The Belly Dancer and I
It is a very shameful feeling to have been in India and not to have seen a belly dancer at all, and God knows, that is exactly what happened to me. Namely, belly dancers in India are not at all as cheap as blackberries; they are far more expensive like radium and like radium are very rare items—at least for strangers.
I had already been a guest for a couple of weeks with my good friend, the maharajah of Vigatpuri.
“Your Highness,” I said to him, “Your Highness is one of the most charming princes in entire India! Your Highness has most cordially invited me as a guest and doesn’t ever want me to leave, because I am the only person that can beat him at chess. Your Highness has placed his beautiful silver palace at my disposal, and the most beautiful Peacock Park, which I have ever seen. I sleep in a somewhat lousy, but golden, majestic bed. I have a marble bath with running water, four elephants, three camels, five horses and a cute little donkey at my disposal.
By Your Highness’ gracious command several hundred servants scurry at my wave, and the Indian cook now entrusts me with the Brillat-Savarin cheese. Your Highness has given me your magnificent Opel car, which is much dearer to me than all the elephants, camels, horses and donkeys, dearer than my sedan chair, ox cart or rickshaw. If only Your Highness’ brown chauffer could drive a little less so I wouldn’t always have to sit on the left side. In summary, Your Highness, I am extraordinarily satisfied and will never fail to proclaim Your Highness’ grace and generosity far and wide. But—but—there is something that I don’t have—”
The maharajah took the tube of his water pipe slowly out from between his teeth.
“What don’t you have?” he asked solicitously.
“The devil,” I said. “I don’t have a belly dancer! Every idiot in Europe, that doesn’t even know where India is, knows very well, that it is the place of the gorgeous belly dancers, of whose supernatural charm even the Houri’s in Mohammad’s heaven are jealous of. But I have been across this land from one end to the other, and may the Virgin strike me, have yet to see a single belly dancer, not even through a trellis window!”
My friend smoked and was silent.
“It is not so easy,” he grumbled finally.
“Your Highness,” I replied, “There is nothing easier! We only need to leave every two and four legged retainer at home and go down into the city. Incognito, naturally! With masks like Harun the Caliph and his grand Vizier!”
I became very passionate at the thought and recited with emotion:
“Then we went out to where the last houses were, and saw the beautiful lost children with painted cheeks.”
“Yes, yes,” nodded the prince. “So proclaimed the good Herr, Goethe, himself. I know him just as well as you do! But believe me, the India, of which he speaks lies somewhere on the moon. If we went out there somewhere, where Buddha himself, Lord of the earth, once went—we would encounter many crows, pigs, and dirty children, but we would certainly never find any belly dancers!—By the way, what do you want with such a female? I will call my yellow boy from Burma for you, who can dance and sing the Ding gong. Or should I send for my pretty page, my blue-eyed boy from Radschputana; the one that can do the sword dance? He is as white as you are and as beautiful as the moon! His eyes are like—”
“Give me a break, Your Highness,” I interrupted him. I have seen them often and cannot tolerate them! And if Your Highness, himself, cannot find a belly dancer, despite all of your palaces and jewels and pearls, and despite the annual rent of around a million pounds that you receive from the English government—then I will do it myself. Salaam!”
I stood up and left disgusted. At least five thousand fellows lounged around in the garden of the maharajah and inside the palace—but there was not one woman! And I found that the prince pursued his own proclivities a little too much for my own taste. A true Indian maharajah would be obliged to house an entire host of belly dancers! But that’s how these people are—they have autos, telephone, phonograph, even vacuum cleaners, elevators and running water and such things—but belly dancers? Not a trace!
I went into my palace and called for my bodyguard, Nadir Jahan; the greatest rascal of them all, who despite that was very preferential to me.
“You son of a Guinea pig,” I yelled at him. “I will pound dull nails into your kneecap tonight and put three thousand ants into your dirty nose, if you don’t find me the finest belly dancers in the area.”
Nadir, the scoundrel, raised his forefoot to his forehead and bowed. He thought that would be very easy, that he only had to talk with the house master, who had authority over such things. He would only be gone for five minutes and then be back with his answer for me.
In India, five minutes are always an hour—and with Nadir it was generally two. But this time he was back within ten minutes. The desire of the Gold Flame, which was me, was not that easily fulfilled, but he, Nadir, the most eager of all servants, and his loyal friend, the very generous house master, Mustapha Turkuman, would put all the levers in motion. Really, it would be quite expensive, and I needed to give a little in advance.
“How much do you need?” I asked.
He thought, 2000 rupees. I told him that he was the dirtiest of all pigs, and that his friend Mustapha was a stinking hedgehog, and that it was entirely certain that both of them, the pig and the hedgehog, would still hang from the gallows. Then I offered him 20 rupees.
