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   Chapter 7 IDOL WORSHIP.

Told by the Death's Head By Mór Jókai Characters: 9616

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The next day the prisoner resumed his confession:

I was now ruler of a province, with a revenue of twenty lacs of rupees. I had a remarkably handsome and clever wife, with eyes than which no gem was brighter.

But, there was a thought that troubled me night and day:

What was to become of my wife in Holland?

My religion forbade two wives. This thought so troubled me, that at last I confided it to Sumro Begum.

"I don't see why you considered that necessary," interrupted the chair. "You had already told so many lies, another one would certainly have found room beside the rest!"

I beg your honor to remember that I vowed at the grave of my poor father to lead a God-fearing life, and to let nothing but the truth pass my lips. The ring made of the coffin-nail, which I wore on my thumb, constantly reminded me of my vow. Therefore, I considered it my duty to tell Sumro Begum that I had a legal wife in Holland; and that, were I to go back to her, I should find my child on her bosom.

The Begum was not in the least offended when I made my confession; on the contrary, she commended me for telling the truth. "He who proves himself faithful to the absent one, will certainly remain loyal to the one at hand," she quoted. Only a religion stood between her and me; and that might easily be changed.

"If we remain Catholics, of course two wives are out of the question," decided the Begum, "because that would be bigamy. If we go over to the Brahmans, their sacred books forbid the wife to occupy the throne with her husband, and the widow from marrying again. But, there is the faith of Siva; it permits a man to have more than one wife; it acknowledges no difference of rank between man and man-as do the Brahman and the Christian religions-nor does it consider a woman a soulless animal, men and women are alike human beings. An adherent of the Siva faith may even take a foreigner to wife; he may eat at the same table with his wife, or wives, after the grace before food, prescribed by the Prophet Bazawa, has been repeated. We will adopt this faith, then you may keep your other wife, and I will share with her your love and respect."

I thought over this suggestion for several days, for the fate of an entire province depended on my decision.

On the one hand a people whose prosperity depended on how I would settle the question; a yearly income of several million thalers, a beautiful and clever wife with a heart filled with love for me, with all the delights of paradise on her lips-on the other: the Roman pope, with St. Peter's keys in his possession!

In my position, your highness, and honorable gentlemen, how would you have decided?

"Get along with you, perversus nebulo!" exclaimed his highness, smiling. "You want us to commit ourselves, do you? I'll warrant you suspect what would have been our decision! I don't in the least doubt but even the mayor here, would elect to kiss a beautiful woman rather than the pope's slipper-especially if the choice were submitted to him in the province of Sardhana! It is enough: you became an idol worshipper-forced to it by circumstances. It is your own affair, and one which you will have to settle with a higher tribunal than this one. This indictment may be erased from the record."

Not even the mayor objected to this decision. At first, though, he wrinkled his brows and looked serious; but in the end he smiled with the rest; and dictated to the notary, that the transgression last confessed might be recorded as condoned by the court.

Most worthy and honorable gentlemen, resumed the prisoner, I must now tell you something about the customs and manners of that land whither I had been led by the hand of destiny. Even the sky over there is unlike ours. Why, the sun of Holland would not do for a moon in India! Yon flaming heavens heat the blood and brain to boiling; the humid atmosphere creates phenomena which are like the phantasmagoria of delirium; triple suns, and wreaths of flame appear in the sky; when frequently the mysterious Fata Morgana portrays inverted landscapes, and cities; the vivid coloring of the clouds causes the most brilliant hues on the earth below to appear faded and insignificant.

Forests, fields, houses, human beings, at times take on an ocherous hue, as if the world were dead; and when a rain falls, it is a deluge of fire from a sky of brass. And sometimes, the cloud-burst will be like a rain of blood, and the whole earth will glow with the most brilliant crimson hue.

