Rituals at the marriage hall were in full swing. Hosts were engaged in receiving the guests and everyone was busy doing his part. Refreshments were being served in one part of the hall. On the other side was a long line and yet more people were still coming in and joining the line. Those joining the line were empty handed. When they moved out from the front end of the line, there was nothing in their hands. The distinguished visitor from a foreign land was surprised at this spectacle. What were these people waiting for in the long line? He went along the line to check it out. He did not find anything special there. When their turn came, each one in the line received a spoonful of water from a shining vessel kept on the table. The spoonful water was consumed with reverence and each one felt gratified for the same. The visitor enquired from the host as to what was going on there. The host replied that "Gangajal" was being distributed to the guests. It was the holy water from the river Ganges, the visitor was told. People are standing in a long queue just for receiving a spoonful of mere water! The visitor was flabbergast and stood there dumbstruck. He was having yet another taste of the uniqueness of the country he was visiting.
Born as Samuel Langhorne Clemens but famous by his pen name Mark Twain (1835-1910), the American writer and humorist is remembered for his writings and contributions to society even today. When he was 11 years old, his father who was a judge died. Samuel joined as a printer's apprentice and later joined as a typesetter in a newspaper. He started contributing articles to the paper and thus started his writing career. He worked in various cities on the Atlantic coast as a printer and spent evenings in libraries. His regular visits to the libraries helped him to educate himself much more than in conventional schools. Among his famous works are Adventures of Tom Sawer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Innocents Abroad.
Mark Twain earned considerable amounts of money from his literary works. He was also an entrepreneur and keenly interested in scientific inventions. He invested his earnings in various ventures and lost his money. He also made losses from his publishing business Charles Webster and Company. Certain developments and help from friends absolved him from legal responsibility of payment to other fellow investors. But Twain wanted to pay them off even if he was not required to do so. He ventured on a year long journey abroad for a lecture tour that could give him enough earnings to meet his repayment efforts. His tour in 1895-96 took him to Canada, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka India, South Africa and England.
The above incident was one of the several interesting episodes he encountered while traveling in India.
Mark Twain visited India between 18th January and 5th April 1896. His experiences in India and elsewhere during the lecture tour of 1895-96 are chronicled in his travelogue titled "Following the Equator", first published in 1897. His visit to India made a lasting impression on him and he was struck by the contrasts that existed side by side in its cities and villages. Among its many cities, Benares (Varanasi or Kashi) touched his imagination the most. The number of Shiva Lingas there was something he could never fathom. He is reported to have exclaimed thus: "If Vishnu had foreseen what this town was going to be, he would have called it "Idolville" or "Lingamburg". Notwithstanding his seemingly uncomfortable sojourn in Benares, he still recorded that it was one of the most wonderful places he had ever seen. Among his many remarks during visit of India is this frequently quoted exclamation: "India is the cradle of the human race, the birth place of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition".
Mark Twain was a pauper (insolvent) when he set out on his lecture tour. The tour made him solvent again. India probably made substantial contribution in this change. Hence this parting note from him: "In religion, all other countries are paupers. India is the only millionaire".