ISBN o (cloth). Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data. Eliade, Mircea, [Maitreyi. English]. Bengal nights I Mircea Eliade. Get this from a library! Bengal nights. [Mircea Eliade]. Bengal nights by Mircea Eliade; 4 editions; First published in ; DAISY for print-disabled Download ebook for print-disabled (DAISY).
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Bengal nights by Mircea Eliade, April 1, , University Of Chicago Press edition, Paperback in English - New Ed edition. Bengal Nights: A Novel [Mircea Eliade, Catherine Spencer] on bestthing.info * FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Set in s Calcutta, this is a roman à clef of. A vibrantly poetic love story, Bengal Nights is also a cruel account of the world renowned scholar Mircea Eliade details the passionate awakenings of Alain.
I expected racism, exotification, cultural ignorance and superiority, paternalism and simplification of the other, and I got all those: "Once more I saw that it was civilized people who were simple, innocent, and clear. These Indians, whom I loved so much that I wanted to become one of them, all nurtured in the recesses of their beings a whole impenetrable history and mythology.
How deep, complex and unintelligible they seemed to me. He clearly has a couple of agendas. He is a man who believes he can "save" the country and change things, a man who thinks he knows more about the country because of his "superior" status as a European. He is arrogant but he believes he's benevolent and understanding. I was also sure that the encounter of this ancient world with our modern work had yet to find its novelist.
I had discovered an India quite different to the one I had read about in sensational newspaper articles The deeper I ventured into this wild domain, the more consuming became a hitherto unconscious notion of my superiority, the more violently assertive a pride of which I would never have believed myself capable.
I was well and truly in the jungle, no longer a social being with perfect self-control. I, on the contrary, spoke badly, with a deplorable accent - my super iority was therefore indisputable.
But I also spoke freely with these people in the evenings, before retiring into my tent to write, to smoke a last pipe, to meditate. I loved that piece of ground near the sea, that snake-infested, deserted plain where palm-trees intertwined with heavily per fumed undergrowth. I loved those tranquil sunrises, the still ness that tore cries of joy out of me. A joyous solitude reigned over this green and abundant land, which waited silently for its passing travellers to arrive under the most beautiful skies that it had ever been my lot to witness.
Days spent at the site seemed like holidays. I had a taste for the work, giving orders left and right, filled with good humour. If I had had a single intelligent companion with me, I would have had marvellous things to tell him. I met Lucien Metz by chance. It was on one of those trips back from Tamluk, from which I would return sunburnt and devoured by a lunatic hunger.
I was waiting at the entrance of the station while my servant called a taxi for me; the Bombay express had just got in and there was an unimaginable crowd. I had met Lucien two years earlier. My ship, en route India, had made a port of call at Aden for a few hours, where he was waiting for an Italian steamer to return to Egypt.
I had liked the uncultured, arrogant journalist, with his talent and his perspicacity, from the very first. He had written an about political economy when he was on board ship, simply by going through a list ofprices and comparing them to those of the ports; after an hour's drive around a town, he could describe it in perfect detail.
He had visited India, China, Malaysia and Japan several times. He was one of the rare Europeans who reproached Gandhi not for what he was doing but for what he was failing to do. I've come to write a book on India. Cross between politics and thriller. I'll have to tell you about it. Lucien wanted to write a book on modern India.
For several months he had collected interviews, visited prisons, taken photographs. That evening, he began showing me his album and his notes. What troubled him was his chapter on women. He had not yet encountered "real Indian women"; he vaguely knew something of their life in purdah, had a few notions about their civic rights and was especially interested in child marriage.
He asked me several times : "Alain, is it true these people marry little girls of eight? Yes, yes! I read it in a book by a man who spent thirty years here as a magistrate. Despite all my efforts, I could not teach him much. I knew barely more than he about the women of India. Except at functions or the cinema, I hardly saw them. An idea struck me. My excellent relationship with Mr Sen was confined to our work together in the office and conversa tions in his car; he had twice invited me to tea, but I had been too attached to my leisure hours, entirely consecrated to math ematical physics, and had declined.
