OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
AN ADEPT SEEN AT PONDICHERRY
CAN any of H. P. B.'s old friends figure to themselves how she must have looked and felt on being received at a railway station by a Governor's band playing “God Save the Queen,” and then taken in procession, to the clang of music, to our lodging-house? That is just what happened to us on reaching Pondicherry, and I draw the veil over the amusing picture, as I have not the talent of Bret Harte do to it justice. At the house, in the presence of a select number of dark-skinned French "citizens," an address in a rickety sort of French was read to us and duly responded to by me; after which presentations, welcomes, and compliments followed, and our rooms were thronged by visitors day and evening. The next morning I had ceremonial visits to make to His Excellency the Governor, His something the Mayor, and various other local officials, by all of whom I was courteously and kindly received. Then I had a look through the town, upon which the French cachet was placed wherever possible—the blue and-white enamelled street signs at the corners, the little side-walk tables and chairs at restaurants, the Paris names and shops in petto, the French look of the Place Dupleix, the unmistakable French look of the
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functionaries and white traders, the very aping of French manners by the natives. This little seven-bynine colony, comparatively to British India as big as a postage stamp, and hemmed in by it on the three land sides, was totally unlike it, even in the attitude of the white and dark races towards each other. That, indeed, was what struck me most forcibly, accustomed as I had become to the immense gulf between the races in the Great British Dependency. My introducer to all these high officials was a dark, almost black, Tamil gentleman, a Membre du Conseil; and I was no less pleased than surprised to see how they received him as an equal, quite as though his dark skin did not prevent his being a human being as good as themselves. While I might have been amused to see my friend playing the citizen, I was not amused, but very much gratified to see that his right to respect was freely conceded.
Before our arrival it had been arranged that I was to lecture in English and the Mayor would translate me into French. At the appointed hour I confronted a large audience of both races; the Mayor presided and I began speaking, but after a sentence or two, paused for my interpreter to take up the running. This went on for perhaps ten minutes, when the Mayor confessed that his stock of English was exhausted and called the Interpreter to Government, a French gentleman, to replace him. Five or six sentences finished him up, and a third translator, a Tamil, was brought forward, but he broke down almost at once. It is a matter of common observation that foreigners
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of every nation understand English when spoken by one of themselves much better than when we speak it, the accent making it more comprehensible. There I stood feeling like a fool, and ready to give it up as a hopeless case; but the Mayor, in his best French, told the audience that he had had a long conversation with me on Theosophy that morning, and that I knew quite enough French to speak without interpretation, whereupon I was called upon from all parts of the room to go ahead, and that I had finally to do despite my excuses and protestations. In a fashion that I dare not look back upon, I went on, and on, for more than an hour, expounding our ideas and Eastern philosophy as best I could; and the audience were kind enough to signify by loud applause that in coming out to India they had brought with them that lovely national trait of courtesy and forbearance for strangers who try to speak their tongue. You should, however, have seen the face and gestures of H. P. B. when I returned home and told her what I had done. She held up both hands in amazement, and made comments strongly suggestive of her horror at the possible and probable mistakes I had made in the use of genders and verbs! However, I did get through after a fashion, and we did form a T. S. Branch in the town, which was the chief thing after all.
I was so busy telling her the above and hearing her comments, that beyond a sweeping bow to the dozen or so of visitors sitting on the floor about her, whom she had been entertaining during my absence, I took no
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notice of them. She, however, presently gave me a certain look, and by slightly inclining her head, made me look towards her right at one man who sat behind the others, and who met my startled gaze with a kindly smile. It was none other than one of the Masters known to me at New York during the writing of Isis Unveiled: one who disliked English so much that he always spoke and wrote French in his communications with me: the very one who gave me that cutting rebuke by duplicating several times the lead-pencil I hesitated to lend "H. P. B."—his temporary shell. I can't say if the others saw him, but certainly they could not have left him so unnoticed if they had, for he was to them, in majesty, as a lion to a whippet. I longed to approach and address him, but his eyes expressed the command that I should not, so I took my seat on the floor to H. P. B.'s left, where I had him in full view. The company did not stay long after my arrival, and he, after saluting H. P. B., like the rest, with folded palms, in the Indian fashion, spoke a word or two to her apart and followed them out.
We left Pondicherry for Madras, September 23rd, and got home that afternoon, rejoiced to see the dear place again. As usual after a tour, I had no end of arrears of correspondence and literary work to make up, but by the next midnight it had been disposed of. On the 25th we celebrated the first Anniversary of the Madras T. S. at Pachaiyappah's Hall, a great crowd attending. Besides myself, Dewan Bahadur R. Raghoonath Row, and the regretted T. Subba Row made
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Speeches. My stay at home was so very brief, that on the 27th I started again on a long journey to the northward, with our friend L. V. V. Naidu as my Private Secretary. Bellary, Adoni, and Hyderabad—the Nizam's capital—came in sequence, and the usual events of Branch-making, question-answering, and patient-healing occurred. My receptions by friends were always kind, and personal ties of brotherhood were made which are still unbroken.
