A ship, a small merchantman, built at
Goa, and serving the coastal route. The pepper ship, they called
it, because it brought pepper from Cochin to Goa, pepper, that
most precious article. The whole of the Portuguese Empire of the
Indies was built on pepper. There were other spices, of course,
and there was silk from the faraway, unapproachable land called
China—unapproachable because every foreigner trying to land
there was instantly killed, according to the standing orders
of the Emperor. But pepper was the main thing.
Francis and his three Tamil students were the only passengers.
He almost wept as Goa vanished in the mists of the morning sun.
Somehow the rumor of his departure had got around and a huge crowd
had come to see him off, Father Almeida and Father Campo and other
priests, Violante Ferreira with her nice young daughter, both
in tears, Father Diogo de Borba of course, with all his students,
and hundreds and hundreds of others; they upset the entire traffic
near the port. And as the ship left, they had sung the Credo,
rhymed as he had taught it to the children. How they loved singing,
these joyful people. They sang when they plowed their fields,
sang when they worked on the wharves. And there were the children,
his children, tossing hibiscus flowers at the ship, bobbing up
and down ....
Leaving them was a kind of dying. And now started the voyage
Father de Borba had told him a good deal about the Paravas, and
no one could have given him better information. Eight years ago
Father de Borba had been there himself, in the course of the War
of the Ear.
Every girl child on the Pearl Fisher Coast had the lobes of her
tiny ears pierced. Little leaden weights were inserted into the
ears and these weights were gradually increased, till at last
they were large enough for the enormous earrings that would be
put in on the day of the girl's marriage. They were the sign of
the married state and a Parava woman's pride and badge of rank
An uncouth, greedy Moslem trader—one of the many who cheated
the poor pearl fishers out of their goods, won by so much effort
and under constant danger from sharks and stingrays—tore
such a ring off the ear of a young Parava woman, tearing her earlobe
at the same time. Outraged, the Paravas killed him and everyone
of his kind they could lay their hands on. Then came the armed
feluccas to burn down the Parava villages and the pearl fishers
asked for Portuguese protection.
And Dom Martini de Sousa, Gran Capitan of the Seas, arrived with
his fleet. Francis had heard the story from Marcello, but Father
de Borba had a few things to add. He and a few Franciscans had
gone ashore with the troops, and the priests—numbering no
more than six— had baptized twenty thousand natives. They
tried to instruct them, too, but the fleet had to go on and priests
were needed on board ....
Since then the Paravas had had to be left to themselves, except
for a few priests going over at Easter, from Cochin.
And now it was eight years since the War of the Ear.
The little ship, the pepper ship, was careful not to sail too
far out into the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean. Hugging
the coast, it stopped for a day at Mangalore, for two days at
Calicut, for another two at Cochin. Then it sailed along the Travancore
Coast and round Cape Comorin to Manapad.
There Francis and his three students went ashore.
"Flat country", said Coelho, the oldest of the students,
and the only one who had received major Orders and was a deacon.
"Good for us, because there won't be so many wild animals.
Bad—because there is little shade." He opened his parasol.
They found a little grotto, where Francis said Mass.
Walking towards Manapar
(at the very tip of India)
Far away, to the north, a few catamarans stood out in the ocean.
"Pearl fisher boats", explained Coelho. "One of
the men is diving now. Can you see, Father?"
"Yes—he's holding something in his mouth, something
"His knife. For sharks."
Francis made his bundle ready and swung it over his shoulder.
"You said you know the way to Tuticorin", he said.
"I know it, Father. I—I hope I do."
Rice paddies. A few laborers working in a millet field, with
a number of completely naked boys jumping around and throwing
stones at something, Francis could not see what it was.
"They're chasing parrots away", explained Coelho.
Coconut palms and banyan trees and limes and mangoes. With those
and the fish they can get from the ocean, at least they have enough
to eat, thought Francis. Of course, fish had to be eaten at once;
they putrefied at almost the moment they were taken from the water.
A cow appeared suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, and the workers
in the field turned towards her and bowed their heads.
"They hope for the droppings", said Coelho. "It
is a sacred animal, you know, and the droppings are a certain
cure for a great many diseases, when mixed with the food of a
man. That is what Hindus believe", he added hastily, as he
saw Francis look at him with horror.
"But these people are supposed to be Christians!"
"Some of them, yes, Father. Many of them. Not all. And there
is no priest. Things get mixed up..."
" .. with the dung of cows", said Francis grimly.
He had to restrain himself from walking up to the men and tackling
them then and there. It would have been foolish. The thing to
do was to go to the heart of the country and to work from there
towards the periphery. That was what Father Ignatius would do,
They closed their parasols, as they entered a forest—if
the maze of trees of all kinds and sizes, of high grass and strange
plants could be called a forest.
"Look out for snakes, Father", warned Coelho. "Most
of them will not attack—except when they believe that they
have been attacked. You must be careful not to tread on them.
They will never believe that you didn't do it deliberately."
Mansilhas might have said that. Mansilhas. Perhaps he and Father
Paul had arrived by now. They should have arrived long ago.
Suddenly he stopped. From a tree something was hanging upside
down, an animal, not unlike a huge bat. But surely there could
be no bats of that size! It had a horrible head, black or dark
brown, with large, pointed ears. It looked like a devil.
