Chapter 3-

28 November 2023

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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 they put us into a new plane, and off we were again. We did not land at Cairo till midday, and at Rome I missed my connection for Nice. I sent a cable to Madeleine immediately-I had begged her anyway not to come to the airport, for I wanted to see her first against the Vénitienne in her own room, in her beige-green suit, with her hair falling on her shoulders and the back of it seen in the mirror. I took a plane straight to Geneva, and finding nothing there to take me to Marseille went on to Paris. Here, there would be a plane, only not until the morning, so leaving my baggage I wandered from midnight till five of dawn aimlessly by the Seine, absorbing Paris into my being.

Paris somehow is not a city: it is an area in oneself, a Concorde in one's being, where the river flows by you with an intimacy that seems to say the divine is not in the visible architecture of the Orangerie or the presence of the Pont des Arts, but where the trees would end; and even when the lorries have trundled over the cobbled streets-with potato and onion, geese, lard, margar- ine and cows' flesh; oranges, birds, Roquefort; poireaux de St Germain, carottes de Crécy, petit pois de Clamart; bottes de persil, romarin d'Antibes; sugar, mint, and pepper there opposite, begirt in her isle of existence, is the Mother of God, to whom man has built a sanctuary, a convocation of stone, uttered truly as never before. For it was the Word of God made actual, in prayer and fast, in dedication and in pain, that raised layer after layer of that white intimacy of thought, and this once made high and solid and pointed at space. man wanted to withdraw, to gaze inwards through tower and arc-boutant to see how the Virgin sat the Son of God on her lap. I might have led a cow to her altar had I been in Benares.

Dawn was already breaking over the city, and from bridge to bridge one could see the awareness of oneself made more acute, and that the day would soon hide from our own immaculateness. Paris is a sort of Benares turned outward, and where but in Benares would Baudelaire be more real, more understandable, more perfect, and in every dimension.

Insouciants et taciturnes, Des Ganges, dans le firmament, Versaient les trésors de leurs urnes Dans des gouffres de diamant.

I sat among workmen in some bistrot, drank hot, steaming coffee, stood up and walked again. Where was I? Once at Le Bourget and in the plane I was happy again. France seemed such a rolling garden of carrots and turnips, of plane trees that made diagonal approaches to river and castle, and of long, white roads that went to the infinity of the three seas. For all roads in France, I remembered, started from Notre Dame.

Beyond Lyon the weather was rough, but at Marignane it seemed as though I was returning home from one of my usual trips to Paris. Henri the taxi-driver recognized me, and remarked, 'Monsieur has a lot of luggage.' I told him I had been to my country. 'It must be a beautiful country,' he said, with the same feeling as once before, when seeing a bunch of flowers at some tram station he had stopped the car, bought them for fifteen or twenty francs, and offered them to Madeleine saying, "These azaleas will go with Madame's grey-green suit. We call them the flowers of the Queen, for they say Azalais des Baux wore one on the day she saw Gui Guerjerat.' Everywhere in the south you meet with this civilized attention, which shows how man has been informed of the sainthood of natural living. Those who live truly are the pure of heart.

Strange, I thought to myself, as the car twisted and roared through the hills of the Alpilles, that I seem to be returning not to my home, some spot of earth known and felt with limb and breath, but to some quarter in myself that, as in a psychoanalyst's chamber, shows itself with such foreknown unfamiliarity. It is as though somewhere I had stored away impressions of a possible becoming, and that on finding this the day had changed its dimensions the sun had hidden himself and let shadow play on the hills, or the mistral bent the cypress so, and a curve of pain had managed to steal itself into my being. Yet there was in me the awareness of a new continuity, as though now that I had seen India and had told her of Madeleine, and now that Little Mother had given me, as her parting gift and as her blessing to her daughter-in-law, two little toe-rings of my own mother's 'From mother to daughter-in-law, as from father to son, is the race created,' she had said, quoting some verse-I felt at last I was going to make Madeleine mine.

Jewels bear a lore of one's genealogy, and you know when the gold and diamond mango-garland is hung round the neck, or the ruby ring has been passed on to her finger, how you have invaded a new area of her presence; and how, like some old eunuchs in the palace, the ruby and the moon-stone looked after your beloved, and gave her sweet thoughts and obedience to her Lord, once the right jewel shone at the parting of her breasts. Thus the King gave jewels to his vassals, and the Kingdom was run on the power of the seal.

The toe-rings, I thought; what a sweet thought of Little Mother's! My mother had them from my grandmother, and when my father married Saroja's mother the toe-rings went to her. They had to be enlarged, for she was a big woman. When Little Mother was brought to the house they were naturally given to her, and now they would go to her who bore Krishna to me. Would not Pierre have loved the bells that sounded with each footstep, and would he not have known they spoke of things his own and so old?

