bungalows came, and now and again a whole tribe of deer jumped away across the pools of the forest, so frightened were they of the train. The parrots had slender and very lovely yellow rings round their throats, and the Himalayas shone above them, simple, aware, vibrant with sound. The Ganges, a small stream, flowed geatly against us, but her freshness was so mature. Whether young or older in years the Ganges is ever so knowing, so wise. If wisdom became water the Ganges would be that water, flowing down to the seven seas.

Somewhere between the interstices of those trees, somewhere in the movement of the hinds, in the mountain stillness of Hardwar did I feel a new knowledge. I felt absence.

The mountains must know, I thought, and so I looked up to- wards the bridge and mountain path that, winding through the pines, led to Rishikesh and Badrinath. There beyond the folds of the snow was Gangotri, where the holy mother took her birth; and the barbarian began where she started. Tibet lay beyond, where Sister Brahmaputra cuts herself gorges in the Himalaya to feed the barbarian; then mingling with the Ganga and become holy she enters the sea conjointly. Duality is anti- Indian; the non-dual affirms the truth.

I dipped in the Ganges and felt so pure that I wondered any- one could die or go to war, that people could weep, or that Hindus and Muslims had cut each other's throats and genitals. Indeed the refugees in Hardwar, innocent creatures, had seen the barbarities of an alien religion.. Ohe could expiate for the kidnapped and the forsaken, dipping and dipping in Ganges by the Himalaya. One could expiate also in the Ganges for the dead. Pierre was never dead: I could feel him in my loins.

There is no absence if you have the feel of your own presence. The mountain echoed an absence that seemed primordial, a syllable, a name.

We went to Dehra Dun in the evening. Next morning I took Little Mother to Mussoorie, and showed her the snows from the Hamilton Point. White and beautiful in their simplicity were they, peaks, bare glaciers, and the sounding emptiness of sky. Sridhara clung to his mother as if he saw something too big to understand, and Little Mother simply muttered away some prayers. When she was moved she always understood herself reciting a hymn. Ultimately the far and the awesome is Divine, it destroys the barriers of bedy and mind, no, rather of mind and body, and reveals the background of our unborn, immaculate being. That is why Shiva lives in the Himalaya.

What happened afterwards is still very hazy in my mind. Little Mother and I left the mountains and the Ganges with immeasurable pain, as though we had been visiting some venerable relations and had to leave them, with a broad kunkum on our faces and their hands on our heads, the perfume of their feet in our nostrils. Mother Ganga had her feet all yellowed with turmeric, and she carried the flowers of our evenings in her hair. The Himalaya was like Lord Shiva himself, distant, inscrutable, and yet very intimate there where you do not exist. He was like space made articulate, not before you but behind you, behind what is behind that which is behind one; it led you back through abrupt silences to the recesses of your own familiar but un- recognized self. The Himalaya made the peasant and the Brah- min feel big, not with any earthly ambition, but with the bigness, the stature of the impersonal, the stature of one who knows the nature of his deepest sleep. For in the deepest sleep, as every pilgrim knows, one is wide awake, awake to oneself. And the Himalaya was that sleep made knowledge. Coming down the ravines by the silent rivulets that ran with us one had the sense of innocence great mountains never give. One felt indeed that neithet tiger nor scratching bear, neither python nor porcupine could ever do the smallest hurt; as the epics say, here in this auspicious refuge the deer and the lion drink of the same waters, and the jackal and the elephant are friends. However, one could not forget, for newspapers never let you forget, that not far from Dehra Dun, in the Tarai, the man- eaters still roamed, and villagers were just caught in their fields and taken away with the ease that boys catch wagtails in spring. You shoot the tigers, so the Government said, and get five hun- dred rupees. And yet how tame and wise-eyed the deer under the trees looked, and when the peacocks danced the world seemed touched by the music of the flute.

Oh where shall I go, Oh where, thou source of virtue, Kanhayya; Oh where when the flute plays, and the cattle come to thee?

Mira the poetess is so northern. She a Rajput princess could treat God, could treat Sri Krishna, her Kanhayya as she, would Rathor. She could count the jewels of his howdah, admire the rings on his fingers, whisper that the cavalry move quicker and the drums beat as Royalty advances. And by pool and archway would the women await, with kunkum water and coco-nut and flower in hand, to welcome this great God, this Principle, this Presence amidst them. The pools suddenly grew lotuses, the parrots suddenly sang, 'Hari is come. Sister, Hari is come,' and the peacocks would pull their tails and offer that he wear a crown of their feathers. The black deer, hearing the sound of music, came to him as in the Rajput paintings, their heads lifted and their ears laid back, listening to the music that came from the flute.