One of the younger students jumped up and clubbed it to earth
with his parasol. A few more strokes and it was dead.
"What did you do that for?" asked Francis with disgust.
"Verrie good to eat", the student grinned. "Flying
fox, Father. Wonderful, when cooked."
A country where they held cows sacred and cooked devils. He gave
awry smile. "Let's go through the Credo in Tamil again, Coelho",
he said. "I must learn it. Visuvasa manthiram—
paralogath iyum—pulogathiyum—sarvesar—anai athiokia—bhaktiyaga..."
"Visuvasikirain"; Coelho helped out.
Francis sighed. "Why must every word in Tamil have at least
six syllables", he complained. "Avarudya—yega—suthanagya—namudaya..."
"Nathar Yesu", said Coelho, beaming. "Christuvayum..."
"Ah yes, now I know: athikiya—bhakthiyaga visuvasikirain—ivar
ispirithu santhuvinalai karpomai urpavithu archayasishta kanni
Mariyaiyidathilai nindru piranthu".
"Wonderful, Father", said Coelho. "You are making
"I know the Ten Commandments", said Francis, "and
the Pater and the Ave, but I'm hopelessly lost with the exposition
of the Faith and the story of the Gospels. Tell me, Coelho, I
know there are those who speak Hindi and Konkani and Tamil, but
tell me, quite honestly and frankly how many other languages are
there in India?"
"Oh, quite a few", said Coelho, looking away. "There
is Pushtu and Urdu and Gujarati, and Telugu and Kanarese and Bengali
and Singhalese and Gondi and Malayan and... ."
"That will do", said Francis. They went on silently
for a little while. Then Francis said, "Let's get on with
the Credo where we left off. Ponchu—pilathinkizhai—padupattu—
The names of the villages they passed were of the same ilk. Alantalai,
Periytalai, Tiruchendur, Talambuli, Virapandianpatnam, Punaikayal,
Palayakayal, Kayalpamam and Kombuturé.
He did not stick to his original idea, to start working only
when he had reached Tuticorin. He could not wait. It was bitter
to see the shrines and temples on the way, with obscene gods of
stone performing obscene actions on temple friezes, with phallic
symbols abounding; bitter to see trembling villagers watching
overfed cows eating all their food without daring to disturb the
sacred animals; bitter to hear that the pearl fishers paid a good
percentage of their catch to sorcerers for spells and talismans
against the bite of sharks, and paid still more for mantrams against
any other kind of danger, trouble and illness.
At Kombuturé they told him about a woman who had been
three days in labor and was dying, although her husband had paid
the sorcerer for all the aid he could give and the house was full
of mantrams of all kinds.
Coelho shook his head sadly. "The demons are more powerful
than the sorcerer and the mantrams", he murmured.
Francis exploded. "Where is that house?" he asked.
Coelho and the other two students tried to hold him back, but
they might as well have tried to stop the monsoon with their hands.
Francis stalked into the house.
The sorcerer, with two apprentices, was squatting on the floor;
all three of them were drumming on some kind of musical instruments
and chanting invocations at the top of their voices. They had
put a kettle on the floor, filled with some burning substance
that sent up clouds of stinking smoke. In a corner of the room
the husband and at least half a dozen youngsters of all ages were
crouching, moaning and rolling their eyes in abject fear.
A grotesque figure of clay and half a dozen mantrams were tied
to the body of the suffering woman.
Francis took one look. Then he seized the kettle and swung it
at the sorcerer and his helpers. They did not wait for what might
happen next, but jumped up and raced out. Francis threw the kettle
after them, untied the idol and the mantrams and threw them out
A midwife, sitting at the feet of the woman, looked up at him
as if she were seeing a demon. The woman herself kept her eyes
closed. Now that the noise had subsided, Francis could hear her
He knew nothing of childbirth. The hospitals in which he had
nursed his patients in Paris, Venice, Lisbon and Goa were only
for men. He thought the woman was dying, as he had been told that
she was. She certainly looked as if she were dying. And into a
dying woman's room he brought his Lord. It was all he could do
and all he set out to do.
"Coelho— translate. Tell her that I am coming in the
name of the Lord who made heaven and earth..."
Coelho's lips were trembling a little. Perhaps Father Francis
was not quite aware of the risk they were taking. Now if the woman
died, as surely she would, the sorcerer would say that it was
all the fault of these interfering strangers...
"Translate", ordered Francis. "I command you."
Coelho translated. The woman opened her eyes. She fastened her
gaze not on Coelho but on the strange face of the white man with
its complete absence of fear, with its tranquil smile. Being a
woman, she recognized love when she saw it.
"Tell her, Our Blessed Lord wants her to live with him forever.
Tell her what he wants her to believe. Visuvasa manthiram—paralogathiyum
She stared at Francis. Her lips moved a little and then she echoed
"Are you ready to accept what you have heard?" asked
Francis gently, when Coelho had finished translating the last
part of the Creed. "Can you believe it?"
Oh yes, she could. She could.
He took the New Testament out of his pocket and read out the
story of the birth of the Christ Child. Coelho translated again.
From time to time he looked towards the entrance of the house.
The crowd outside was growing larger and larger. They would never
get away alive. He was sweating. But he went on translating.
