Title: The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 01, No. 4, February, 1858
EText-No. 12319
A Tiffin of Paragraphs

How runs the Hindoo saw? "Are we not to milk when there is a cow?" When India is giving down generous streams of paragraphy to all the greedy buckets of the press, shall we not hold our pretty pail under? As our genial young friend, Ensign Isnob, of the "Sappies and Minors," would say, --"I believe you, me boy!"

Then come with us to Cossitollah, and we'll have a tiffin of talk; some cloves of adventure, with a capsicum or two of tragic story, shall stand for the curry; the customs of the country may represent the familiar rice; a whiff of freshness and fragrance from the Mofussil will be as the mangoes and the dorians; in the piquancy and grotesqueness of the first pure Orientalism that may come to hand we shall recognize the curious chow-chow of the chutney; and as for the beer, --why, we will be the beer ourselves.

"Kitmudgar, remove that scorpion from the punka, before it drops into the Sahib's plate. --Hold, miscreant! who told you to kill it?

  "'Take it up tenderly,
  Lift it with care,--
  Fashioned so slenderly,
  Young, and so fair!'
"For know, O Kitmudgar, that there is one beauty of women, and another beauty of scorpions; and if the beauty of scorpions be to thee as the ugliness of women, the fault is in thy godless eye.

"'Only a crawling kafir,' sayest thou, O heathen! and straightway goest about to stick a fork into a political symbol? Verily, the hapless wretch shall be sacrificed unto Agnee, god of Fire, that a timely warning may enter into thy purblind soul!

"Here, take this bottle of brandy, --'Sahib brandy,' you perceive, --genuine old 'London Dock,' --and pour a cordon of ardent spirits on the table, to 'weave a circle round him thrice.' So! that's for British Ascendency!

"Now drop your subjugated brother into the midst thereof. See how, in his senseless, drunken rage, he wriggles and squirms, --then desperately dashes, and venomously snaps! That's Indian Revolt!

"Quickly, now! light the train; so! --What think you of Anglo-Saxon power and hereditary pride?

"Oho, my Kitmudgar! you begin to understand! --the living fable is not lost on you!

"But watch your Great Mogul! Barrackpore, Meerut, Cawnpore, Lucknow, Delhi, --five imposing plunges, but impotent; for at every point the Sahib's fatal fire, fire, fire, fire, fire! --insurmountable, all-subduing 'destiny'!

"Maimed, discomfited, dismayed, shivering, at wits' end, a crippled wriggler, in the midst of the exulting flames, --there lies your Great Mogul!

"But see!--the scorpion, brave wretch! with a gladiator's fortitude, loosens the shameful coil in which its last agonies have twisted it, fiercely erects its head once more, lashes defiantly with its tail, and then --click! click! click! --stings itself to death.

"And with that ends our figure of speech; for only the pitifulness of the defeat is the Great Mogul's; the sublimity of suicide is proper to the scorpion alone.

"Take away the fable, Kitmudgar!"

I lay in bed this morning half an hour after the sun had risen, watching my Parsee neighbor on his house-top, and thereby lost my drive on the Esplanade. But I console myself with imagining that the pretty Chee-chee spinster who comes every morning from Raneemoody Gully in a green tonjon, and makes romantic eyes at me through the silk curtains, missed the Boston gentleman with the gray moustache, and was lonesome.

My Parsee neighbor is quite as fat, but by no means as saucy, as ever. Last week his youngest boy died, --little Kirsajee Samsajee Bonnarjee, a contemplative young fire-worshipper, with eyes as profound as the philosophy of Zoroaster. I saw the dismal procession depart from the house, and my heart ached for the little Gheber.

Four awful creatures, that were like ghosts, clad all in white, solemnly dumb and veiled, bore him away on an iron bier. When they arrived at the drawbridge, great sheets of copper were spread before them, and they crossed upon those; for wood is sacred to their adored Element, and the touch of "them on whose shoulders the dead doth ride" would pollute it.

So they carried little Kirsajee to Golgotha, their Place of Skulls, which is a dreary, treeless field, encompassed round about with a blank wall; and they laid him naked in a stone trough on the edge of a great pit, and left him there, betaking them, still solemnly veiled and mute, to their homes again.

