Monday 26 June 2017

Swami Vivekananda - Josephine MacLeod : 7

We left Almora on the twentieth of June for Kashmir. By train to Rawalpindi, where we got tongas with three horses abreast to drive us the two hundred miles up into Kashmir. There were relays of horses every five miles, so that we dashed through on top of this beautiful road, as perfect then as any road the Romans ever made. Then to Baramulla where we got four native house boats. These boats called dungas are about seventy feet long and broad enough to have two single beds in them and a corridor between, covered with a matting house; so wherever we wanted a window we only had to roll up the matting. The whole roof could be lifted in the day-time, and thus we lived in the open, yet knew there was always a roof over our heads. We had four of these dungas, one for Mrs. Ole Bull and me, one for Mrs. Paterson and Sister Nivedita, and one for Swami and one of his monks. Then a dining room boat where we all met to have our meals. We stayed in Kashmir four months, the first three in these simple little boats until after September, when it got so cold, we took an ordinary house boat with fire-places and there enjoyed the warmth of a real house. Sister Nivedita has written a good deal of the talks we had there. Swami would get up about half past five in the morning, and seeing him smoking and talking with the boatmen, we would get up too. Then there would be those long walks for a couple of hours until the sun came up warm; Swami talking about India, what its purpose in life was, what Mohammedanism had done and what it had not done. He talked, immersed in the history of India and in the architecture and in the habits of the people, and we walked on through fields of forget-me-nots, bursting into pink and blue blossoms, way above our heads.

Baramulla is something like Venice. So many of the streets are canals. We had our own little private boat in which we went to and from the main land. But the merchants would come in small crafts all about our boats. We did most of our shopping over the rails of the boat. Each of our boats cost thirty rupees a month, which included the boatmen who fed themselves. The boatmen consisted of father, mother, son. daughter, and tiny children. They had their own little place at the end of the boat, and many a time we begged them for a taste of their food, the aroma being so delicious. The manner of travelling in these boats is that the boat is punted up the river, or it is dragged, the boatmen walking along the shore, or it is rowed. There is nothing extra to pay regardless of how one is navigated. When we wanted to move up the Jhelum river to some of the lakes, we would tell our servants the night before; they would get in supplies of food including ducks or chickens, vegetables, eggs, butter, fruits, and milk. In the morning, when we awakened, we would feel the boat moving along, gliding so imperceptibly that we were scarcely conscious of the motion. Our servant who had walked ahead would then have a delicious meal waiting for us. This he made over a little trough long enough and narrow enough to hold three pans, one containing soup, one meat, and the other rice. The dexterity of these people was a wonder and something we never got over. As a chicken is not considered clean food by the orthodox Hindus, we never told the people we intended to eat the chickens we bought. But when we went up the river, the lower part of the boat held half a dozen clucking chickens. The Pandits who could come to visit Swami would hear them and look around for them. Swami, who knew they were hidden underneath, had a twinkle in his eye, but he would never give us away. Then the Pandits would say. "But Swami, why do you have to do with these ladies. They are mlechchhas. They are untouchables." Then the Westerners would come to us and say, 'But don't you see? Swami is not treating you with respect. He meets you without his turban." So we had great fun laughing at the idiosyncrasies of each other's civilization..

To be continued.... (Memoirs of  Josephine MacLeod)

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