HELIODORA’S HOMEWARD JOURNEY
The Sun was slowly going down. The steamer had not yet started. Heliodora stood upon the deck, leaning against the railing and looking over the port of Bombay that she was soon to leave.
Never had there been such an overcrowded ship. It was carrying over six thousand British soldiers with their officers, apart from its civilian passengers, — all first class ones by compulsion, as all other classes were requisitioned for the home-bound troops.
People were coming and going on the deck: members of the crew, walking past in a hurry; passengers and passengers’ friends, standing, sitting, talking; members of the British forces in uniform, — swarms of them! — porters, carrying luggage upon their heads or upon their backs. But Heliodora was more alone than she would have been in the midst of a desert. She stood, immobile, her elbows upon the railing, her head in her hands, lost in her thoughts. And these thoughts of hers had nothing in common with those of any of the men or women that were standing or sitting all round her, or that passed by, like shadows.
Her mind wandered back to the time she had first landed in India, some fourteen years before, full of the lure of the land that “worships Aryan Gods to this very day”; full of juvenile enthusiasm, in spite of the fact that she was then already twenty-six; full of tremendous hopes and illusions. She remembered herself watching the Vaishakha Purnima procession in the endless torch-lit corridors of the Rameshwaram temple, or gazing, from the Rock of Trichinopoli, at the Kauveri valley, with the twenty-eight “gopurams” of the Srirangam Temple merging out of the tropical vegetation; she remembered herself wandering all over India, from the extreme south to the Himalayas and from Punjab and Kashmir to the eastern border of Assam, addressing crowds in the open, — before vast expanses of rice fields and coconut palms or desert-like, almost Central Asian landscapes, — and telling them, over and over again: “The message of Aryan pride and of dutiful, passionless
warlike action, which the seers and bards of old have handed down to you, — the message of Lord Krishna in the sublime Song,1 — that is our message,” and quoting Mein Kampf and the Myth of the Twentieth Century along with the eternal words of the Sanskrit Writ. And she remembered how, every time the dusky crowds had cheered her, — those dusky crowds in the midst of which a few fairer faces with perfect Aryan features always bore witness to the blood of the immemorial Northern invaders, builders of Sanskrit-speaking India — the grand German song . . . . “and to-morrow the whole World”2 had come back to her mind, and how she had felt proud to contribute, in her own strange way, to the fulfilment of the dream it implied.
Now the glorious dream had proved to be but a dream, — or at least, she then thought so. She was about to sail towards a continent in ruins and, which is more, towards a continent in which the Dark Forces were to remain in power for God alone knew how long.
She recalled the peaceful home where she had spent so many years — her cats, lying in the huge flower-pots in the shade, on the verandah, or upon the cool floor of her room, under the fan, or in her lap, or upon her bed. Where were they all, now, those loving felines that she had picked up from the streets of Calcutta, and fed and pampered? Most of them were dead, (there had been two consecutive epidemics of “feline distemper” before she had left); two — velvety Sadhu, and Lalu, a big stripy yellow cat, — were still in the two rooms, in the care of Heliodora’s most trusted friend and collaborator; the remainder, some twenty of them, had had to be given away. Heliodora had been assured that they would be taken good care of. But who could ever love them as she had? Would she ever see any of them again, if she one day came back? Something deep within her bosom told her definitely: “No.”
Then why was she going away, leaving everything that had been part and parcel of her life for so many years? What was she planning to do, among the ruins of Europe? What was she expecting to find there, which was worth while her leaving everything in order to seek it? Heliodora could not have answered that question. Her conscious self did not know what was urging her to go. She only knew the urge did not come from her, but sprang from Something by far greater than she, Something of which she was but a part, and which compelled her, as the brain compells the finger, the elbow or the foot, parts of the body. It
1 The Bhagavad-Gita.
2 “. . . und morgen, die ganze Welt . . .”
came from the great collective Self into which she had merged her tiny individuality years and years before; from that great collective Self with which she stood or fell, whatever she did. She could not even have chosen to disobey — for the great collective Self was her own self. She was sailing in order to live the horror of defeat along with the others, with all the unknown comrades who still shared her Hitler faith, she who had never seen them at the height of glory, nor even seen the hallowed Leader who was also hers. And nothing — not even the peaceful home; not even loving Sadhu and the other cats that used to lie and purr in her lap, — nothing, I say, could hold her back.
