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 stepmother wanted her own son, Lokamitra, to be placed on the throne. Weak this Dharmaraja was, and the Minister one day took young Satyakama away, and left him at the white beginnings of a jungle path on the frontiers. And Satyakama, beautiful in his limbs ("As though moonbeams had been melted and made solid as silver for the hands and feet of this Prince," said Grandmother), he walked down the path forlorn, now asking for advice from a butterfly, and now from a roaming elephant. Neither had anything to tell him but shed tears in compassion-which explains why the ele- phant has such poor sight, and the butterfly two additional eyes on its wings and the trees, made hollow with the winds, rolled a lamentation that all the forest could hear. So much virtue had never walked that jungle path before; even the jackal went immediately to the rabbit to bring the gladsome tidings that a Prince was walking amongst them, shining with the disc of truth over his head. "Then suddenly the whole forest fell into an act of silence, and just in front of Satyakama on the little footpath, round as a river pebble, big as a temple flower-basket, and with streaks like those on an antelope, black and white, was a budumékaye. Though there was neither wind nor sound, the little vegetable freed itself from its vine, and started rolling in front of the Prince. The Prince was too full of tears to see it. But suddenly he heard the lion roar from some distant mountain cave, and in that instant of fear he saw with his eyes this round and rolling vegetable. Fascinated with its movement he followed and followed it, till the day melted into the heat of the noon, and the noon sheltered itself under branch and root of banyan, and not a bird moved nor a squirrel nor a bee. Rapt in himself he followed the movement of the budumékaye, till the evening set in. And in the cool of the dusk, as the birds awakened to the waters, and the animals led out the little ones to their grazings and feasting, just as the night fell the round vege- table hit against a huge rock, big as a mansion, and burst apart.

And from inside this budumékaye rose a young and auspicious princess whose beauty could blind the eye, and illumine the night. "Oh!" said the Prince in wonder. But before he knew where he stood, the huge rock rose as it were from inside, just as though someone had pushed the door of the loft, and golden steps appeared, and servants and eunuchs and maids, and in the world below there were halls and parlours and chambers of gold. Mirrors shone everywhere, and six white princesses gathered together to pay homage to the Prince. And when they had bowed and stood aside, the budumékaye who had become a princess came from the door opposite, a garland of flowers in her hand. She knelt before him and said, "I am the eldest of seven sisters, and I be Princess of Avanti, banished by a cruel father," and they wed each other. There was but one enemy in the palace, and that was a fat old monkey-chamberlain. He sat by a milk-cauldron, sleepy. The seven sisters gathered together and felled him into the caul- dron, and the servants and the maids were happy and free, for he was a tyrant.

'Thus they lived for twice ten years, till the world became big, and over-spread; for vast was the territory needed for the growing populace. And a huge capital rose just in the middle of the forest, with roads and parks and festoons, and pools for summer and shelters for the monsoon, and they watered the roads of evening mixed with the rich sandal of the forests. Dandakavathi the great capital rose, and one day, as Satyakama and Ramadevi ruled their small kingdom, they saw the elephants and the camels and the horses of another King enter the capital. It was an old King going to Benares on pilgrimage. Four were the queens with him. They were made right welcome into the palace. Though Satyakama knew the moment he beheld them who the visitors were, Ramadevi, the chief-queen, did not. A magnificent feast was offered to the visitors, and when Satyakama started serving Ganges water to his guests such a spurt of milk burst from the chief-oueen's breasts that all the world wondered. Satyakama fell at his mother's feet and told them the story of the seven Princesses. And with tears in their eyes the old King and his three queens (for the fourth was the wicked one, young and ambitious) praised the young Prince for his obedience and beauty. They said that since his departure nothing but famine and penury had ruled the land, and as expiation they had started on a pil- grimage to Benares: maybe the Ganges would give them back their purity. Meanwhile the Chamberlain of the old King rushed horsemen to the capital, and while the citizens of Dharmapuri awaited the young Prince, with kunkum-water and silver censers, and with all the courtyards covered with rice-powder designs and mango leaves hung at every door, the old King and his four wives wended their way westwards to Benares, the holy city.

*And as soon as the very winds smelt of the Prince returning to the capital, golden grass grew on either side of the footpath, por- cupines brushed away the thorns from the highways, and fledgelings put out their yellow bare necks to see the Prince and Princess ride on elephant and howda to the capital. There was the music of the nine melodies in the air....

And you can hear it as you go to sleep, little children,' said Grandmother.

I could hear such music in the air on that clear, cold day of Provence, as the mistral had removed all clouds from the sky like the porcupines the thorns of the jungle highway.

Savithri was a real Princess by birth, but what must have brought the story back to me was that as I stood at the bottom of the gangway, this somewhat round and shy thing rolled down the steps as she ran, with her august and aloof and lone brother behind her. I had almost to catch her by the hand lest she fell against some trunk or cargo, as it lay on the pier.

She readily accepted to come with me to Aix and spend a few days with us, but her brother had to be rushed on to London. He had to go back to school at once he was already late. We had a hurried lunch at the Cannebière, and even the Marseillais seemed astonished at so much laughter of a woman's face. She seemed, did Savithri, so innocent and true and free Her brother, on the other hand, was shy, already learned-looking. He was to have gone to Eton, but the war had sent him to an Anglo-Indian school. He had suffered much from that atmosphere, and so to run away from the vulgarity of sons of Government Officers, and the fat, ugly bankers' creed, he read English poetry, wandering through the fields reciting Shelley, Wordsworth, or Gerald Manley Hopkins to himself. He was, he had decided, going to become a Professor and teach poetry.