All but my Parsee neighbor; he went and sat him down, like Hagar in the wilderness, over against the dead Kirsajee, "a good way off, as it were a bowshot"; and he lifted up his voice, and wept for the lad that was dead. But still he waited there, till the crows and the Brahminee kites should come to perform the last horrid rites; for to Parsee custom the sepulture most becoming to men and most acceptable to God is in the stomachs of the fowls of the air, in the craws of ghoulish vultures and sacrilegious crows.

And presently there came a great Pondicherry eagle, sniffing the feast from afar; and he came alone. Swiftly sailing, poised on silent wings, he circled over Golgotha, circle within circle, circle below circle, over the child sleeping naked, over the father watching veiled.

One moment he flutters, as for a foothold on the pinnacle of his purpose; then

        "Like a thunderbolt he falls."

Sitting solemnly on the breast of the dead boy, the "grim, ungainly, gaunt, and ominous bird" peers with sidelong glance into his face, gloating; and then--

Immediately my Parsee neighbor uprises in his place, throws aside his veil, and, shouting, runs forward. The Pondicherry eagle soars screaming to the clouds, and the sorrow-stricken Gheber bends over the dear corpse. Is it Heaven or Hell? the right eye or the left? Alas, the left!

He beats his breast, he falls upon his knees, and cries with frantic gestures to the setting Sun; but the sullen god only draws a cloud before his face, and leaves his poor worshipper to despair. Then my Parsee neighbor arises and girds up his loins, muffles his haggard face more closely than before, and with dishevelled beard, and chin sadly sunk upon his breast, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, and meeting no man's gaze, wends silently homeward.

To-morrow he will take his wife and go to Bombay, to feed with consecrated sandal-wood and oil the Sacred Flame the Magi brought from Persia, when they were driven thence with all their people to Ormuz. But the name of little Kirsajee will cross their lips no more; his memory is a forbidden thing in the household; he is as if he never had been.

When Brahminee kite, and adjutant, and white-breasted crow have done their ghoulish office on little Kirsajee, his bones shall lie bleaching under the pitiless eye of his people's blazing god, till the rains come, and fill the pit, and carry the waste of Gheber skeletons by subterraneous sewers down to the sea. But the Pondicherry eagle took the left eye first; wherefore the most pious deeds of merit, to be performed by my Parsee neighbor, --even a hospital for maimed dogs, or feeding the Sacred Flame with great store of sandal-wood and precious gums, or tilling the earth with a diligence equivalent to the efficacy of ten thousand prayers, --can hardly suffice to save the soul of little Kirsajee, the Forbidden!

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There is a blood-feud of three months' standing between two members of our household.

One day, Lootee, the chuprassey's cat, took Tchoop, the khansamah's monkey, unawares, as he was sunning himself on the house-top, and with scratching and spitting, sudden and furious, so startled him, that he threw himself over the parapet into the crowded Cossitollah, and would have been killed by the fall, had he not chanced to alight on the voluminous turban of a dandy hurkaru from the Mint. As it was, one of his arms sustained a compound fracture, and his nerves suffered so frightful a shock, that it was only by a miracle of surgery, and the most patient nursing, that he was ever restored to his wonted agility and sagacity.

But the day of retribution has arrived; Lootee has had kittens. There were five of them in the original litter; but only one remains. Tchoop tossed two of them from the house-top when no dandy hurkaru from the Mint was below to soften the fall; the old adjutant-bird, that for three years has stood on one leg on the Parsee's godown, gobbled up another as it lay choked in the south veranda; while the dismayed sirdar found the head of a fourth jammed inextricably in the neck of his sacred lotah, wherewith he performs his pious ablutions every morning at the ghaut.

On the other hand, Lootee has made prize of about three inches of Tehoop's tail, and displays it all over the house for a trophy. --It is a blood-feud, fierce and implacable as any between Afghans, and there's no knowing where it will all end.

In Europe the monkey is a cynic, in South America an overworked slave, in Africa a citizen, but in India an imp, --I mean to the eye of the Western stranger, for in the estimation of the native he is mythologically a demigod, and socially a guest. At Ahmedabad, the capital of Guzerat, there are certainly two-- Mr. De Ward says three-- hospitals for sick and lame monkeys, who are therein provided with salaried physicians, apothecaries, and nurses.