The siren started and Heliodora shuddered. So, she really was going! Going where? The headlines of a newspaper that had caught her glance in a railway carriage, some six months before, “Berlin is an inferno,” suddenly came back to her mind, with all the bitterness of the lost war. And she felt tears welling up to her eyes: tears of utter despair. But she had to go.
The Sun was now setting, and the waters of the bay lay in a splendour of golden light. The siren resounded once more over their length and breadth. And the ship started moving. Heliodora remained on the upper deck, her eyes fixed upon the receding coastline. The wind shuffled her auburn locks, which took on shades of fiery reddish-yellow in the evening glow.
* * *
As she came downstairs, she was given a form to fill. In late 1945, filling forms was as tiresome and necessary an occupation as eating and drinking. Heliodora glanced through the usual words in their usual order: name, surname, date and place of birth, profession . . . religion, etc. . . . She did not know, did not ask, did not care to know why one wanted all this information about her. But at the item “religion,” she started. That was an opportunity of defiance, — and the first one officially given her within months and months. That was a challenge to her own fighting spirit, in spite of collective defeat! Opposite the word “religion” she boldly wrote in black and white, the words “National Socialist,” and after having filled the form completely, handed it over with a smile of bitter satisfaction.
An hour later, she was summoned to an office, and stood there before an uniformed Englishman. And the dialogue began:
“You filled that form? “the man asked, after having addressed the woman by her name and surname.
“And what is this joke?” he added, pointing to the unutterable profession of faith.
“It is no joke at all,” answered she, with the brazenness of those who have nothing to lose; “this is in fact my religion.”
“It is no religion at all, but the most sinister association of criminals that ever existed under the Sun!”
“In that case, look upon me also as a ‘sinister criminal’, for I am proud of being the least of Adolf Hitler’s disciples, whatever be the outcome of this damned war,” replied Heliodora with the firmness of unshakable conviction.
“I could get you into serious trouble, but I shall not,” answered the purser, or whoever the uniformed man was; “You are not even a German, and you were not in Europe all these years: you don’t know what you are saying.”
The man did not hear, or pretended not to hear, the dedicated woman burst out: “Oh! Yes I do! And I wish I had the power to prove it.” He tore her form in two and then in four, threw the bits into the waste-paper basket, and, handing her a new one, said
“Now, write it over again, please. And leave out that word . . . Put down whatever you like, but not that . . .”
“Well,” replied she defiantly, “I’ll write ‘Sun-worshipper’, this time, that is to say: worshipper of Life. In my eyes, it means the same. It is not for nothing that our Sign is the eternal Swastika, the Wheel of the Sun.”
After leaving the office, she went back to the deck. And again the thought of the lost war haunted her.
* * *
The ship was crowded with people glad to have won the war and glad to be going home: comfortable Englishmen with their families, and British troopers from India and from the Burma and Malaya front. There were some Indians, too. But these were as ready as anyone to speak against dictators in general and Adolf Hitler in particular: a defeated Germany, which they could no longer consider as a handy ally in their struggle against “British imperialism,” seemed no longer to interest them. Heliodora recalled the enthusiasm that had, in glorious 1940, greeted in India the news of the march on Dunkirk; and she felt nauseated at the idea of the average human being who always sides with the victors, always swallows their propaganda as
though it were the truth, for no other reason that they happen to be the victors. Would she find such people in Europe also — even in Germany, if she managed to get there? Even among those who had once acclaimed her Führer at the great Party rallies? Was it for them that she had left everything, including her cats?
