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Chapter 4-

28 November 2023

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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 Saracens against whom it was built. The comtes de Montpalais were cousins and vassals of the Ducs of Montségur, and when the Cathar heresy came the comte rose against his own overlord, joined the Dominicans- he had meanwhile married Isobel de Navarre-and fought with such violence that even to-day, in the region, they say 'courages as Celuy de Montpalais', meaning headstrong as an ass.

The castle was fortified again during the wars of religion, Comte Henri de Montpalais having joined Henri IV, and when this liberal-hearted prince went to Paris and was crowned King there was Monseigneur Henri, Comte de Montpalais, first as Adjutant-General in the Royal Cavalry, and later as Minister of Marine. He enriched himself thus with booty from the Spaniards, but because of some strange streak of cruelty in him his wife left him and ran away; later he was shut up in the tower, on the second floor, where they say he still walks about in the costume of the Grenadiers.

Apart from Isobel of Navarre the women in the château were never very interesting, it would seem, except another Isobel, daughter of Louis de Montpalais; Isobel who though so near to Spain would visit Montaigne in his country house, write verses in the Italian manner, and was known to have ridden a horse in battle. The story of her lovers is the stuff of all the poetry round Montpalais, and when a girl is beautiful they call her Isobel-Marie, for by adding the name of the Virgin they feel she will remain in virtue. All she did for the château was to give it an Italian entrance, but when the Revolution came they just couldn't tolerate anything outlandish; thus of the famous Italian double curve of steps there is nothing left but a bit of stone that juts out of the first floor right beneath the central balcony of the main hall.

Today you enter the château from the kitchen, for after the revolution nothing very much remained of the castle. The estate was bought by some bourgeois from Condom, and from genera- tion to generation the family added horrors to make themselves feel at home, till mercifully one day a little daughter playing in the stables set fire to the hay outside, and for days on end, they say, Montpalais was one block of fire; you can still see the charred steps at the back and many charred beams. They offered the place then to anyone who wanted it, and some rich peasants from La Romieu bought the hill and the land, almost for nothing. The buildings served to keep hay and wheat and bottles of Armagnac. But during the Occupation, like many such old châteaus that came to life again, it was bought by some northern refugees from Laon, who made it comfortable with doors, windows, and balustrade. They must have had such nice taste: it was difficult to realize that only forty years before the whole structure had gone up in flame.

When the war was over, Robert Fern, an English painter, bought it, to be in the sunshine of France but not among the 'Picassos'; he fitted it up with the necessary modern conven- iences, and added to it all the English sense of comfort. He did not live there much, except in winter, for in summer he preferred to go yachting all over the Mediterranean. We had met Robert at St Rémy among the Cubists and Madame Férrol had such love for India that she often asked us over. When we wanted to go somewhere for the rummer she suggested Montpalais, and Robert Fern was only too happy to let it to any decent people. He took only a nominal rent all we could afford-and left us his servants, his horses, his cows, and even his canvases to admire. Cubism is not entirely in my line of understanding, but Madeleine and Georges would stand for hours before some portrait of a lady in a tub, which had nothing to say for itself other than that its quadrangles and its pentagons were of the most curious and coloured admixture. But Robert was a fine person for all that, so civilized, so noble-spoken; the whole castle felt him and his clear presence. I slept in the chapel. There was nothing left of the sanctuary but its niche for l'eau bénite, and over my door was a very lovely cross. Lezo jumped to the conclusion-for the cross had here and there some little twists and scratches making it look like a swastika-that the chapel must secretly have been used by the Cathars. The swastika, that emblem of the Aryans, was brought from central Asia by the Nestorians, the Bogomils and the Cathars, so that before Hitler had any knowledge of it, all the Basque and many Béarnais houses had this noble symbol on their outer walls. "Your anti-heretic, Henri de Montpalais, must have been pretty much of a heretic, like all the people in these parts at one time; and like many noblemen who preferred when the battle was lost to save their skin rather than be burnt on the stake, he must have joined the Bishop of Auch as an afterthought. As for his heroism, it must have come, as with so many others of his kind, not from conviction, but from wanting to be convinced. Veni Creator Spiritus...."

Lezo was an incorrigible cynic, to whom human history, indeed mankind, was one large question of grammar and dates. For the rest he believed, like most Spaniards, that man is a fine animal. There is something of the Arab tradition in this division of life into enjoyment-and God.

Lezo occupied the large northern room, the one used by Henri de Montpalais himself, and he always had curious dreams there. How much of it was his own invention for like most Latins he could enjoy a story simply for its own sake or how much of it was true, was difficult to say. He would sometimes call in Marie, the maid, to bear witness, and Marie would describe in the most elaborate and emphatic way how she had a similar dream of the comte riding wildly into battle, stopping suddenly and shouting, 'Cowards, give me a glass of water. Water, of course, could only have meant death-for wine meant life.