All that he knew of France he had read French at school- was her poetry. He admired most Victor Hugo and Lamartine, thought Gérard de Nerval involved, and Baudelaire he said he could not understand; for that matter, Paul Valéry too. I said to Anand, for that was his name, that Valéry's home was not far away-and before I knew where I was I heard Savithri start reciting, Midi le juste y compose de feu, La mer, la mer toujours recommencée, in her gentle, intimate accent, as though French were better spoken like the Braj of Mira. It was Anand who had taught her this, for after the two lines her inspiration seemed to have stopped; Anand continued with a few more verses, and I could see it was not so much to show off his knowledge as to discover whether I found his accent improper. No, his accent was much better than his sister's. Whatever he did was done with thoroughness.

For Savithri life was a game, a song. She walked in the streets (she was a little short-sighted) like my sisters did, throwing four balls into the air and keeping them going with a puzzle rhyme and a beat of feet. She spoke rapidly, and in between her amusing chatter was a space of sorrow, large as her eyes; you could almost breathe and know that this came from no single act or thought, but from some previous karma, the sorrow af another age. She bore such sorrow, it seemed at moments, that she sang just to cover it up, or she would dramatize herself smoking or sit self- consciously as though to hide some unnameable disease that others could see and smell but she could not know. I soon saw that her repertory of the frivolous-some light air from La Traviata or Carmen, or.some Negro spiritual or jazz soprano "The sky is blue and I love you...was as rich as her deep knowledge of the Mira tradition.

We rushed Anand to his train and saw his Pullman move off, and hardly were we back in the car before Savithri started sing- ing: 'Oh, mon cher, Oh mon amourrrr...' I remembered Anand's last sentence to her, 'Sister, I saw La Traviata on the posters in Marseille. Do not forget to go and see it-and ta-ta,' he said, as the train moved away. Savithri continued to hum to herself: 'Oh, ma colombe, Oh mon amieeee', forgetful where she was-she never remembered, it seemed, she was at Marseille, St-Charles.

On the way home she started beating her feet to some ditty, and I felt I did not know what to do, for neither did I know this Tino Rossi nor did I think I should know him. I was a provincial Brahmin from Mysore, where everybody learns marriage songs of Rama and Krishna, or Sanscrit verses for banquet competitions. I had come with that background to France, where I fell among the group of Madeleine and her friends, almost all Catholics, or serious Communists. But this world of, "The sky is blue and I love you,' was completely irrelevant to me. I probably knew more of Bernard de Ventadour or of Marie de France and her Belle amie si est de nous Ni vous sans moi, ni moi sans vous, than of the jazz masters. Besides, I thought, amongst those olive trees which rolled like age after age before me, that had seen Roman consuls, bishops, crusaders and princes, and perhaps Napoleon himself as he came back from St Helena before his Hundred Days of Glory, I won- dered whether before the antiquity, wisdom, and the majesty of Mont Ste-Victoire, some Haarlem ferial piece were not a lack of piety. Maybe to a true Negro such jazz would have sounded like an adoration of the Invisible, but to an Indian it seemed a lack of respect to the earth, to those fervid hills-to France. We can only offer others what is ours, were it only a seed of tamarind, Grandfather used to say. Let us Indians then give France, if we would, Mira or the glory of Sankara, but let us not offer her, for her hierarchy of riches, for the generosity of her rivers, for the purity of her poets, such tam-tam. Does he who sets foot on the soil of France know he treads where Saint Louis trod, walks where Henry IV rode, goes where the great Mistral walked? Or that he looks at Mont Ste-Victoire which Cézanne made famous, in violet and silver, in venetian green and in mud- red? Or that Peguy walked eighty-eight kilometres from Paris to Chartres, to carry the homage of the country of Beaune to the Queen of France?

Etoile du matin, inaccessible reine, Voici que nous marchons vers votre illustre cour Et voici le plateau de notre pauvre amour Et voici l'océan de notre immense peine....

Much as I spoke these words to myself, Savithri must have felt it, for her jazz waned away into a more lovely lyric, and thence to an abrupt silence. Mont Ste-Victoire rose before us with the familiarity of an acknowledged elder, not a father but a younger uncle; we were to be his wards. As the car tuned herself and ran uphill, I could see the lights of Villa Ste-Anne, and by the time Savithri stepped out of the car, Madeleine had run down the steps to bid her welcome.

Months later, Madeleine said to me that Savithri was just as she had imagined an Indian woman should be, gentle, simple, and very silent.

'You are thrice welcome to our little home,' Madeleine said, standing near the bull, 'the more welcome, because you are a woman and an Indian. Come in!'

As I laid the luggage on the floor, Savithri threw open the window and looked out and said, 'Oh, it's so beautiful here, look at that Moon of Shiva!' And she added, 'Just like in Naini Tal.' As she went up the steps to the landing above, she felt it was a palace and so did we. We make objects-objects do not make us. Madeleine could no more have made it a palace than I a home. For Madeleine it was a villa, and I always felt I was her guest. For me Villa Ste-Anne should have been a sanctuary- and like all sanctuaries it would then have belonged to the gods, and to my ancestors. The Brahmin is never contemporary-he goes backwards and.forwards in time, and so has a sage to begin the genealogical tree, and a Guru to end the cycle of birth and death. Where, I ask you, where was I to build a house, a home? By what river or tank or temple corridor?