Now I would suggest to him that he invite the journalist to tea, so that he could give him some first-hand information. Perhaps I also wanted the oppor tunity of observing Maitreyi more closely. I had not seen her since our brief encounter outside the store.
I told him that Lucien Metz was writing a book on India that would be published in Paris and I intimated the problems my fri end was having with one of the chapters.
He at once invited us to come for tea, that very afternoon. With what excitement I climbed the hostel stairs to tell Lucien the good news! He had never been to the house of a rich Indian. Now his research would be complete.
He's a founding member ofthe Rotary Club, plays a marvellous game of tennis, drives his own car, eats fish and meat, invites Europeans to his house and introduces them to his wife.
I know you'll like him. I knew the outside of the engineer's house in Bhowanipore: I had driven to the district to collect some plans.
Yet I would never have ima gined that the interior of a Bengal house could contain so many marvels, so much light filtered through curtains as translucent as chiffon shawls, so many rugs soft to the touch, so many sofas draped in cashmere and curious little one-legged tables bearing plates ofbeaten copper.
Placed on these tables were tea cups and cakes that Narendra Sen himself had chosen to best introduce his guest to Indian pastry. Rooted to the spot, I stood gazing at the living-room as though I had that very moment disembarked in India.
I had spent two years in this country and I had never been curious to enter the house of a Bengali family, to penetrate their private lives and admire their works ofart, ifnot their souls.
I had led the life of a solitary colonial, taken up with my work at the site or the office, reading or going to shows that I could just as well have seen in white continents.
That afternoon, I experi enced my first doubts about my way of life. I remember that I went home rather despondent. Lucien, full of enthusiasm, interrogated me on this or that detail, wanting to know if he had correctly understood his host. I myself had been invaded by an army of new ideas. I noted nothing down, however, and I cannot find any reference to the impression Maitreyi made on me that day.
I can no longer remember my feelings with any accuracy. It is remarkable that I did not foresee, that afternoon, the events which were to come or recognize the characters who were to change the whole shape of my life.
Maitreyi had appeared much more beautiful to me then than M I R CEA ELlA D E at our first meeting - in her sari the colour of weak tea, her white slippers woven with silver thread and her burnished yellow shawl.
The hair that was too black, the eyes that were too large, the lips that were too red, inhabited this veiled body with a life that was somehow inhuman, miraculous and hardly real. I contemplated her quizzically. I could not fathom the mystery that lay hidden in this creature of movements as supple as silk, whose timid smile was never far from panic, whose musical voice continually invented new harmonies, new pitches.
Maitreyi's English was quaint and formal, some what scholarly, yet she had only to open her mouth and Lucien and I felt ourselves forced to look at her. Her words pulled us like the calls of a siren.
The tea was rich in surprises. Lucien took notes after tasting each one of the sweetmeats and did not stop asking questions. His English was bad. Sen, however, had assured him that he understood French - he had attended two conferences in Paris and had a library full of French novels, although he had not read any of them - and Lucien questioned him from time to time in Parisian slang.
The engineer smilingly replied "Oui, oui, c'est a," with an air of great self-satisfaction. Lucien asked permission to examine Maitreyi's costume, her jewels and ornaments, more closely and Narendra Sen accepted with good grace, leading his daughter over by the hand: frigh tened, she had drawn back near the window, her lips quivering, her shawl pulled over her head.
It was a strange examination. Lucien weighed up the jewels in his hand, giving exclamations of wonder, asked questions and took down the answers in shorthand. During all this, Maitreyi stood, her face ashen, trembling from head to foot as though stricken with pure terror. She did not know where to look. Then her eyes met mine. I smiled at her. She seemed to have found a haven; fixing her gaze on mine, she gradually became calmer, her spasms ceased and she began to recover her normal state.
I do not know how long that look lasted. It was not like any other that Bengal Nights I had ever experienced. The examination over, Maitreyi once more took refuge by the window. We did not look at each other again, after that warm and clandestine moment of communion.
