Friday, March 8, 2013

Orabi Pasha (founder of Zahira) and Caroline Corner: Part I.

This is a two part post of two chapters of  Caroline Corner's The Paradise of Adam The Record of Seven Years Residence in the Island published in 1908.

The main reason I am posting the chapters because it references meeting Orabi Pasha.  Orabi Pasha (Ahmed Orabi) was a Egyptian army general, and nationalist of fellahin ancestry (peasant class) who led a revolt in 1879 against Tewfik Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan, and the increasing European domination of the country.  He was defeated by the British and exiled to Ceylon in 1882. His home in Halloluwa Road, Kandy is now the Orabi Pasha Museum and Cultural Centre. During his time in Ceylon, Orabi served to improve the quality of education amongst the Muslims in the country. Zahira College, Sri Lanka's first school for Muslims, was established under his patronage. Orabi Pasha Street in Colombo is named after him.

CHAPTER XXIV  (Next Chapter XXVI here)
Mount Lavinia the Beautiful! — The advent of
some of the ladies of the Harim of Arabi Pacha—
Cynthia decides to entertain a la London society
lady — Husbands without their wives, it's easier:
and nicer—Under the mangoes revelry — Lemon
squash—Cynthia next day visits the ladies of the
Hdrim—Her embarrassment concerning a present
—Must ask her husband—" Humph!"
MOUNT LAVINIA the Beautiful! Indebted indeed are the Europeans in Ceylon to your refreshing breezes from the wide, gleaming ocean! Seated on the verandah of the palatial hotel— formerly the seaside residence of His Excellency —one realises not the fact of the equator's close proximity ; one only realises a dream—a dream of nature's loveliness unsurpassed on this wonderful, beautiful earth.
"The Paradise of Adam," Cynthia was thinking as she sat alone, save for her companion Punch, in a shady, secluded corner where mosquitoes cease from troubling and the European is at rest. "The Paradise of Adam. What of Eve?"
Perhaps it was coincidence only that at that moment a group of exceptionally strangely attired individuals—and one does see strange garbs in Ceylon—passed through the cocoanut wood down below. The courteous manageress coming that way just then, "Who are they?" asked Cynthia, waving her sunshade in that direction.
"The ladies of the Harim of Ardbi Pacha and party," was the reply.
"Indeed! How interesting!" Cynthia was up and looking after the group instanter—Punch likewise.
Coincidences are very curious, inexplicable except one has a knowledge of the stars and their courses, which, however, does not explain— it only signifies after all. That evening Cynthia's husband said, " I had an interview at the Secretariat to-day with some one who would interest you—Arabi Pacha's son. He tells me he has taken the bungalow down in the wood for, his wife, who is undergoing treatment for her eyes, and has to be near Colombo. He appears to be a very intelligent fellow. Shall I ask him up?"
"By all means. You know how interested I am in—people who are interesting. How much I should like to visit the ladies of a harim, and see if all that the missionaries say about them is correct! We can't ask them to dinner; we don't
know what they eat and what they don't eat"
"They're Mohammedans, so they may not take their wives about with them," put in Cynthia's husband.
"Besides," said Cynthia, "we shouldn't know how many to allot to each. Well, let's do as the up-to-date society lady does, invite the men and leave out the wives. It's so easy to satisfy men —cigars, whisky and soda—oh! I'm forgetting again — they're not Christians. Well, say— lemon squash. We'll make the thing go, anyhow."
At five o'clock next evening the visitors came: Muhamed Ibn Ahmed Arabi Bey, eldest son of Arabi Pacha, and Ali Fehmy Pacha, a distinguished soldier, who for bravery had been rewarded with a wife of noble birth direct from the Kedivial Hdrim, the Palace of Ismail Pacha. Save for the fez, little was there in the dress and appearance of these two gentlemen to distinguish them from Europeans. Gentlemen they were in every respect. There was a plaintive note in the voice of Arabi Pacha's son, accentuated by the fact of his being totally blind in one eye. The brave Ali Fehmy Pacha took the tone of the major rather than minor, literally as well as metaphorically, as he had done doubtless throughout the campaign terminating in the battle of Tel-ElKebir (July 1882), when Arabi, leader of the Egyptians in their revolt against injustice and