In the famous Hindoo epic, the "Ramayana" of Valmiki, --"by singing and hearing which continually a man may attain to the highest state of enjoyment, and be shortly admitted to fraternity with the gods," --the exploits of Hoonamunta, the Divine Monkey, are gravely relaxed, with a dramatic force and figurativeness that hold a street audience spell-bound; but to the European imagination the childish drollery of the plot is irrestistible.

Boodhir, the Earth, was beset by giants, demons, and chimeras dire; so she besought Vishnu, with many tears, and vows of peculiar adoration, to put forth his strength of arms and arts against her abominable tormentors, and rout them utterly. The god was gracious; whence his nine avatars, or incarnations, --as fish, as tortoise, as boar, as man-lion, as dwarf Brahmin, as Pursuram, --the Brahmin-warrior who overthrew the Kshatriya, or soldier-caste; the eighth avatar appeared in the person of Krishna, and the ninth in that of Boodh.

But the seventh incarnation was the avatar of Rama, and it is this that the "Ramayana" celebrates.

Vishnu proceeds to be born unto Doosurath, King of Ayodhya, (Oude,) as the Prince Rama, or Ramchundra. Nothing remarkable occurs thereupon until Rama has attained the marriageable age, when he espouses Seeta, daughter of the King of Mithili.

Immediately old Mrs. Mithili, our hero's mother-in-law, being of an intriguing turn of mind, applies herself to the amiable task of worrying the poor old King of Ayodhya out of his crown or his life; and so well does she succeed, that Doosurath, for the sake of peace and quietness, would fain abdicate in favor of his son.

But Rama will have none of his royalty. Was it for bored kings and mischief-making mothers-in-law, he asks, speaking with the ante-natal memories of Vishnu, that he came among the sons of men? Not at all! he has a mission, and he bides his time. For the present he will take his wife Seeta, whose will is his, and go out into the wilderness, there to build him a hut of bamboos and banian-boughs and palmyra-leaves, and be-- Seeta and he-- two jolly yogees, that is, religious gypsies, --living on grass-roots, wild rice, and white ants, and being dirty and devout to
their heart's content.

So they went; and for a little while they enjoyed, undisturbed, their yogeeish ideas of a good time. But by-and-by tidings came to Rawunna-- the giant with ten heads and twice ten arms, that was King of Lunka (Ceylon)-- of the plots of Mrs. Mithili, the disgust of old Doosurath, the distraction of the kingdom of Ayodhya, and the whimsical adventure of Rama and Seeta.

And immediately Rawunna, the giant, is seized in all his heads and arms with a great longing to know what manner of man this Rama may be, that he should prefer the yogee's breech-cloth to the royal purple, a hut of leaves, with only his Seeta, to a harem of a hundred wives, white ants and paddy to the white camel's flesh and golden partridges of Ayodhya's imperial repasts. Especially is he curious as to the charms of Seeta, as to the mighty magic wherewithal she renders monogamy acceptable to an Ayodhyan prince.

By Indra! he will see for himself! So, pleading exhaustion from the cares of state, and ten headaches of trouble and dyspepsia, he announces his intention to make an excursion a few hundred coss into the country for the benefit of his health; and taking twenty carpet-bags in his hands, he sets out, in his monstrous way, for Ayodhya, leaving his kingdom in the care of a blue dwarf with an eye in the back of his neck.

With seven-coss strides he comes to Ayodhya, and straightway finds the banian hut in the forest, where Rama dwells with Seeta in the devout dirtiness of their jolly yogeery.

The god has gone abroad in search of a dinner, and is over the hills to the sandy nullahs, where the white ants are fattest; while that greasy Joan, Seeta, "doth keel the pot" at home.

Then Rawunna, the giant, assuming the shape of a pilgrim yogee rolling to the Caves of Ellora, --with Gayntree, the mystical text, on his lips, and the shadow of Siva's beard in his soul, --rolls to Rama's door, and cries, "Alms, alms, in the name of the Destroyer!"