I turned my attention to her father and from my vantage point I analysed him at leisure. I wondered how a man could be so ugly, could lack expression so completely. He resembled a frog: bulging eyes, enormous mouth, round, black, iron pot of a head, low forehead and jet-black curls, squat body and sloping shoulders, protruding belly, short legs.
The affection that this man inspired was difficult to comprehend - and yet I, too, found Narendra Sen a seductive being, sensitive and intelli gent, full of humour, gentleness and loyalty.
Whilst I had been studying him in this way, his wife Srimati Devi Indira had entered the room, bringing with her some strange atmosphere of warmth and fear. She was wearing a blue sari and a blue shawl sequined with gold.
Her feet were bare; the soles and the toes were decorated with henna. She knew almost no English and smiled continually in place of speech. She had doubtlessly chewed a lot of pan that afternoon, for her lips were blood red. She astounded me.
She seemed so young, so fresh and timid, that I would have taken her for Maitreyi's elder sister rather than her mother. Chabu, her second daughter, had come in with her. She was a child of about eleven, short-haired and dressed in the European style, but without socks or shoes.
Her bare calves and arms and her swarthy, sweet face reminded me of one of our European gypsies. I find it almost impossible to recount the incident that then took place. The three women had huddled up together on the couch, each with the same expression of terror in her eyes, while the engineer tried in vain to make them speak.
The mistress of the house wanted to pour the tea, but she changed her mind and entrusted the task to her elder daughter. Suddenly, the teapot was knocked over on to the tray - I do not know whose fault it was - and Lucien's trousers were drenched. Lucien, for his part, stood apologising in French without managing to make himself understood.
Narendra Sen finally gestured for him to sit down again, saying, '"Scusez moi! Lucien and I sat dumbly, not knowing what to do with our hands nor where to look. My friend was quite flushed with embarrassment although on the way back to the hostel he laughed the incident off loudly. Only Mrs Sen remained impassive, the same smile on her reddened lips, the same warm shyness in her eyes.
The conversation hardly revived. The engineer showed Lucien some ancient Sanskrit texts that had belonged in the collection of his uncle, who had been the first government 'pandit', and then a series of pictures and old embroideries. I had gone to stand by the window and I looked out at the courtyard, a curious place closed in by high walls and planted with small shrubs and wisteria. From the side of the house, above me, drifted the fragile scent of a palm-tree. I contem plated the view, uncertain of the origin of this enchantment, this tranquillity which I had never before experienced in Calcutta.
And suddenly I heard an irresistible, contagious laugh, the laugh of both a woman and a child. It gripped my heart, and I shivered. I leaned out of the window and beheld, stretched out across two steps of the courtyard stairs, Maitreyi, almost naked, her hair in her eyes, her arms clasped over her chest.
I saw her move her legs, quite shaken with laughter, and then, with a brisk jerk of her ankles, throw off her two slippers against the wall opposite. I stood transfixed, unable to avert my eyes.
Those few moments seemed eternal. I felt that laugh and the wild flame of that unleashed body to be somehow sacred and I was certain that I was committing a sacrilege by witnes sing them.
Yet I did not have the strength to tear myself away. As we were leaving, Maitreyi's laugh echoed through the house. I was at Tamluk, where I had gone upstream to walk. Two days earlier, Norinne had got engaged and we had celebrated all night. We had drunk too much, danced until we were dizzy, kissed all the girls and driven off in the small hours to the lakes.
We had also planned a pyjama party, like the one we had held the previous March, when I quarrelled with Eddie Higgering and came to blows. I had loved Norinne for a while, as we loved then, youngsters of twenty-four; I would willingly have held her in my arms, I would have danced with her - a few kisses and that was all.
I walked along tranquilly, my pipe in one hand and my stick in the other. The sun had not yet set the place alight, birds were chirping in the large bushes of eglantine and the air was heavy with their perfume of incense and cinnamon.
Suddenly, in a flash of illumination, I grasped my extraordinary condition. I was alone and I would die alone. The thought did not sadden me. Rather, I felt quiet, serene, at peace with the surrounding plain.
