Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mark Twain and Vishnu Sahasranamam

“The writings of Mark Twain : Vol 6” that I had linked to in my previous post turned out to be a fascinating book and I have spent the last few hours engrossed in it. Some more excerpts, at random:

On the Bird of Birds — the Indian crow. I came to know him well, by and by, and be infatuated with him. I suppose he is the hardest lot that wears feathers. Yes, and the cheerfulest, and the best satisfied with himself. He never arrived at what he is by any careless process, or any sudden one; he is a work of art, and "art is long"; he is the product of immemorial ages, and of deep calculation; one can't make a bird like that in a day. He has been re-incarnated more times than Shiva; and he has kept a sample of each incarnation, and fused it into his constitution….(page 30)

On names and Titles:..The princely titles, the sumptuous titles, the sounding titles,— how good they taste in the mouth! The Nizam of Hyderabad ; the Maharajah of Travancore; the Nabob of Jubbulpore; the Begum of Bhopal; the Nawab of Mysore; the Ranee of Gulnare; the Ahkoond of Swat; the Rao of Rohilkund; the Gaikwar of Baroda. Indeed, it is a country that runs richly to name. The great god Vishnu has 108 — 108 special ones—108 peculiarly holy ones — names just for Sunday use only. I learned the whole of Vishnu's 108 by heart once, but they wouldn't stay; I don't remember any of them now but John W. (page 35)

Were Indians the world’s first germ scientists? …When we went to Agra, by and by, we happened there just in time to be in at the birth of a marvel — a memorable scientific discovery—the discovery that in certain ways the foul and derided Ganges water is the most puissant purifier in the world! This curious fact, as I have said, had just been added to the treasury of modern science.

It had long been noted as a strange thing that while Benares is often afflicted with the cholera she does not spread it beyond her borders. This could not be accounted for. Mr. Henkin, the scientist in the employ of the government of Agra, concluded to examine the water. He went to Benares and made his tests. He got water at the mouths of the sewers where they empty into the river at the bathing ghats; a cubic centimeter of it contained millions of germs; at the end of six hours they were all dead. He caught a floating corpse, towed it to the shore, and from beside it he dipped up water that was swarming with cholera germs; at the end of six hours they were all dead. He added swarm after swarm of cholera germs to this water; within the six hours they always died, to the last sample. Repeatedly, he took pure well water which was barren of animal life, and put into it a few cholera germs; they always began to propagate at once, and always within six hours they swarmed — and were numberable by millions upon millions.

For ages and ages the Hindoos have had absolute faith that the water of the Ganges was absolutely pure, could not be defiled by any contact whatsoever, and infallibly made pure and clean whatsoever thing touched it. They still believe it, and that is why they bathe in it and drink it, caring nothing for its seeming filthiness and the floating corpses. The Hindoos have been laughed at, these many generations, but the laughter will need to modify itself a little from now on. How did they find out the water's secret in those ancient ages? Had they germ-scientists then? We do not know. We only know that they had a civilization long before we emerged from savagery. ( page 194)


Mambalam Mani said...

Seems like a fascinating read.Keep sharing these interesting works. By the way, how do you find these old pieces?

Raj said...

Mani, how do I find these old pieces. Variegated surfing on Google Books, I guess.

But, just reflect on Mark Twain's range of exposure and experience. In the era of steam ships, he traveled all over the world. He drove from the East Coast of US to the west on a horse coach and published a book as well. And he wrote on different subjects with such felicity.