The Smith Administration, by Rudyard Kipling

Hunting a Miracle

MARCHING-ORDERS as vague as the following naturally ended in confusion: ‘There’s a priest somewhere, in Amritsar or outside it, or somewhere else, who cut off his tongue some days ago, and says it’s grown again. Go and look.’ Amritsar is a city with a population of one hundred and fifty thousand, more or less, and so huge that a tramway runs round the walls. To lay hands on one particular man of all the crowd was not easy; for the tongue having grown again, he would in no way differ from his fellows. Now, had he remained tongueless, an inspection of the mouths of the passers-by would have been some sort of guide. However, dumb or tongued, all Amritsar knew about him. The small Parsee boy, who appears to run the refreshment-room alone, volunteered the startling information that the ‘Priest without the tongue could be found all anywhere, in the city or elsewhere,’ and waved his little hands in circles to show the vastness of his knowledge. A booking-clerk — could it be possible that he was of the Arya-Samaj? — had also heard of the Sadhu, and, pen in hand, denounced him as an impostor, a ‘bad person,’ and a ‘fraudulent mendicant.’ He grew so excited, and jabbed his pen so viciously into the air that his questioner fled to a ticca-gharri, where he was prompted by some Imp of Perversity to simulate extreme ignorance of the language to deceive the driver. So he said twice with emphasis, ‘Sadhu?’ ‘Jehan,’ said the driver, ‘fush-class, Durbar Sahib!’ Then the fare thrust out his tongue, and the scales fell from the driver’s eyes. ‘Bahut accha,’ said the driver, and without further parley headed into the trackless desert that encircles Fort Govindghar. The Sahib’s word conveyed no meaning to him, but he understood the gesture; and, after a while, turned the carriage from a road to a plain.

Close to the Lahore Veterinary School lies a cool, brick-built, tree-shaded monastery, studded with the tombs of the pious founders, adorned with steps, terraces, and winding paths, which is known as Chajju Bhagat’s Chubara. This place is possessed with the spirit of peace, and is filled by priests in salmon-coloured loin-cloths and a great odour of sanctity. The Amritsar driver had halted in the very double of the Lahore chubara — assuring his fare that here and nowhere else would be found the Sadhu with the miraculous tongue.

Indeed the surroundings were such as delight the holy men of the East. There was a sleepy breeze through the pipals overhead, and a square court crammed with pigeon-holes where one might sleep; there were fair walls and mounds and little mud-platforms against or on which fires for cooking could be built, and there were wells by the dozen. There were priests by the score who sprang out of the dust, and slid off balconies or rose from cots as inquiries were made for the Sadhu. They were nice priests, sleek, full-fed, thick-jowled beasts, undefiled by wood-ash or turmeric, and mostly good-looking. The older men sang songs to the squirrels and the dust-puffs that the light wind was raising on the plain. They were idle — very idle. The younger priests stated that the Sadhu with the tongue had betaken himself to another chubara some miles away, and was even then being worshipped by hordes of admirers. They did not specify the exact spot, but pointed vaguely in the direction of Jandiala. However, the driver said he knew and made haste to depart. The priests pointed out courteously that the weather was warm, and that it would be better to rest a while before starting. So a rest was called, and while he sat in the shadow of the gate of the courtyard, the Englishman realised for a few minutes why it is that, now and then, men of his race, suddenly going mad, turn to the people of this land and become their priests; as did —— on the Bombay side, and later — — who lived for a time with the fakir on the top of Jakko. The miraculous idleness — the monumental sloth of the place; the silence as the priests settled down to sleep one by one; the drowsy drone of one of the younger men who had thrown himself stomach-down in the warm dust and was singing under his breath; the warm airs from across the plain and the faint smell of burnt ghi and incense, laid hold of the mind and limbs till, for at least fifteen seconds, it seemed that life would be a good thing if one could doze, and bask, and smoke from the rising of the sun till the twilight — a fat hog among fat hogs.

The chase was resumed, and the gharri drove to Jandiala — more or less. It abandoned the main roads completely, although it was a ‘fush-class,’ and comported itself like an ekka, till Amritsar sunk on the horizon, or thereabouts, and it pulled up at a second chubara, more peaceful and secluded than the first, and fenced with a thicker belt of trees. There was an eruption under the horses’ feet and a scattering of dust, which presently settled down and showed a beautiful young man with a head such as artists put on the shoulders of Belial. It was the head of an unlicked devil, marvellously handsome, and it made the horses shy. Belial knew nothing of the Sadhu who had cut out the tongue. He scowled at the driver, scowled at the fare, and then settled down in the dust, laughing wildly, and pointing to the earth and the sky. Now for a native to laugh aloud, without reason, publicly and at high noon, is a gruesome thing and calculated to chill the blood. Even the sight of silver coinage had no effect on Belial. He dilated his nostrils, pursed his lips, and gave himself up to renewed mirth. As there seemed to be no one else in the chubara, the carriage drove away, pursued by the laughter of the Beautiful Young Man in the Dust. A priest was caught wandering on the road, but for long he denied all knowledge of the Sadhu. In vain the Englishman protested that he came as a humble believer in the miracle; that he carried an offering of rupees for the Sadhu; that he regarded the Sadhu as one of the leading men of the century, and would render him immortal for at least twelve hours. The priest was dumb. He was next bribed — extortionately bribed — and said that the Sadhu was at the Durbar Sahib preaching. To the Golden temple accordingly the carriage went and found the regular array of ministers and the eternal passage of Sikh women round and round the Grunth; which things have been more than once described in this paper. But there was no Sadhu. An old Nihang, grey-haired and sceptical — for he had lived some thirty years in a church as it were — was sitting on the steps of the tank, dabbling his feet in the water. ‘O Sahib,’ said he blandly, ‘what concern have you with a miraculous Sadhu? You are not a Poliswala. And, O Sahib, what concern has the Sadhu with you?’ he Englishman explained with heat — for fruitless drives in the middle of an October day are trying to the temper — his adventures at the various chubaras, not omitting the incident of the Beautiful Young Man in the Dust. The Nihang smiled shrewdly: ‘Without doubt, Sahib, these men have told you lies. They do not want you to see the Sadhu; and the Sadhu does not desire to see you. This affair is an affair for us common people and not for Sahibs. The honour of the Gods is increased; but you do not worship the Gods.’ So saying he gravely began to undress and waddled into the water.

Then the Englishman perceived that he had been basely betrayed by the gharri-driver, and all the priests of the first chubara, and the wandering priest near the second chubara; and that the only sensible person was the Beautiful Young Man in the Dust, and he was mad.

This vexed the Englishman, and he came away. If Sadhus cut out their tongues and if the great Gods restore them, the devotees might at least have the decency to be interviewed.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38