Muraré, I have brought thee the butter of my heart, And when the pyre is ready, Lord, light it thyself; Let my ashes serve as tilak on thy brow.

At Muradabad on the way back the train jerked away from the main line and took us down to Delhi. There the green, virginal Jumna greeted us not as sister of the Ganga, but as it were her daughter, Kalindanandini. Delhi was so sad, with the refugees and the dirt on the streets and the stories one heard of what had happened on the border. Mothers had lost their daughters and fathers their wives, but when the Women's Commission went to recover the abducted women some of them laughed. 'Sisters, you call us. What sisters are we to you, oh respectable ones? The Muslims took us and here we are of their harems; they treat us better than the cowards that left us and ran for their lives. Tell my daughter, I am happy. And tell that man called my husband I spit on his face...."

Some women that were brought back had no tale to tell: they never opened their mouths. They spun cotton, or made baskets at the refugee centres, past thinking. Some had left their fathers behind, some their husbands. Once in a while someone escaped from Pakistan and told tales that could never be heard to the end. Some, too, there were, the true Gandhians, who spoke of the horrors we had committed on the Muslims, and pointed at the fanaticism that led to the sacrifice of him whom we so tenderly called Father of the Nation.

Little Mother naturally wanted to visit the Jumna Ghat, where the last mortal remains of the Mahatma were cremated. She did not weep, she did not even pray. She went down to the Jumna and washed her feet and face. She just could not under- stand what death was. And yet death was everywhere about-a fanatic shoots a saint, a tiger carries away a peasant woman cutting grass in the fields, or the Muslims kill a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand, on the banks of the Ravi, for their God, they say, is different from our God. It is good, Little Mother must have told herself, to belong to the far south. No barbarian will ever come to us.

The train ran straight down south, and looping through the Vindhyas brought us directly to Bombay. By now Sridhara had too much of travel and he developed a slight fever. Our friends in Bombay we stayed in Mathunga, and with South Indians of course--were most kind to us. We had a car to go about in, but this barbaric city simply had no meaning for a Brahmin like me. It spoke a language so alien, had a structure so improper, made a demand so vehement and secondary, that one had no business to be there. Bombay had no fight to exist. Marseille is certainly horrible, with its wide dark windows and its sing-song tramways, its underground world of ruffians, quemandeurs, bicots, and its sheer smelly natural vulgarity; but at least it has the old port and the beauty of Notre-Dame de la Garde. Once you go up the hundred and seventeen steps and see the majesty of the sea from the portico of the Cathedral the whole of the Greek con- quest comes to your mind, and not far from there one can almost see to the right Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where the first Christians landed in Gaul.

Alas, nobody landed in Bombay but merchants and the vul- garity had no naturalness about it, save it were in the Hindu area, where you almost felt you were back in Benares. Somebody suggested we go to Bhan Ganga, and the idea that the Ganga had arisen even in this unholy territory gladdened the heart of Little Mother. 'Look, look!' she cried, showing the sea behind Bhan Ganga. 'It's just like Benares. Beyond was the burning-ghat, of course, and a little farther away Little Mother and I sat by the sea and spoke of family affairs. She was worried about Saroja and Sukumari. One was seventeen years of age and the other fourteen.

'You, Rama, though borne by another woman and a blessed soul at that, you are like my own son. But they are different. Their mother was different, too, and they still have strong links with their mother's family. And after all what am I? A poor court-clerk's daughter. I am twenty-six, and these girls are already taller than me; they go to school and college and know more than I do. As long as He was there, there was someone to look after the house, and now I ask and wonder what will happen to everything. Night after night I cannot close my eyes, and your cough worries me even more. How can men understand the pained heart of woman.'

In between the smells of the sea there came sudden wafts of incense, as though absence was no more an absence, but just a presence invisible, unincarnate. Little Mother blew her nose, and I said: 'I am your son. It is for you to say, and for me to obey.'

There was a small clear moon and I can still feel the auspi- cious sense of the evening. We had just rung the bells at the Shiva temple and had put flowers on the Three-Eyed's head. The Walkeshwar temple was filled with the smell of sandal- wood and camphor. Women were saying prayers in a corner; the Sadhus were lost in their sacred books. Little Mother knew I spoke the sacred truth. I could hear her weep into the edge of her sari, gently and undramatically. She put her hand on the head of Sridhara, as though now she was sure he was protected. I can still remember how immediately her trembling voice became steadier. Then after a long while of silence she said, 'Promise me one thing, Rama?' 'And what may I promise you, Little Mother?'