The garden of Provence is like some Chinese fableland, with Bishops, prelates, Princes of the Church; snuff-boxes, concubines and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, bastardy; the monster of Tarascon to keep treasure, the dungeons of Montmajour for prisoners; and some Faery Queen, that one may not win with a sword or a look, but by some subtle poem that she has to unweave and see the meaning of in a pool of clear mirrors. But where a Chinese queen would be young, full and ripe, the Provençal one would be lean, proud and virginal. There would be a donkey to have a jolly ride on, to go to a tavern and hear someone talk of the wisdom of birds, or of the knowledge of navigating stars; and when the moon shone, as in Sze-Chwan, would not the whole country look as though Wang-Chu or Chang-Yi had, while pounding rice (though in Provence of course, it would be pressing the wine) with pestle and drink, sung up a kingdom to live in.

And Wang-Chu says to Chang-Yi, 'The moon will fill the valley as on the night of the ninth dragon, and from the potion made of the nine butterflies of the four valleys we can ride on moonbeams to the Castle of Changto. And there the Princess will receive us, with bamboo-wine and hemp-liquor, and the girls will come dancing round us, and we shall have a nice time, hé, Chang? Just then, as in the good story of the Mule du Pape, some conceited servant of the Prince would lead the donkey to the top, to the very top of the castle, and when it has looked at the river, broad as a washerman's pool, it sees mounting chariots, and busy merchant-men and horses that gallop; it sees sword and buckler and young gunshine, with ladies to the left who pay homage to a Duke, and ladies to the right who kiss the hand of yellow monk or Mandarin-till three white geese come flying from Mount Wu, and a dark, blue wind rises and sweeps the castle and the moon away. Then Wang-Chu will say to Chang- Yi, 'We have had a marvelloys trip, haven't we-and the moon-beams were so nice to ride on,' and Wagg, laying the pestle against the wall, will say, 'Chang, can't we make a cobweb, large as these four palms, thine and mine, and hold the Kingdoms in our waistband?' Chang thinks for a long time and says, 'Maybe, maybe, but now take this pinch of snuff,' and as he says so, the morning bells ring from tower to tower of the Temple, and Chang and Wang are found sleeping by their pestle. The bailiff of the house kicks them on the flank and says, 'Hé, wake up, you! We do not give five pan-liangs for nothing or do you think we grow pan-liangs on grass-stalks,' and they wake up and see it is broad daylight..

It wasn't broad daylight for us, anyway, for the round full moon shone over us with the shadow of dark cypresses, now with the silver on the plane trees, now with pools and ruins of an abandoned Roman town or castle, now with vines and now with the long-going railway line the whole night had a hum and a woof that seemed like a world built by fire-flies. Some fairy-tale had come true; some princess had indeed woven a world from her bonnet, and had spread it out for her own enjoyment, as if she were looking at her own face in the melody of the bamboo flute. And she awaited the coming of the Knight of Jerusalem.

Del gran golfe de mar E del enois del portz E del perilhos far Soi, merce Dieu, estortz...

I knew I talked nonsense. I could not talk anything else. Savithri was made of such stuff that for her the real had to be clothed in terms of the illusory to make it concrete; truth was to be made the revelation of a puzzle, a riddle, a mathematic of wisdom. For her, I could see, everything was gesture and symbol, and time had been abolished, that the river might run through the night, the tree rise high, the mountains move as on themselves; that words be spoken as though left behind, and the body itself be a casket in which one sees oneself, not as limb and form, but as light cooled into space, as a gift, an object, a truth. All was secret to her but herself so all was a legend, and every event a wonder. Every man the peasant on kis horse, going back to his home at midnight, hay-rake on his arm, or the driver of a stopped lorry from whom I asked about some country road, his red light singing and chirruping all, all were like a land seen from a palace, that some mysterious father had named, but would not let you go anywhere near. The world was like the beggar at the palace gate- way, and everything was fascination. And I was the father, the story-teller, the schoolmaster. What a job, I said to myself, and I was fascinated.

I was fascinated all the more as there was nothing that Savithri could not understand. If I said, 'This is donkey-grass and is called oenanthera in Latin; and this the cypress of Barbary for the Saracens brought it; and this is where Queen Jeanne was shut up for her father had gone mad; and this is the hell that Dante describes' (for we had now come to the plateau of Les Baux) it mattered little, all was an instant, an illumination. And it brought on her face a wonderment, a parted-lipped astonishment, that indeed grass should be called oenanthera, and that the Kings of Baux be descended from Balthazar, and Balthazar, the Mage, he came from India, as tradition spoke, and that Dante did say, Vergine madre, figlia del tuo figlio umile e alba piu che creatura termine fisso d'eterno consiglio tu sé colei che l'umana natura nobilibasti si che'l suo pattore non didegno di farsi sua fattura and indeed that I was and she existed, that anything was not thus and that anything was thus; all seemed truths to her needing no proof. She was, herself, the proof that night did not imply the day or day the night, that France was this and so India was not this, that she was a girl, a woman, and I a man-all seemed a known mystery, an acknowledgement-and so to the next preci- pice, and then the moon that shone on to the distant sea. She could be filled with silence, and a steadiness filled the air then, as though the world was made real because one never saw it. This explained why Savithri so often closed her eyes, and then when she spoke, it was as if she spoke to the me that I did not know, but the me indeed, the only one, which hearing did not hear, seeing did not see, and knowing did not know but was knowledge itself.

