In framing an ideal we may assume what we wish, but should avoid
impossibilities.
ARISTOTLE
Island
by Aldous Huxley
1
"Attention," a voice began to call, and it was as though an oboe had
suddenly become articulate. "Attention," it repeated in the same high, nasal
monotone. "Attention."
Lying there like a corpse in the dead leaves, his hair matted, his face
grotesquely smudged and bruised, his clothes in rags and muddy, Will
Farnaby awoke with a start. Molly had called him. Time to get up. Time to
get dressed. Mustn't be late at the office.
"Thank you, darling," he said and sat up. A sharp pain stabbed at his
right knee and there were other kinds of pain in his back, his arms, his
forehead.
"Attention," the voice insisted without the slightest change of tone.
Leaning on one elbow, Will looked about him and saw with bewilderment,
not the gray wallpaper and yellow curtains of his London bedroom, but a
glade among trees and the long shadows and slanting lights of early
morning in a forest. "Attention"?
Why did she say, "Attention"?
"Attention. Attention," the voice insisted—how strangely, how
senselessly!
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Island
"Molly?" he questioned. "Molly?"
The name seemed to open a window inside his head. Suddenly, with
that horribly familiar sense of guilt at the pit of the stomach, he smelt
formaldehyde, he saw the small brisk nurse hurrying ahead of him along
the green corridor, heard the dry creaking of her starched clothes. "Number
fifty-five," she was saying, and then halted, opened a white door. He
entered and there, on a high white bed, was Molly. Molly with bandages
covering half her face and the mouth hanging cavernously open. "Molly,"
he had called, "Molly ..." His voice had broken, and he was crying, was
imploring now, "My darling!" There was no answer. Through the gaping
mouth the quick shallow breaths came noisily, again, again. "My darling,
my darling . . ." And then suddenly the hand he was holding came to life for
a moment. Then was still again.
"It's me," he said, "it's Will."
Once more the fingers stirred. Slowly, with what was evidently an
enormous effort, they closed themselves over his own, pressed them for a
moment and then relaxed again into lifelessness.
"Attention," called the inhuman voice. "Attention."
It had been an accident, he hastened to assure himself. The road was
wet, the car had skidded across the white line. It was one of those things
that happen all the time. The papers are full of them; he had reported them
by the dozen. "Mother and three children killed in head-on crash ..." But
that was beside the point. The point was that, when she asked him if it was
really the end, he had said yes; the point was that less than an hour after
she had walked out from that last shameful interview into the rain, Molly
was in the ambulance, dying.
3
He hadn't looked at her as she turned to go, hadn't dared to look at
her. Another glimpse of that pale suffering face might have been too much
for him. She had risen from her chair and was moving slowly across the
room, moving slowly out of his
life. Shouldn't he call her back, ask her forgiveness, tell her that he still
loved her? Had he ever loved her?
For the hundredth time the articulate oboe called him to attention.
Yes, had he ever really loved her?
"Good-bye, Will," came her remembered whisper as she turned back
on the threshold. And then it was she who had said it—in a whisper, from
the depths of her heart. "I still love you, Will—in spite of everything."
A moment later the door of the flat closed behind her almost without a
sound. The little dry click of the latch, and she was gone.
He had jumped up, had run to the front door and opened it, had
listened to the retreating footsteps on the stairs. Like a ghost at cockcrow, a
faint familiar perfume lingered vanishingly on the air. He closed the door
again, walked into his gray-and-yellow bedroom and looked out the widow.
A few seconds passed, then he saw her crossing the pavement and getting
into the car. He heard the shrill grinding of the starter, once, twice, and after
that the drumming of the motor. Should he open the window? "Wait, Molly,
wait," he heard himself shouting in imagination. The window remained
unopened; the car began to move, turned the corner and the street was
empty. It was too late. Too late, thank God! said a gross derisive voice.
Yes, thank God! And yet the guilt was there at the pit of his stomach. The
guilt, the gnawing of his remorse—but through the remorse he could feel a
horrible rejoicing. Somebody low and lewd and brutal, somebody alien and
odious who was yet himself was gleefully thinking that now there was
nothing to prevent him from having what he wanted. And what he wanted
was a different perfume, was the warmth and resilience of a younger body.
"Attention," said the oboe. Yes, attention. Attention to Babs's musky
bedroom, with its strawberry-pink alcove and the two windows that looked
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Island
onto the Charing Cross Road and were looked into, all night long, by the
winking glare of the big sky sign for Porter's Gin on the opposite side of the
street. Gin in royal crimson—and for ten seconds the alcove was the
Sacred Heart, for ten miraculous seconds the flushed face so close to his
own glowed like a seraph's, transfigured as though by an inner fire of love.
Then came the yet profounder transfiguration of darkness. One, two, three,
four . . . Ah God, make it go on forever! But punctually at the count of ten
the electric clock would turn on another revelation—but of death, of the
Essential Horror; for the lights, this time, were green, and for ten hideous
seconds Babs's rosy alcove became a womb of mud and, on the bed, Babs
herself was corpse-colored, a cadaver galvanized into posthumous
epilepsy. When Porter's Gin proclaimed itself in green, it was hard to forget
what had happened and who one was. The only thing to do was to shut
one's eyes and plunge, if one could, more deeply into the Other World of
sensuality, plunge violently, plunge deliberately into those alienating
frenzies to which poor Molly— Molly ("Attention") in her bandages, Molly in
her wet grave at Highgate, and Highgate, of course, was why one had to
shut one's eyes each time when the green light made a corpse of Babs's
nakedness—had always and so utterly been a stranger. And not only Molly.
Behind his closed eyelids, Will saw his mother, pale like a cameo, her face
spiritualized by accepted suffering, her hands made monstrous and
subhuman by arthritis. His mother and, standing behind her wheelchair,
already running to fat and quivering like calf's-foot jelly with all the feelings
that had never found their proper expression in consummated love, was his
sister Maud.
"How can you, Will?"
"Yes, how can you?" Maud echoed tearfully in her vibrating contralto.
There was no answer. No answer, that was to say, in any words that
could be uttered in their presence, that, uttered,
those two martyrs—the mother to her unhappy marriage, the daughter to
filial piety—could possibly understand. No answer except in words of the
most obscenely scientific objectivity, the most inadmissible frankness. How
could he do it? He could do it, for all practical purposes was compelled to
do it, because . . . well, because Babs had certain physical peculiarities
which Molly did not possess and behaved at certain moments in ways
which Molly would have found unthinkable.
There had been a long silence; but now, abruptly, the strange voice
took up its old refrain.
"Attention. Attention."
Attention to Molly, attention to Maud and his mother, attention to Babs.
And suddenly another memory emerged from the fog of vagueness and
confusion. Babs's strawberry-pink alcove sheltered another guest, and its
owner's body was shuddering ecstatically under somebody else's caresses.
To the guilt in the stomach was added an anguish about the heart, a
constriction of the throat.
"Attention."
The voice had come nearer, was calling from somewhere over there to
the right. He turned his head, he tried to raise himself for a better view; but
the arm that supported his weight began to tremble, then gave way, and he
fell back into the leaves. Too tired to go on remembering, he lay there for a
long time staring up through half-closed lids at the incomprehensible world
around him. Where was he and how on earth had he got here? Not that this
was of any importance. At the moment nothing was of any importance
except this pain, this annihilating weakness. All the same, just as a matter
of scientific interest. . .
This tree, for example, under which (for no known reason) he found
himself lying, this column of gray bark with the groining, high up, of sun-
speckled branches, this ought by rights to be a beech tree. But in that
case—and Will admired himself for being so lucidly logical—in that case
the leaves had no right to
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Island
be so obviously evergreen. And why would a beech tree send its roots
elbowing up like this above the surface of the ground? And those
preposterous wooden buttresses, on which the pseudo-beech supported
itself—where did those fit into the picture? Will remembered suddenly his
favorite worst line of poetry. "Who prop, thou ask'st, in these bad days my
mind?" Answer: congealed ectoplasm, Early Dali. Which definitely ruled out
the Chilterns. So did the butterflies swooping out there in the thick buttery
sunshine. Why were they so large, so improbably cerulean or velvet black,
so extravagantly eyed and freckled? Purple staring out of chestnut, silver
powdered over emerald, over topaz, over sapphire.
"Attention."
"Who's there?" Will Farnaby called in what he intended to be a loud
and formidable tone; but all that came out of his mouth was a thin,
quavering croak.
There was a long and, it seemed, profoundly menacing silence. From
the hollow between two of the tree's wooden buttresses an enormous black
centipede emerged for a moment into view, then hurried away on its
regiment of crimson legs and vanished into another cleft in the lichen-
covered ectoplasm.
"Who's there?" he croaked again.
There was a rustling in the bushes on his left and suddenly, like a
cuckoo from a nursery clock, out popped a large black bird, the size of a
jackdaw—only, needless to say, it wasn't a jackdaw. It clapped a pair of
white-tipped wings and, darting across the intervening space, settled on the
lowest branch of a small dead tree, not twenty feet from where Will was
lying. Its beak, he noticed, was orange, and it had a bald yellow patch
under each eye, with canary-colored wattles that covered the sides and
back of its head with a thick wig of naked flesh. The bird cocked its head
and looked at him first with the right eye, then with the left. After which it
opened its orange bill, whistled ten or twelve
7
notes of a little air in the pentatonic scale, made a noise like somebody
having hiccups, and then, in a chanting phrase, do do sol do, said, "Here
and now, boys; here and now, boys."
The words pressed a trigger, and all of a sudden he remembered
everything. Here was Pala, the forbidden island, the place no journalist had
ever visited. And now must be the morning after the afternoon when he'd
been fool enough to go sailing, alone, outside the harbor of Rendang-Lobo.
He remembered it all—the white sail curved by the wind into the likeness of
a huge magnolia petal, the water sizzling at the prow, the sparkle of
diamonds on every wave crest, the troughs of wrinkled jade. And
eastwards, across the Strait, what clouds, what prodigies of sculptured
whiteness above the volcanoes of Pala! Sitting there at the tiller, he had
caught himself singing—caught himself, incredibly, in the act of feeling
unequivocally happy.
" 'Three, three for the rivals,' " he had declaimed into the wind.
" 'Two, two for the lily-white boys, clothed all in green-oh; One is one
and all alone . . . ' "
Yes, all alone. All alone on the enormous jewel of the sea. " 'And ever
more shall be so.' "
After which, needless to say, the thing that all the cautious and
experienced yachtsmen had warned him against happened. The black
squall out of nowhere, the sudden, senseless frenzy of wind and rain and
waves . . .
"Here and now, boys," chanted the bird. "Here and now, boys."
The really extraordinary thing was that he should be here, he reflected,
under the trees and not out there, at the bottom of the Pala Strait or, worse,
smashed to pieces at the foot of the cliffs. For even after he had managed,
by sheer miracle, to take his sinking boat through the breakers and run her
aground on the only sandy beach in all those miles of Pala's rockbound
coast—
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Island
even then it wasn't over. The cliffs towered above him; but at the head of
the cove there was a kind of headlong ravine where a little stream came
down in a succession of filmy waterfalls, and there were trees and bushes
growing between the walls of gray limestone. Six or seven hundred feet of
rock climbing—in tennis shoes, and all the footholes slippery with water.
And then, dear God! those snakes. The black one looped over the branch
by which he was pulling himself up. And five minutes later, the huge green
one coiled there on the ledge, just where he was preparing to step. Terror
had been succeeded by a terror infinitely worse. The sight of the snake had
made him start, made him violently withdraw his foot, and that sudden
unconsidered movement had made him lose his balance. For a long
sickening second, in the dreadful knowledge that this was the end, he had
swayed on the brink, then fallen. Death, death, death. And then, with the
noise of splintering wood in his ears he had found himself clinging to the
branches of a small tree, his face scratched, his right knee bruised and
bleeding, but alive. Painfully he had resumed his climbing. His knee hurt
him excruciatingly; but he climbed on. There was no alternative. And then
the light had begun to fail. In the end he was climbing almost in darkness,
climbing by faith, climbing by sheer despair.
"Here and now, boys," shouted the bird.
But Will Farnaby was neither here nor now. He was there on the rock
face, he was then at the dreadful moment of falling. The dry leaves rustled
beneath him; he was trembling. Violently, uncontrollably, he was trembling
from head to foot.
9
Suddenly the bird ceased to be articulate and started to scream. A
small shrill human voice said, "Mynah!" and then added something in a
language that Will did not understand. There was a sound of footsteps on
dry leaves. Then a little cry of alarm. Then silence. Will opened his eyes
and saw two exquisite children looking down at him, their eyes wide with
astonishment and a fascinated horror. The smaller of them was a tiny boy
of five, perhaps, or six, dressed only in a green loincloth. Beside him,
carrying a basket of fruit on her head, stood a little girl some four or five
years older. She wore a full crimson skirt that reached almost to her ankles;
but above the waist she was naked. In the sunlight her skin glowed like
pale copper flushed with rose. Will looked from one child to the other. How
beautiful they were, and how faultless, how extraordinarily elegant! Like two
little thoroughbreds. A round and sturdy thoroughbred, with a face like a
cherub's—that was the boy. And the girl was another kind of thoroughbred,
fine-drawn, with a rather long, grave little face framed between braids of
dark hair.
There was another burst of screaming. On its perch in the dead tree
the bird was turning nervously this way and that; then,
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Island
with a final screech, it dived into the air. Without taking her eyes from Will's
face, the girl held out her hand invitingly. The bird fluttered, settled, flapped
wildly, found its balance, then folded its wings and immediately started to
hiccup. Will looked on without surprise. Anything was possible now—
anything. Even talking birds that would perch on a child's finger. Will tried to
smile at them; but his lips were still trembling, and what was meant to be a
sign of friendliness must have seemed like a frightening grimace. The little
boy took cover behind his sister.
The bird stopped hiccuping and began to repeat a word that Will did
not understand. "Runa"—was that it? No, "karuna," Definitely "karuna."
He raised a trembling hand and pointed at the fruit in the round basket.
Mangoes, bananas . . . His dry mouth was watering.
"Hungry," he said. Then, feeling that in these exotic circumstances the
child might understand him better if he put on an imitation of a musical-
comedy Chinaman, "Me velly hungry," he elaborated.
"Do you want to eat?" the child asked in perfect English.
"Yes—eat," he repeated, "eat."
"Fly away, mynah!" She shook her hand. The bird uttered a protesting
squawk and returned to its perch on the dead tree. Lifting her thin little
arms in a gesture that was like a dancer's, the child raised the basket from
her head, then lowered it to the ground. She selected a banana, peeled it
and, torn between fear and compassion, advanced towards the stranger. In
his incomprehensible language the little boy uttered a cry of warning and
clutched at her skirt. With a reassuring word, the girl halted, well out of
danger, and held up the fruit.
"Do you want it?" she asked.
Still trembling, Will Farnaby stretched out his hand. Very cautiously,
she edged forward, then halted again and, crouching down, peered at him
intently.
11
"Quick," he said in an agony of impatience.
But the little girl was taking no chances. Eyeing his hand for the least
sign of a suspicious movement, she leaned forward, she cautiously
extended her arm.
"For God's sake," he implored.
"God?" the child repeated with sudden interest. "Which god?" she
asked. "There are such a lot of them."
"Any damned god you like," he answered impatiently.
"I don't really like any of them," she answered. "I like the
Compassionate One."
"Then be compassionate to me," he begged. "Give me that banana."
Her expression changed. "I'm sorry," she said apologetically. Rising to
her full height, she took a quick step forward and dropped the fruit into his
shaking hand.
"There," she said and, like a little animal avoiding a trap, she jumped
back, out of reach.
The small boy clapped his hands and laughed aloud. She turned and
said something to him. He nodded his round head, and saying "Okay,
boss," trotted away, through a barrage of blue and sulphur butterflies, into
the forest shadows on the further side of the glade.
"I told Tom Krishna to go and fetch someone," she explained.
Will finished his banana and asked for another, and then for a third. As
the urgency of his hunger diminished, he felt a need to satisfy his curiosity.
"How is it that you speak such good English?" he asked.
"Because everybody speaks English," the child answered.
"Everybody?"
"I mean, when they're not speaking Palanese." Finding the subject
uninteresting, she turned, waved a small brown hand and whistled.
"Here and now, boys," the bird repeated yet once more, then
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Island
fluttered down from its perch on the dead tree and settled on her shoulder.
The child peeled another banana, gave two-thirds of it to Will and offered
what remained to the mynah.
"Is that your bird?" Will asked.
She shook her head.
"Mynahs are like the electric light," she said. "They don't belong to
anybody."
"Why does he say those things?"
"Because somebody taught him," she answered patiently. What an
ass! her tone seemed to imply.
"But why did they teach him those things? Why 'Attention'? Why 'Here
and now'?"
"Well ..." She searched for the right words in which to explain the self-
evident to this strange imbecile. "That's what you always forget, isn't it? I
mean, you forget to pay attention to what's happening. And that's the same
as not being here and now."
"And the mynahs fly about reminding you—is that it?"
She nodded. That, of course, was it. There was a silence.
"What's your name?" she inquired.
Will introduced himself.
"My name's Mary Sarojini MacPhail."
"MacPhail?" It was too implausible.
"MacPhail," she assured him.
"And your little brother is called Tom Krishna?" She nodded. "Well, I'm
damned!"
"Did you come to Pala by the airplane?"
"I came out of the sea."
"Out of the sea? Do you have a boat?"
"I did have one." With his mind's eye Will saw the waves breaking over
the stranded hulk, heard with his inner ear the crash of their impact. Under
her questioning he told her what had happened. The storm, the beaching of
the boat, the long
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nightmare of the climb, the snakes, the horror of falling . . . He began to
tremble again, more violently than ever.
Mary Sarojini listened attentively and without comment. Then, as his
voice faltered and finally broke, she stepped forward and, the bird still
perched on her shoulder, kneeled down beside him.
"Listen, Will," she said, laying a hand on his forehead. "We've got to
get rid of this." Her tone was professional and calmly authoritative.
"I wish I knew how," he said between chattering teeth.
"How?" she repeated. "But in the usual way, of course. Tell me again
about those snakes and how you fell down."
He shook his head. "I don't want to."
"Of course you don't want to," she said. "But you've got to. Listen to
what the mynah's saying."
"Here and now, boys," the bird was still exhorting. "Here and now,
boys."
"You can't be here and now," she went on, "until you've got rid of those
snakes. Tell me."
"I don't want to, I don't want to." He was almost in tears.
"Then you'll never get rid of them. They'll be crawling about inside your
head forever. And serve you right," Mary Sarojini added severely.
He tried to control the trembling; but his body had ceased to belong to
him. Someone else was in charge, someone malevolently determined to
humiliate him, to make him suffer.
"Remember what happened when you were a little boy," Mary Sarojini
was saying. "What did your mother do when you hurt yourself?"
She had taken him in her arms, had said, "My poor baby, my poor little
baby."
"She did that?" The child spoke in a tone of shocked amazement. "But
that's awful! That's the way to rub it in. 'My poor
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Island
15
baby,' " she repeated derisively, "it must have gone on hurting for hours.
And you'd never forget it."
Will Farnaby made no comment, but lay there in silence, shaken by
irrepressible shudderings.
"Well, if you won't do it yourself, I'll have to do it for you. Listen, Will:
there was a snake, a big green snake, and you almost stepped on him. You
almost stepped on him, and it gave you such a fright that you lost your
balance, you fell. Now say it yourself—say it!"
"I almost stepped on him," he whispered obediently. "And then I ..." He
couldn't say it. "Then I fell," he brought out at last, almost inaudibly.
All the horror of it came back to him—the nausea of fear, the panic
start that had made him lose his balance, and then worse fear and the
ghastly certainty that it was the end.
"Say it again."
"I almost stepped on him. And then ..."
He heard himself whimpering.
"That's right, Will. Cry—cry!"
The whimpering became a moaning. Ashamed, he clenched his teeth,
and the moaning stopped.
"No, don't do that," she cried. "Let it come out if it wants to. Remember
that snake, Will. Remember how you fell."
The moaning broke out again and he began to shudder more violently
than ever.
"Now tell me what happened."
"I could see its eyes, I could see its tongue going in and out."
"Yes, you could see his tongue. And what happened then?"
"I lost my balance, I fell."
"Say it again, Will." He was sobbing now. "Say it again," she insisted.
"I fell."
"Again."
It was tearing him to pieces, but he said it. "I fell."
"Again, Will." She was implacable. "Again."
"I fell, I fell. I fell . . ."
Gradually the sobbing died down. The words came more easily and
the memories they aroused were less painful.
"I fell," he repeated for the hundredth time.
"But you didn't fall very far," Mary Sarojini now said.
"No, I didn't fall very far," he agreed.
"So what's all the fuss about?" the child inquired.
There was no malice or irony in her tone, not the slightest implication
of blame. She was just asking a simple, straightforward question that called
for a simple, straightforward answer. Yes, what was all the fuss about? The
snake hadn't bitten him; he hadn't broken his neck. And anyhow it had all
happened yesterday. Today there were these butterflies, this bird that
called one to attention, this strange child who talked to one like a Dutch
uncle, looked like an angel out of some unfamiliar mythology and within five
degrees of the equator was called, believe it or not, MacPhail. Will Farnaby
laughed aloud.
The little girl clapped her hands and laughed too. A moment later the
bird on her shoulder joined in with peal upon peal of loud demonic laughter
that filled the glade and echoed among the trees, so that the whole
universe seemed to be fairly splitting its sides over the enormous joke of
existence.
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Island
"Well, I'm glad it's all so amusing," a deep voice suddenly commented.
Will Farnaby turned and saw, smiling down at him, a small spare man
dressed in European clothes and carrying a black bag. A man, he judged,
in his late fifties. Under the wide straw hat the hair was thick and white, and
what a strange beaky nose! And the eyes—how incongruously blue in the
dark face!
"Grandfather!" he heard Mary Sarojini exclaiming.
The stranger turned from Will to the child.
"What was so funny?" he asked.
"Well," Mary Sarojini began, and paused for a moment to marshal her
thoughts. "Well, you see, he was in a boat and there was that storm
yesterday and he got wrecked—somewhere down there. So he had to
climb up the cliff. And there were some snakes, and he fell down. But
luckily there was a tree, so he only had a fright. Which was why he was
shivering so hard, so I gave him some bananas and I made him go through
it a million times. And then all of a sudden he saw that it wasn't anything to
worry about. I mean, it's all over and done with. And that made him
17
laugh. And when he laughed, I laughed. And then the mynah bird laughed."
"Very good," said her grandfather approvingly. "And now," he added,
turning back to Will Farnaby, "after the psychological first aid, let's see what
can be done for poor old Brother Ass. I'm Dr. Robert MacPhail, by the way.
Who are you?"
"His name's Will," said Mary Sarojini before the young man could
answer. "And his other name is Far-something."
"Farnaby, to be precise. William Asquith Farnaby. My father, as you
might guess, was an ardent Liberal. Even when he was drunk. Especially
when he was drunk." He gave vent to a harsh derisive laugh strangely
unlike the full-throated merriment which had greeted his discovery that
there was really nothing to make a fuss about.
"Didn't you like your father?" Mary Sarojini asked with concern.
"Not as much as I might have," Will answered.
"What he means," Dr. MacPhail explained to the child, "is that he
hated his father. A lot of them do," he added parenthetically.
Squatting down on his haunches, he began to undo the straps of his
black bag.
"One of our ex-imperialists, I assume," he said over his shoulder to the
young man.
"Born in Bloomsbury," Will confirmed.
"Upper class," the doctor diagnosed, "but not a member of the military
or county subspecies."
"Correct. My father was a barrister and political journalist. That is,
when he wasn't too busy being an alcoholic. My mother, incredible as it
may seem, was the daughter of an archdeacon. An archdeacon,'" he
repeated, and laughed again as he had laughed over his father's taste for
brandy.
Dr. MacPhail looked at him for a moment, then turned his attention
once more to the straps.
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Island
"When you laugh like that," he remarked in a tone of scientific
detachment, "your face becomes curiously ugly."
Taken aback, Will tried to cover his embarrassment with a piece of
facetiousness. "It's always ugly," he said.
"On the contrary, in a Baudelairean sort of way it's rather beautiful.
Except when you choose to make noises like a hyena. Why do you make
those noises?"
"I'm a journalist," Will explained. "Our Special Correspondent, paid to
travel about the world and report on the current horrors. What other kind of
noise do you expect me to make? Coo-coo? Blah-blah? Marx-Marx?" He
laughed again, then brought out one of his well-tried witticisms. "I'm the
man who won't take yes for an answer."
"Pretty," said Dr. MacPhail. "Very pretty. But now let's get down to
business." Taking a pair of scissors out of his bag, he started to cut away
the torn and bloodstained trouser leg that covered Will's injured knee.
Will Farnaby looked up at him and wondered, as he looked, how much
of this improbable Highlander was still Scottish and how much Palanese.
About the blue eyes and the jutting nose there could be no doubt. But the
brown skin, the delicate hands, the grace of movement—these surely came
from somewhere considerably south of the Tweed.
"Were you born here?" he asked.
The doctor nodded affirmatively. "At Shivapuram, on the day of Queen
Victoria's funeral."
There was a final click of the scissors, and the trouser leg fell away,
exposing the knee. "Messy," was Dr. MacPhail's verdict after a first intent
scrutiny. "But I don't think there's anything too serious." He turned to his
granddaughter. "I'd like you to run back to the station and ask Vijaya to
come here with one of the other men. Tell them to pick up a stretcher at the
infirmary."
Mary Sarojini nodded and, without a word, rose to her feet and hurried
away across the glade.
19
Will looked after the small figure as it receded—the red skirt swinging
from side to side, the smooth skin of the torso glowing rosily golden in the
sunlight.
"You have a very remarkable granddaughter," he said to Dr. MacPhail.
"Mary Sarojini's father," said the doctor after a little silence, "was my
eldest son. He died four months ago—a mountain-climbing accident."
Will mumbled his sympathy, and there was another silence.
Dr. MacPhail uncorked a bottle of alcohol and swabbed his hands.
"This is going to hurt a bit," he warned. "I'd suggest that you listen to
that bird." He waved a hand in the direction of the dead tree, to which, after
Mary Sarojini's departure, the mynah had returned.
"Listen to him closely, listen discriminatingly. It'll keep your mind off the
discomfort."
Will Farnaby listened. The mynah had gone back to its first theme.
"Attention," the articulate oboe was calling. "Attention."
"Attention to what?" he asked, in the hope of eliciting a more
enlightening answer than the one he had received from Mary Sarojini.
"To attention," said Dr. MacPhail.
"Attention to attention?"
"Of course."
"Attention," the mynah chanted in ironical confirmation.
"Do you have many of these talking birds?"
"There must be at least a thousand of them flying about the island. It
was the Old Raja's idea. He thought it would do people good. Maybe it
does, though it seems rather unfair to the poor mynahs. Fortunately,
however, birds don't understand pep talks. Not even St. Francis'. Just
imagine," he went on, "preaching sermons to perfectly good thrushes and
goldfinches and
20
Island
chiff-chaffs! What presumption! Why couldn't he have kept his mouth shut
and let the birds preach to him? And now," he added in another tone,
"you'd better start listening to our friend in the tree. I'm going to clean this
thing up."
"Attention."
"Here goes."
The young man winced and bit his lip.
"Attention. Attention. Attention."
Yes, it was quite true. If you listened intently enough, the pain wasn't
so bad.
"Attention. Attention ..."
"How you ever contrived to get up that cliff," said Dr. MacPhail, as he
reached for the bandage, "I cannot conceive."
Will managed to laugh. "Remember the beginning of Erewhon" he
said. " 'As luck would have it, Providence was on my side.' "
From the further side of the glade came the sound of voices. Will
turned his head and saw Mary Sarojini emerging from between the trees,
her red skirt swinging as she skipped along. Behind her, naked to the waist
and carrying over his shoulder the bamboo poles and rolled-up canvas of a
light stretcher, walked a huge bronze statue of a man, and behind the giant
came a slender, dark-skinned adolescent in white shorts.
"This is Vijaya Bhattacharya," said Dr. MacPhail as the bronze statue
approached. "Vijaya is my assistant."
"In the hospital?"
Dr. MacPhail shook his head. "Except in emergencies," he said, "I
don't practice any more. Vijaya and I work together at the Agricultural
Experimental Station. And Murugan Mailen-dra" (he waved his hand in the
direction of the dark-skinned boy) "is with us temporarily, studying soil
science and plant breeding."
Vijaya stepped aside and, laying a large hand on his companion's
shoulder, pushed him forward. Looking up into that beau-
21
tiful, sulky young face, Will suddenly recognized, with a start of surprise,
the elegantly tailored youth he had met, five days before, at Rendang-Lobo,
had driven with in Colonel Dipa's white Mercedes all over the island. He
smiled, he opened his mouth to speak, then checked himself. Almost
imperceptibly but quite unmistakenly, the boy had shaken his head. In his
eyes Will saw an expression of anguished pleading. His lips moved
soundlessly. "Please," he seemed to be saying, "please ..." Will readjusted
his face.
"How do you do, Mr. Mailendra," he said in a tone of casual formality.
Murugan looked enormously relieved. "How do you do," he said, and
made a little bow.
Will looked round to see if the others had noticed what had happened.
Mary Sarojini and Vijaya, he saw, were busy with tli£ stretcher and the
doctor was repacking his black bag. The little comedy had been played
without an audience. Young Murugan evidently had his reasons for not
wanting it to be known that he had been in Rendang. Boys will be boys.