Over there on the broad balcony of his Italian Renaissance palace the maharaja sat at his marble table near his fountains, where he held his audiences. Some of his ministers maintained that the man was richer than J.P. Morgan—I only had to walk a couple hundred steps to get the price for the most beautiful belly dancer, or even a Chinese. I only needed to say one word to him, but today I was angry with him and wanted to pay for my belly dancer myself.
“1,000,” said Nadir.
“50”, I gave a counter offer.
But the fellow was hardheaded as a mule and I had to finally give him 250. But for that much I was assured of getting the most beautiful women that there were in India; thirty women as beautiful as angels; who could dance like Houris, sing and recite poetry. They were in the Pearl Palace, down below in the city, near the gate to Delhi.
I would have gladly gone by foot, but Nadir would not permit it. He himself hurried out with his friend Mustapha, to arrange everything, and to procure a white carriage for me. He harnessed up the pinto, the beautiful pinto with the glass eyes. That was also an idea of my prince. He spoke Latin and Greek, knew Shakespeare and Goethe and listened to Caruso and Melba on his gramophone.
But a blind horse with beautiful red glass eyes was so much better than one with real eyes—Not even the Kaiser himself could change his mind.
My ride stopped in the park, and I climbed in. The coachman and the fellow sitting next to him, wore black, white and red turbans and loincloths, as did the fellows that stood behind us, as well as the front rider and after rider. That was a little precaution that the prince took for me, and I was always very proud when I traveled around.
I leaned back and dreamed of the pleasures of the next few hours. Nadir and Mustapha were both Mohammedans, two of the few in the maharaja’s service, so they were certainly more intelligent and clever than the eternally indolent Hindus. And they were both damned sly rascals—I was fairly certain that I was going to be satisfied with their services today.
My Pinto flew with the rusty rickshaw and then stopped with a jerk. I stared into the darkness—I found myself in a very narrow and unbelievably dirty street. Nadir and Mustapha stood in front of a low door. With many bows they helped me down from the coach.
“Is this the Pearl Palace?” I asked.
Nadir nodded, “If the Gold Flame would be so kind as to move his velvet feet over the threshold.”
The Gold Flame did move, but not before giving the fellow a box on the ear, and only then did he creep into the dive.
“Is this the hall of the silver lotus flower?” I asked again. This time, Mustapha nodded and also got a box on the ear. The Gold Flame is ever a just man.
The pigs placed a carpet on the floor and I sat down. Then the band came, a fellow with a fat drum and another with some kind of triangle. Then finally, finally, the belly dancer came.
“Where are the other twenty nine?” I asked.
But Nadir and Mustapha were both out of reach of my arm. I swore that I would beat them soundly the next day, and then I turned to the belly dancer. In order to get enthused, I said out loud:
“You move and beat the cymbals as you dance. You dance in a circle. You nestle up to me, bend forward and place a wreath over my head.”
Oh—but one is not permitted to say anything against Goethe, because he has been one of our saints for a long time!
The belly dancer looked as fat as one of the sacred cows in the golden cow temple in Benares. She must have looked a lot like Sulamith, King Saul’s beloved, of whom he praised in high song. Her legs were like two towering pillars, her neck like the tower of David, her arms were like cedars, and her breasts were like the mountains of Lebanon.
Then the beauty raised herself up; she was really tall, and she could move; she came closer, gasping, so that I could see her face in the light of the coco lamp. I don’t know if she was beautiful or ugly—she didn’t have any features, only fat, only immense masses of fat. The orchestra broke loose, the metal discs jangled on the cedars and pillars; she waggled with her belly. Apparently this type of dancing was very strenuous because she sweated like a coal stoker on the red sea. But I let her continue gasping, mainly out of courtesy because she could stand to take off a couple dozen kilos, but also because I wanted to get something for my money.
So she danced, sweated, gasped and moaned—in between she spit, good bright red buckets of spit. When she thought she had danced enough, she took my hand and began to sing.
She sang, “My hair is laced with coconut oil, for you, old Gold Flame. I have anointed myself! Come to my house and rest; I will be your soft bed. Come to your white cow. A bath has been prepared for you, and my lips offer you Pan-Supari—”
And she really did offer me Pan-Supari, which is areca coconut, betel leaves and chalk. Every Indian chews it and can spit gloriously red. But I don’t care for Pan-Supari at all, and find that it tastes terrible, very terrible.
I left, climbed into my coach and drove angrily back to the house. Both brown scoundrels had disappeared.
“Well, was she beautiful?” asked the maharajah of Vigatpuri the next day—”