Georges had a small room in the corner by the stables. He liked to live near the animals-it came from his Russian sense of in- timacy with all living things. But I think that like people who love concentration he wanted the isolation in which one feels the intimacy of one's own presence. In a larger place you become one with the fields and the sky, and your eyes seek the height of the mountains.

For the Pyrenees were only a hundred kilometres away, and on a good summer day it would look from Montpalais as though you had only to go right ahead on the white charger to come to this straight wall of white mountain and the heavy Saracen.

Au porz d'Espagne en est passet Rollanz Sur Veillantif sur son cheval curant... Vers Sarrazins regardent fierement Et vers Français humle et dulcement, Si leur ad dit un mot curteisement.

From the tower-room, where Madeleine lept, you could con- template the withdrawn arrogance of a mountain that seemed more a bastion of Spain than a fortress of France.

Outside in the fields such lovely blue and green vines stood, and aubergines grew in the garden behind. Sometimes, as in India, the heat rose and one smelt the acridity of grass. Often when my cough did not trouble me much I woke early; then I would jump on Blanche, the mare, and go romping down to the river. It was as if Blanche could speak to me what no man could. Not that she understood my problem, but she could tell me to contemplate the Guadalupe, the little white stream that meandered with such tranquillity on the yellow countryside.

What after all was the problem? Where exactly did it begin? For Madeleine had never been sweeter. There was nothing I needed which she did not know beforehand, and bring to me: my medicine after lunch. my handkerchief when I started on a walk, my pencil, duly sharpened and laid on my notebook-for I con- tinued to work on my Albigensians. Yet she herself was not there. She was nowhere. Sometimes she used to incarnate in a glance, in the smile of a second-when Georges spoke.

But Lezo she began to detest, and wished to God he had never come. For Lezo like all Spaniards-though he hated being called a Spaniard and insisted he was a Basque-could not help being somewhat frivolous, either with Madeleine or sometimes. even with Marie, the healthy-leaking servant-girl. Marie's young man came only on Sunday afternoons and in between Lezo had his little moments of innocent fun. Sometimes while on a walk he would sing, 'Oh, ciel d'amour! at the sight of a young girl with her pail under a tap and then suddenly would make eyes at Madeleine, as though to say, 'Isn't she splendid?' The more Lezo felt isolated, the more his vulgarity appeared. But he was no fool. One evening when he said something quite crude-at coffee after dinner-Madeleine went straight up to her room. He under- stood, and in a few days left with a stupid excuse. He said he was too near the Spanish frontier, and one never knew with the French Police.... Of course, we all knew that Franco's henchmen had better things to do bigger fish to capture than this poor philo- logist Lezo.

Lezo's departure, though it seemed so inevitable, created an entirely new situation. Looking back at my diaries of those days -for I started writing down things to myself about myself, at Montpalais; it gave some mental relief to see myself in black handwriting against white paper; it made me more objective to myself I was saying, looking over those diaries I have come across some bewildering remarks.

August 3. 'Virtue is more difficult to accept than vice. Vice has a way of saying, "Here I am; take me, and forget the rest." Virtue has a way saying, "Here I am; you cannot take me, and you cannot forget me." Virtue seems to defeat itself, whereas vice conquers.

"This is not strictly true. Lezo, before he left, seemed so inti- mate, so personal, so generous; as though if you asked he would give his cloak, and bow before you in homage to your presence. But Madeleine is like the choking in my breath. The doctors say the less I cough the better, but when I have coughed little, one day it rushes up with such a burst that my whole bed is covered with blood. And then Madeleine, like her saintly namesake, sits me back and, with such beautiful eyes, wipes the blood off my face, and carries the basin as though she were carrying the blood of a martyr. Sainthood, I think, is natural to man or woman-not virtue. 'Yesterday when Madeleine had tucked me back to bed and had stayed a while to see whether my breathing were regular and normal, and went back to the central hall, I could hear her whispering voice all through the night talking to Georges. I heard them discuss my illness with deep concern: not for three years had such an effusion of blood appeared. Georges has a voice so grave and deep, especially at night; it makes one think it's the walls that speak a prophecy. 'Madeleine looks much more beautiful now: her virtue makes her conspicuous. She reads a great deal out of St John of the Cross, and about Buddhism. She feels happier with the latter, but prefers to read the Christian mystic with Georges. Now it is I who give her Sanscrit lessons. She had begun to loathe Sanscrit, she said, because of Lezo. But Georges has a different opinion: he thinks I "feel" Sanscrit, I do not "know" Sanscrit. Lezo, on the other hand "knew" a language and did not care whether it were Icelandic or Hebrew. The classical mind has a grandeur I shall never possess. I am too weak, so I see stars where others see planets.'

August 17. This week has been a glorious interlude. Georges has come so near to me. His gentle, vibrant, withdrawn presence. makes one feel so selfish, so crude. How the Christian humility has beauty-even as some lovely women wear mourning because it makes them beautiful. The Brahmin, the Vedantin, has such arrogance. It was Astavakra who said, "Wonderful, won- derful, am I"; he with the eight deformations. Yes, one is wonderful-when one is not one, but the "I".