Boys will even be girls. Colonel Dipa had been more than fatherly towards
his young protege, and towards the Colonel, Murugan had been a good
deal more than filial—he had been positively adoring. Was it merely hero
worship, merely a schoolboy's admiration for the strong man who had
carried out a successful revolution, liquidated the opposition, and installed
himself as dictator? Or were other feelings involved? Was Murugan playing
Antinous to this black-mustached Hadrian? Well, if that was how he felt
about middle-aged military gangsters, that was his privilege. And if the
gangster liked pretty boys, that was his. And perhaps, Will went on to
reflect, that was why Colonel Dipa had refrained from making a formal
introduction. "This is Muru" was all he had said when the boy was ushered
into the presidential office. "My young friend Muru," and he had risen, had
put his arm around the boy's shoulders, had led him to the sofa and sat
down beside
22
Island
him. "May I drive the Mercedes?" Murugan had asked. The dictator had
smiled indulgently and nodded his sleek black head. And that was another
reason for thinking that more than mere friendliness was involved in that
curious relationship. At the wheel of the Colonel's sports car Murugan was
a maniac. Only an infatuated lover would have entrusted himself, not to
mention his guest, to such a chauffeur. On the flat between Rendang-Lobo
and the oil fields the speedometer had twice touched a hundred and ten;
and worse, much worse, was to follow on the mountain road from the oil
fields to the copper mines. Chasms yawned, tires screeched round corners,
water buffaloes emerged from bamboo thickets a few feet ahead of the car,
ten-ton lorries came roaring down on the wrong side of the road. "Aren't
you a little nervous?" Will had ventured to ask. But the gangster was pious
as well as infatuated. "If one knows that one is doing the will of Allah—and I
do know it, Mr. Farnaby—there is no excuse for nervousness. In those
circumstances, nervousness would be blasphemy." And as Murugan
swerved to avoid yet another buffalo, he opened his gold cigarette case
and offered Will a Balkan Sobranje.
"Ready," Vijaya called.
Will turned his head and saw the stretcher lying on the ground beside
him.
"Good!" said Dr. MacPhail. "Let's lift him onto it. Carefully. Carefully ..."
A minute later the little procession was winding its way up the narrow
path between the trees. Mary Sarojini was in the van, her grandfather
brought up the rear and, between them, came Murugan and Vijaya at either
end of the stretcher.
From his moving bed Will Farnaby looked up through the green
darkness as though from the floor of a living sea. Far overhead, near the
surface, there was a rustling among the leaves, a noise of monkeys. And
now it was a dozen hornbills hopping,
23
like the figments of a disordered imagination, through a cloud of orchids.
"Are you comfortable?" Vijaya asked, bending solicitously to look into
his face.
Will smiled back at him.
"Luxuriously comfortable," he said.
"It isn't far," the other went on reassuringly. "We'll be there in a few
minutes."
"Where's 'there'?"
"The Experimental Station. It's like Rothamsted. Did you ever go to
Rothamsted when you were in England?"
Will had heard of it, of course, but never seen the place.
"It's been going for more than a hundred years," Vijaya went on.
"A hundred and eighteen, to be precise," said Dr. MacPhail. "Lawes
and Gilbert started their work on fertilizers in 1843. One of their pupils
came out here in the early fifties to help my grandfather get our station
going. Rothamsted in the tropics— that was the idea. In the tropics and for
the tropics."
There was a lightening of the green gloom and a moment later the litter
emerged from the forest into the full glare of tropical sunshine. Will raised
his head and looked about him. They were not far from the floor of an
immense amphitheater. Five hundred feet below stretched a wide plain,
checkered with fields, dotted with clumps of trees and clustered houses. In
the other direction the slopes climbed up and up, thousands of feet towards
a semicircle of mountains. Terrace above green or golden terrace, from the
plain to the crenelated wall of peaks, the rice paddies followed the contour
lines, emphasizing every swell and recession of the slope with what
seemed a deliberate and artful intention. Nature here was no longer merely
natural; the landscape had been composed, had been reduced to its
geometrical essences, and rendered, by what in a painter would have
24
Island
been a miracle of virtuosity, in terms of these sinuous lines, these streaks
of pure bright color.
"What were you doing in Rendang?" Dr. Robert asked, breaking a long
silence.
"Collecting materials for a piece on the new regime." "I wouldn't have
thought the Colonel was newsworthy." "You're mistaken. He's a military
dictator. That means there's death in the offing. And death is always news.
Even the remote smell of death is news." He laughed. "That's why I was
told to drop in on my way back from China."
And there had been other reasons which he preferred not to mention.
Newspapers were only one of Lord Aldehyde's interests. In another
manifestation he was the Southeast Asia Petroleum Company, he was
Imperial and Foreign Copper Limited. Officially, Will had come to Rendang
to sniff the death in its militarized air; but he had also been commissioned
to find out what the dictator felt about foreign capital, what tax rebates he
was prepared to offer, what guarantees against nationalization. And how
much of the profits would be exportable? How many native technicians and
administrators would have to be employed? A whole battery of questions.
But Colonel Dipa had been most affable and co-operative. Hence that hair-
raising drive, with Murugan at the wheel, to the copper mines. "Primitive,
my dear Farnaby, primitive. Urgently in need, as you can see for yourself,
of modern equipment." Another meeting had been arranged— arranged,
Will now remembered, for this very morning. He visualized the Colonel at
his desk. A report from the chief of police. "Mr. Farnaby was last seen
sailing a small boat singlehanded into the Pala Strait. Two hours later a
storm of great violence . . . Presumed dead ..." Instead of which, here he
was, alive and kicking, on the forbidden island.
"They'll never give you a visa," Joe Aldehyde had said at their last
interview. "But perhaps you could sneak ashore in disguise. Wear a
burnous or something, like Lawrence of Arabia."
25
With a straight face, "I'll try," Will had promised.
"Anyhow, if you ever do manage to land in Pala, make a bee-line for
the palace. The Rani—that's their Queen Mother—is an old friend of mine.
Met her for the first time six years ago at Lugano. She was staying there
with old Voegeli, the investment banker. His girl friend is interested in
spiritualism and they staged a seance for me. A trumpet medium, genuine
Direct Voice—only unfortunately it was all in German. Well, after the lights
were turned on, I had a long talk with her."
"With the trumpet?"
"No, no. With the Rani. She's a remarkable woman. You know, the
Crusade of the Spirit."
"Was that her invention?"
"Absolutely. And personally I prefer it to Moral Rearmament. It goes
down better in Asia. We had a long talk about it that evening. And after that
we talked about oil. Pala's full of oil. Southeast Asia Petroleum has been
trying to get in on it for years. So have all the other companies. Nothing
doing. No oil concessions to anyone. It's their fixed policy. But the Rani
doesn't agree with it. She wants to see the oil doing some good in the
world. Financing the Crusade of the Spirit, for example. So, as I say, if ever
you get to Pala, make a beeline for the palace. Talk to her. Get the inside
story about the men who make the decisions. Find out if there's a pro-oil
minority and ask how we could help them to carry on the good work." And
he had ended by promising Will a handsome bonus if his efforts should be
crowned with success. Enough to give him a full year of freedom. "No more
reporting. Nothing but High Art, Art, A-ART." And he had uttered a
scatalogical laugh as though the word had an s at the end of it and not a t.
Unspeakable creature! But all the same he wrote for the unspeakable
creature's vile papers and was ready, for a bribe, to do the vile creature's
dirty work. And now, incredibly, here he was on Palanese soil. As luck
would have it, Providence had been on his side—for the express
26
Island
purpose, evidently, of perpetrating one of those sinister practical jokes
which are Providence's specialty.
He was called back to present reality by the sound of Mary Sarojini's
shrill voice. "Here we are!"
Will raised his head again. The little procession had turned off the
highway and was passing through an opening in a white stuccoed wall. To
the left, on a rising succession of terraces, stood lines of low buildings
shaped by peepul trees. Straight ahead an avenue of tall palms sloped
down to a lotus pool, on the further side of which sat a huge stone Buddha.
Turning to the left, they climbed between flowering trees and through
blending perfumes to the first terrace. Behind a fence, motionless except
for his ruminating jaws, stood a snow-white humped bull, godlike in his
serene and mindless beauty. Europa's lover receded into the past, and
here were a brace of Juno's birds trailing their feathers over the grass.
Mary Sarojini unlatched the gate of a small garden.
"My bungalow," said Dr. MacPhail, and turning to Muru-gan, "Let me
help you to negotiate the steps."
27
Tom Krishna and Mary Sarojini had gone to take their siesta with the
gardener's children next door. In her darkened living room Susila MacPhail
sat alone with her memories of past happiness and the present pain of her
bereavement. The clock in the kitchen struck the half hour. It was time for
her to go. With a sigh she rose, put on her sandals and walked out into the
tremendous glare of the tropical afternoon. She looked up at the sky. Over
the volcanoes enormous clouds were climbing towards the zenith. In an
hour it would be raining. Moving from one pool of shadow to the next, she
made her way along the tree-lined path. With a sudden rattle of quills a
flock of pigeons broke out of one of the towering peepul trees. Green-
winged and coral-billed, their breasts changing color in the light like mother-
of-pearl, they flew off towards the forest. How beautiful they were, how
unutterably lovely! Susila was on the point of turning to catch the
expression of delight on Dugald's upturned face; then, checking herself,
she looked down at the ground. There was no Dugald any more; there was
only this pain, like the pain of the phantom limb that goes on haunting the
imagination,
28
Island
haunting even the perceptions of those who have undergone an
amputation. "Amputation," she whispered to herself, "amputation ..."
Feeling her eyes fill with tears, she broke off. Amputation was no excuse
for self-pity and, for all that Dugald was dead, the birds were as beautiful as
ever and her children, all the other children-, had as much need to be loved
and helped and taught. If his absence was so constantly present, that was
to remind her that henceforward she must love for two, live for two, take
thought for two, must perceive and understand not merely with her own
eyes and mind but with the mind and eyes that had been his and, before
the catastrophe, hers too in a communion of delight and intelligence.
But here was the doctor's bungalow. She mounted the steps, crossed
the veranda and walked into the living room. Her father-in-law was seated
near the window, sipping cold tea from an earthenware mug and reading
the Revue tie Mycologie. He looked up as she approached, and gave her a
welcoming
smile.
"Susila, my dear! I'm so glad you were able to come."
She bent down and kissed his stubbly cheek.
"What's all this I hear from Mary Sarojini?" she asked. "Is it true she
found a castaway?"
"From England—but via China, Rendang, and a shipwreck. A
journalist."
"What's he like?"
"The physique of a Messiah. But too clever to believe in God or be
convinced of his own mission. And too sensitive, even if he were
convinced, to carry it out. His muscles would like to act and his feelings
would like to believe; but his nerve endings and his cleverness won't allow
it."
"So I suppose he's very unhappy."
"So unhappy that he has to laugh like a hyena."
"Does he know he laughs like a hyena?"
29
"Knows and is rather proud of it. Even makes epigrams about it. 'I'm
the man who won't take yes for an answer.' "
"Is he badly hurt?" she asked.
"Not badly. But he's running a temperature. I've started him on
antibiotics. Now it's up to you to raise his resistance and give the vis
medicatrix naturae a chance."
"I'll do my best." Then, after a silence, "I went to see Lak-shmi," she
said, "on my way back from school."
"How did you find her?"
"About the same. No, perhaps a little weaker than yesterday/'
"That's what I felt when I saw her this morning."
"Luckily the pain doesn't seem to get any worse. We can still handle it
psychologically. And today we worked on the nausea. She was able to
drink something. I don't think there'll be any more need for intravenous
fluids."
"Thank goodness!" he said. "Those IV's were a torture. Such
enormous courage in the face of every real danger; but whenever it was a
question of a hypodermic or a needle in a vein, the most abject and
irrational terror."
He thought of the time, in the early days of their marriage, when he
had lost his temper and called her a coward for making such a fuss.
Lakshmi had cried and, having submitted to her martyrdom, had heaped
coals of fire upon his head by begging to be forgiven. "Lakshmi, Lakshmi . .
." And now in a few days she would be dead. After thirty-seven years.
"What did you talk about?" he asked aloud.
"Nothing in particular," Susila answered. But the truth was that they
had talked about Dugald and that she couldn't bring herself to repeat what
had passed between them. "My first baby," the dying woman had
whispered. "I didn't know that babies could be so beautiful." In their skull-
deep, skull-dark sockets the eyes had brightened, the bloodless lips had
smiled. "Such tiny, tiny hands," the faint hoarse voice went on, "such a
30
Island
greedy little mouth!" And an almost fleshless hand tremblingly touched the
place where, before last year's operation, her breast had been. "I never
knew," she repeated. And, before the event, how could she have known? It
had been a revelation, an apocalypse of touch and love. "Do you know
what I mean?" And Susila had nodded. Of course she knew—had known it
in relation to her own two children, known it, in those other apocalypses of
touch and love, with the man that little Dugald of the tiny hands and greedy
mouth had grown into. "I used to be afraid for him," the dying woman had
whispered. "He was so strong, such a tyrant, he could have hurt and bullied
and destroyed. If he'd married another woman . . . I'm so thankful it was
you!" From the place where the breast had been the fleshless hand moved
out and came to rest on Susila's arm. She had bent her head and kissed it.
They were both crying.
Dr. MacPhail sighed, looked up and, like a man who has climbed out of
the water, gave himself a little shake. "The castaway's name is Farnaby,"
he said. "Will Farnaby."
"Will Farnaby," Susila repeated. "Well, I'd better go and see what I can
do for him." She turned and walked away.
Dr. MacPhail looked after her, then leaned back in his chair and closed
his eyes. He thought of his son, he thought of his wife—of Lakshmi slowly
wasting to extinction, of Dugald like a bright fiery flame suddenly snuffed
out. Thought of the incomprehensible sequence of changes and chances
that make up a life, all the beauties and horrors and absurdities whose
conjunctions create the uninterpretable and yet divinely significant pattern
of human destiny. "Poor girl," he said to himself, remembering the look on
Susila's face when he had told her of what had happened to Dugald, "poor
girl!" Meanwhile there was this article on Hallucinogenic mushrooms in the
Revue de Mycologie. That was another of the irrelevancies that somehow
took its place in the pattern. The words of one of the old Raja's queer little
poems came to his mind.
31
All things, to all things perfectly indifferent, perfectly work together in
discord for a Good beyond good, for a Being more timeless in transience,
more eternal in its dwindling than God there in heaven.
The door creaked, and an instant later Will heard light footsteps and
the rustle of skirts. Then a hand was laid on his shoulder and a woman's
voice, low-pitched and musical, asked him how he was feeling.
"I'm feeling miserable," he answered without opening his eyes.
There was no self-pity in his tone, no appeal for sympathy— only the
angry matter-of-factness of a Stoic who has finally grown sick of the long
farce of impassibility and is resentfully blurting out the truth.
"I'm feeling miserable."
The hand touched him again. "I'm Susila MacPhail," said the voice
"Mary Sarojini's mother."
Reluctantly Will turned his head and opened his eyes. An adult, darker
version of Mary Sarojini was sitting there beside the bed, smiling at him
with friendly solicitude. To smile back at her would have cost him too great
an effort; he contented himself with saying "How do you do," then pulled
the sheet a little higher and closed his eyes again.
Susila looked down at him in silence—at the bony shoulders, at the cage
of ribs under a skin whose Nordic pallor made him seem, to her Palanese
eyes, so strangely frail and vulnerable, at the sunburnt face, emphatically
featured like a carving intended to be seen at a distance—emphatic and yet
sensitive, the quivering, more than naked face, she found herself thinking,
of a man who has been flayed and left to suffer.
32
Island
"I hear you're from England," she said at last.
"I don't care where I'm from," Will muttered irritably. "Nor where I'm
going. From hell to hell."
"I was in England just after the war," she went on. "As a student."
He tried not to listen; but ears have no lids; there was no escape from
that intruding voice.
"There was a girl in my psychology class," it was saying: "her people
lived at Wells. She asked me to stay with them for the first month of the
summer vacation. Do you know Wells?"
Of course he knew Wells. Why did she pester him with her silly
reminiscences?
"I used to love walking there by the water," Susila went on, "looking
across the moat at the cathedral"—and thinking, while she looked at the
cathedral, of Dugald under the palm trees on the beach, of Dugald giving
her her first lesson in rock climbing. "You're on the rope. You're perfectly
safe. You can't possibly fall ..." Can't possibly fall, she repeated bitterly—
and then remembered here and now, remembered that she had a job to do,
remembered, as she looked again at the flayed emphatic face, that here
was a human being in pain. "How lovely it was," she went on, "and how
marvelously peaceful!"
The voice, it seemed to Will Farnaby, had become more musical and
in some strange way more remote. Perhaps that was why he no longer
resented its intrusion.
"Such an extraordinary sense of peace. Shanti, shanti, shanti. The
peace that passes understanding."
The voice was almost chanting now—chanting, it seemed, out of some
other world.
"I can shut my eyes," it chanted on, "can shut my eyes and see it all so
clearly. Can see the church—and it's enormous, much taller than the huge
trees round the bishop's palace. Can see the green grass and the water
and the golden sunlight on the stones and the slanting shadows between
the buttresses. And lis-
33
ten! I can hear the bells. The bells and the jackdaws. The jackdaws in the
tower—can you hear the jackdaws?"
Yes, he could hear the jackdaws, could hear them almost as clearly as
he now heard those parrots in the trees outside his window. He was here
and at the same time he was there—here in this dark, sweltering room near
the equator, but also there, outdoors in that cool hollow at the edge of the
Mendips, with the jackdaws calling from the cathedral tower and the sound
of the bells dying away into the green silence.
"And there are white clouds," the voice was saying, "and the blue sky
between them is so pale, so delicate, so exquisitely tender."
Tender, he repeated, the tender blue sky of that April weekend he had
spent there, before the disaster of their marriage, with Molly. There were
daisies in the grass and dandelions, and across the water towered up the
huge church, challenging the wildness of those soft April clouds with its
austere geometry. Challenging the wildness, and at the same time
complementing it, coming to terms with it in perfect reconciliation. That was
how it should have been with himself and Molly—how it had been then.
"And the swans," he now heard the voice dreamily chanting, "the
swans ..."
Yes, the swans. White swans moving across a mirror of jade and jet—
a breathing mirror that heaved and trembled, so that their silvery images
were forever breaking and coming together again, disintegrating and being
made whole.
"Like the inventions of heraldry. Romantic, impossibly beautiful. And
yet there they are—real birds in a real place. So near to me now that I can
almost touch them—and yet so far away, thousands of miles away. Far
away on that smooth water, moving as if by magic, softly, majestically ..."
Majestically, moving majestically, with the dark water lifting and parting
as the curved white breasts advanced—lifting, parting, sliding back in
ripples that widened in a gleaming arrowhead
34
Island
behind them. He could see them moving across their dark mirror, could
hear the jackdaws in the tower, could catch, through this nearer mingling of
disinfectants and gardenias, the cold, flat, weedy smell of that Gothic moat
in the faraway green valley.
"Effortlessly floating."
"Effortlessly floating." The words gave him a deep satisfaction.
"I'd sit there," she was saying, "I'd sit there looking and looking, and in
a little while I'd be floating too. I'd be floating with the swans on that smooth
surface between the darkness below and the pale tender sky above.
Floating at the same time on that other surface between here and far away,
between then and now." And between remembered happiness, she was
thinking, and this insistent, excruciating presence of an absence. "Floating,"
she said aloud, "on the surface between the real and the imagined,
between what comes to us from the outside and what comes to us from
within, from deep, deep down in
here."
She laid her hand on his forehead, and suddenly the words
transformed themselves into the things and events for which they stood;
the images turned into facts. He actually was floating.
"Floating," the voice softly insisted. "Floating like a white bird on the
water. Floating on a great river of life—a great smooth silent river that flows
so still, so still, you might almost think it was asleep. A sleeping river. But it
flows irresistibly.
"Life flowing silently and irresistibly into ever fuller life, into a living
peace all the more profound, all the richer and stronger and more complete
because it knows all your pain and unhappi-ness, knows them and takes
them into itself and makes them one with its own substance. And it's into
that peace that you're floating now, floating on this smooth silent river that
sleeps and is yet irresistible, and is irresistible precisely because it's
sleeping. And I'm floating with it." She was speaking for the stranger. She
was speaking on another level for herself. "Effortlessly floating. Not having
to do anything at all. Just letting go, just allowing myself
35
to be carried along, just asking this irresistible sleeping river of life to take
me where it's going—and knowing all the time that where it's going is
where I want to go, where I have to go: into more life, into living peace.
Along the sleeping river, irresistibly, into the wholeness of reconciliation."
Involuntarily, unconsciously, Will Farnaby gave a deep sigh. How silent
the world had become! Silent with a deep crystalline silence, even though
the parrots were still busy out there beyond the shutters, even though the
voice still chanted here beside him! Silence and emptiness and through the
silence and the emptiness flowed the river, sleeping and irresistible.
Susila looked down at the face on the pillow. It seemed suddenly very
young, childlike in its perfect serenity. The frowning lines across the
forehead had disappeared. The lips that had been so tightly closed in pain
were parted now, and the breath came slowly, softly, almost imperceptibly.
She remembered suddenly the words that had come into her mind as she
looked down, one moonlit night, at the transfigured innocence of Dugald's
face: "She giveth her beloved sleep." "Sleep," she said aloud. "Sleep."
The silence seemed to become more absolute, the emptiness more
enormous.
"Asleep on the sleeping river," the voice was saying. "And above the
river, in the pale sky, there are huge white clouds. And as you look at them,
you begin to float up towards them. Yes, you begin to float up towards
them, and the river now is a river in the air, an invisible river that carries
you on, carries you up, higher and higher."
Upwards, upwards through the silent emptiness. The image was the
thing, the words became the experience.
"Out of the hot plain," the voice went on, "effortlessly, into the
freshness of the mountains."
Yes, there was the Jungfrau, dazzlingly white against the blue. There
was Monte Rosa . . .
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"How fresh the air feels as you breathe it. Fresh, pure, charged with
life!"
He breathed deeply and the new life flowed into him. And now a little
wind came blowing across the snowfields, cool against his skin, deliciously
cool. And, as though echoing his thoughts, as though describing his
experience, the voice said, "Coolness. Coolness and sleep. Through
coolness into more life. Through sleep into reconciliation, into wholeness,
into living peace."
Half an hour later Susila re-entered the sitting room.
"Well?" her father-in-law questioned. "Any success?"
She nodded.
"I talked to him about a place in England," she said. "He went off more
quickly than I'd expected. After that I gave him some suggestions about his
temperature ..."
"And the knee, I hope."
"Of course."
"Direct suggestions?"
"No, indirect. They're always better. I got him to be conscious of his
body image. Then I made him imagine it much bigger than in everyday
reality—and the knee much smaller. A miserable little thing in revolt against
a huge and splendid thing. There can't be any doubt as to who's going to
win." She looked at the clock on the wall. "Goodness, I must hurry.
Otherwise I'll be late for my class at school."
37
The sun was just rising as Dr. Robert entered his wife's room at the
hospital. An orange glow, and against it the jagged silhouette of the
mountains. Then suddenly a dazzling sickle of incandescence between two
peaks. The sickle became a half circle and the first long shadows, the first
shafts of golden light crossed the garden outside the window. And when
one looked up again at the mountains there was the whole unbearable
glory of the risen sun.
Dr. Robert sat down by the bed, took his wife's hand and kissed it. She
smiled at him, then turned again towards the window.
"How quickly the earth turns!" she whispered, and then after a silence,
"One of these mornings," she added, "it'll be my last sunrise."
Through the confused chorus of bird cries and insect noises, a mynah
was chanting, "Karuna. Karuna . . ."
"Karuna," Lakshmi repeated. "Compassion . . ."
"Karuna. Karuna," the oboe voice of Buddha insisted from the garden.
38
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"I shan't be needing it much longer," she went on. "But what about
you? Poor Robert, what about you?"
"Somehow or other one finds the necessary strength," he said.
"But will it be the right kind of strength? Or will it be the strength of
armor, the strength of shut-offness, the strength of being absorbed in your
work and your ideas and not caring a damn for anything else? Remember
how I used to come and pull your hair and make you pay attention? Who's
going to do that when I'm gone?"
A nurse came in with a glass of sugared water. Dr. Robert slid a hand
under his wife's shoulders and lifted her to a sitting position. The nurse held
the glass to her lips. Lakshmi drank a little water, swallowed with difficulty,
then drank again and yet once more. Turning from the proffered glass, she
looked up at Dr. Robert. The wasted face was illumined by a strangely
incongruous twinkle of pure mischief.
" 'I the Trinity illustrate,' " the faint voice hoarsely quoted, " 'sipping
watered orange pulp; in three sips the Arian frustrate' . . ." She broke off.
"What a ridiculous thing to be remembering. But then I always was pretty
ridiculous, wasn't I?"
Dr. Robert did his best to smile back at her. "Pretty ridiculous," he
agreed.
"You used to say I was like a flea. Here one moment and then, hop!
somewhere else, miles away. No wonder you could never educate me!"
"But you educated me all right," he assured her. "If it hadn't been for
you coming in and pulling my hair and making me look at the world and
helping me to understand it, what would I be today? A pedant in blinkers—
in spite of all my training. But luckily I had the sense to ask you to marry
me, and luckily you had the folly to say yes and then the wisdom and
intelligence to make a good job of me. After thirty-seven years of adult
education I'm almost human."
39
"But I'm still a flea." She shook her head. "And yet I did try. I tried very
hard. I don't know if you ever realized it, Robert: I was always on tiptoes,
always straining up towards the place where you were doing your work and
your thinking and your reading. On tiptoes, trying to reach it, trying to get up
there beside you. Goodness, how tiring it was! What an endless series of
efforts! And all of them quite useless. Because I was just a dumb flea
hopping about down here among the people and the flowers and the cats
and dogs. Your kind of highbrow world was a place I could never climb up
to, much less find my way in. When this thing happened" (she raised her
hand again to her absent breast) "I didn't have to try any more. No more
school, no more homework. I had a permanent excuse."
There was a long silence.
"What about taking another sip?" said the nurse at last.
"Yes, you ought to drink some more," Dr. Robert agreed.
"And ruin the Trinity?" Lakshmi gave him another of her smiles.
Through the mask of age and mortal sickness Dr. Robert suddenly saw the
laughing girl with whom, half a lifetime ago, and yet only yesterday, he had
fallen in love.
An hour later Dr. Robert was back in his bungalow.
"You're going to be all alone this morning," he announced, after
changing the dressing on Will Farnaby's knee. "I have to drive down to
Shivapuram for a meeting of the Privy Council. One of our student nurses
will come in around twelve to give you your injection and get you something
to eat. And in the afternoon, as soon as she's finished her work at the
school, Susila will be dropping in again. And now I must be going." Dr.
Robert rose and laid his hand for a moment on Will's arm. "Till this
evening." Halfway to the door he halted and turned back. "I almost forgot to
give you this." From one of the side pockets of his sagging jacket he pulled
out a small green booklet. "It's the
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Old Raja's Notes on What's What, and on What It Might be
Reasonable to Do about What's What."
"What an admirable title!" said Will as he took the proffered book.
"And you'll like the contents, too," Dr. Robert assured him. "Just a few
pages, that's all. But if you want to know what Pala is all about, there's no
better introduction."
"Incidentally," Will asked, "who is the Old Raja?"
"Who was he, I'm afraid. The Old Raja died in 'thirty-eight—after a
reign three years longer than Queen Victoria's. His eldest son died before
he did, and he was succeeded by his grandson, who was an ass—but
made up for it by being shortlived. The present Raja is his great-grandson."
'
"And, if I may ask a personal question, how does anybody called
MacPhail come into the picture?"
"The first MacPhail of Pala came into it under the Old Raja's
grandfather—the Raja of the Reform, we call him. Between them, he and
my great-grandfather invented modern Pala. The Old Raja consolidated
their work and carried it further. And today we're doing our best to follow in
his footsteps."
Will held up the Notes on What's What.
"Does this give the history of the reforms?"
Dr. Robert shook his head. "It merely states the underlying principles.
Read about those first. When I get back from Shiva-puram this evening, I'll
give you a taste of the history. You'll have a better understanding of what
was actually done if you start by knowing what had to be done—what
always and everywhere has to be done by anyone who has a clear idea
about what's what. So read it, read it. And don't forget to drink your fruit
juice at eleven."
Will watched him go, then opened the little green book and started to
read.
41
Nobody needs to go anywhere else. We are all, if we only knew it,
already there.
If I only knew who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I
think I am; and if I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know
who I am.
What in fact I am, if only the Manichee I think I am would allow me to
know it, is the reconciliation of yes and no lived out in total acceptance and
the blessed experience of Not-Two.
In religion all words are dirty words. Anybody who gets eloquent about
Buddha, or God, or Christ, ought to have his mouth washed out with
carbolic soap.
Because his aspiration to perpetuate only the "yes" in every pair of
opposites can never, in the nature of things, be realized, the insulated
Manichee I think I am condemns himself to endlessly repeated frustration,
endlessly repeated conflicts with other aspiring and frustrated Manichees.
Conflicts and frustrations—the theme of all history and almost all
biography. "I show you sorrow," said the Buddha realistically. But he also
showed the ending of sorrow—self-knowledge, total acceptance, the
blessed experience of Not-Two.
Knowing who in fact we are results in Good Being, and Good Being
results in the most appropriate kind of good doing. But good doing does not
of itself result in Good Being. We can be virtuous without knowing who in
fact we are. The beings who are merely good are not Good Beings; they
are just pillars of society.
Most pillars are their own Samsons. They hold up, but sooner or later
they pull down. There has never been a society in which most good doing
was the product of Good Being and therefore constantly appropriate. This
does not mean that there will never be such a society or that we in Pala are
fools for trying to call it into existence.
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The Yogin and the Stoic—two righteous egos who achieve their very
considerable results by pretending, systematically, to be somebody else.
But it is not by pretending to be somebody else, even somebody supremely
good and wise, that we can pass from insulated Manichee-hood to Good
Being.
Good Being is knowing who in fact we are; and in order to know who in
fact we are, we must first know, moment by moment, who we think we are
and what this bad habit of thought compels us to feel and do. A moment of
clear and complete knowledge of what we think we are, but in fact are not,
puts a stop, for the moment, to the Manichean charade. If we renew, until
they become a continuity, these moments of the knowledge of what we are
not, we may find ourselves, all of a sudden, knowing who in fact we are.