'Promise that we will never interfere in your life. Your Father once said, Rama, "He's always been an independent child. He never will obey anyone unless he can be convinced. Let him lead his own life." That was what He said to us again when your letter came announcing your marriage. What your father re- spected I shall respect, Rama."

In the car, just as we had left the sea and were going up Malabar Hill, I said:

'And how shall I be of help-so far away, and with so alien an existence.'

'Simply by writing to us often; and coming to us every two or three years. So that they know there's a head of the household, an elder brother; so that the children feel they are protected, and there's one whom they have to obey.'

'Well, for marriages and initiation ceremonies!' I said and laughed.

And when Sridhara is big like you he will take charge of the household. Won't you, you foolish little baby?' she said, and laughed too. Sridhara was asleep.

It was late when we arrived home, but the prasad of the Walke- shwar temple was wonderful to bring back and we all ate happily, and later the eldest daughter of Venkatasubbayya sang some film-songs.

From that evening on Little Mother spoke more simply to me. She would say, 'Now I must take dates for Sukumari, and chocolate for Saroja,' or she would talk of Kapila, the eldest daughter, who had quarrelled with Father and had never set foot in the household again. Since she married into a 'big house' in Mysore and became a daughter-in-law with golden girdle and diamond ear-rings her very nature seemed to have changed. She was, of course, my sister, but there was as much in common between us as between jasmine and tamarind. Let the tamarind grow, I said, and become the village-gate-tree.

The whole family was at the station when we arrived, including the Other-House people, Seena, Kitta and even Uncle Seet- haramu. Grandfather Kittanna, too, had sent us his bene- diction: I would go and see him the next day. Everybody was happy to see me, and so impressed with the dignity and serenity of Little Mother. She had left such a helpless and broken-down woman-almost a girl-and now she returned with natural dignity. She walked as though space was not something unreal and undependable, but this was her own earth, her own home, her own back-yard, with the moon-guava and the well.

Saroja was the first to remark, 'Oh, Little Mother, you seem so changed. You have grown thinner, but you look more like Brother Rama's sister than our Mother.'

'Yes,' I told Saroja, 'I have become the head of the family now. And since I must return to Europe soon Little Mother will be my representative, with the power of the baton and the bank account."

'We obey,' said Saroja, looking at me shyly. That evening everyone vied with the others to make Little.

Mother's bed, and then mine. The whole house seemed to have banished sorrow from the world. Here someone sang, there others had their faces in their books. Sridhara already lay on his mother's bed, as if he, too, felt the world was a safe and good place, and that when he grew up Little Mother would have nothing to bend and break, nor a thing to carry. Milk would flow in the house and the cattle would fill the courtyard with holiness.

Till late in the night lying on the veranda--for it was so hot already Little Mother told of all her experiences in the north. I nearly feel asleep, but she woke me up and said, 'Do you remember, Rama, that meal in Calcutta? You know what they did Saroja? We bought meal tickets at the station Hindu restaurant. "Brahmin or non-Brahmin?" they asked. "Brah- min," we answered. And when I went to the Brahmin section the whole place looked funny. It was not that I had not been to restaurants before-I have even eaten in Brahmin hotels at Bangalore but there it was different. They started serving. I put my hand into the curry. It seemed very soft to touch, but yielded with such difficulty. "Brinjal it must be," I said, and looked at Rama. Rama, who's been all over the world, he also proceeded with care. Saroja, thank God I did not put it into my mouth. You know what it was-it was fish. "Ayyappa!" I said, and rose hastily. I would have thrown the whole of my stomach out. They laughed at us and explained that in Bengal Brahmins do eat fish; they call it "the vegetable of the sea". Ayyayyo,' said Little Mother, 'I could have put my hand into fire, as we do impure vessels, to get the touch of it out of my skin. Thoo!' spat Little Mother, and how Saroja laughed. 'Say what you will, Saroja, the northerners haven't the sensibility of living such as we have. You can see married women without kunkum on their faces, or men spitting on the floor. And as for dirt, well, the less said the better. It is something, Saroja, to be born a Brah- min,' she said, and became silent.

Sleep came with the fresh breeze that blew from the crackling palm trees, and now and again the smell of jasmine wafted above us. I knew I was home.