"Water", said Francis. When they brought it to him,
he baptized the woman.
Coelho, looking on, prayed for all he was worth. In a state of
utter confusion he implored God to save their lives, to save the
woman, to prevent the sorcerer from making the villagers storm
the hut, to have mercy on him, on Father Francis—on everybody.
A sudden tremor went through the body of the woman, she threw
back her head and gave a loud cry. Instantly the midwife sprang
Francis took a step backwards.
At first he did not know that labor had started again after hours
of interruption. But he knew it soon enough.
Minutes later the child was there, and a few seconds later yelling
Outside the villagers broke into a howl of enthusiasm that shook
Two hours later Francis had baptized the husband, three sons,
four daughters and the newly born infant, another son.
Coelho was grinning from ear to ear.
But for Francis this was no more than the beginning. He stepped
outside, where the villagers were still howling their joy to heaven
and asked for the headman. Coelho had to tell him that Father
Francis wanted the entire village to accept Jesus Christ as their
God and Lord.
The headman scratched himself thoughtfully. They would do so
gladly, but they could not—not without the permission of
"Where is that Rajah?" asked Francis curtly.
Coelho passed on the question. The Rajah was far away, very far
away, but there was an official here, who represented him. He
had come to collect the taxes for his master.
Francis went to see him at once.
The tax collector was at first a little suspicious. If these
people accepted this new belief, would they still be willing to
pay their taxes to the Rajah? They would? Well...
Francis began to explain the tenets of Christianity to the man
who listened politely. In the end he gave permission in the name
of his master. He himself? No, no. This new thing seemed very
good, but he himself could not accept it. He was the Rajah's man.
The Rajah would have to give the order to him personally.
"It is a pitee—a great pitee", said Coelho, when
the man withdrew, rather hastily. "We could have called him
It took all next day to baptize every man, woman and child of
the village and two days more to tell them at least the rudiments
of what they must know.
As they left, they saw the woman with her newborn babe in her
arms standing in the door of the hut, smiling at them and making
the sign of the Cross.
The children came in droves. There was no holding them back.
They beleaguered the hut in Tuticorin, they stormed it and sat
all around Francis, chattering away, nudging him, clambering
up on his lap. They chanted the Creed and the Ten Commandments,
the Pater and the Ave and they went on chanting when they went
home. The very air of Tuticorin was full of it.
"Ants", said Coelho disapprovingly. "Ex-actly
like ants. You can do nothing. You can only go away or they eat
Francis shook his head. "That's not the way you've been
taught. What did Our Lord say about children?"
"Of such is the kingdom of heaven'", quoted Coelho
dutifully. "They will have to make less noise there, though.
Perrrsonallee, I cannot see why it is good for the kingdom of
heaven, if these brats do not let you eat or sleep ever!"
"They ask questions", said Francis, beaming. "They
want to know, Coelho. They do not accept it, as if it were just
another law of their Rajah's. They are full of it, God bless them
and send me more of them."
He had his wish. In fact he could never go anywhere, without
at least a hundred and often hundreds of young, shiny brown bodies
milling around him. Soon enough he made teachers of them who brought
the truth he had taught them to houses where he had no access
as well as to their own homes.
The very first thing he uprooted in their young souls was the
fear he saw time and again in the eyes of their parents, fear
of the spirits and demons of the woods and sea and air and fire,
fear of witches' spells and sorcerers' power. It was no more and
no less than a revolution. Never in the history of the Paravas
had demons been treated with such irreverence.
The children delighted in reporting to him when and where one
of those ghastly meetings would take place, where black cocks
and rams were sacrificed to Bhawani, Siva's bloodthirsty wife
and where everyone cringed before the eye of the priest of the
goddess, to whom she gave power to wish any evil he liked on those
who did not sacrifice enough and particularly on those who for
some reason or other did not turn up at the meeting.
When they told him about that for the first time, Francis looked
around the crowd of youngsters: "Who's coming with me to
help beat the devil?"
They were so enthusiastic that he had to warn them. None of them
was to say a word about it to anybody else. None of them was to
do anything, except on the Father's direct order.
They assembled just as silently as did the worshipers of Bhawani
and they appeared at the meeting, sixty boys, all between ten
and fifteen or sixteen, just as the fat and entrails of a black
ram began sizzling in a copper vessel before the statue of the
They pelted Bhawani with stones, then rushed in and upset everything
Francis himself walked in and pushed the six-foot statue off
its pedestal. It was of wood. He poured the contents of the boiling
kettle over the statue. "Such is the power of Bhawani",
he said in a ringing voice. "From now on no Parava will serve
her or any other demon."
The villagers were in a daze. They had seen their boys burning
mantrams and heaping ridicule on the sorcerers, but never before
had anyone dared anything like this. The priest of Bhawani had
vanished with great speed, and the goddess herself did not seem
to take any action.
Standing on the wooden image of the fallen foe, Francis intoned
the Creed while all his boys chanted with him.
Many such raids followed. Sometimes Francis took several hundred
boys with him, to the utter destruction of a temple dedicated
to the monkey-god, Hanuman, or to the potbellied, elephant-headed
"You must plow the field before you can sow the seed",
he told Coelho. "And you must uproot the weeds that are only
good for the fire."