Concentration, abstract thinking, spiritual exercises-systematic
exclusions in the realm of thought. Asceticism and hedonism—systematic
exclusions in the realms of sensation, feeling and action. But Good Being is
in the knowledge of who in fact one is in relation to all experiences. So be
aware—aware in every context, at all times and whatever, creditable or
discreditable, pleasant or unpleasant, you may be doing or suffering. This
is the only genuine yoga, the only spiritual exercise worth practicing.
The more a man knows about individual objects, the more he
43
knows about God. Translating Spinoza's language into ours, we can say:
The more a man knows about himself in relation to every kind of
experience, the greater his chance of suddenly, one fine morning, realizing
who in fact he is—or rather Who (capital W) in Fact (capital F) "he"
(between quotation marks) Is (capital I).
St. John was right. In a blessedly speechless universe, the Word was
not only with God; it was God. As a something to be believed in. God is a
projected symbol, a reified name. God = "God."
Faith is something very different from belief. Belief is the systematic
taking of unanalyzed words much too seriously. Paul's words,
Mohammed's words, Marx's words, Hitler's words—people take them too
seriously, and what happens? What happens is the senseless ambivalence
of history—sadism versus duty, or (incomparably worse) sadism as duty;
devotion counterbalanced by organized paranoia; sisters of charity
selflessly tending the victims of their own church's inquisitors and
crusaders. Faith, on the contrary, can never be taken too seriously. For
Faith is the empirically justified confidence in our capacity to know who in
fact we are, to forget the belief-intoxicated Manichee in Good Being. Give
us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.
There was a tap at the door. Will looked up from his book.
"Who's there?"
"It's me," said a voice that brought back unpleasant memories of
Colonel Dipa and that nightmarish drive in the white Mercedes. Dressed
only in white sandals, white shorts, and a platinum wrist watch, Murugan
was advancing towards the bed.
"How nice of you to come and see me!"
Another visitor would have asked him how he was feeling; but
Murugan was too wholeheartedly concerned with himself to be able even to
simulate the slightest interest in anyone else. "I
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came to the door three-quarters of an hour ago," he said in tones of
aggrieved complaint. "But the old man hadn't left, so I had to go home
again. And then I had to sit with my mother and the man who's staying with
us while they were having their breakfast..."
"Why couldn't you come in while Dr. Robert was here?" Will asked. "Is
it against the rules for you to talk to me?"
The boy shook his head impatiently. "Of course not. I just didn't want
him to know the reason for my coming to see you."
"The reason?" Will smiled. "Visiting the sick is an act of charity—highly
commendable."
His irony was lost upon Murugan, who went on steadily thinking about
his own affairs. "Thank you for not telling them you'd seen me before," he
said abruptly, almost angrily. It was as though he resented having to
acknowledge his obligation and were furious with Will for having done him
the good turn which demanded this acknowledgment.
"I could see you didn't want me to say anything about it," said Will. "So
of course I didn't."
"I wanted to thank you," Murugan muttered between his teeth and in a
tone that would have been appropriate to "You dirty swine!"
"Don't mention it," said Will with mock politeness.
What a delicious creature! he was thinking as he looked, with amused
curiosity, at that smooth golden torso, that averted face, regular as a
statue's but no longer Olympian, no longer classical—-a Hellenistic face,
mobile and all too human. A vessel of incomparable beauty—but what did it
contain? It was a pity, he reflected, that he hadn't asked that question a
little more seriously before getting involved with his unspeakable Babs. But
then Babs was a female. By the sort of heterosexual he was, the sort of
rational question he was now posing was unaskable. As no doubt it would
be, by anyone susceptible to boys, in regard to this bad-blooded little
demigod sitting at the end of his bed.
45
"Didn't Dr. Robert know you'd gone to Rendang?" he asked.
"Of course he knew. Everybody knew it. I'd gone there to fetch my
mother. She was staying there with some of her relations. I went over to
bring her back to Pala. It was absolutely official."
"Then why didn't you want me to say that I'd met you over there?"
Murugan hesitated for a moment, then looked up at Will defiantly.
"Because I didn't want them to know I'd been seeing Colonel Dipa."
Oh, so that was it! "Colonel Dipa's a remarkable man," he said aloud,
fishing with sugared bait for confidences.
Surprisingly unsuspicious, the fish rose at once. Murugan's sulky face
lit up with enthusiasm and there, suddenly, was Anti-nous in all the
fascinating beauty of his ambiguous adolescence. "I think he's wonderful,"
he said, and for the first time since he had entered the room he seemed to
recognize Will's existence and give him the friendliest of smiles. The
Colonel's wonderful-ness had made him forget his resentment, had made it
possible for him, momentarily, to love everybody—even this man to whom
he owed a rankling debt of gratitude. "Look at what he's doing for
Rendang!"
"He's certainly doing a great deal for Rendang," said Will
noncommittally.
A cloud passed across Murugan's radiant face. "They don't think so
here," he said, frowning. "They think he's awful."
"Who thinks so?"
"Practically everybody!" ;! "So they didn't want you to see him?"
With the expression of an urchin who has cocked a snook while the
teacher's back is turned, Murugan grinned triumphantly. "They thought I
was with my mother all the time."
Will picked up the cue at once. "Did your mother know you were
seeing the Colonel?" he asked.
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"Of course." "And had no objection?" "She was all for it."
And yet, Will felt quite sure, he hadn't been mistaken when he thought
of Hadrian and Antinous. Was the woman blind? Or didn't she wish to see
what was happening?
"But if she doesn't mind," he said aloud, "why should Dr. Robert and
the rest of them object?" Murugan looked at him suspiciously. Realizing
that he had ventured too far into forbidden territory, Will hastily drew a red
herring across the trail. "Do they think," he asked with a laugh, "that he
might convert you to a belief in military dictatorship?"
The red herring was duly followed, and the boy's face relaxed into a
smile. "Not that, exactly," he answered, "but something like it. It's all so
stupid," he added with a shrug of the shoulders. "Just idiotic protocol."
"Protocol?" Will was genuinely puzzled.
"Weren't you told anything about me?"
"Only what Dr. Robert said yesterday."
"You mean, about my being a student?" Murugan threw back his head
and laughed.
"What's so funny about being a student?"
"Nothing—nothing at all." The boy looked away again. There was a
silence. Still averted, "The reason," he said at last, "why I'm not supposed
to see Colonel Dipa is that he's the head of a state and I'm the head of a
state. When we meet, it's international politics."
"What do you mean?"
"I happen to be the Raja of Pala."
"TheRajaofPala?"
"Since 'fifty-four. That was when my father died."
"And your mother, I take it, is the Rani?"
"My mother is the Rani."
Make a beelinefor the palace. But here was the palace making
47
a beeline for him. Providence, evidently, was on the side of Joe Aldehyde
and working overtime.
"Were you the eldest son?" he asked.
"The only son," Murugan replied. And then, stressing his uniqueness
still more emphatically, "The only child,'1'' he added.
"So there's no possible doubt," said Will. "My goodness! I ought to be
calling you Your Majesty. Or at least Sir." The words were spoken
laughingly; but it was with the most perfect seriousness and a sudden
assumption of regal dignity that Murugan responded to them.
"You'll have to call me that at the end of next week," he said. "After my
birthday. I shall be eighteen. That's when a Raja of Pala comes of age. Till
then I'm just Murugan Mailendra. Just a student learning a little bit about
everything—including plant breeding," he added contemptuously—"so that,
when the time comes, I shall know what I'm doing."
"And when the time comes, what will you be doing?" Between this
pretty Antinous and his portentous office there was a contrast which Will
found richly comic. "How do you propose to act?" he continued on a
bantering note. "Off with their heads? L'etat c'est moi?"
Seriousness and regal dignity hardened into rebuke. "Don't be stupid."
Amused, Will went through the motions of apology. "I just wanted to
find out how absolute you were going to be."
"Pala is a constitutional monarchy," Murugan answered gravely.
"In other words, you're just going to be a symbolic figurehead—to
reign, like the Queen of England, but not rule."
Forgetting his regal dignity, "No, no" Murugan almost screamed. "Not
like the Queen of England. The Raja of Pala doesn't just reign; he rules."
Too much agitated to sit still, Murugan jumped up and began to walk about
the room. "He rules constitutionally; but, by God, he rules, he rules!"
Murugan
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49
walked to the window and looked out. Turning back after a moment of
silence, he confronted Will with a face transfigured by its new expression
into an emblem, exquisitely molded and colored, of an all too familiar kind
of psychological ugliness. "I'll show them who's the boss around here," he
said in a phrase and tone which had obviously been borrowed from the
hero of some American gangster movie. "These people think they can push
me around," he went on, reciting from the dismally commonplace script,
"the way they pushed my father around. But they're making a big mistake."
He uttered a sinister snigger and wagged his beautiful, odious head. "A big
mistake," he repeated.
The words had been spoken between clenched teeth and with scarcely
moving lips; the lower jaw had been thrust out so as to look like the jaw of a
comic strip criminal; the eyes glared coldly between narrowed lids. At once
absurd and horrible. Antinous had become the caricature of all the tough
guys in all the B-pictures from time immemorial.
"Who's been running the country during your minority?" he now asked.
"Three sets of old fogeys," Murugan answered contemptuously. "The
Cabinet, the House of Representatives and then, representing me, the
Raja, the Privy Council."
"Poor old fogeys!" said Will. "They'll soon be getting the shock of their
lives." Entering gaily into the spirit of delinquency, he laughed aloud. "I only
hope I'll still be around to see it happening."
Murugan joined in the laughter—joined in it, not as the sin-isterly
mirthful Tough Guy, but with one of those sudden changes of mood and
expression that would make it, Will foresaw, so hard for him to play the
Tough Guy part, as the triumphant urchin of a few minutes earlier. "The
shock of their lives," he repeated happily.
"Have you made any specific plans?"
"I most certainly have," said Murugan. On his mobile face the
triumphant urchin made way for the statesman, grave but condescendingly
affable, at a press conference. "Top priority: get this place modernized.
Look at what Rendang has been able to do because of its oil royalties."
"But doesn't Pala get any oil royalties?" Will questioned with that
innocent air of total ignorance which he had found by long experience to be
the best way of eliciting information from the simpleminded and the self-
important.
"Not a penny," said Murugan. "And yet the southern end of the island
is fairly oozing with the stuff. But except for a few measly little wells for
home consumption, the old fogeys won't do anything about it. And what's
more, they won't allow anyone else to do anything about it." The statesman
was growing angry; there were hints now in his voice and expression of the
Tough Guy. "All sorts of people have made offers—Southeast Asia
Petroleum, Shell, Royal Dutch, Standard of California. But the bloody old
fools won't listen."
"Can't you persuade them to listen?"
"I'll damn well make them listen," said the Tough Guy.
"That's the spirit!" Then, casually, "Which of the offers do you think of
accepting?" he asked.
"Colonel Dipa's working with Standard of California, and he thinks it
might be best if we did the same."
"I wouldn't do that without at least getting a few competing bids."
"That's what I think too. So does my mother."
"Very wise."
"My mother's all for Southeast Asia Petroleum. She knows the
Chairman of the Board, Lord Aldehyde."
"She knows Lord Aldehyde? But how extraordinary!" The tone of
delighted astonishment was thoroughly convincing. "Joe Aldehyde is a
friend of mine. I write for his papers. I even serve
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as his private ambassador. Confidentially," he added, "that's why we took
that trip to the copper mines. Copper is one of Joe's sidelines. But of
course his real love is oil."
Murugan tried to look shrewd. "What would he be prepared to offer?"
Will picked up the cue and answered, in the best movie -tycoon style,
"Whatever Standard offers plus a little more."
"Fair enough," said Murugan out of the same script, and nodded
sagely. There was a long silence. When he spoke again, it was as the
statesman granting an interview to representatives of the press.
"The oil royalties," he said, "will be used in the following manner:
twenty-five percent of all moneys received will go to World Reconstruction."
"May I ask," Will enquired deferentially, "precisely how you propose to
reconstruct the world?"
"Through the Crusade of the Spirit. Do you know about the Crusade of
the Spirit?"
"Of course. Who doesn't?"
"It's a great world movement," said the statesman gravely. "Like Early
Christianity. Founded by my mother."
Will registered awe and astonishment.
"Yes, founded by my mother," Murugan repeated, and he added
impressively, "I believe it's man's only hope."
"Quite," said Will Farnaby, "quite."
"Well, that's how the first twenty-five percent of the royalties will be
used," the statesman continued. "The remainder will go into an intensive
program of industrialization." The tone changed again. "These old idiots
here only want to industrialize in spots and leave all the rest as it was a
thousand years ago."
"Whereas you'd like to go the whole hog. Industrialization for
industrialization's sake."
"No, industrialization for the country's sake. Industrialization to make
Pala strong. To make other people respect us. Look
51
at Rendang. Within five years they'll be manufacturing all the rifles and
mortars and ammunition they need. It'll be quite a long time before they can
make tanks. But meanwhile they can buy them from Skoda with their oil
money."
"How soon will they graduate to H-bombs?" Will asked ironically.
"They won't even try," Murugan answered. "But after all," he added,
"H-bombs aren't the only absolute weapons." He pronounced the phrase
with relish. It was evident that he found the taste of "absolute weapons"
positively delicious. "Chemical and biological weapons—Colonel Dipa calls
them the poor man's H-bombs. One of the first things I'll do is to build a big
insecticide plant." Murugan laughed and winked an eye. "If you can make
insecticides," he said, "you can make nerve gas."
Will remembered that still unfinished factory in the suburbs of
Rendang-Lobo.
"What's that?" he had asked Colonel Dipa as they flashed past it in the
white Mercedes.
"Insecticides," the Colonel had answered. And showing his gleaming
white teeth in a genial smile, "We shall soon be exporting the stuff all over
Southeast Asia."
At the time, of course, he had thought that the Colonel merely meant
what he said. But now . . . Will shrugged his mental shoulders. Colonels will
be colonels and boys, even boys like Murugan, will be gun-loving boys.
There would always be plenty of jobs for special correspondents on the trail
of death.
"So you'll strengthen Pala's army?" Will said aloud.
"Strengthen it? No—I'll create it. Pala doesn't have an army."
"None at all?"
"Absolutely nothing. They're all pacifists." The p was an explosion of
disgust, the s's hissed contemptuously. "I shall have to start from scratch."
"And you'll militarize as you industrialize, is that it?"
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"Exactly."
Will laughed. "Back to the Assyrians! You'll go down in history as a
true revolutionary."
"That's what I hope," said Murugan. "Because that's what my policy is
going to be—Continuing Revolution."
"Very good!" Will applauded.
"I'll just be continuing the revolution that was started more than a
hundred years ago by Dr. Robert's great-grandfather when he came to
Pala and helped my great-great-grandfather to put through the first reforms.
Some of the things they did were really wonderful. Not all of them, mind
you," he qualified; and with the absurd solemnity of a schoolboy playing
Polonius in an end-of-term performance of Hamlet he shook his curly head
in grave, judicial disapproval. "But at least they did something. Whereas
nowadays we're governed by a set of do-nothing conservatives.
Conservatively primitive—they won't lift a finger to bring in modern
improvements. And conservatively radical— they refuse to change any of
the old bad revolutionary ideas that ought to be changed. They won't
reform the reforms. And I tell you, some of those so-called reforms are
absolutely disgusting."
"Meaning, I take it, that they have something to do with sex?"
Murugan nodded and turned away his face. To his astonishment, Will
saw that he was blushing.
"Give me an example," he demanded.
But Murugan could not bring himself to be explicit.
"Ask Dr. Robert," he said, "ask Vijaya. They think that sort of thing is
simply wonderful. In fact they all do. That's one of the reasons why nobody
wants to change. They'd like everything to go on as it is, in the same old
disgusting way, forever and ever."
"Forever and ever," a rich contralto voice teasingly repeated.
"Mother!" Murugan sprang to his feet.
Will turned and saw in the doorway a large florid woman swathed
(rather incongruously, he thought; for that kind of face and build usually
went with mauve and magenta and electric
53
blue) in clouds of white muslin. She stood there smiling with a conscious
mysteriousness, one fleshy brown arm upraised, with its jeweled hand
pressed against the doorjamb, in the pose of the great actress, the
acknowledged diva, pausing at her first entrance to accept the plaudits of
her adorers on the other side of the footlights. In the background, waiting
patiently for his cue, stood a tall man in a dove-gray Dacron suit whom
Murugan, peering past the massive embodiment of maternity that almost
filled the doorway, now greeted as Mr. Bahu.
Still in the wings, Mr. Bahu bowed without speaking.
Murugan turned again to his mother. "Did you walk here?" he asked.
His tone expressed incredulity and an admiring solicitude. Walking here—
how unthinkable! But if she had walked, what heroism! "All the way?"
"All the way, my baby," she echoed, tenderly playful. The uplifted arm
came down, slid round the boy's slender body, pressed it, engulfed in
floating draperies, against the enormous bosom, then released it again. "I
had one of my Impulses." She had a way, Will noticed, of making you
actually hear the capital letters at the beginning of the words she meant to
emphasize. "My Little Voice said, 'Go and see this Stranger at Dr. Robert's
house. Go!' 'Now?' I said. ''Malgre la chaleur? Which makes my Little Voice
lose patience. 'Woman,' it says, 'hold your silly tongue and do as you're
told.' So here I am, Mr. Farnaby." With hand outstretched and surrounded
by a powerful aura of sandal-wood oil, she advanced towards him.
Will bowed over the thick bejeweled ringers and mumbled something
that ended in "Your Highness."
"Bahu!" she called, using the royal prerogative of the unadorned
surname.
Responding to his long-awaited cue, the supporting actor made his
entrance and was introduced as His Excellency, Abdul Bahu, the
Ambassador of Rendang: "Abdul Pierre Bahu—car sa mere est parisienne.
But he learned his English in New York."
54
Island
He looked, Will thought as he shook the Ambassador's hand, like
Savonarola—but a Savonarola with a monocle and a tailor in Savile Row.
"Bahu," said the Rani, "is Colonel Dipa's Brains Trust."
"Your Highness, if I may be permitted to say so, is much too kind to me
and not nearly kind enough to the Colonel."
His words and manner were courtly to the point of being ironical, a
parody of deference and self-abasement.
"The brains," he went on, "are where brains ought to be—in the head.
As for me, I am merely a part of Rendang's sympathetic nervous system."
"Et combien sympathique!" said the Rani. "Among other things, Mr.
Farnaby, Bahu is the Last of the Aristocrats. You should see his country
place! Like The Arabian Nights! One claps one's hands—and instantly
there are six servants ready to do one's bidding. One has a birthday—and
there is a fete nocturne in the gardens. Music, refreshments, dancing girls;
two hundred retainers carrying torches. The life of Harun al-Rashid, but
with modern plumbing."
"It sounds quite delightful," said Will, remembering the villages through
which he had passed in Colonel Dipa's white Mercedes—the wattled huts,
the garbage, the children with ophthalmia, the skeleton dogs, the women
bent double under enormous loads.
"And such taste," the Rani went on, "such a well-stored mind and,
through it all" (she lowered her voice) "such a deep and unfailing Sense of
the Divine."
Mr. Bahu bowed his head, and there was a silence.
Murugan, meanwhile, had pushed up a chair. Without so much as a
backward glance—regally confident that someone must always, in the very
nature of things, be at hand to guard against mishaps and loss of dignity—
the Rani sat down with all the majestic emphasis of her hundred kilograms.
"I hope you don't feel that my visit is an intrusion," she said
55
to Will. He assured her that he didn't; but she continued to apologize. "I
would have given warning," she said, "I would have asked your permission.
But my Little Voice says, 'No—you must go now.' Why? I cannot say. But
no doubt we shall find out in due course." She fixed him with her large,
bulging eyes and gave him a mysterious smile. "And now, first of all, how
are you, dear Mr. Farnaby?"
"As you see, ma'am, in very good shape."
"Truly?" The bulging eyes scrutinized his face with an intent-ness that
he found embarrassing. "I can see that you're the kind of heroically
considerate man who will go on reassuring his friends even on his
deathbed."
"You're very flattering," he said. "But as it happens, I am in good
shape. Amazingly so, all things considered—miraculously so."
"Miraculous," said the Rani, "was the very word I used when I heard
about your escape. It was a miracle."
" 'As luck would have it,' " Will quoted again from Erewhon, "
'Providence was on my side.' "
Mr. Bahu started to laugh; but noticing that the Rani had evidently
failed to get the point, changed his mind and adroitly turned the sound of
merriment into a loud cough.
"How true!" the Rani was saying, and her rich contralto thrillingly
vibrated. "Providence is always on our side." And when Will raised a
questioning eyebrow, "I mean," she elaborated, "in the eyes of those who
Truly Understand" (capital T, capital U). "And this is true even when all
things seem to conspire against us—meme dans le desastre. You
understand French, of course, Mr. Farnaby?" Will nodded. "It often comes
to me more easily than my own native tongue, or English or Palanese. After
so many years in Switzerland," she explained, "first at school. And again,
later on, when my poor baby's health was so precarious" (she patted
Murugan's bare arm) "and we had to go and live in the mountains. Which
illustrates what I was saying
56
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about Providence always being on our side. When they told me that my
little boy was on the brink of consumption, I forgot everything I'd ever
learnt. I was mad with fear and anguish, I was indignant against God for
having allowed such a thing to happen. What Utter Blindness! My baby got
well, and those years among the Eternal Snows were the happiest of our
lives— weren't they, darling?"
"The happiest of our lives," the boy agreed, with what almost sounded
like complete sincerity.
The Rani smiled triumphantly, pouted her full red lips, and with a faint
smack parted them again in a long-distance kiss. "So you see, my dear
Farnaby," she went on, "you see. It's really self-evident. Nothing happens
by Accident. There's a Great Plan, and within the Great Plan innumerable
little plans. A little plan for each and every one of us."
"Quite," said Will politely. "Quite."
"There was a time," the Rani continued, "when I knew it only with my
intellect. Now I know it with my heart. I really ..." she paused for an instant
to prepare for the utterance of the mystic majuscule, "Understand."
"Psychic as hell." Will remembered what Joe Aldehyde had said of her.
And surely that lifelong frequenter of seances should know.
"I take it, ma'am," he said, "that you're naturally psychic."
"From birth," she admitted. "But also and above all by training.
Training, needless to say, in Something Else."
"Something else?"
"In the life of the Spirit. As one advances along the Path, all the sidhis,
all the psychic gifts and miraculous powers, develop spontaneously."
"Is that so?"
"My mother," Murugan proudly assured him, "can do the most fantastic
things."
"N'exagerons pas, cheri."
57
"But it's the truth," Murugan insisted.
"A truth," the Ambassador put in, "which I can confirm. And I confirm
it," he added, smiling at his own expense, "with a certain reluctance. As a
lifelong skeptic about these things, I don't like to see the impossible
happening. But I have an unfortunate weakness for honesty. And when the
impossible actually does happen, before my eyes, I'm compelled malgre
moi to bear witness to the fact. Her Highness does do the most fantastic
things."
"Well, if you like to put it that way," said the Rani, beaming with
pleasure. "But never forget, Bahu, never forget. Miracles are of absolutely
no importance. What's important is the Other Thing—the Thing one comes
to at the end of the Path."
"After the Fourth Initiation," Murugan specified. "My mother ..."
"Darling!" The Rani had raised a finger to her lips. "These are things
one doesn't talk about."
"I'm sorry," said the boy. There was a long and pregnant silence.
The Rani closed her eyes, and Mr. Bahu, letting fall his monocle,
reverentially followed suit and became the image of Savonarola in silent
prayer. What was going on behind that austere, that almost fleshless mask
of recollectedness? Will looked and wondered.
"May I ask," he said at last, "how you first came, ma'am, to find the
Path?"
For a second or two the Rani said nothing, merely sat there with her
eyes shut, smiling her Buddha smile of mysterious bliss. "Providence found
it for me," she answered at last.
"Quite, quite. But there must have been an occasion, a place, a human
instrument."
"I'll tell you." The lids fluttered apart and once again he found himself
under the bright unswerving glare of those protu-! berant eyes of hers.
58
Island
The place had been Lausanne; the time, the first year of her Swiss
education; the chosen instrument, darling little Mme Buloz. Darling little
Mme Buloz was the wife of darling old Professor Buloz, and old Professor
Buloz was the man to whose charge, after careful enquiry and much
anxious thought, she had been committed by her father, the late Sultan of
Rendang. The Professor was sixty-seven, taught geology and was a
Protestant of so austere a sect that, except for drinking a glass of claret
with his dinner, saying his prayers only twice a day, and being strictly
monogamous, he might almost have been a Muslim. Under such
guardianship a princess of Rendang would be intellectually stimulated,
while remaining morally and doctrinally intact. But the Sultan had reckoned
without the Professor's wife. Mme Buloz was only forty, plump, sentimental,
bubblingly enthusiastic and, though officially of her husband's Protestant
persuasion, a newly converted and intensely ardent Theosophist. In a room
at the top of the tall house near the Place de la Riponne she had her
Oratory, to which, whenever she could find time, she would secretly retire
to do breathing exercises, practice concentration, and raise Kundalini.
Strenuous disciplines! But the reward was transcendentally great. In the
small hours of a hot summer night, while the darling old Professor lay
rhythmically snoring two floors down, she had become aware of a
Presence: the Master Koot Hoomi was with her.
The Rani made an impressive pause. "Extraordinary," said Mr. Bahu.
"Extraordinary," Will dutifully echoed. The Rani resumed her narrative.
Irrepressibly happy, Mme Buloz had been unable to keep her secret. She
had dropped mysterious hints, had passed from hints to confidences, from
confidences to an invitation to the Oratory and a course of
instruction. In a very short time Koot Hoomi was bestowing greater favors
upon the novice than upon her teacher.
59
"And from that day to this," she concluded, "the Master has helped me
to Go Forward."
To go forward, Will asked himself, into what? Koot Hoomi only knew.
But whatever it was that she had gone forward into, he didn't like it. There
was an expression on that large florid face which he found peculiarly
distasteful—an expression of domineering calm, of serene and unshakable
self-esteem. She reminded him in a curious way of Joe Aldehyde. Joe was
one of those happy tycoons who feel no qualms, but rejoice without
inhibition in their money and in all that their money will buy in the way of
influence and power. And here—albeit clothed in white muslin, mystic,
wonderful—was another of Joe Aldehyde's breed: a female tycoon who
had cornered the market, not in soya beans or copper, but in Pure
Spirituality and the Ascended Masters, and was now happily rubbing her
hands over the exploit.
"Here's one example of what He's done for me," the Rani went on.
"Eight years ago—to be exact, on the twenty-third of November, 1952—the
Master came to me in my morning Meditation. Came in Person, came in
Glory. 'A great Crusade is to be launched,' He said, 'a World Movement to
save Humanity from self-destruction. And you, my child, are the Appointed
Instrument.' 'Me? A World Movement? But that's absurd,' I said. 'I've never
made a speech in my whole life. I've never written a word for publication.
I've never been a leader or an organizer.' 'Nevertheless,' He said (and He
gave one of these indescribably beautiful smiles of His), 'nevertheless it is
you who will launch this Crusade—the World-Wide Crusade of the Spirit.
You will be laughed at, you will be called a fool, a crank, a fanatic. The
dogs bark; the Caravan passes. From tiny, laughable beginnings the
Crusade of the Spirit is destined to become a Mighty Force. A force for
Good, a force that will ultimately Save the World.' And with that He left me.
Left me stunned, bewildered, scared out of
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my wits. But there was nothing for it; I had to obey. I did obey. And what
happened? I made speeches, and He gave me eloquence. I accepted the
burden of leadership and, because He was walking invisibly at my side,
people followed me. I asked for help, and the money came pouring in. So
here I am." She threw out her thick hands in a gesture of self-depreciation,
she smiled a mystic smile. A poor thing, she seemed to be saying, but not
my own—my Master's, Koot Hoomi's. "Here I am," she repeated. "Here,
praise God," said Mr. Bahu devoutly, "you are." After a decent interval Will
asked the Rani if she had always kept up the practices so providentially
learned in Mme Buloz's Oratory.
"Always," she answered. "I could no more do without Meditation than I
could do without Food."
"Wasn't it rather difficult after you were married? I mean, before you
went back to Switzerland. There must have been so many tiresome official
duties."
"Not to mention all the unofficial ones," said the Rani in a tone that
implied whole volumes of unfavorable comment upon her late husband's
character, Weltanschauung and sexual habits. She opened her mouth to
elaborate on the theme, then closed it again and looked at Murugan.
"Darling," she called.
Murugan, who was absorbedly polishing the nails of his left hand upon
the open palm of his right, looked up with a guilty start. "Yes, Mother?"
Ignoring the nails and his evident inattention to what she had been
saying, the Rani gave him a seducing smile. "Be an angel," she said, "and
go and fetch the car. My Little Voice doesn't say anything about walking
back to the bungalow. It's only a few hundred yards," she explained to Will.
"But in this heat, and at my age . . ."
Her words called for some kind of flattering rebuttal. But if it was too
hot to walk, it was also too hot, Will felt, to put forth the very considerable
amount of energy required for a convincing
61
show of bogus sincerity. Fortunately a professional diplomat, a practiced
courtier was on hand to make up for the uncouth journalist's deficiencies.
Mr. Bahu uttered a peal of lighthearted laughter, then apologized for his
merriment.
"But it was really too funny! 'At my age,' " he repeated, and laughed
again. "Murugan is not quite eighteen, and I happen to know how old—how
very young—the Princess of Rendang was when she married the Raja of
Pala."
Murugan, meanwhile, had obediently risen and was kissing his
mother's hand.
"Now we can talk more freely," said the Rani when he had left the
room. And freely—her face, her tone, her bulging eyes, her whole quivering
frame registering the most intense disapproval— she now let fly. De
mortuis. . . She wouldn't say anything about her husband except that he
was a typical Palanese, a true representative of his country. For the sad
truth was that Pala's smooth bright skin concealed the most horrible
rottenness.
