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Part 3

Interlude - The Brahman

Rattling south by rail, out of Bengal into Madras. Square masses of elephant-colored rock piled up to build rectangular hills, sitting one upon another in segments, like Elephant Gods on pedestals.--Miles and more miles of it.

On and on. Then a softer country, where the earth is orange and the only trees are small-topped palms scratched long across the sky like penstrokes ending in a splutter.

Much cultivation, rice fields marked off in slips and fragments by hand-high earth-ridges to hold the precious water. Little dark people with cherry-colored garments, almost black people, with big, bristling mops of curly black hair, drawing water out of wells as they drew it a thousand years ago, or threshing grain under the circling feet of bullocks. Stands of sugar cane, high and four-square. Small clay villages, each small clay house eclipsed under a big round palm-leaf roof like a candle-snuffer. Flocks of orange-colored goats. Patches of orange, on the ground--palm-nuts for betel chewing, spread out to dry. Big orange hawks with proud, white heads. Orange afterglow of sunset, flooding orange over the stubble fields of rice. An orange world, punctuated by black human bodies with cherry-colored splashes.

Madras, citadel of Brahmanic Hinduism. Citadel also of the remnant of the ancient folk, the dark-skinned Dravidians. Brahmanic Hinduism broke them, cast them down and tramped upon them, commanded them in their multi-millions to be pariahs, outcasts, ignorant and poor. Then came the Briton, for whatever reason, establishing peace, order, and such measure of democracy as could survive in the soil.

Gradually the Dravidian raised his eyes, and then, most timidly, his head. With him, also, the multitudes of the low castes of the Brahman's world. And no\< all these, become an Anti-Brahman party, had developed strength enough, for the time at least, to snatch from the Brahman his political majority in the Legislative Council of Madras Presidency.[1] Which, in itself, constituted an epoch in Indian history.

[1. In the fall elections of 1926, the Brahmans regained the majority in the Legislative Council of Madras Presidency.]

With one of these low-caste men become rich, respected and politically powerful, I sat in private conference, in the city of Madras. A little, vivacious person he was, full of heat and free of tongue. "Will you draw me your picture of the Brahman?" 1 asked. He answered--and these are his actual words, written down at the moment:

"Once upon a time, when all men lived according to their choice, the Brahman was the only fellow who applied himself to learning. Then, having become learned, and being by nature subtle-minded, he secretly laid hold upon the sacred books, and secretly wrote into those books false texts that declared him, the Brahman, to be lord over all the people. Ages passed. And gradually, because the Brahman only could read and because he gave out his false texts that forbade learning to others, the people grew to believe him the Earthly God he called himself and to obey him accordingly. So in all Hindu India he ruled the spirit of man, and none dared dispute him, not till England came with schools for all.

"Now, here in this Province, Madras, we fight the Brahman. But still he is very strong, because the might of thousands of years breaks slowly, and he is as shrewd as a host of demons. He owns the press, he sways the bench, he holds eighty per cent, of the public offices, and he terrorizes the people, especially the women. For we are all superstitious and mostly illiterate. The 'Earthly God' has seen to that. Also, he hates the British, because they keep him from strangling us. He makes much 'patriotic' outcry, demanding that the British go. And we--we know that if they go now, before we have had time to steady ourselves, he will strangle us again and India will be what it used to be, a cruel despotism wielded by fat priests against a mass of slaves, because our. imaginations are not yet free from him. Listen:

"Each Hindu in India pays to the Brahman many times more than he pays to the State. From the day of his birth to the day of his death, a man must be feeding the Earthly God. When a child is born, the Brahman must be paid; otherwise, the child will not prosper. Sixteen days afterward, to be cleansed of 'birth pollution,' the Brahman must be paid. A little later, the child must be named; and the Brahman must be paid. In the third month, the baby's hair must be clipped; and the Brahman must be paid. In the sixth month, we begin to feed the child solids; and the Brahman must be paid. When the child begins to walk, the Brahman must be paid. At the completion of the first year comes the birthday ceremony and the Brahman must be paid. At the end of the seventh year the boy's education begins and the Brahman must be paid well. In well-to-do families he performs the ceremony by guiding golden writing-sticks placed in the boy's hand; and the sticks also go to the Brahman.

"When a girl reaches her first birthday, her seventh, or her ninth, or when a boy is one and a half, or two years old, or anywhere up to sixteen, comes the betrothal, and big pay to the Brahman. Then, when puberty comes, or earlier, if the marriage is consummated earlier, rich pay to the Brahman. At an eclipse, the Brahman must be paid heavily. And so it goes on. When a man dies, the corpse can be removed only after receiving the blessing of the Brahman, for which he is paid. At the cremation, again a lot of money must be paid to many Brahmans. After cremation, every month for a year, the dead man's son must hold a feast for Brahmans--as great a feast as he can--and give them clothes, ornaments, food and whatever would be dear to the dead. For whatever a Brahman eats, drinks or uses is enjoyed by the dead. Thereafter, once a year, during the son's life, he must repeat this observance.

"All such ceremonies and many more the Brahman calls his 'vested rights,' made so by religious law. Whoever neglects them goes to eternal damnation. During the performance of each rite we must wash the Brahman's feet with water and then we must drink some of that water from the palm of our hand. The Brahman is indolent, produces nothing, and takes to no calling but that of lawyer or government official. In this Province he numbers one and a half million and the rest of us, over forty-one millions, feed him.

"Now do you understand that, until we others are able to hold our own in India, we prefer a distant King beyond the sea, who gives us peace, justice, something back for our money and a chance to become free men, to a million and a half masters, here, who eat us up, yet say our very touch would pollute them?"