OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE tedium of the night journey between Amritsar and Lucknow, the capital of Oudh, and our next halting-place, was enlivened by the congenial company of the Sirdar Umrao Singh, of Lahore, his wife and children, for whom a carriage had been reserved and who hospitably made us share it. On reaching Lucknow at about 1 p.m., our dear and respected old colleague, Judge Narain Das, F.T.S., whose zeal for the Society is not diminished by the advance of age or the demands made upon him by his public duties, met us with several other members, including Mr. Ross Scott, C.S., whose friendship for H. P. B. and myself dates back to the voyage of the Speke Hall on which we three were fellow passengers. At that time he was a comparatively young civilian, full of enthusiasm and courage, as befitted his Irish nationality. His charming qualities gained the
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affection of us both, and the prospect of now meeting him at Lucknow where he was District Judge was extremely pleasant. He sent me a note to say that he could not meet us as he was holding court at the time. At 4 p.m., however, we went to his house where he was very nice to us, keeping us for dinner, at which we met two ladies and a gentleman of the station and Mr. Campbell of the British Museum, our fellow passenger from Colombo to Madras, who was also Judge Scott’s guest.
The Judge drove us the next day to see the city’s sights, including the Gardens, the historical Residency of tragical Mutiny fame, etc. A Branch meeting with a reception to outsiders was held at the house of Rai Narain Das Bahadur, and at 4-30 p.m. Miss Edger gave one of her good lectures. Our fleeting visit to Lucknow was brought to an end the next morning at 6 o’clock when we left for Allahabad, which we reached at 3-40 p.m., having stopped an hour and a half at Cawnpore to see our friends. Miss Edger lectured before the Literary Society of Mayo College that evening on the subject of “Female Education”. Our host this time was the same as before, Kumar Parmânand. Many friends, including Mr. Roshan Lal, his wife and sister-in-law, Rai Iswari Prasad, Pandit Aditya Ram, etc., came to see us. At 6-30 p.m. we attended and addressed a meeting at the Kyastha Pathasala
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and registered thirty-seven names for a class to study Theosophical works and Hindu Philosophy. The next day (March 2nd) I had a touching interview with Babu Cally Kissen, one of the millionaires of the great Tagore family of Bengal, whom I found with his health almost broken up, but, in feeling, the same generous, kind-hearted man as before. In the North Indian Famine of 1897, he remitted the rents of his ryots or agricultural tenants, and paid the Government tax out of his own pocket—a huge charity. At 11-40 p.m. we left for jubbulpore and arrived there at 6-30 a.m. the next morning. Among the friends who met us were Babu Kalicharan Bose, the loyal T.S. veteran and a philanthropist to the bottom of his heart, and our dear Bhavani Shankar, now a seasoned worker and an able Branch Inspector, whose connection with us began far back in the old Breach Candy days at Bombay, when he was a handsome youth with Hyperian curls, but who now at the present time of writing (1906) has become transformed into a handsome old graybeard, known throughout India and respected for his valuable services. The place where our quarters were given us was a draughty, windowless, upper storey suite of rooms which we found extremely uncomfortable but attached no blame therefore to our good hosts who had done the best they could under the circumstances.
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Lucknow is a great centre of business activity but not conspicuous for spirituality. It is the pivotal point of the railway system of Oudh and Rohilkund, with extensive machine shops, warehouses and other appanages of railway traffic. There are long established industrial specialities, such as the weaving of gold and silver brocades, plain and printed muslins and calicoes, embroideries, glasswork, including colored bangles in enormous quantities and clay molding, among others of those dainty little figures, costumed and painted like life, which represent many of the persons of all castes and classes whom one sees when going about in India. One would say that Lucknow was a great intellectual centre, for it possesses one hundred and forty printing presses, a paper mill employing 550 hands, and three English and thirty vernacular newspapers. But over the former capital of the Kings of Oudh hangs—if one looks at it from the standpoint of the higher planes—the dark cloud of the aura of the sensual and self-seeking character of the ruling class which made it, up to the time of the British conquest, a cess-pool of animality. There are, of course, some holy men to be found who shine amid this moral gloom, but they are few in number and do not increase.
