OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
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IT was a burning hand that the Indian Sûrya Deva laid upon our heads as we stood on the platform of Apollo Bunder. The noonday Bombay sun of mid-February is a surprise to a Western visitor, and we had time to feel its full power before Mr. Hurrychund came to our rescue. He had gone off to the steamer just after we had disembarked, and so caused us to wait for him on the fiery quay, with the air all in a hot quiver about us.
Besides Hurrychund and the three gentlemen above mentioned, I do not recollect any others having come to greet us on landing—a fact which was bitterly resented by the members of the Arya Samaj, who charged their then President, Hurrychund, with selfish design in keeping his colleagues uninformed of our movements so that he might enjoy the first of our company by himself.
The streets of Bombay charmed us with their strikingly Oriental character. The tall apartment-houses in stucco, the novel dresses of the motley Asiatic population, the quaint vehicles, the overpowering influence of the whole picture on our artistic perceptions, and the delightful sense of being
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at last at the goal of our long-nourished expectations, amid our dear "Heathen," to meet and live with whom we had crossed so many seas and buffeted so many storms—all these vivid impressions filled us with delight.
Before leaving New York, I had written Hurrychund to engage for us a small, clean house in the Hindu quarter, with only such servants as were indispensable, as we did not wish to waste a penny on luxuries. We were taken to a house of his own on -the Girgaum Back Road, standing in a comparatively forlorn compound, and adjoining his glass-roofed photographic studio. It was certainly small enough, but being predisposed to find everything charming, we felt perfectly contented. Cocoa-palms nodded their fronds over our roof, and Indian sweet-scented flowers rejoiced our sense of smell; after the dismal sea-voyage it seemed like Paradise. The ladies of our friends families called on H. P. B. and Miss Bates, and a number of Hindu and Parsi gentlemen on our whole party; but the rush of visitors began the next morning, news of our arrival having by this time been spread. Wimbridge—an artist—and I sat by the hour together watching the throngs that passed along the street, fairly intoxicated with the innumerable subjects for pencil and color which we saw—every hackery, bullock, dray, and human figure an art study.
We had formed one acquaintanceship on the "Speke Hall" that turned into a lasting friendship, that of Mr. Ross Scott, B.C.S., a noble fellow and an Irishman of the better sort. His long
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conversations with us about Eastern Philosophy had resulted in his joining our Society. He called on the evening of our first day ashore, and provoked H. P. B. to doing a phenomenon that was quite new to me. They were sitting together on a sofa and I was standing with Hurrychund at the centre table, when Scott reproached H. P. B. for her evident intention of letting him go North to his official post, without giving him the least proof of the existence of the psychical powers in men, of which she had so much spoken. She liked him very much, and so consented to comply with his request. "What shall I do for you?" she asked. He snatched the handkerchief she was holding in her hand, and, pointing to her name "Heliona" embroidered across one corner, said: "Well, make that name disappear and another to take its place." "What name do you want?" she rejoined. Looking towards us, where we stood at a distance of a few paces, he pointed to our host and said: "Let it be Hurrychund's." We came over to them on hearing this, and saw what was-done. She gave Scott to hold tight in his hand the embroidered corner of her handkerchief, retaining the opposite corner herself. After a minute or so she told him to look. He did so, found the substitution of names had been made, Hurrychund's being there in the same kind of embroidery, and in the first impulse of excitement, cried out: "Where is your physical science now? This beats all the professors in the world! Madame, if you will give me that handkerchief, I'll pay £5 into the Arya Samaj treasury!" “Take it, and welcome,” she said, and he thereupon
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counted out into Hurrychund's hand five golden sovereigns. I do not recollect this fact having been communicated to the Press, but the story was at once spread by the dozen or more eye-witnesses, and helped to intensify the interest which the arrival of our party had created among educated Indian gentlemen.