"When I think what they tried to do to my Baby, two years ago, when I
was on my world tour for the Crusade of the Spirit." With a jingling of
bracelets she lifted her hands in horror. "It was an agony for me to be
parted from him for so long; but the Master had sent me on a Mission, and
my Little Voice told me that it wouldn't be right for me to take my Baby with
me. He'd lived abroad for so long. It was high time for him to get to know
the country he was to rule. So I decided to leave him here. The Privy
Council appointed a committee of guardianship. Two women with growing
boys of their own and two men—one of whom, I regret to say" (more in
sorrow than in anger), "was Dr. Robert MacPhail. Well, to cut a long story
short, no sooner was I safely out of the country than those precious
guardians, to whom I'd entrusted my Baby, my Only Son, set to work
systematically— systematically, Mr. Farnaby—to undermine my influence.
They tried to destroy the whole edifice of Moral and Spiritual Values which I
had so laboriously built up over the years."
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Island
Somewhat maliciously (for of course he knew what the woman was
talking about), Will expressed his astonishment. The whole edifice of moral
and spiritual values? And yet nobody could have been kinder than Dr.
Robert and the others, no Good Samaritans were ever more simply and
effectively charitable.
"I'm not denying their kindness," said the Rani. "But after all kindness
isn't the only virtue."
"Of course not," Will agreed, and he listed all the qualities that the Rani
seemed most conspicuously to lack. "There's also sincerity. Not to mention
truthfulness, humility, selflessness . . ."
"You're forgetting Purity," said the Rani severely. "Purity is
fundamental, Purity is the sine qua, non."
"But here in Pala, I gather, they don't think so."
"They most certainly do not," said the Rani. And she went on to tell him
how her poor Baby had been deliberately exposed to impurity, even
actively encouraged to indulge in it with one of those precocious,
promiscuous girls of whom, in Pala, there were only too many. And when
they found that he wasn't the sort of boy who would seduce a girl (for she
had brought him up to think of Woman as essentially Holy), they had
encouraged the girl to do her best to seduce him.
Had she, Will wondered, succeeded? Or had Antinoiis already been
girlproofed by little friends of his own age or, still more effectively, by some
older, more experienced and authoritative pederast, some Swiss precursor
of Colonel Dipa?
"But that wasn't the worst." The Rani lowered her voice to a horrified
stage whisper. "One of the mothers on the committee of guardianship—one
of the mothers, mind you—advised him to take a course of lessons."
"What sort of lessons?"
"In what they euphemistically call Love." She wrinkled up her nose as
though she had smelt raw sewage. "Lessons, if you please," and disgust
turned into indignation, "from some Older Woman."
63
"Heavens!" cried the Ambassador.
"Heavens!" Will dutifully echoed. Those older women, he could see,
were competitors much more dangerous, in the Rani's eyes, than even the
most precociously promiscuous of girls. A mature instructress in love would
be a rival mother, enjoying the monstrously unfair advantage of being free
to go the limits of incest.
"They teach ..." The Rani hesitated. "They teach Special Techniques."
"What sort of techniques?" Will enquired. But she couldn't bring herself
to go into the repulsive particulars. And anyhow it wasn't necessary, for
Murugan (bless his heart!) had refused to listen to them. Lessons in
immorality from someone old enough to be his mother—the very idea of it
had made him sick. No wonder. He had been brought up to reverence the
Ideal of Purity. "Brahmacharya, if you know what that means."
"Quite," said Will.
"And this is another reason why his illness was such a blessing in
disguise, such a real godsend. I don't think I could have brought him up
that way in Pala. There are too many bad influences here. Forces working
against Purity, against the Family, even against Mother Love."
Will pricked up his ears. "Did they even reform mothers?" She nodded.
"You just can't imagine how far things have gone here. But Koot Hoomi
knew what kind of dangers we would have to run in Pala. So what
happens? My Baby falls ill, and the doctors order us to Switzerland. Out of
harm's way."
"How was it," Will asked, "that Koot Hoomi let you go off on your
Crusade? Didn't he foresee what would happen to Murugan as soon as
your back was turned?"
"He foresaw everything," said the Rani. "The temptations, the
resistance, the massed assault by all the Powers of Evil and then, at the
very last moment, the rescue. For a long time," she
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Island
explained, "Murugan didn't tell me what was happening. But after three
months the assaults of the Powers of Evil were too much for him. He
dropped hints; but I was too completely absorbed in my Master's business
to be able to take them. Finally he wrote me a letter in which it was all
spelled out—in detail. I canceled my last four lectures in Brazil and flew
home as fast as the jets would carry me. A week later we were back in
Switzerland. Just my Baby and I—alone with the Master."
She closed her eyes, and an expression of gloating ecstasy appeared
upon her face. Will looked away in distaste. This self-canonized world-
savior, this clutching and devouring mother— had she ever, for a single
moment, seen herself as others saw her? Did she have any idea of what
she had done, what she was still doing, to her poor silly little son? To the
first question the answer was certainly no. About the second one could only
speculate. Perhaps she honestly didn't know what she had made of the
boy. But perhaps, on the other hand, she did know. Knew and preferred
what was happening with the Colonel to what might happen if the boy's
education were taken in hand by a woman. The woman might supplant her;
the Colonel, she knew, would not.
"Murugan told me that he intended to reform these so-called reforms."
"I can only pray," said the Rani in a tone that reminded Will of his
grandfather, the Archdeacon, "that he'll be given the Strength and Wisdom
to do it."
"And what do you think of his other projects?" Will asked. "Oil?
Industries? An army?"
"Economics and politics aren't exactly my strong point," she answered
with a little laugh which was meant to remind him that he was talking to
someone who had taken the Fourth Initiation. "Ask Bahu what he thinks."
"I have no right to offer an opinion," said the Ambassador. "I'm an
outsider, the representative of a foreign power."
65
"Not so very foreign," said the Rani.
"Not in your eyes, ma'am. And not, as you know very well, in mine. But
in the eyes of the Palanese government—yes. Completely foreign."
"But that," said Will, "doesn't prevent you from having opinions. It only
prevents you from having the locally orthodox opinions. And incidentally,"
he added, "I'm not here in my professional capacity. You're not being
interviewed, Mr. Ambassador. All this is strictly off the record."
"Strictly off the record, then, and strictly as myself and not as an official
personage, I believe that our young friend is perfectly right."
"Which implies, of course, that you believe the policy of the Palanese
government to be perfectly wrong."
"Perfectly wrong," said Mr. Bahu—and the bony, emphatic mask of
Savonarola positively twinkled with his Voltairean smile—"perfectly wrong
because all too perfectly right."
"Right?" the Rani protested. "Right?"
"Perfectly right," he explained, "because so perfectly designed to make
every man, woman, and child on this enchanting island as perfectly free
and happy as it's possible to be."
"But with a False Happiness," the Rani cried, "a freedom that's only for
the Lower Self."
"I bow," said the Ambassador, duly bowing, "to Your High-ness's
superior insight. But still, high or low, true or false, happiness is happiness
and freedom is most enjoyable. And there can be no doubt that the politics
inaugurated by the original Reformers and developed over the years have
been admirably well adapted to achieving these two goals."
"But you feel," said Will, "that these are undesirable goals?"
"On the contrary, everybody desires them. But unfortunately they're
out of context, they've become completely irrelevant to the present situation
of the world in general and Pala in particular."
66
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"Are they more irrelevant now than they were when the Reformers first
started to work for happiness and freedom?"
The Ambassador nodded. "In those days Pala was still completely off
the map. The idea of turning it into an oasis of freedom and happiness
made sense. So long as it remains out of touch with the rest of the world,
an ideal society can be a viable society. Pala was completely viable, I'd
say, until about 1905. Then, in less than a single generation, the world
completely changed. Movies, cars, airplanes, radio. Mass production, mass
slaughter, mass communication and, above all, plain mass— more and
more people in bigger and bigger slums or suburbs. By 1930 any clear-
sighted observer could have seen that, for three quarters of the human
race, freedom and happiness were almost out of the question. Today, thirty
years later, they're completely out of the question. And meanwhile the
outside world has been closing in on this little island of freedom and
happiness. Closing in steadily and inexorably, coming nearer and nearer.
What was once a viable ideal is now no longer viable."
"So Pala will have to be changed—is that your conclusion?"
Mr. Bahu nodded. "Radically."
"Root and branch," said the Rani with a prophet's sadistic
gusto.
"And for two cogent reasons," Mr. Bahu went on. "First, because it
simply isn't possible for Pala to go on being different from the rest of the
world. And, second, because it isn't right that it should be different."
"Not right for people to be free and happy?"
Once again the Rani said something inspirational about false
happiness and the wrong kind of freedom.
Mr. Bahu deferentially acknowledged her interruption, then turned back
to Will.
.,,
"Not right," he insisted. "Flaunting your blessedness in the face of so
much misery—it's sheer hubris, it's a deliberate affront to the rest of
humanity. It's even a kind of affront to God."
67
"God," the Rani murmured voluptuously, "God . . ." Then, reopening
her eyes, "These people in Pala," she added, "they don't believe in God.
They only believe in Hypnotism and Pantheism and Free Love." She
emphasized the words with indignant disgust.
"So now," said Will, "you're proposing to make them miserable in the
hope that this will restore their faith in God. Well, that's one way of
producing a conversion. Maybe it'll work. And maybe the end will justify the
means." He shrugged his shoulders. "But I do see," he added, "that, good
or bad, and regardless of what the Palanese may feel about it, this thing is
going to happen. One doesn't have to be much of a prophet to foretell that
Murugan is going to succeed. He's riding the wave of the future. And the
wave of the future is undoubtedly a wave of crude petroleum. Talking of
crudity and petroleum," he added, turning to the Rani, "I understand that
you're acquainted with my old friend, Joe Aldehyde." "You know Lord
Aldehyde?" "Well."
"So that's why my Little Voice was so insistent!" Closing her eyes
again, she smiled to herself and slowly nodded her head. "Now I
Understand." Then, in another tone, "How is that dear man?" she asked.
"Still characteristically himself," Will assured her. "And what a rare self!
L'homme au cerf-volant—that's what I call him."
"The man with the kite?" Will was puzzled. "He does his work down
here," she explained; "but he holds a string in his hand, and at the other
end of the string is a kite, and the kite is forever trying to go higher, higher,
Higher. Even while he's at work, he feels the constant Pull from Above,
feels the Spirit tugging insistently at the flesh. Think of it! A man of affairs, a
great Captain of Industry—and yet, for him, the only thing that Really
Matters is the Immortality of the Soul."
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Light dawned. The woman had been talking about Joe Alde-hyde's
addiction to spiritualism. He thought of those weekly seances with Mrs.
Harbottle, the automatist; with Mrs. Pym, whose control was a Kiowa Indian
called Bawbo; with Miss Tuke and her floating trumpet out of which a
squeaky whisper uttered oracular words that were taken down in shorthand
by Joe's private secretary: "Buy Australian cement; don't be alarmed by the
fall in Breakfast Foods; unload forty percent of your rubber shares and
invest the money in IBM and Westinghouse ..."
"Did he ever tell you," Will asked, "about that departed stockbroker
who always knew what the market was going to do next week?"
"Sidhis," said the Rani indulgently. "Just sidhis. What else can you
expect? After all, he's only a Beginner. And in this present life business is
his karma. He was predestined to do what he's done, what he's doing, what
he's going to do. And what he's going to do," she added impressively and
paused in a listening pose, her finger lifted, her head cocked, "what he's
going to do—that's what my Little Voice is saying—includes some great
and wonderful things here in Pala."
What a spiritual way of saying, This is what I want to happen! Not as I
will but as God wills—and by a happy coincidence God's will and mine are
always identical. Will chuckled inwardly, but kept the straightest of faces.
"Does your Little Voice say anything about Southeast Asia
Petroleum?" he asked.
The Rani listened again, then nodded. "Distinctly."
"But Colonel Dipa, I gather, doesn't say anything but 'Standard of
California.' Incidentally," Will went on, "why does Pala have to worry about
the Colonel's taste in oil companies?"
"My government," said Mr. Bahu sonorously, "is thinking in terms of a
Five-Year Plan for Interisland Economic Co-ordina tion and Co-operation."
69
"Does Interisland Co-ordination and Co-operation mean that Standard
has to be granted a monopoly?"
"Only if Standard's terms were more advantageous than those of its
competitors."
"In other words," said the Rani, "only if there's nobody who will pay us
more."
"Before you came," Will told her, "I was discussing this subject with
Murugan. Southeast Asia Petroleum, I said, will give Pala whatever
Standard gives Rendang plus a little more."
"Fifteen percent more?"
"Let's say ten."
"Make it twelve and a half."
Will looked at her admiringly. For someone who had taken the Fourth
Initiation she was doing pretty well.
"Joe Aldehyde will scream with agony," he said. "But in the end, I feel
certain, you'll get your twelve and a half."
"It would certainly be a most attractive proposition," said Mr. Bahu.
"The only trouble is that the Palanese government won't accept it."
"The Palanese government," said the Rani, "will soon be changing its
policy."
"You think so?"
"I KNOW it," the Rani answered in a tone that made it quite clear that
the information had come straight from the Master's mouth.
"When the change of policy comes, would it help," Will asked, "if
Colonel Dipa were to put in a good word for Southeast Asia Petroleum?"
"Undoubtedly."
Will turned to Mr. Bahu. "And would you be prepared, Mr.
Ambassador, to put in a good word with Colonel Dipa?"
In polysyllables, as though he were addressing a plenary ses-
70
Island
sion of some international organization, Mr. Bahu hedged diplomatically.
On the one hand, yes; but on the other hand, no. From one point of view,
white; but from a different angle, distinctly black.
Will listened in polite silence. Behind the mask of Savonarola, behind
the aristocratic monocle, behind the ambassadorial verbiage he could see
and hear the Levantine broker in quest of his commission, the petty official
cadging for a gratuity. And for her enthusiastic sponsorship of Southeast
Asia Petroleum, how much had the royal initiate been promised?
Something, he was prepared to bet, pretty substantial. Not for herself, of
course, no no! For the Crusade of the Spirit, needless to say, for the
greater glory of Koot Hoomi.
Mr. Bahu had reached the peroration of his speech to the international
organization. "It must therefore be understood," he was saying, "that any
positive action on my part must remain contingent upon circumstances as,
when, and if these circumstances arise. Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly," Will assured him. "And now," he went on with deliberately
indecent frankness, "let me explain my position in this matter. All I'm
interested in is money. Two thousand pounds without having to do a hand's
turn of work. A year of freedom just for helping Joe Aldehyde to get his
hands on Pala."
"Lord Aldehyde," said the Rani, "is remarkably generous."
"Remarkably," Will agreed, "considering how little I can do in this
matter. Needless to say, he'd be still more generous to anyone who could
be of greater help."
There was a long silence. In the distance a mynah bird was calling
monotonously for attention. Attention to avarice, attention to hypocrisy,
attention to vulgar cynicism . . . There was a knock at the door.
"Come in," Will called out and, turning to Mr. Bahu, "Let's continue this
conversation some other time," he said.
Mr. Bahu nodded.
71
"Come in," Will repeated.
Dressed in a blue skirt and a short buttonless jacket that left her midriff
bare and only sometimes covered a pair of apple-round breasts, a girl in
her late teens walked briskly into the room. On her smooth brown face a
smile of friendliest greeting was punctuated at either end by dimples. "I'm
Nurse Appu," she began. "Radhu Appu." Then, catching sight of Will's
visitors, she broke off. "Oh, excuse me, I didn't know ..."
She made a perfunctory knicks to the Rani.
Mr. Bahu, meanwhile, had courteously risen to his feet. "Nurse Appu,"
he cried enthusiastically. "My little ministering angel from the Shivapuram
hospital. What a delightful surprise!"
For the girl, it was evident to Will, the surprise was far from delightful.
"How do you do, Mr. Bahu," she said without a smile and, quickly
turning away, started to busy herself with the straps of the canvas bag she
was carrying.
"Your Highness has probably forgotten," said Mr. Bahu; "but I had to
have an operation last summer. For hernia," he specified. "Well, this young
lady used to come and wash me every morning. Punctually at eight-forty-
five. And now, after having vanished for all these months, here she is
again!"
"Synchronicity," said the Rani oracularly. "It's all part of the Plan."
"I'm supposed to give Mr. Farnaby an injection," said the little nurse,
looking up, still unsmiling, from her professional bag.
"Doctor's orders are doctor's orders," cried the Rani, overacting the
role of royal personage deigning to be playfully gracious. "To hear is to
obey. But where's my chauffeur?"
"Your chauffeur's here," called a familiar voice.
Beautiful as a vision of Ganymede, Murugan was standing in the
doorway. A look of amusement appeared on the little nurse's face.
"Hullo, Murugan—I mean, Your Highness." She bobbed
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another curtsy, which he was free to take as a mark of respect or of ironic
mockery.
"Oh, hullo, Radha," said the boy in a tone that was meant to be
distantly casual. He walked past her to where his mother was sitting. "The
car," he said, "is at the door. Or rather the so-called car." With a sarcastic
laugh, "It's a Baby Austin, 1954 vintage," he explained to Will. "The best
that this highly civilized country can provide for its royal family. Rendang
gives its ambassador a Bentley," he added bitterly.
"Which will be calling for me at this address in about ten minutes," said
Mr. Bahu, looking at his watch. "So may I be permitted to take leave of you
here, Your Highness?"
The Rani extended her hand. With all the piety of a good Catholic
kissing a cardinal's ring, he bent over it; then, straightening himself up, he
turned to Will.
"I'm assuming—perhaps unjustifiably—that Mr. Farnaby can put up
with me for a little longer. May I stay?"
Will assured the Ambassador that he would be delighted.
"And I hope," said Mr. Bahu to the little nurse, "that there will be no
objections on medical grounds?"
"Not on medical grounds," said the girl in a tone that implied the
existence of the most cogent nonmedical objections.
Assisted by Murugan, the Rani hoisted herself out of her chair. uAu
revoir, mon cher Farnaby," she said as she gave him her jeweled hand. Her
smile was charged with a sweetness that Will found positively menacing.
"Good-bye, ma'am."
She turned, patted the little nurse's cheek, and sailed out of the room.
Like a pinnace in the wake of a full-rigged ship of the line, Murugan trailed
after her.
73
"Golly!" the little nurse exploded, when the door was safely closed
behind them.
"I entirely agree with you," said Will.
The Voltairean light twinkled for a moment on Mr. Bahu's evangelical
face. "Golly," he repeated. "It was what I heard an English schoolboy
saying when he first saw the Great Pyramid. The Rani makes the same
kind of impression. Monumental. She's what the Germans call eine grosse
Seek." The twinkle had faded, the face was unequivocally Savonarola's,
the words, it was obvious, were for publication.
The little nurse suddenly started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Will asked.
"I suddenly saw the Great Pyramid all dressed up in white muslin," she
gasped. "Dr. Robert calls it the mystic's uniform."
"Witty, very witty!" said Mr. Bahu. "And yet," he added diplomatically, "I
don't know why mystics shouldn't wear uniforms, if they feel like it."
The little nurse drew a deep breath, wiped the tears of merriment from
her eyes, and began to make her preparations for giving the patient his
injection.
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"I know exactly what you're thinking," she said to Will. "You're thinking
I'm much too young to do a good job."
"I certainly think you're very young."
"You people go to a university at eighteen and stay there for four
years. We start at sixteen and go on with our education till we're twenty-
four—half-time study and half-time work. I've been doing biology and at the
same time doing this job for two years. So I'm not quite such a fool as I
look. Actually I'm a pretty good nurse."
"A statement," said Mr. Bahu, "which I can unequivocally confirm. Miss
Radha is not merely a good nurse; she's an absolutely first-rate one."
But what he really meant, Will felt sure as he studied the expression on
that face of a much-tempted monk, was that Miss Radha had a first-rate
midriff, first-rate navel, and first-rate breasts. But the owner of the navel,
midriff and breasts had clearly resented Savonarola's admiration, or at any
rate the way it had been expressed. Hopefully, overhopefully, the rebuffed
Ambassador was returning the attack.
The spirit lamp was lighted and, while the needle was being boiled,
little Nurse Appu took her patient's temperature.
"Ninety-nine point two."
"Does that mean I have to be banished?" Mr. Bahu enquired.
"Not so far as he's concerned," the girl answered.
"So please stay," said Will.
The little nurse gave him his injection of antibiotic, then, from one of
the bottles in her bag, stirred a tablespoonful of some greenish liquid into
half a glass of water.
"Drink this."
It tasted like one of those herbal concoctions that health-food
enthusiasts substitute for tea.
"What is it?" Will asked, and was told that it was an extract from a
mountain plant related to valerian.
"It helps people to stop worrying," the little nurse explained,
75
"without making them sleepy. We give it to convalescents. It's useful,
too, in mental cases."
"Which am I? Mental or convalescent?"
"Both," she answered without hesitation.
Will laughed aloud. "That's what comes of fishing for compliments."
"I didn't mean to be rude," she assured him. "All I meant was that I've
never met anybody from the outside who wasn't a mental case."
"Including the Ambassador?"
She turned the question back upon the questioner. "What do you
think?"
Will passed it on to Mr. Bahu. "You're the expert in this field," he said.
"Settle it between yourselves," said the little nurse. "I've got to go and
see about my patient's lunch."
Mr. Bahu watched her go; then, raising his left eyebrow, he let fall his
monocle and started methodically to polish the lens with his handkerchief.
"You're aberrated in one way," he said to Will. "I'm aberrated in another. A
schizoid (isn't that what you are?) and, from the other side of the world, a
paranoid. Both of us victims of the same twentieth-century plague. Not the
Black Death, this time; the Gray Life. Were you ever interested in power?"
he asked after a moment of silence.
"Never." Will shook his head emphatically. "One can't have power
without committing oneself."
"And for you the horror of being committed outweighs the pleasure of
pushing other people around?"
"By a factor of several thousand times."
"So it was never a temptation?"
"Never." Then after a pause, "Let's get down to business," Will added
in another tone.
"To business," Mr. Bahu repeated. "Tell me something about Lord
Aldehyde."
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"Well, as the Rani said, he's remarkably generous."
"I'm not interested in his virtues, only his intelligence. How bright is
he?"
"Bright enough to know that nobody does anything for nothing."
"Good," said Mr. Bahu. "Then tell him from me that for effective work
by experts in strategic positions he must be prepared to lay out at least ten
times what he's going to pay you."
"I'll write him a letter to that effect."
"And do it today," Mr. Bahu advised. "The plane leaves Shiv-apuram
tomorrow evening, and there won't be another outgo- ing mail for a whole
week."
"Thank you for telling me," said Will. "And now—Her Highness and
the shockable stripling being gone—let's move on to the next temptation.
What about sex?"
With the gesture of a man who tries to rid himself of a cloud of
importunate insects, Mr. Bahu waved a brown and bony hand back and
forth in front of his face. "Just a distraction, that's all. Just a nagging,
humiliating vexation. But an intelligent man can always cope with it."
"How difficult it is," said Will, "to understand another man's vices!"
"You're right. Everybody should stick to the insanity that God has seen
fit to curse him with. Pecca fortiter—that was Luther's advice. But make a
point of sinning your own sins, not someone else's. And above all don't do
what the people of this island do. Don't try to behave as though you were
essentially sane and naturally good. We're all demented sinners in the
same cosmic boat—and the boat is perpetually sinking."
"In spite of which, no rat is justified in leaving it. Is that what you're
saying?"
"A few of them may sometimes try to leave. But they never get very
far. History and the other rats will always see to it that
77
they drown with the rest of us. That's why Pala doesn't have the ghost of a
chance."
Carrying a tray, the little nurse re-entered the room.
"Buddhist food," she said, as she tied a napkin round Will's neck. "All
except the fish. But we've decided that fishes are vegetables within the
meaning of the act."
Will started to eat.
"Apart from the Rani and Murugan and us two here," he asked after
swallowing the first mouthful, "how many people from the outside have you
ever met?"
"Well, there was that group of American doctors," she answered.
"They came to Shivapuram last year, while I was working at the Central
Hospital."
"What were they doing here?"
"They wanted to find out why we have such a low rate of neurosis and
cardiovascular trouble. Those doctors!" She shook her head. "I tell you, Mr.
Farnaby, they really made my hair stand on end—made everybody's hair
stand on end in the whole hospital."
"So you think our medicine's pretty primitive?"
"That's the wrong word. It isn't primitive. It's fifty percent terrific and fifty
percent nonexistent. Marvelous antibiotics—but absolutely no methods for
increasing resistance, so that antibiotics won't be necessary. Fantastic
operations—but when it comes to teaching people the way of going through
life without having to be chopped up, absolutely nothing. And it's the same
all along the line. Alpha Plus for patching you up when you've started to fall
apart; but Delta Minus for keeping you healthy. Apart from sewerage
systems and synthetic vitamins, you don't seem to do anything at all about
prevention. And yet you've got a proverb: prevention is better than cure."
"But cure," said Will, "is so much more dramatic than prevention. And
for the doctors it's also a lot more profitable."
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"Maybe for your doctors," said the little nurse. "Not for ours. Ours get
paid for keeping people well."
"How is it to be done?"
"We've been asking that question for a hundred years, and we've
found a lot of answers. Chemical answers, psychological answers, answers
in terms of what you eat, how you make love, what you see and hear, how
you feel about being who you are in this kind of world."
"And which are the best answers?"
"None of them is best without the others."
"So there's no panacea."
"How can there be?" And she quoted the little rhyme that every student
nurse had to learn by heart on the first day of her training.
" 'I' am a crowd, obeying as many laws As it has members. Chemically
impure Are all 'my' beings. There's no single cure For what can never have
a single cause."
"So whether it's prevention or whether it's cure, we attack on all the
fronts at once. All the fronts," she insisted, "from diet to autosuggestion,
from negative ions to meditation."
"Very sensible," was Will's comment.
"Perhaps a little too sensible," said Mr. Bahu. "Did you ever try to talk
sense to a maniac?" Will shook his head. "I did once." He lifted the graying
lock that slanted obliquely across his forehead. Just below the hairline a
jagged scar stood out, strangely pale against the brown skin. "Luckily for
me, the bottle he hit me with was pretty flimsy." Smoothing his ruffled hair,
he turned to the little nurse. "Don't ever forget, Miss Radha; to the
senseless nothing is more maddening than sense. Pala is a small island
completely surrounded by twenty-nine hundred million mental cases. So
beware of being too rational. In the country of the
79
insane, the integrated man doesn't become king." Mr. Bahu's face was
positively twinkling with Voltairean glee. "He gets lynched."
Will laughed perfunctorily, then turned again to the little nurse.
"Don't you have any candidates for the asylum?" he asked.
"Just as many as you have—I mean in proportion to the population. At
least that's what the textbook says."
"So living in a sensible world doesn't seem to make any difference."
"Not to the people with the kind of body chemistry that'll turn them into
psychotics. They're born vulnerable. Little troubles that other people hardly
notice can bring them down. We're just beginning to find out what it is that
makes them so vulnerable. We're beginning to be able to spot them in
advance of a breakdown. And once they've been spotted, we can do
something to raise their resistance. Prevention again-—and, of course, on
all the fronts at once."
"So being born into a sensible world will make a difference even for the
predestined psychotic."
"And for the neurotics it has already made a difference. Your neurosis
rate is about one in five or even four. Ours is about one in twenty. The one
that breaks down gets treatment, on all fronts, and the nineteen who don't
break down have had prevention on all the fronts. Which brings me back to
those American doctors. Three of them were psychiatrists, and one of the
psychiatrists smoked cigars without stopping and had a German accent. He
was the one that was chosen to give us a lecture. What a lecture!" The little
nurse held her head between her hands. "I never heard anything like it."
"What was it about?"
"About the way they treat people with neurotic symptoms. We just
couldn't believe our ears. They never attack on all the fronts; they only
attack on about half of one front. So far as
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they're concerned, the physical fronts don't exist. Except for a mouth and
an anus, their patient doesn't have a body. He isn't an organism, he wasn't
born with a constitution or a temperament. All he has is the two ends of a
digestive tube, a family and a psyche. But what sort of psyche? Obviously
not the whole mind, not the mind as it really is. How could it be that when
they take no account of a person's anatomy, or biochemistry or physiology?
Mind abstracted from body—that's the only front they attack on. And not
even on the whole of that front. The man with the cigar kept talking about
the unconscious. But the only unconscious they ever pay attention to is the
negative unconscious, the garbage that people have tried to get rid of by
burying it in the basement. Not a single word about the positive
unconscious. No attempt to help the patient to open himself up to the life
force or the Buddha Nature. And no attempt even to teach him to be a little
more conscious in his everyday life. You know: 'Here and now, boys.'
'Attention.' " She gave an imitation of the mynah birds. "These people just
leave the unfortunate neurotic to wallow in his old bad habits of never being
all there in present time. The whole thing is just pure idiocy! No, the man
with the cigar didn't even have that excuse; he was as clever as clever can
be. So it's not idiocy. It must be something voluntary, something self-
induced—like getting drunk or talking yourself into believing some piece of
foolishness because it happens to be in the Scriptures. And then look at
their idea of what's normal. Believe it or not, a normal human being is one
who can have an orgasm and is adjusted to his society." Once again the
little nurse held her head between her hands. "It's unimaginable! No
question about what you do with your orgasms. No question about the
quality of your feelings and thoughts and perceptions. And then what about
the society you're supposed to be adjusted to? Is it a mad society or a sane
one? And even if it's pretty sane, is it right that anybody should be
completely adjusted to it?"
With another of his twinkling smiles, "Those whom God
81
would destroy," said the Ambassador, "He first makes mad. Or
alternatively, and perhaps even more effectively, He first makes them
sane." Mr. Bahu rose and walked to the window. "My car has come for me.
I must be getting back to Shivapuram and my desk." He turned to Will and
treated him to a long and flowery farewell. Then, switching off the
Ambassador, "Don't forget to write that letter," he said. "It's very important."
