Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Heart of India

Non-fiction ~ article/essay
Published in The Century Magazine, February 1914
Collected in pamphlet The Heart of India (Hermitage Books, 1994)
4,060 words
(First read 26/11/2014)

E. F. Benson visited India in 1912¹ and stayed for several months.  In The Heart of India he talks about life on the River Ganges in the city of Benares², the home of Hinduism.
He begins by describing ~ somewhat imperiously ~ the stereotypical reactions of the average Western tourist to all that he sees.  Then goes on at some (but not excessive) length to describe the hordes of faithful doing their ablutions, making offerings, and cremating their dead, about the waters of the river itself, about fakirs, beggars, brahmans, chelas, and ... well, as much 'local colour' as you can fit in to 4,000 words.
Despite having never been noticeably interested in India, Eastern religions, etc., I found the article remarkably absorbing: it's beautifully written, with Benson's characteristic blend of detailed, almost sensuous description and (erm ...) emotional restraint.
And it's available
online here.

¹ It might be more accurate to say that he visited his old-young chum Francis Yeats-Brown who was living in India at the time.  But I won't.
While there he fell ill, and pains of increasing severity caused him to return home.  He was found to have a tumour on a kidney which was so far advanced that an operation for the removal of the kidney was inevitable.  This took place in May 1913.
~E. F. Benson As He Was by Geoffrey Palmer and Noel Lloyd.  For more of EFB's Indian 'colour' see the opening section of Arundel.
² Which we now have to refer to as Varanasi.

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