What happened in Tuticorin and Kombuturé, happened in
five, ten, twenty, thirty villages, all along the seacoast. Everywhere
Francis preached, admonished, won over, baptized. Everywhere
the children streamed to him to become his friends, his catechists,
his ambassadors and his army. It was a bad time for demons. It
was a bad time also for those who were ridden by one of those
demons for whom no statue was erected even by the idol-loving
Paravas: the demon of arrack, the toddy made of the juice extracted
from the Palmyra palms. Francis made the headmen of each
village responsible for the drunkenness prevailing in his domain,
when he found that many a Paravas, under the influence of attack,
mistook his brother or friend for a shark and went at him with
the long knife.
He raced up and down from Vêdâlai in the North to
Cape Comorin, sometimes with Coelho or another of his three helpers,
sometimes accompanied by the headman of a village. It was necessary
that the whole tribe understand that he was never too far away
not to appear quite suddenly.
He was like a sheep dog, circling the herd and keeping the flock
together, the only sheep dog for twenty thousand sheep grazing
on a field of one hundred and forty miles in length.
He knew only too well that his work was insecure and he also
knew why. Not only human nature, weak and prone to sin ever since
the Fall, even human habit which reverted time and again to haunting
old fears and the thousand and one superstitions which were supposed
to banish them, not only arrack and datura and other poisons that
made a man forget his miseries instead of carrying them as
a man should—it was a certain class of men who endangered
His first encounter with one of that class had shown him the
power these men had over the minds and bodies of the Paravas.
In Punakayal, in the main street of the teeming village, while
talking to the headman, he noticed a tall, emaciated figure sauntering
down the street. It was a man of sixty with a well-kept gray beard
and a caste mark just above a proud nose. People were drawn back
right and left and bowing. He did not respond to their courtesy.
He did not even seem to see them. A child of perhaps four years
of age, a little boy, was sitting in the middle of the street,
cheerfully playing with a few sticks.
The tall man gave it a single glance and then stepped carefully
aside, passing the child at a distance of several feet.
"At least the fellow seems to like children", said
The headman shook his head. "How could a twice-born like
one who is only a Sudra?" he whispered.
"A what? Why did he step aside then?"
"He must not be polluted by the shadow of a Sudra child.
He is a twice-born, a Brahman. Don't you see the sacred thread
from his shoulder to the waist?"
Francis gave the man a hard stare.
The Brahman passed him as if he were not there at all.
Then and there Francis decided to tackle the "twice-born".
He did not know that he already had trespassed on their immediate
sphere of power, when he first led his swarm of boys against the
meeting in honor of Bhawani.
Coelho then gave him at least an inkling of what he was up against.
The Brahmans were the spiritual aristocracy of India, initiates
to the sacred mysteries, towering high above all other castes,
untouchable in their exalted rank, as the harijan were untouchable
because of their lowliness. They were so holy that they could
not eat food if as much as the shadow of a man of low caste had
fallen upon it. They were priests, sages and prophets and their
influence was immense. All the pearl fishers were Sudras. The
caste was hereditary. No Sudra could possibly stand up against
"We shall see", said Francis grimly.
The twice-born came to visit him that same day. The villagers
recoiled and fled at the man's approach and to his astonishment
and anger Francis saw that even Coelho was uneasy.
The Brahman was dignified and courteous. He had heard so much
about the foreign sannyasi, who was such a great teacher and could
cure men by just looking at them. He was delighted to make his
acquaintance and to bid him welcome in the land of the Paravas.
It was most kind of the foreign sannyasi to bother about the spiritual
enlightenment of such ill-favored and low-caste dogs as the
Paravas. The Brahmans knew only too well how difficult it was
to teach them anything at all beyond the exertion of their natural
Four servants brought baskets full of presents: fresh fruit,
meat, betel and, in a beautiful ivory box, a number of beautiful
pearls—pearls conquered from the sea in the face of appalling
risks by the ill-favored and low-caste dogs of Paravas and sacrificed
by them to the Brahmans in exchange for a blessing or, more
likely still, claimed and received by the Brahmans as dutiful
tribute to potbellied Ganesha or bloody Bhawani.
"Please accept in kindness these little tokens", said
the Brahman, "tokens of our admiration and respect and
the sign of the respect we servants of the gods have for each
"There is only one God", said Francis stiffly.
The Brahman smiled. "To the servant of Siva there is only
Siva", he said. "To the servant of Ganesha there is
only Ganesha. That is as it should be and as the wisdom of the
gods has decreed it. But confusion would result if we were to
teach the lower castes that they must listen to us alone and not
to anyone else. We are resolved not to contradict your teachings,
wise man from the West, and all we ask of you is that you will
not interfere with pious men and women rendering their tribute
to the gods in our temples."
"I have no intention to be bribed by you or by anybody else",
said Francis, and a quavering Coelho translated it. "Truth
makes no bargain with error. Take your presents. I cannot accept
them. I shall not rest till all Paravas have become the servants
of the one, true God. And I tell you that many of them whom you
call low-caste dogs are more pleasing in the sight of God than
those who strut about as you do, believing themselves to be so
high and exalted. Instead of parading your arrogance before men,
evoke in yourself humility towards God and you too will be pleasing
in his eyes."