He smiled con-spiratorially and, passing his thumb back and forth across
the first two fingers of his right hand, he counted out invisible money.
"Thank goodness," said the little nurse when he had gone.
"What was his offense?" Will enquired. "The usual thing?"
"Offering money to someone you want to go to bed with— but she
doesn't like you. So you offer more. Is that usual where he comes from?"
"Profoundly usual," Will assured her.
"Well, I didn't like it."
"So I could see. And here's another question. What about Murugan?"
"What makes you ask?"
"Curiosity. I noticed that you'd met before. Was that when he was here
two years ago without his mother?"
"How did you know about that?"
"A little bird told me—or rather an extremely massive bird."
"The Rani! She must have made it sound like Sodom and Gomorrah."
"But unfortunately I was spared the lurid details. Dark hints—that was
all she gave me. Hints, for example, about veteran Messalinas giving
lessons in love to innocent young boys."
"And did he need those lessons!"
"Hints, too, about a precocious and promiscuous girl of his own age."
Nurse Appu burst out laughing.
"Did you know her?"
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"The precocious and promiscuous girl was me."
"You? Does the Rani know it?"
"Murugan only gave her the facts, not the names. For which I'm very
grateful. You see, I'd behaved pretty badly. Losing my head about
someone I didn't really love and hurting someone I did. Why is one so
stupid?"
"The heart has its reasons," said Will, "and the endocrines have
theirs."
There was a long silence. He finished the last of his cold boiled fish
and vegetables. Nurse Appu handed him a plate of fruit salad.
"You've never seen Murugan in white satin pajamas," she said.
"Have I missed something?"
"You've no idea how beautiful he looks in white satin pajamas. Nobody
has any right to be so beautiful. It's indecent. It's taking an unfair
advantage."
It was the sight of him in those white satin pajamas from Sulka that
had finally made her lose her head. Lose it so completely that for two
months she had been someone else—an idiot who had gone chasing after
a person who couldn't bear her and had turned her back on the person who
had always loved her, the person she herself had always loved.
"Did you get anywhere with the pajama boy?" Will asked.
"As far as a bed," she answered. "But when I started to kiss him, he
jumped out from between the sheets and locked himself in the bathroom.
He wouldn't come out until I'd passed his pajamas through the transom and
given him my word of honor that he wouldn't be molested. I can laugh
about it now; but at the time, I tell you, at the time . . ." She shook her head.
"Pure tragedy. They must have guessed, from the way I carried on, what
had happened. Precocious and promiscuous girls, it was obvious, were no
good. What he needed was regular lessons."
"And the rest of the story I know," said Will. "Boy writes to Mother,
Mother flies home and whisks him off to Switzerland."
83
"And they didn't come back until about six months ago. And for at least
half of that time they were in Rendang, staying with Murugan's aunt."
Will was on the point of mentioning Colonel Dipa, then remembered
that he had promised Murugan to be discreet and said nothing.
From the garden came the sound of a whistle.
"Excuse me," said the little nurse and went to the window. Smiling
happily at what she saw, she waved her hand. "It's Ranga."
"Who's Ranga?"
"That friend of mine I was talking about. He wants to ask you some
questions. May he come in for a minute?"
"Ofcourse."
She turned back to the window and made a beckoning gesture.
"This means, I take it, that the white satin pajamas are completely out
of the picture."
She nodded. "It was only a one-act tragedy. I found my head almost as
quickly as I'd lost it. And when I'd found it, there was Ranga, the same as
ever, waiting for me." The door swung open and a lanky young man in gym
shoes and khaki shorts came into the room.
"Ranga Karakuran," he announced as he shook Will's hand.
"If you'd come five minutes earlier," said Radha, "you'd have had the
pleasure of meeting Mr. Bahu."
"Was he here?" Ranga made a grimace of disgust.
"Is he as bad as all that?" Will asked.
Ranga listed the indictments. "A: He hates us. B: He's Colonel Dipa's
tame jackal. C: He's the unofficial ambassador of all the oil companies. D:
The old pig made passes at Radha. And E: He goes about giving lectures
about the need for a religious revival. He's even published a book about it.
Complete with preface by someone at the Harvard Divinity School. It's all
part
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of the campaign against Palanese independence. God is Dipa's alibi. Why
can't criminals be frank about what they're up to? All this disgusting
idealistic hogwash—it makes one vomit."
Radha stretched out her hand and gave his ear three sharp
tweaks.
"You little ..." he began angrily; then broke off and laughed. "You're
quite right," he said. "All the same, you didn't have to pull quite so hard."
"Is that what you always do when he gets worked up?" Will enquired of
Radha.
"Whenever he gets worked up at the wrong moment, or over things he
can't do anything about."
Will turned to the boy. "And do you ever have to tweak her
ear?"
Ranga laughed. "I find it more satisfactory," he said, "to smack her
bottom. Unfortunately, she rarely needs it."
"Does that mean she's better balanced than you are?"
"Better balanced? I tell you, she's abnormally sane."
"Whereas you're merely normal?"
"Maybe a little left of center." He shook his head. "I get horribly
depressed sometimes—feel I'm no good for anything."
"Whereas in fact," said Radha, "he's so good that they've given him a
scholarship to study biochemistry at the University
of Manchester."
"What do you do with him when he plays these despairing, miserable-
sinner tricks on you? Pull his ears?"
"That," she said, "and . . . well, other things." She looked at Ranga and
Ranga looked at her. Then they both burst out laughing.
"Quite," said Will. "Quite. And these other things being what they are,"
he went on, "is Ranga looking forward to the prospect of leaving Pala for a
couple of years?"
"Not much," Ranga admitted.
"But he has to go," said Radha firmly.
85
"And when he gets there," Will wondered, "is he going to be happy?"
"That's what I wanted to ask you," said Ranga. "Well, you won't like the
climate, you won't like the food, you won't like the noises or the smells or
the architecture. But you'll almost certainly like the work and you'll probably
find that you can like quite a lot of the people." "What about the girls?"
Radha enquired. "How do you want me to answer that question?" he
asked. "Consolingly or truthfully?" "Truthfully."
"Well, my dear, the truth is that Ranga will be a wild success. Dozens
of girls are going to find him irresistible. And some of those girls will be
charming. How will you feel if he can't resist?" "I'll be glad for his sake."
Will turned to Ranga. "And will you be glad if she consoles herself,
while you're away, with another boy?"
"I'd like to be," he said. "But whether I actually shall be glad—that's
another question."
"Will you make her promise to be faithful?" "I won't make her promise
anything." "Even though she's your girl?" "She's her own girl."
"And Ranga's his own boy," said the little nurse. "He's free to do what
he likes."
Will thought of Babs's strawberry-pink alcove and laughed ferociously.
"And free above all," he said, "to do what he doesn't like." He looked from
one young face to the other and saw that he was being eyed with a certain
astonishment. In another tone and with a different kind of smile, "But I'd
forgotten," he added. "One of you is abnormally sane and the other is only
a little left of center. So how can you be expected to understand what this
mental case from the outside is talking about?" And without leaving them
time to answer his question, "Tell me," he
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asked, "how long is it—" He broke off. "But perhaps I'm being indiscreet. If
so, just tell me to mind my own business. But 1 would like to know, just as
a matter of anthropological interest, how long you two have been friends."
"Do you mean 'friends'?" asked the little nurse. "Or do you mean
'lovers'?"
"Why not both, while we're about it?"
"Well, Ranga and I have been friends since we were babies. And
we've been lovers—except for that miserable white pajama episode—since
I was fifteen and a half and he was seventeen— just about two and a half
years."
"And nobody objected?"
"Why should they?"
"Why, indeed," Will echoed. "But the fact remains that, in my part of
the world, practically everybody would have objected."
"What about other boys?" Ranga asked.
"In theory they are even more out of bounds than girls. In practice . . .
Well, you can guess what happens when five or six hundred male
adolescents are cooped up together in a boarding school. Does that sort of
thing ever go on here?"
"Of course."
"I'm surprised."
"Surprised? Why?"
"Seeing that girls aren't out of bounds."
"But one kind of love doesn't exclude the other."
"And both are legitimate?"
"Naturally."
"So that nobody would have minded if Murugan had been interested in
another pajama boy?"
"Not if it was a good sort of relationship."
"But unfortunately," said Radha, "the Rani had done such a thorough
job that he couldn't be interested in anyone but her— and, of course,
himself."
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"No boys?"
"Maybe now. I don't know. All I know is that in my day there was
nobody in his universe. No boys and, still more emphatically, no girls. Only
Mother and masturbation and the Ascended Masters. Only jazz records
and sports cars and Hitlerian ideas about being a Great Leader and turning
Pala into what he calls a Modern State."
"Three weeks ago," said Ranga, "he and the Rani were at the palace,
in Shivapuram. They invited a group of us from the university to come and
listen to Murugan's ideas—on oil, on industrialization, on television, on
armaments, on the Crusade of the Spirit."
"Did he make any converts?"
Ranga shook his head. "Why would anyone want to exchange
something rich and good and endlessly interesting for something bad and
thin and boring? We don't feel any need for your speedboats or your
television, your wars and revolutions, vour revivals, your political slogans,
your metaphysical nonsense from Rome and Moscow. Did you ever hear of
maithuna?" he asked.
"Maithuna? What's that?"
"Let's start with the historical background," Ranga answered; and with
the engaging pedantry of an undergraduate delivering a lecture about
matters which he himself has only lately heard of, he launched forth.
"Buddhism came to Pala about twelve hundred years ago, and it came not
from Ceylon, which is what one would have expected, but from Bengal, and
through Bengal, later on, from Tibet. Result: we're Mahayanists, and our
Buddhism is shot through and through with Tantra. Do you know what
Tantra is?"
Will had to admit that he had only the haziest notion.
"And to tell you the truth," said Ranga, with a laugh that broke
irrepressibly through the crust of his pedantry, "I don't really know much
more than you do. Tantra's an enormous sub-
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ject and most of it, I guess, is just silliness and superstition—not worth
bothering about. But there's a hard core of sense. If you're a Tantrik, you
don't renounce the world or deny its value; you don't try to escape into a
Nirvana apart from life, as the monks of the Southern School do. No, you
accept the world, and you make use of it; you make use of everything you
do, of everything that happens to you, of all the things you see and hear
and taste and touch, as so many means to your liberation from the prison
of yourself."
"Good talk," said Will in a tone of polite skepticism.
"And something more besides," Ranga insisted. "That's the difference,"
he added—and youthful pedantry modulated into the eagerness of youthful
proselytism—"that's the difference between your philosophy and ours.
Western philosophers, even the best of them—they're nothing more than
good talkers. Eastern philosophers are often rather bad talkers, but that
doesn't matter. Talk isn't the point. Their philosophy is pragmatic and
operational. Like the philosophy of modern physics-except that the
operations in question are psychological and the results transcendental.
Your metaphysicians make statements about the nature of man and the
universe; but they don't offer the reader any way of testing the truth of
those statements. When we make statements, we follow them up with a list
of operations that can be used for testing the validity of what we've been
saying. For example, tat tvam asi, 'thou are That'—the heart of all our
philosophy. Tat tvam asi," he repeated. "It looks like a proposition in
metaphysics; but what it actually refers to is a psychological experience,
and the operations by means of which the experience can be lived through
are described by our philosophers, so that anyone who's willing to perform
the necessary operations can test the validity of tat tvam asi for himself.
The operations arc-called yoga, or dhyana, or Zen—or, in certain special
circumstances, maithuna."
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"Which brings us back to my original question. What is ntaithuna!"
"Maybe you'd better ask Radha."
Will turned to the little nurse. "What is it?"
u Maithuna," she answered gravely, "is the yoga of love."
"Sacred or profane?"
"There's no difference."
"That's the whole point," Ranga put in. "When you do maithuna,
profane love is sacred love."
"Buddhatvanyoshidyonisansritan," the girl quoted.
"None of your Sanskirt! What does it mean?"
"How would you translate Buddhatvan, Ranga?"
"Buddhaness, Buddheity, the quality of being enlightened."
Radha nodded and turned back to Will. "It means that Buddhaness is
in the yoni."
"In the yoni?" Will remembered those little stone emblems of the
Eternal Feminine that he had bought, as presents for the girls at the office,
from a hunchbacked vendor of bondieuseries at Benares. Eight annas for a
black yoni; twelve for the still more sacred image of the yoni-lingam.
"Literally in the yoniV he asked. "Or metaphorically?"
"What a ridiculous question!" said the little nurse, and she laughed her
clear unaffected laugh of pure amusement. "Do you think we make love
metaphorically? Buddhatvan yoshidyonisan-sritan" she repeated. "It
couldn't be more completely and absolutely literal."
"Did you ever hear of the Oneida Community?" Ranga now asked.
Will nodded. He had known an American historian who specialized in
nineteenth-century communities. "But why do you know about it?" he
asked.
"Because it's mentioned in all our textbooks of applied philosophy.
Basically, maithuna is the same as what the Oneida peo-
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pie called Male Continence. And that was the same as what Roman
Catholics mean by coitus reservatus."
"Reservatus," the little nurse repeated. "It always makes me want to
laugh. 'Such a reserved young man'!" The dimples reappeared and there
was a flash of white teeth.
"Don't be silly," said Ranga severely. "This is serious."
She expressed her contrition. "But reservatus was really too
funny."
"In a word," Will concluded, "it's just birth control without
contraceptives."
"But that's only the beginning of the story," said Ranga. "Maithuna is
also something else. Something even more important." The undergraduate
pedant had reasserted himself. "Remember," he went on earnestly,
"remember the point that Freud was always harping on."
"Which point? There were so many."
"The point about the sexuality of children. What we're born with, what
we experience all through infancy and childhood, is a sexuality that isn't
concentrated on the genitals; it's a sexuality diffused throughout the whole
organism. That's the paradise we inherit. But the paradise gets lost as the
child grows up. Maithuna is the organized attempt to regain that paradise."
He turned to Radha. "You've got a good memory," he said. "What's that
phrase of Spinoza's that they quote in the applied philosophy book?"
" 'Make the body capable of doing many things,' " she recited. " 'This
will help you to perfect the mind and so to come to the intellectual love of
God.' "
"Hence all the yogas," said Ranga. "Including maithuna."
"And it's a real yoga," the girl insisted. "As good as raja yoga, or karma
yoga, or bhakti yoga. In fact, a great deal better, so far as most people are
concerned. Maithuna really gets them there."
"What's 'there'?" Will asked.
" 'There' is where you know."
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"Know what?"
"Know who in fact you are—and believe it or not," she added, "tat tvam
asi—thou art That, and so am I: That is me." The dimples came to life, the
teeth flashed. "And That's also him." She pointed at Ranga. "Incredible,
isn't it?" She stuck out her tongue at him. "And yet it's a fact."
Ranga smiled, reached out and with an extended forefinger touched
the tip of her nose. "And not merely a fact," he said. "A revealed truth." He
gave the nose a little tap. "A revealed truth," he repeated. "So mind your
P's and Q's, young woman."
"What I'm wondering," said Will, "is why we aren't all enlightened—I
mean, if it's just a question of making love with a rather special kind of
technique. What's the answer to that?"
"I'll tell you," Ranga began.
But the girl cut him short. "Listen," she said, "listen!"
Will listened. Faint and far off, but still distinct, he heard the strange
inhuman voice that had first welcomed him to Pala. "Attention," it was
saying. "Attention, Attention ..."
"That bloody bird again!"
"But that's the secret."
"Attention? But a moment ago you were saying it was something else.
What about that young man who's so reserved?"
"That's just to make it easier to pay attention."
"And it does make it easier," Ranga confirmed. "And that's the whole
point of maithuna. It's not the special technique that turns love-making into
yoga; it's the kind of awareness that the technique makes possible.
Awareness of one's sensations and awareness of the not-sensation in
every sensation."
"What's a not-sensation?"
"It's the raw material for sensation that my not-self provides me with."
"And you can pay attention to your not-self?"
"Ofcourse."
Will turned to the little nurse. "You too?"
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"To myself," she answered, "and at the same time to my not-self. And
to Ranga's not-self, and to Ranga's self, and to Ranga's body, and to my
body and everything it's feeling. And to all the love and the friendship. And
to the mystery of the other person— the perfect stranger, who's the other
half of your own self, and the same as your not-self. And all the while one's
paying attention to all the things that, if one were sentimental, or worse, if
one were spiritual like the poor old Rani, one would find so unromantic and
gross and sordid even. But they aren't sordid, because one's also paying
attention to the fact that, when one's fully aware of them, those things are
just as beautiful as all the rest, just as wonderful."
"Maithuna is dhyana," Ranga concluded. A new word, he evidently felt,
would explain everything.
"But what is dhyana?" Will asked.
"Dhyana is contemplation."
"Contemplation."
Will thought of that strawberry-pink alcove above the Charing Cross
Road. Contemplation was hardly the word he would have chosen. And yet
even there, on second thoughts, even there he had found a kind of
deliverance. Those alienations in the changing light of Porter's Gin were
alienations from his odious daytime self. They were also, unfortunately,
alienations from all the rest of his being—alienations from love, from
intelligence, from common decency, from all consciousness but that of an
excruciating frenzy by corpse-light or in the rosy glow of the cheapest,
vulgarest illusion. He looked again at Radha's shining face. What
happiness! What a manifest conviction, not of the sin that Mr. Bahu was so
determined to make the world safe for, but of its serene and blissful
opposite! It was profoundly touching. But he refused to be touched. Noli me
tangere—it was a categor ical imperative. Shifting the focus of his mind, he
managed to see the whole thing as reassuringly ludicrous. What shall we
do to be saved? The answer is in four letters.
93
Smiling at his own little joke, "Were you taught maithuna at school?"
he asked ironically.
"At school," Radha answered with a simple matter-of-fact-ness that
took all the Rabelaisian wind out of his sails.
"Everybody's taught it," Ranga added.
"And when does the teaching begin?"
"About the same time as trigonometry and advanced biology. That's
between fifteen and fifteen and a half."
"And after they've learned maithuna, after they've gone out into the
world and got married—that is, if you ever do get married?"
"Oh, we do, we do," Radha assured him.
"Do they still practice it?"
"Not all of them, of course. But a good many do."
"All the time?"
"Except when they want to have a baby."
"And those who don't want to have babies, but who might like to have
a little change from maithuna—what do they do?"
"Contraceptives," said Ranga laconically.
"And are the contraceptives available?"
"Available! They're distributed by the government. Free, gratis, and for
nothing—except of course that they have to be paid for out of taxes."
"The postman," Radha added, "delivers a thirty-night supply at the
beginning of each month."
"And the babies don't arrive?"
"Only those we want. Nobody has more than three, and most people
stop at two."
"With the result," said Ranga, reverting, with the statistics, to his
pedantic manner, "that our population is increasing at less than a third of
one percent per annum. Whereas Rendang's increase is as big as
Ceylon's—almost three percent. And China's is two percent, and India's
about one point seven."
"I was in China only a month ago," said Will. "Terrifying!
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And last year I spent four weeks in India. And before India in Central
America, which is outbreeding even Rendang and Ceylon. Has either of
you been in Rendang-Lobo?"
Ranga nodded affirmatively.
"Three days in Rendang," he explained. "If you get into the Upper
Sixth, it's part of the advanced sociology course. They let you see for
yourself what the Outside is like."
"And what did you think of the Outside?" Will enquired.
Ranga answered with another question. "When you were in Rendang-
Lobo, did they show you the slums?"
"On the contrary, they did their best to prevent me from seeing the
slums. But I gave them the slip."
Gave them the slip, he was vividly remembering, on his way back to
the hotel from that grisly cocktail party at the Rendang Foreign Office.
Everybody who was anybody was there. All the local dignitaries and their
wives—uniforms and medals, Dior and emeralds. All the important
foreigners—diplomats galore, British and American oilmen, six members of
the Japanese trade mission, a lady pharmacologist from Leningrad, two
Polish engineers, a German tourist who just happened to be a cousin of
Krupp von Bohlen, an enigmatic Armenian representing a very important
financial consortium in Tangier, and, beaming with triumph, the fourteen
Czech technicians who had come with last month's shipment of tanks and
cannon and machine guns from Skoda. "And these are the people," he had
said to himself as he walked down the marble steps of the Foreign Office
into Liberty Square, "these are the people who rule the world. Twenty-nine
hundred millions of us at the mercy of a few scores of politicians, a few
thousands of tycoons and generals and moneylenders. Ye are the cyanide
of the earth—and the cyanide will never, never lose its savor."
After the glare of the cocktail party, after the laughter and the luscious
smells of canapes and Chanel-sprayed women, those alleys behind the
brand-new Palace of Justice had seemed doubly
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dark and noisome. Those poor wretches camping out under the palm trees
of Independence Avenue more totally abandoned by God and man than
even the homeless, hopeless thousands he had seen sleeping like corpses
in the streets of Calcutta. And now he thought of that little boy, that tiny
potbellied skeleton, whom he had picked up, bruised and shaken by a fall
from the back of the little girl, scarcely larger than himself, who was
carrying him—had picked up and, led by the other child, had carried hack,
carried down, to the windowless cellar that, for nine of them (he had
counted the dark ringwormy heads), was home.
"Keeping babies alive," he said, "healing the sick, preventing the
sewage from getting into the water supply—one starts with doing things
that are obviously and intrinsically good. And how does one end? One ends
by increasing the sum of human misery and jeopardizing civilization. It's the
kind of cosmic practical joke that God seems really to enjoy."
He gave the young people one of his flayed, ferocious grins. "God has
nothing to do with it," Ranga retorted, "and the joke isn't cosmic, it's strictly
man-made. These things aren't like gravity or the second law of
thermodynamics; they don't have to happen. They happen only if people
are stupid enough to allow them to happen. Here in Pala we haven't
allowed them to happen, so the joke hasn't been played on us. We've had
good sanitation for the best part of a century—and still we're not
overcrowded, we're not miserable, we're not under a dictatorship. And the
reason is very simple: we chose to behave in a sensible and realistic way."
"How on earth were you able to choose?" Will asked. "The right people
were intelligent at the right moment," said Ranga. "But it must be
admitted—they were also very lucky. In fact Pala as a whole has been
extraordinarily lucky. It's had the luck, first of all, never to have been
anyone's colony. Rendang has a magnificent harbor. That brought them an
Arab invasion in the Middle Ages. We have no harbor, so the Arabs left us
alone
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and we're still Buddhists or Shivaites—that is, when we're not Tantrik
agnostics."
"Is that what you are?" Will enquired. "A Tantrik agnostic?"
"With Mahayana trimmings," Ranga qualified. "Well, to return to
Rendang. After the Arabs it got the Portuguese. We didn't. No harbor, no
Portuguese. Therefore no Catholic minority, no blasphemous nonsense
about its being God's will that people should breed themselves into
subhuman misery, no organized resistance to birth control. And that isn't
our only blessing: After a hundred and twenty years of the Portuguese,
Ceylon and Rendang got the Dutch. And after the Dutch came the English.
We escaped both those infestations. No Dutch, no English, and therefore
no planters, no coolie labor, no cash crops for export, no systematic
exhaustion of our soil. Also no whisky, no Calvinism, no syphilis, no foreign
administrators. We were left to go our own way and take responsibility for
our own affairs."
"You certainly were lucky."
"And on top of that amazing good luck," Ranga went on, "there was
the amazing good management of Murugan the Reformer and Andrew
MacPhail. Has Dr. Robert talked to you about his great-grandfather?"
"Just a few words, that's all."
"Did he tell you about the founding of the Experimental Station?"
Will shook his head.
"The Experimental Station," said Ranga, "had a lot to do with our
population policy. It all began with a famine. Before he came to Pala, Dr.
Andrew spent a few years in Madras. The second year he was there, the
monsoon failed. The crops were burnt up, the tanks and even the wells
went dry. Except for the English and the rich, there was no food. People
died like flies. There's a famous passage in Dr. Andrew's memoirs about
the famine. A description and then a comment. He'd had to listen to
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a lot of sermons when he was a boy, and there was one he kept
remembering now, as he worked among the starving Indians. 'Man cannot
live by bread alone'—that was the text, and the preacher had been so
eloquent that several people were converted. 'Man cannot live by bread
alone.' But without bread, he now saw, there is no mind, no spirit, no inner
light, no Father in Heaven. There is only hunger, there is only despair and
then apathy and finally death."
"Another of the cosmic jokes," said Will. "And this one was formulated
by Jesus himself. 'To those who have shall be given, and from those who
have not shall be taken away even that which they have'—the bare
possibility of being human. It's the crudest of all God's jokes, and also the
commonest. I've seen it being played on millions of men and women,
millions of small children—all over the world."
"So you can understand why that famine made such an indelible
impression on Dr. Andrew's mind. He was resolved, and so was his friend
the Raja, that in Pala, at least, there should always be bread. Hence their
decision to set up the Experimental Station. Rothamsted-in-the-Tropics was
a great success. In a few years we had new strains of rice and maize and
millet and breadfruit. We had better breeds of cattle and chickens. Better
ways of cultivating and composting; and in the fifties we built the first
superphosphate factory east of Berlin. Thanks to all these things people
were eating better, living longer, losing fewer children. Ten years after the
founding of Rothamsted-in-the-Tropics the Raja took a census. The
population had been stable, more or less, for a century. Now it had started
to rise. In fifty or sixty years, Dr. Andrew foresaw, Pala would be
transformed into the kind of festering slum that Rendang is today. What
was to be clone? Dr. Andrew had read his Malthus. 'Food production
increases arithmetically; population increases geometrically. Man has only
two choices: he can either leave the matter to Nature, who will solve the
population problem in the old familiar way, by
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famine, pestilence and war: or else (Malthus being a clergyman) he can
keep down his numbers by moral restraint.' "
"Mor-ral r-restr-raint," the little nurse repeated, rolling her r's in the
Indonesian parody of a Scottish divine. "Mor-ral r-restr-raint! Incidentally,"
she added, "Dr. Andrew had just married the Raja's sixteen-year-old niece."
"And that," said Ranga, "was yet another reason for revising Malthus.
Famine on this side, restraint on that. Surely there must be some better,
happier, humaner way between the Malthusian horns. And of course there
was such a way even then, even before the age of rubber and spermicides.
There were sponges, there was soap, there were condoms made of every
known waterproof material from oiled silk to the blind gut of sheep. The
whole armory of Paleo-Birth Control."
"And how did the Raja and his subjects react to Paleo-Birth Control?
With horror?"
"Not at all. They were good Buddhists, and every good Bud dhist
knows that begetting is merely postponed assassination. Do your best to
get off the Wheel of Birth and Death, and for heaven's sake don't go about
putting superfluous victims onto the Wheel. For a good Buddhist, birth
control makes metaphys ical sense. And for a village community of rice
growers, it makes social and economic sense. There must be enough
young people to work the fields and support the aged and the little ones.
But not too many of them; for then neither the old nor the workers nor their
children will have enough to eat. In the old days, couples had to have six
children in order to raise two or three. Then came clean water and the
Experimental Station. Out of six chil dren five now survived. The old
patterns of breeding had ceased to make sense. The only objection to
Paleo-Birth Control was its crudity. But fortunately there was a more
aesthetic alternative. The Raja was a Tantrik initiate and had learned the
yoga of love. Dr. Andrew was told about maithunn and, being a true man of
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science, agreed to try it. He and his young wife were given the necessary
instruction."
"With what results?"
"Enthusiastic approval."
"That's the way everybody feels about it," said Radha.
"Now, now, none of your sweeping generalizations! Some feel that
way, others don't. Dr. Andrew was one of the enthusiasts. The whole
matter was lengthily discussed. In the end they decided that contraceptives
should be like education—free, tax-supported and, though not compulsory,
as nearly as possible universal. For those who felt the need for something
more refined, there would be instruction in the yoga of love."
"Do you mean to tell me that they got away with it?"
"It wasn't really so difficult. Maithuna was orthodox. People weren't
being asked to do anything against their religion. On the contrary, they
were being given a flattering opportunity to join the elect by learning
something esoteric."
"And don't forget the most important point of all," the little nurse
chimed in. "For women—all women, and I don't care what you say about
sweeping generalizations—the yoga of love means perfection, means
being transformed and taken out of themselves and completed." There was
a brief silence. "And now," she resumed in another, brisker tone, "it's high
time we left you to your siesta."
"Before you go," said Will, "I'd like to write a letter. Just a brief note to
my boss to say that I'm alive and in no immediate danger of being eaten by
the natives."
Radha went foraging in Dr. Robert's study and came back with paper,
pencil and an envelope.
" Veni, vidi," Will scrawled. "I was wrecked, I met the Rani and her
collaborator from Rendang, who implies that he can deliver the goods in
return for baksheesh to the tune (he was specific) of twenty thousand
pounds. Shall I negotiate on this
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basis? If you cable Proposed article OK, I shall go ahead. If No hurry for
article I shall let the matter drop. Tell my mother I am safe and shall soon
be writing."
"There," he said as he handed the envelope, sealed and addressed, to
Ranga. "May I ask you to buy me a stamp and get this off in time to catch
tomorrow's plane?"
"Without fail," the boy promised.
Watching them go, Will felt a twinge of conscience. What charming
young people! And here he was, plotting with Bahu and the forces of
history to subvert their world. He comforted himself with the thought that, if
he didn't do it, somebody else would. And even if Joe Aldehyde did get his
concession, they could still go on making love in the style to which they
were accustomed. Or couldn't they?
From the door the little nurse turned back for a final word. "No reading
now," she wagged her finger at him. "Go to sleep."
"I never sleep during the day," Will assured her, with a certain perverse
satisfaction.
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He could never go to sleep during the day; but when he looked next at
his watch, the time was twenty-five past four, and he was feeling
wonderfully refreshed. He picked up Notes on What's What, and resumed
his interrupted reading:
Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.
This was as far as he had got this morning; and now here was a new
section, the fifth:
Me as I think I am and me as I am in fact—sorrow, in other words, and
the ending of sorrow. One third, more or less, of all the sorrow that the
person I think I am must endure is unavoidable. It is the sorrow inherent in
the human condition, the price we must pay for being sentient and self-
conscious organisms, aspirants to liberation, but subject to the laws of
nature and under orders to keep on marching, through irreversible time,
through a world wholly indifferent to our well-being, toward decrepitude and
the certainty of
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death. The remaining two thirds of all sorrow is homemade and, so far as
the universe is concerned, unnecessary.