What could I not recite to her? She said gently, sitting on the grass, 'Perhaps you know some Sanscrit verse that would befit this moment?' So I sang out those beautiful lines of Bhartrithari:

Mätar medini täta maruta sakha jyoth sabhando-jala

O mother earth and father air,

O friend fire, great kinsman water,

O brother ether-to you all In final parting I make obeisance. "

Through your long association Have the right deeds been performed.

Through you I have won pure shining wisdom,

Unweaving the sweet delusions of the mind. Now I merge in the supreme Brahman.

We walked under the moon. On the ridge of Les Baux the dogs were barking in the village, some car was making a dreadful screeching noise as though the road were slipping underneath, and there was the shadowy flap of the night-wolves above us. I wondered if man could ever possess this earth, this moment; whether the world was not treading in me, and I walking into myself. Savithri gave one the sense that, do what you would you could only be, and since you could only be, nothing could happen to you. Virtue for her was not a principle, a discipline; it was the acceptance that whether she married Pratap or 'liked' that Muslim in London-she vaguely referred to both-they were both instants of an experience, always happening to itself. For her truth was not tomorrow or yesterday-that is why she scarcely ever referred to India; truth was wherever one is for there is no anywhere or anywhen, but all is, for one is not. I had never felt, no not even in Saroja, a presence that made a gift of life to itself, and as such had a natural purity that showed up your vulgarities as the X-ray the bones. Madeleine had said to me that very morning, just before we had started for Les Baux, 'But Rama, she is not real. She lives in a world of fantasy-a dream. One cannot imagine her on the top of an English bus- and yet she walks, talks and faught like everyone. She is strange, she just bewilders me.' 'Is it long you've been married?' asked Savithri as we were going back towards the car. Not that it mattered what she asked or what I answered, whatever happened the moon alone shone- indeed, truth alone illumines.

'Some three and a half years,' I said..

'Madeleine is such a truthful creature-she seems to say what she feels with a humility that moves me deeply. Tell me; is it possible always to speak the truth?'

'No,' I answered. 'At least I do not. Not that I lie a great deal, but it seems to me truth is a question of perspective. We're all like men and women and children at a wrestling match or a holy procession: the tall father sees the wrestler hit or the God be- jewelled, and the son says, "Papa, why is it you laugh, what did you see?" And he has to take the child on his shoulder and tell him the name of the Muslim wrestler from North India or of the Goddess whose Lord is awaiting Her at the temple door. But in either case the child, being higher than his father now, sees differently. Nobody can see at the level of your eye and so nobody can speak the real truth. Not even the scientist.' 'No, not even the scientist?' she asked.

'No, not even the scientist, for at best science is an equation within an equation, two symbols, first accepted by yourself, then compared in measurement, composition, and action, to see whether they coincide with each other. It is just as if this moon, looking at the pool and seeing itself and knowing itself to be the moon, were to say 'I am the moon'. All science is only tautology. Do you know the famous story of Euler and God? My father used often to tell it to me. Euler and Diderot were both at the Court of Catherine the Great. Someone said to Diderot, "There is a man come, a great man, a German, and he can prove to you that God exists." "Excellent," said Diderot, "what a remarkable man!" So Euler was called in to prove God to Diderot. The Court was all assembled. There was much powder, wig, garter, and handkerchief about the place. Euler went straight to Diderot and said, and with a lifted finger, =X. Hence Gad exists."


A huge laugh shook the assembled Court, and the humiliated Denis Diderot, says the story, asked permission of the Empress to return to France. Catherine the Great consented cordially, and Denis Diderot returned to his mansard in Paris and to his dictionary.

"We are all a set of Denis Diderots, for X explains away every- thing.'

A funny story,' said Savithri.

'Well, it's the whole history of so-called "progress". To say electricity is such and such an equation, simply means electricity is electricity. It is just like saying I see a thing, or God is equal to X. When seeing goes into the make of form and form goes into the make of seeing, as the Gerat Sage says, "What, pray, do you see?" 'You see nothing or, if you will, yourself,' answered Savithri, and I wondered at her instant recognition of her own experience.

"Therefore, what is truth?' I asked. By now we were near Fort Sarrasine at the edge of the plateau of Les Baux, with the whole of La Camargue beneath us.

'Is-ness is the Truth,' she answered.

'And is-ness is what?'

'Who asks that question?"




'Of whom?'

'No one."

"Then "I am" is."

'Rather, I am am."

"Tautology!' she laughed.

'Savithri says Savithri is Savithri.'

'And you say Savithri is what?' she begged.

And the moon and the silence seemed to acknowledge that only the 'I' shone.

"There is no Savithri,' I continued after a while.

'No, there isn't. That I know."

"There is nothing,' I persisted.

'Yes,' she said. 'Except that in the seeing of the seeing there's a seer.'

'And the seer sees what?"

'Nothing,' she answered.

'When the I is, and where the Nothing is, what is the Nothing but the "I".

*So, when I see that tree, in that moonlight, that cypress, that pine tree, I see I-I see I-I see I.'


"That is the Truth,' she said, as we turned and walked back to the village.

She was silent all along the road, over the Rhône bridge, and by Montmajour, through Beaucaire, Arles, Vauvainargues, to the ruminant foot-hills of Mont Ste-Victoire. Or if she spoke, it was just to say, 'Sorry,' when her foot touched mine, as we turned round a curve. Like all Indians she was sensitive to touch, and her foot shot back as though it had touched the unreal.

I told her then about the bull and the elephant and she enjoyed my stories.