oppression, had given up his sword to our General Lowe.
"Politics had best be avoided," Cynthia had said prior to the visit. "I'm desperately patriot when away from my native land." It was difficult, though, to keep to this decree—politics would "crop up," would enter into the conversation. With such fairness, such clemency these Egyptians spoke, however, that, as Cynthia said, "there was little fear of fighting Tel-El-Kebir over again under the mangoes in our compound." The visit passed pleasantly, amicably, instructively.
"Had the English but understood us and our purpose—our desires—your brave Lord Charles Beresford need not have bombarded our Alexandria. Personally we love as we admire the English, and are proud to say we have many friends among them," said Arabi Bey.
"And we trust madame will do our ladies the honour of calling upon them. My wife, Lady Aideel, will be delighted," added the Pacha Ali Fehmy.
"Indeed I will—to-morrow," said Cynthia. And she did.
At four o'clock next afternoon Cynthia wended her way to the bungalow in the cocoanut wood. To be straightforward, Cynthia had taken extra pains with her toilette and general personal appearance for this exceptional occasion. As she approached the verandah a couple of Sinhalese ayahs came forward as escort. "Lady coming, please, this way," said they, treading the stone steps that led to the verandah. Once there Cynthia was first apprised of Moslem seclusion. Instead of the verandah being open to light and air, except for the tattie sun screens as usual, this was draped and darkened. Nor were there the usual Singapore chairs and lounges—the ladies of the hdrim were not wont to take their ease and the air on the verandah apparently. At the entrance to the bungalow, which was also curtained, contrary to the "customs of the country," a maid whose khol- blackened eyes shone out large and lustrous from the top of a yashmak came forward and took up the escort, the Sinhalese ayahs falling back. The room they entered was large and furnished d FEuropeen. As a matter of fact the bungalow had been let to the Egyptians "furnished," and remained as it was, except for a few trifling additions such as photographs, flower-vases, &c, that evidenced feminine occupation with a certain refinement. Here, sinking into a Singapore chair, Cynthia, overcome with the fatigue and heat of walking, waited. A minute only, then—oh, was it possible? A tall, handsome, thoroughly European-looking lady in tailor-made skirt and white cambric blouse, entered, smiling and bowing and extending her hand. "Madame, this is kind of you to come to see us! I am the wife of Arabi Bey, and daughter (she meant daughter-in-law) of Arabi Pacha." Then her black eyes gleamed.
"But oh, madame! comme vous Ure belle! What a toilette! From Whiteley's—not? Ah, how dfelight-ful to see Whiteley's! One hears so much. And the figure—pardon, madame, may one ask how to keep the fat off? When the fat does arrive, hilas! our marie loves us no more! But how then, madame, to keep the fat off? Comment?"
Cynthia's eyes opened wide, very wide. Then she laughed.
"I thought," she said, "Mohammedans—liked fat. Christians always say so."
"Ah, madame, mais ce n'estpas vrai. Pardon! Madame is English—not? I then must parler rAnglais. My gouvernante she was French. Such a pity—not? Ah! now comes Lady Aideen, and you have not told me of the fat, madame."
'Ere Cynthia had time to turn she found herself in the embrace of a giantess—a giantess garbed in voluminous robes of soft black Indian silk. When released, her discomposure not altogether abated on being held out at arms' length for inspection, while a torrent of French fell on her distracted hearing. Then, again, the embrace, kissing first on one cheek, then the other, then being held out at arms' length again. Cynthia felt faint. Not a breath of air seemed stirring in that much becurtained and bedarkened apartment. Cynthia well-nigh collapsed, while this effusive beauty of the hdrim went on—all in French, with, however, occasional lapses into a language—perhaps Arabic—which was as Sanscrit to Cynthia. She meant well, though, this erstwhile captivating Circassian with the thick, long plait of brick-red hair falling down her broad, strong back, the Lady Aideen, wife of Ali Fehmi Pacha.