'Strange, as I myself go away from Buddhism it is Madeleine who gets deeper into it. She is moved by Buddhist compassion and poetry: it has, as she said, Christian humility without stupidity and blind belief; it has poetry without the smell of the crypt. Oh, the Ghristian love of relics! This body seems more worthy to the Christian after death than in life. Those who have no roof over their heads still buy space for a caveau de famille, says Madeleine. She knows what she is saying, for the family is talking a great deal about the famous gaveu de famille at St Médard. Caveau for caveau," says Madeleine, "I would rather my bones felt the warmth of the southern sun than that the mist, penetrating through the earth, should form round globules of perspiration on my non-existent body. Oh!"

'For Madeleine there is an area which is not me that she fills with Christian longings, but she will not admit it. She thinks it is betraying me to praise St John of the Cross. But sometimes when they sit in the sun of the courtyard, and Georges and she discuss the Spanish mystic, she seems so tender and understanding that it is she who would teach Georges. Catholicism is in her blood. Not all Georges's fervour can give him the instinct and religion is an instinct that gives illumination to a line, a reference. Just the same way when she talks of Buddhism I feel the word dukka almost with the entrails dropping into my hand, whereas for her it is mere sorrow. Dukka is the very tragedy of creation, the sorrow of the sorrow that sorrow is."

August 23. 'Madeleine today came and sat near me on my bed. Outside the day was glorious-I could almost hear the parrots cry, or the monkeys leap from branch to branch of the peepul tree. She saw how happy I was. But it was with a happiness that knows life is a continuous jump from awareness to awareness, like a straight line is from point to point. In between is the knowledge of the perpetuity of life. Sorrow is the background of all moments, for moment means the transitory and the transitory is always sorrowful. I remembered Rilke.

'She was so happy herself; she kissed me on the lips as never she had. She gave the whole of herself to me, as though it were a gift that my life might be spared. But I am not so ill-that is the wonder of it. I was told that when Mother was ill they needed to have a basin and a towel always by her. Mine is only a minor relapse. There is nothing to worry about.

'Madeleine does not love me. She wants me to be big and true that she may pour her love on me, as some devotee would want her Shiva or Krishna to be big and grand, that she might make a grand abhishkea with milk and honey and holy Ganges water. To anoint oneself in worshipping another is the basis of all love. We become ourself by becoming another.'

August 24. "That Georges is leaving in three or four days oppresses me. Something in him was like a solid stone wall, on which Madeleine lent to love me. He must have prayed to his God a great deal. But Madeleine is happy; she hates confusions. She thinks Georges's God is something of a carnival god, with big teeth and terrible to see. "In the Middle Ages," she said, "Georges would have been like that famous Bishop who started counting his rosary the louder, that the torture of the heretic might be adequate. For the excellent Bishop had said to the torturors. 'He should be tortured until I hear his cry,' So the Bishop went on shouting to his Father that the sins of the Church might be forgiven."

Fanaticism is such a force. It takes you to sublimities and gives you the sense of the heroic, the impossible. The fanatics to-day become mountain-climbers. It is ultimately a form of spiritual vanity.

"Truth must be simple, natural and sweet.'

August 26. 'Georges came to me on Saturday, when Madeleine had gone down to Auch to buy provisions. He sat with ease and reverence as though he had long communed with God. He said:

"You know, Rama, I have a last request to make. I say it from the depths of my sinful heart. I am a Russian, you are an Indian. We both have the messianic madness of the race in us- for us only the Absolute counts. Living beside you, as I do these days, you cannot imagine how much your brahminical'aura', as it were, helps to make me a better Christian. What we do with such an effort, such a desire for virtue, you do so spontaneously. What I admire is the frugality of your food, the generosity with which you open yourself to everyone and everything. Above all, and for a Christian what is fascinating, is your relationship with Madeleine. I have never seen a European couple act and behave with such innocense. The sin of concupiscence...." After that my mind went black. I would never have thought any intelligent man in the year 1915 could use such a crude word. It spoke more of George's deeper mind than anything he had said, I can still remember him saying, "The sin of concupiscence!" I looked out into the sky, and saw the birds pecking away at the figs. I almost felt I should rise and throw a stone at them. "There was a long since. Then Georges said:

""Salvation is only for the baptized. You know how Maritain brought Péguy back to the Church. I tell you, Rama, there is no salvation, none, but in the Church of Christ."

'He burst into tears, and his face shone as did Alyosha Kara- mazov's when staritz Zossima rose from his dead body and appeared to him, hallowed.

I will always pray for you. Father Zenobias already prays for you. There is no hope but in the Church of Christ."