At Mr. Narasimhalu Chetty's house, at Hyderabad, there was a most interesting case of the cure of blindness in one eye within the half-hour's treatment. I remember it so well. Facing the house, on the farther side of the road that skirted the compound, stood a telegraph pole. The patient, an adult Hindu, had been brought to me by his physician, Dr. Rustomji, F. T. S., to the upper verandah, where I sat talking with friends. He had done his best for the patient, but had failed to even temporarily relieve the total blindness of the eye. It looked as healthy as the other one, but, on testing in the usual way, I found that it was unmistakably sightless. I therefore breathed upon the eyeball, "with mesmeric intent," through the small silver tube I carried in my pocket for that purpose, made the proper passes over the forehead and nape of the neck, and after the time mentioned had the pleasure to receive the patient's joyous assurance that his sight was restored. To make sure, I laid my finger on the other eyeball and told him to describe what he saw straight ahead of him. He at once said: "The
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compound, the fence, the gate, the road, and a telegraph pole; on the glass knob to the right hangs a bit of colored rag" All was correct. The doctor was perfectly delighted, while as for the patient, after a prostration before me he hurried away. When the doctor and I came to talk over the case, I wanted to recall the patient for us to make an optical examination with an instrument, but Dr. Rustomji soon brought back word that the fellow had gathered his few effects together and hastened away to his village to take his people the glad tidings. Whether the rumor of this got spread through the town or not I cannot say, but certainly my audience the next day was so great, that the hall was—as a Hindu correspondent wrote to his paper about another such meeting—"crowded to the proverbial pin-drop," and we had to adjourn to the compound and let them spread over the lawn. Secunderabad, Bolaram, Sholapore, and Poona followed next at the latter place—I see by my Diary—I received the shortest address on record—a model of brevity. The members met me at the station, drove me to the bungalow prepared for my accommodation, got the company placed, and then the spokesman, taking my hand, said: "Mr. President and dear brother, I welcome you to our station." I replied: "Thank you heartily," and that finished it. Oh! that those concocters of long, tiresome addresses in Sanskrit, Pali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Bengalee, Urdu, Hindi, Hindustani, Gurumukhi, Marathi, Gujerati, and a dozen other, to me unknown, tongues that I have had to listen to,
AN ADEPT SEEN AT PONDICHERRY 21
often at midnight or even at 4 o'clock in the morning, after a long, bone-banging railway journey, could only have had the inspiration of the Sholapore President, how happy it would have made me! At this station a new recruit—Mr. W. T. Brown, of Glasgow, "Poor Brown"—joined me for the tour. He, and a Mrs. Sarah Parker, of Dublin, had just arrived at Madras under the impulse of service, and Brown had volunteered to help me. I wrote him from Hyderabad a kind but most explicit letter, warning him of the self-sacrifice he must expect to make; the public ingratitude, individual treacheries, libellous atacks on character, unjust suspicion of motives, bad fare and fatiguing journeys by nights and days in all sorts of conveyances: warning him to return to Europe if he had expected anything else, and leave H. P. B. and myself to continue the work we had begun with our eyes open. His reply was a telegraphic notice of his coming to me, and he overtook me at Sholapore.
The coming into the electric intellectual atmosphere of Poona was a delightful sensation. The cultured Marathi mind is capable of grasping the highest problems of philosophy with ease, and the tone of conversation among the cultured class is as high as one could imagine to exist anywhere, even in a German or English University town. In travelling through the East one feels acutely these contrasts, and gauges towns by the mental standard alone. If you ask me to describe their physical features I could scarcely do it, for the recollection of all these thousands of temples,
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dharmsalas, tanks, bazaars, streets, and bungalows is almost a dim jumble in the memory; but I can give a pretty fair description of the intellectual state of almost any of the towns and villages which I have visited. Now that I recall it, this is just what I was surprised to find in an old classical teacher of mine whom I revisited many years after leaving his school; he recollected almost nothing of the personal appearance of my old class mates, but when I mentioned a name, it associated itself with the boy's mind, and as such he remembered him. The subject given me to lecture upon at Hirabag, in the Town Hall, was "The Future Life ", and Sir Jamsetji Jijibhoy, the second baronet, occupied the chair. From Poona we moved on to' Bombay.
For lack of house accommodation, the Branch put us in large tents on the Esplanade, and we found it very cool and comfortable until the next day, when an untimely storm burst upon the city, and we were drenched with torrents of rain during two days. Our tents became soaked, our effects damp and mouldy, and the flat ground about our camp, not being able to' receive the deluge as fast as it fell, was turned into a shallow pond. This meaning fever to us and consequent interruption of work, our colleagues put us into some large empty rooms in the old building of the Bombay Gazette, where we were at least dry. A lecture was given on the 17th at Framji Cowasji Hall, and young Brown's remarks at the close were received with great friendliness by the crowded audience.