All these thoughts I knew were only subterfuges for some other predicament. I thought of Ville Ste-Anne with the spreading pine tree, under which opened like two frank eyes the two rooms of Madeleine and myself. Behind the house beside the high pine- wood was a grove of mirabelles, and beyond, against the blue sky, Mont Ste-Victoire itself. There was a sainthood about that elevation of the mountain, not for any sanctuary of saint or martyr but because the good Cézanne saw it day after day; and it carried such a message of strength, and of the possible, that it was something of a Kailas for us. Often on walks when the air was very still and not a leaf moved, and a strange note of music seemed to fill the valley, I would say, 'Madeleine, there, there! Parvathi is singing to Shiva.' And Madeleine would burst out laughing, as if her unbelief itself was the proof of my truth.

Madeleine had never participated at first in my superstitions, though I had in hers. We used to go up the Hautes-Alpes, and would lie in the sun amidst the pines somewhere on the Durance. One day I started building a miniature temple, stone laid beside stone in respectful uniformity, and when the three outer walls had been built and the inner sanctuary made I said, ' And now I must find a statue of Shiva, a linga.' I told her how in the city of Belur, when the god's image comes floating down the river, the whole town hears the OM as though sounded on a conch, and men and priests go with fife and drum and palanquin to get him to his sanctuary-and of course he is there, the Channaa Keshava, the god of Beautiful Hair. So would the Durance, I said, give me my linga. And one morning as we wandered on her banks in search of gems for the temple-jaspar and agate and marmoreal stone there he was, our round and oval linga, on the bed of the river, and though I could not give him moon-flower and tulasi I gathered marguerites and harebells and installed him with Madeleine pouring holy water on Shiva's head. 'Here is your Ganges,' she said, 'Shiva, Shiva, Hara, Hara,' and she trembled as she had that day on the Seine at Rouen, saying she loved me. On the way home that evening through the Gorges du Loup, with the swish of the river, she said, 'You would make me a Hindu would you, my Love? I tell you that if marriage to you meant only the wearing of a sari I would still have married you.' I told her the gods were neither Hindu nor Greek; being creations of your own mind they behaved as you made them-if Shiva was what I wanted, Shiva himself would come to the Durance. After all, I said, the Greek gods were made by the Greeks, but when the Romans and the Christians came they often metamorphosed into Saints of Christ. The world, I told her, was as you made it. She was lost in thought; she could not understand this anthropocen- tricity. When we reached home I said, 'Look, here's Shiva's bull at our door!' and I showed her the huge flat stone that lay like a squat Nandi at the edge of our garden. True, how very like a bull he is. You thought of Shiva, and so here is Nandi,' she said, with unconvinced assurance. And she plucked some grass and gave it to him, saying, 'Now, Bull, eat!'

And from then on Madeleine never passed by the door of the garden without either touching the huge hump of the bull, or caressing him and saying, 'Here, Bull, here is your feed today.' Sometimes coming from market she would lay a flower or two on his head and add, 'Be happy, Bull. Seeing it from my window, the Hindu in me used to be so happy.

Then there was the elephant too at the top of the hill. A huge, gently-curved rock lay almost flat on the ground, and if you sat on him of an evening, very still, you could hear him move: You could actually feel him shake and change sides, one foot first and then the other. When Madeleine and I had questions we could not solve, and she wished to avoid getting irritable and angry, she would say, 'I will go and consult the elephant.' Half an hour later there she used to be, her face beaming with wonder that man and woman could live in such harmony. Sometimes as I trudged my heavy-breathing way upwards she would shout and say, 'Rama-Rama,' like cow calling to calf at the fall of dusk, when the lamps are just being lit. There was not one question the elephant did not answer. When rarely we saw some schoolchild on a Thursday or Sunday seated on our elephant, or some soldier resting before he reached his barracks, how unhappy we used to feel. On such days we did not give him grass or pine-fruits, but flowers. I have hever heard the resonance of Sanscrit so noble as on the back of the elephant. The Ganges flowed at our feet, and Krishna would soon be born. It was one day almost a year later, as we came down from the elephant that a telegraph-boy ran up our goat-path bringing us the wire to say that Father had been struck with apoplexy, and that I should come home at once. How tender Madeleine was to me that evening! Despite my lack of love for Father, tears came to my throat; I felt the beginnings of my biological presence on the earth disappear one by one. Not that he was my father, I felt; but like the wine in the cellars of Champagne that ferments when spring comes to the vineyard outside, and sinks and bubbles back at the fall of autumn, the sap in me, the continuity in me, was being strained, was being broken. I would be an orphan again. That evening Madeleine was like my own mother. She said had my mother still been alive she would have flown with me to be beside her in her pain. Death and birth mean different things to different peoples of the earth; to me Madeleine's presence would have meant the daughter-in-law coming home, the division of family responsibility; truly it would have been 'the crossing of the threshold. I almost felt if she came Father could not die, he would not die. How, when the first daughter-in-law came home, could the father die? Auspicious, so auspicious-with kunkum, coco-nut and choli- piece, bangles on the arm, the necklace of black beads-is life.

Once again my thoughts had wandered away. 'Voici, we're already at Brigonne,' said Henri, and I woke up to the sudden reality that Aix was indeed there down in the valley. There was the Cathedral, proclaiming not that Christ was the Son of God, but that the King of France was the Son of Christ. This old Royalist city, with its spread, low trees, and inward hôtels with narrow, decorated entrances this city of flowers and music was somehow not frank and open, but as if any day Zola's sans-culottes would invade her Place Publique again, and dragging her countesses on to the streets, not shoot them but make them dance, as if it were the 14th of July, curtseying to them each time and saying, 'Pardon, Madame la Comtesse, we are the shepherds of the mountains; we have beheld the Magian Kings and we come down the valleys that King Christ be anointed and crowned.' For the Provençaux all is a festival of joy, and they live by the stars.