Compliments, eulogies were being showered on her, did Cynthia but know it. All she did know was it was intended as a kindly greeting, consequently was accepted as such, albeit it was overpowering—with the thermometer at over a hundred Fahrenheit.
"Ma foi!" Cynthia echoed that ejaculation when the Lady Aideen desisted, panting. The maid with the yashmak and ^^/-darkened orbs approaching at this juncture with a tray, afforded Cynthia and her hostesses a brief respite—a very brief respite.
"Tea, afternoon-tea, all English ladies like," observed Madame Arabi. "We like not tea: we take coffee. Madame will take sweetmeats?— cakes—not? And the fat, madame?"
"Thank you. Only a cup of tea," said Cynthia, proceeding to stir the tea; but the spoon stuck— stuck in a cup half full of sugar. Sweetened tea to Cynthia is poison—but that's a detail.
"Ahem! Are you ladies all Egyptians ?" she asked now, when she had the chance of a word.
"Madame Aideen is Circassian, I Bedouin. My father was a Bedouin chief, and in my jeunesse we wandered—wandered far and always. Oh, it was a glorious life!"
"Glorious, it must have been!" echoed Cynthia.
"And, madame—does she love the Desert?— the great wide, glorious Sahara?"
Another surprise to Cynthia, who had been taught Mohammedan women were kept in a cage.
"Ah, but madame would love our Desert," continued the Bedouin, "—our glor-i-ous Sahara. Madame must come to Cairo some day—not?' And, rising, she caught Cynthia's hands in both her own, going off again into fresh rhapsodies over the " toilette of Monsieur White-ley."
"So you go back home sometimes?" said Cynthia, more interested in the Desert than in Westbourne Grove—far.
"Yes; your Government permits us to return, only our husbands not. Helas! poor Father, he is old, and he longs for his native land! Yes, to us it is permitted. But oh! how the sea is terrible to us who have to stay down in our cabins, as you say, and never come up."
"Why not ?" asked Cynthia.
A shriek from both ladies.
"Mon enfant! les hommes! They would see us—without veils! Impossible!"
"Well," said Cynthia, "it seems to me you take care to show the prettiest part of your faces—the brow and eyes. My husband saw you the other day "Another double shriek.
"And—madame, what did your husband remark? He is very handsome, your husband— what did he remark of us?"
Cynthia told a fib. The ladies were delighted.
"But madame has no children?" Madame Arabi presently asked, after a brief but brisk dialogue in French, which seemed to Cynthia a jumble of toilettes and handsome husbands.
"No," said Cynthia, " I have not."
"Pauvre madame!" Again a bit of dialogue between the ladies; then Madame Arabi, spokeswoman, again said:
"Then madame shall have Zeinab. Ayah shall bring her now." Forthwith she clapped her little brown hands and gave the order for Zeinab to be brought. Zeinab appeared—a huge, fat baby in an ayah's arms.
"Here is Zeinab—fine, is she not? Fat for the baby is good—not? Zeinab is fine, fat.
Madame shall have her: we have others. Zeinab is for madame a present. To-day madame can take Zeinab away." This was followed on swiftly by instructions to the ayah, instructions for Zeinab's transfer and departure.
"I—I—" faltered Cynthia, "I—must ask my husband first. We must obey, you know. It is very, very kind of you, but—I must ask permission first," patting the fat cheek of the dark-eyed babe that eyed her knowingly, and, unlike Europeans of its age and experience, was disposed to permit of any familiarities without howling.
"Mais out, madame. Cest vrai 1 That is true. We must obey When we come to see madame, then will Zeinab come too."
"Certainly. Certainly. Till then adieu" said Cynthia, rising.
"Au revoir, madame ; not adieu. But, madame, the fat? Do not forget to tell. Au revoir." Again "Au revoir," when Cynthia was released from the second close embrace and could speak.
"Oh, no: I will not forget."
Cynthia drew a long breath when she emerged and found herself "in the open," where her husband awaited at a respectful distance in the Stanhope phaeton.
"You're going to receive a present—a baby," said she.
"Humph!" said he

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