If someone had told me I was to die in an hour, I would have accepted my fate calmly. I would have lain back in the grass, put my hands behind my head and, my eyes fixed on the blue ocean above me, waited for the time to run out, without counting the minutes or wanting to hurry them, almost without being conscious of them.
I do not know what instinctive and superhuman sense of majesty filled me. I could have done anything - although all desire had left me. It was as though my appetite for solitude in this enchanted ground had made me light-headed.
I walked, lost in thought. I went back to the site still hungry for seclusion and peace. I looked forward to the prospect of staying in my tent for a week - a week in which I would not read any magazines or see a single electric light bulb.
The servant came to meet me. However, when eventually I had opened it, I stood surprised and disconcerted for several min utes. Narendra Sen was calling me back urgently to headquar ters. I was to take the train that evening.
It was with a feeling of heavy sadness that I sat at the window of my carriage and contemplated the steam-covered plain, filled with the diaphanous shadows of lone palm trees - the landscape which had welcomed me that morning, with such generosity, into the heart of its existence outside limits of time, beyond aims and conclusions. How I wished I were free, sitting in my tent by the light ofa petrol lamp and listening to the huge orchestra of cicadas and grasshoppers around me.
I thought of you at once, and the board has accepted you, under its own responsibility. You have three days to sort out your affairs and to hand over to your successor at Tamluk. I was to discover later that he had waged a hard battle with the board to have me, a white man, taken on. The company was swarajist and wanted to filter out the last of its foreign employees, to replace them with Indians.
My new post was both higher in rank and better paid. Instead of 2 s o rupees a 12 month, I would earn , exceeding even the salary of a sales representative for Noel and Noel.
I was reluctant to work in Assam, a region that was unhealthy and barely civilized. However, my love for the jungle, which I had brought with me to India and which I had not yet been able to satisfy, triumphed.
I accepted the offer and thanked him warmly. The engineer put his hand on my shoulder: "My wife and I like you very much, Alain, and we often think of you. It is a pity you do not speak Bengali.
I did indeed wonder - but only vaguely - why the engineer had chosen me, over all his compatriots, for the new post. The answer I gave myself was simple: he appreciated my quali ties. I had a clear opinion of my talent for construction, my position as white civilizer and the service which I was rendering to India.
When Harold learnt the news of my promotion in rank and salary, he at once wanted to celebrate with a small banquet in China Town. We invited some girls to come with us and set off in two taxis. Our group was noisy, bubbling over with high spirits and frivolity.
Coming out of Park Street on to Chowringhee Road, our two cars raced each other, each team shouting at the driver and tapping him on the shoulder to spur him on.
Our charioteer was a magnificent Sikh who had fought in France during the war and he cried "Diable!
Vin rouge! Vin blanc! Gertie was sitting on my knees, clutching me with terror she knew that I had just had a tidy increase in salary , repeating over and over: "I'm going to fall. Aren't you afraid I'll fall? The others were gaining on us and we were dismayed at this unfortunate turn of events. At that moment, a car passed us and with horror I saw inside Narendra Sen, his wife and Maitreyi. I blushed like a fool as I greeted them, and Sen smiled back at me with something of contempt. Maitreyi alone brought her palms to her forehead and returned my salutation.
She appeared infinitely amused by the merry company around me and by the girl in my arms. I wanted to execute an Indian greeting in return but all at once I realized the ludicrousness of my situation. My panic lasted until our car moved off again. I turned, and caught sight of Maitreyi's shawl floating in the wind, the colour of weak tea. My friends enjoyed themselves hugely over the respect and the embarrassment with which I had greeted a 'black'.
Poor Harold, shocked at me once more, asked how I could be so friendly with a family of'negroes'. The driver, however, was visibly exultant. When I paid him in front of the restaurant, he said to me in French, so the others would not understand, "Girl very nice, Sahib.
Bahut accha! She was very beautiful. Do you love her? I had to take my friends out for a farewell party and as there were many of us, we economized by not taking a third taxi. Everyone had a girl on his lap. There was nothing untoward, sir, or at least. It was obvious that, he found this litany of explanations excessive. He slapped me on the shoulder.