August 29. 'Strange that this has left so deep a mark on me. Night after night I have opened my eyes and looking out of the window have seen the nightbirds active in the trees; far away some light has shone, even as it might from the Pyrenees, and I have been filled with a longing for God-to kneel, yes, to kneel and worship something that has such a nearness of presence, such intimacy, such historical authenticity.

'I can now understand the Muslim, for Mohammed was the last Historical Prophet of God. I realize that when the son of man comes to earth, he gives us the proof of God in a way that no religion of the pagans, be it Hindu or Greek, could ever offer. Shiva and Vishnu live in Kailas or Vaikuntha, and you may see them or not see them; and once scen they may again disappear. But religion with a prophet gives God a place in time, gives him a mother and father, even were he Virgin born and gives him friends and enemies. Judas more than St John made Christ Holy. You know Saint John in the same way that in some families they say, "Oh, the grandmother of Saint Louis was a La Roche- foucauld," and it is immediately understood that Saint Louis must have been true, and that you yourself had fought in the crusades and won back the oriflamme of Jerusalem. Historicity is part of human certainty-it makes man ieal. If Christ-or Mohammed-were not historical there could be no God.'

August 30. I came to work on my Albigensians and un- knowingly my mind wanders away and I start speaking of my- self to myself. And history' makes involutes to prove me. Lord, how can one ever get out of oneself! "The historical presence of Christ and Mohammed, I was saying, is implicative of God. This is the true explanation, if ever, of Christian heresy. The Cathars, when pressed to answer if they did indeed believe in Christ, were not always so sure as when asked if they believed in the Holy Ghost. What is uncertain is an enemy of the people. It is a sort of spiritual Darwinism. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism belong here, but Taoism, Buddhism and Vedanta live in the chaos of the present: the present seen as present could never be Chaos. That is why Indians wrote no history; even Buddhism was too historical, and therefore too psychological, for India. Vedanta triumphed like Mahayana Buddhism so near to Vedanta-did, and Taoism against Con- fucianism. 'The Cathars, were they Vedantins? They feared no death, they believed in the Pure, they believed in Truth. The Church believed in God. 'For these few days how happy I feel in the ancient fold of the Church. I feel protected, I feel confirmed in my humaneness. I feel truly happy. 'Georges has lent me Berdiaev's book on Dostoievsky and this is what I fell upon tonight: "Tuer Dieu, c'est en même temps tuer l'homme.... Ni Dieu ne dévore l'homme, ni l'homme ne disparaît en Dieu; il reste lui-même jusqu'à la fin et pour la consommation des siècles. C'est ici que Dostoievsky se montre chrétien au sens le plus profond du mot." 'How I wish I could tell Madeleine I have begun to worship her God.'

August 3r. 'Yesterday as evening was falling Madeleine brought me home and went out again to have a longer walk. I came back to my room, remembered it was an old chapel, and turning to- wards the window knelt and prayed, saying inconsequent things. (My Latin is too poor to make a prayer, and only in Latin can one feel truly Christian.) Madeleine must have felt something, for she came back unexpectedly, saying she'd forgotten he cane and didn't want to be bitten by Monsieur Robert's dogs, but when she came she knew she knew me. There was a common area where we were together, and for the first tifhe. I almost felt she would give me some cotton and say, "Rama, there are a lot of bacteria here. Take care." Then she would kneel by me-just my bride. Yesterday I felt married to her as never before.

"Which explains why she came to me last night. Perhaps, too, because Georges has left she knew that apart from the innocent servants nobody would think of Monsieur and Madame in bed together. Madeleine felt the thought of another was even more vile than the look of another. I think she has liked Georges less these last few days; when talking of St John of the Cross he dwelt so much on temptation. Womanhood has been swelling up in her for some days. Last night she rose as she always has, with a single gesture, and on my sick bed in the chapel of Montpalais, when the night was clear as one's knowledge of oneself, she became my wife again and I called her many sweet names. I also called her my Isobel, and she gave a laugh that the mountains might have seen as a ripple of lightning.

'I am such a different man today. For to wed a woman you must wed her God.'

While we were at Montpalais Oncle Charles came to us on his annual visit: pilgrimage to the Brahmins, he called it. This sounded all the more absurd as we were on the main route to St Jacques de Compostella, and down below in the Val de Biran you could see many a black cross of pilgrims who must have lost their lives with the fever of the marshes, or from hunger; or even the wolves might have jumped on them and eaten them for Friday lunch, as the cure would say. The whole district was filled with little chapels, opened but once a year when the curé brought the chalice and the cross, and clothed Ste Elise or Ste Rosalie for another year. Old peasants from the country, with lace bonnets and beards on their faces-one woman was ninety-seven years old-came murmuring things to the patrem goddess of their fields. Under the loop of sky that covered the yellow of the land and the snow on top of the mountains, ran a series of small pogs- as they call little hills in those parts and by tree and rivulet goats browsed as the prayers were said. We would take fresh-cut grass and a few violets to ste,Rosalie. Oncle Charles was to be with us at the fête du pays. 'We leave Place St-Nicolas at nine in the morning,' he had written, and the house will be in charge of Catherine this time. She has to finish her exams the coming year-she is twenty-three, and she cannot go on studying any longer. She never looks at a man; she never looks at a thing; everything is jurisprudence for her. She loves to look after my work so she will manage the office while I am away. She's happy Madeleine will come back with us. Though Madeleine is just five years older, Catherine talks of her as if she were her mother.

