We all have read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in school. But the great American author and humorist whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens is been better known for his travel books. Although he earned a great deal of money through his writings and lectures, Mark Twain ran in financial troubles and at the age of 57 he launched an unprecedented worldwide performance tour to make quick money to pay back his creditors. The journey took him to North America to Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, and South  Africa.

On January 18, 1896 Mark arrived in Bombay on a ship called Rosetta, which according to him was a “poor old ship and ought to be insured and sunk”.

After touring parts of northern India, in February 1896 he arrived in “Jeypore” and stayed at Kaiser-i-Hind hotel, which was situated near the present day railway station.

The city’s architecture, beautiful gardens, broad roads and vibrant colours impressed him so much that he in Following the Equator published in 1897 called “Jeypore” “any Indian city is that, but this one is not like any other city that we saw.” He even said the city itself is a curiosity. Although one does not know how long he wanted to stay in “Jeypore”, his stay was extended in the city by two weeks because he felt “a pricking sensation in the left hand and arm and he was also suffering from diarrhoea (which the present day travel guides call the Delhi Belly).

After being treated by a European doctor, Mark toured the city and described its unique features in minute detail. What really impressed Mark was the “Europeanesque” touch “Jeypore” had that time. He writes “Jeypore  is intensely Indian but it has two or three features which indicate the presence of European science and European interest in the weal of the  common public, such as liberal water-supply furnished by great works built at State’s expense; good sanitation resulting in a degree of healthfulness unusually high for India; a noble pleasure garden with privileged days for women; school for instruction for native youth in advanced art – both ornamental and utilitarian; a new and beautiful palace stocked  with a museum of extraordinary interest and value. Without Maharaja’s sympathy and purse, these beneficences could not have been created, but he is a man of wide views and large generosities, and all such matters find hospitality with him.”

Although he did not name the garden and the museum, one is sure that he was referring to Ram Niwas Garden and the Albert Hall Museum. American writer Robert Cooper, who one hundred years later, virtually followed every step of Mark’s itinerary across the four continents, writes in Around the World with Mark Twain that what Mark described as a “new and beautiful palace stocked with a museum of extraordinary interest and value” was the Albert Hall Museum.

But what fascinated him were the four walls around the city, its straight broad roads and architecture. “It is shut up in a lofty turreted wall; the main body of it is divided into six perfectly straight streets that are more than a 100 feet wide; the blocks of houses exhibit of long frontage of the most taking architectural quaintness’s, the straight line being broken everywhere by pretty little balconies,  and persuade himself that these are real houses, and that it is all out of doors- the impression that unreality a picture, a scene in a theatre, is the only one that will take hold “.

According to Mark, the city at that time was very vibrant as it’s today. Mark writes “We often drove to city from Kaiser-I-Hind, a journey which was always full of interest, for day or night that country road was never quiet, never empty, but always India in motion, always streaming  flood of brown people clothed in smouchings from the  rainbow, a tossing and moiling flood, happy, noisy, a charming  and satisfying confusion of strange human, strange animal life and equally strange and outlandish vehicles.”

But what left a lasting impression on Mark was a religious procession in the city. Writing about the procession, Mark says “It was the most satisfying show I had ever seen and I suppose I shall not have the privilege of looking upon its like again”.

Without naming the occasion, Mark writes that a rich “Hindoo” was spending a fortune on “crowd of idols and accompanying paraphernalia to illustrate scenes in the life of his special God or Saint.” Whether it was Teej, Ganguar or Janmashtami procession, one is not sure but one can say with certain degree of surety that the procession was passing through the present day Chaura Rasta because Mark writes: “We passed through the great public leisure garden through the city we found it crowded with natives that was one sight then there was another in the midst of  lawns stands the palace which contains the museum.”

 

The procession was accompanied by decorated elephants and camels  but what took the breathe away of Mark was colourful costumes of the “natives”. Describing the people who had gathered even  on the terraces, Mark says “the Indian sun turning them all to beds of fire and flame and how “gorgeously-clothed people presented  a delirious display of all colors and all shades of color delicate, lovely, pale, soft, strong, stunning, vivid, brilliant, a sort of strong sweet peas blossoms passing on the wings of a hurricane.”

One is sure that Mark Twain must be smiling in his grave to know that “Jeypore” of his times has become a UNESCO World Heritage site!

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Asif Ullah Khan

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