We slept so cold that night that the next morning I bought some cotton cloth and nailed it across the
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open windows of our respective rooms. Our present visit to Jubbulpore included one pleasing incident, the exchange of mutual explanations between an old F.T.S., a Sub-Judge and a man of influence, and myself, and the removal from his mind of an imaginary grievance for which he had kept a grudge against me since 1888 and held himself aloof from our work. Needless to say we both felt glad when the matter was set right. Miss Edger lectured that evening on the subject of religion, in the same open courtyard of a house where I lectured in 1887 and raised a fund of Rs. 2,000 for the support of a Samskrit school. The next day we visited a Hindu Orphanage, founded by Babu Kalicharan Bose, as a Theosophical Society’s Famine work. They had thirty-five boys and girls learning weaving, carpentering and other industries. Upon inquiry, I found that they made substantial frames of jungle-wood for Charpâis (Hindu beds), for the extravagant sum of three annas, or about six cents American currency; cotton towels they made at six pies, or one cent, cotton dress cloth at 2¾ annas a yard, sleeping carpets at two annas four pies, or about five cents; at such prices house furnishing would be a very easy affair. The fact is that the absolute requirements of the teeming millions of India are so modest as to offer but small inducements to our Western manufacturers of the thousand and one
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articles of furniture, household fittings and other things that we regard as absolute necessaries of life. This is what I reported to the American Government in 1879, when I was acting for it as a Special Commissioner to report what legislation and other steps would be necessary to promote an increase of trade relations between the United States and Eastern countries. After submitting to the inevitable photograph we left for Poona at 8 p.m., passed all night in the train, missed connection at Manmad, were kept there waiting five hours for the next train, got to Dhond at 1-30 a.m. and to Poona at 5 on the morning of the 6th March.
Poona, it will be remembered, is the place where our old and respected colleague, Judge N. D. Khandalwala, Khan Bahadur, has been so long officiating in his judicial capacity with much distinction. He is one of the soundest advisers and most enlightened leaders in our movement in the Orient; a Parsi, universally respected by his co-religionists and by the Bombay Government. He met us at the station, took us to the Napier Hotel and at 9 a.m. gave us a reception at his house at which the most influential gentlemen of the Parsi and Hindu community were presented to Miss Edger. At 5-30 p.m. she lectured to a crowded audience. Monday, the 7th, was a busy day; Judge Khandalwala drove us out in the morning,
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then there was a Branch meeting, then one of the E.S.T., and at 5-30 p.m. Miss Edger discoursed on the subject of “The Path of Progress”, at Albert Edward Hall. Many years ago, as I have elsewhere explained, I broke up the injudicious system formerly prevailing, of allowing the chief members of local Branches to stop with us at the station, as in duty bound, until our train should come along: no consideration whatever was given either to their own comfort or to ours, the one thing to be avoided was the appearance even of want of courtesy towards the guest or guests. Many a night of sleep had I been deprived of by not interrupting this kindly but unpractical custom. Usually my public engagements for the day would be over by 9 or 10 p.m. and if my train was timed to arrive at 2, 3, or 4 in the morning, one can imagine that the weary traveller would feel only gratitude to his kind hosts if they would drop him at the station at a reasonable bedtime and go to their own homes and beds, leaving him or them to be wakened, and put into the train when it came along, after having had, perhaps, some hours of refreshing sleep. At Poona I persuaded our friends to adopt this plan, so at 9-30 they left us at the station and we departed in our train at 2 the next morning, our destination being Bellary.
