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Friday, March 16, 2012

In Kali's Country

These are beautiful stories, written with the quiet but determined missionary zeal of the early twentieth century. I think I know India well enough to be able to say that India tends to convert other faiths long before they convert it, even though they retain their own identity.

It's very perceptive in many ways and you can't fail to be drawn into its descriptions.

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In Kali's Country 
by Emily Churchill Thompson Sheets

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But in the ladies' compartment of the third class the confusion continued after the start, for three naked babies were climbing over their mothers and crying; an old woman was rummaging over her treasures which had been tied up in a white cloth and raising a wild lamentation because she had lost an anna; and two young beauties in gay saris, with jangling bracelets, clanking anklets, and flashing necklaces, were chewing pan very vigorously and chattering in shrill voices, displaying as they did so mouths most beautifully reddened with the pan juice and teeth most artistically blackened by the same delicacy.

But after a short time the babies, either satisfied with their natural diet or at least appeased with cold chapatis or bits of sweets handed out by tired mothers, became quiet. The old woman, exhausted by her unavailing search and grief, was reduced to a quiet mumbling and a hopeless picking at her bundle. And the two young women became less noisy in a close comparing of jewels. There was enough of calm, therefore, so that the travellers could get a glimpse of each other and see what sort of company each was in.

It was a motley crowd and one that broke many of the laws of caste. It showed plainly how much the railroad is doing to rid India of that curse. In one corner sat a Brahmin woman, distinguishable by the refined features of her class rather than the caste mark upon her forehead, but too poor for the greater privacy of a second compartment. Next to her, a proximity which would have broken her caste at one time, sat a Chumar woman. Next was a lady with the white head-cloth and one-coloured sari of the Parsi. And beside the Parsi was a tiny high caste girl, most bejewelled and bedecked, wearing the necklace which showed that although she was but eight or nine years old she was married. Evidently the child-wife was taking the journey with her mother-in-law, for the woman next beyond her, apparently of the same caste, would occasionally jerk the little girl into her seat and scold her roundly when she ventured to lean over to look out of the window.

When the train approached a way-station, the blinds were drawn quickly lest a man should look upon the women within, for, although none of them were keeping purdah strictly, still most of these women were careful in public not to subject themselves unduly to the glances of men.

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Ahmed remained standing with bowed head. He made no effort to escape while the others were upon their knees. But as soon as they had finished their devotions, he stepped forward and in a clear, full voice said simply, "I choose death."

A silence as of death itself fell upon the company. No one spoke. The boy remained standing with his hands out as he had spoken. At a motion from Ben Isah a servant stole to Ben Emeal's side and noiselessly placed a cup in his hands. The latter arose and stepped towards his son.

With a stern, tense voice Ben Emeal broke the silence: "The infidel must die! This is the cup of death. Drink!"

As he touched the cup to his son's lips a thunder as of mighty waters rose.

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