'Could I take grass for your bull?' she asked, as we stood long above the hill of Cabasson, just before entering the sleeping city.

I said, 'Of course. In the night she plucked some grass, and like a peasant woman she tied it in the hem of her sari. When we came to the Place de la République, she said, 'How awake every- thing is! I cannot understand how anything could be dead."

"They say, here in Aix, that the dead live in cathedral towers you can hear their echoes when the dogs sleep.' And she remem- bered I had a memory that had not reached whiteness yet.

'I am sorry I am always kicking at your feet,' she said, as though in answer to herself. 'Father says I must once have been a lame horse. You can give me the most flat of flat floors, and I'll always find something to tumble against. I have fallen from an elephant while we were going shooting-and no sooner did Father realize I was under the elephant, than he started sobbing; but like the budumékaye you spoke of in the fairy-tale, I came up out of the jungle bush and nothing ever happened to me. There are people like that. I always fall off horses, stairways, trains I once fell off a train from Allahabad to Ferozabad, and Father pulled the chain. Fortunately it was a metre-gauge line and we were going uphill, besides we were not far from the station. Yet how frightened everyone was. And I, like a confident child- but of course sobbing came running behind the train. Since then there's always been a servant with me, wherever I have travelled, who has never to lose sight of me.'

'But then how did they send you to Europe?'

'Well, between vanity and safety, they chose vanity. They wanted me to pass exams that no woman in the Rajput com- munity ever had so that my father could say, "Here is Savithri; she's a Doctor of the University of Oxford or London." Since the Princes have lost their titles, they must have other compensations. But I enjoy being in Europe. I love the activity, the singleness of purpose, the sense of freedom,' she said and laughed. 'But I am such an inveterate lazer that when I sleep I almost need a red- hot needle to awaken me. To'me sleep is the most important of biological phenomena."

I am sorry it is so late,' I said.

' 'Nonsense, I meant that when I sleep I sleep. So, don't expect me before nine in the morning. I shall sleep like a buffalo.'

We had by now got up the steps. She said, 'Here is my bull, anyway,' and she laid the grass at his mouth, like one does at the arathi ceremony. Then I lead her to her room and said, 'Sleep well, sleep well, Savithri.' I threw a last glance at that moon- coloured night, and as I went in, Madeleine was up and looking through the window at the back-yard of Monsieur Ponchon.

'What a very beautiful night, Rama,' she said, and led me to the window, and took me into her arms. I could feel the full joy of her presence in myself, and I suspected that there was another, an additional presence, that would grow, as this night, in the texture of being: a third presence, more real than our own, more lasting, and from that on to another, created through other presences, and thus more lasting again-like those olives which had been planted and made real to us by some Roman citizen of another age whose presence, unknown to himself, may have been felt that night an embryo that had no eyes and no feet yet, but had lit the congress of circumstance in which two beings had known a truth, which had a beginning, a middle and an end, yet had been consecrated for an instant at the edge of the 'I'. Discovery is a whisper to oneself, and the night of love is an embalmment, a holiness that we place outside of time, in the knowledge that creation is truth.

When I woke to myself, I heard Madeleine crying, as though the womb bore a light that was too difficult to carry. I slipped her back to bed, and lay by her hour after hour, touching her forehead and wiping her perspiration, as though her pain was the first, the only one of mankind. There is no pain more acute than a pain unnameable, and all the shine of the world is only a pro- phecy, a shout that death is, that one loses another, that a tight breast has a pain no husband can take away, were he even within you. Who is within after all? No one. It is one's own pain that sobs to oneself. To be woman is to suffer, to bear the yoke of man. The rains will break before the door of the barn is reached. Night alone exists and the exhaustion of an empty day.

Madeleine's body had reached out to its full womanhood, and I was the lic.

When I came down the next morning, Savithri was out in the garden already, her fingers touching this rose and that, her nostrils smelling the air of pine and sea, and her eyes looking into themselves, as though something arbitrary had happened, as though somewhere the earth had slipped from its centre and a new equinox had commenced. Not that the polar ice would have melted, nor the bears run screaming round the world, nor the arctic palimpeds find it too hot for them to stand on the snow and preen themselves before the males in honoured delight, but some- thing intimate, some geological substratum had broken into bits, and space had emptied itself out of the depths. A new age had commenced, with new fauna and flora, with monkeys that spoke, with birds that walked, with men that were taller and understood each other in the instant of recognition. Time lay like sunshine over the earth, and when flowers grew it was not for adornment or for fruiting, but for the dew to gather itself into a round cog- nisance, and for woman to go touching herself in lit moments of the sun. There were not many womes, there was but one woman- one form, one sound, one love. It was not something to say to another, or even to give or to take, but to see in oneself as a child discovers its navel; and once recognized it still had no name, no more than the navel for the child which saw it constantly.

The trouble with time is that it creates its own myth, and thinks we become with its becoming. Just as we can park motor-cars, we can park thoughts in time, and go away on our job, which is living. To forget time is to live in recognition, and whoever said love could be born? Love is never born, but all is premonition of love. You come upon it as you come upon as you come upon a poppy, by the roadside. You drive past it and say, 'Oh, the lovely poppy, how beautiful she looks in the sun!' In fact the poppy has nothing to say, not even that she is a poppy, but to you it has happened; to her nothing has happened, for what can happen to what is. The Is-ness cannot be added on to is-ness, love cannot be added on to love; for to know love is to love love and to love love is just to be.

