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1890

SHAZADPUR, 1890.


The magistrate was sitting in the verandah of his tent dispensing justice
to the crowd awaiting their turns under the shade of a tree. They set my
palanquin down right under his nose, and the young Englishman received me
courteously. He had very light hair, with darker patches here and there,
and a moustache just beginning to show. One might have taken him for a
white-haired old man but for his extremely youthful face. I asked him over
to dinner, but he said he was due elsewhere to arrange for a pig-sticking
party.

As I returned home, great black clouds came up and there was a terrific
storm with torrents of rain. I could not touch a book, it was impossible
to write, so in the I-know-not-what mood I wandered about from room to
room. It had become quite dark, the thunder was continually pealing, the
lightning gleaming flash after flash, and every now and then sudden gusts
of wind would get hold of the big lichi tree by the neck and give
its shaggy top a thorough shaking. The hollow in front of the house soon
filled with water, and as I paced about, it suddenly struck me that I
ought to offer the shelter of the house to the magistrate.

I sent off an invitation; then after investigation I found the only spare
room encumbered with a platform of planks hanging from the beams, piled
with dirty old quilts and bolsters. Servants' belongings, an excessively
grimy mat, hubble-bubble pipes, tobacco, tinder, and two wooden chests
littered the floor, besides sundry packing-cases full of useless odds and
ends, such as a rusty kettle lid, a bottomless iron stove, a discoloured
old nickel teapot, a soup-plate full of treacle blackened with dust. In a
corner was a tub for washing dishes, and from nails in the wall hung moist
dish-clouts and the cook's livery and skull-cap. The only piece of
furniture was a rickety dressing-table with water stains, oil stains, milk
stains, black, brown, and white stains, and all kinds of mixed stains. The
mirror, detached from it, rested against another wall, and the drawers
were receptacles for a miscellaneous assortment of articles from soiled
napkins down to bottle wires and dust.

For a moment I was overwhelmed with dismay; then it was a case of--send
for the manager, send for the storekeeper, call up all the servants, get
hold of extra men, fetch water, put up ladders, unfasten ropes, pull down
planks, take away bedding, pick up broken glass bit by bit, wrench nails
from the wall one by one.--The chandelier falls and its pieces strew the
floor; pick them up again piece by piece.--I myself whisk the dirty mat
off the floor and out of the window, dislodging a horde of cockroaches,
messmates, who dine off my bread, my treacle, and the polish on my shoes.

The magistrate's reply is brought back; his tent is in an awful state and
he is coming at once. Hurry up! Hurry up! Presently comes the shout: "The
sahib has arrived." All in a flurry I brush the dust off hair, beard, and
the rest of myself, and as I go to receive him in the drawing-room, I try
to look as respectable as if I had been reposing there comfortably all the
afternoon.

I went through the shaking of hands and conversed with the magistrate
outwardly serene; still, misgivings about his accommodation would now and
then well up within. When at length I had to show my guest to his room, I
found it passable, and if the homeless cockroaches do not tickle the soles
of his feet, he may manage to get a night's rest.

Rabindranath Tagore

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