On the evening of 17th February, a reception was held at the photographic studio, at which over 300 invited guests were present. The usual welcome address, with garlands, limes and rose-water as accompaniments, was given us, and H. P. B., Scott, Wimbridge, and I replied, as well as we could, in view of the deep emotion which stirred in us. My Diary says: "The occasion fairly brought the water to my eyes. The long-expected moment comes at last, and I am face to face with my spiritual kinsmen." It was unalloyed happiness, springing from the feeling of the heart, under the control of the intellect; not an evanescent gush of emotion, destined to die out soon and react into a sense of disenchantment and disgust.
The second day following, a party was made up to witness the Shivar€tri anniversary celebration at Elephanta Caves. We enjoyed the picinic like so many school children, the day giving us a series of surprises and novel sensations. The bunder-boat: "Sultan," to begin with, with its strange rig and model, its Muslim crew, its quaint cabin, its primitive fire-place, where rice and curry were cooked most skillfully. Then the ancient caves, with giant sculptures seen in chiaroscuro; huge lingams,
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paint-smeared, ever dripping with oblations and decked with flowers; the ablutions of the pilgrims in the adjacent pond and their circumambulations of the Shivalingam; the pûjâris touching the worshippers’ temples with water that has bathed the stone symbol; the crowds, with their—to us—novel Eastern costumes; the painted and ash-besmeared sanyâsis cramped into painful postures and successfully appealing to pious charity; the scores of Indian children; the sweetmeats vendors; a troop of jugglers doing the mango trick and other tours de force so badly as to deceive no sharp eye; and our lunch in the verandah of the keeper's cottage, whence we saw in one picture the moving, chattering throngs in the foreground, and the wide expanse of the harbor, under a cloudless azure sky, with the towers and roofs of distant Bombay on the horizon line. Then came the sail home before a free wind, our bunder-boat skimming along like a bird and beating a European yacht that ran on the same course. After more than twenty years the whole comes vividly back to my mind's eye like a freshly painted panorama.
Visitors thronged daily to us in increasing numbers, a packed roomful of Parsi gentlemen with their wives and children being followed, immediately afterward, by a like number of Hindu families. A black Jain monk, with shaven crown and his body naked to the waist, came and, through, an interpreter, cross-questioned me, at great length, upon religion. Presents of ripe fruits were sent with messages of greeting. A special performance of the Hindu drama “Sitaram” was given in our honor at the Elphinstone Theatre.
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We found ourselves quartered in the most conspicuous box, bedecked with garlands of jassmine and roses, given huge bouquets, supplied with refreshments, and, on our rising to leave, having to receive an address, read to us from the stage! The play was not over by any means, but our powers of endurance had reached their limit; we went at 9 p.m. and left the theatre at 2.45 a.m.
The sweetness of this evening was followed by our first taste of bitterness the next morning. Mr. Hurrychund, after strenuous pressure, rendered his accounts. The bloom was off the plum: our supposed hospitable entertainer put in an enormous bill for rent, food, attendance, repairs to the house, even the hire of the three hundred chairs used at our reception, and the cost of a cablegram he had sent us, bidding us hasten our coming! The "demnition total" made my eyes stare; for, at that rate, we should soon find ourselves with empty pockets. And it had been given out and generally understood that we were this person's guests! Protests came, one thing led to another and we finally discovered that the considerable sum of over six hundred rupees (not then a vanishing silver disc but a substantially valuable token) which we had sent through him to the Arya Samaj, had got no further than his hand, and a precious clamor arose among his Samajist colleagues. I shall never forget the scene when H. P. B., at a meeting of the Arya Samaj, let loose at him the bolts of her scorn, and forced him to promise restitution. The money was returned, but our dealings with the man came to, a sudden stop. We set to work to find a house for
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ourselves, and got one for less than half the rent he was charging us for his own—for he had constituted himself our landlord. We changed quarters, bought furniture and other necessaries, and on 7th March settled ourselves down in the little house, 108, Girgaum Back Road, for the next two years. Thus was shattered our first ideal of the progressive, patriotic, fervently religious Hindu, and, to say truth, the lesson went to our hearts. To be thus deceived and played with at the outset of our Indian career was a sore sorrow; but, for the dear sake of India, we threw off the feeling of depression and kept on our way. Meanwhile our friend Mooljee Thackersey had, on 2nd March, found us a servant, the Guzerati boy, Babula, whose fidelity to H. P. B., up to her leaving India, all know, and who is still my pensioner. He has a rare talent for languages, and, with Magliabecchi's environment, might have become as great a linguist. When he entered our service he spoke English and French, Goanese, Guzerati, and Hindustani, although but about fifteen years old, and has later acquired a perfect knowledge of Tamil, after our removal to Madras.