To lie in the arms of a beloved, Savithri must have thought, is then just to take delight in one's self, to park the car in the village, go to the top of the mountain in the mist of night, and look out for the sound of the Sea.

'What woke you up-and so early?' I asked.

'Nothing,' she lied. 'I had a rare and sound sleep. You know, they say round people like me sleep like a pumpkin,' and she laughed at herself.

It was true she was rounder than she or maybe even I might have liked, but one forgot it, one knew she had some wisdom of herself that made her voice so intimate, so sustaining, and so pure.

'What a country!' she continued. 'I have marvelled at these dragon-flies. I played with one, all about the garden. It's a pity I must be going away so soon."

'Villa Ste-Anne does not go anywhere,' I answered. 'Nor do Ramaswamy and Madeleine. Everything will be here when the Princess wants to be here.' Covering my lie with a barbarous joke I bowed. Savithri no more felt the Princess than the poppy felt she was the poppy. Savithri just was, it was only me that had the Brahmin, with the Brahmin and the I as separate points of reference. Having only one point of reference, it seemed to me she had no problem, po equations. For her, marriage would be to wed anyone, for whatever happened would just happen, and the wedding too would be a happening. He alone acts who is a stranger to himself. Innocence, I thought, was like her breaking into song. And seeing a jasmine in my garden-though she could scarcely believe that Europe could ever have jasmines-Savithri sat on the stone seat and said, 'Shall I sing? I feel like singing,' and like a seagull that leaves the waters and goes slowly upwards, she started, Asuwanajana svejd sejd, Préma bola bōyi With the water of my tears I sprinkled it, And I reared the creeper of love. with her eyes closed, and the swallows in the olives above us making quite a fuss about it all. I felt it was somehow improper .for me to stay, and I slowly left her to her song, and went up to make coffee for Madeleine. Being a Thursday, she did not have to go to Collège, and so I went about my job quietly. Once the table was laid and the coffee ready, I went to wake Madeleine, but she was already lying with her eyes wide open. She said the song had woken her up.

'What a melopée! And what sadness there is in your people. That is why, Rama, I always ask you when you laugh, why is there such an acute sorrow behind it?'

'Existence,' I answered her, 'is a passage between life and death, and birth and death again, and what an accumulation of pain man has to bear. Is it then a wonder the Buddha, with palaces and queens, with a kingdom and an heir, left his home to find that from which there is no returning. Suppose, Madeleine, you were always and always travelling: from hotel to hotel, from Hôtel du Midi to Hôtel de Venise, from Pension Mimosa to the Hôtel Baltimore, through mountain, sea, and air, you could travel-yet where would you live. You could only live in Life, and to find what that means is to know the whole of wisdom."

'Sometimes, Rama, I want to run away from you, run far away from you, just to listen to stupid innocent laughter, like Tante Zoubie's, or go to a circus and See the clown make everyone laugh this high seriousness reminds me of poor Werther. I am not serious you know, Rama, and one day, perhaps, I shall run away.' She laughed, but I knew she said it in no fun-I could see the curve of her thought. "Yesterday I felt lost without you,' she continued. 'You had left early in the morning, and I knew you would not come till late at night, and I felt utterly lonely, and so lost. I went to the hairdresser after Collège to have my hair done I was a week too early, but I told them some lie. Then I went to buy some papers for you. It was only six o'clock. I saw the Grands Magasins open-so I went into one and wandered. And what do you think I bought myself? A moulin à poivre, just a wee little thing, that would serve no purpose; but it could be there all the same, and maybe one day it will yet come in handy. Then I bought the pepper for it. I must use it some day- you know, I am French, and nothing should be useless; every- thing must have a function, a right to exist. Thus instead of curry I will now and again grind you some pepper,' she said, and rose. to have a wash.

I laid the table on the veranda, so that we could all have break- fast together, and when I went down to call Savithri, I found her doing her hair.

'Come in,' she said unself-consciously, but I did not go in. 'Breakfast ready!' I shouted. In a minute she was ready too, her braid in her hand, and she ran up with the hairpins between her fingers. She sat at the table while I brought the coffee, and when I returned I found Madeleine fixing up Savithri's hair. Women have intimacy with each other in the things of the body- in face-powder, shoes, disease and underclothes-that men could never have with one another. That is why women have to speak of frocks and frills, of jewels, medicines, and gynaecologists, as though it was their algebra of living, and men have no more to do with them than the hog with the lotus.

Life is made for woman-man is a stranger to this earth. We are all Bodhisattvas, and one night we, too, will leave the wife, lying by the new-born one with the lamp lit behind her, and the curve of her eye folding life itself into its depths. And while Kanthaka wakens to this tiding, and sends the neigh that would awaken the citizens of Kapilavastu /o the news of departure, the awaiting angels will close key-hole and tile-edge, that none be awakened, and Channa the appointed groom brings the horse to the door, while the sentries sleep. As door after door of the city opens, the sentries sleeping at their seats, the angels shutting the noise of hinge and lock, Kanthaka flies to the frontiers. Cutting his hair, the Buddha sends it to the very skies, for the gods to receive in homage and devotion. And when they reach the River Ganges, Kanthaka kneels to the Lord and says, 'Lord, May this poor creature, too, be permitted to come? And the Master says, 'I go thither, Kanthaka, whence there is no returning,' and then he departs on the journey from which there is no returning. Kanthaka goes back to Kapilavastu and dies immediately, to be reborn and return to the Compassionate One, a disciple, an arhat. For all that is created, Ananda, is composite. And the composite knows decay and death. There is a point in one, a centre, a knowledge, touching which there is no becoming; there is only the end of the quest, the despiration, the Truth.' All men are but pilgrims of the Tree. Savithri, like most Indians to-day, knew little of the Buddha. In fact, Madeleine was astonished at this strange ignorance of so great a wisdom. I explained that Buddhism had merged into Hinduism so that to-day we cannot distinguish one from the other - just as in South India you cannot distinguish the Dravidian tradition from the Aryan tradition, and truly speaking Aryan wisdom seems to have found a more permanent place in South India than in the Aryan North.