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It may be a relief to some of the readers of these sketches to learn that at Bombay I received orders from my Guru to suspend all healings until further advices, and that the narratives, which must have sorely tried their feelings, will henceforth practically cease. The prohibition came none too soon, for I am persuaded that I myself should have become paralysed if the strain had been kept up. One morning, at Madras, just before starting on the present journey, I found my left forefinger devoid of sensation—a clear warning to be careful; and between Madras and Bombay it had taken me much longer and demanded far greater exertions to effect cures than it had previously; there was also a much larger percentage of failures. This is not to be wondered at, for, after treating one way or another some 8,000 patients within the twelvemonth, the sturdiest psychopath, let alone a man of fifty-odd, might be expected to have come to the last "volt" in his vital battery: a state to which the tiring journeys, the nights of broken sleep, the often meagre food, and the ceaseless intellectual strain of a large correspondence, daily conversaziones, and almost daily extemporaneous lectures on profound themes must, naturally, have greatly helped to bring about.
On 20th October H. P. B. joined me at Bombay to make a joint visit to the Maharajah Holkar, who had invited us and sent us money for our railway expenses. But a telegram to us at Bombay put an end to the affair, as he was unable to receive us, so H. P. B. returned to Madras and I kept on my pre-arranged
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itinerary. While at Bombay we received an intimation from King Thebaw, of Burma, that he would be pleased to have us visit him at Mandalay. Mr. Brown, Damodar Mavalankar, and L. V. V. Naidu went North with me; and another F.T.S.—T. Narainswamy Naidu—got permission to join us as a mere companion. To avoid confusion on those long tours, a programme was always settled upon in advance, and printed copies circulated to the Branches and groups on the route; giving the hours and minutes of my arrivals at and departures from stations, and information as to the kind of food, the quantity of firewood, water, and accommodation required, and all other details: the Branches were left to select the subjects for my lectures, but sometimes neglected it until I was actually ready to mount the platform.
From some of our best-beloved colleagues, who were then living at Jubbulpore, we received an affectionate welcome and good service for seeing persons and places. I visited the High School and the Rajkumar College, one of those schools for young princes and nobles that the Government has founded throughout India. It was interesting to see together these lads who in time will rule millions, and I spoke kind words of counsel to each class as I passed through the rooms. I was told later that my words had stirred the hearts of the princelings, so that they formed a friendly league between themselves, to keep up their friendship and encourage each other to lead the good life prescribed for kings in the old Scriptures. They all came to my
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lecture the same evening, which, because of the crowd, was given in the open air.
The next morning we rose at 3.30, and at 5 drove away to the Marble Rocks, one of the tourist's sights of India. To one who had seen Niagara and many great rivers of the world, it was a tame affair. The sacred Nerbudda River is here hemmed in between barriers of white limestone, which it has seamed and cross-seamed with numberless cracks. The rocky scenery is rather artistic in petto than grand and imposing; though by moonlight it must seem quite fairy-like. Far more striking to me was an old Bawa (ascetic) whom we found living in an adjacent cave. He had great repute as a proficient in the physiological feats of Hatha Yoga, and obligingly performed a number of them—not a whit more difficult than those one sees in our modern European variety halls and hippodromes—at my request. He told us that he had spent the past forty-seven years of his life in making Pradakshina (circumambulation) of the Nerbudda River as a work of merit; the distance to travel is 1,800 miles, and the time occupied in each circuit of his foot-pilgrimage three years. He was a fine, hale man, with a bright eye and the expression of a firm character on his face. While I was studying these details, I was startled by his asking me to be good enough to teach him to concentrate the mind! If that was what his half century of struggle had resulted in, certainly it offered no inducement for anybody else to try his Hatha Yoga. Here was a man who had got his body under such
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control that he could almost turn himself inside out and walk down his own throat, but had not yet learned how to fix that wandering mind which gives us so much trouble. Needless to say, I "improved the occasion" to tell him a little homely truth about seeming and being, on the lines of the Gita, the Dhammapada, and St. Matthew, xxiii. What a lesson it is in self-development!
My lecture that evening was upon the necessity for a revival of Sanskrit literature, and at the close I started a subscription for the opening of a Sanskrit School, towards which the handsome sum of Rs. 1,500 was pledged with a great show of enthusiasm. The same idea was broached by me at my first lecture at Allahabad, whither I went from Jubbulpore. The great audience caught at the idea at once, and Rs. 2,007 was subscribed that evening, and Rs. 2,500 more was reported at a meeting of the local Branch on the 30th as having been inscribed on the subscription paper.
On the 31st we moved on to Ghazipore, where we were given hospitality by the Maharajah of Dumraon, and where, on arrival, I had to reply to three addresses, in English, Sanskrit, and Urdu—to the last-named two through interpreters. The next halting-place was Cawnpore, of tragic memory, where the bungalow of the Maharajah of Burdwan had been placed at my disposal. When we drove through the compound we found the house illuminated with 1,000 chirags, or Indian clay lamps, and the rooms were a blaze of light.