Madeleine was not at home. The house was securely closed, the blinds drawn; how anxious it looked. I could see from the grass which had fallen down the back of the bull that Madeleine must have gone the previous day; the grass had turned yellow under the sun. Neither did the house allow any mistake; it spoke to me and gave me the same information.

When I went down to the garage the assistant, Hector, said 'Oh, Monsieur's car has not come back since yesterday evening. Madame has probably gone out somewhere."

The postman gave me two letters, one from Oncle Charles, the other from an Indian friend in London. I told Henri to take me to the Hôtel du Roi Jean. When Madame Patensier saw me, how she beamed.

'Madame must have gone to Nice to meet me,' I told her. 'And I missed my connection in Rome.'

Madame Patensier had known us from the first time we came to Aix; before we managed to find a villa we had stayed with her. She knew all my needs, shouted that a bath be made ready for me, and instructed Jeanne that I be served with vegetables.

'Monsieur never, never eats meat,' she said with such pride. Jeanne shook her head and said nothing, as though Madame la Patronne had become groggy.

After my bath and my lunch served in bed I walked about the familiar place, not like one who lived there, but like someone who was going to live there. It makes all the difference in the world whether the woman of your life is with you or not; she alone enables you to be in a world that is familiar and whole. If it is not his wife, then for an Indian it may be a sister in Mysore, or Little Mother in Benares.

Love is a way of looking at things. If you love you forget your- self, and perceive the object not as you see it, but rather as the seen. The woman therefore is the priestess of God.

There was no way I could contact Madeleine. Where, in Nice, would I find her? We never knew anyone there; besides, Madeleine did not like to see anybody unless I liked to do so myself. She felt that between the Villa Ste-Anne and the elephant on the hill was the space of joy. Beyond was barbary.

I was anxious, however. I knew she would wait for the next plane, and then return. Hoping against hope I walked back again: the shutters were as firmly closed. The grass on the bull's back had grown drier. I gave him some more fresh grass, hop- ing that if Madeleine came wifile I went to pay a visit to the elephant she would see and know I had returned. I knew she would be unhappy first, then angry, knowing that Indians are so undependable. If a European says he comes by such and such a plane he would come by it; if he missed his connection he would sleep in a hotel, and come by the next. But this Indian haphaz- ardness, like the towels in the bathroom that lay everywhere about, was exasperating to Madeleine.

I put my hand through the gate and with difficulty opened the post-box. With wind and rain it had lost all integrity, and with a little coaxing it always yielded. Inside was the Journal de Genève- and my telegram. I searched every corner I could reach, but there was no message for me. So with anxious footsteps I went up the goat-path, through the bends in the pinewood to the elephant on the hill.

To feel that beyond the orchard of mirabelles and the slope of olives was the valley, and beyond that the plain stretched out to the sea, gave me a sense of comfort. Space is a comforter of sorrow, and the Mediterranean presence has a human richness that no ocean can give. One never thinks of the galley-slaves, one thinks of the ships of Saint Louis, going out with hero and priest to conquer the Holy Land. And silently the Durance poured her mountain waters to the sea.

It must have been late in the evening, when the day had ended but the night not yet begun, that I heard the steady big footsteps of Madeleine. I was seated on the bull, looking down the pine- wood to the little stream that ran at the end of the valley. Mad- eleine was heavy-laden with her purchases she had bought two new brooms for the house, a basin, towels, boot-polish, and a summer hat for me, all from the Galeries Lafayette.

'You,' she said, almost with a fright, and she stood there help- less, as though she now knew she had lost me. At such moments my breathing always grows faster and heavier, and I cough.

'Poor dear,' she said, clinging to my arms, and seated on the bull she cried and cried.

I had no words for her, and when slowly I took the key from her bag and opened the gate, and lead her up the Provençal steps of Villa Ste-Anne, she said, I just do not know why, I do not want to enter the house, I do not war. to.' I put on the light, and when she saw me now she said, with a touch of astonishment, 'I, I never remembered you were so dark. It must be the sun of India,' and kissed me for the first time. She said, months later, it was like kissing a serpent or the body of death. When I lead her to her room, I found her hair was all dis- hevelled; she had opened the hood of the car to have more air and to forget her disappointment. How man can disappoint a woman, how with a look or by an absence kill the very root of a woman's flowered awaiting!

She looked to me for help. I said, 'Come, we'll go and get my luggage,' and she, 'Rama, you go and get your bags while I go and cook something for you.'

With Madeleine in such a mood where she was like a woman who had seen her logic go wrong and had no logic left to connect events with, the best thing, I thought, was to leave her alone. I did not even ask for the key of the car. I walked down in that per- fumed spring air, breathing the many herbs and flowers and the warm smell of human flesh as it passed, myself lost. For once I felt a foreigner in France.