'India absorbs everything and makes it her own,' I repeated a banality, and Madeleine looked at me with an almost desperate irritation.

'India makes everything and everywhere an India. But if any- thing does not achieve Indiahood, it is the untruth, the lie, the Maya, the British,' she said and laughed.

'Why, the British are very much loved today,' I said, knowing what she meant. Isn't that so, Savithri?'

'So much so indeed, Sister,' said Savithri, 'that when Mount- batten left, we all wept. We are a set of sentimental fools," added Savithri very wisely. That was not her phrase, I thought; it sounded like the adage of a politician.

'The French haven't left Pondicherry yet,' said Madeleine. 'The old French peasant does not leave anything. He also absorbs -in terms of dividends..."

It was a poor argument, and it showed how we were all trying to hide ourselves from each other. Meanwhile the postman. brought the mail, and Savithri went down to have her bath. Madeleine said she would start cooking, for Savithri's train, the Mistral, left at two-thirty, and I sat looking at the letters, some from India and some from London and Paris, feeling I wish I were not, and were I, I should never be again.

There was also a letter from Oncle Charles, which spoke of Catherine's visit. He would put her on the Saturday morning train in Paris-they would have to leave Rouen early (at four or thereabouts) but she could always sleep sitting in the train. He did not like the idea of a night journey for a jeune fille. Of course he was being old-fashioned, but you could not cut away his years, even with a knife from St Etienne. What was was, and he knew I would accept him as he was. I did at least I tried to. He hoped Catherine would learn much from her contact with me. 'Give her bright ideas so that she can build a happy and a solid home. For a woman her home is her paradise,' he concluded. He was sure that the sight of me and Madeleine together would be an inspiration, an example for a whole life. A father's hope is always that his children should be happy. I have done practically nothing for Madeleine's happiness-she almost grew up like a blackbird. But Catherine was different. Rama, she needs advice and help. Help her, and Zoubie and I will be ever grateful to you. Je vous embrasse tous les deux et bien affectueusement, Oncle Charles." Catherine's impending visit brightened my horizon. It en- couraged me to think of other things, more concrete. I liked Catherine too, her shy joviality, her suppressed joie de vivre, her maternity (for you could not think of Catherine without a brood of children), and her natural affection for all men and things. She was what the French call 'une bonne mattresse de maison". Ile who would wed her would not just wed an heiress-for her father had made considerable money-but a good housewife. And she was pleased with that, and when Father retired she would inherit the notorial. Like this the orchard would not change hands....

The lunch was rather a sad affair-everyone was merged in his or her own thoughts. Georges dropped in to say good-bye to Savithri. He was always so elegant in his thought, as though life were a series of genuflexions, said not in Latin but in French. God was the immediate ground of every gesture. He bent low, and lifted his hat to Savithri and to Madeleine, then waved his hand to me as he walked down the steps.

'He is one of the finest human beings I have met,' Madeleine averred. 'If only he didn't make a lifelong apology for not being in a soutane. A man left to himself,' she went on, looking at me, 'will end in a mathematical puzzle. He needs to clothe his thoughts with the cry of children-with the sobbing of a woman.

If man wants to be a superman he has just to be a man.' They both laughed. 'I may still be a Yogi, some day,' I said. 'I shall follow Sri Aurobindo, and abolish death.'

'Oh, Rama, to think that you will have to be bored with me for eternity-a sad thought.'

'Eternity is only for men,' I remarked. 'Women will die at the opportune time. I have always told you polygamy is man's nature. Both the Hindus and the Christians are wrong about these single- hearted devotions. Islam is the better religion, from that point of view-it treats life naturally.'

And leads you thus straight to Pakistan,' added Savithri, somewhat bitterly. This was the only time, I felt, she showed any personal feelings.

'We're in France,' I reminded her, 'and French trains don't have the euphoria and the fantasy of Indian railways. If we want to catch the Mistral let's get the cases out. And while the ladies drink coffee, the he-man will put the luggage into the car."

'There's no he-man in the world of God,' said Madeleine, rising. But the she-woman of France is just made to carry the burden for a Brahmin.' She knew with my lungs I should not carry anything. When the coffee was finished we all came down, and with what absolute acceptance did Madeleine carry down Savithri's luggage. Savithri gave some grass to the bull, and she looked a long, long while at the two big eyes of Villa Ste-Anne while Madeleine rested the cases against a rock, and then at one stretch we reached the car. How incompetent we two Indians felt before things.

'I am a peasant woman, after all,' said Madeleine, excusing us. 'My great grandmothers must have carried potatoes and eggs to the fair of St Séver.' And we all got into the car.

Madeleine was gentle, sad, and understanding. Savithri's thoughts were already in London. Hussain Hamdani awaited her, with his violence and his devotion. I dread going to London,' she said. 'I wish all the world were Provence.'

"Then you'd have the farandole every evening, a big snore every afternoon, and in between you'd hear Mistral sing of Mireille. Never saw anything more lazy than this,' was Made- leine's confirmed conclusion.