And Seeta comes forth, with water in a palm-leaf and grass-roots in the fold of her saree; and when she beholds the false yogee her heart blooms with pity, so that her smile is as the alighting of butterflies, and her voice as the rustling of roses.

But, behold you, as she bends over the prostrate yogee, and, saying, "Drink from the cup of Vishnu!" offers the crisp leaf to his dusty lips, a great spasm of desire impels the impostor; and, flinging off the yogee, he leaps erect, Rawunna, the Abhorred!

With ten mouths he kisses her; with twenty arms he clasps her; and away, away to Lunka! while yet poor Seeta gasps with fear.

When Rama returned and found no Seeta, his soul was seized with a mighty horror; and a blankness, like unto the mystery of Brahm, fell upon his heart He shed not a tear, but the sky wept floods; he uttered not a groan, but Earth shook from her centre, and the mountains fell on their faces. But Rama, stupefied, stood stock still where he was stricken, and stared, till his eyelids stiffened, at the desolate hut, at the desolate hearth.

Then all the angels in heaven, who had witnessed the crime of Rawunna, and his flight, passed into the forms of monkeys; and a million of them made a monkey chain, that the rest of the celestial host might descend into the banian-groves of Ayodhya. The tails glide swiftly through each glowing hand, and quick as lightning on the trees they stand.

And Hoonamunta, their chief, prostrated himself before Rama, and said, "Behold, my Lord, we are here! I and all my host are yours, --command us!"

But Rama spoke not; he only stood where he was stricken, and stared at his desolation.

Then Hoonamunta turned him to his host, and said, "Bide here till I come, and be silent; break not the quiet of divine sorrow." And he went forth with mighty bounds.

That night he came to Lunka. But the city slept; if Seeta yet lived, she, too, was silent; no cry of sorrow rose on the night; no stir, as of an unusual event, disturbed the stillness and the gloom.

So Hoonamunta took upon himself the form of a rat, and sped nimbly through the huts of dwarfs and the towers of giants, through the hiding-places of misery and the high seats of power, through the places of trouble and the places of ease; till at last he came to an ivory dome, hard by the silver palace of Rawanna, the Monstrous; and there lay Seeta, buried in a profound trance of despair.

Hoonamunta bit, very tenderly, her slender white finger; but she stirred not, she made no sign.

Then he whispered softly in her ear, "Rama comes!" and Seeta started from her death-sleep, and sat erect; her eyes were open, and she cried, "My Lord, I am here!"

So Hoonamunta spake to her, bidding her be of good cheer, for Brahm was with her, and the Omnipotent Three, --bade her be of good heart and wait. And Seeta's smile was as the alighting of many butterflies, and her voice of murmured joy was as the rustling of all the roses of Ayodhya.

Then Hoonamunta took counsel with his cunning; and he said unto himself, "I will arouse the sleepers; I will take the strength of the city; I will count the heads of Rawunna, and the arms of him."

So straightway he resumed his monkey shape, and went forth into the streets, by the tanks and through the bazaars, among the places of the oppressed and the places of the powerful.

And he bit the ears of the Pariah dogs, so that they howled; he twisted the tails of the Brahmin bulls, so that they rushed, bellowing, down to the ghauts; he plucked the beards of gorged adjutants, till they snapped their great beaks with a terrible clatter.

He made a great splashing in the tanks; he ran through the bazaars, banging the gongs of the bell-makers, and smashing the brittle wares of the potters; he tore holes in the roofs of houses, and threw down tiles upon them that were buried in slumber; he cried with a loud voice, "Siva, Siva, the Destroyer, cometh!"

So that the city awoke with a great outcry and a din, with all its torches and all its dogs. And the multitude filled the streets, and the compounds, and the open places round about the tanks; and all cried, "Siva, Siva!"

But when they beheld Hoonamunta, how he tore off roofs, and pelted them with tiles,--how he climbed to the tops of pagodas, and jangled the sacred bells, --how he laid his shoulder to the city walls and overthrew them, so that the noise of their fall was as the roar of the breakers on the far-off coast of Lunka when the Typhoon blows, --then they cried, "A demon! a fiend from the halls of Yama!" and they gave chase with a mighty uproar, --the gooroos, and the yogees, and the jugglers going first.