When I took my luggage out I waited long before asking for a taxi, and went into great detail about all sorts of things Indian, as if it were urgent for Madame Patensier to know everything about my country. She seemed more like a confessor than the patronne of the Hôtel du Roi Jean, and I felt the lighter after talking to her of the interminable Indian journeys; the thousands of miles one travels; the Ganges, nearly two thousand miles long; and of the Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world.

'Bitter than the Alps and Mont Blanc?' she asked, surprised, in the same voice as two years before, when I said I did not eat meat.

'Oh, much bigger."

'But you have o snow there, so what grows on the top of the mountains?' she asked.

'Himalay itself means "the abode of snow", I told her very proudly. 'La demeure des neiges'; to her Provençal ear it sounded right and beautiful.

Having convinced Madame Patensier of the snow on the Himalayas I convinced myself that all was well with the world. Getting into the taxi, now ready at the door, I went to Villa Ste-Anne with a feeling as if, having crossed evil spittle, I had crossed back three times in expiation; now the road went straight and to Benares. For what is holiness but the assurance man has of himself? The sacred is nothing but the symbol seen as the 'I'.

I shall never forget as long as I live that evening, with the luggage in the corridor, and the smell of thyme and parsley that came from the kitchen. Wanting to feel that nothing had changed Madeleine called out from the kitchen:

'I've made risotto for you, and the apple semolina, and here I am your wife.' She was in her thin blue summer dress, with a near-mango design on it, that we had bought in Paris the summer before.

'And smell me now," she said. She smelt of eau-de-Cologne, for that was the first smell I had smelt on her in Rouen.

I said an awkward 'Thank you, and she went on: "Take the new towels I bought to-day. I bought a dozen so that your Brahminism, renewed and affirmed, can wash itself as often as it likes. Meanwhile your Brahmin wife will cook you your rice.'

No, things were not going too well. There was nothing we could say to one another which would not sound like something the departing say to each other at a railway station. I remember so clearly how my big white suitcase and the smaller blue one lay on one another. Madeleine went to open them-for that was her habit-and tried to hang my clothes, but she did not go any further than my blue striped suit. The risotto will get burnt,' she said, 'and your family will not like me for having given you burnt rice on the night of your arrival home. Rama,' she warmed up, 'you know I've become a good cook. I have been learning many new dishes from ¡lelène Berichon."

Helene was the wife of the Professor of History in the Collège de Garçons, and since she was half English, on her mother's side, she liked to come to us and speak English.

'She says her father or rather her mother's father-was a colonel in the Indian Army. So now I'll make you the right curry.'

If speech were born it must have been on a woman's lip, just as hair if it were born must have sprung from a woman's pudendum to hide her shame. For women are great hiders of the unsayable, their gossip is only their own sorrow turned downside up.

I went over to my cases, but just could not take anything out, neither books nor dhoti, nor even the sari for Madeleine that Saroja had so carefully folded and put in a corner, with a silver kunkum box, sacred coco-nut and betel leaves. The customs official had wanted to see whether, being an Oriental, I did not carry opium; he took the lid off the kunkum, and the powder fell on the sari, as at a marriage, or at the seven-month pregnancy adoration. Auspicious the sari looked, and I thought it best to take it out first. I've a gift for you,' I said.

'Show it to me,' she shouted from the kitchen.

'Here is a gift of a sari from Saroja."

She was disappointed: she wanted it to be from me. But Saroja's sari was the one at the top, and it was the one which had the kunkum on, so I took it out. 'Let me put it on you,' I said.

As she undressed I could see the contours of her beautiful body, so simple, so erect, so unopened. I tried to dress her, and she let me do it, for she wanted to be touched by me, to be held by me, to know the knowing that has made knowing a single presence. But I was far away, my hands slipped, and several times I had to make and remake the folds. When I had at last tightened her at the waist, I said, 'Now I'll go and have my bath.' She answered, 'Come quick; the food will be cold, love."

As the bath-water ran I just did not know what I was thinking or doing. Noise somehow gives one a feeling of rest, noise that is steady and familiar. I went to the bathroom window and saw that the sickly olives had been removed-planted in the days of the Romans, Hector had said-and the open land already showed the emergence of fire-flies. They were just beginning to shine here and there and soon, I thought, I would see their dance, as we saw it every summer in the dark of the olives. I slipped into my bath and scrubbed myself dutifully, feeling that. I might have more

courage thus. A clean body seems tuil of wisdom. The fire-flies did not start dancing in the back yard. But far away in Monsieur Thibaut's olive groves they made such a pattern of beauty that I shouted 'Madeleine, Madeleine'. There was no answer. I slipped into my pyjamas and went to Mad- eleine's room, where we usually moved our table to eat, and there she was lying on her sofa, silent. She must have been crying, but she put on a brave face. Tears came rarely to Madeleine; she seemed to have a power to stop them.

'Shall we eat?"

'Oh, yes. Everything is ready. I have only to make a salad

dressing.' 'No garlic for me, please!' I shouted, once again to say some-


I can remember as though it happened but the other day how

we started our meal rather easily: I told Madeleine about Little Mother, and her wonderful promise on the Bombay beach. 'You Indians seem full of wonderful gestures,' she said, without bitterness, but with a certain objectivity.