Every evening we held an impromptu durbar, when the knottiest problems of philosophy, metaphysics, and science were discussed. We lived and breathed in an atmosphere of mind, amid the highest spiritual ideals. I see entries in my Diary of the first appearance on our scene of friends who have since been closely identified with the progress of the Theosophical movement. For example, on 8th March, our acquaintance and friendship began with Janardhah
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Sakkharam Gadgil, one of the most brilliant of the Bombay University graduates; then, and until his recent retirement from worldly occupation to assume the religious life, a Baroda Judge. My notes on him testify to the immediate and deep impression made upon me by his learning, dignity of ideals, and thirst for spiritual knowledge. Yet I seem to have had some foresight as to the unlikelihood of his becoming a practical co-worker with us, for I have written in the Diary: "A far wiser and cleverer man than myself. May be made an extraordinary ally—if he has the Pluck." He never quite had that from being hampered by his official surroundings and the unpopularity which our cause had from the first with the ruling class. Mentally, he was not ripe for official martyrdom, though his heart pushed him that way. Yet he was ever an openly declared member of our Society; taking usually in good-natured indifference the taunts he had to bear from friends, chief among them his official superior, the Dewan of Baroda, the late Sir T. Madhava Row, K.C.S.I.— a great statesman, but a confirmed sceptic and a moral prisoner of the Sirkar.
There came to us, about that time, M. B. Namjoshi, of Poona, and Sorabji J. Padshah; the former since known as an active politician of the Sarvajanik Sabha, of Poona, the latter a brilliant young Farsi, whose devotion to the Society and ourselves personally has never weakened nor wavered for a single day. On l8th March, our young Shyamji Krishnavarma sailed for England to join Professor Monier Williams at Oxford, and help him, and himself, to fame. For
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Shyamji attended one of the Oriental Congresses, and—although by caste a non-Brahmin—astonished the savants with his recitations of mantras; he came home a Pandit, and later on was Dewan of a Native State. Other two notable acquaintances were the brothers M. M. and A. M. Kunte, of whom the first was a famed Sanskrit Pandit and Professor, the other an M.D. and Demonstrator of Anatomy in Grant Medical College, Bombay. Of all our new-found friends, these were the most effusive and complimentary; of all we have ever known in India, the Doctor showed the most distressful lack of moral courage and most excited my contempt. He was a member of our Council, on terms of closest intimacy with us, most lavish in offers of assistance; his house ours, his fortune, his horses and carriage: we were his brethren indeed. One evening, at a Council meeting, he took the chair at my request, while I presented certain grave formal charges made by Swami Dayânand against Hurrychund, and at the adjournment we parted excellent friends. Two days later, the Doctor's servant brought me a letter resigning his connection with the Society, without a word of explanation. I could not believe my eyes and thought it some stupid joke; but, hastening to his house, was bewildered by his telling me that it was sober earnest. After repeated demands for an explanation, the truth came out. The Principal of the Medical College had advised him not to have his name connected with ours, as the Government suspected our Society of having political designs! And so, instead of manfully defending us and declaring our perfect indifference to
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politics, which he, as one of our intimate friends and councillors, could so easily have done, this Doctor of wealth and large practice, who was not in the least dependent on his paltry college appointment, went straight home and put his cowardice into writing! Every decent American and Englishman will understand the feeling of contempt with which I turned my back on him forever. The next day, smarting under this sense of injustice, I wrote the Professor that as his brother foresaw possible inconvenience from sticking to our Society, I hoped that no feeling of delicacy would prevent his own withdrawal if he shared the uneasiness. His answer was his written resignation! I said to another Hindu friend, whom I knew to be really dependent on his paltry Government appointment of Rs. 40 per month: "Martandrao Bhai" suppose, on going to office to-morrow morning, you should find on your desk a note to the effect that you had to choose between your membership in the, Theosophical Society and your place, as we were under suspicion of political designs, what would you do?" The man's face grew serious, he seemed as if casting up the chances, and then, in a stumbling sort of utterance peculiar to him, and with a shake of the head and compression of the lips, he answered: "I— I could—d not go against my principles!" I threw my arms about him and shouted to H. P. B. in the, next room: "Come! come and see a true Hindu and a brave man!" That man's name is Martandrao 'Babaji Nagnath; he is a Maratha Brahmin.