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We got to Bellary at 8 p.m. We were met, of course, by the officers of the local Branch, The Hon’ble Rai Bahadur A. Sabhapathy Mudaliar, President; Mr. B. P. Narasimmiah, B.A., Secretary, whose name is so well and favorably known for his translations from Samskrit into English for The Theosophist in former times; with them, Mr. R. Jagannathiah, for many years past an Inspector of Branches in the Indian Section. This gentleman, now so intensely orthodox a Hindu, was as intensely heterodox, a free-thinking Bradlaughite, at Madras when we first came there in 1882. Mr. Sabhapathy was one of the most progressive Hindus I have ever met, public-spirited, practical, yet always patriotic and religiously inclined. The land about Bellary is a rich, deep black soil like that of the Illinois prairies, and well adapted to cotton, which is, I believe, the chief crop of the district. Mr. Sabhapathy, as an extensive landowner, was deeply interested in this culture, imported prairie plows from America and used all his influence to get modifications of the pattern which would bring their manufacture within the capacity of the village blacksmith, adopted by the ryots. He was also a grower of sugar-cane and showed me his mills and batteries. Our kind friends lodged Miss Edger and myself in a huge empty house, known as the “Old Bruce Bungalow”, the oldest one in the
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Station and dating back a century. When it was at last possible to retire for the night Miss Edger found herself quite fagged out by the heat, railway travel, broken rest and lecturing of the long tour. There were many visitors the next day, and we had to go to the headquarters of Jagannathiah’s pet society, the Sanmarga Sabha, and of our local Branch, receiving addresses of welcome in English, Samskrit and Telugu. In the evening Miss Edger lectured and later, at 9 p.m., gave audiences to inquirers, after which I put pressure on her and got her to go to bed.
As we were to leave for Gooty early the next afternoon, her lecture was given at 7-30 a.m., but in India that means no necessary diminution in the size of the audience, as our experience at our annual Convention abundantly proves. We had visitors up to two o’clock, received presents of fruit and—from Mr. K. Venkatarow, F. T. S.—of money for society purposes, and at 3-44 p.m., left the Station for our next stopping place, Gooty. Before taking leave of Bellary, it is worth stating that from a remote historical period the district has been the scene of many fierce fights between Moslems and Hindus and between the warlike chieftains of the two races among themselves. Strange to say, there is very little historical record of the place before the sixteenth century, at which
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time the ancient Vijayanagaram dynasty was overthrown by the Mahomedans. Before that its varying fortunes are only recalled in traditions, few of them trustworthy. Within the Mahomedan period the territory of Bellary was split up into a number of small military holdings, held by chiefs called Poligârs; an unruly, perhaps unscrupulous set of predatory soldiers who ruled according to their sweet pleasure and enforced their will by the help of the sword. If I remember correctly, they figured in a not very creditable manner during the operations for the suppression of thuggee and dacoity. By turns, the suzerainty of the country was vested in the Mahomedan conquerors and the Bijapur chief, from whom it was wrested by Sivaji, the founder of the Mahratta power. It was then absorbed by the Nizam-ul-Mulk, the nominal Viceroy of the great Mughul in the Deccan. From him it was snatched by Hyder Ali of Mysore. Tipû Sultân got it from the last-named sovereign; but at the close of the British war with Tipû Sultân in 1792, the territories which now form the Bellary District fell to the share of the Nizam of Hyderabad, by whom it was ceded to the British in 1800, in return for a force of English troops to be stationed at his capital. In 1818 the District of Bellary was constituted as it at present remains; thus
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bringing it under the sway of that most marvellous thing, rightly called the Pax Britannica.