Will turned the page. A sheet of notepaper fluttered onto the bed. He
picked it up and glanced at it. Twenty lines of small clear writing and at the
bottom of the page the initials S. M. Not a letter evidently; a poem and
therefore public property. He read:
Somewhere between brute silence and last Sunday's
Thirteen hundred thousand sermons;
Somewhere between
Calvin on Christ (God help us!) and the lizards;
Somewhere between seeing and speaking, somewhere
Between our soiled and greasy currency of words
And the first star, the great moths fluttering
About the ghosts of flowers,
Lies the clear place where I, no longer I,
Nevertheless remember
Love's nightlong wisdom of the other shore;
And, listening to the wind, remember too
That other night, that first of widowhood,
Sleepless, with death beside me in the dark.
Mine, mine, all mine, mine inescapably!
But I, no longer I,
In this clear place between my thought and silence
See all I had and lost, anguish and joys,
Glowing like gentians in the Alpine grass,
Blue, unpossessed and open.
"Like gentians," Will repeated to himself, and thought of that summer
holiday in Switzerland when he was twelve; thought of the meadow, high
above Grindelwald, with its unfamiliar flowers, its wonderful un-English
butterflies; thought of the dark-blue sky and the sunshine and the huge
shining moun-
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tains on the other side of the valley. And all his father had found to say was
that it looked like an advertisement for Nestle's milk chocolate. "Not even
real chocolate," he had insisted with a grimace of disgust. "Milk chocolate."
After which there had been an ironic comment on the water color his
mother was painting— so badly (poor thing!) but with such loving and
conscientious care. "The milk chocolate advertisement that Nestle
rejected." And now it was his turn. "Instead of just mooning about with your
mouth open, like the village idiot, why not do something intelligent for a
change? Put in some work on your German grammar, for example." And
diving into the rucksack, he had pulled out, from among the hard-boiled
eggs and the sandwiches, the abhorred little brown book. What a
detestable mail! And yet, if Susila was right, one ought to be able to see
him now, after all these years, glowing like a gentian—Will glanced again at
the last line of the poem—"blue, unpossessed and open."
"Well ..." said a familiar voice.
He turned toward the door. "Talk of the devil," he said. "Or rather read
what the devil has written." He held up the sheet of notepaper for her
inspection.
Susila glanced at it. "Oh that,'' she said. "If only good intentions were
enough to make good poetry!" She sighed and shook her head.
"I was trying to think of my father as a gentian," he went on. "But all I
get is the persistent image of the most enormous turd."
"Even turds," she assured him, "can be seen as gentians."
"But only, I take it, in the place you were writing about—the clear place
between thought and silence?"
Susila nodded.
"How do you get there?"
"You don't get there. There comes to you. Or rather there is really
here."
"You're just like little Radha," he complained. "Parroting what the Old
Raja says at the beginning of this book."
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"If we repeat it," she said, "it's because it happens to be true. If we
didn't repeat it, we'd be ignoring the facts."
"Whose facts?" he asked. "Certainly not mine."
"Not at the moment," she agreed. "But if you were to do the kind of
things that the Old Raja recommends, they might be yours."
"Did you have parent trouble?" he asked after a little silence. "Or could
you aways see turds as gentians?"
"Not at that age," she answered. "Children have to be Manichean
dualists. It's the price we must all pay for learning the rudiments of being
human. Seeing turds as gentians, or rather seeing both gentians and turds
as Gentians with a capital G— that's a postgraduate accomplishment."
"So what did you do about your parents? Just grin and bear the
unbearable? Or did your father and mother happen to be bearable?"
"Bearable separately," she answered. "Especially my father. But quite
unbearable together—unbearable because they couldn't bear one another.
A bustling, cheerful, outgoing woman married to a man so fastidiously
introverted that she got on his nerves all the time—even, I suspect, in bed.
She never stopped communicating, and he never started. With the result
that he thought she was shallow and insincere, she thought he was
heartless, contemptuous and without normal human feelings."
"I'd have expected that you people would know better than to walk into
that kind of trap."
"We do know better," she assured him. "Boys and girls are specifically
taught what to expect of people whose temperament and physique are very
different from their own. Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that the
lessons don't seem to have much effect. Not to mention the fact that in
some cases the psychological distance between the people involved is
really too great to be bridged. Anyhow, the fact remains that my father and
mother never managed to make a go of it. They'd fallen in love with one
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another—goodness knows why. But when they came to close quarters, she
found herself being constantly hurt by his inaccessibility, while her
uninhibited good-fellowship made him fairly cringe with embarrassment and
distaste. My sympathies were always with my father. Physically and
temperamentally I'm very close to him, not in the least like my mother. I
remember, even as a tiny child, how I used to shrink away from her
exuberance. She was like a permanent invasion of one's privacy. She still
is."
"Do you have to see a lot of her?"
"Very little. She has her own job and her own friends. In our part of the
world 'Mother' is strictly the name of a function. When the function has
been duly fulfilled, the title lapses; the ex-child and the woman who used to
be called 'Mother' establish a new kind of relationship. If they get on well
together, they continue to see a lot of one another. If they don't, they drift
apart. Nobody expects them to cling, and clinging isn't equated with
loving—isn't regarded as anything particularly creditable."
"So all's well now. But what about then? What happened when you
were a child, growing up between two people who couldn't bridge the gulf
that separated them? I know what that means—the fairy-story ending in
reverse, 'And so they lived unhappily ever after.' "
"And I've no doubt," said Susila, "that if we hadn't been born in Pala,
we would have lived unhappily ever after. As it was, we got on, all things
considered, remarkably well."
"How did you manage to do that?"
"We didn't; it was all managed for us. Have you read what the Old Raja
says about getting rid of the two thirds of sorrow that's homemade and
gratuitous?"
Will nodded. "I was just reading it when you came in."
"Well, in the bad old days," she went on, "Palanese families could be
just as victimizing, tyrant-producing and liar-creating as yours can be today.
In fact they were so awful that Dr. Andrew and the Raja of the Reform
decided that something had to be
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done about it. Buddhist ethics and primitive village communism were
skillfully made to serve the purposes of reason, and in a single generation
the whole family system was radically changed." She hesitated for a
moment. "Let me explain," she went on, "in terms of my own particular
case—the case of an only child of two people who couldn't understand one
another and were always at cross-purposes or actually quarreling. In the
old days, a little girl brought up in those surroundings would have emerged
as either a wreck, a rebel, or a resigned hypocritical conformist. Under the
new dispensation I didn't have to undergo unnecessary suffer ing, I wasn't
wrecked or forced into rebellion or resignation. Why? Because from the
moment I could toddle, I was free to escape."
"To escape?" he repeated. "To escape?" It seemed too good to be
true.
"Escape," she explained, "is built into the new system. Whenever the
parental Home Sweet Home becomes too unbearable, the child is allowed,
is actively encouraged—and the whole weight of public opinion is behind
the encouragement— to migrate to one of its other homes."
"How many homes does a Palanese child have?"
"About twenty on the average."
"Twenty? My God!"
"We all belong," Susila explained, "to an MAC—a Mutual Adoption
Club. Every MAC consists of anything from fifteen to twenty-five assorted
couples. Newly elected brides and bridegrooms, old-timers with growing
children, grandparents and great-grandparents—everybody in the club
adopts everyone else. Besides our own blood relations, we all have our
quota of deputy mothers, deputy fathers, deputy aunts and uncles, deputy
brothers and sisters, deputy babies and toddlers and teen-agers."
Will shook his head. "Making twenty families grow where only one
grew before."
"But what grew before was your kind of family. The twenty
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are all our kind." As though reading instructions from a cookery book, "Take
one sexually inept wage slave," she went on, "one dissatisfied female, two
or (if preferred) three small television addicts; marinate in a mixture of
Freudism and dilute Christianity; then bottle up tightly in a four-room flat
and stew for fifteen years in their own juice. Our recipe is rather different:
Take twenty sexually satisfied couples and their offspring; add science,
intuition and humor in equal quantities; steep in Tantrik Buddhism and
simmer indefinitely in an open pan in the open air over a brisk flame of
affection."
"And what comes out of your open pan?" he asked. "An entirely
different kind of family. Not exclusive, like your families, and not
predestined, not compulsory. An inclusive, unpredestined and voluntary
family. Twenty pairs of fathers and mothers, eight or nine ex-fathers and
ex-mothers, and forty or fifty assorted children of all ages."
"Do people stay in the same adoption club all their lives?" "Of course
not. Grown-up children don't adopt their own parents or their own brothers
and sisters. They go out and adopt another set of elders, a different group
of peers and juniors. And the members of the new club adopt them and, in
due course, their children. Hybridization of microcultures—that's what our
sociologists call the process. It's as beneficial, on its own level, as the
hybridization of different strains of maize or chickens. Healthier
relationships in more responsible groups, wider sympathies and deeper
understandings. And the sympathies and understandings arc for everyone
in the MAC from babies to centenarians." "Centenarians? What's your
expectation of life?" "A year or two more than yours," she answered. "Ten
percent of us are over sixty-five. The old get pensions, if they can't earn.
But obviously pensions aren't enough. They need some-thing useful and
challenging to do; they need people they can care for and be loved by in
return. The MAC's fulfill those needs."
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"It all sounds," said Will, "suspiciously like the propaganda for one of
the new Chinese communes."
"Nothing," she assured him, "could be less like a commune than an
MAC. An MAC isn't run by the government, it's run by its members. And
we're not militaristic. We're not interested in turning out good party
members; we're only interested in turn ing out good human beings. We
don't inculcate dogmas. And finally we don't take the children away from
their parents; on the contrary, we give the children additional parents and
the parents additional children. That means that even in the nursery we
enjoy a certain degree of freedom; and our freedom increases as we grow
older and can deal with a wider range of experience and take on greater
responsibilities. Whereas in China there's no freedom at all. The children
are handed over to official baby tamers, whose business it is to turn them
into obedient servants of the State. Things are a great deal better in your
part of the world—better, but still quite bad enough. You escape the state
appointed baby-tamers; but your society condemns you to pass your
childhood in an exclusive family, with only a single set of siblings and
parents. They're foisted on you by hereditary pre destination. You can't get
rid of them, can't take a holiday from them, can't go to anyone else for a
change of moral or psycho logical air. It's freedom, if you like—but freedom
in a telephone booth."
"Locked in," Will elaborated, "(and I'm thinking now ol myself) with a
sneering bully, a Christian martyr, and a little girl who'd been frightened by
the bully and blackmailed by the mar tyr's appeal to her better feelings into
a state of quivering imbe cility. That was the home from which, until I was
fourteen and my aunt Mary came to live next door, I never escaped."
"And your unfortunate parents never escaped from you.'"
"That's not quite true. My father used to escape into brandy and my
mother into High Anglicanism. I had to serve out my
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sentence without the slightest mitigation. Fourteen years of family
servitude. How I envy you! Free as a bird!"
"Not so lyrical! Free, let's say, as a developing human being, lice as a
future woman—but no freer. Mutual Adoption guarantees children against
injustice and the worst consequences of parental ineptitude. It doesn't
guarantee them against discipline, or against having to accept
responsibilities. On the contrary, it increases the number of their
responsibilities; it exposes them to a wide variety of disciplines. In your
predestined and exclusive families, children, as you say, serve a long
prison term under a single set of parental jailers. These parental jailers
may, of course, be good, wise and intelligent. In that case the little
prisoners will emerge more or less unscathed. But in point of fact most of
your parental jailers are not conspicuously good, wise or intelligent. They're
apt to be well-meaning but stupid, or not well-meaning and frivolous, or
else neurotic, or occasionally downright malevolent, or frankly insane. So
God help the young convicts committed by law and custom and religion to
their tender mercies! But now consider what happens in a large, inclusive,
voluntary family. No telephone booths, no predestined jailers. Here the
children grow up in a world that's a working model of society at large, a
small-scale but accurate version of the environment in which they're going
to have to live when they're grown up. 'Holy,' 'healthy,' 'whole'—they all
come from the same root and carry different overtones of the same
meaning. Etymologically, and in fact, our kind of family, the inclusive and
voluntary kind, is the genuine holy family. Yours is the unholy family."
"Amen," said Will, and thought again of his own childhood, thought too
of poor little Murugan in the clutches of the Rani. "What happens," he
asked after a pause, "when the children migrate to one of their other
homes? How long do they stay there?"
"It all depends. When my children get fed up with me, they
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seldom stay away for more than a day or two. That's because,
fundamentally, they're very happy at home. I wasn't, and so when I walked
out, I'd sometimes stay away for a whole month."
"And did your deputy parents back you up against your real mother
and father?"
"It's not a question of doing anything against anybody. All that's being
backed up is intelligence and good feeling, and all that's being opposed is
unhappiness and its avoidable causes. If a child feels unhappy in his first
home, we do our best for him in fifteen or twenty second homes.
Meanwhile the father and mother get some tactful therapy from the other
members of their Mutual Adoption Club. In a few weeks the parents are fit
to be with their children again, and the children are fit to be with their
parents. But you mustn't think," she added, "that it's only when they're in
trouble that children resort to their deputy parents and grandparents. They
do it all the time, whenever they feel the need for a change or some kind of
new experience. And it isn't just a social whirl. Wherever they go, as deputy
children, they have their responsibilities as well as their rights—brushing
the dog, for example, cleaning out the birdcages, minding the baby while
the mother's doing something else. Duties as well as privileges—but not in
one of your airless little telephone booths. Duties and privileges in a big,
open, unpredestined, inclusive family, where all the seven ages of man and
a dozen different skills and talents are represented, and in which children
have experience of all the important and significant things that human
beings do and suffer—working, playing, loving, getting old, being sick,
dying ..." She was silent, thinking of Dugald and Dugald's mother; then,
deliberately changing her tone, "But what about you)" she went on. "I've
been so busy talking about families that I haven't even asked you how
you're feeling. You certainly look a lot better than when I saw you last."
"Thanks to Dr. MacPhail. And also thanks to someone who,
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I suspect, was definitely practicing medicine without a license. What on
earth did you do to me yesterday afternoon?"
Susila smiled. "You did it to yourself," she assured him. "I merely
pressed the buttons."
"Which buttons?"
"Memory buttons, imagination buttons."
"And that was enough to put me into a hypnotic trance?"
"If you like to call it that."
"What else can one call it?"
"Why call it anything? Names are such question-beggars. Why not be
content with just knowing that it happened?"
"But what did happen?"
"Well, to begin with, we made some kind of contact, didn't we?"
"We certainly did," he agreed. "And yet I don't believe I even so much
as looked at you."
He was looking at her now, though—looking and wondering, as he
looked, who this strange little creature really was, what lay behind the
smooth grave mask of the face, what the dark eyes were seeing as they
returned his scrutiny, what she was thinking.
"How could you look at me?" she said. "You'd gone off on your
vacation."
"Or was I pushed off?"
"Pushed? No." She shook her head. "Let's say seen off, helped off."
There was a moment of silence. "Did you ever," she resumed, "try to do a
job of work with a child hanging around?"
Will thought of the small neighbor who had offered to help him paint
the dining-room furniture, and laughed at the memory of his exasperation.
"Poor little darling!" Susila went on. "He means so well, he's do
anxious to help."
"But the paint's on the carpet, the fingerprints are all over the walls . . ."
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"So that in the end you have to get rid of him. 'Run along, little boy! Go
and play in the garden!' "
There was a silence.
"Well?" he questioned at last.
"Don't you see?"
Will shook his head.
"What happens when you're ill, when you've been hurt? Who does the
repairing? Who heals the wounds and throws off the infection? Do you?"
"Who else?"
"You?" she insisted. "You? The person that feels the pain and does
the worrying and thinks about sin and money and the future! Is that you
capable of doing what has to be done?"
"Oh, I see what you're driving at."
"At last!" she mocked.
"Send me to play in the garden so that the grown-ups can do their
work in peace. But who are the grown-ups?"
"Don't ask me," she answered. "That's a question for a neuro-
theologian."
"Meaning what?" he asked.
"Meaning precisely what it says. Somebody who thinks about people in
terms, simultaneously, of the Clear Light of the Void and the vegetative
nervous system. The grown-ups are a mixture of Mind and physiology."
"And the children?"
"The children are the little fellows who think they know better than the
grown-ups."
"And so must be told to run along and play."
"Exactly."
"Is your sort of treatment standard procedure in Pala?" he asked.
"Standard procedure," she assured him. "In your part of the world
doctors get rid of the children by poisoning them with
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barbiturates. We do it by talking to them about cathedrals and jackdaws."
Her voice had modulated into a chant. "About white clouds floating in the
sky, white swans floating on the dark, smooth, irresistible river of life . . ."
"Now, now," he protested. "None of that!"
A smile lit up the grave dark face, and she began to laugh. Will looked
at her with astonishment. Here, suddenly, was a different person, another
Susila MacPhail, gay, mischievous, ironical.
"I know your tricks," he added, joining in the laughter.
"Tricks?" Still laughing, she shook her head. "I was just explaining how
I did it."
"I know exactly how you did it. And I also know that it works. What's
more, I give you leave to do it again—whenever it's necessary."
"If you like," she said more seriously, "I'll show you how to press your
own buttons. We teach it in all our elementary schools. The three R's plus
rudimentary SD."
"What's that?"
"Self-Determination. Alias Destiny Control."
"Destiny Control?" He raised his eyebrows.
"No, no," she assured him, "we're not quite such fools as you seem to
think. We know perfectly well that only a part of our destiny is controllable."
"And you control it by pressing your own buttons?"
"Pressing our own buttons and then visualizing what we'd like to
happen."
"But does it happen?"
"In many cases it does."
"Simple!" There was a note of irony in his voice.
"Wonderfully simple," she agreed. "And yet, so far as I know, we're the
only people who systematically teach DC to their children. You just tell
them what they're supposed to do and leave it at that. Behave well, you
say. But how? You never tell
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them. All you do is give them pep talks and punishments. Pure idiocy."
"Pure unadulterated idiocy," he agreed, remembering Mr. Crabbe, his
housemaster, on the subject of masturbation, remembering the canings
and the weekly sermons and the Com mination Service on Ash
Wednesday. "Cursed is he that lieth with his neighbor's wife. Amen."
"If your children take the idiocy seriously, they grow up to be miserable
sinners. And if they don't take it seriously, they grow up to be miserable
cynics. And if they react from miserable cynicism, they're apt to go Papist
or Marxist. No wonder you have to have-all those thousands of jails and
churches and Communist cells."
"Whereas in Pala, I gather, you have very few."
Susila shook her head.
"No Alcatrazes here," she said. "No Billy Grahams or Mao Tse-tungs
or Madonnas of Fatima. No hells on earth and no Christian pie in the sky,
no Communist pie in the twenty-second century. Just men and women and
their children trying to make the best of the here and now, instead of living
somewhere else, as you people mostly do, in some other time, some other
home made imaginary universe. And it really isn't your fault. You're almost
compelled to live that way because the present is so frustrating. And it's
frustrating because you've never been taught how to bridge the gap
between theory and practice, between your New Year's resolutions and
your actual behavior."
" 'For the good that I would,' " he quoted, " 'I do not; and the evil that I
would not, that I do.' "
"Who said that?"
"The man who invented Christianity—St. Paul."
"You see," she said, "the highest possible ideals, and no methods for
realizing them."
"Except the supernatural method of having them realized by
Somebody Else."
Throwing back his head, Will Farnaby burst into song.
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"There is a fountain fill'd with blood,
Drawn from Emmanuel's veins, And sinners plunged beneath that
flood Are cleansed of all their stains."
Susila had covered her ears. "It's really obscene," she said.
"My housemaster's favorite hymn," Will explained. "We used to sing it
about once a week, all the time I was at school."
"Thank goodness," she said, "there was never any blood in Buddhism!
Gautama lived till eighty and died from being too courteous to refuse bad
food. Violent death always seems to call for more violent death. 'If you
won't believe that you're redeemed by my redeemer's blood, I'll drown you
in your own.' Last year I took a course at Shivapuram in the history of
Christianity." Susila shuddered at the memory. "What a horror! And all
because that poor ignorant man didn't know how to implement his good
intentions."
"And most of us," said Will, "are still in the same old boat. The evil that
we would not, that we do. And how!"
Reacting unforgivably to the unforgivable, Will Farnaby laughed
derisively. Laughed because he had seen the goodness of Molly and then,
with open eyes, had chosen the pink alcove and, with it, Molly's
unhappiness, Molly's death, his own gnawing sense of guilt, and then the
pain, out of all proportion to its low and essentially farcical cause, the
agonizing pain that he had felt when Babs in due course did what any fool
must have known she inevitably would do—turned him out of her infernal
gin-illumined paradise, and took another lover.
"What's the matter?" Susila asked.
"Nothing. Why do you ask?"
"Because you're not very good at hiding your feelings. You were
thinking of something that made you unhappy."
"You've got sharp eyes," he said, and looked away.
There was a long silence. Should he tell her? Tell her about
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Babs, about poor Molly, about himself, tell her all the dismal and
senseless things he had never, even when he was drunk, told even his
oldest friends? Old friends knew too much about one, too much about the
other parties involved, too much about the grotesque and complicated
game which (as an English gentleman who was also a bohemian, also a
would-be poet, also—in mere despair, because he knew he could never be
a good poet—a hard-boiled journalist, and the private agent, very well paid,
of a rich man whom he despised) he was always so elaborately playing.
No, old friends would never do. But from this dark little outsider, this
stranger to whom he already owed so much and with whom, though he
knew nothing about her, he was already so intimate, there would come no
foregone conclusions, no ex parte judgments—would come perhaps, he
found himself hoping (he who had trained himself never to hope!), some
unexpected enlightenment, some positive and practical help. (And, God
knew, he needed help—though God also knew only too well that he would
never say so, never sink so low as to ask for it.)
Like a muezzin in his minaret, one of the talking birds began to shout
from the tall palm beyond the mango trees, "Here and now, boys. Here and
now, boys."
Will decided to take the plunge—but to take it indirectly, by talking first,
not about his problems, but about hers. Without looking at Susila (for that,
he felt, would be indecent), he began to speak.
"Dr. MacPhail told me something about. . . about what happened to
your husband."
The words turned a sword in her heart; but that was to be expected,
that was right and inevitable. "It'll be four months next Wednesday," she
said. And then, meditatively, "Two people," she went on after a little
silence, "two separate individuals—but they add up to something like a new
creation. And then suddenly half
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of this new creature is amputated; but the other half doesn't die—can't die,
mustn't die."
"Mustn't die?"
"For so many reasons—the children, oneself, the whole nature of
things. But needless to say," she added, with a little smile that only
accentuated the sadness in her eyes, "needless to say the reasons don't
lessen the shock of the amputation or make the aftermath any more
bearable. The only thing that helps is what we were talking about just
now—Destiny Control. And even that..." She shook her head. "DC can give
you a completely painless childbirth. But a completely painless
bereavement—no. And of course that's as it should be. It wouldn't be right
if you could take away all the pain of a bereavement; you'd be less than
human."
"Less than human," he repeated. "Less than human ..." Three short
words; but how completely they summed him up! "The really terrible thing,"
he said aloud, "is when you know it's your fault that the other person died."
"Were you married?" she asked.
"For twelve years. Until last spring ..."
"And now she's dead?"
"She died in an accident."
"In an accident? Then how was it your fault?"
"The accident happened because . . . well, because the evil t hat I
didn't want to do, I did. And that day it came to a head. The hurt of it
confused and distracted her, and I let her drive away in the car—let her
drive away into a head-on collision."
"Did you love her?"
He hesitated for a moment, then slowly shook his head.
"Was there somebody else—somebody you cared for more?"
"Somebody I couldn't have cared for less." He made a grimace of
sardonic self-mockery.
"And that was the evil you didn't want to do, but did?"
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"Did and went on doing until I'd killed the woman I ought to have loved,
but didn't. Went on doing it even after I'd killed her, even though I hated
myself for doing it—yes, and really hated the person who made me do it."
"Made you do it, I suppose, by having the right kind of body?"
Will nodded, and there was a silence.
"Do you know what it's like," he asked at length, "to feel that nothing is
quite real-—including yourself?"
Susila nodded. "It sometimes happens when one's just on the point of
discovering that everything, including oneself, is much more real than one
ever imagined. It's like shifting gears: you have to go into neutral before
you change into high."
"Or low," said Will. "In my case, the shift wasn't up, it was down. No,
not even down; it was into reverse. The first time it happened I was waiting
for a bus to take me home from Fleet Street. Thousands upon thousands of
people, all on the move, and each of them unique, each of them the center
of the universe. Then the sun came out from behind a cloud. Everything
was extraordinarily bright and clear; and suddenly, with an almost audible
click, they were all maggots."
"Maggots?"
"You know, those little pale worms with black heads that one sees on
rotten meat. Nothing had changed, of course; people's faces were the
same, their clothes were the same. And yet they were all maggots. Not
even real maggots—just the ghosts of maggots, just the illusion of
maggots. And I was the illusion of a spectator of maggots. I lived in that
maggot world for months. Lived in it, worked in it, went out to lunch and
dinner in it—all without the least interest in what I was doing. Without the
least enjoyment or relish, completely desireless and, as I discovered when I
tried to make love to a young woman I'd had occasional fun with in the
past, completely impotent."
"What did you expect?"
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"Precisely that."
"Then why on earth . . . ?"
Will gave her one of his flayed smiles and shrugged his shoulders. "As
a matter of scientific interest. I was an entomologist investigating the sex
life of the phantom maggot."
"After which, I suppose, everything seemed even more unreal."
"Even more," he agreed, "if that was possible."
"But what brought on the maggots in the first place?"
"Well, to begin with," he answered, "I was my parents' son. By Bully
Boozer out of Christian Martyr. And on top of being my parents' son," he
went on after a little pause, "I was my aunt Mary's nephew."
"What did your aunt Mary have to do with it?"
"She was the only person I ever loved, and when I was sixteen she got
cancer. Off with the right breast; then, a year later, off with the left. And
after that nine months of X rays and radiation sickness. Then it got into the
liver, and that was the end. I was rhere from start to finish. For a boy in his
teens it was a liberal education—but liberal."
"In what?" Susila asked.
"In Pure and Applied Pointlessness. And a few weeks after i he close
of my private course in the subject came the grand opening of the public
course. World War II. Followed by the nonstop refresher course of Cold
War I. And all this time I'd been wanting to be a poet and finding out that I
simply don't have what it takes. And then, after the war, I had to go into
journalism to make money. What I wanted was to go hungry, if necessary,
but try to write something decent—good prose at least, seeing that it
couldn't be good poetry. But I'd reckoned without those darling parents of
mine. By the time he died, in lanuary of 'forty-six, my father had got rid of all
the little money our family had inherited and by the time she was blessedly
a widow, my mother was crippled with arthritis and had to be sup-
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ported. So there I was in Fleet Street, supporting her with an ease and a
success that were completely humiliating."
"Why humiliating?"
"Wouldn't you be humiliated if you found yourself making money by
turning out the cheapest, flashiest kind of literary forgery? I was a success
because I was so irremediably second-rate."
"And the net result of it all was maggots?"
He nodded. "Not even real maggots: phantom maggots. And here's
where Molly came into the picture. I met her at a high-class maggot party in
Bloomsbury. We were introduced, we made some politely inane
conversation about nonobjective painting. Not wanting to see any more
maggots, I didn't look at her; but she must have been looking at me. Molly
had very pale gray-blue eyes," he added parenthetically, "eyes that saw
everything—she was incredibly observant, but observed without malice or
censoriousness, seeing the evil, if it was there, but never condemning it,
just feeling enormously sorry for the person who was under compulsion to
think those thoughts and do that odious kind of thing. Well, as I say, she
must have been looking at me while we talked; for suddenly she asked me
why I was so sad. I'd had a couple of drinks and there was nothing
impertinent or offensive about the way she asked the question; so I told her
about the maggots. 'And you're one of them,' I finished up, and for the first
time I looked at her. 'A blue-eyed maggot with a face like one of the holy
women in attendance at a Flemish crucifixion.' "
"Was she flattered?"
"I think so. She'd stopped being a Catholic; but she still had a certain
weakness for crucifixions and holy women. Anyhow, next morning she
called me at breakfast time. Would I like to drive down into the country with
her? It was Sunday and, by a miracle, fine. I accepted. We spent an hour in
a hazel copse, picking primroses and looking at the little white windflowers.
One doesn't pick the windflowers," he explained, "because in an hour
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they're withered. I did a lot of looking in that hazel copse— looking at
flowers with the naked eye and then looking into them through the
magnifying glass that Molly had brought with her. I don't know why, but it
was extraordinarily therapeutic— just looking into the hearts of primroses
and anemones. For the rest of the day I saw no maggots. But Fleet Street
was still there, waiting for me, and by lunchtime on Monday the whole place
was crawling with them as thickly as ever. Millions of maggots. But now I
knew what to do about them. That evening I went to Molly's studio."
"Was she a painter?"
"Not a real painter, and she knew it. Knew it and didn't resent it, just
made the best of having no talent. She didn't paint for art's sake; she
painted because she liked looking at things, liked the process of trying
meticulously to reproduce what she saw. That evening she gave me a
canvas and a palette, and told me to do likewise." "And did it work?"
"It worked so well that when a couple of months later I cut open a
rotten apple, the worm at its center wasn't a maggot— not subjectively, I
mean. Objectively, yes; it was all that a maggot should be, and that's how I
portrayed it, how we both portrayed it—for we always painted the same
things at the same time."
"What about the other maggots, the phantom maggots outside the
apple?"
"Well, I still had relapses, especially in Fleet Street and at cocktail
parties; but the maggots were definitely fewer, definitely less haunting. And
meanwhile something new was happening in the studio. I was falling in
love—falling in love because love is catching and Molly was so obviously in
love with me—why, God only knows."