Visitors kept on crowding our bungalow, and stopping until late every evening to discuss
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religious questions. Old and young, it was all the same; and thus did we come, so early in our connection with the Hindus, to know the difference between Western and Eastern ideals of life, and the greater dignity of the latter. Questions of wealth, color, business, or politics scarcely ever crossed our threshold; the Soul was the burning topic of debate, and, then, for the first time, H. P. B. and I became absorbed in the problems of its cyclic progressions and reincarnations. We were completely happy in our retired cottage under the cocoa-palms. The arrivals and departures of wealth-laden steamers, the hurly-burly of the Bombay mart, the agonising strife of the share and cotton markets, the petty rivalries of officialdom, the receptions, at Government House, did not even enter our thoughts: we were satisfied to be—
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Fanatics, if you please; crazy enthusiasts; dreamers of unpractical dreams; devotees of a hobby! dupes of our imaginations. Yet our dreams were of human perfectibility, our yearnings after divine wisdom, our sole hope to help mankind to higher thinking and nobler living. And, under those umbrageous palms, we were visited in person by Mahâtmâs; and their inspiring presence made us strong to proceed in the path we were treading, and rewarded us an hundred- fold for all the treacheries, and jibes, and Police surveillance, and slanders, and persecutions we had to undergo. So long as they were with us, what mattered it who might be against us? The world had not conquered us, but we were destined by our Karma
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to vanquish its indifference and ultimately deserve its respect.
We knew not, but those Adepts knew, that we two were to serve as the necessary nuclei for the concentration and diffusion of that âkâshic stream of old Aryan thought which the revolution of cycles had brought again into the focus of human needs. An agent is always indispensable as the vortex-ring of these intellectual and spiritual recrudescences, and, imperfect as we were, we yet were good enough to serve the present purpose, since we had at least the enthusiasm of sympathy and the quality of obedience. Our personal defects counted as nothing in the balance of the public need. Alexandre Dumas, sr., in Les Hommes de Fer, poetically puts this idea. "There are moments," says he, "when vague ideas, seeking a body to make themselves man, float above societies like a mist on the surface of the earth: whilst the wind pushes it over the mirror of the lakes and the carpet of the plains, it is but a formless vapor, without consistence or color; but if it encounters a great hill, it attaches itself to its crest, the vapor becomes a cloud, the cloud a shower, and while the brow of the mountain girds on its aureole of lightnings, the water which filters away mysteriously, gathers itself together in the deep cavities, and emerges at its foot, -the spring of some great river which, ever swelling, crosses the land or society, and which calls itself the "Nile or the Iliad, the Po or the Divina Commedia."
In these very latest days, a man of science has exhibited large and beautiful pearls, which he compelled some captive shell-fish to make, by placing
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pellets of wax inside their shells, and leaving the creatures to cover them with a coating of lovely pink nacre in obedience to their natural instinct. The pinch of wax, in this case, was intrinsically valueless, but it made the nucleus without which the pearls would not have been formed by the animal. So, in a sense, we pioneers of this Theosophical movement served as nuclei around which was formed the sparkling sphere of Aryan wisdom, which is now exciting the wonder of contemporary scholarship by its beauty and its precious worth. Personally, we may have been as intrinsically valueless as the scientist's balls of beeswax, yet what has gathered around this movement of ours is what the world most needed. And each of our earnest fellow-workers is serving as a separate nucleus for the crystallization of this spiritual nacre.