"Surely one gift is worth another", said the Brahman,
without so much as batting an eyelid. "And if these presents
are not good enough for a sannyasi of your rank, you must forgive
us for not having recognized your true greatness."
Francis swung around to Coelho. "Tell him", a said,
"all the wealth of India will not change the law of the one,
true God and the will of his servant."
The Brahman shrugged his shoulders, gave a courteous greeting
and left, slowly and dignified.
"This is war", said Coelho in a low voice.
"What else can there be between truth and lie? And what
do we have to fear? If God wants us to go on spreading his holy
law, all the Brahmans in the world won't be able to stop us. And
if God wants us to die, how could we possibly live? They can do
Even so, Coelho told the other two students that in future they
would have to do all the cooking and that all victuals would have
to be inspected very closely. Father Francis could not be bribed,
but a Parava woman could, more likely than not. And even a few
bristles from a tiger's skin, hacked very small and mixed with
food had the disagreeable quality of perforating the intestines
and bringing about a protracted and very painful death.
His boys were the most faithful of all, and by far the most militant.
They loved to argue and they loved to fight. They could now be
sent to other villages to teach the children and to pray for the
sick. Again and again reports came of patients who had become
well after their prayers. Youth was on the side of God. No wonder
then that God was on the side of youth.
But both young and old now assembled on Sunday for Mass, prayed
daily, sang the truth while at their work.
And yet—the influence of the Brahmans was felt almost everywhere.
When one of them was near, the villagers were reticent and sullen.
Many would not open their doors to the white man. Some refused
to talk or to listen.
After an experience of that kind Francis returned to his own
but and began to write to Father Ignatius in Rome, pouring out
his lonely heart.
After a few moments of brilliant display the sun had sunk as
a stone sinks in water. Darkness in India came as suddenly
as death, and with it came the hooting of night birds and the
faraway howling of jackals. The first mosquito began its monotonous,
"There is a class of men out here", wrote Francis,
"called bragmanes. They are the mainstay of heathenism,
and have charge of the temples devoted to the idols. They are
the most perverse people in the world, and of them was written
the psalmist's prayer: De gente non sancta, ab homine iniquo
et doloso eripe me. They do not know what it is to tell the
truth but forever plot how to lie subtly and deceive their poor,
ignorant followers.... Thus they make the simple people believe
that the idols require food, and many bring an offering before
sitting down to table themselves. They eat twice daily to the
din of kettledrums and give out that the idols are then feasting....
Rather than go short, these bragmanes warn the wretched
credulous people that if they fail to provide what is required
of them, the idols will encompass their deaths, or inflict disease,
or send devils to their houses. They have little learning, but
abundance of iniquity and malice. They regard me as a great
nuisance because I keep on exposing then wickedness all the time,
but when I get one or other of them alone they admit their deceptions
and tell me that they have no other means of livelihood than those
stone idols and the lies they concoct about them. They really
think that I know more than all of them put together and they
request me to visit them and take it ill when I refuse the gifts
they send me to keep my mouth shut...."
There was a stir and Francis looked up.
Coelho was standing in the doorway. "They have sent a message",
he blurted out. "They want you to come to them. If you go
it is certain death."
"What are you talking about?" asked Francis, frowning.
"Who are 'they' ?"
"The Brahmans, Father. They are having a full assembly at
Tiruchendur. They want you to come there."
"Where is the messenger?"
"There were three of them—all Brahmans. But they would
not wait. You know how they are. You won't go, Father, will you?
After all it is sheer insolence, not to deliver their message
to you in person."
"In other words, you don't want me to go", said Francis,
smiling dryly. "And they will say that the strange sannyasi
is afraid of them. And God will say that his servant Francis out
of pride or fear or sloth missed the opportunity to talk to all
the Brahmans together. I will go tomorrow morning at sunrise.
And I will go alone."
He did not finish his letter that day. Tomorrow evening there
might be more to report, if he was alive to report it. It was
quite possible—it was even probable—that Coelho was
quite right and that the Brahmans had resolved to get rid once
and for all of the nuisance that was Francis Xavier.
A man must step out briskly, if he wants to make the way from
Tuticorin to Tiruchendur while the sun still shines. All is well
in the neighborhood of the town, but there are a few stretches
of forest and "forest" here means the Jungle.
Despite his fear Coelho had begged to be taken along, when Francis
departed, but the answer was a quiet shake of the head.
It was not that Francis wanted to punish his best helper. He
wanted to be alone. By now his Tamil was good enough, he hoped,
to cope with the Brahmans' arguments—if there were any arguments.
He did not know what they wanted of him and he dismissed all surmise.
He knew he had to go in the name of his Lord and that was all
there was to it. It was much. It was so much that the man, walking
alone through the jungle, paid no attention at all to the dangers
around him. He did not even see the snakes slithering away at
his approach as most snakes will. He paid no attention whatever
to the long, brown shapes, like fallen trees, that lay quietly
on the bank of a half dried-up river. The crocodile rarely attacks
on land. But the very assurance of the man, walking alone,
baffled a huge hamadryad into uncertainty and made it let him
pass. And the hamadryad, the cobra of cobras, is ill-tempered
and will attack without provocation. Parrots screamed and
became silent. Monkeys chattered and became quiet. Silent eyes
followed the wanderer all the way through the jungle.