"I can see several possible reasons why. She might have loved you
because . . ." Susila eyed him appraisingly and smiled. "Well, because
you're quite an attractive kind of queer fish."
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He laughed. "Thank you for a handsome compliment."
"On the other hand," Susila went on, "(and this isn't quite so
complimentary), she might have loved you because you made her feel so
damned sorry for you."
"That's the truth, I'm afraid. Molly was a born Sister of Mercy."
"And a Sister of Mercy, unfortunately, isn't the same as a Wife of
Love."
"Which I duly discovered," he said.
"After your marriage, I suppose."
Will hesitated for a moment. "Actually," he said, "it was before. Not
because, on her side, there had been any urgency of desire, but only
because she was so eager to do anything to please me. Only because, on
principle, she didn't believe in conventions and was all for freely loving, and
more surprisingly" (he remembered the outrageous things she would so
casually and placidly give utterance to even in his mother's presence) "all
for freely talking about that freedom."
"You knew it beforehand," Susila summed up, "and yet you still
married her."
Will nodded his head without speaking.
"Because you were a gentleman, I take it, and a gentleman keeps his
word."
"Partly for that rather old-fashioned reason, but also because I was in
love with her."
" Were you in love with her?"
"Yes. No, I don't know. But at the time I did know. At least I thought I
knew. I was really convinced that I was really in love with her. And I knew, I
still know, why I was convinced. I was grateful to her for having exorcised
those maggots. And besides the gratitude there was respect. There was
admiration. She was so much better and honester than I was. But
unfortunately, you're right: a Sister of Mercy isn't the same as a Wife of
Love.
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But I was ready to take Molly on her own terms, not on mine. I was
ready to believe that her terms were better than mine."
"How soon," Susila asked, after a long silence, "did you start having
affairs on the side?"
Will smiled his flayed smile. "Three months to the day after our
wedding. The first time was with one of the secretaries at the office.
Goodness, what a bore! After that there was a young painter, a
curlyheaded little Jewish girl whom Molly had helped with money while she
was studying at the Slade. I used to go to her studio twice a week, from five
to seven. It was almost three years before Molly found out about it."
"And, I gather, she was upset?"
"Much more than I'd ever thought she'd be."
"So what did you do about it?"
Will shook his head. "This is where it begins to get complicated," he
said. "I had no intention of giving up my cocktail hours with Rachel; but I
hated myself for making Molly so unhappy. At the same time I hated her for
being unhappy. I resented her suffering and the love that had made her
suffer; I felt that they were unfair, a kind of blackmail to force me to give up
my innocent fun with Rachel. By loving me so much and being so
miserable about what I was doing—what she really forced me to do—she
was putting pressure on me, she was trying to restrict my freedom. But
meanwhile she was genuinely unhappy; and though I hated her for
blackmailing me with her unhappiness, I was filled with pity for her. Pity," he
repeated, "not compassion. Compassion is suffering-with, and what I
wanted at all costs was to spare myself the pain her suffering caused me,
and avoid the painful sacrifices by which I could put an end to her suffering.
Pity was my answer, being sorry for her from the outside, if you see what I
mean—sorry for her as a spectator, an aesthete, a connoisseur in
excruciations. And this aesthetic pity of mine was so intense, every time
her unhappiness
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came to a head, that I could almost mistake it for love. Almost, but never
quite. For when I expressed my pity in physical tenderness (which I did
because that was the only way of putting a temporary stop to her
unhappiness and to the pain her unhappi-ness was inflicting on me), that
tenderness was always frustrated 'i; before it could come to its natural
consummation. Frustrated because, by temperament, she was only a
Sister of Mercy, not a wife. And yet, on every level but the sensual, she
loved me with a total commitment—a commitment that called for an
answering commitment on my part. But I wouldn't commit myself, maybe I
genuinely couldn't. So instead of being grateful for her self-giving, I
resented it. It made claims on me, claims that I refused to acknowledge. So
there we were, at the end of every crisis, back at the beginning of the old
drama—the drama of a love incapable of sensuality self-committed to a
sensuality incapable of love and evoking strangely mixed responses of guilt
and exasperation, of pity and resentment, sometimes of real hatred (but
always with an undertone of remorse), the whole accompanied by, contra-
puntal to, a succession of furtive evenings with my little curly-headed
painter."
"I hope at least they were enjoyable," said Susila.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Only moderately. Rachel could never
forget that she was an intellectual. She had a way of asking what one
thought of Piero di Cosimo at the most inopportune moments. The real
enjoyment and of course the real agony—I never experienced them until
Babs appeared on the scene."
"When was that?"
"Just over a year ago. In Africa."
"Africa?"
"I'd been sent there by Joe Aldehyde."
"That man who owns newspapers?"
""And, all the rest. He was married to Molly's aunt Eileen. An
exemplary family man, I may add. That's why he's so serenely
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convinced of his own righteousness, even when he's engaged in the most
nefarious financial operations."
"And you're working for him?"
Will nodded. "That was his wedding present to Molly—a job for me on
the Aldehyde papers at almost twice the salary I'd been getting from my
previous employers. Princely! But then he was very fond of Molly."
"How did he react to Babs?"
"He never knew about her—never knew that there was any reason for
Molly's accident."
"So he goes on employing you for your dead wife's sake?"
Will shrugged his shoulders. "The excuse," he said, "is that I have my
mother to support."
"And of course you wouldn't enjoy being poor."
"I certainly wouldn't."
There was a silence.
"Well," said Susila at last, "let's get back to Africa."
"I'd been sent there to do a series on Negro Nationalism. Not to
mention a little private hanky-panky in the business line lor Uncle Joe. It
was on the plane, flying home from Nairobi. I found myself sitting next to
her."
"Next to the young woman you couldn't have liked less?"
"Couldn't have liked less," he repeated, "or disapproved of more. But if
you're an addict you've got to have your dope—the dope that you know in
advance is going to destroy you."
"It's a funny thing," she said reflectively, "but in Pala we have liardly
any addicts."
"Not even sex addicts?"
"The sex addicts are also person addicts. In other words, they're
lovers."
"But even lovers sometimes hate the people they love."
"Naturally. Because I always have the same name and the same nose
and eyes, it doesn't follow that I'm always the same
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woman. Recognizing that fact and reacting to it sensibly—that's part of the
Art of Loving."
As succinctly as he could, Will told her the rest of the story. It was the
same story, now that Babs had come on the scene, as it had been before—
the same but much more so. Babs had been Rachel raised, so to speak, to
a higher power—Rachel squared, Rachel to the rath. And the unhappiness
that, because of Babs, he had inflicted upon Molly was proportionately
greater than anything she had had to suffer on account of Rachel.
Proportionately greater, too, had been his own exasperation, his own
resentful sense of being blackmailed by her love and suffering, his own
remorse and pity, his own determination, in spite of the remorse and the
pity, to go on getting what he wanted, what he hated himself for wanting,
what he resolutely refused to do without. And meanwhile Babs had become
more demanding, was claiming ever more and more of his time—time not
only in the strawberry-pink alcove, but also outside, in restaurants, and
nightclubs, at her horrible friends' cocktail parties, on weekends in the
country. "Just you and me, darling," she would say, "all alone together." All
alone together in an isolation that gave him the opportunity to plumb the
almost unfathomable depths of her mindlessness and vulgarity. But through
all his boredom and distaste, all his moral and intellectual repugnance, the
craving persisted. After one of those dreadful weekends, he was as
hopelessly a Babs addict as he had been before. And on her side, on her
own Sister-of-Mercy level, Molly had remained, in spite of everything, no
less hopelessly a Will Farnaby addict. Hopelessly so far as he was
concerned—for his one wish was that she should love him less and allow
him to go to hell in peace. But, so far as Molly herself was concerned, the
addiction was always and irre-pressibly hopeful. She never ceased to
expect the transfiguring miracle that would change him into the kind,
unselfish, loving Will Farnaby whom (in the teeth of all the evidence, all the
repeated disappointments) she stubbornly insisted on regarding
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as his true self. It was only in the course of that last fatal interview, only
when (stifling his pity and giving free rein to his resentment of her
blackmailing unhappiness) he had announced his intention of leaving her
and going to live with Babs—it was only then that hope had finally given
place to hopelessness. "Do you mean it, Will—do you really mean it?" "I
really mean it." It was in hopelessness, in utter hopelessness, that she had
walked out to the car, had driven away into the rain—into her death. At the
funeral, when the coffin was lowered into the grave, he had promised
himself that he would never see Babs again. Never, never, never again.
That evening, while he was sitting at his desk trying to write an article on
"What's Wrong with Youth," trying not to remember the hospital, the open
grave, and his own responsibility for everything that had happened, he was
startled by the shrill buzzing of the doorbell. A belated message of
condolence, no doubt. . . He had opened, and there, instead of the
telegram, was Babs—dramatically without makeup and all in black.
"My poor, poor Will!" They had sat down on the sofa in the living room,
and she had stroked his hair and both of them had cried.
"When pain and anguish wring the brow, a ministering angel thou." An
hour later, needless to say, they were naked and in bed. After which he had
moved, earth to earth, into the pink alcove. Within three months, as any
fool could have foreseen, Babs had begun to tire of him; within four, an
absolutely divine man from Kenya had turned up at a cocktail party. One
thing had led to another and when, three days later, Babs came home, it
was to prepare the alcove for a new tenant and give notice to the old.
"Do you really mean it, Babs?" She really meant it.
There was a rustling in the bushes outside the window and an instant
later, standingly loud and slightly out of time, "Here and now, boys,"
shouted a talking bird.
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"Shut up!" Will shouted back.
"Here and now, boys," the mynah repeated. "Here and now, boys.
Here and—"
"Shut up!"
There was silence.
"I had to shut him up," Will explained, "because of course he's
absolutely right. Here, boys; now, boys. Then and there are absolutely
irrelevant. Or aren't they? What about your husband's death, for example?
Is that irrelevant?"
Susila looked at him for a moment in silence, then slowly nodded her
head. "In the context of what I have to do now— yes, completely irrelevant.
That's something I had to learn."
"Does one learn how to forget?"
"It isn't a matter of forgetting. What one has to learn is how to
remember and yet be free of the past. How to be there with the dead and
yet still be here, on the spot, with the living." She gave him a sad little smile
and added, "It isn't easy."
"It isn't easy," Will repeated. And suddenly all his defenses were down,
all his pride had left him. "Will you help me?" he asked.
"It's a bargain," she said, and held out her hand.
A sound of footsteps made them turn their heads. Dr. MacPhail had
entered the room.
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"Good evening, my dear. Good evening, Mr. Farnaby."
The tone was cheerful—not, Susila was quick to notice, with any kind
of synthetic cheerfulness, but naturally, genuinely. And yet, before coming
here, he must have stopped at the hospital, must have seen Lakshmi as
Susila herself had seen her only an hour or two since, more dreadfully
emaciated than ever, more skull-like and discolored. Half a long lifetime of
love and lovalty and mutual forgiveness—and in another day or two it
would be all over; he would be alone. But sufficient unto the day is the evil
thereof-—sufficient unto the place and the person. "One has no right," her
father-in-law had said to her one day as they were leaving the hospital
together, "one has no right to inflict one's sadness on other people. And no
right, of course, to pretend that one isn't sad. One just has to accept one's
grief and one's absurd attempts to be a stoic. Accept, accept..." His voice
broke. Looking up at him, she saw that his face was wet with tears. Five
minutes later they were sitting on a bench, at the edge of the lotus pool, in
the shadow of the huge stone Buddha. With a little plop, sharp and yet
liquidly voluptuous, an unseen frog dived from its round leafy platform into
the water. Thrusting up from
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the mud, the thick green stems with their turgid buds broke through into the
air, and here and there the blue or rosy symbols of enlightenment had
opened their petals to the sun and the probing visitations of flies and tiny
beetles and the wild bees from the jungle. Darting, pausing in mid-flight,
darting again, a score of glittering blue and green dragonflies were hawking
for
midges.
"Tathata," Dr. Robert had whispered. "Suchness."
For a long time they sat there in silence. Then, suddenly, he had
touched her shoulder.
"Look!"
She lifted her eyes to where he was pointing. Two small parrots had
perched on the Buddha's right hand and were going through the ritual of
courtship.
"Did you stop again at the lotus pool?" Susila asked aloud.
Dr. Robert gave her a little smile and nodded his head.
"How was Shivapuram?" Will enquired.
"Pleasant enough in itself," the doctor answered. "Its only defect is that
it's so close to the outside world. Up here one can simply ignore the
organized insanities and get on with one's work. Down there, with all those
antennae and listening posts and channels of communication that a
government has to have, the outside world is perpetually breathing down
one's neck. One hears it, feels it, smells it—yes, smells it."
"Has anything more than usually disastrous happened since I've been
here?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary at your end of the world. I wish I could say
the same about our end."
"What's the trouble?"
"The trouble is our next-door neighbor, Colonel Dipa. To begin with,
he's made another deal with the Czechs."
"More armaments?"
"Sixty million dollars' worth. It was on the radio this morning."
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"But what on earth for?"
"The usual reasons. Glory and power. The pleasures of vanity and the
pleasures of bullying. Terrorism and military parades at home; conquests
and Te Deums abroad. And that brings me to the second item of
unpleasant news. Last night the Colonel delivered another of his celebrated
Greater Rendang speeches." "Greater Rendang? What's that?"
"You may well ask," said Dr. Robert. "Greater Rendang is the territory
controlled by the Sultans of Rendang-Lobo between 1447 and 1483. It
included Rendang, the Nicobar Islands, about thirty percent of Sumatra and
the whole of Pala. Today, it's Colonel Dipa's Irredenta.'" "Seriously?"
"With a perfectly straight face. No, I'm wrong. With a purple, distorted
face and at the top of a voice that he has trained, after long practice, to
sound exactly like Hitler's. Greater Rendang or death!"
"But the great powers would never allow it." "Maybe they wouldn't like
to see him in Sumatra. But Pala— that's another matter." He shook his
head. "Pala, unfortunately, is in nobody's good books. We don't want the
Communists; but neither do we want the capitalists. Least of all do we want
the wholesale industrialization that both parties are so anxious to impose
on us—for different reasons, of course. The West wants it because our
labor costs are low and investors' dividends will be correspondingly high.
And the East wants it because industrialization will create a proletariat,
open fresh fields for Communist agitation and may lead in the long run to
the setting up of yet another People's Democracy. We say no to both of
you, so we're unpopular everywhere. Regardless of their ideologies, all the
Great Powers may prefer a Rendang-controlled Pala with oil fields to an
independent Pala without. If Dipa attacks us, they'll say it's most
deplorable; but they won't lift a finger. And when he takes us over and calls
the oilmen in, they'll be delighted."
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"What can you do about Colonel Dipa?" Will asked.
"Except for passive resistance, nothing. We have no army and no
powerful friends. The Colonel has both. The most we can do, if he starts
making trouble, is to appeal to the United Nations. Meanwhile we shall
remonstrate with the Colonel about this latest Greater Rendang effusion.
Remonstrate through our minister in Rendang-Lobo, and remonstrate with
the great man in person when he pays his state visit to Pala ten days from
now."
"A state visit?"
"For the young Raja's coming-of-age celebrations. He was asked a
long time ago, but he never let us know for certain whether he was coming
or not. Today it was finally settled. We'll have a summit meeting as well as
a birthday party. But let's talk about something more rewarding. How did
you get on today, Mr. Farnaby?"
"Not merely well—gloriously. I had the honor of a visit from your
reigning monarch."
"Murugan?"
"Why didn't you tell me he was your reigning monarch?"
Dr. Robert laughed. "You might have asked for an interview."
"Well, I didn't. Nor from the Queen Mother."
"Did the Rani come too?"
"At the command of her Little Voice. And, sure enough, the Little Voice
sent her to the right address. My boss, Joe Aldehyde, is one of her dearest
friends."
"Did she tell you that she's trying to bring your boss here, to exploit our
oil?"
"She did indeed."
"We turned down his latest offer less than a month ago. Did you know
that?"
Will was relieved to be able to answer quite truthfully that he didn't.
Neither Joe Aldehyde nor the Rani had told him of this most recent rebuff.
"My job," he went on, a little less truthfully, "is in the wood-pulp department,
not in petroleum." There was
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a silence. "What's my status here?" he asked at last. "Undesirable alien?"
"Well, fortunately you're not an armament salesman."
"Nor a missionary," said Susila.
"Nor an oilman—though on that count you might be guilty by
association."
"Nor even, so far as we know, a uranium prospector."
"Those," Dr. Robert concluded, "are the Alpha Plus undesirables. As a
journalist you rank as a Beta. Not the kind of person we should ever dream
of inviting to Pala. But also not the kind who, having managed to get here,
requires to be summarily deported."
"I'd like to stay here for as long as it's legally possible," said Will.
"May I ask why?"
Will hesitated. As Joe Aldehyde's secret agent and a reporter with a
hopeless passion for literature, he had to stay long enough to negotiate
with Bahu and earn his year of freedom. But there were other, more
avowable reasons. "If you don't object to personal remarks," he said, "I'll tell
you."
"Fire away," said Dr. Robert.
"The fact is that, the more I see of you people the better I like you. I
want to find out more about you. And in the process," he added, glancing at
Susila, "I might find out some interesting things about myself. How long
shall I be allowed to stay?"
"Normally we'd turn you out as soon as you're fit to travel. But if you're
seriously interested in Pala, above all if you're seriously interested in
yourself—well, we might stretch a point. Or shouldn't we stretch that point?
What do you say, Susila? After all, he does work for Lord Aldehyde."
Will was on the point of protesting again that his job was in the wood-
pulp department; but the words stuck in his throat and he said nothing. The
seconds passed. Dr. Robert repeated his question.
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"Yes," Susila said at last, "we'd be taking a certain risk. But personally
. . . personally I'd be ready to take it. Am I right?" she turned to Will.
"Well, I think you can trust me. At least I hope you can." He laughed,
trying to make a joke of it; but to his annoyance and embarrassment, he felt
himself blushing. Blushing for what? he demanded resentfully of his
conscience. If anybody was being double-crossed, it was Standard of
California. And once Dipa had moved in, what difference would it make
who got the concession? Which would you rather be eaten by—a wolf or a
tiger? So far as the lamb is concerned, it hardly seems to matter. Joe would
be no worse than his competitors. All the same, he wished he hadn't been
in such a hurry to send off that letter. And why, why couldn't that dreadful
woman have left him in peace?
Through the sheet he felt a hand on his undamaged knee. Dr. Robert
was smiling down at him.
"You can have a month here," he said. "I'll take full responsibility for
you. And we'll do our best to show you everything."
"I'm very grateful to you."
"When in doubt," said Dr. Robert, "always act on the assumption that
people are more honorable than you have any solid reason for supposing
they are. That was the advice the Old Raja gave me when I was a young
man." Turning to Susila, "Let's see," he said, "how old were you when the
Old Raja died?"
"Just eight."
"So you remember him pretty well."
Susila laughed. "Could anyone ever forget the way he used to talk
about himself. 'Quote "I" (unquote) like sugar in my tea.' What a darling
man."
"And what a great one!"
Dr. MacPhail got up and, crossing to the bookcase that stood between
the door and the wardrobe, pulled out of its lowest shelf a thick red album,
much the worse for tropical weather and
135
fish insects. "There's a picture of him somewhere," he said as he turned
over the pages. "Here we are."
Will found himself looking at the faded snapshot of a little old Hindu in
spectacles and a loincloth, engaged in emptying the contents of an
extremely ornate silver sauceboat over a small squat pillar.
"What is he doing?" he asked.
"Anointing a phallic symbol with melted butter," the doctor answered.
"It was a habit my poor father could never break him of."
"Did your father disapprove of phalluses?"
"No, wo," said Dr. MacPhail. "My father was all for them. It was the
symbol that he disapproved of."
"Why the symbol?"
"Because he thought that people ought to take their religion warm from
the cow, if you see what I mean. Not skimmed or pasteurized or
homogenized. Above all not canned in any kind of theological or liturgical
container."
"And the Raja had a weakness for containers?"
"Not for containers in general. Just this one particular tin can. He'd
always felt a special attachment to the family lingam. It was made of black
basalt, and was at least eight hundred years old."
"I see," said Will Farnaby.
"Buttering the family lingam—it was an act of piety, it expressed a
beautiful sentiment about a sublime idea. But even the sublimest of ideas is
totally different from the cosmic mystery it's supposed to stand for. And the
beautiful sentiments connected with the sublime idea—what do they have
in common with the direct experience of the mystery? Nothing whatsoever.
Needless to say, the Old Raja knew all this perfectly well. Better than my
father. He'd drunk the milk as it came from the cow, he'd actually been the
milk. But the buttering of lingams was a devotional practice he just couldn't
bear to give up. And, I don't have to tell you, he should never have been
asked to give it up.
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But where symbols were concerned, my father was a puritan. He'd
amended Goethe—Alles vergdnglkhe ist nicht ein Gleich-nis. His ideal was
pure experimental science at one end of the spectrum and pure
experimental mysticism at the other. Direct experience on every level and
then clear, rational statements about those experiences. Lingams and
crosses, butter and holy water, sutras, gospels, images, chanting—he'd
have liked to abolish them all."
"Where would the arts have come in?" Will questioned.
"They wouldn't have come in at all," Dr. MacPhail answered. "And that
was my father's blindest spot—poetry. He said he liked it; but in fact he
didn't. Poetry for its own sake, poetry as an autonomous universe, out
there, in the space between direct experience and the symbols of
science—that was something he simply couldn't understand. Let's find his
picture."
Dr. MacPhail turned back the pages of the album and pointed to a
craggy profile with enormous eyebrows.
"What a Scotsman!" Will commented.
"And yet his mother and his grandmother were Palanese."
"One doesn't see a trace of them."
"Whereas his grandfather, who hailed from Perth, might almost have
passed for a Rajput."
Will peered into the ancient photograph of a young man with an oval
face and black side-whiskers, leaning his elbow on a marble pedestal on
which, bottom upwards, stood his inordinately tall top hat.
"Your great-grandfather?"
"The first MacPhail of Pala. Dr. Andrew. Born 1822, in the Royal
Burgh, where his father, James MacPhail, owned a rope mill. Which was
properly symbolical; for James was a devout Calvinist, and being
convinced that he himself was one of the elect, derived a deep and glowing
satisfaction from the thought of all those millions of his fellow men going
through life with the
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noose of predestination about their necks, and Old Nobodaddy Aloft
counting the minutes to spring the trap."
Will laughed.
"Yes," Dr. Robert agreed, "it does seem pretty comic. But it didn't then.
Then it was serious—much more serious than the H-bomb is today. It was
known for certain that ninety-nine point nine percent of the human race
were condemned to everlasting brimstone. Why? Either because they'd
never heard of Jesus; or, if they had, because they couldn't believe
sufficiently strongly that Jesus had delivered them from the brimstone. And
the proof that they didn't believe sufficiently strongly was the empirical,
observable fact that their souls were not at peace. Perfect faith is defined
as something that produces perfect peace of mind. But perfect peace of
mind is something that practically nobody possesses. Therefore practically
nobody possesses perfect faith. Therefore practically everybody is
predestined to eternal punishment. Quod erat demonstrandum.''''
"One wonders," said Susila, "why they didn't all go mad."
"Fortunately most of them believed only with the tops of their heads.
Up here." Dr. MacPhail tapped his bald spot. "With the tops of their heads
they were convinced it was the Truth with the largest possible T. But their
glands and their guts knew better— knew that it was all sheer bosh. For
most of them, Truth was true only on Sundays, and then only in a strictly
Pickwickian sense. James MacPhail knew all this and was determined that
his children should not be mere Sabbath-day believers. They were to
believe every word of the sacred nonsense even on Mondays, even on
half-holiday afternoons; and they were to believe with their whole being, not
merely up there, in the attic. Perfect faith and the perfect peace that goes
with it were to be forced into them. How? By giving them hell now and
threatening them with hell hereafter. And if, in their devilish perversity, they
refused to have perfect faith, and be at peace, give them more hell and
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threaten hotter fires. And meanwhile tell them that good works are as filthy
rags in the sight of God; but punish them ferociously for every
misdemeanor. Tell them that by nature they're totally depraved, then beat
them for being what they inescapably are."
Will Farnaby turned back to the album.
"Do you have a picture of this delightful ancestor of yours?"
"We had an oil painting," said Dr. MacPhail. "But the dampness was
too much for the canvas, and then the fish insects got into it. He was a
splendid specimen. Like a High Renaissance picture of Jeremiah. You
know—majestic, with an inspired eye and the kind of prophetic beard that
covers such a multitude of physiognomic sins. The only relic of him that
remains is a pencil drawing of his house."
He turned back another page and there it was.
"Solid granite," he went on, "with bars on all the windows. And, inside
that cozy little family Bastille, what systematic inhumanity! Systematic
inhumanity in the name, needless to say, of Christ and for righteousness'
sake. Dr. Andrew left an unfinished autobiography, so we know all about it."
"Didn't the children get any help from their mother?"
Dr. MacPhail shook his head.
"Janet MacPhail was a Cameron and as good a Calvinist as James
himself. Maybe an even better Calvinist than he was. Being a woman, she
had further to go, she had more instinctive decencies to overcome. But she
did overcome them—heroically. Far from restraining her husband, she
urged him on, she backed him up. There were homilies before breakfast
and at the midday dinner; there was the catechism on Sundays and
learning the Epistles by heart; and every evening, when the day's
delinquencies had been added up and assessed, methodical whipping, with
a whalebone riding switch on the bare buttocks, for all six children, girls as
well as boys, in order of seniority."
"It always makes me feel slightly sick," said Susila. "Pure sadism."
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"No, not pure," said Dr. MacPhail. "Applied sadism. Sadism with an
ulterior motive, sadism in the service of an ideal, as the expression of a
religious conviction. And that's a subject," he added, turning to Will, "that
somebody ought to make a historical study of—the relation between
theology and corporal punishment in childhood. I have a theory that,
wherever little boys and girls are systematically flagellated, the victims grow
up to think of God as 'Wholly Other'—isn't that the fashionable argot in your
part of the world? Wherever, on the contrary, children are brought up
without being subjected to physical violence, God is immanent. A people's
theology reflects the state of its children's bottoms. Look at the Hebrews—
enthusiastic child-beaters. And so were all good Christians in the Ages of
Faith. Hence Jehovah, hence Original Sin and the infinitely offended Father
of Roman and Protestant orthodoxy. Whereas among Buddhists and
Hindus education has always been nonviolent. No laceration of little
buttocks—therefore tat tvam asi, thou art That, mind from Mind is not
divided. And look at the Quakers. They were heretical enough to believe in
the Inner Light, and what happened? They gave up beating their children
and were the first Christian denomination to protest against the institution of
slavery."
"But child-beating," Will objected, "has quite gone out of fashion
nowadays. And yet it's precisely at this moment that it has become modish
to hold forth about the Wholly Other."
Dr. MacPhail waved the objection away. "It's just a case of reaction
following action. By the second half of the nineteenth century freethinking
humanitarianism had become so strong that even good Christians were
influenced by it and stopped beating their children. There were no weals on
the younger generation's posterior; consequently, it ceased to think of God
as the Wholly Other and proceeded to invent New Thought, Unity, Christian
Science—all the semi-Oriental heresies in which God is the Wholly
Identical. The movement was well under way in
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William James's day, and it's been gathering momentum ever since.
But thesis always invites antithesis and in due course the heresies begat
Neo-Orthodoxy. Down with the Wholly Identical and back to the Wholly
Other! Back to Augustine, back to Martin Luther—back, in a word, to the
two most relentlessly flagellated bottoms in the whole history of Christian
thought. Read the Confessions, read the Table Talk. Augustine was beaten
by his schoolmaster and laughed at by his parents when he complained,
Luther was systematically flogged not only by his teachers and his father,
but even by his loving mother. The world has been paying for the scars on
his buttocks ever since. Prussianism and the Third Reich—without Luther
and his flagellation theology these monstrosities could never have come
into existence. Or take the flagellation theology of Augustine, as carried to
its logical conclusions by Calvin and swallowed whole by pious folk like
James MacPhail and Janet Cameron. Major premise: God is Wholly Other.
Minor premise: man is totally depraved. Conclusion: Do to your children's
bottoms what was done to yours, what your Heavenly Father has been
doing to the collective bottom of humanity ever since the Fall: whip, whip,
whip!"
There was a silence. Will Farnaby looked again at the drawing of the
granite person in the rope walk, and thought of all the grotesque and ugly
phantasies promoted to the rank of supernatural facts, all the obscene
cruelties inspired by those phantasies, all the pain inflicted and the miseries
endured because of them. And when it wasn't Augustine with his
"benignant asperity," it was Robespierre, it was Stalin; when it wasn't
Luther exhorting the princes to kill the peasants, it was a genial Mao
reducing them to slavery.
"Don't you sometimes despair?" he asked.
Dr. MacPhail shook his head. "We don't despair," he said, "because
we know that things don't necessarily have to be as bad as in fact they've
always been."
"We know that they can be a great deal better," Susila added.
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"Know it because they already are a great deal better, here and now,
on this absurd little island."
"But whether we shall be able to persuade you people to follow our
example, or whether we shall even be able to preserve our tiny oasis of
humanity in the midst of your worldwide wilderness of monkeys—that,
alas," said Dr. MacPhail, "is another question. One's justified in feeling
extremely pessimistic about the current situation. But despair, radical
despair—no, I can't see any justification for that."
"Not even when you read history?"
"Not even when I read history."
"I envy you. How do you manage to do it?"
"By remembering what history is—the record of what human beings
have been impelled to do by their ignorance and the enormous
bumptiousness that makes them canonize their ignorance as a political or
religious dogma."
He turned again to the album. "Let's get back to the house in the Royal
Burgh, back to James and Janet, and the six children whom Calvin's God,
in His inscrutable malevolence, had condemned to their tender mercies.
