We cannot write like the English. We should not. We cannot write only as Indians. We have grown to look at the large world as part of us. Our method of expression therefore has to be a dialect which will some day prove to be as distinctive and colourful as the Irish or American. Time alone will justify it.
We have neither punctuation nor the treacherous “ats” and “ons” to bother us—we tell one interminable tale. Episode follows episode, and when our thoughts stop our breath stops, and we move on to another thought. This was and still is the ordinary style of our story-telling. I have tried to follow it myself in this story.
Our village—I don’t think you have ever heard about it—Kanthapura is its name, and it is in the province of Kara. High on the Ghats it is, high up the steep mountains that face the cool Arabian seas, up the Malabar coast it is, up Mangalore and Puttur and many a centre of cardamom and coffee, rice and sugarcane. Roads, narrow, dusty, rut-covered roads, wind through the forests of teak and of jack, of sandal and of salt, and hanging over bellowing gorges and leaping over elephant-haunted valleys, they now turn to the left and now to the right and bring you through the Alambè and Champa and Mena and Kola passes into the great granaries of trade. There, on the blue waters, they say, our carted cardamoms and coffee get into the ships the Red-men bring, and, so they say, they go across the seven oceans into the countries where our rulers live.
Sometimes people say to themselves, the Goddess of the River plays through the night with the Goddess of the Hill. Kenchamma is the mother of Himavathy. May the goddess bless us!
Till now I’ve spoken only of the Brahmin quarter. Our village had a Pariah quarter too, a Potters’ quarter, a Weavers’ quarter, and a Sudra quarter. How many huts had we there? I do not know. There may have been ninety or a hundred—though a hundred may be the right number. Of course you wouldn’t expect me to go into the Pariah quarter, but I have seen from the street-corner Beadle Timmayya’s hut.
I closed my ears when I heard [Moorthy] went to the Pariah quarter. We said to ourselves, he is one of these Gandhi-men, who say there is neither caste nor clan nor family, and yet they pray like us and they live like us. Only they say, too, one should not marry early, one should allow widows to take husbands and a Brahmin might marry a pariah and a pariah a Brahmin. Well, well, let them say it, how does it affect us? We shall be dead before the world is polluted. We shall have closed our eyes.
Siva himself will forthwith go and incarnate on the Earth and free my beloved daughter from her enforced slavery.
“Free spinning-wheels in the name of the Mahatma!”
“May I ask one thing, Moorthy? How much has one to pay?”
“Nothing, sister. I tell you the Congress gives it free.”
“And why should the Congress give it free?”
“Because millions and millions of yards of foreign cloth come to this country, and everything foreign makes us poor and pollutes us. To wear cloth spun and woven with your own God-given hands is sacred, says the Mahatma. And it gives work to the workless, and work to the lazy. And if you don’t need the cloth, sister—well, you can say, ‘Give it away to the poor,’ and we will give it to the poor. Our country is being bled to death by foreigners. We have to protect our mother.”
Every fellow with Matric or Inter asks, “What dowry do you offer? How far will you finance my studies?—I want to have this degree and that degree.” Degrees. Degrees. Nothing but degrees or this Gandhi vagabondage. When there are boys like Moorthy, who should safely get married and settle down, they begin this Gandhi business.
“There is but one force in life and that is Truth, and there is but one love in life and that is the love of mankind, and there is but one God in life and that is the god of all.”
There was something deep and desperate that hurried her on, and [Narsamma] passed by Rangamma’s sugarcane field and by the mango grove to the river, just where the whirlpool gropes and gurgles, and she looked up at the moonlit sky, and the winds of the night and the shadows of the night and the jackals of the night so pierced her breast that she shuddered and sank unconscious upon the sands, and the cold so pierced her that the next morning she was dead.
The Skeffington Coffee Estate rises beyond the Bebbur Mound over the Bear’s Hill, and hanging over Tippur and Subbur and Kantur, it swings round the Elephant Valley, and rising to shoulder the Snow Mountains and the Beda Ghats, it dips sheer into the Himavathy, and follows on from the Balepur Toll-gate Corner to the Kenchamma Hill, where it turns again and skirts Bhatta Devil’s fields and Rangè Gowda’s coconut garden, and at the Tippur stream it rises again and is lost amidst the jungle growths of the Horse-head Hill.
And they all rose up like one rock and fell on the ground saying, “You are a dispenser of good, O Maharaja, we are the lickers of your feet…”
[Pariah Siddayya] tells you about the dasara havu that is so clever that he got into the Sahib’s drawer and lay there curled up, and how, the other day, when the sahib goes to the bathroom, a lamp in his hand, and opens the drawer to take out some soap, what does he see but our Maharaja, nice and clean and shining with his eyes glittering in the lamplight, and the Sahib, he closes the drawer as calmly as a prince; but by the time he is back with his pistol, our Maharaja has given him the slip. And the Sahib opens towel after towel to greet the Maharaja, but the Maharaja has gone on his nuptial ceremony and he will never be found.
What is a policeman before a Gandhi’s man? Tell me, does a boar stand before a lion or a jackal before an elephant?
“Brothers, in the name of the Mahatma, let there be peace and love and order. As long as there is a God in Heaven and purity in our hearts evil cannot touch us. We hide nothing. We hurt none. And if these gentlemen want to arrest us, let them. Give yourself up to them. That is the true spirit of the Satyagrahi.”
Changing he changes not,
Ash-smeared, he’s Parvati’s sire,
Moon on his head,
And poison in his throat,
Chant, chant, chant the name of Eesh,
Chant the name of Siva Lord!
We are out for action. A cock does not make a morning, nor a single man a revolution, but we’ll build a thousand-pillared temple, a temple more irm than any that hath yet been builded, and each one of you be ye pillars in it, and when the temple is built, stone by stone, and man by man, and the bell hung to the roof and the Eagle-tower shaped and planted, we shall invoke the Mother to reside with us in dream and in life. India then will live in a temple of our making.
He’ll never come again, He’ll never come again,
He’ll never come again, Moorthappa.
The God of death has sent for him,
Buffalo and rope and all,
They stole him from us, they lassoed him at night,
He’s gone, He’s gone, He’s gone, Moorthappa.
The whole world seems a jungle in battle, trees rumbling, lions roaring, jackals wailing, parrots piping, panthers screeching, monkeys jabbering, jeering, chatter-chattering, black monkeys and white monkeys and the long-tailed ones, and the flame of forest angry around us, and if Mother Earth had opened herself and said, “Come in, children,” we should have walked down the steps and the great rock would have closed itself upon us—and yet the sun was frying-hot.
“Satyanarayan Maharaj ki jai!”
“Vandé Mataram! Inquilab Zindabad! Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!”
“In the name of the goddess, I’ll burn this village”
It is the way of the masters that is wrong. And I have come to realize bit by bit, and bit by bit, when I was in prison, that as long as there will be iron gates and barbed wires round the Skeffington Coffee Estate, and city cars that can roll up the Bebbur Mound, and gas-lights and coolie cars, there will always be pariahs and poverty.