“Only the famine, Hazur. Not a big trouble this year, they say. But from the villages these come crawling to the city, believing the Maharaj has plenty, and will give.”
“Does he give?”
Bishun Singh’s gesture seemed to deprecate undue curiosity. “The Maharaj is great, but the people are like flies. If their Karma is good, they find a few handfuls; if evil—they die.”
Roy said no more. That simple statement was conclusive as a dropped stone. But, on reaching the gateway, he scattered a handful of loose corns.
Instantly a cry went up: “He gives money for food! Jai dea Maharaj!" Not merely arms, but entire skeletons emerged, seething, scrambling, with hands wasted to mere claws. A few of the boldest caught at Roy’s stirrup; whereat Bishun Singh brushed them off, as if they were flies indeed.
Unresisting, they tottered and fell one against another, like ninepins: and Roy, hating the man, turned sharply away. But rebuke was futile. One could do nothing. It was that which galled him. One could only pass on; mentally brushing them aside—like Bishun Singh.
* * * * *
Spectres vanished, however, once he and Suraj were absorbed into the human kaleidoscope of the vast main street, paved with wide strips of hewn stone; one half of it sun-flooded; one half in shadow. The colour and movement; the vista of pink-washed houses speckled with white florets; the gay muslins, the small turbans and inimitable swagger of the Rajput-Sun-descended, re-awakened in him those gleams of ancestral memory that had so vividly beset him at Chitor. Sights and sounds and smells—the pungent mingling of spices and dust and animals—assailed his senses with a vague yet poignant familiarity: fruit and corn-shops with their pyramids of yellow and red and ochre, and the fat brown bunnia in the midst; shops bright with brass-work and Jaipur enamel; lattice windows, low-browed arches, glimpses into shadowed courts; flitting figures of veiled women; humbler women, unveiled, winnowing grain, or crowned with baskets of sacred cow-dung, stepping like queens....
And the animals——! Extinct, almost, in modern machine-ridden cities, here they visibly and audibly prevailed. For Asia lives intimately—if not always mercifully—with her animals; and Roy’s catholic affection embraced them all. Horses first—a long way first. But bullocks had their charm: the graceful trotting zebus, horns painted red and green. And the ponderous swaying of elephants—sensitive creatures, nervous of their own bulk, resplendently caparisoned. And there—a flash of the jungle, among casual goats, fowls, and pariahs—went the royal cheetahs, led on slips; walking delicately, between scarlet peons, looking for all the world like amiable maiden ladies with blue-hooded caps tied under their chins. In the wake of their magnificence two distended donkeys, on parodies of legs, staggered under loads more distended still, plump dhobies perched callously on the cruppers. Above all, Roy’s eye delighted in the jewelled sheen of peacocks, rivalling in sanctity the real lords of Jaipur—Shiva’s sacred bulls. Some milk-white and onyx-eyed, some black and insolent, they sauntered among the open shop fronts, levying toll and obstructing traffic—assured, arrogant, immune....