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Life's Handicap: Being Stories of Mine Own People, страница 1


Lifes Handicap: Being Stories of Mine Own People

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Lifes Handicap: Being Stories of Mine Own People

  Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and theOnline Distributed Proofreading Team



  By Rudyard Kipling


  TO E.K.R. FROM R.K. 1887-89 C.M.G.


  In Northern India stood a monastery called The Chubara of Dhunni Bhagat.No one remembered who or what Dhunni Bhagat had been. He had lived hislife, made a little money and spent it all, as every good Hindu shoulddo, on a work of piety--the Chubara. That was full of brick cells, gailypainted with the figures of Gods and kings and elephants, where worn-outpriests could sit and meditate on the latter end of things; the pathswere brick paved, and the naked feet of thousands had worn them intogutters. Clumps of mangoes sprouted from between the bricks; greatpipal trees overhung the well-windlass that whined all day; and hostsof parrots tore through the trees. Crows and squirrels were tame in thatplace, for they knew that never a priest would touch them.

  The wandering mendicants, charm-sellers, and holy vagabonds for ahundred miles round used to make the Chubara their place of call andrest. Mahomedan, Sikh, and Hindu mixed equally under the trees. Theywere old men, and when man has come to the turnstiles of Night all thecreeds in the world seem to him wonderfully alike and colourless.

  Gobind the one-eyed told me this. He was a holy man who lived on anisland in the middle of a river and fed the fishes with little breadpellets twice a day. In flood-time, when swollen corpses strandedthemselves at the foot of the island, Gobind would cause them to bepiously burned, for the sake of the honour of mankind, and having regardto his own account with God hereafter. But when two-thirds of theisland was torn away in a spate, Gobind came across the river to DhunniBhagat's Chubara, he and his brass drinking vessel with the well-cordround the neck, his short arm-rest crutch studded with brass nails, hisroll of bedding, his big pipe, his umbrella, and his tall sugar-loaf hatwith the nodding peacock feathers in it. He wrapped himself up in hispatched quilt made of every colour and material in the world, sat downin a sunny corner of the very quiet Chubara, and, resting his arm on hisshort-handled crutch, waited for death. The people brought him food andlittle clumps of marigold flowers, and he gave his blessing in return.He was nearly blind, and his face was seamed and lined and wrinkledbeyond belief, for he had lived in his time which was before the Englishcame within five hundred miles of Dhunni Bhagat's Chubara.

  When we grew to know each other well, Gobind would tell me tales in avoice most like the rumbling of heavy guns over a wooden bridge. Histales were true, but not one in twenty could be printed in an Englishbook, because the English do not think as natives do. They brood overmatters that a native would dismiss till a fitting occasion; and whatthey would not think twice about a native will brood over till a fittingoccasion: then native and English stare at each other hopelessly acrossgreat gulfs of miscomprehension.

  'And what,' said Gobind one Sunday evening, 'is your honoured craft, andby what manner of means earn you your daily bread?'

  'I am,' said I, 'a kerani--one who writes with a pen upon paper, notbeing in the service of the Government.'

  'Then what do you write?' said Gobind. 'Come nearer, for I cannot seeyour countenance, and the light fails.'

  'I write of all matters that lie within my understanding, and of manythat do not. But chiefly I write of Life and Death, and men and women,and Love and Fate according to the measure of my ability, telling thetale through the mouths of one, two, or more people. Then by the favourof God the tales are sold and money accrues to me that I may keepalive.'

  'Even so,' said Gobind. 'That is the work of the bazar story-teller; buthe speaks straight to men and women and does not write anything at all.Only when the tale has aroused expectation, and calamities are aboutto befall the virtuous, he stops suddenly and demands payment ere hecontinues the narration. Is it so in your craft, my son?'

  'I have heard of such things when a tale is of great length, and is soldas a cucumber, in small pieces.'

  'Ay, I was once a famed teller of stories when I was begging on the roadbetween Koshin and Etra; before the last pilgrimage that ever I took toOrissa. I told many tales and heard many more at the rest-houses in theevening when we were merry at the end of the march. It is in my heartthat grown men are but as little children in the matter of tales, andthe oldest tale is the most beloved.'

  'With your people that is truth,' said I. 'But in regard to our peoplethey desire new tales, and when all is written they rise up and declarethat the tale were better told in such and such a manner, and doubteither the truth or the invention thereof.'