'We are a sentimental people,' I said. 'We weep for every- thing.'

'Yes; so much so that with Tagore's novels alone you could make a Ganges.'

"There's much sorrow in my land, Madeleine, but such beauty between man and man. Even between man and woman,' I added.

'Did you hate the Europeans very much when you were there?' she asked.

'Hate them? You know the Englishman is more loved in India than foreigner has ever been. We forget evil easily. Naturally we love the good.' 'So that the pariah may have his separate well, and the woman slave for men.' This was an unexpected, a new bitterness. She added, as though to hide her thoughts:

'Georges has been asking me a great deal about India. You know, Rama, he's a nice fellow, though a little fanatical. Fanatic as he is his Catholicism makes him understand India more than I do, pagan that I am. He would convert the whole of India to the Roman Church, make of India an august gift to the Pope. He can see no salvation otherwise. But there you are, he's studied Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, and he's also studied Vedanta, and that is more than I have done. He wants to see you very much. When shall we ask him home?'

'Whenever you like,' I said, and added somewhat self-con- sciously: 'You know it was I who first discovered him.'

Georges was one of those brilliant young White Russian intellectuals, brought up in the best of European and Orthodox traditions his father was a well-known critic, belonging to the group round Berdiaev. Georges had joined the Maquis, and had his left arm torn off in some gun battle; thus he walked, with the awkward assurance of a mystic, and taught Latin at the Collège de Garçons. He read with ease several European languages, and had lately started learning Chinese and Sanscrit He had come under the influence of the unfortunate Ségond tradition in Aix, but the Maquis and the confusion after led him more and more to visit the Dominicans at St Maximin. During the Occupation-before Georges joined the Maquis- he had gone to the monastery on a visit; Father Zinobias, the young Austrian monk who took him round, spoke French haltingly, and whenever he hesitated for a word Georges was ready to help him. The Austrian, being quite lost in this southern land, was so happy to meet someone who could speak German with him. A friendship thus casually made grew with the years, and when the Maquisards wanted to hide their ammunition in the

region the Dominican Fathers were most helpful: three of them gave their life for it. Georges thus started becoming involved in Catholicism. His father was already a convert to Catholicism and worked at the Theological Seminary in Munich, besides working at the Russian Institute of the University. But Georges, brought up in exile, clung to his Orthodox fold, for in loving his church he felt he was more faithful to his motherland. To him even Mount Athos was part of Russia: for the Slavs it will continue to be so as long as they feel their religion was born on the mountains of the pagan Greeks. Georges loved his father, the more so as he had lost his mother at an early age, in fact in Russia, and before the exile: his cling- ing to Orthodoxy had brought no difficulty in the relationship between father and son. They loved each other deeply, and the old man wrote such long and wise letters to his son. It was per- haps an act of loyalty to his father that had made Georges become kinder to Catholicism, and as soon as the Germans had occupied the whole country Georges simply went over to St Maximin and asked for baptism. He spent three weeks in prayer and medita- tion, and they say he came out a new man. He did not seem to belong to this world.

He took his Agrégation in Latin because it mattered little what he taught. He could just as well have taken a History or Phil- ology Agrégation. The more difficult a thing, the more he liked it: which explains the reasons for his taking up Chinese. But Sanscrit he started learning, I think, truly for the sake of under- standing Indian philosophy.

Georges and I had met at the University Library. We had heard of each other, or rather he had heard of me; I was more visible, as it were, being an Indian, and being married to a colleague of his from the Women's Collège. He came to us with that Slav simplicity and earnestness that makes contact with the Russians so enriching.

'Yes, I would be happy to see Georges,' I said.

'You know he was the first to take me to St Maximin. I have met Father Zenobias,' she added, somewhat timidly.

I said: 'I am happy that at last religion is not such a fearful monster for you.'

'But I'll always be anti-clerical,' she insisted.

"Why, Madeleine, did you think I was going to defend the Pope?'

'Well, from joint-family to community and from community to Church isn't such a big leap, is it? I would rather a cowl on your head than an Ave Maria on my lip. I hate the cagots,' she said, as if to reassure herself of her faith, 'In fact I think I hate all religions, and would to God man simply lived intelligently.' 'Intelligence, I suppose, must lead you to Socialism and all that. Or to being fat and a buffoon like Edouard Herriot, or a washerman's beast like Daladier.'

She nodded and was silent.

'Or why not Maurice Thorez?' I persisted.

'He's too crude for me,' she remarked, and went into the kitchen to bring the risotto.

I can remember even to-day, so clearly, the risotto on our plates: the thyme and the lavender removed and laid on one side, the tomato right in the middle, disembowelled and flat, and when Madeleine had put one spoonful to her mouth, my hand just would not lift. There was a wide area of vivid space all around one, as though some magic circle had been drawn; the night seemed to stand heavy on the world. I said, almost in suffocation:

'Mado, something has happened.'

She, who was half-filling her spoon with rice, stopped, and said, 'Yes, something has."

I was quiet. Then she said, slowly, 'To whom?'

"To everything,' I answered, and laid my spoon down.