They were waiting in the great hall of the temple beside the
sea. Two hundred and four men, each one wearing the sacred thread
of the twice-born, and in their midst Harit-Zeb, eighty-two years
of age, priest in charge of the temple, and Devandas, of whom
it was said that he was very learned.
On the other side of Harit-Zeb sat Ramigal, who came from the
high North. He had vowed that he would go to the holy city of
Benares on foot, following the seacoast. He was a young man, as
the age of a single incarnation goes, no more than thirty-five
years old. But for twelve years he had been sitting at the feet
of an old man who had given up his name together with his heritage
as the brother of a rajah and withdrawn to the mountains, and
the ancient one had become Ramigal's teacher and taught him many
But even such as the ancient one must die. Thus Ramigal had become
a chela without a guru and he decided to go on pilgrimage to the
holy city, to find enlightenment at another source. For alone
he could not yet face the life the ancient one had lived.
He finally arrived in Tiruchendur, where they received him with
the courtesy due to his rank as a Brahman and asked him many questions
about his life in the North and particularly whether his studies
of yoga enabled him to perform certain feats that would astonish
the unenlightened. The very question had shown him their
mettle, and he declined to answer, hiding his disdain because
he was their guest and because it was unbecoming to show disdain
to someone less learned.
Then they complained to him about the workings of a foreign sannyasi
who went about turning the people away from the service of the
gods; but their main complaint was that so few people now came
to bring offerings and that even threats did not always have an
They told him that they had sent for the sannyasi, but were not
sure whether he was going to turn up.
And now they were all waiting, over two hundred men of the sacred
thread, for the arrival of the foreigner, a man who had never
studied the Upanishads, who did not know anything about the sacred
mysteries, a clever and glib demagogue, as they told Ramigal.
What did they want with him? Surely, it was doing such a man far
too much honor, to receive him in full assembly. He asked Devandas
for the reason and Devandas smiled. "It may be that he has
some knowledge. If so we shall soon know what it is. If not..."
Devandas shrugged his shoulders.
They were inferior people. They were thinking in terms of tricks
and hoping that the foreigner could teach them something new.
Or—was there another meaning behind the idea of getting
the man here?
It was senseless and purposeless to think about it. Tomorrow,
Ramigal thought, he would go on towards the holy city of Benares.
Just as the sun went down and the slaves brought the torches,
the foreigner appeared in the entrance.
The great temple had stood for many generations. Now that the
sun had gone, the thousand and one obscenities performed
by intricately carved stone figures on its many tiers were no
longer visible. And the two hundred figures sitting closely together
appeared like one huge body.
The thin man in black walked straight towards them, gave a curt
greeting and at once asked in a loud and clear voice what their
religion claimed from them as necessary for their salvation.
Old Harit-Zeb raised his hand a little and smiled. Would it not
be better if the foreign sannyasi told them what commands the
God of the Christians had for his adherents?
If this was a polite way of reminding the foreigner that it was
not for him to ask questions of the assembly, it was lost on the
barbarian from the West.
"I will tell you that, when you have answered my question",
Again old Harit-Zeb smiled. "The two main religious duties
are to abstain from killing cows and to show honor to Brahmans",
Ramigal gave him a sharp look. Was this gross ignorance or was
the old man trying to insult the stranger?
"If that is so," said Francis, "a murderer, thief
and oppressor of the poor could be a man who still fulfilled his
main religious duties. After what I have heard, I feel no wish
to know more about your religion."
Ramigal winced. The subtle insult had been answered by a stroke
with a heavy club. When the stranger walked up to them, he looked
like a man who had some knowledge of things known only to the
initiated. But now he went down to the level of those who were
living in the plains. It was a pity.
"You have asked me what God demands of those with whom he
is pleased", said Francis. "This I shall now tell you."
One by one he recited the articles of the Creed, always with
a short, poignant interpretation of the meaning. Then he
gave them an exposition of the Ten Commandments.
Old Harit-Zeb went on smiling all the time.
Devandas looked bored.
All this is extremely simple, thought Ramigal. It is a good teaching
for children. But he thought it with only a part of himself. There
was another part—and he was far enough on the way to know
what it was—that fixed itself on the man who spoke and enjoyed
his sincerity as a thirsty man will enjoy a drink of cold, fresh
water, And there was a third part of himself—and here he
was no longer quite so sure what it was—that felt a great
and rising longing. Twice only in his life he had felt it before.
Once, when he first met the Ancient One, the day before he became
his chela. And a second time when the Ancient One was dead and
his body burned. Then that longing had welled up, strong and demanding,
and he suddenly knew that he must leave and go on his search till
he reached the holy city. The first time the Ancient One had evoked
that longing in him—either the Ancient One or something
or somebody which in turn worked through the Ancient One and made
Ramigal wish to follow him and become his disciple. The second
time—he had often meditated about it—it must have
been the soul of his teacher urging him on to undertake that search.
But now? What could it mean now?
