20. IN BENARES
The journey was from Calcutta
to Rajkot, and I planned to halt at Benares, Agra, Jaipur, and Palanpur
route. I had not the time to see any more places than these. In each
city I stayed one day, and put up in dharmashalas or with
like the ordinary pilgrims, excepting at Palanpur. So far as I can remember,
I did not spend more than Rs. 31 (including the train fare) on this journey.
In travelling third class I
mostly preferred the ordinary to the mail trains, as I knew that the latter
were more crowded and the fares in them higher.
Third class compartments are
practically as dirty, and the closet [=toilet] arrangements as bad, today
as they were then. There may be a little improvement now, but the difference
between the facilities provided for the first and the third classes is
out of all proportion to the difference betweeen the fares for the two
classes. Third class passengers are treated like sheep, and their comforts
are sheeps' comforts. In Europe I travelled third--and only once first,
just to see what it was like--but there I noticed no such difference between
the first and the third classes. In South Africa third class passengers
are mostly Negroes, yet the third class comforts are better there than
here. In parts of South Africa third class compartments are provided with
sleeping accommodation and cushioned seats. The accommodation is also regulated,
so as to prevent overcrowding, whereas here I have found the regulation
limit usually exceeded.
The indifference of the railway
authorities to the comforts of the third class passengers, combined with
the dirty and inconsiderate habits of the passengers themselves, makes
third class travelling a trial for a passenger of cleanly ways. These unpleasant
habits commonly include throwing of rubbish on the floor of the compartment,
smoking at all hours and in all places, betel and tobacco chewing, converting
of the whole carriage into a spittoon, shouting and yelling, and using
foul language, regardless of the convenience or comfort of fellow passengers.
I have noticed little difference between my experience of the third class
travelling in 1902 and that of my unbroken third class tours from 1915
I can think of only one remedy
for this awful state of things--that educated men should make a point of
travelling third class and reforming the habits of the people, as also
of never letting the railway authorities rest in peace, sending in complaints
wherever necessary, never resorting to bribes or any unlawful means for
obtaining their own comforts, and never putting up with infringements of
rules on the part of anyone concerned. This, I am sure, would bring about
My serious illness in 1918-19
has unfortunately compelled me practically to give up third class travelling,
and it has been a matter of constant pain and shame to me, especially because
the disability came at a time when the agitation for the removal of the
hardships of third class passengers was making fair headway. The hardships
of poor railway and steamship passengers, accentuated by their bad habits,
the undue facilities allowed by Government to foreign trade, and such other
things, make an important group of subjects, worthy to be taken up by one
or two enterprising workers who could devote their full time to it.
But I shall leave the third
class passengers at that, and come to my experiences in Benares. I arrived
there in the morning. I had decided to put up with a panda. Numerous
Brahmans surrounded me as soon as I got out of the train, and I selected
one who struck me to be comparatively cleaner and better than the rest.
It proved to be a good choice. There was a cow in the courtyard of his
house, and an upper storey where I was given a lodging. I did not want
to have any food without ablution in the Ganges in the proper orthodox
manner. The panda made preparations for it. I had told him beforehand
that on no account could I give him more than a rupee and four annas as
dakshina,/2/ and that
he should therefore keep this in mind while making the preparations.
The panda readily assented.
'Be the pilgrim rich or poor,' said he, 'the service is the same in every
case. But the amount of dakshina we receive depends upon the will
and the ability of the pilgrim.' I did not find that the panda at
all abridged the usual formalities in my case. The puja/3/
was over at twelve o'clock, and I went to the Kashi Vishvanath temple for
I was deeply pained by what I saw there. When practising as a barrister
in Bombay in 1891, I had occasion to attend a lecture on 'Pilgrimage to
Kashi' in the Prarthana Samaj hall. I was therefore prepared for some measure
of disappointment. But the actual disappointment was greater than I had
The approach was through a narrow
and slippery lane. Quiet there was none. The swarming flies and the noise
made by the shopkeepers and pilgrims were perfectly insufferable.
Where one expected an atmosphere
of meditation and communion, it was conspicuous by its absence. One had
to seek that atmosphere in oneself. I did observe devout sisters who were
absorbed in meditation, entirely unconscious of the environment. But for
this the authorities of the temple could scarcely claim any credit. The
authorities should be responsible for creating and maintaining about the
temple a pure, sweet, and serene atmosphere, physical as well as moral.
Instead of this I found a bazar where cunning shopkeepers were selling
sweets and toys of the latest fashion.
When I reached the temple, I
was greeted at the entrance by a stinking mass of rotten flowers. The floor
was paved with fine marble, which was however broken by some devotee innocent
of aesthetic taste, who had set it with rupees serving as an excellent
receptacle for dirt.
I went near the Jnana-vapi
(Well of Knowledge). I searched here for God but failed to find Him. I
was not therefore in a particularly good mood. The surroundings of the
too I found to be dirty. I had no mind to give any dakshina. So
I offered a pie [=penny coin]. The panda in charge got angry and
threw away the pie. He swore at me and said, 'This insult will take you
straight to hell.'
This did not perturb me. 'Maharaj,'
said I, 'whatever fate has in store for me, it does not behove one of your
class to indulge in such language. You may take this pie if you like, or
you will lose that too.'
'Go away,' he replied. 'I don't
care for your pie.' And then followed a further volley of abuse.
I took up the pie and went my
way, flattering myself that the Brahman had lost a pie and I had saved
one. But the Maharaj was hardly the man to let the pie go. He called me
back and said, 'All right, leave the pie here, I would rather not be as
you are. If I refuse your pie, it will be bad for you.'
I silently gave him the pie
and, with a sigh, went away.
Since then I have twice been
to Kashi Vishvanath, but that has been after I had already been afflicted
with the title of Mahatma, and experiences such as I have detailed above
had become impossible. People eager to have my darshan would not
permit me to have a darshan of the temple. The woes of Mahatmas
are known to Mahatmas alone. Otherwise the dirt and the noise were the
same as before.
If anyone doubts the infinite
mercy of God, let him have a look at these sacred places. How much hypocrisy
and irreligion does the Prince of Yogis suffer to be perpetrated in His
holy name? He proclaimed long ago: 'Whatever a man sows, that shall he
reap.' The law of Karma is inexorable and impossible of evasion. There
is thus hardly any need for God to interfere. He laid down the law and,
as it were, retired.
After this visit to the temple,
I waited upon Mrs. Besant. I knew that she had just recovered from an illness.
I sent in my name. She came at once. As I wished only to pay my respects
to her, I said, 'I am aware that you are in delicate health. I only wanted
to pay my respects. I am thankful that you have been good enough to receive
me in spite of your indifferent health. I will not detain you any longer.'
So saying, I took leave of her.
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