Then Hoonamunta took counsel with his cunning; and he came down and stood in the midst of the angry people, and asked, "What would you with me? and where is this demon you pursue?"

But they cried, "Hear him, how he mocks us! Hear him, how he flouts us!" and they dragged him into the presence of Rawunna, the king.

And when the giant would have questioned him, who he was, and whence he came, and what his mission, he only mocked, and mimicked the fee-faw-fumness of Rawunna's tones, and said, "Lo! This beggar goes a-foot, but his words ride in a palanquin!"

And the king said, "I have been foolish, I have been weak, to waste words on this kafir. Am not I a mighty monarch? Am not I a terrible giant? Let him be cast out!"

And again Hoonamunta mocked him, saying, "His insanity is past! fetch him the rice-pounder that he may gird himself! fetch him the gong that he may cover his feet!"

And Hoonamunta would have sat on the throne, on Rawunna's right hand; but Rawunna thrust him off, and cursed him.

So Hoonamunta took his tail in his hand, and pulled and pulled; and the tail grew, and grew, --a fathom, a furlong, a whole coss.

And Hoonamunta coiled it on the floor, a lofty coil, on the right hand of the throne, higher and higher, till it overlooked the golden cushion of the king; and Hoonamunta laughed.

Then Rawunna turned him to his counsellors, and said, "What shall we do with this audacious fellow?"

And with one voice all the counsellors cried, "Burn his tremendous tail!"

And the king commanded:--

  "Let all the dwarfs of Lunka
  Bring rags from near and far;
  Call all the dwarfs of Lunka
  To soak them all in tar!"
So they went, and brought as many rags as ten strong giants could lift, and a thousand maunds of tar.

And they soaked the rags in the tar, even as Kawunna had commanded, and bound them all at once on the tremendous tail of Hoonamunta.

And when they had done this, the king said, "Lead him forth, and light him!"

And they led him forth into the great Midaun, hard by the triple pagoda; and they lighted his tail with a torch. And immediately the flames leaped to the skies, and the smoke filled all the city.

Then Hoonamunta broke away from his captors, and with a loud laugh started on his fiery race, --over house-tops and hay-ricks, through close bazaars and dry rice-fields, through the porticoes of palaces and the porches of pagodas, --kindling a roaring conflagration as he went.

And all the people pursued him, screaming with fear, imploring mercy, imploring pardon, crying, "Spare us, and we will make you our high-priest! Spare us, and you shall be our king!"

But Hoonamunta staid not, till, having laid half the city in flames, he ascended to the top of a lofty tower to survey his work with satisfaction.

Thither the great men of Lunka followed him, --the princes, and the Brahmins, and the victorious chieftains, the strong giants, and the cunning dwarfs.

And when they were all gathered underneath the tower, and in the porch of it, he shook it, till it fell and crushed a thousand of the first citizens.

Then Hoonamunta sped away northward to Ayodhya, extinguishing his tail in the sea as he went.

And when he came to where his army lay, he found them all waiting in silence. When he entered the hut of Rama, the bereaved one still lay on his face. But Hoonamunta spake softly in his ear: "My Lord, arise! for Seeta calls you, and her heart sickens within her that you come not!"

Immediately Rama uprose, and stood erect, and all the god blazed in his eyes; and he grew in the sight of Hoonamunta until his stature was as the stature of Rawunna, the giant, and his countenance was as the countenance of Indra, King of Heaven.

And he went forth, and stood at the head of Hoonamunta's monkey host, and called for a sword; and when they gave him one, it became alive in his hand, and was a sword of flame; and when they gave him a spear, lo! it became his slave, flying whithersoever he bade it, and striking where
he listed.

So Rama and Hoonamunta, with all their monkey host, took up their march for Lunka.

When they came to the sea (which is the Gulf of Manaar) there was no bridge; but Rama mounted the back of Hoonamunta, and called to the host to follow him; and all the monkeys leaped across.

Then immediately they fell upon Lunka; and Rama slew Rawunna, the Monster, and rescued the delighted Seeta.

And now those three sit together on a throne in heaven, --Seeta, the faithful wife, on the left hand of Rama, --and Hoonamunta on his right hand, the shrewd and courageous friend.

Who would not be a monkey in Hindostan?

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