'Strange, sensitive child. That she should be mine.... 'Well, as for our arrivals and departures. We leave Place St- Nicolas, as I said, at nine in the morning. Zoubie may make it a little late-you know what she is like. By oue o'clock anyway we should be at Angoulême. And by four or half past, you should. see our "angel of resurrection" mount up your pay. I am excited to be back in clear pure sunshine again, with the smell of mountain all about one. Tell Madeleine if she's pot more beauti- ful this time Oncle Charles will make her eat a foie-de-veau- the veau slit in the garden, under her nose. Oh, la Brahmine...! Zoubie and I kiss you both tenderly. Charles.'

He is the whole of himself, is Oncle Charles, whatever he does. Pity he did not take more to music, for they say even today he could go and sit in the Cathedral and play the organ, if the organist were ill. He was always dressed impeccably; and for his age he was fifty-seven then he looked clearly fifteen years younger. Zoubie was a fat, big bunch. She was called Zoubeida because her father, an employee in the railways, had gone to Paris for his honeymoon, and that was in the curious nineties. of the last century; he chanced on an operetta called Zoubrida ou l'Esclave de Perse, and it was about a slave girl, Zoubeida, who wished to wed the Prince Soulieman one day-and she did.

Zoubie was a great lady, once divorced, for her husband had run off with someone much younger. He was seven years younger than herself. Oncle Charles was a timid widower. He courted.

Zoubie for five or six years before she yielded to his requests and married him. But Tante Zoubie had such fantasy, such generosity. It was she who welcomed Madeleine back to the family, not Oncle Charles. He was always afraid of what his old crone of a mother in Arras would say.

'She will never understand this, never. And after all she's so near the grave. Let her die in peace.'

Though this was partly the truth, Madeleine once said to me, 'You will never understand us, the French. There is piety, of course, and compassion. But Lord, there is so much calculation. I tell you, virtue is a part of French bourgeois economy.'

Oncle Charles knows well, for that is his job, how some old women when the fear of death comes nearer simply transfer their 'goods' to the holy Church; just to make sure, not only that Paradise awaits them on the other side, but also that there will be a nice sermon pronounced at their funeral, and the right novenna said in their name ever after. Whether this be true or not, Oncle Charles was frightened to hurt his old mother. Whatever hap- pened and wheresoever he might be, on September the twenty- eighth, Oncle Charles had to be in Arras to kiss his mother and spend a week in her company. During that week she would never mention her daughter-in-law, and all letters to Oncle Charles from Zoubie had to be addressed poste restante. Strange the way Oncle Charles he who held such an important position in Haute Normandie-should tremble as he talked of his mother. How different, I thought, was Grandfather Kittanna.

Of course 'the dark angel of resurrection'--that huge Citroen quinze-chevaux sang herself up the hill before Madeleine had had time to dress. She had become so beautiful, had Madeleine, as though you could pluck riches out of her face, that had I been superstitious I should have been afraid to take her out of an evening. She was so child-like that no sooner did she hear the car outside than she ran to the window, pins in hand, and her golden hair actually fell out of the window like a bunch of grapes. For an Indian this golden hair seemed always something unearthly, magical, made of moonbeam and of raven silver.

Once the vegetables and honey and butter of Normandy were spread out on the kitchen table-the kitchen being on the ground floor was the coolest room in summer-and while Marie was tak- ing up the luggage, Oncle Charles told us of family matters.

'Mother thinks you've married & Maharaja, Mado,' he said, looking at me, 'else there were no reason why you should marry a man from les Indes. "Mon auteur dit," she would say, and then go on to tell me about the castes and the kings, and of the Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva that some school books of the fifties of the last century had taught her in her convent. But she cannot believe India is no more British India, nor you, Rama, dark as a Negro, and that you will not make Madeleine one of your concubines for you must have a palace and then make her mount your pyre and be burnt with your dead body. She's not so much worried about the marriage, but she's worried about burial and resurrection. Poor woman! Let her be what she is.'