When the stranger had finished, Harit-Zeb thanked him. No doubt
what he said was beautiful and true. All search for holy
things was sacred and bound to lead to truth and all religion
was searching. And therefore all religions were true. Now if a
Brahman was eating the food offering of a Sudra—after due
purification of the food, of course—it was by no means untrue
for him to say that the god ate it. For was there not a spark
of the god in him and did it not need nourishment as long as it
was a prisoner in its present incarnation? And yet, how could
this be made clear to a mere Sudra, still so much at the beginning
of the long-journey? Surely he could not possibly understand—therefore
he was simply told: the god ate your offering. It was not just
that the great foreign sannyasi should go about denouncing the
Brahmans and it was hoped, very much hoped, that he would not
continue doing so. In this hope all the brethren joined. Also
it was not just that the great foreign sannyasi told his young
men to destroy the sacred images of the gods. After all, the Indian
gods had been in India long before the Christian God and there
should be respect for that which is old—especially in the
souls of young men. It was to be hoped—very much hoped—that
they would in future abstain from such works of destruction. Because
if the hopes he, Harit-Zeb, had expressed did not find fulfillment,
the gods themselves were likely to take a hand and things then
would happen over which even Brahmans had no control.
Francis listened carefully. His Tamil was not good enough to
understand every word, but sufficient to understand the essential
trend and he easily guessed the rest.
"When God was incarnated on earth", he said, "and
became Jesus Christ, my Lord and your Lord, he told those who
showed him the great temple in Jerusalem: tear it down and I will
build it up again in three days. But he spoke of the temple of
his body. And when they killed him on the Cross and buried him,
he rose again on the third day. The idols that my young men destroyed
did not rise again and more and more idols will fall. For there
is only one God and he is not pleased with idols. It is because
he wishes his law to be obeyed in India that I am here. And under
his law there is no difference between a Brahman and a Sudra,
but only a difference between those who obey his law and those
who sin against it. Listening to you, one would think that it
is you who demand equality. But the only equality you demand is
that between truth and error and that can never be. The equality
I demand in the name of Christ is that between man and man before
God. And I have found more honesty and goodness and above all
more humility and faith in the Sudras than I find in you
who are supposed to be learned and holy men. The vengeance of
the demons you call your gods I do not fear. If you wish to accept
the law of my God, I shall teach you and baptize you. If not,
you must know that Christ has said: 'He who is not for me, is
He gave them a greeting, turned and walked away.
Ramigal saw Devandas lean forward and whisper with Harit-Zeb.
The old man nodded and Devandas rose and walked quickly, till
he had caught up with the stranger.
"I am Devandas", he said politely. "Please permit
me to accompany you to the hut we have prepared for your stay
at night. I shall keep you company, if I may. There are some questions
I want to ask of you."
Francis accepted. It was impossible to return to Tuticorin at
night, when the jungle woke up. Besides, he was very tired, and
he still had to say his Office. He was under little illusion about
Devandas' questions, but one could never know for certain ....
Behind them, the assembly in the wide courtyard broke up into
little groups. Then a steady flow of white-robed figures began
to disappear inside the main building.
A short, thickset man bent down to Harit-Zeb and muttered something.
Ramigal saw that he had a sacrificial knife in the folds of his
Harit-Zeb gave him an angrily hissing answer and the man, reluctantly,
Ramigal said, "What is this foreign sannyasi doing?"
"He is the first and only of the Portugi who will not come
to terms with us", said the old man sullenly. "He does
not understand the law of give and take. But he will pass away—
sooner or later. There are many teeth in the jungle and some of
them are poisonous."
After a while Ramigal said, "That is not what I meant, my
old brother. What kind of life does the sannyasi lead?" "There
is little doubt that he is possessed", said Harit-Zeb. "Many
say he never eats anything at all and he drinks only water, except
when he celebrates his ritual in the morning . He goes about teaching
and pouring water over the heal of the Paravas, invoking his God.
He continually interferes when some of the people start a quarrel.
He prays when they are ill and it is said that his demons hear
him and that many walk again who should have died. This is particularly
upsetting to us, because there has been no healer in the temple
for many years now and they all go to him."
"He charges them heavily for the healing?"
The wrinkled, old face twitched in annoyance. "He does not
charge them at all. Nor does he charge them anything for his teaching
and the Paravas are too stupid to understand that anything given
away cannot be valuable."
"What is his gain then?" asked Ramigal quietly.
"Ah, if only I knew! We thought it might be power. But power
goes with display. Yet he has never been seen but in the same
coat and he does not wear any precious thing on his body. He refused
to accept our presents, and we sent him some good pearls. He does
not accept presents from the Paravas either. They call him Father.
It is bewildering, Ramigal— he really is treating these
lowborn dogs as if they mattered! As if he could instill into
them the understanding of mysteries, due to them only after another
two or three incarnations. He tells them that his God loves them.
As if it were possible to love a Sudra! We have had him under
sharp observation, Ratingal. He does not pretend about the kind
of life he is leading. He lives the same way even when he believes
himself unobserved—unless, of course, his demon tells him
when he is watched and when he isn't. And he sleeps no longer
than two or three hours at night. The rest of the time he either
reads a book he always carries with him, or he kneels in the middle
of his hut and holds converse with his demon."
"When a man is thirsty for power", said Ramigal almost
inaudibly, "he will kneel only before himself."
"What did you say? Ah yes, power. But what itch can it satisfy
in him, to be the father of many thousands of Sudras? Well, Devandas
has gone to ask him certain questions. Perhaps we shall soon know
more. There are some who recommend very simple ways of dealing
with the problem — I am not for that."