I just did not know where I was and what I meant. Madeleine left her spoon in the plate as well, and slowly came nearer me, pushing herself on my lap. She tried to pass her hand through my hair, knowing how much I loved her touch, and she put her face against my skin. She had the Charentaise smell of burnt apple, her smell rising through my nose, almost intoxicant. Her limbs became fervent, and in her pain she thrust her breast against my face, a vocable of God. Lord, how her breath went up and down! Her breast seemed to swell with love, as we say in my own land.

There is in pain something almost physical: the body seems to rise and say for the inarticulate, 'Here is the speech beyond all speech, the knowledge beyond all knowledge.' In that moment, for once Madeleine seemed to have intuited womanhood, as if the hair had grown rich and the belly had heaved high; as though the outer turning had slipped back inward, and she saw herself woman. Womanhood has eyes and sees itself in a splendour that man will never know, for his discoyer is the outer, hers the inner- which widens into a whole world. Childbirth is not the creation of a body; it is for woman, as Madeleine had said, the creation of the world. What she sees she keeps within her womb, as the Emperor Penguin the egg between its feet; and when the time comes she does not offer you an heir, a son, but her whole regnum of creation.

She might then have taken me into herself as never before, not with the knowledge that she knew me, but with the conviction that she would make me know myself in the shine of annihilation. But I'm a Brahmin, and for me touch and knowledge go with the holiness of surrender, of woman not taking me there, but I revealing to her that. Pain is not of love. Pain could never be incarnate but in the dissimulation of love. The lost lover is the passionate lover. The true man takes woman to his silence and stays in her for her recognition. Now it was I who had tears. I could not take so much beauty proffered, because man should not do what a woman would do.

She said, 'My, love."

And I said, 'M'amie, my friend."

'What is it?' she asked, drawing herself a little away.

'Oh, nothing,' I answered; for that nothing, she knew, was the all.

'I have failed your gods?' she said.

'No,' I said, looking at her; and for some un-understandable reason I added, 'You've failed me.'

She stood up in the full stature of her presence, her sari looking curious against that evening, and suddenly laughing she said, 'Come, I'll change, and we'll go and say hullo to the elephant.'

I could not tell her, in spite of all my truth, that I had been up already. She felt that if nothing else worked our superstitions would work.

We went into the night like two ghosts who had sold their lives not to win some paradise, however brief, but as if telling them- selves they were going to heaven; a red-hot star had forked the path, yet through twists and wrong turnings we had been brought where only the flesh is true. But men, all men, walk with something more than flesh, till one becomes like Circassier, to die in front of Moscow and have a cross put up: 'Mort pour la Patrie.' Only the dead in battle ever die a true death. All of them die for a purpose, and they have a right to a permanent cross.

'You know,' said Madeleine on the way up, 'your Holy Grail is not such a mysterious affair. The more I read the Church Fathers and Georges has been a great help to me-the more I realize that it came from the Nestorian heresy, sister to your Albigensian one. Some Orientalists I have been reading do con- firm my theory that it was a Buddhist relic that came via Persia to Christendom, and that the Chalice is only the mendicant alms-bowl upturned.' 'Very poetic indeed."

"Why not, pray?"

'History should not be poetic; it is poetry without events.'

"What remains then?'

'Well, facts. Every fact in its place is pure poetry like your , broomstick and your towels from Galeries Lafayette. But let us go on to your Holy Grail.'

You see there is another, more plausible hypothesis, that it was the cup in which the Mother of God gathered, one by one, the dripping globules of our Lord's blood. When the Muslims came, naturally it had to be hidden and brought away on some galley to Gaul; yet they say this sacred cup shone like the "moon of God", and enchanted the winds to holy beckonings, while the idea that it came from Persia was one of the Church's tricks to steal a march on the Saracen. There are others who say it is the cup of gold that the Chaldeans took to the Temple of Ninurta, and that after they had slain a handsome slave some Semiramis, Queen of the Earth and Mother of Fertility, would drink of it; then call her hero and give it to him with musk and porphyry, that in their procreation the world might see the light of plenty. I read the other day that one still sees in some primitive tribes, they spread the firse menses of a woman with the first rains, so that the crops rise yellow as gold, and there's a glowing hearth in every hut.'

"In some parts of India, you know, we still do that. In fact I was thinking of it just the other day. But surely there need be no connection between country and country to have a common belief? Otherwise the Mayas of Mexico, who were the only people in the world apart from the Hindus that knew Zero, could only have got it from them. Absurd,' I said, 'and thus everything good came from India!' And I laughed.

'Everything good for me has only come from India,' she said, with that humility women know to soften the heart of the cruellest male.

'And evil,' I said, and fortunately for me I started such a heavy cough that I had to sit down on a rock beside the path, and let Madeleine massage me on the back. It did us good, this cough, for my helplessness made her position more urgent: she was the wife, the protector of the household hearth. It reminded me of one day, during the early months of our marriage, when I was put out by something, and she brought me a hot-water bottle to be thrust into my bed. It burst over my blanket in such a way that we rolled and rolled on the bed with laughter, happy that so small a thing could bring us together. From that day we always called it the holy hot-water bottle, 'la sainte bouillote'.