Oncle Charles was not a man to say things inconsequently: he was too much of a notaire to say the first thing that came to his tongue. There was much in his mind that Madeleine started guessing almost immediately. In the afternoon, when the sun was already slanting towards the Pyrenees, we took our hats and our country canes and walked down the hill to the cool of the river. Oncle Charles, as he walked in front of me with Madeleine, talked of many things. He was anxious about her future: whether she would stay in. France or in India. Now that my father was dead it seemed inevitable to him that she should go back with me. True, of course, now with the air services distances were abolished; ... but yet, a heart is a heart, and there's Grandmother at Arras. She's been asking strange questions too. Before she dies, she wishes for the peace of her soul to know many, many things. And she wants to make a gift to us all, Madeleine. The cure has been worrying us a great deal about the growth of the city. He says that since the cemetery of St Médard is so near the city, the Government is bringing in all sorts of restrictions. Before the Municipality brings the new law into action land must be bought. They are damn' socialists, you know, at St Médard. The Municipality is playing on speculation. Prices are going up. So far, there have been only seven places in the caveau,' said Oncle Charles, and suddenly added, 'Look at the swallows, I never saw such beautiful blue wings ever in my life."

There was a long silence. Then he added, 'Mado, Grandmother is very old. To give pain to her is like giving pain to God.'

Madeleine answered that she had nothing to say.

I said to her that evening, as she came to the room before going to wash, that I did not have anything to say either. To belong for ever to this Christian earth of this Christian land was no doubt a privilege and a mark of honour. But for some reason Madeleine put her face against my cheek, and a tear from her eye fell on my face. She wished I would say 'No' for her. So I simply said, 'Tell Oncle Charles we're soon going back to India,' She replied, 'No, that is not true.'

"Yes, it is true. For me India is Freedom.'

'And to me,' said Madeleine, 'India is Paradise.'

Oncle Charles in the house was like an elder brother, and Tante Zoubie looked after us as though we were too young to look after the cruder things of life, such as washing and the market, and getting the house cleaned.

"There, Marie, on that staircase, there's a cigarette butt which must come from the time of Henry the Plantagenet,' she would say, and Marie had never been so active.

Marie had grown somewhat sad since Lezo had left, for he must have made her many grand promises. She had grown lazy and rather irritable. But with the good humour of Zoubie she worked like a happy slave. Besides, Tante Zoubie made such nice cassoulets and boeuf saignant, it wasn't like being with us poor vegetarians-* les herbivores', she called us. Servants like to obey those who really know what is right and what is wrong. I cannot make a pankha-boy obey, for I cannot understand why anyone should obey anyone. They should do their duty, their dharma. This is true obedience.

Oncle Charles loved to ride Blanche in the evening, and how the mare neighed as soon as she saw him. Sometimes of an even- ing when we three were too lazy to go down to the river, and just walked down to the clairière behind the house to sit among the thyme and the marjoram, Aunt Zoubeida would tell us fantastic stories of her travels with her first husband. He had been a Professor, whom the other war, the war of 1914, had turned into a minor diplomat, and we rolled and rolled in laughter at the pomposity of the Germans, the stupidity of the Poles and the Ruthenians, the backwardness of the British. They never wash their back,' she said; 'they wash their shirt fronts. So that if you want to smell, le Comte de Saint-Simon, you have only to sit next to an English diplomat!' And so on, and so on. When we returned home, and Marie brought the lantern and gave us home-made gin from the choicest of juniper, there would be Oncle Charles riding up the hill, his portly figure somewhat softened by the gentility of the moon. No, Oncle Charles could never look anything but a notaire, and he could only smell of hay and honeysuckle, and acrid French tobacco. He had given the horse a nice wash, and she seemed so much the wiser for it. She stood above us silent, as Oncle Charles, who loved to study birds, told us of the trees he had climbed to watch the nests of swallows and blackbirds.

Pierre, the peasant boy, came to take the horse away, and Oncle Charles of a sudden looked paternal. He was worried about my cough, and was happy I was going to Pau for three weeks. There was no better place for weak lungs than Pau.

'After all,' he said, 'we must be weak somewhere. I am weak in the liver, and that is why I go to Vichy once in three years. Yet I can eat a huge gigot as you see, and can sleep like a barn.'

It is difficult to say what it was that made me happy, whether it was the happiness of Madeleine or my own. But now and again when I was alone in the bathroom taking a shave, I would look at my eyes and see that there was something velveteen, something ringed, as though deeper down was sorrow.

Letters that came from India did not brighten me either. Saroja was not too happy at home. Now that father was dead, and with Little Mother not really so much older than herself, she felt she, too, was the mistress of the house. Little Mother never spoke to me of this, but Saroja's temper was revealed in her letters. "The forces at home are not meant for peace. I long for the day when I can follow Father,' she wrote. On the other hand Sukumari was full of vitality. She had been elected secretary of the school debating society, and wanted to become a second Mrs Pandit. Meanwhile she asked me to send her books on Marxism. "The poverty of our Motherland could only be eradicated with the abolition of every form of caste and distinction. I have read some Marx. But you, brother, who know so much about all this, tell me what to read.' It was strange for me to think that my sister was reading Karl Marx.

But life is so much more intelligent than we care to understand. Marxism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Hitlerism, the British Commonwealth, the Republic of the United States of America; all are so many names for some unknown principle, which we feel but cannot name. For all the roads, as the Gita says, lead but to the Absolute.