You are worth more than this Anglo-Indian way of life. This hostel life will ruin you - you will never learn to love India if you live with these people.
Until then, he had asked only if I Bengal Nights were getting used to the food, if l had a good servant, if l were not suffering too much from the heat or the noise, if I liked tennis. We got down to work quickly. I had a pile of documents to sign.
When it was time to leave, Sen asked me to dine with him at the Rotary Oub. None of my objections - that I was not properly dressed, that I was tired - satisfied him and I was forced to accept. By the end of the evening, however, I was not sorry I had come. The admiration that the engineer's speech won from the distinguished audience was new proof that the man who had invited me to his table was of great worth and I felt that some of his glory must reflect on to me.
I left for Shillong that same night. Only Harold accompanied me to the station, giving me some final advice: to beware of snakes, leprosy, malaria and stomach troubles. Today I leafed through my diary at length and re-read the pages written during my time in Assam. What great pains I had taken in deciphering my daily notes, to transfer them to the journal which began with my new life! I was filled with the strange sentiment that I was leading the life of a veritable pioneer, and my work on the construction of railway lines through the jungle seemed to me far more useful to India than a dozen books written about her.
I was also sure that the en counter of this ancient world with our modern work had yet to find its novelist. I had discovered an India quite different from the one I had read about in sensational newspaper articles or books. I was living among tribes, with men who, until then, had been known only to ethnologists, amid that poisonous vegeta tion, under a never-ending rain and a humid and stifling heat.
I wanted to give life to a region overrun by bracken and creepers, populated by men who were at once cruel and innocent. I wanted to unearth the aesthetic and ethical life of these peo ples and each day I collected anecdotes, took photographs, drew up genealogies. The deeper I ventured into this wild domain, the more consuming became a hitherto unconscious notion of my superiority, the more violently assertive a pride of which I would never have believed myself capable.
I was well and truly in the jungle, no longer a social being with perfect self-control. But the rains!
How many nights, tormented by depression, did I listen to the rhythmic and unforgettable sound of water falling off the roof. And those extraordinary downpours Bengal Nights which lasted for days at a time, broken only by a few hours of very soft rain that fell like a hot spray. I would make my way. In the evenings, I would settle myself in the cool comfort of my room, or pace up and down the veranda of my bungalow, trying to rediscover the taste of my tobacco; the most minute precautions had not succeeded in protecting it from the humidity.
At times I felt I could bear the life no longer. I would clench my fists, hit the balustrade with savage blows and make off under the rain into the darkness, no matter where, towards a place where the skies did not pour forth a ceaseless deluge, where the grass was not so high, so humid, so dense.
I wanted to see flowers again, to walk in plains like those at Tamluk, to feel a salty breeze or the dry wind of the desert on my face. The lingering smells of putrefaction drove me almost to madness. I was alone with three servants and the warden of the bun galow. When a stranger came to visit - a jute plantation inspec tor, the collector or a tea merchant en route would drink a glass of whisky together.
I also drank alone each evening, after my bath. So tired that I barely had any sensation in my body - I could have fallen and cut myself, I would not have felt i t - my nerves were none the less jangling, on edge. I shook, my breathing was tortuous and each time I got up from my chair I was overcome by dizziness. I would sit staring into space as though in a trance. All notion oftime disappeared.If I had had a single intelligent companion with me, I would have had marvellous things to tell him.
None of my objections - that I was not properly dressed, that I was tired - satisfied him and I was forced to accept. Two days earlier, Norinne had got engaged and we had celebrated all night.
The young husband brought schoolgirls back in the evening and fingered them in his wife's presence. He is arrogant but he believes he's benevolent and understanding. I wanted to throw off the sheets, get dressed and wander around Calcutta. Every departure was the same.
Its master, Narendra Sen--in real life he was the philosopher Surendranath Das Gupta--is a kind, solicitous man whose love for the West leads him to open his home to Mircea; later, with an age-old taboo violated, he will take harsh and implacable steps while avoiding personal confrontation.
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