A hazy moon rose over the hills, but the stars right above us were very gay. We laughed to each other like children making up after a lost quarrel. I tore thyme as we went up, just to smell it, I a Brahmin from South India; Madeleine gathered hyacinths among the rocks and poured them over my head. We could be happy again.

We sat on the elephant and I told Madeleine all the inconse- quent things about Ventaramiah's daughter, Kaumudi, who wondered how we could live without an aunt or a mother-in-law at home, or about the Benares Brahmin who asked what sort of hymns the Brahmins in Europe chanted.

He did not ask what they get paid for a funeral; nor would I know."

*A funeral is a costly business,' said Madeleine knowingly. 'I am happy I shall die in India. You will barn me, won't you, Rama? But not by the Ganges, for I hate the thought of the dogs that wait to gobble you before you're burnt up fully.'

'I'll burn you on the Himavathy,' I said, 'like we did Grand- father. I shall pile up pieces of sandalwood one over the other, and I shall sing a special hymn for you. It will be called "Hymn

to the Goddess of the Golden Skin". I will have carried some special heather and thyme from this elephant's back, and I shall perfume the river so that the fishes and the deer will come to see what is happening. Once you have been reduced to white ash, the river will rise and carry you away as it did Grandfather.

Thus you will become a Brahmin at last."

But Madeleine was away, her thoughts were far away, and we fell into an easy, a distant silence. The elephant did not seem to know anything or say anything. The stars were perfect: they were so beautiful you wanted to count them, just to cool your heart. Man is so far from perfection that all that is far seems wondrous bright to him.

We came down slowly and as we opened the door my half-open- ed case still lay there with its question unanswered. We could tell lies to people, but we could not tell lies to animals or things. When we went to bed we were so tired that I only said, 'So, Madeleine, tomorrow the Prince will bring the Professor her coffee.'

'Don't you be silly,' she said, 'you must be so tired. Now that the holidays are soon coming I have little work. Besides, to- morrow is Friday, and my classes begin at ten.'

Next morning, when Madeleine had gone to Collège, I closed my case and left it at the other end of the corridor. Neither of us spoke about it, and when Madame Jeanne came to 'faire le ménage' she dusted it and put it into the cupboard.

In the afternoon Georges came to have tea with us, and we had many interesting things to tell each other. His Chinese had made progress, and he was in contact with some Jesuit Fathers in Belgium about the exact philosophical equivalents of certain Chinese metaphysical expressions. Georges had a congenital contempt for Orientalists, and all unreligious writers as such: thus he hated Gide and loved Claudel. He read Romain Rolland, however, because he wanted to know more about India. How he wished some more well-informed and balanced mind had written. about these great saints of modern India, Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Dayananda.

A little later, Lezo joined us. Lezb was a clever young Basque refugee who knew some eighteen languages. He had been the youngest elected President of the Basque Academy, but when he made his first inaugural speech about the need for teaching in the mother-tongue, and substantiated it with multiple quotations from the Church Fathers, Franco's henchmen were there to listen. After three months of prison he was given liberté surveillée, but he escaped and was now doing Linguistics at Aix University. His father sent him a little money in secret, which he supplemented by giving lessons in languages. He it was who taught Georges Sanscrit.

Lezo was deeply interested in Buddhism. He had been to Heidelberg to study Sanscrit, and there he had come under the influence of Badenspeizer, who preferred Buddhism to every other religion in the world. During the war Badenspeizer was a prisoner-of-war, first in Shanghai and later in Ceylon. He pre- ferred the Little Vehicle, and so did Lezo. Of Vedanta Lezo knew but the name of Sankara.

The Sanscrit language has a gambhiryatha, a nobility that seems rooted in primary sound. For hour after hour I chanted verses, especially those of Bharthrihari, Kalidasa, or Sankara, which created, as it were, an aura of emptiness around one and one felt the breath of oneself, saw the sight as it were of oneself. Even Georges, who seemed so angry with Indian incursions into Christendom and with Massis and others was frightened of this new Catharism, even he used to sit lost in this primordial rhythm. Lezo, to exasperate his friend, once said, 'You can hear how your church services came from this rhythm, just as the Christian monasticism of the Thebaid hermits rose in Alexandria at the same time as Buddhism was being preached. 'Since the time of good king Antiochus, and yet beyond Antiochus from other kings, to wit, Ptolemy, Antigone, Mages and Alexander, thus too in the Empire of the Greeks, everywhere they follow the law and the friend of the Law, that is to say the Buddha Sakyamuni', and so on, he would quote abstruse, and often absurd, texts. He was at once so learned and boyish that nobody could take them too seriously or not give them any consideration at all. When some. one quotes an unknown Nestorian text in Pahlevi and links it up with a more ancient tablet in Kharosthi; and when, coming down through the Greeks, he talks to you of the school of Alexandria and of Apollonius of Tyana, who went to India to meet the Brahmins and returned with his belly full of Vedantic wisdom; and when he concludes by saying that St Ambrose of Milan (333-97) wrote a treatise De Moribus Brachmanorum addressed to a certain Palladius, a Greek; you feel convinced that even if all this were true it should not be true. Georges, on the other hand, would rather, it might have seemed, go upward, vertically--for he was hungry for God, and this he preferred to the three-dimen- sional and historical excursuses of his colleague. It was Vedanta that really attracted Georges, the Neti-Neti, the 'not-this, not- thisness', as he called it. Some of my most memorable experience of France is having sat hour after hour before this nervous, in- drawn, grey-blue-eyed Georges, with his lone hand always trem- bling as if he held the sword of the crusader and his, 'But God, but God, where is He, when Sankara says, "Shivoham, Shivoham; I am Shiva, I am Shiva"?"