Harit-Zeb broke off: He suddenly felt that he was saying far
too much. After all, this Ramigal was a stranger himself. Devandas
would have said he was being garrulous again the impudent young
man—if he had been present. But then he saw that Ramigal
was no longer at his side. He was walking towards the entrance
of the courtyard, very slowly and with his head bowed, deep in
"We know", said Devandas eagerly, "that there
is only God the Creator of all there is. This is one of the great
secrets Brahmans know about. This is one of the things we are
told by our great teachers. But it is not for the uninitiated.
We must swear a most solemn oath never to reveal it to them, nor
any of the other great mysteries. Yet I will tell you all. And
in turn you will tell me all the secrets of the Christian religion
and I will swear to you that I will not reveal them to anybody
"I will gladly tell you all the Christian mysteries",
said Francis, "and I will hold back nothing—but only
if you promise not to keep them secret, but to spread them as
best you can. And the first is: he who believes and is baptized
will be saved."
Devandas wrote it down. "I will write it all down",
he said, "and you will baptize me. But you must never tell
anyone that I have become a Christian."
"There is no need for me to tell anybody," said Francis,
"but you must never deny that you are a Christian."
Then he saw Devandas smile, a crafty, cunning smile, the smile
of a man who knew how to circumvent a dangerous situation, and
he sighed and said wearily, "If you deny Christ, he will
"It must remain a secret", murmured Devandas. "No
Brahman can become a Christian, unless he can be sure that it
will remain secret."
"I cannot accept you into the Church under such conditions",
said Francis sadly. "Pray that God will give you courage
to overcome your fears. At least you can teach those who come
to you for advice that there is only one God, the Creator of heaven
"Teach that to the Sudras?" asked Devandas, startled.
"I would break my oath and a demon would surely, kill me.
Siva has many servants." He caught himself. "I will
pray", he said. "Most assuredly I will pray. But tell
me, what incantation do you use that makes ill people well—even
dying people? Or do you use a mantram of great strength? You do
not accept payment in money or pearls, they say. But perhaps they
must give you their children in payment. What do you use
"Go, Devandas", said Francis quietly.
The Brahman gave a short laugh. "I knew you wouldn't tell
me your real secrets", he said. "But perhaps we already
know them." He left.
After a while Francis became aware of a shadow, darkening the
entrance of the hut. He made the sign of the Cross and rose from
his knees. So the man had come back. Perhaps they had given him
fresh instructions. But it was not Devandas.
"I am Ramigal", said the tall, young Brahman. His eyes
shifted to a corner of the room, where a plate with rice cakes
and some fruit was lying on a low table of brass. Something was
moving on that plate.
A small, flat, triangular head appeared, raising itself high
on a slim, stalklike body. It darted first to one side, then to
another and now it shd down to the floor. Francis saw it, too.
Neither of the two men moved. The snake hesitated for a few moments,
then made its way right across the hut. Still neither of the two
men moved. It was a krait, its bite deadly within a fraction of
an hour. It passed noiselessly between the two men and reached
the entrance and was gone.
"What is it you want of me, Ramigal?" asked Francis.
After five heartbeats the Brahman answered, "When you told
those men about what Christians believe, I thought it was
a very beautiful thing to teach children. But then I thought who
would dare to teach children things that are untrue? Then I saw
that you yourself believed in your own teaching. And I heard from
the lips of an enemy that you are living it. For the sake of my
soul and for the sake of the soul of India, answer me: if God
became incarnate on earth and suffered for all men, be they Brahmans
or Sudras or any other caste, then is final salvation possible
for a man even if he has not achieved perfection by himself?"
"No man can achieve perfection by himself', said Francis
gently. "But by cooperating with Our Lord and on the strength
of Our Lord's death on the Cross a man will be acceptable to God."
"If he can do that, there is no need for him to be reborn
on earth", said Ramigal slowly.
"A thief died on a cross next to Our Lord", said Francis.
"Surely a man who had not reached perfection. But he begged
Our Lord to remember him when he came into his kingdom and
Our Lord answered him: 'I promise thee, this very day thou shalt
be in paradise.' "
Ramigal took a deep breath. "It is clear, then, that you
have come to teach people how to cooperate with the incarnate
God. It is not surprising that the basis of such teaching is simple.
Great truth of its very nature must be simple."
"God", said Francis, "is simple."
The man who had been sitting for years at the feet of the Ancient
One in the faraway North understood at once, and he knew that
there was now no need for him to go to Benares, because he had
found the holy city." 1 have been searching for God a long
time", he said. "Now I come to you and I beg of you:
teach me, as you would teach a child."
When Francis returned with Ramigal to Tuticorm, he found so much
work needing immediate attention that he had no time to go
on with his letter to Father Ignatius. Several weeks went by before
he could resume writing.
"The bragmanes tell me that they know right well
there is only one God....
"I let them have my views of their behavior; and I expose
their impositions and trickeries to the poor simple folk, who
out of sheer terror alone remain attached to them, until I become
tired out with the effort. As a result of my campaign, many lose
their devotion to the devil and accept the Faith. Were it not
for these bragmanes all the heathen would be converted...
"Since I came here only one bragmane has become
a Christian, a fine young fellow, now engaged in teaching the
children Christian doctrine."
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