  'But what folly is theirs!' said Gobind, throwing out his knotted hand.'A tale that is told is a true tale as long as the telling lasts. Andof their talk upon it--you know how Bilas Khan, that was the prince oftale-tellers, said to one who mocked him in the great rest-house on theJhelum road: "Go on, my brother, and finish that I have begun," and hewho mocked took up the tale, but having neither voice nor manner for thetask came to a standstill, and the pilgrims at supper made him eat abuseand stick half that night.'

  'Nay, but with our people, money having passed, it is their right; as weshould turn against a shoeseller in regard to shoes if those wore out.If ever I make a book you shall see and judge.'

  'And the parrot said to the falling tree, Wait, brother, till I fetch aprop!' said Gobind with a grim chuckle. 'God has given me eighty years,and it may be some over. I cannot look for more than day granted by dayand as a favour at this tide. Be swift.'

  'In what manner is it best to set about the task.' said I, 'O chiefestof those who string pearls with their tongue?'

  'How do I know? Yet'--he thought for a little--'how should I not know?God has made very many heads, but there is only one heart in all theworld among your people or my people. They are children in the matter oftales.'

  'But none are so terrible as the little ones, if a man misplace a word,or in a second telling vary events by so much as one small devil.'

  'Ay, I also have told tales to the little ones, but do thou this--' Hisold eyes fell on the gaudy paintings of the wall, the blue and red dome,and the flames of the poinsettias beyond. 'Tell them first of thosethings that thou hast seen and they have seen together. Thus theirknowledge will piece out thy imperfections. Tell them of what thou alonehast seen, then what thou hast heard, and since they be children tellthem of battles and kings, horses, devils, elephants, and angels, butomit not to tell them of love and suchlike. All the earth is full oftales to him who listens and does not drive away the poor from his door.The poor are the best of tale-tellers; for they must lay their ear tothe ground every night.'

  After this conversation the idea grew in my head, and Gobind waspressing in his inquiries as to the health of the book.

  Later, when we had been parted for months, it happened that I was to goaway and far off, and I came to bid Gobind good-bye.

  'It is farewell between us now, for I go a very long journey,' I said.

  'And I also. A longer one than thou. But what of the book?' said he.

  'It will be born in due season if it is so ordained.'

  'I would I could see it,' said the old man, huddling beneath his quilt.'But that will not be. I die three days hence, in the night, a littlebefore the dawn. The term of my years is accomplished.'

  In nine cases out of ten a native makes no miscalculation as to the dayof his death. He has the foreknowledge of the beasts in this respect.

  'Then thou wilt depart in peace, and it is good talk, for thou hast saidthat life is no delight to thee.'

  'But it is a pity that our book is not born. How shall
I know that thereis any record of my name?'

  'Because I promise, in the forepart of the book, preceding everythingelse, that it shall be written, Gobind, sadhu, of the island in theriver and awaiting God in Dhunni Bhagat's Chubara, first spoke of thebook,' said I.

  'And gave counsel--an old man's counsel. Gobind, son of Gobind of theChumi village in the Karaon tehsil, in the district of Mooltan. Willthat be written also?'

  'That will be written also.'

  'And the book will go across the Black Water to the houses of yourpeople, and all the Sahibs will know of me who am eighty years old?'

  'All who read the book shall know. I cannot promise for the rest.'

  'That is good talk. Call aloud to all who are in the monastery, and Iwill tell them this thing.'

  They trooped up, faquirs, sadhus, sunnyasis, byragis, nihangs, andmullahs, priests of all faiths and every degree of raggedness, andGobind, leaning upon his crutch, spoke so that they were visibly filledwith envy, and a white-haired senior bade Gobind think of his latterend instead of transitory repute in the mouths of strangers. Then Gobindgave me his blessing and I came away.

  These tales have been collected from all places, and all sorts ofpeople, from priests in the Chubara, from Ala Yar the carver, JiwunSingh the carpenter, nameless men on steamers and trains round theworld, women spinning outside their cottages in the twilight, officersand gentlemen now dead and buried, and a few, but these are the verybest, my father gave me. The greater part of them have been published inmagazines and newspapers, to whose editors I am indebted; but some arenew on this side of the water, and some have not seen the light before.

  The most remarkable stories are, of course, those which do notappear--for obvious reasons.

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