She felt depressed. She hardly spoke to anybody. In the daytime, seated in a corner of the hall, she busied herself with a book she had begun to write in defence of animals. Nothing shocked her so much as the contrast between that interminable fuss made over so-called “war crimes” and “war criminals” and the indifference of the bulk of “decent people” to the daily horrors perpetrated upon dumb four-legged creatures, in the name of food, luxury, sport, scientific research, etc. . . . If thousands of beautiful, healthy animals could be made to suffer and to die for the sake of “saving human beings” (and diseased ones at that), then surely a few thousands or even millions of dangerous saboteurs, or sympathisers of such ones, could be wiped out for the defence of better mankind, fighting, during this war, for its very survival, against the coalesced fury of the whole world. She hated that world that dared beg for her sympathy in favour of the “poor” Jews, and that had not yet been able to do away with vivisection and with slaughterhouses. And as she thought of the only State that had suppressed the first of these abominations and whose inspired Ruler had also dreamed of abolishing the second — had been, at least, the only vegetarian ruler in the West — she felt bitter. That State now lay in ruins, and the god-like Leader was dead.
Then somebody would switch on the radio, and out would come either some jazz music, or some silly American love song — the standard expression of that ugly, boring world, into which Heliodora was being plunged, after all those years of vain struggle and vain hopes, — or . . . even worse: some Allied-sponsored emission in which such sentences as “systematic de-Nazification and re-education of the German people,” the “awakening in them of a sense of shame at the thought of the unheard-of crimes which they tolerated,” and “the gradual re-integration of Germany into the community of Christian and democratic nations . . .” came back over and over again, as leitmotivs. And each and every fibre in Heliodora’s being was tense with revolt at the sound of those words.
Until late in the night, while the other passengers remained in the sitting room playing cards, listening to music, or talking, the woman whom the Calcutta cats had called, in their mysterious language, “the Two-legged
goddess,” would keep leaning against the railing, on the upper-deck, alone, the wind in her face, her eyes fixed upon the starry sky and the deep dark sea without end:
“Les deux goufres ne font qu’un abîme sans bornes
do tristesse, de paix, et d’eblouissement . . .”1
The verses of the French poet2 rang in her memory as she breathed the solemnity of infinite space. And she longed for a world without man — a world in which desert and jungle, and the elder mammals, birds and reptiles that dwell therein, would have reconquered the expanses once usurped by so-called “civilisation”; a world in which big stripy felines would come and drink out of rivers and lakes reflecting palms and enormous ferns, under the moonlight, and in which the whole of human history would be a thing gone forever, a thing without a trace.
Tels le ciel éclatant et les caux vénérables
dorment dans la lumière et dans la majesté,
comme si la rumeur des vivants misérables
n’avait jamais troublé lour rêve illimité . . .”3
But it was not “the living,” it was only man that Heliodora would gladly have seen disappear from the surface of our planet. “The living” as a whole, she loved. They were not responsible for the Second World War, nor for the Allied “re-education” schemes. But the destruction of the human species, — under the stars, the voice of the sea; the voice of the wind; the voice of the trees in the storm; the voice of the tigress calling for her mate in the high grasses . . . and nothing else! — appeared to her as the only tolerable alternative, after the destruction of the Third German Reich “stronghold and hope of Aryan mankind in the West,” as she used to call it. She was totally devoid of the spirit of compromise.
But the sea and the stars and the far-away deserts and jungles, and the howling wind pushing clouds of dust over the ruins of human cities — of those of the Allied Nations as well as of those which the bombers of the Allied Nations had reduced to ashes, — were not yet, alas, the only realities. Even if the wireless had remained silent, and even if there had been, on board the ship, neither British troopers to be seen, nor any passengers to discuss current events in her presence, still Heliodora would have known what to expect in post-war Europe. Of course, nobody could “re-educate” her, who had come to the Hitler faith of her own free will, with her eyes wide open, in
1 “The two gulfs make but one fathomless abyss, of sadness, of peace, and of sparkling light . . .”
