外媒:好莱坞终于向“少数派”低头(2)

Presently three beggar-women came up to sing from door to door. In their arms, like babies at the breast, they carried shapeless idols painted red, bedizened with spangles and gilt paper. They wailed out a ditty repeated again and again, knocked perseveringly at the doors, insisting on alms; and[Pg 96] then, when they had received it, they touched the threshold with their blood-coloured puppets and departed.

One after another I made my salaam to Siva, seated on a peacock; to Ganesa, looking calm and knowing; to Parvati, riding a bull; to Siva again, this time pinning a dragon to the ground with a fork, a writhing reptile with gaping jaws and outspread wings; the same god again, with a child in[Pg 121] his arms; and again, holding his leg like a musket up against his shoulder with one of his four hands, the other three lifting a bull, a sceptre, and a trophy of weapons above his head. In the depths of little recesses the lamps twinkled feebly before images crowned with flowers. At the entrances to shrines little glass lamps, like a mysterious fairy illumination, followed the lines[Pg 116] of the arabesques, sparkling like glowworms, without lighting up the passages which remained dark, and in which, in fact, we finally lost ourselves.

"Export business!" says Abibulla.

By the roadside came two figures tottering along, and then, turning to look at me, showed me the horror of their shrivelled bodies, their dimmed eyesall that seemed alive in those drawn faces of skin and bonethe jaw stiffened in a skull-like grimace; victims of the famine, who had come from the Central Provinces where there had been no rain for two years, and where everything was dying. This couple were making their way to a poorhouse hard by. They had come from a village in Bundelkund, whence all the inhabitants had fledthemselves the sole survivors of a family of eighteen souls. First the children died, then the very old folks. These two had kept themselves alive on what had been given them on the way, but immigrants soon were too many in the districts unvisited by famine, and ere long they could get nothing; then they fed on roots, on what they[Pg 191] could steal from fields or garden-plots, or found left to rot, scorned even by the beasts. At Jhansi, by the station, were parties of famishing emigrants, all with the same dreadful white grimace and glazed eyes, and in the town more starving creatures dragging their suffering frames past the shopsalmost all closedor begging at the doors of the temples and mosques; and the few passers-by hurried on as if they, too, wanted to escape, overpowered by this scene of dread and horror.

"What is the Virgin Mary?"

In a quiet, darkened corner a girl was lying on a bier, a girl of the Brahmin caste, all in white, veiled by a transparent saree. By her side an old man, a bearded patriarch, seemed to wait for someone. Then another Brahmin came out from a little house, carrying the fire wherewith to light the funeral pile in a little pot hanging from his girdle. The two old men took up their burthenso light that even to them, tottering already towards their end, it seemed to be no weight. They made their way cautiously, so as not to tread on the [Pg 305]sleeping figures strewn about the street, going very slowly in devious zigzags. A dog woke and howled at them; and then, as silence fell, I could hear again the dying sounds of harmoniums and tom-toms, and the clatter of the games.

Elephants, freshly painted, go past begging.

And from every stone, and in the rifts in the rocks, hung stalactites, like glittering icicles, and these too were of salt.