The above succinct sketch of the political convulsions through which this one agricultural district has passed, I have thought it worth while to insert because it is so typical of the history of all the Indian peninsula. Well, indeed, may the British nation feel proud of this marvellous achievement of administrative genius which has been shown in the welding together of all these hereditarily warring tribes, sects and races into one vast body, administered by the greatest civil service that the world has seen since the time of the Romans. Of course there is a fort at Bellary which afforded shelter by turns to the different warrior chiefs who owned the place. It is built upon a height of 450 feet above the plains, is a quadrangular building on the summit of the rock, with only one way up to it, and deemed impregnable by the Mysore Princes. I mention it for the sake of telling the story of how Hyder Ali treated the French military engineers who helped him to improve the fortifications. They did their best according to his orders; but when he found out that he had made the mistake of fortifying a rock which was dominated by a higher peak, he soothed his pride by hanging the engineers! That was a way they had in the Orient. Do we not all recall the story of the Taj Mahal, that architectural
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wonder of the world at Agra, which is said to have been built from the plans and under the superintendence of an Italian architect, although Mahomedan tradition has it that it is a copy of a building in paradise, and that the plan of it was given to Shah Jehan. The story runs that when it was finished the selfish and blood-thirsty emperor put out the eyes of the architect so that he might never produce another building to compare with the Taj Mahal in beauty. Returning from our digression, I now take up the thread of the narrative of this memorable Indian tour of Miss Edger.
Our visit to Gooty was a very brief one. We reached there at 7 p.m. on the 10th March, dined well at the excellent restaurant at the Railway station and were then taken in a torch-light procession to the stone building in which the Samskrit school, started and maintained by our local Branch, is housed, received there an address and were then taken to the travellers’ bungalow for quarters. On the 11th there were many inquirers and other visitors and long and friendly conversations with Mr. P. Kesava Pillay and the other admirable workers who have been leading this local group so successfully for so many years. There are three of them specially notable, viz., the one just mentioned, Mr. T. Ramachandra Row and Mr. J. Srinivasa Row. Men like them bring success to any movement with which
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they may connect themselves.1 Miss Edger lectured once that day but on the next, the 12th, she lectured at 8 a.m. on the “The Finding of God”, and at 6 p.m. on “The Theosophic Life”. At 8-30 the same evening we left for Cuddapah. Although our train got there at four o’clock the next morning, I found to my regret, a dozen of our members awaiting us. To my friendly protest against their robbing themselves of their night’s rest, they would hardly listen, saying that it was a pleasure for them to be there to meet us at any hour of the night or day we might arrive. They took us to the travellers’ bungalow where we received many visitors and suffered no little from the heat for the thermometer stood above 100°. In fact Cuddapah is one of the hottest places in India as well as one of the most fever-stricken, for the thin soil rests upon the stratum of that slaty alluvial rock from which the celebrated slabs of stone so extensively used for paving floors and side-walks are quarried. Despite all local disadvantages, however, Miss Edger lectured once that evening.
1The late Mr. T. Ramachandra Rao retired as a Judicial Officer and served as Provincial and Joint General Secretary of The Theosophical Society in South India for several years. He was an honorary whole time worker touring all the year round at his own expense and doing good Theosophical propaganda. He acted as General Secretary for India in 1923. The late Mr. Srinivasa Rao, a retired lawyer, also did useful work as a whole time worker, writer and lecturer for many years.—Ed.
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The next day, the 14th March, was the last one of this long tour. Miss Edger lectured at 7 a.m. on “The Finding of God”, at 6 p.m. on “The Theosophic Life”, held two conversation meetings in the morning and afternoon, and after the evening lecture, addressed the ladies of some sixty families on “Religion and Female Duty”. Then came kindly farewells, and finally at 10-50 p.m. we left for Madras. Early the next morning we got back to our beautiful Adyar, with almost as much joy as the traveller by caravan in the desert who unloads his weary camels in the oasis and rests on the grass beside the spring under the shade of umbrageous trees.
That the tour was a success throughout, has been already stated: it may be repeated that it was preeminently so throughout the whole sixty-five days that it occupied. It gave our new recruit a comprehensive view of Northern India from Madras to Rawalpindi, brought her into contact with its various races and enabled her to realize, as she never could have done in her New Zealand home, the reality of the network of influence which our movement has woven throughout Bharatavarsha.