'The rod and reproof bring wisdom; but a child left to himself bringeth his
mother to shame.' Indoctrination reinforced by psychological stress and
physical torture—the perfect Pavlovian setup. But, unfortunately for
organized religion and political dictatorship, human beings are much less
reliable as laboratory animals than dogs. On Tom, Mary and Jean the
conditioning worked as it was meant to work. Tom became a minister, and
Mary married a minister and duly died in childbirth. Jean stayed at home,
nursed her mother through a long grim cancer and for the next twenty
years was slowly sacrificed to the aging and finally senile and driveling
patriarch. So far, so good. But with Annie, the fourth child, the pattern
changed. Annie was pretty. At eighteen she was proposed to by a captain
of dragoons. But the captain was an Anglican and his views on total
depravity and God's good pleasure were crim-
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inally incorrect. The marriage was forbidden. It looked as though Annie
were predestined to share the fate of Jean. She stuck it out for ten years;
then, at twenty-eight, she got herself seduced by the second mate of an
East Indiaman. There were seven weeks of almost frantic happiness—the
first she had ever known. Her face was transfigured by a kind of
supernatural beauty, her body glowed with life. Then the Indiaman sailed
for a two-year voyage for Madras and Macao. Four months later, pregnant,
friendless and despairing, Annie threw herself into the Tay. Meanwhile
Alexander, the next in line, had run away from school and joined a
company of actors. In the house by the rope walk nobody, thenceforward,
was ever allowed to refer to his existence. And finally there was Andrew,
the youngest, the Benjamin. What a model child! He was obedient, he
loved his lessons, he learned the Epistles by heart faster and more
accurately than any of the other children had done. Then, just in time to
restore her faith in human wickedness, his mother caught him one evening
playing with his genitals. He was whipped till the blood came; was caught
again a few weeks later and again whipped, sentenced to solitary
confinement on bread and water, told that he had almost certainly
committed the sin against the Holy Ghost and that it was undoubtedly on
account of that sin that his mother had been afflicted with cancer. For the
rest of his childhood Andrew was haunted by recurrent nightmares of hell.
Haunted, too, by recurrent temptations and, when he succumbed to them—
which of course he did, but always in the privacy of the latrine at the bottom
of the garden—by yet more terrifying visions of the punishments in store for
him."
"And to think," Will Farnaby commented, "to think that people complain
about modern life having no meaning! Look at what life was like when it did
have a meaning. A tale told by an idiot or a tale told by a Calvinist? Give
me the idiot every time."
"Agreed," said Dr. MacPhail. "But mightn't there be a third
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possibility? Mightn't there be a tale told by somebody who is neither an
imbecile nor a paranoiac?"
"Somebody, for a change, completely sane," said Susila.
"Yes, for a change," Dr. MacPhail repeated. "For a blessed change.
And luckily, even under the old dispensation, there were always plenty of
people whom even the most diabolic upbringing couldn't ruin. By all the
rules of the Freudian and Pavlovian games, my great-grandfather ought to
have grown up to be a mental cripple. In fact, he grew up to be a mental
athlete. Which only shows," Dr. Robert added parenthetically, "how
hopelessly inadequate your two highly touted systems of psychology really
are. Freudism and behaviorism—poles apart but in complete agreement
when it comes to the facts of the built-in, congenital differences between
individuals. How do your pet psychologists deal with these facts? Very
simply. They ignore them. They blandly pretend that the facts aren't there.
Hence their complete inability to cope with the human situation as it really
exists, or even to explain it theoretically. Look at what happened, for,
example, in this particular case. Andrew's brothers and sisters were either
tamed by their conditioning or destroyed. Andrew was neither destroyed
nor tamed. Why? Because the roulette wheel of heredity had stopped
turning at a lucky number. He had a more resilient constitution than the
others, a different anatomy, different biochemistry and different
temperament. His parents did their worst, as they had done with all the rest
of their unfortunate brood. Andrew came through with flying colors, almost
without a scar."
"In spite of the sin against the Holy Ghost?"
"That, happily, was something he got rid of during his first year of
medical studies at Edinburgh. He was only a boy—just over seventeen.
(They started young in those days.) In the dissecting room the boy found
himself listening to the extravagant obscenities and blasphemies with which
his fellow students kept
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up their spirits among the slowly rotting cadavers. Listening at first with
horror, with a sickening fear that God would surely take vengeance. But
nothing happened. The blasphemers flourished, the loud-mouthed
fornicators escaped with nothing worse than a dose, every now and then,
of the clap. Fear gave place in Andrew's mind to a wonderful sense of relief
and deliverance. Greatly daring, he began to risk a few ribald jokes of his
own. His first utterance of a four-letter word—what a liberation, what a
genuinely religious experience! And meanwhile, in his spare time, he read
Tom Jones, he read Hume's 'Essay on Miracles,' he read the infidel
Gibbon. Putting the French he had learned at school to good account, he
read La Mettrie, he read Dr. Caba-nis. Man is a machine, the brain
secretes thought as the liver secretes bile. How simple it all was, how
luminously obvious! With all the fervor of a convert at a revival meeting, he
decided for atheism. In the circumstances it was only to be expected. You
can't stomach St. Augustine any more, you can't go on repeating the
Athanasian rigmarole. So you pull the plug and send them down the drain.
What bliss! But not for very long. Something, you discover, is missing. The
experimental baby was flushed out with the theological dirt and soapsuds.
But nature abhors a vacuum. Bliss gives place to a chronic discomfort, and
now you're afflicted, generation after generation, by a succession of
Wesleys, Puseys, Moodys and Billys—Sunday and Graham—all working
like beavers to pump the theology back out of the cesspool. They hope, of
course, to recover the baby. But they never succeed. All that a revivalist
can do is to siphon up a little of the dirty water. Which, in due course, has
to be thrown out again. And so on, indefinitely. It's really too boring and, as
Dr. Andrew came at last to realize, wholly unnecessary. Meanwhile here he
was, in the first flush of his new-found freedom. Excited, exultant—but
quietly excited, exultant behind that appearance of grave and courteous
detachment which he habitually presented to the world." "What about his
father?" Will asked. "Did they have a battle?"
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"No battle. Andrew didn't like battles. He was the sort of man who
always goes his own way, but doesn't advertise the fact, doesn't argue with
people who prefer another road. The old man was never given the
opportunity of putting on his Jeremiah act. Andrew kept his mouth shut
about Hume and La Mettrie and went through the traditional motions. But
when his training was finished, he just didn't come home. Instead, he went
to London and signed up, as surgeon and naturalist, on HMS Melampus,
bound for the South Seas with orders to chart, survey, collect specimens
and protect Protestant missionaries and British interests. The cruise of the
Melampus lasted for a full three years. They called at Tahiti, they spent two
months on Samoa and a month in the Marquesas group. After Perth, the
islands seemed like Eden—but an Eden innocent unfortunately not only of
Calvinism and capitalism and industrial slums, but also of Shakespeare and
Mozart, also of scientific knowledge and logical thinking. It was paradise,
but it wouldn't do, it wouldn't do. They sailed on. They visited Fiji and the
Carolines and the Solomons. They charted the northern coast of New
Guinea and, in Borneo, a party went ashore, trapped a pregnant orangutan
and climbed to the top of Mount Kinabalu. Then followed a week at Panay,
a fortnight in the Mergui Archipelago. After which they headed west to the
Andamans and from the Andamans to the mainland of India. While ashore,
my great-grandfather was thrown from his horse and broke his right leg.
The captain of the Melampus found another surgeon and sailed for home.
Two months later, as good as new, Andrew was practicing medicine at
Madras. Doctors were scarce in those days and sickness fearfully common.
The young man began to prosper. But life among the merchants and
officials of the presidency was oppressively boring. It was an exile, but an
exile without any of the compensations of exile, an exile without adventure
or strangeness, a banishment merely to the provinces, to the tropical
equivalent of Swansea or Hudders-field. But still he resisted the temptation
to book a passage on the
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next homebound ship. If he stuck it out for five years, he would have
enough money to buy a good practice in Edinburgh—no, in London, in the
West End. The future beckoned, rosy and golden. There would be a wife,
preferably with auburn hair and a modest competence. There would be four
or five children— happy, unwhipped and atheistic. And his practice would
grow, his patients would be drawn from circles ever more exalted. Wealth,
reputation, dignity, even a knighthood. Sir Andrew MacPhail stepping out of
his brougham in Belgrave Square. The great Sir Andrew, physician to the
Queen. Summoned to St. Petersburg to operate on the Grand Duke, to the
Tuileries, to the Vatican, to the Sublime Porte. Delightful phantasies! But
the facts, as it turned out, were to be far more interesting. One fine morning
a brown-skinned stranger called at the surgery. In halting English he gave
an account of himself. He was from Pala and had been commanded by His
Highness, the Raja, to seek out and bring back with him a skillful surgeon
from the West. The rewards would be princely. Princely, he insisted. There
and then Dr. Andrew accepted the invitation. Partly, of course, for the
money; but mostly because he was bored, because he needed a change,
needed a taste of adventure. A trip to the Forbidden Island—the lure was
irresistible."
"And remember," Susila interjected, "in those days Pala was much
more forbidden than it is now."
"So you can imagine how eagerly young Dr. Andrew jumped at the
opportunity now offered by the Raja's ambassador. Ten days later his ship
dropped anchor off the north coast of the forbidden island. With his
medicine chest, his bag of instruments, and a small tin trunk containing his
clothes and a few indispensable books, he was rowed in an outrigger
canoe through the pounding surf, carried in a palanquin through the streets
of Shivapuram and set down in the inner courtyard of the royal palace. His
royal patient was eagerly awaiting him. Without being given time to shave
or change his clothes, Dr. Andrew was
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ushered into the presence—the pitiable presence of a small brown man in
his early forties, terribly emaciated under his rich brocades, his face so
swollen and distorted as to be barely human, his voice reduced to a hoarse
whisper. Dr. Andrew examined him. From the maxillary antrum, where it
had its roots, a tumor had spread in all directions. It had filled the nose, it
had pushed up into the socket of the right eye, it had half blocked the
throat. Breathing had become difficult, swallowing acutely painful, and
sleep an impossibility—for whenever he dropped off, the patient would
choke and wake up frantically struggling for air. Without radical surgery, it
was obvious, the Raja would be dead within a couple of months. With
radical surgery, much sooner. Those were the good old days, remember—
the good old days of septic operations without benefit of chloroform. Even
in the most favorable circumstances surgery was fatal to one patient out of
four. Where conditions were less propitious, the odds declined—fifty-fifty,
thirty to seventy, zero to a hundred. In the present case the prognosis could
hardly have been worse. The patient was already weak and the operation
would be long, difficult and excruciatingly painful. There was a good chance
that he would die on the operating table and a virtual certainty that, if he
survived, it would only be to die a few days later of blood poisoning. But if
he should die, Dr. Andrew now reflected, what would be the fate of the
alien surgeon who had killed a king? And, during the operation, who would
hold the royal patient down while he writhed under the.knife? Which of his
servants or courtiers would have the strength of mind to disobey, when the
master screamed in agony or positively commanded them to let him go?
"Perhaps the wisest thing would be to say, here and now, that the case
was hopeless, that he could do nothing, and ask to be sent back to Madras
forthwith. Then he looked again at the sick man. Through the grotesque
mask of his poor deformed face the Raja was looking at him intently—
looking with the eyes of a
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condemned criminal begging the judge for mercy. Touched by the appeal,
Dr. Andrew gave him a smile of encouragement and all at once, as he
patted the thin hand, he had an idea. It was absurd, crackbrained,
thoroughly discreditable; but all the same, all the same ...
"Five years before, he suddenly remembered, while he was still at
Edinburgh, there had been an article in The Lancet, an article denouncing
the notorious Professor Elliotson for his advocacy of animal magnetism.
Elliotson had had the effrontery to talk of painless operations performed on
patients in the mesmeric trance.
"The man was either a gullible fool or an unscrupulous knave. The so-
called evidence for such nonsense was manifestly worthless. It was all
sheer humbug, quackery, downright fraud— and so on for six columns of
righteous indignation. At the time—for he was still full of La Mettrie and
Hume and Cabanis— Dr. Andrew had read the article with a glow of
orthodox approval. After which he had forgotten about the very existence of
animal magnetism. Now, at the Raja's bedside, it all came back to him—the
mad professor, the magnetic passes, the amputations without pain, the low
death rate and the rapid recoveries. Perhaps, after all, there might be
something in it. He was deep in these thoughts when, breaking a long
silence, the sick man spoke to him. From a young sailor who had deserted
his ship at Rendang-Lobo and somehow made his way across the Strait,
the Raja had learned to speak English with remarkable fluency, but , also,
in faithful imitation of his teacher, with a strong Cockney accent. That
Cockney accent," Dr. MacPhail repeated with a little laugh. "It turns up
again and again in my great-grandfather's memoirs. There was something,
to him, inexpressibly improper about a king who spoke like Sam Weller.
And in this case the impropriety was more than merely social. Besides
being a king, the Raja was a man of intellect and the most exquisite
refinement; a man, not only of deep religious convictions (any crude
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oaf can have deep religious convictions), but also of deep religious
experience and spiritual insight. That such a man should express himself in
Cockney was something that an Early Victorian Scotsman who had read
The Pickwick Papers could never get over. Nor, in spite of all my great-
grandfather's tactful coaching, could the Raja ever get over his impure
diphthongs and dropped aitches. But all that was in the future. At their first
tragic meeting, that shocking, lower-class accent seemed strangely
touching. Laying the palms of his hands together in a gesture of
supplication, the sick man whispered, ' 'Elp me, Dr. MacPhile, 'elp me.'
"The appeal was decisive. Without any further hesitation, Dr. Andrew
took the Raja's thin hands between his own and began to speak in the
most confident tone about a wonderful new treatment recently discovered
in Europe and employed as yet by only a handful of the most eminent
physicians. Then, turning to the attendants who had been hovering all this
time in the background, he ordered them out of the room. They did not
understand the words; but his tone and accompanying gestures were
unmistakably clear. They bowed and withdrew. Dr. Andrew took off his
coat, rolled up his shirt sleeves and started to make those famous magnetic
passes, about which he had read with so much skeptical amusement in
The Lancet. From the crown of the head, over the face and down the trunk
to the epigastrium, again and again until the patient falls into a trance—'or
until' (he remembered the derisive comments of the anonymous writer of
the article) 'until the presiding charlatan shall choose to say that his dupe is
now under the magnetic influence.' Quackery, humbug and fraud. But all
the same, all the same ... He worked away in silence. Twenty passes, fifty
passes. The sick man sighed and closed his eyes. Sixty, eighty, a hundred,
a hundred and twenty. The heat was stifling, Dr. Andrew's shirt was
drenched with sweat, and his arms ached. Grimly he repeated the same
absurd gesture. A hundred and fifty, a hundred and seventy-five, two
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hundred. It was all fraud and humbug; but all the same he was determined
to make this poor devil go to sleep, even if it took him the whole day to do
it. 'You are going to sleep,' he said aloud as he made the two hundred and
eleventh pass. 'You are going to sleep.' The sick man seemed to sink more
deeply into his pillows, and suddenly Dr. Andrew caught the sound of a
rattling wheeze. 'This time,' he added quickly, 'you are not going to choke.
There's plenty of room for the air to pass, and you're not going to choke.'
The Raja's breathing grew quiet. Dr. Andrew made a few more passes,
then decided that it would be safe to take a rest. He mopped his face, then
rose, stretched his arms and took a couple of turns up and down the room.
Sitting down again by the bed, he took one of the Raja's sticklike wrists and
felt for the pulse. An hour before it had been running at almost a hundred;
now the rate had fallen to seventy. He raised the arm: the hand hung limp
like a dead man's. He let go, and the arm dropped by its own weight and
lay, inert and unmoving, where it had fallen. 'Your Highness,' he said, and
again, more loudly, 'Your Highness.' There was no answer. It was all
quack-ery, humbug and fraud, but all the same it worked, it obviously
worked."
A large, brightly colored mantis fluttered down onto the rail at the foot
of the bed, folded its pink and white wings, raised its small flat head, and
stretched out its incredibly muscular front legs in the attitude of prayer. Dr.
MacPhail pulled out a magnify- ing glass and bent forward to examine it.
"Gongylus gongyloides," he pronounced. "It dresses itself up to look
like a flower. When unwary flies and moths come sailing in to sip the
nectar, it sips them. And if it's a female, she eats her lovers." He put the
glass away and leaned back in his chair. "What one likes most about the
universe," he said to Will Farnaby, "is its wild improbability. Gongylus
gongyloides, Homo sapiens, my great grandfather's introduction to Pala
and hypnosis—what could be more unlikely?"
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"Nothing," said Will. "Except perhaps my introduction to Pala and
hypnosis, Pala via a shipwreck and a precipice; hypnosis by way of a
soliloquy about an English cathedral."
Susila laughed. "Fortunately I didn't have to make all those passes
over you. In this climate! I really admire Dr. Andrew. It sometimes takes
three hours to anesthetize a person with the passes."
"But in the end he succeeded?"
"Triumphantly."
"And did he actually perform the operation?"
"Yes, he actually performed the operation," said Dr. MacPhail. "But not
immediately. There had to be a long preparation. Dr. Andrew began by
telling his patient that henceforward he would be able to swallow without
pain. Then, for the next three weeks, he fed him up. And between meals he
put him into trance and kept him asleep until it was time for another
feeding. It's wonderful what your body will do for you if you only give it a
chance. The Raja gained twelve pounds and felt like a new man. A new
man full of new hope and confidence. He knew he was going to come
through his ordeal. And so, incidentally, did Dr. Andrew. In the process of
fortifying the Raja's faith he had fortified his own. It was not a blind faith.
The operation, he felt quite certain, was going to be successful. But this
unshakable confidence did not prevent him from doing everything that
might contribute to its success. Very early in the proceedings he started to
work on the trance. The trance, he kept telling his patient, was becoming
deeper every day, and on the day of the operation it would be much deeper
than it had ever been before. It would also last longer. 'You'll sleep,' he
assured the Raja, 'for four full hours after the operation's over; and when
you awake, you won't feel the slightest pain.' Dr. Andrew made these
affirmations with a mixture of total skepticism and complete confidence.
Reason and past experience assured him that all this was impossible. But
in the present context past experience had
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proved to be irrelevant. The impossible had already happened, several
times. There was no reason why it shouldn't happen again. The important
thing was to say that it would happen—so he said it, again and again. All
this was good; but better still was Dr. Andrew's invention of the rehearsal."
"Rehearsal of what?"
"Of the surgery. They ran through the procedure half a dozen times.
The last rehearsal was on the morning of the operation. At six, Dr. Andrew
came to the Raja's room and, after a little cheerful talk, began to make the
passes. In a few minutes the patient was in deep trance. Stage by stage,
Dr. Andrew described what he was going to do. Touching the cheekbone
near the Raja's right eye, he said, T begin by stretching the skin. And now
with this scalpel' (and he drew the tip of a pencil across the cheek) 'I make
an incision. You feel no pain, of course—not even the slightest discomfort.
And now the underlying tissues are being cut and you still feel nothing at
all. You just lie there, comfortably asleep, while I dissect the cheek back to
the nose. Every now and then I stop to tie a blood vessel; then I go on
again. And when that part of the work is done, I'm ready to start on the
tumor. It has its roots there in the antrum and it has grown upwards, under
the cheekbone, into the eye socket, and downwards into the gullet. And as
I cut it loose, you lie there as before, feeling nothing, perfectly comfortable,
completely relaxed. And now I lift your head.' Suiting his action to the
words, he lifted the Raja's head and bent it forward on the limp neck. 'I lift it
and bend it so that you can get rid of the blood that's run down into your
mouth and throat. Some of the blood has got into your windpipe, and you
cough a little to get rid of it; but it doesn't wake you.' The Raja coughed
once or twice, then, when Dr. Andrew released his hold, dropped back onto
the pillows, still fast asleep. 'And you don't choke even when I work on the
lower end of the tumor in your gullet.' Dr. Andrew opened the Raja's mouth
and thrust two fingers down his throat. 'It's
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just a question of pulling it loose, that's all. Nothing in that to make you
choke. And if you have to cough up the blood, you can do it in your sleep.
Yes, in your sleep, in this deep, deep sleep.'
"That was the end of the rehearsal. Ten minutes later, after making
some more passes and telling his patient to sleep still more deeply, Dr.
Andrew began the operation. He stretched the skin, he made the incision,
he dissected the cheek, he cut the tumor away from its roots in the antrum.
The Raja lay there perfectly relaxed, his pulse firm and steady at seventy-
five, feeling no more pain than he had felt during the make-believe of the
rehearsal. Dr. Andrew worked on the throat; there was no choking. The
blood flowed into the windpipe; the Raja coughed but did not awake. Four
hours after the operation was over, he was still sleeping; then, punctual to
the minute, he opened his eyes, smiled at Dr. Andrew between his
bandages and asked, in his singsong Cockney, when the operation was to
start. After a feeding and a sponging, he was given some more passes and
told to sleep for four more hours and to get well quickly. Dr. Andrew kept it
up for a full week. Sixteen hours of trance each day, eight of waking. The
Raja suffered almost no pain and, in spite of the thoroughly septic
conditions under which the operation had been performed and the
dressings renewed, the wounds healed without suppuration. Remembering
the horrors he had witnessed in the Edinburgh infirmary, the yet more
frightful horrors of the surgical wards at Madras, Dr. Andrew could hardly
believe his eyes. And now he was given another opportunity to prove to
himself what animal magnetism could do. The Raja's eldest daughter was
in the ninth month of her first pregnancy. Impressed by what he had
done for her husband, the Rani sent for Dr. Andrew. He found her sitting
with a frail frightened girl of sixteen, who knew just enough broken Cockney
to be able to tell him she was going to die—she and her baby too. Three
black birds had confirmed it by flying on three successive days across
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her path. Dr. Andrew did not try to argue with her. Instead, he asked her to
lie down, then started to make the passes. Twenty minutes later the girl
was in a deep trance. In his country, Dr. Andrew now assured her, black
birds were lucky—a presage of birth and joy. She would bear her child
easily and without pain. Yes, with no more pain than her father had felt
during his operation. No pain at all, he promised, no pain whatsoever.
"Three days later, and after three or four more hours of intensive
suggestion, it all came true. When the Raja woke up for his evening meal,
he found his wife sitting by his bed. 'We have a grandson,' she said, 'and
our daughter is well. Dr. Andrew has said that tomorrow you may be carried
to her room, to give them both your blessing.' At the end of a month the
Raja dissolved the Council of Regency and resumed his royal powers.
Resumed them, in gratitude to the man who had saved his life and (the
Rani was convinced of it) his daughter's life as well, with Dr. Andrew as his
chief adviser."
"So he didn't go back to Madras?"
"Not to Madras. Not even to London. He stayed here in Pala."
"Trying to change the Raja's accent?"
"And trying, rather more successfully, to change the Raja's kingdom."
"Into what?"
"That was a question he couldn't have answered. In those early days
he had no plan-—only a set of likes and dislikes. There were things about
Pala that he liked, and plenty of others that he didn't like at all. Things
about Europe that he detested, and things he passionately approved of.
Things he had seen on his travels that seemed to make good sense, and
things that filled him with disgust. People, he was beginning to understand,
are at once the beneficiaries and the victims of their culture. It brings them
to flower; but it also nips them in the bud or plants a
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canker at the heart of the blossom. Might it not be possible, on this
forbidden island, to avoid the cankers, minimize the nip-pings, and make
the individual blooms more beautiful? That was the question to which,
implicitly at first, then with a growing awareness of what they were really up
to, Dr. Andrew and the Raja were trying to find an answer."
"And did they find an answer?"
"Looking back," said Dr. MacPhail, "one's amazed by what those two
men accomplished. The Scottish doctor and the Palanese king, the
Calvinist-turned-atheist and the pious Mahayana Buddhist—what a
strangely assorted pair! But a pair, very soon, of firm friends; a pair,
moreover, of complementary temperaments and talents, with
complementary philosophies and complementary stocks of knowledge,
each man supplying the other's deficiencies, each stimulating and fortifying
the other's native capacities. The Raja's was an acute and subtle mind; but
he knew nothing of the world beyond the confines of his island, nothing of
physical science, nothing of European technology, European art, European
ways of thinking. No less intelligent, Dr. Andrew knew nothing, of course,
about Indian painting and poetry and philosophy. He also knew nothing, as
he gradually discovered, about the science of the human mind and the art
of living. In the months that followed the operation each became the other's
pupil and the other's teacher. And of course that was only a beginning.
They were not merely private citizens concerned with their private
improvement. The Raja had a million subjects and Dr. Andrew was virtually
his prime minister. Private improvement was to be the preliminary to public
improvement. If the king and the doctor were now teaching one another to
make the best of both worlds—the Oriental and the European, the ancient
and the modern—it was in order to help the whole nation to do the same.
To make the best of both worlds—what am I saying? To make the best of
all the worlds—
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the worlds already realized within the various cultures and, beyond them,
the worlds of still unrealized potentialities. It was an enormous ambition, an
ambition totally impossible of fulfillment; but at least it had the merit of
spurring them on, of making them rush in where angels feared to tread—
with results that sometimes proved, to everybody's astonishment, that they
had not been quite such fools as they looked. They never succeeded, of
course, in making the best of all the worlds; but by dint of boldly trying they
made the best of many more worlds than any merely prudent or sensible
person would have dreamed of being able to reconcile and combine."
" 'If the fool would persist in his folly,' " Will quoted from The Proverbs
of Hell, " 'he would become wise.' "
"Precisely," Dr. Robert agreed. "And the most extravagant folly of all is
the folly described by Blake, the folly that the Raja and Dr. Andrew were
now contemplating—the enormous folly of trying to make a marriage
between hell and heaven. But if you persist in that enormous folly, what an
enormous reward! Provided, of course, that you persist intelligently. Stupid
fools get nowhere; it's only the knowledgeable and clever ones whose folly
can make them wise or produce good results. Fortunately these two fools
were clever. Clever enough, for example, to embark on their folly in a
modest and appealing way. They began with pain relievers. The Palanese
were Buddhists. They knew how misery is related to mind. You cling, you
crave, you assert yourself—and you live in a homemade hell. You become
detached—and you live in peace. 'I show you sorrow,' the Buddha had
said, 'and I show you the ending of sorrow.' Well, here was Dr. Andrew with
a special kind of mental detachment which would put an end at least to one
kind of sorrow, namely, physical pain. With the Raja himself or, for the
women, the Rani and her daughter acting as interpreters, Dr. Andrew gave
lessons in his new-found art to groups of midwives and physicians, of
teachers, mothers, invalids.
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Painless childbirth—and forthwith all the women of Pala were
enthusiastically on the side of the innovators. Painless operations for stone
and cataract and hemorrhoids—and they had won the approval of all the
old and the ailing. At one stroke more than half the adult population
became their allies, prejudiced in their favor, friendly in advance, or at least
open-minded, toward the next reform."
"Where did they go from pain?" Will asked.
"To agriculture and language. To bread and communication. They got
a man out from England to establish Rothamsted-in-the-Tropics, and they
set to work to give the Palanese a second language. Pala was to remain a
forbidden island; for Dr. Andrew wholeheartedly agreed with the Raja that
missionaries, planters and traders were far too dangerous to be tolerated.
But, while the foreign subversives must not be allowed to come in, the
natives must somehow be helped to get out—if not physically, at least with
their minds. But their language and their archaic version of the Brahmi
alphabet were a prison without windows. There could be no escape for
them, no glimpse of the outside world until they had learned English and
could read the Latin script. Among the courtiers, the Raja's linguistic
accomplishments had already set a fashion. Ladies and gentlemen larded
their conversation with scraps of Cockney, and some of them had even
sent to Ceylon for English-speaking tutors. What had been a mode was
now transformed into a policy. English schools were set up and a staff of
Bengali printers, with their presses and their fonts of Caslon and Bodoni,
were imported from Calcutta. The first English book to be published at
Shivapuram was a selection from The Arabian Nights, the second, a
translation of The Diamond Sutra, hitherto available only in Sanskrit and in
manuscript. For those who wished to read about Sindbad and Marouf, and
for those who were interested in the Wisdom of the Other Shore, there
were now two cogent reasons for learning English.
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That was the beginning of the long educational process that turned us
at last into a bilingual people. We speak Palanese when we're cooking,
when we're telling funny stories, when we're talking about love or making it.
(Incidentally, we have the richest erotic and sentimental vocabulary in
Southeast Asia.) But when it comes to business, or science, or speculative
philosophy, we generally speak English. And most of us prefer to write in
English. Every writer needs a literature as his frame of reference; a set of
models to conform to or depart from. Pala had good painting and sculpture,
splendid architecture, wonderful dancing, subtle and expressive music—but
no real literature, no national poets or dramatists or storytellers. Just bards
reciting Buddhist and Hindu myths; just a lot of monks preaching sermons
and splitting metaphysical hairs. Adopting English as our stepmother
tongue, we gave ourselves a literature with one of the longest pasts and
certainly the widest of presents. We gave ourselves a background, a
spiritual yardstick, a repertory of styles and techniques, an inexhaustible
source of inspiration. In a word, we gave ourselves the possibility of being
creative in a field where we had never been creative before. Thanks to the
Raja and my great-grandfather, there's an Anglo-Palanese literature— of
which, I may add, Susila here is a contemporary light."
"On the dim side," she protested.
Dr. MacPhail shut his eyes, and, smiling to himself, began to recite:
"Thus-Gone to Thus-Gone, I with a Buddha's hand Offer the unplucked
flower, the frog's soliloquy Among the lotus leaves, the milk-smeared
mouth At my full breast and love and, like the cloudless Sky that makes
possible mountains and setting moon, This emptiness that is the womb of
love This poetry of silence."
He opened his eyes again. "And not only this poetry of silence," he
said. "This science, this philosophy, this theology of silence. And now it's
high time you went to sleep." He rose and moved towards the door. "I'll go
and get you a glass of fruit juice."
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" 'Patriotism is not enough.' But neither is anything else. Science is not
enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics