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"Bababec" by Voltaire

The following is the complete text of Voltaire's "Bababec." To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

Visit these other works by Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet)
An Adventure in India
Ancient Faith and Fable
Andre des Touches at Siam
The Black and the White
A Conversation with a Chinese
Dialogues: The Chinese Catechism
Dialogues: The Gardener's Catechism
Dialogues: The Japanese Catechism
Dialogues: Liberty
The Good Brahmin
Grecian Metamorphoses and Mysteries of the Egyptians
Jeannot and Colin
Memnon, the Philosopher

Of Bacchus
Of Idolatry
Of Miracles
Of Oracles
Of the Egyptian Rites
Of the Greek Sibyls
Of Zaleucus
Plato's Dream
The Study of Nature
The Travels of Scarmentado
The Two Comforters
The World As It Goes

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"Bababec" by Voltaire



When I was in the city of Benarez, on the borders of the Ganges, the country of the ancient Brahmins, I endeavored to instruct myself in their religion and manners. I understood the Indian language tolerably well. I heard a great deal, and remarked everything. I lodged at the house of my correspondent Omri, who was the most worthy man I ever knew. He was of the religion of the Brahmins: I have the honor to be a Mussulman. We never exchanged one word higher than another about Mahomet or Brahma. We performed our ablutions each on his own side; we drank of the same sherbet, and we ate of the same rice, as if we had been two brothers.

One day we went together to the pagoda of Gavani. There we saw several bands of Fakirs. Some of whom were Janguis, that is to say, contemplative Fakirs; and others were disciples of the ancient Gymnosophists, who led an active life. They all have a learned language peculiar to themselves; it is that of the most ancient Brahmins; and they have a book written in this language, which they call the Shasta. It is, beyond all contradiction, the most ancient book in all Asia, not excepting the Zend.

I happened by chance to cross in front of a Fakir, who was reading in this book.

"Ah! wretched infidel!" cried he, "thou hast made me lose a number of vowels that I was counting, which will cause my soul to pass into the body of a hare instead of that of a parrot, with which I had before the greatest reason to flatter myself."

I gave him a rupee to comfort him for the accident. In going a few paces farther, I had the misfortune to sneeze. The noise I made roused a Fakir, who was in a trance.

"Heavens!" cried he, "what a dreadful noise. Where am I? I can no longer see the tip of my nose, -- the heavenly light has disappeared."

"If I am the cause," said I, "of your not seeing farther than the length of your nose, here is a rupee to repair the great injury I have done you. Squint again, my friend, and resume the heavenly light."

Having thus brought myself off discreetly enough, I passed over to the side of the Gymnosophists, several of whom brought me a parcel of mighty pretty nails to drive into my arms and thighs, in honor of Brahma. I bought their nails, and made use of them to fasten down my boxes. Others were dancing upon their hands, others cut capers on the slack rope, and others went always upon one foot. There were some who dragged a heavy chain about with them, and others carried a packsaddle; some had their heads always in a bushel -- the best people in the world to live with. My friend Omri took me to the cell of one of the most famous of these. His name was Bababec: he was as naked as he was born, and had a great chain about his neck, that weighed upwards of sixty pounds. He sat on a wooden chair, very neatly decorated with little points of nails that penetrated into his flesh; and you would have thought he had been sitting on a velvet cushion. Numbers of women flocked to him to consult him. He was the oracle of all the families in the neighborhood; and was, truly speaking, in great reputation. I was witness to a long conversation that Omri had with him.

"Do you think, father," said my friend, "that after having gone through seven metempsychoses, I may at length arrive at the habitation of Brahma?"

"That is as it may happen," said the Fakir. "What sort of life do you lead?"

"I endeavor," answered Omri, "to be a good subject, a good husband, a good father, and a good friend. I lend money without interest to the rich who want it, and I give it to the poor: I always strive to preserve peace among my neighbors."

"But have you ever run nails into your flesh?" demanded the Brahmin.

"Never, reverend father."

"I am sorry for it," replied the father; "very sorry for it, indeed. It is a thousand pities; but you will certainly not reach above the nineteenth heaven."

"No higher!" said Omri. "In truth, I am very well contented with my lot. What is it to me whether I go into the nineteenth or the twentieth, provided I do my duty in my pilgrimage, and am well received at the end of my journey? Is it not as much as one can desire, to live with a fair character in this world, and be happy with Brahma in the next? And pray what heaven do you think of going to, good master Bababec, with your chain?"

"Into the thirty-fifth," said Bababec.

"I admire your modesty," replied Omri, "to pretend to be better lodged than me. This is surely the result of an excessive ambition. How can you, who condemn others that covet honors in this world, arrogate such distinguished ones to yourself in the next? What right have you to be better treated than me? Know that I bestow more alms to the poor in ten days, than the nails you run into your flesh cost for ten years? What is it to Brahma that you pass the whole day stark naked with a chain about your neck? This is doing a notable service to your country, doubtless! I have a thousand times more esteem for the man who sows pulse or plants trees, than for all your tribe, who look at the tips of their noses, or carry packsaddles, to show their magnanimity."

Having finished this speech, Omri softened his voice, embraced the Brahmin, and, with an endearing sweetness, besought him to throw aside his nails and his chain, to go home with him, and live in comfort.

The Fakir was persuaded: he was washed clean, rubbed with essences and perfumes, and clad in a decent habit; he lived a fortnight in this manner, behaved with prudence and wisdom, and acknowledged that he was a thousand times happier than before; but he lost his credit among the people, the women no longer crowded to consult him; he therefore quitted the house of the friendly Omri, and returned to his nails and his chain, to regain his reputation.

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