My silence was pitiful. Madeleine had her feet on the ground; Catherine, after all, was coming on Saturday, and Madeleine had such grand plans for everything. She even knew what gateaux she would buy, and when she would invite Georges. Latterly, feeling. Georges might be too shy in the beginning, she had begun to think Lezo might be of some use. So this evening there was going to be a come-back for Lezo, and the first Sanscrit lesson again. No, she was going to learn Pali direct. Lezo was even more happy, for thus he proved his importance. The more obscure a thing, the more familiar Lezo was with it. Georges was coming at five o'clock to have a chat with me. At six all of us would go on a walk, say hullo to the elephant, and if the mistral were not too severe, go up to St Ophalie, coming back through the olives under the moonlight.

Madeleine seemed almost light-hearted, happy. 'Rama is either a thousand years old or three,' she said to Savithri. 'He cannot do anything wrong, for he's either so wise or so innocent. He drives a car well, but just let it purr a little and he jumps from his seat as if he'd heard a cobra hiss. He is very frightened of machines. But let him have silence to himself, and then he'll talk to you of trees as though he's been a tree in his last life, and will become one in the next. He's been born a man by mistake-for my joy,' she said, convinced she was convinced of her own happiness. "To think that a man born in Hariharapura should marry a girl from the Paroise de St Médard. Strange, very strange, isn't it? Rama says, when a Mysore peasant woman sees a rainbow, she exclaims, 'There, there! It must be the wedding of the dog and the jackal! There must have been a rainbow somewhere,' she finished, 'on that dull, rainy sky of Rouen.'

Madeleine spoke a great deal like this, almost to herself, when she knew what was not true should be true, and could be a truth, by repetition. She put her hand on her belly afterwards, as though some greater truth lay within her, and my eyes catching her gesture gave me confidence that life would continue; for men are born and men 'die-even women are born and marry and continue to live. Life was like a railway line, it went and went on almost as though by itself, slipped into a branch line, stopped at the small country Gare, and whistled and ran off when the bell rang. Then the cypresses would come, and the marshes, and after St Pujol and St Trophime and Ste Madeleine would be Tarascon. And all who know Tarascon, know the Rhône flows through her, and the Rhône broadening out, flows all over the place, and reaches Marseille.

Marseille, as you know, is a big port, and ships come there, come from all over the world, from America and even from India. And people come in them-and people take trains and go away to Paris and to London. People go to London, anyone could go to London. I often go to London myself and I work at the British Museum. I did not tell her-I mean Savithri-that. Madeleine alone knew. Savithri of course knew with the know- ledge she had of what Savithri was and not what I was. For Savithri London was not a city, a place in geography-it was somewhere, a spot, maybe a red spot in herself. Like the London traffic lights, it might suddenly grow red, and then like a kunkum, a large one on the round face of a Bengali woman, would the green go up, the cool, round, auspicious green of London.

'What a strange noise these trams make,' she said, 'and how strange these road-gigns look. They look so primitive.' Then remembering Madeleine was French, she added, And as for India, we have no road-signs at all.' That brought the car to a stop for we were already at the Gare St-Charles. The train came in very simply and easily. Savithri got into the compartment as

if she had always known Marseille and the train, but could

always be forgotten by herself. I felt anxious for her, and so I said, 'Please send us a wire as soon as you reach London. Will you?'

"That's just like my father or my great-uncle!' she exclaimed spontaneously. With Savithri truth and tact were but one instinctive experience. She could no more tell a real lie than grow taller or even maybe, leaner. The departure was normal and simple-I bought a dinner ticket for her, and waved a long and simple good-bye. Madeleine was happy to have met her and was sad at her departure.

'It's three thousand years of civilization that produces a thing like her,' she said, as though paying a compliment to me.

'And five for me,' I said, claiming my Upanishadic ancestor, as though my grandfather's grandfather had seen him, and we'd inherited land from his estate. My sadness was intellectual, abstract; it took refuge in history and metaphysics. What would I have done if there had been no Georges coming at five o'clock, and no chance for us to go crazy over the monophysites. We were now studying their texts, and not knowing Latin I was dependent on Madeleine and Georges to help me decipher Catholic, rather Christian, theology. Georges was the master there, and he was happy. Work is holy because it hides our love of love. The fig leaf, perhaps, was the first civilized act of art.

It was a jolly day though, and Madeleine was singing. She was singing some old refrain from a Provençal berceuse:

Soun enfant es mai blanc que la néou, E tréluisis coumo uno stello Ai! ai! ai! que la maire es bello, Ai! ai! qu'Enfant est béou.

She said, 'I'll drive now,' and with her at the wheel the car took on a new rhythm, felt familiar and happy, as horses feel when their real masters come, not their grooms;, bending and lifting itself up the car carried us back, and I had fallen into myself. I knew that there, in that steadiness, man knew the only everlasting peace.

'Peace, Madeleine,' I said, 'is where the wife drives the car at eighty kilometres an hour, and the quan falls into his abysm look- ing at his nose." 'I will put honey on your nose, one day,' she said and kissed me on the top of my olfactory organ to prove that love lay in famili- arity. You think you possess what you have known so well. Love at nineteen is as illusory as happiness at twenty-five. Marriage is a bond, and you live together because you can change hands at the wheel, and bring gateaux for guests, as you pass chez Madame Tissier. I was lonely, and looked at the trees on the Place de la République. I counted them and they were twenty-three.

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