清明节文明祭扫倡议书

[Pg 89] A plantation of theobromas (cacao), carefully enclosed and tended, with their puckered leaves, and fruit-pods as large as an ostrich egg hanging from the trunk and the larger branches, seemed quite melancholy, like wild things tethered.

The road from Cawnpore to Gwalior makes a bend towards central India across a stony, barren tract, where a sort of leprosy of pale lichen has overgrown the white dust on the fields that are no longer tilled. There is no verdure; mere skeletons of trees, and a few scattered palms still spread their leaves, protecting under their shade clumps of golden gynerium.

Grain was now at five times the usual price, and would continue to rise till the next harvest-time. Official salaries and the wages of the poor remained fixed, and misery was spreading, gaining ground on all sides of the devastated districts. In the chief temple, whose walls were painted all over, a huge Buddha of gold and silver was hidden under wreaths of flowers round his neck, and a diadem of flowers on his brow, where blazed a luminous diamond; and flowers were arranged in a canopy over his head, and were strewn like a carpet on the steps of the shrine. The Viharas, monasteries of cells hollowed out in the hillside, extend for more than half a mile; briars and creepers screen the entrances leading to these little retreats, a tangle of flowers and carvings.

There was not a sound, not a bird, excepting on the fringe of the forest. As we penetrated further there soon was no undergrowth even on the dry soil, between the ever closer array of trees; the creepers hung very low, tangled with clinging parasites; and between the stilt-like and twining roots and the drooping boughs, the path, now impracticable, suddenly ended in face of the total silence and black shade that exhaled a strong smell of pepper, while not a leaf stirred. A plain of dried mud, dull grey, with scarcely a tinge of yellow in places; all round the horizon softly undulating hills which looked transparent, here a tender blue, there delicately pink, in flower-like hues. One of them, rising above all the eastern chain, might be a fortress, its towers alone left standing amid the general wreck. To the west the highest summits were lost in the blue of the sky, identically the same, but that the peaks were faintly outlined with a delicate line of snow.

About Lahore, all among the ruined temples, the crumbling heaps of light red bricks sparkling with mica, there were fields of roses in blossom and of ripe corn. Naked coolies were labouring in the fields, gathering the ears one by one into quite small bunches; they looked like children playing at harvesting. "He comes now and then," said the baboo, who was our guide; but on my pressing the question this "now and then" remained vague, no day or week could be named. Out in the street a woman, bare-backed, was submitting to be brushed down the spine by a neighbour with a brush of cuscus; she scorned to answer me when I asked whether she felt better, but shutting her eyes desired the operator to go on more slowly.

He came into ours as if he were at home, and amused himself by worrying me. At first he made believe to throw my rings out of window, substituting others, I know not how, which I saw fall on the line and roll into the grass on the bank. My watch got into his hands and vanished; I found it in my friend T's pocket, and afterwards in a basket of provender closed at Bhawnagar, and which I unpacked with my own hands.

The streets were hung with gaudy flags and[Pg 135] coloured paper. Altars had been erected, four poles supporting an awning with flounces of bright-coloured silk, and under them a quantity of idols, of vases filled with amaryllis and roses, and even dainty little Dresden figuresexquisite curtseying Marquises, quite out of their element among writhing Vishnus and Kalis.

In a wonderful garden, amazing after the sandy waste that lies between Benares and Allahabada garden of beds filled with flowers showing no leaves, but closely planted so as to form a carpet of delicate, blending huesstand three mausoleums, as large as cathedrals, in the heart of cool silence, the tombs of the Sultan Purvez, of his father Khusru, and of his wife, the Begum Chasira.

All day long in front of the houses the women were busy clumsily pounding grain with wooden pestles in a hollow made in a log; stamping much too hard with violent energy, they scattered much of the grain, which the half-tamed birds seized as they flew, almost under the women's hands. And then the wind carried away quite half the meal. But they pounded on all day for the birds and the[Pg 263] wind, and were quite happy so long as they could make a noise.

Outside the fortifications is a peaceful township of large gardens with row on row of tombstones and mausoleums; some of enormous size, palaces of the dead, and others smaller, but wrought like lacework of stone. For a league or more the necropolis lies on both sides of the road. Across the door of each mausoleum hangs a chain by the middle and the two ends.