It was Saroja in fact who made me feel I was back home and in India. When I first came back after Father's illness I was too busy with doctors and visitors to think of being back home. I took Little Mother to the north not to see India myself, but to show India to her and make her 'inauspiciousness' familiar to herself. Now here I was, back again on the veranda of Vishnu Bhavan, quiet, on my own, with the sound of the toddy palms at the back, and the smell of jasmine coming with the midnight breezes. The tap in the street still purred, despite changes of government and municipal constitution, and the blind Tiger, my father's favourite dog, still hunted the fleas on his back, even at night.

'How does a blind thing know night from day?' Little Mother

asked.

Tiger always had fleas, so one day some four or five years before I had bought a bottle of phenol and given him such a scrub that some of the liquid entered his eyes. He could hardly see anything afterwards, and he transferred his loyalties. He went to my father, he treated me as secondary in the scale of human importance. For Tiger I still existed, but just as a mem- ber of the household, albeit the eldest. One fact, however, must be said in his favour. For three days before my father's death he never touched any food. On the day of Father's death he howled at the moon a great deal. And the next day he let Sridhara pull his tail as much as the child liked. But Tiger never got reconciled to me. He always looked at the gate, as though the doors would open and Father would come in again.

Saroja had grown so lovely. At seventeen, Lord, how beautiful the world could be! She was tall and was fair in a family where most of us are fair. And her silence had a quality that made living cervine. Saroja would never say anything important to anyone, and yet by some abrupt inconsequentiality she would say something you had been waiting to name. She had a deep and a noble wisdom. And she could talk so much, tell such stories, read your hand or invent a tale about her class-com- panions; but always it was to hide something of her own.

Sukumari was different; she was afraid of something, so she always quarrelled. What was red to Saroja was always pink and white to Sukumari, and the discussion usually ended in a long- drawn sobbing. 'What an inauspicious thing to be doing, and of an evening, when the lights are being lit,' Little Mother would say, and Saroja would go into the kitchen to help her with frying the mustard for the raam.

-Each evening before the meal the younger children would recite hymns, and once the camphor was lit Saroja would sing an arathi song and I would begin 'Rajhadhu-Rajaya... After the circumambulations we would eat quickly and rush back to the veranda, and the talk of what happened with the Venktaramans in Allahabad or with the Vikrams in Delhi would begin again. There had been one miserable little child of Vikram's-Vikram had married for the fourth time at fifty-five and she eighteen- who was so ugly, such a bunch of Carrots and coriander leaves,

that nobody seemed to care for it. Sridhar looked a prince beside that Vithal, and at the mention of Vithal everybody laughed. Later Little Mother wrote to me that Vithal had died, of cholera. Saroja was a strange sensation for me. Here was a mystery which I had never observed before: the girl becoming woman, and the thousand ways it shows itself, in shyness, in language, in prime presence. I had left India too young to know the sensi- bilities of a Brahmin girl. Saroja was thirteen when I left, and Sukumari but nine years old. Saroja's presence now obsessed me sometimes, like one of those nights with the perfume of magnolia. Rich and green seemed the sap as it rose, and it had a night of its own and a day. That Saroja was my sister made the knowledge of her womanhood natural to me-natural to see, to observe and even to breathe. I would myself pluck flowers for her hair and take her out on long walks and speak to her of Europe and of Madeleine. She too wanted to come and study in Europe; she would be a doctor, and later she would get Little Mother to live with us, she said. I was intoxicated with Saroja's presence, like a deer could be before a waterfall, or an elephant before a mountain- peak; something primordial was awakening in a creature, and I felt that maturity in a girl was like new moon or the change of equinox, it had polar affinities. There was something of the smell of musk, of the oyster when the pearl is still within, of the deep silent sea before the monsoon breaks. There was, too, a feeling ofa temple sanctuary, and I could now understand why primitive peoples took the first blood of menstruation for the better harvesting of their fields. And why the Indians gave such beautiful names to their women, and told us how Malavika when she poured water made the Asoka flower, or Shakunthala the Kamnikar blossom. What a deep and reverential mystery womanhood is. I could bow before Saroja and call her Queen. She gave me one of her own saris for Madeleine as I left. I prayed for Saroja, and knew in the eye of my eye, somewhere in the interstices of my being, I had named sontething I had not known yet-it was the absence that had become presence again; it was not Saroja I felt and I smelt, but something of the Ganges and the Jumna that rose into my very being. Benares was indeed nowhere but inside oneself: Käshi kshetram, shariram tribhuvana jananim.' And I knew: all brides be Benares born.

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The Serpent and The Rope
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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.
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 ha

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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

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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

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