I was also anguished, I think, for my Christian becoming. In the recesses of our being there are great tracts of the un- known, pastures of the invisible, in which we the familiar, the sons of the family, go driving our cattle. The land knows it is us not from boundary-stone to boundary-stone, but as it were from bush and boulder and tree, so that even the evening birds know where to roost, and in which register of God their names be writ, for their nesting and for the birth of their young ones. Civilization is nothing but the familiarity with which we go into this inner property, cultivated and manured from age to age. The rivers have washed alluvial soil to it and the rains have poured and gone down to the sea, and brought back, as it were, the perfume of the same land; so that when our mangoes fall and we eat, we know it is the product of a thousand years. Wars may have come and famine, the Muslims may have conquered us and after them the British, but there is a common area, an acknowledged land-holding, that is for ever ours, so that when ve carry the harvest to our village temple, Kenchamma Herself knows we bring Her Herself She Herself seen as the many, many. The gods that reside in us are of an ancient making; age after age our ancestors have copulated, and a bit more of each god grew in us as we

grew up, like someone in France saying, 'I'm a Montmorency,' makes you think at once of St Louis and the Templars of Malta. It saves time and education to know what your kingdom, is rather than measure the frontiers of another, however noble. To bring in a new god is like creating a new pine tree. The grafting of many an age could never give you the larch of the Alps. The Brahmin, the Brahmin, I said to myself-and to convince myself of familiarity with myself I chanted Sri Sankara again.

Mano budhi Ahankara Chiltani naham... Not Mind, nor Insight, Mineness nor Substance...

I was almost in tears.

Perhaps I was growing weaker. My appetite had gone bad and my attempt to get fatter brought no visible results. I was no more than seventeen when the doctor killed the disease in its in- fancy, as he thought, by giving egg and port and making me go on long morning walks. I had recovered in due course, and the X-ray showed that there was nothing to fear. The sputum, too, seemed normal. But now I was seven years older, and the weight of the family was perhaps on me. Maybe the death of Pierre was something that no love could heal. Or perhaps it was only that I was tired. Oncle Charles was a fine person, but he had too much vitality.

I was happy to see how cheerful Madeleine looked. Made- leine herself found no difference in me. She was so close to me, she felt, when we lay side by side and heard the frogs that came in with the rains. Or when the cicadas sang through the whole night, she wondered if India was like that, warm and very full of countable sounds. She said for the first time she felt protected by me. Aunt Zoubie remarked that never had she seen a couple so happy. 'I never thought man could ever be so happy. Oh you Brahmin boy, who came to make this Charentaise happy,' and she would press me to her enormous bust. Aunt Zoubie: was romantic, and the loved to ask Madeleine, awkwardly and. gently, details that no woman would herself tell. 'Be happy, my child, be happy. You are such a lucky girl. Rama reminds me of a giraffe, which has grown its neck through centuries, try- ing to feed on the tree of Paradise. You will now have a beautiful daughter, and what will you call her?' asked Tante Zoubie.

'Esclarmonde,' said Madeleine.

"What a beautiful name."

"Why, Tante Zoubie, it's a name of these parts. Esclarmonde of Perelha is one of the famous figures of Albigensian History. She it was who protected the luminous Grail when the Roman armies were marching up Montségur."

'Anyway, what will you call the next one."

'Why talk of that now, Tante Zoubie?'

'Well, you know what we say: Time in love goes quicker than the moon.' 'Well, we'll call her Isobel. There was an Isobel, Countess of Montpalais.'

Tante Zoubie did not carry the conversation any further, said Madeleine. She wanted to be the patron saint of our love, and maybe she thought she would have a right to perpetuate her own name. But my thoughts were elsewhere, and Madeleine knew me too well not to guess where I was.

'We'll call him Ranjit,' she added, pushing my hair up and putting her hand deep into my pocket; 'for he will look just like you, and though Ranjit is no Brahmin name, I know, let him be a hero, a Chevalier-a Rajput,' she said. 'You know, Rama, women must have names from their mother's side and sons from their father's side. It makes everything easier for marraige.' And she laughed. I was happy with Madeleine. I could be bent by the know- ledge she had of me the knowledge of my silences, the vigorous twists of my mental domain. But further down, where the mind lost itself in the deeper roots of life, she waited like an Indian servant at the door, for me to come out. Then would she know what was told.

The next day was Sunday. I took the whole family to Auch for the eleven o'clock Mass. The Cathedral of Auch is such a silly elucubration of black and Gothic flourishes-it looks awk- ward, unavowed, as though men had built it, so to say, between famine and sleep and plague, in the slow nightmare of living. How civilized, on the other hand, the beautiful building on the opposite side of the market looked. An eighteenth-century structure, no doubt, with the noble lines of the triangular pedi- ment and four Italian windows, but altogether of such a light severity. There was a truth about it that made my morning rich. Madeleine said to me, 'You know I knelt to day for the first time in months. I never thought of cotton-wool or bacteria. Tell me I have improved. Haven't I?'