"There is no one to say anything then,' laughed Lezo. Though that was the only answer, coming as it did from Lezo, it gave one the impression he was quoting an author. And of course to prove that it was true he quoted some Buddhist saying of Vasu- bandhu or Nagarajuna, as if it were an answer from the Vedanta of Sri Sankara himself. The trouble with Lezo was he knew too much, and he understood little. I think the person who learnt most of all during these discussions was Madeleine.

For Madeleine knew the time had come for an important deci- sion: there were many roads out of the forest-which was the one that led most naturally to where she should be? The war had given her the feeling that change is inevitable for man, and that whether you took one road or the other, whether the Germans were behind this hill or in that hamlet, lying beside the broken bridge and the river down below, the chemin de cristal, as she called it, depended not on some preconceived logic but on the logic of the moment: a strange, almost pure reasoning power, that gave you the answer and commanded your step. All it needed was to stay time for a while, and then walk down to your clairière. So this Sanscrit recitation was like hearing one's own silence.

Madeleine spoke little, partly from timidity, partly in pride, and whatever she said would always be the unexpected. In this she resembled Lezo, for both spoke from an irregular sense of logic, an inaccuracy not of knowledge but of decision.

And during the months that followed (for Lezo and Georges joined us at Montpalais, in Gascony, where we soon went for the summer) the impression remained with me that indecision brought out the most heroic in both of them. Lezo always said the most unusual thing spontaneously, like, 'The Buddhists were surrealist or let us say Dadaist?' and this would send Georges into a holy fury. Such frivolity should have been pardoned for, apart from the learning behind it, it was not so absurd. But in exasperation Georges would say something like, 'You should be a journalist of philology or a trader in vocables!' Moved by the helplessness of Lezo, for he was innocent as a child, Madeleine would go into the kitchen and make some hot coffee.

But when Georges spoke, even if she sat cross-legged, Madeleine would bend forward, bring her two feet together, and listen as one would to a hero, to a saint. For Georges spoke with the noble anguish of the believer, with the feeling that if God is not true he must be made true, and that if God could not be made true then must impious man be made to go through hellfire so that God might be, and in the image Georges had given the Supreme Being. Like Shatov, Georges could have said 'I must, must believe in God."

His sincerity was moving: one felt he bore the heavy history of humanity on his bent back. He carried our sorrows and our stupidities, rags that we threw on his back, as he went along the street; the more you threw, the more he blessed, for in the earth, deep in the mud, in the shine of the dung-lice and in the wound of the dog; in spittle and in dusbin-bone; in the face of a wriggling pink prostitute; would Georges find his proof of God. For him, to be was to know evil existed, to acknowledge sin was to be already at the ladder of the divine. 'Dieu est parce que le mal est," he used to repeat. And I often thought Georges was like some municipal street-cleaner in the Middle Ages, who after carrying the dirt on his back would make a bonfire on the other side of the rampart, and having warmed himself would look into the round space, cross himself, and see God. That Georges had seen God you could see from the pleroma of his face. Madeleine threw all her rags on Georges, as though she were helping someone to be himself. And she felt much lighter after this performance. She hated him to be so impervious: Georges seemed to have only metaphysical interests. When, at Mont- palais, we went out on our evening walks Lezo would stick to me, for Lezo wanted to know more of India, of Sanscrit, Buddhism, Jainism, the Lingayats; even the religion and the language of the Todas; and he knew more about India than I did myself. Georges and Madeleine would go off on some quiet mountain footpath, step by step, as if Georges had not only one arm but one leg as well. Sometimes when he stood before a boulder on the path, lost in some discourse of his own, Madeleine would help him as she would a father-though he was only thirty-one-and give him a hand to cross over to the other side.

She cared for his presence a great deal, did Madeleine, and the respect she showed him was not altogether happy for a Brahmin husband to bear. She felt that here was a man, that possessed a secret knowledge of something, some magic that could make mountains move, or the seas recede. And Georges was too distant and too whole to think he had any other feeling for Mad- eleine but the most brotherly; he almost felt a paternal affection for her, and besides he liked being with her. Her agnosticism was childish, he knew, for her innocence was so great. God could not but inhabit where innocence was. In fact the moment Madeleine acknowledged her innocence God would shine on her soul. He was there already. 'You are not a saint, you are not a heathen-you're a girl,' he would remark, just to exasperate her.

But when Georges went off on some abstruse theory of docetic Christology, or the theory of incarnation among the Monophy- sites, she would enjoy his tortuous logomachy as though it was so much time gained, and so much argument against some un- nameable enemy.

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