2 Leconte de Lisle, “Poèmes Tragiques.” (“Le Requin”).
3 “Thus the resplendent sky and the sacred waters are lying asleep in brightness and in majesty, as though the noise of wretched living creatures had never disturbed their endless dream.”
full consciousness of what she had been doing. But she would now have to witness the slow falling back of thousands of others into the dreary faith centred round “man” — dull, average man — and “suffering humanity”: the faith she so utterly despised; to witness that gradual sinking of what could have been, one day, a continent of supermen; and to witness it, powerless!
She lived on the brink of despair. The faint hope of seeing, one day, the men of Yalta and their supporters, and all those who were then, in 1945, so happy over their “victory,” in a worse plight than herself, was the only feeling that prevented her from throwing herself into the sea.
* * *
But despair was not all: heresy was worse. And day after day Heliodora felt herself drifting away from the straight, simple path of National Socialist orthodoxy, one of the fundamental traits of which consists in never criticising anything the Führer ever did, said or wrote. To her own horror she was, be it only in the secrecy of her solitary thinking, asking such questions as should not enter the mind of a good disciple, specially of a rank and file one as she was (“not even a German,” as the uniformed Englishman had told her, when he had torn up her written profession of faith).
As she leaned, hours long, against the railing of the upper deck, — as far away as she possibly could from jazz music and from B.B.C. comments upon the Allied efforts at “uprooting Nazism,” — problems would worry her; problems to which there seemed to be no solution, as soon as one ceased to accept Adolf Hitler’s will without arguing. “Why,” for instance, had the Führer attacked Russia, knowing fully well how difficult it was for Germany to fight on two fronts at the time? In answer to this, she remembered that British secret envoys had successfully been intriguing with Stalin against Germany. She had gathered this information from some article she had read. And it was as simple an explanation as could be: Stalin had a Jewish wife, whose brothers played an important part in Soviet policy; how could he have resisted the suggestions of the servants of World Jewry in wartime? If Germany had not attacked him, he would have attacked Germany, sooner or later . . . Molotoff’s demands, during the Berlin talks of November, 1940, had been exorbitant anyhow . . . and war with Russia unavoidable . . . But then, mercilessly, another question arose! “Why had the Führer not ordered a few thousands of his parachutists to land in England at
the opportune moment, immediately after the Dunkirk retreat? Why had he during that retreat, ordered his advancing troops to allow a distance of ten kilometres between their vanguard and the fleeing British army? Obviously, the best thing to do would have been to kill off the whole British Expeditionary Corps, wouldn’t it? Heliodora was no strategist, but she knew that, as everybody did. Why had the Führer not taken the easiest, — the only — course to victory? In vain, she would wrack her brains in order to find out, or to invent, a suitable justification for every decision of his which she could not understand. And then, suddenly, she would realise how far she had gone on the path of rebellion. And she would hate herself for no longer being able to accept the Führer’s will and word with all the confidence she once used to, during and before the war, — before that defeat which now was, or seemed, a fact forever.
“Have these slaves of the Jews succeeded in making a bad National Socialist of me, of all people?” thought she, in horror. “For what am I doing just now, but arguing in spirit with our beloved Leader! — I, who was not even in Europe at the time he needed all of us the most!”
She would also hate the destroyers of the Third German Reich, and especially the British, to whom Adolf Hitler had stretched out his hand so many times and so sincerely, in a genuine effort at peace-making; hate them all the more wildly, as the enormity of her Führer’s sacrifice haunted her more and more.
She remained in that bitter mood as the ship entered Southampton harbour, and as she, Heliodora, mechanically followed the stream of passengers down the gangway and through the Customs, and into the “boat-train” that carried her to London.
She reached the great city on a cold November night.