Tante Zoubie said, just to exasperate her husband, 'Made- leine, I was admiring your profile. How beautiful you looked in that green hat of yours. You must teach Catherine to dress. She dresses like the notaire's clerk-like Madame Aufusson, in fact. And if she ever marries she should have a son and he should be called Titus Levitas, Master of Jurisprudence.'

What could you do with Tante Zoubie's tongue-it was like that. 'You can't stitch it with a gunnybag needle,' I once said to Madeleine, quoting an Indian saying. Nor with hellfire,' she answered. 'I think in fact Auntie would enjoy hell.'

But she was a dear creature, and how early she rose in the morning, to see that Marie prepared the best of toast while she made coffee for 'les enfants'. While she was with us she made us many types of jam-one even a jam of figs and she put half into my car and half into the 'angel of resurrection'. Eating sixteen pots of jam in twenty days, I said to myself, would need more than a hero. 'What remains you can take back to Aix; I'm sure Madeleine would be happy to eat it. And you will remem- ber your aunt, children, won't you. Good-bye, Rama, Good- bye.'

The 'angel of resurrection' left first. Madeleine had such joy on her face, seated between her uncle and her aunt-they all sat in front. 'Look after yourself,' said Oncle Charles, 'and we shall look after Madeleine, and send her back to you, a plump and healthy-looking thirg. We'll make her eat a lot of beef.'

'Oh, Uncle, just as I am leaving Rama!' protested Madeleine. She kissed me simply. She still looked very lovely in her black suit, the amber necklace falling just between her breasts, and her hair all turned into a big shining bun at the back. She looked true.

I wandered about a bit in the house, went to the chapel and took leave of it with very real pain, and looked out once again at the fig tree and Blanche, who stood grazing in the fields. Blanche looked up and it was a pity I could not rub her with dry grass, nor take her to the stream for a drink of water. Marie filled the thermos with milk and coffee, and I wish I could somehow have consoled her. 'When you want to marry, let me know,' I said; *Madame and I will help you to complete your trousseau.'

'Oh, Monsieur is very kind,' said Marie. 'But it will not be for a long time to come. We say here, to buy a vineyard or to slip on a wedding-ring, you need more gold than the cross of St Cather- ine.' And she added, 'What is yours you cannot lose, and what is not yours even the Good God will take away."

The day looked broad and very full of breath. Marie brought me a comb and a handkerchief that Madeleine had forgotten in her bed: her hair was so long, she needed a comb wherever she went, did Madeleine. I put them in my pocket, as a gift from Marie. What genuflexions of heart the simple, the true-who live with the trees, the fields, and the animals-perform.

'Next year, sir. And I shall tell Monsieur Robert how well the house has been kept. If all his friends were so considerate...

Au revoir, Marie. And tell Pierre on my behalf that Monsieur Charles thinks Blanche has worms in her belly, the way she rubs her tail against the wall constantly, and sneezes on touching water. He must take her to a cétérinaire. Good-bye.'

Au revoir, Monsieur."

Montpalais was behind me, and I did not want to see it again from the top of the road that twists round Biran. A year was a long way off, and how much the carth would have turned on her base, and how many birds would have gone from Gascony to Africa and the Arctic and back for nesting again by then. The Korean war was still going on, and who could say what the mad world might do. France, that country of peace and courtesy, had known so many wars of late that even as the Korean trouble started, the whole countryside was stock-piling, sugar and par- affin, potatoes, wine, and motor-car tyres. As I drove through the villages the doors were not so widely open, nor were people so carefree as they watched the elders play bowls. But when I neared the Spanish frontier more richness and gaiety came into the life of the people, for they lived on two frontiers, and the noble Pyrenees gave one the assurance that war would never come as far as here. What Napoleon could not do, nor Hitler, the Russian could never do. And from Pau you could look at the Pyrenees and know that to be strong one must be pure as snow. Madeleine then seemed never to have left me.

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Articles
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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Chapter 1-

28 November 2023
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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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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

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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 the

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Chapter 4-

28 November 2023
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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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Chapter 5-

28 November 2023
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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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Chapter 6-

29 November 2023
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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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Chapter 7-

29 November 2023
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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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Chapter 8-

29 November 2023
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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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Chapter 9-

29 November 2023
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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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Chapter 10-

30 November 2023
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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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Chapter 11-

30 November 2023
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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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Chapter 12-

30 November 2023
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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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Chapter 13-

30 November 2023
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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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Chapter 14-

30 November 2023
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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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Chapter 15-

1 December 2023
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AS THE TRAIN pulled itself northward, and we passed through A Eyguières, Tarascon, Avignon, Orange, there was much spring in the air-though it was only mid-February-and I thought of Savithri. There ha

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Chapter 16-

1 December 2023
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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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Chapter 17-

1 December 2023
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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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