On very, very hot days, when the native farmers trudge along the high-road (the high caste native never travels on foot, nor appears in public at midday) the dust rising from their feet looks like a fiery mist, and makes one think he is looking on the damned in hades walking amid the flames


And there too the soil is so different from ours. There the plants we grow in pots in our hot houses thrive and luxuriate under the open sky, and form a wilderness, the lurking place of tigers and lions, in which the fragrance of the very air is intoxicating as wine.

The hundred different varieties of fruits, which ripen in succession throughout the year, explain sufficiently how a people that outnumbers the entire population of Europe are able to subsist on vegetable diet alone, without the nourishment of meats, which their religion prohibits.

The borasses palm supplies them with honey, oil, wine, and sugar; another palm yields flour, butter, and milk; and they have a tree on which grow loaves of bread the size of a human head; raw, this vegetable bread is a sweet fruit; baked, it is as palatable as a bakers' loaf and-

"Stop! stop!" cried the chair, rapping on the table with his stick. "That is going too far! Of all the lies you have told us, this one about loaves of bread growing on a tree is the most outrageously incredible."

"I am very sorry that your honor refuses to believe there is such a tree. The proof that I am not lying may easily be obtained, if your honor will send a deputation to India, to make inquiries concerning the truth of my statements, if it turns out that a single one of them is lacking in truth, then your honor may disbelieve all the rest."

"Oho!" sneered the chair, "you would like to postpone this trial for a year or more, while a searching commission travelled to the end of the world and back-wouldn't you? We prefer to believe that living creatures also hang on trees like fruits."

"And so they do!" responded the prisoner. "There is a sort of large squirrel, or small dog, that has wings and flies, and at night hangs by its hind legs to the limbs of trees, and looks like a gourd."

"Didn't I say so?" again interrupted the chair with a choleric laugh. "Flying dogs that sleep hanging by their feet! Go on with your fables, you reprobate!-this honorable court is sitting for the sole purpose of believing every lie you choose to tell. I am curious to hear how your bread growing on trees, and your flying dogs are going to clear you of the crimes of bigamy and regicide."

I am coming to that, your honor. The entire world which environs the human being in that distant land, works an irresistible influence on his nature, and the native inhabitant compels, with his peculiar religion, customs, his deeply-rooted prejudices, the foreigner resident to adopt a mode of life antipodal to that he led at home.

The majority of the natives wear no clothing at all; while the rest bend under a costly burden of greatest splendor.

The Indian is a mixture of the ideally perfect, and the grotesquely hideous, heroic at one moment, cowardly the next, free as a bird, and restricted as an anchorite. He is to be envied for his paradisal simplicity, and admired for his gigantic creations. His cities surpass in magnificence and grandeur those of Europe. His churches are mountains, enormous edifices hewn by artist hands from a single rock; with thousands of majestic columns, and armies of idols; while his huts are more abjectly wretched than the dwellings of our beavers. The Indian, with his thousand gods, to all of whom he renders service and sacrifices-and of whom not one possesses the power to help him-is so gentle-hearted, that he will not take the life of an animal; allows himself to be devoured by lions and tigers; crushed under foot by the rhinoceros; bitten by serpents; and stung by venomous insects-and yet, he considers it no sin to exterminate an entire neighboring folk.

Oh, that is a strange country: where the aristocrat, if touched by a member of another caste, considers himself defiled, and possesses the right to cut off the hand, or arm that touched him, and the mutilated pariah accepts the punishment as his due. Where the wife is burned alive on the funeral pyre of her husband; where the invalid is placed on the banks of a river, and declared to be already dead, so that, should he recover, he may not return to the living, but seek the "community of the dead," which is made up of one-time invalids, recovered like himself.

Dwelling amid such a people, every idea the European entertains when he lands on that shore very soon fades away; for, there, they have different virtues and different sins.

"This lengthy dissertation I take it," interrupted the chair, "is for the purpose of acquainting the court that bigamy and regicide are permissable crimes among that wonderful people?"

Bigamy is permissable, your honor, on conditions: if the first wife consents, her husband may marry a second. But, before the consent of the first wife is secured, he may not kiss and embrace his second.

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