The Naulahka – XX

Notes on the text

by Sharad Keskar

[Heading] This is the last of the four headings described as from ‘The Libretto of Naulahka’, and collected in Songs from Books, 1912, with the title “The Nursing Sister” (Maternity Hospital).
‘Our sister sayeth such and such…’
The poem accurately reflects the Queen’s dissertation to Kate (pp. 300-1): ‘From all, except such as have borne a child, the world is hid’. [P.H.]

[Page 285, line 19] Where thou goest I will go echoes Ruth and Naomi (see Ruth 1,16; also Matthew 8,19.)

[Page 287, line 1] Achcha ‘yes!’, ‘all right!’, ‘okay!’

[Page 288, line 1] Raj Kumar College another reference inspired by the famous Mayo College, Ajmer, for sons of Indian Princes and aristocracy (right).

[Page 288, line 10] Black water (in Hindi, kalapani) the waters which separate India from the rest of the world, and which, to cross, is to lose caste. See “The Miracle of Purun Baghat”, in which Purun Dass, a distinguished senior administrator in a native state, travels to England:

At last he went to England on a visit, and had to pay enormous sums to the priests when he came back; for even so high-caste a Brahmin as Purun Dass lost caste by crossing the black sea.

[Page 290, line 30] Chohan blood one of the most popular Hindu heroes of Northern India, Prithvi Raj, once King of Delhi, was a Chohan of the ruling family of Ajmer; he led the resistance to Mohammed of Ghor at the end of the 11th century.

[Page 292, line 29] the corn and the corn in the ear the mother with a child in the womb.

[Page 293, line 3] dekho! ‘look!’

[Page 293, line 18] worthless one the usual Indian form of affectionate address. It is thought that to use really loving words to a child superstitiously drew the envy and even punishment of the gods. See “The Return of Imray” in Life’s Handicap in which a servant confesses to murdering his master:

‘…Walking among us, his servants, he cast his eyes upon my child, who was four years old. Him he bewitched, and in ten days he died of the fever. My child!”

[Page 293, line 19] “The heaven-horn looks as frail as dried maize” a remark intended to deceive the gods, and this also applies to line 21. People in positions of power were born to rule and thus to be above caste: hence “heaven-born” or “twice born”.

[Page 294, line 20] If the young steer does not obey the cow, he learns obedience from the yoke this is a typical proverb of the country-side in India and is easily understood, bearing in mind that the farmer uses cattle to draw the plough.

[Page 296, line 2] Banswarra a town near the Mahi River.

[Page 296, line 30] Such hai! literally ‘truth is!’

[Page 298, line 16] known neither gain or loss neither borne a child nor lost a child of her own.

[Page 299, line 14] Sahiba a word of great respect addressed to the queen: Kate is only a miss-sahib. The others are all purdah-nashin (behind the curtain, i.e., in strict seclusion) except the woman of the desert, who cares no longer.

[Page 300, line 3] The three women dead leaf, the woman of the desert, barren or too old to bear more children: the flowering tree, the Queen, a youngish woman well able to have more children: blossom unopened, Kate, the virgin.

[Page 300, line 32] 10,000 leagues the league is a varying distance according to country, but usually 3 miles; here, of course, it only means a very long way away.

[Page 302, line 17] springs of life origin and source. Again Kate is being told that because she has not been married and so had no children, the people to whom she ministered thought she was incapable of understanding their problems.

[Page 302, line 30] coverture condition of a woman under a man’s protection. In Rajasthan, a widow’s bangles are broken, she is forbidden to wear jewellery, and is generally considered bad luck to meet when setting out on a journey.

[Page 303, lines 6-7] priest, woman and stone this proverb says that the three are alike in that none of them has a chance of growing roots and branches.

[S.K.]